A Bike Too Big

My Big Red Bike

I was twelve years old and other than a tricycle as a toddler, I had never owned a bike. Even worse, I couldn't ride one. I wanted more than anything to enjoy the freedom of riding a bike; going long distances in less time, getting out of the neighborhood, exploring new places. Then, out of nowhere, a friend of the family gave me their daughter's old bicycle. A red bike with fat tires, heavy and clunky and very BIG. Hey, I didn't care that it was 'retro', I figured that this thing was going to crush me the moment I fell off considering that I couldn't balance. I would try and I would be bruised, perhaps more pride than body.

Both of my brothers had learned to ride on their friends' bikes and then bought bikes of their own. They didn't teach me. Neither did my parents or friends. Back then, it was something that you learned on your own. If you wanted it bad enough, you did it! OK, but my big bike just seemed too big. I felt humiliation about not being able to ride, especially when my brothers would ask me to go home and walk their bikes down to them. I thought about learning on their bikes. They weren't as heavy or clunky. But they were boy's bikes with a high cross bar and they were too tall for me. So, what's a girl to do?

Well, our neighbor friends had a young eight year old sister with one of those really small bikes and her training wheels had just come off. I swear, I was the only kid in the neighborhood who didn't know how to ride a bike, and I had enough! So, I asked if I could try to ride her bike. It was small, light, low to the ground and quite nonthreatening. That afternoon I learned. I conquered my fear of hurting myself and I soared. I went home, got on my bike and the rest is history.

So you ask, what has that got to do with making art? OK, I'll tell you another story, a current one at that.

I teach a portrait class and one of my students was working on a project. She had actually started it in a previous spring class, where she was not only new to portraiture, but also to the medium of pastel. Now, Anne is a very talented artist but she was breaking new ground in an area of which she was very unsure of herself. Her project was coming along beautifully and then she felt stymied in how to finish it. To avoid overworking it, we decided that the best approach was to set it aside. Anne could then use sketches to work out her problems. Summer came and went and in September Anne took my class again.

The first week of class, Anne tried to tackle the problem on a smaller sketch, but her anxiety was mounting. I demonstrated for her and the session came to a close. The following week Anne set up to tackle the problem again. Then having a change of heart, she quietly mentioned that after a couple days of some rather intense classes, she would just retreat and read a magazine. With much gusto, I bellowed a hardy, “No!” and told her that she was going to face her anxiety and at the very least do a simple study of a beautiful vase that was in the room. I plunked it down in front of her and she forcefully uttered, “Yes, ma'am!” We laughed.

Anne began to work on her composition and her creative juices flowed. She came up with a gorgeous piece that she was proud of. The class was admiring her pastel painting when the director, Margie Bovee of the Two Twelve Arts Center walked by. She asked, “Who did this wonderful artwork?” And then bought it on the spot!

Anne and the class learned their lesson for the day. When faced with anxiety, break your fears into manageable pieces and face them. Have some fun, work on anything and get in touch with your confidence. Problems are solvable but sometimes they overwhelm us. If your bike's too big, find a small one and soar!

Artwork by ©2010 Anne Sheill SOLD
Original vase titled Warren Beatty created by © 2010 Sharon Graf-Horning


  1. Mary, I love this story and it is timely for me. I dread painting portraits. I can pencil draw them okay, but when it comes to painting, well... Maybe I should try pastels. Thanks for the uplifting story. And your work is amazing.

  2. Thank you, Jean! Anne still struggles with her anxiety, but I'll be darned if she didn't sell her last portrait she did, in my class a couple of weeks ago, to the model!

  3. Mary, this a great story and analogy. I hope that you are still riding that bike; you will forever remain a kid. I have a long way to go after seeing your body of work. Your work is superb.

    Anne needs to remember as do we all, that in art as in life, we must keep pushing forward and let nothing stand in our way. One great work can make up for ten failures.

    Keep pushing your students. Being a teacher or a mentor is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

  4. I agree with you, Thimie...being a teacher and mentor is one of the greatest gifts we can give. It is so true that the more we give away the more we receive. My students teach me so much about who I am and what I value and stand for. I love what you say, "That in art as in life, we must keep pushing forward and let nothing stand in our way".


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