My college art teacher, Nancy Ohanian.

“Feeling doubtful and uncertain is poison to the soul”

Many people long to go back to when they were young. I truly don’t, although there are a few exceptions, such as my eyesight. I never had great acuity due to my severe nearsightedness.


However, something I took very much for granted when I was much younger was my clear vision. Unfortunately, while in my thirties I developed gray floaters that clouded my eyesight. They are ugly, distracting and have worsened over time. I have had no choice but to accept them. I must regularly see a retinologist.


On top of the many years of my life “stolen” by grief, there are many other parts of my youthful life I wouldn’t want to revisit. During my twenties, I was extremely ambitious and focused upon succeeding as an artist; I would not consider myself that happy. In addition, I was often filled with doubt and uncertainty.


There are not many things about being younger that I long for. I far prefer my current life.


I also believe feeling doubtful and uncertain is poison to the soul. 

There is nothing more inspiring for me than believing in myself.

This charcoal drawing was an assignment in Nancy’s class for a record album cover.

“If I close my eyes”

If I close my eyes, I can access a special memory from my days in college.


I loved my college experience, even though I led a sheltered life. I lived at home and drove to college every day. I had numerous boyfriends and several evenings a week I went folk dancing. I was very close with my girlfriends and definitely lived a musical life.


I was not that “academic minded.” I did not apply myself to most of my classes and simply did what I needed to do to get by. By my third year in college, I felt the pressure of deciding upon a major. It was stressful for me to make such a huge decision about my future. I was not ready.


I have a twenty-year-old son. Recently, I could really feel his pain when he was faced with the difficult decision of choosing his major in college.


Even with my artistic talent from childhood, I never felt that it was viable for me to become an artist. I did not really enjoy art that much and it had been on my back burner for a long time.


I had taken a few college art classes, and none of them were enjoyable. Even though I truly did not consider it an option as a major, I felt perhaps I needed to explore art a little further. During that third year, I enrolled in two art classes: a beginning watercolor and an illustration course.


Watercolors inspired me and became my chosen medium immediately. I fell in love with my paintbrush, my paper, and all the control I suddenly found. I harnessed the watercolor technique so quickly that it was amazing even for the instructor.


With my beginning illustration course, I struggled at first. Because I was still learning the watercolor medium, I was not adept enough to express myself. I had to use other techniques, which included drawing and it was very frustrating for me. On my first assignment, I received a “C.”


With that grade, I was slightly discouraged, but also very motivated. The other students in my class seemed so talented and I wanted to improve. Mostly, I was impressed with my instructor and wanted to rise to the challenge. Clearly, she gave me a “C” because she thought I could do better.


My teacher, Nancy Ohanian, had her work published every week in the editorial section of The Los Angeles Times. I was amazed that she was my teacher. She was always very friendly and encouraging; I really liked her. There was something touching about her also. She was very open, while at the same time extremely shy and vulnerable. She described herself as a “loner.”

Nancy’s style has evolved over the years I’ve known her. What I remember most were her pen and ink portraits.

The semester went by, and soon my very first illustration class would be over.


Over that semester, my technique had improved a thousand fold. It was truly unbelievable. I harnessed watercolors as if I had painted with them my whole life. I now received “A’s” from Nancy. However, I had not forgotten about receiving that “C,” so I worked extra hard to be sure I did my best.


Suddenly, I realized I was applying myself to something!


As I sit typing these words on my computer, I am stopping to close my eyes and access my special memory . . .


It was on a “critique day.” A critique day was when all the students put their assignments on the wall and Nancy spoke about each illustration one by one. I had finished my assignment very late the prior evening. My heart pounded in anticipation of what my teacher would say.

A travel poster I painted while in Nancy’s beginning illustration class.

I was pleased because my painting came out well. All the students in the class crowded around it. I received so much wonderful feedback, especially from my teacher. I felt euphoric.


When the class ended, Nancy came over to tell me again what a great job I had done. We were talking for quite awhile after that. Soon I noticed the classroom was empty, and it was only the two of us.


As I remembered the moment when she started to tell me things that took my breath away, my special memory swept through my heart.


I listened to her words raptly. As I walked out of that classroom, I felt like I was about to burst with the knowledge of what she said to me. I willed myself to stay calm.


However, I was overcome with so much emotion carrying my teacher’s words inside. That night, I wrote in my diary about the experience in order to release it. It was such huge moment in my life; I was certain of that.


If I could describe my emotion, it would be amazement that my teacher was certain my future was limitless and success was just around the corner for me.


Yesterday, I had that exact same feeling as I faced my former teacher in my studio!


She sat in a chair across from me while I serenaded her on my guitar. Upon the walls of my studio were many of my paintings. At the age of fifty-one, I could enjoy the knowledge that all of my artistic ventures came true.

This picture was taken a few years after I graduated; in 1983. Nancy and I went on a hike.

“It’s as if your heart is outside your body”

I wrote this story; because there were few words to describe the thrill of seeing my college art teacher, Nancy, after at least twenty years.


Even though we lived on separate coasts, it didn’t matter. From the very beginning, I shared my musical journey with her. I always emailed her my songs and stories, and we had stayed close. She often watched me perform on the Internet at Kulak’s Woodshed, an open mic venue that broadcast the performers on the web.


On Sunday, Nancy and I had a wonderful lunch together and we both giggled incessantly. After lunch, she came back to my home. I raced upstairs to bring down my guitar. I closed the doors to my art studio and opened the case. Nancy sat across from me and said she would listen for as long as I wanted to play. I closed my eyes and sang song after song.


With her eyes shining she said, “Judy, when you sing there is such an aura of beauty flowing from you. It’s as if your heart is outside your body.”


I relished those moments singing for her.


How interesting it was for me to hurtle through time and have the exact same emotions I did on that day when she banished my doubts about whether I would become an artist. For a few months now, I have not had any doubt about the success of my journey.


Still, sharing my passion with my teacher after so many years was definitely a highlight in my life!


Below is a link to another story about Nancy:



On Aug 22, 2011, Judy wrote:




I have been very excited about everything surrounding our wonderful time together. I plan to write a whole post about it. That’s why I didn’t write much on my last post.


You can’t imagine how beautiful it was for me to share myself with you by singing. I am still looking over to the chair where you were sitting. I feel like you’re right back here sitting with me now! I’ll let you know when I finish and post my story. Here are the pictures that certainly tell the story without any words!


Love you,



On Aug 22, 2011, Ohanian, Nancy L. wrote:

Just got home from my most wonderful trip to LA….because of YOU!!!! Hahaha!!


Judy, I’m still smiling and laughing thinking of some of the funny things we talked about. I don’t think it is any particular subject that is making me smile, just the whole bunch of (almost) parallel issues we are both facing at the moment.Hahahaha!! Isn’t this life just the craziest thing?


Love the pics. I will cherish them and the time we spent together yesterday. I had the most wonderful time with you, Judy.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED hearing you and watching you sing from your deepest heart. It was sooo honest and touching and deeply satisfying to see you so happy and REAL. YOU ARE ONE OF THE MOST GIFTED SWEET LOVING HONEST PEOPLE I HAVE EVER KNOWN. I am sooooo blessed to know you as my sweet friend.


Thank you for sharing your Kulak’s recording! I LOVED watching you in my mind. I just thought about us sitting together in your studio and a big smile appeared. Very sweet. As I listened to your recording today from Kulak’s, I was thinking about how intensely deep your grief was/is. It’s beyond anything I could ever imagine in my deepest, deepest heart and soul.


Yet, you are opening like a beautiful flower.


I have often thought about how fearless a baby is. How they are born so pure and unafraid. They are born connected to eternity and full of the power of love because of that fearlessness. We are told that we need to become like little children to capture eternity, to capture the power and potential we were created for. As your life is revealing to everyone, fear was the only wall that separated you from reaching your potential. As you become less fearless, you will allow more of the power of the universe to take you to your potential.


That is a lesson for all of us. Fear seeps into our lives in so many ways. As we become aware of the different fears we have, we can shed them and, as a result, blossom like a beautiful flower in springtime.


That’s you, a beautiful flower in springtime.


Love Nano




Oh, Nanc! I love your message.


It is so pertinent to all that I’ve been feeling. I’ve noticed how I’ve been writing more and more the words “I am not afraid!”


You are right that it is fear that is a major barrier to human potential. You couldn’t have said it better with your beautiful lesson about fearlessness.


I love you!!!! 



My diary entry about Nancy in 1979.

© Judy Unger and 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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