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wood block printmaking by Brad Ewell

Setting Up Residence in My Ghost Kingdom: Field Notes #5

Brad Ewell's Been Busy!

Due to an unexpected incident, columnist Brad Ewell has had plenty of time lately to move through his newfound Ghost Kingdom, and he’s come up with a super creative way to do so. 

An Unexpected Gift

Field Notes with LDA Brad EwellWhen I wrapped up last month’s Field Note, I explained that I would next  discuss my own exploration into my personal Ghost Kingdom. As a quick refresher, in the adoption world, a ghost kingdom refers to the unknown “could-have-been” lives many adoptees fantasize about regarding their biological family.

Earlier in the year, I was given the gift of exploring some of my Ghost Kingdom for the first time without my usual competing priorities. Actually, “gift” feels like a strong word, now that I’m writing about it.

On a beautiful sunny day in May, I slipped, felt a pop in my knee, and landed on my back with a torn quadricep tendon. This injury put me off work for almost four months in a locked-out leg brace, meaning nearly all this time was spent in my upstairs bedroom. I quickly realized I needed to find things to do to keep from getting cabin fever. There is an endless supply of entertainment with streaming services, social media, and seeing if I could reach the end of the internet, but I knew such distractions would be a short-term solution at best.

Whenever I take a personality trait test, one of my top traits is always being a “lifelong learner.” This has always been an easy need to fulfill with work and doing things around the house. But now, sitting in a bedroom for most of my waking hours, I needed to find some new things to study.

My Heroine

Enter the heroine in this month’s column, my lovely wife, a fantastic artist. A few months before this happened, she bought me print-making supplies as a gift. In high school, I learned to make relief prints using linoleum blocks. Whenever we were at an art store, I’d always go check out the supplies and talk about how I needed to try this again one day. I think she decided “one day” might come easier if I already had the materials to use when the day came.

A Trip to the Past

Now is an excellent time to go back to my “before I knew I was adopted days.”

I was always drawn to art and music as a child and adult. While my mom and dad never discouraged those interests, they didn’t share them, so I don’t think they knew how to direct or cultivate them. Since it wasn’t a shared family interest, in my mind, that meant “it wasn’t what we did,” so I fell in step with my dad, who had played sports growing up. I played soccer, football, track and field, and swim team in my middle through high school years. In college, I played on a club lacrosse team.

What I can tell you from those years is, at best, I was okay, and I never developed an interest, much less the passion in any of them needed to excel. I never lost my interest in art and music, but I mostly ignored it.

When I learned at age 48 that I was adopted and about my biological family, those artistic interests suddenly made more sense. My birth mother was creative, and my biological father was an artist who enjoyed drawing, painting, and woodworking.

Back to the Present and Future

My “one day” had finally come. I had almost unlimited time, very few responsibilities, and all the supplies at my fingertips. I’ve had many false starts with artistic interests, only to put the materials back on the shelf to focus on “more important things.” This time, I dove headfirst into the deep end of the pool. I began with print-making supplies. I drew out my first design on a block, carved it, and made my first prints in over thirty years. It was far from great work; I don’t think it was as good as some things I made in high school. But that was okay because I was learning, and not being good meant I could learn more.

I joined online print-making groups, read tips on Discord and Reddit, and continued making prints. Each one I made got a little better, and that kept me going. Soon, I got curious about digital art. I knew creating my initial designs digitally would allow me to experiment and play more before it was time to carve out and print the final product. The longer I played in the digital art realm, the more opportunities for different art styles popped up.

All of which meant learning new techniques and skills. I was hooked. The more art I did, the more opportunities I had to learn. I found a passion for art the way so many of my friends found a passion for sports. I would stay up into the night drawing and carving new ideas, reading art books, and looking at other artists’ work for inspiration. While there had been so many prior false starts, this felt different. I couldn’t stop thinking about and making art.

My Ghost Kingdom is Now My Home

I’ve been back at work for a little over a month and have not stopped creating art. From my injury in May through today, as I write this, I have carved 30 print blocks, made several hundred prints, created 79 digital drawings and paintings (at least 25 since returning to work), and started back up with photography. I’ve entered several local art shows and been accepted into five, with more in the works.

Two pieces of my artwork have been published in a magazine. I also had my first art booth at a local festival and sold some art there. What I used to call my Ghost Kingdom a few months ago, I now call home. It was a long and winding road that I never would have chosen on my own to get here. But now that I’ve reached my destination, it’s incredible.

wood block printmaking by Brad Ewell
More John Wayne than John Wayne; woodblock print by Brad Ewell

Reparenting Myself is Empowering

Setting up residence in my Ghost Kingdom allows me to try out reparenting myself (as more than one therapist has recommended I try). This concept is beginning to makes sense to me.

I see now that I’m in a position to encourage my art interests. I don’t have to face breaking the family mold. I don’t have to summon the courage to ask my parents to buy something they might think was weird. I can buy my own art supplies anytime I want. I can easily expand my group of friends to include more creatives. My creative interests fall to no one but me to cultivate. Truly they’ve always been mine. But I didn’t understand that as a child.

If you’d like to see some of my work, you can head over to my Instagram page at @cut_and_shoot_art.

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More on the Ghost Kingdom

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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