My Dear MilspoFANs,
It’s July and I have the perfect interview for you if you have Summer Fun on the mind (or need a break from PCS season)! This month I’m so pleased to share an interview with Tammy Bruce, a talented painter who is sharing her love of making art with people all over the world. Not only does Tammy teach art during relaxed and inclusive mobile painting parties, her company, Mai Tais and Monet, employs several military spouses. On top of that, Tammy volunteers her time to bring the painting experience to people in untraditional settings like the hospital.
Tammy’s passion, compassion, and open personability shine through, so it’s no wonder that her business has flourished. If you are lucky enough to live in a Mai Tais and Monet area, be sure to join or book a painting party. If you don’t live nearby, contact Tammy to see if there are plans for an MT&M chapter in your area… or just wait until PCS season rolls around again, ha! 😉
And now, enjoy our interview with Tammy:
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Tammy: My military spouse journey began when I was in Second Grade. This young boy named Bill taught me how to eat the sap of a Honeysuckle flower out on the school playground. We became quick friends. He knew at that young age he wanted to join the Navy. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. School was difficult given my dyslexia, but art came so naturally. We became more than friends when we started dating the summer before our 11th Grade year. Despite a break-up before high school graduation, we remained close. Bill had his sights set on acceptance to the Naval Academy. I was set on becoming an artist.
I attended a local junior college taking all of the art classes required of a graphic artist, not concerned about the common courses required, like English or History. When I learned those were required regardless of major, I entered the Disney World College Program hoping for a chance to become a background artist’s apprentice. Bill joined the Navy and went to boot camp in Orlando, as well. Our relationship was rekindled.
While I had every intent of staying in Orlando to become an artist’s apprentice, marriage to the love of my life became more important. I moved back home to plan a wedding that would be delayed five years. Bill was finally accepted to the Naval Academy with the stipulation he couldn’t have any dependents. During those years, I became a legal secretary for my uncle. The artist in me, though, painted murals and designed custom rugs for homeowners. I also helped others with crafting projects involving painting. Then the wedding day came and I was officially welcomed as a Navy Wife with the swat of a sword from a really good Marine friend of ours who served as a Swordsman.
The Navy Life took us to Pensacola, FL, Fort Meade, MD, San Diego, CA, Monterrey, CA, and Ewa Beach, HI, on the island of Oahu. With five moves, three children, three dogs, two cats and numerous fish, in 18 years, it was hard to gain any continuity, let alone realize the artist in me. As a military spouse, though, I supported the various commands Bill was assigned by becoming a member of the spouse’s clubs or family readiness groups. My outgoing personality usually led me into leadership roles within these groups. It just came naturally.
MilspoFAN: How did you become an artist?
Tammy: When I was very young, my grandmother realized I had a hard time with reading (I was later diagnosed with dyslexia) so she taught me to paint. We would spend hours painting. My grandmother never took her art seriously, but she always encouraged me to advance my talent. It wasn’t until she passed that I found many of her drawings and realized what an amazing artist she was. I also realized what an amazing gift she passed on to me. I am blessed that she took the time to teach me. She was also my biggest supporter.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Tammy: Over the years I have met many talented artists on my journey. I always try to find local artists to follow in the different places we have moved. I attend local arts and craft shows to see what is new and what is local to the area. Social media groups such as MilspoFAN has been a great tool for finding new artists.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Tammy: I will be honest, being an artist and a military spouse has been difficult for me. By the time I would allow people to know that I was an artist it was time to move. Personally, I would not share my work with many because I was afraid of showing my true myself to others. I would make whatever new “craft” there was to make because it was safe to share. That would also allow me to teach others how to create. It wasn’t until I started Mai Tais and Monet that I started finding my style and putting myself out there. Now with social media things are becoming easier to keep a following.
MilspoFAN: Tell us the origin story of Mai Tais and Monet and its mission today.
Tammy: About 9 years ago I got a call from my sister. She was a bit tipsy explaining to me she had just painted a picture. She sent me a photo of it and I was taken aback on two counts, 1) she didn’t drink, and 2) she didn’t paint bedroom walls very well and her painting was fantastic. She explained she had a couple of cocktails and was told what to paint and when.
At the time I was the Assistant Art director at Schofield Barracks Arts and Crafts Center, I took this idea to my boss and she believed what was wanted more than a quick 2-3 hour painting were several continuous classes where participants work on one painting for days to weeks. Being a mother of 3 with a husband who deployed I didn’t have time for a three-week class.
Shortly after that conversation, I started a new job working as a program managers assistant out in town. I talked with a few friends and we decided to give “paint parties” a try. At the time of starting, I was just doing it for fun, I never expected it to grow into a company. Today we are a military spouse owned and operated mobile paint party business. Our mission is to share our love of art with as many people as possible. We realize it’s not about the painting it about the fun you have creating your masterpiece.
We at Mai Tais and Monet have been very blessed to do what we do. So we volunteer when possible and we donate our time to share our passion.
MilspoFAN: What went into your decision to leave art to go into Marketing and Personal Relations?
Tammy: I had left my art for a bit. Raising children, being a wife and moving every two years I lost my motivation. While in Hawaii my art would come back to me. But, in a very roundabout way. The Parent-Teacher Coordinator at our kids’ elementary school became available. The woman filling the role told me I was the perfect fit and asked that I apply. Upon application, the Principal asked if I had a degree. I left college before gaining a degree, so I had to tell her no. She disqualified me from the position. I was angry, upset, embarrassed. Bill asked me what I was going to do about it. I had two choices, 1) use the frustration to get a degree so this wouldn’t happen again, or 2) not be upset about something I couldn’t control. I researched online degrees, found one, but couldn’t push the button to start. Bill did that for me.
While I was working on my Marketing and Personal Relations Bachelor’s, I caught wind of an opening for an Assistant Art Director at the Schofield Barracks Arts and Crafts Center. I got the position. I was in my element. Art, in many forms, was all around me again. And, I was able to share my love of art with all who walked through the doors. Especially painting. I led several classes and the desire to continue was growing stronger.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Tammy: I realized that I thrive when I am teaching others. I see the beauty even when they can’t. I have never felt like an artist, but when I am helping others find their inter artist my creativity flows and I am inspired- I am an artist. I realize that what I paint is a little more advanced than what I can help people within a two hour time period. What I do is help people appreciate art and what it takes to be an artist. I always find that one person that thinks art is easy. In a world where pictures are can be computer generated and mass produced, people have lost the appreciation for art. After one class those same people realized it takes time and talent to create, those people walk away with a new appreciation for what we as artists do.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Tammy: We at MT&M are working to start our own non-profit to be able to keep sharing our passion of art.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Tammy: Paint, draw, create- don’t worry about what others think of your work. Do what makes you happy. If selling our art is what you want to do, build a brand and believe in it.
MilspoFAN: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers?
Tammy: This is a story I wrote back on July 7, 2014, this is why I do what I do.
I believe God has a unique way of touching us through the use of angels. God blessed me with one such angel, Haley. Haley is an 11- year-old girl I came to Know just a few weeks ago. She is terminally ill with cancer. But, her spirit is as bright as the sunrise over the Ko’olau and her hugs overwhelm you with warmth.
Mai Tais and Monet was asked by a local Girl Scout Troop #122 to join them in painting with the patients of the Tripler Army Medical Center Pediatric Oncology Department. The day was so amazing. We shared our love of painting and the patients and staff paid in kind with a tremendous sense of inspiration. There was a joy in the air as minds were turned away from the damaging effects of cancer to the wondrous world of imagination. But, as I came to learn, one little girl was not there, Haley.
Given her terminal diagnosis, she wished not to be cooped up in the hospital. But, as the staff explained to me, she did wish she were there to paint. I made it a point to contact her mom, Wendy, and offered to come to Haley. We worked out the details and one glorious Saturday afternoon, I met my angel. It was as if we knew each other from years gone by. Once I assured her, though, that I was not a nurse, she agreed to paint with me.
The cancer Haley is battling took away her short-term memory. She continually asked me who I was and reaffirmed her desire to be an artist when she grew up. For the next two hours, she showed me the artistic ability within her and I watched in amazement as a family came together to paint a gorgeous “Family Tree” collage. We sang and we laughed, but most of all, we made memories. Despite Haley’s short-term memory loss, she was able to lock away. For at least one day, she became her desire.
God touched me through Haley. Having turned 45 the same week as this chance encounter, I was feeling rather down. I had hit a sort of mid-life crisis moment. But, the visit to Tripler and meeting my angel inspired me. It knocked me out of my funk and rejuvenated my soul. Those who have come to know me know that I love to have fun and I love art in many forms. But, bringing those two together, if only for a few hours in a person’s life, uplifts us all. She reassured me that sharing the love of art is what I was meant to do on this earth. For that, I am humbly and forever grateful. Thank you, Haley, my angel.
Thank you, Tammy, for sharing your journey and your passion with us!
MilspoFANs, were you inspired, by Tammy’s beautiful artwork and mission to share the art-making experience with others? Share your comments and questions with us in the comments below or on Facebook.
To find out even more about Mai Tais and Monet, visit the website here: https://maitaisandmonet.com/