It’s Never Too Late To Start

Some time ago I wrote about the importance of honouring our dreams and the call from our souls no matter what our age. In the course of writing, I thought about Elizabeth Layton (1909-1993).

Elizabeth started learning to draw only at age 68 in her attempt overcome depression. She attended a class and learned “blind” contour drawing. Drawing was therapeutic and helped her overcome her 35-year-old affliction.


A page on Elizabeth Layton from the drawing instruction book “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain”.

All Dressed Up.”Glenn bought that dress for me and I love it, but I can’t get up nerve enough to wear it. I have to have a dress for at least two or three years before I can get up the nerve enough to wear it. I can’t wear high heels, but this is what we people wear, it’s terrible.” (Elizabeth Layton)

Her unique drawings, which are sensitive to social issues and aging, are exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art, and in more than 200 art museums and centers throughout the U.S. The Washington Post had called her “the van Gogh of contour drawing”. There is even a mental health services centre named after her. She drew actively for many years until she died at 83.

Last Rose of Summer. “Glenn came in one morning with this yellow rose. It was like marriage. You give and you take. And that is why I was offering him the pie.” (Elizabeth Layton)

Her story fascinates me. It bears testimony that our souls manifest in human form to fulfill a desire, and how finding the right mode of expression for it can make a difference to our sanity and value on this earth during our short time.

I really like her drawings. They are quirky, a bit surreal, humourous yet at the same time a little poignant. Because she draws truly, true to what she feels and what she sees, her work touches the humanity that connects us.

And I learn from her that it is never too late to start.

The Bag Lady. “This is my dormant bag lady – she disgusts me. I am afraid to look at her. I may become she at any minute.” (Elizabeth Layton)


7 thoughts on “It’s Never Too Late To Start

  1. Pingback: The Difference between Who You Are and Who You’d Like to Be is What You Do! « My Bikram Yoga Story

  2. Monica, I am so happy to have found your blog on Grandma Layton. It is well written, and captures the true spirit of her and her art. She would have been pleased with your blog. Kathy Tracy, granddaughter of Elizabeth Layton. I would like to share this on her website as well as her facebook page if that is okay with you.

  3. Dear Kathy, I am so thrilled that you dropped by at my blog and am so happy that you find what I have shared captures the spirit of your grandmother’s art. She is an inspiration indeed. What she has done for herself despite her trying circumstances is a reminder to us that every life came here to do something and to fulfill a desire. I am so glad she found hers. I would be very honoured if you share this on Grandma Layton’s website and her Facebook page. Thank you for asking. I know that many lives would be touched by your grandma’s art and spirit.

  4. What a wonderful, simple article about the charm of Grandma Layton and her drawings. I believe that I have read your article before, however coming across it again, it touched me differently. As I become older, I find life’s everyday situations create such cynicism in my current behaviour and communication. I am now understanding, much more clearly, your comment regarding the need of finding the right mode of expression which can make a difference in our sanity and finding again, the purpose in our life. Grandma Layton and her children have always been an amazing strength and inspiration in my life and I’ll be forever grateful for that, but, you reminded me that “it is never to late to start (again.”)

    • Dear Willis,

      I know it is difficult not to feel cynical as we grow older, due to all the challenges we have to face everyday. I am so glad that you found my post about Grandma Layton encouraging. She has quite a story, doesn’t she? But so do all of us, if we allow ourselves to, and if we find a way to do so in a way that is meaningful to us.

      One way that had helped me to manage daily challenges is to remember that a lot of what we think as real are just social constructs. Why do some drive on the right side of the road while others drive on the left side? Why is a bikini acceptable today but a one-piece swimsuit that we consider conservative now caused uproar a mere 100 years ago? What is the meaning and purpose of life and who decides? There is really no consensus.

      I realise over time that many of the “shoulds” and “should nots” arose because some time in history, someone came up with a belief or a way of life that might have worked for him, and influenced enough people to believe the same. This became a community culture, and their reality. Every group lives by rules that govern their social interactions – these social constructs have heavy bearing on how we see the world and ourselves. But are these my reality? Or yours? Or a “hand me down”? Grandma Layton’s reality was different. She was depressed until she found a way to express it in a way meaningful to her.

      Once I asked my teacher, a Buddhist monk, what is the meaning and purpose of life according to the Buddhist view? He replied: “Life has is no particular meaning and purpose.” Immediately tears welled up in my eyes. (Coming from a Christian background, everything had a meaning and a purpose. God was the meaning and he gave us our purpose.) But my teacher added: “But this means we can create our own meaning and purpose.” Over the years, I have thought about this more and more, and it made me think that what my teacher said was quite profound. We have to create our own meaning or we risk experiencing the world through others’ construct of it. We only have one life, so why should we let others’ tell us what should define ourselves and our happiness without examining what holds true for us?

      So I thought to myself, perhaps social constructs are like the “maya” or illusion that yogic philosophy talked about. It clouds the way I see and experience the world. If I am able to see with a beginner’s mind, like a Zen Buddhist*, then I would have a direct experience. And that direct experience is uniquely mine, it is my reality. It would be what holds meaning for me. Why should I let the freshness of my direct experiences, my joys or my sorrows as well as my own simplicity, be subjugated and turned into cynicism?

      That is why I love drawing and painting, eventhough what I produce may be anything but spectacular. Drawing and painting teach me how to truly see. I see the beauty of a dying leaf, the hardship behind dried up hands, the history of laughter behind the wrinkles on a face. It really helped opened my eyes to see that everything can be so unique – and so beautiful.

      Seeing beauty, feeling compassion towards what I draw – somehow it keeps cynicism a little more at arms length.

      I wish you much meaning, purpose and happiness in life Willis.

      *read Zen master Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

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