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In the evening of Thursday, April 18th, 2019 I gave one of the keynote addresses to the Thompson Rivers University's Batchelor of Fine Arts Graduates. I titled my remarks, Find Your Thumbprint.  Here is the address:

Distinguished guests, faculty members, visitors, students and especially the visual arts colleagues who are graduating today, I thank you for allowing me to speak with you this evening.  It is indeed an honour and a privilege. 

In the late 1980's I entered Cariboo College with the idea to earn another degree.  I had attended UBC, SFU and BCIT.  However, when I finally found myself in the portables that housed the fine arts department, I never envisioned where the richness of life associated with a visual arts background or a visual arts degree would take me after navigating the often challenging and demanding, obstacle course of the academy.

Certainly, gaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts is not for the faint of heart.  Visually, one must put themselves out there, often, endure harsh criticism, critiques, find the financial resources to experiment and produce art pieces that may or may not work, plus continue to engage in extensive research on both living and dead artists that have come before you.  As well, you need to learn the importance of networking.  In the end, you must leave the protective environment of the university, of the academy.  But then what?  You have your degree, your BFA, your bachelors of fine arts. 

Rarely, does one just step into the "visual arts job market."   No... For the most part the BFA is the stepping stone to continue... But where?  And I, for one, am here to tell you that it will take tremendous courage, creativity, grit and audacity to find your way.   It has been my experience that one must be a calculated risk taker.  You must begin to formulate where and what direction you follow, while at the same time finding and remaining true to your own voice, your own vision and your own creative spirit.

It can be extremely daunting.  It can be difficult.  And at times, it is frightening, demoralizing, intimidating.   But, in the same breath, if you keep navigating and testing, and then push through and along the path of securing your place, your voice, your creative spirit, in the visual arts world, be it locally, nationally or globally, the rewards will be emotionally powerful and nourishing.   

And at times, these rewards can be financially satisfying - whether you return to an academy to continue with your education through obtaining an MFA  in order to educate new students that will follow you, as all of your art instructors here at TRU have done, or begin a self sustaining art practice such as many of your fellow alumni are doing, or move into the museum realm as the six fellow TRU alumni who are presently with the Kamloops Art Gallery.  Perhaps your BFA will lead to a career in curating exhibitions, in art administration, becoming a gallerist, or even writing about the visual arts.   

However, after graduation, if you choose to navigate along the path of becoming a self-sustaining visual artist, which I believe this years's TRU visual arts graduates are thinking, then, I urge you to find your thumbprint.   And by this, I mean, find what will distinguish, set you apart from other artists.   What is it about your work, whether it is as a painter, a digital artist, a sculptor, printmaker, photographer, film maker, or as a curator, an educator or a combination of one or all of the above, that will set you apart from other visual artists?  What will keep audience members remembering your work, your voice, and coming back for more.   And more.   And more...

When I left the Cariboo College's diploma program, and I had added an extra year of directed studies (Cariboo College, at the time did not offer a terminal visual arts degree,) I continued my studies at Emily Carr during the summers.   It was the first summer that my husband telephoned me to say there was a studio space available in the back alley just down from his office.   He said I should take it.  "No," I said.  "Take it Tricia," he responded.  "No I can't," I continued.  "Why" he asked.   "Because...because I will fail."  "No you won't," he said.   "Believe in yourself, Tricia.  I believe in you.   Take it.   You can do this.   There is nothing to hold you back" he countered.  Then he added, "Find your thumbprint, Tricia, find your thumbprint."   "Okay," I whispered.  "I will.   I will at least give it a try."

When I got off the phone I thought, "What have I done?  I can't do this.  I cannot put myself out there.  People will laugh.  They will point their finger.   No one will take me seriously."   I was terrified.  I had only made art in the protective confines of the academy since I had started my diploma program...I had painted a bit before... And I had drawn all over my bedroom walls as a child, and then later on all over my notes and text books at university. 

I opened the back alley studio.   I felt like a fraud...an imposter.  I was not painting like anyone else around me, like many in the community.   I felt as though I was standing in front of the post office, at high noon, totally naked with all to criticize and offer comments on my work.   But this encouragement from my husband to put myself out there, to find my thumbprint, my distinct style has stood me in great stead.  At first, my work was not particularly well received.   In fact, at times, I would leave the back alley studio totally discouraged.  Gradually people began to recognize my style, my thumbprint and slowly,.. slowly I heard the whispers..."oh, that is Tricia Sellmer's work.

It took a few years before I would truly identify myself as a working, Canadian, professional artist.   I tell you this, because I know what you will be faced with when you leave the safety of the TRU visual arts department. 

So, I say to you this evening, perhaps what I found so important was finding, locating my distinct place within the art world, as I know it.  Have an open mind.  Network.  Don't confine yourself to one or two groups but circulate within communities.  You will find a richness in intermingling and merging between individuals and groups.  Find your voice.  Find your pulse.  Find your thumbprint.  Develop your thumbprint so that when one walks into a room full of paintings, for example, audience members will recognize your work from a long distance away.  Or, perhaps they will happen to see a digital performance and realize it is your creative voice that has shaped the message.  And, above all else, believe in yourself.  It is so easy to be thrown off track, cast aside.  A wise and clever gentleman by the name of Steve once said "Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your inner voice.  and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary."

You have the beginnings to navigate the path.  You have the education, you have the skills, you have the endurance... After all, you completed the rigorous requirements for a Bachelor of Fine Arts.  Be true to yourself, your narrative, your creative spirit.  Set your goals.  Be practical but dream big.  Find your true place in the visual world and strive to maintain your position.   Stand tall.  Stand strong in your desire to continue with your narrative.  Find and keep the magical place alive.  And again, good things will follow, if you Believe in Yourself.