Diane Atwood

This is what I wrote in 2012 about my decision to go to school. 

My name is Diane Atwood.
I’m an art major at USM in Portland, Maine.
When you’re 65 tuition is free.
I’m there!
No way I could pass up the opportunity.

When my two daughters, who are now young women, were growing up, I always tried to nurture a love of art. Both showed talent at a young age, which I had always assumed came from their father because he can draw beautifully. I signed them up for art classes, art camps, art workshops — you name it. One ended up with a minor in art from Colby College in Maine and the other majored in communication design at Parsons in NYC.

One day, when they were well past the age of my signing them up for anything, MECA’s Continuing Studies brochure arrived in the mail. As I had done for so many years before, I immediately flipped through the pages. This time, however, it was an adult class that grabbed my attention — Painting for the True Blue Beginner. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so on a whim, I signed up for the class, and it was there that I had my epiphany.

Copy of Man in a Room for first painting class

One of our assignments was to copy a painting done by one of the masters. I chose a figure of a man painted by Paul Cezanne. I tried my best to copy it, but I didn’t know how to measure properly or determine any proportions. I was also completely lost when it came to mixing colors. None of that seemed to matter though. I slipped into a zone that I had no idea even existed.

The pivotal moment came when I made a mark on the man’s pants. When I stepped back as the instructor had suggested we do, I was completely blown away to see that my one small gesture resembled a wrinkle in the pants! I hadn’t even thought, “I must make a wrinkle.” I just copied the shape and there it was. I can’t begin to describe the joy and excitement I felt over what I had created.

After that night, I continued to push myself, taking drawing and oil painting classes and attending a few workshops, including one on the streets of Manhattan, which was a totally intimidating and exhilarating experience.

A few years ago I began to daydream about quitting my job and going to art school, but it was an unrealistic yearning. I now work as a freelance writer and blogger and have a bit more flexibility with my schedule.

A friend who works at USM suggested that instead of taking classes here and there, I should consider getting an art degree. His rationale was that it would provide me with structure and discipline and a path to follow. It would also give me the opportunity to explore other mediums. The idea resonated and I realized that if I didn’t just do it, I would go to my grave feeling really disappointed in myself. So, I applied — college essays and all!

What inspires me most about painting is that for the first time in my life, I don’t worry (too much!) about making mistakes and I don’t get frustrated (too much!) because something doesn’t turn out as I imagined it should. Instead, I find myself noticing problems and trying to figure out solutions, and over and over I will ask myself, “I wonder what would happen if I try this?”

It’s the same question I asked when I realized that pursuing a BFA at USM was within my grasp. “I wonder what would happen if I try this?”

And so I am.

PS If you also happen to be interested in health and wellness, I write another blog called Catching Health with Diane Atwood. I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out. Thank you!

2023 Update

As I mention on the homepage, I graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in art. While going to school, I also wrote a blog called Catching Health. I retired that blog in 2022, but you can still access all of the posts at CatchingHealth.com.

I currently have a podcast called Catching Your Memories, where I invite people of any age to share a specific story about themselves. You can listen to episodes on your favorite podcast app. I also offer private life story interviews. You’ll find more information about that on my Catching Your Memories website.

Do you have a My Late Start story?

Are you retired or “mature” like me, and have discovered or rediscovered something that brings you joy? I firmly believe you’re never too old to learn or do new things! If you’d like to share your story here on My Late Start or have questions or comments,  Send an email or use the form below.


Angela Chastant · September 25, 2016 at 11:33 am

We are similar in a couple of ways. I am 62 and discovered art journaling after reading about the Paris bombing that happened in the early spring. It was my 1st page and it was done on card stock without gesso. I have not stopped and I am now playing with portraits of girls. I am working on Art Journaling paper, and using gesso. I have also been thinking of taking an art class at a university. It was great learning that some universities offer free classes after the age of 65. I will difently check into this. I am so happy to have found you and I am anxious to read about your journey !

    dianeatwood · March 7, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Angela! You wrote to me back in 2016. I’d love to know how your practice is going now. I graduated in 2021, but have only in the past few months been able to establish a consistent practice. I’m so glad I finally did.

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