Ugly Before Pretty

By: Mae Lewis

ears ago, I had the opportunity to intern with an elite interior designer and painter. This guy was über-talented. Seriously, he had a doctorate in color theory and his work was consistently featured in magazines like Architectural Digest. His business catered to celebrities and athletes, and as a young artist, I was painting the interiors of celebrity’s homes.

At the time our specialty was faux painting (pronounced “foe”) – meaning “fake.” It is a trompe l’œil effect (fooling of the eye) that emanates real texture such as stone, brick, and marble.

As a young artist, I struggled with some of the techniques, not understanding some of the artistic process. Faux painting is applied in several layers, each one building on the last to create dimension. In a texture like fake marble, there are so many paint layers, that I would often lose sight of the final vision.

I would be disappointed in how my work would look as I applied the first layers. When you slap brown paint on a brown background, it looks like mud — not like marble! I was sure I had messed it up! I looked at my mentor with a face that said, “I screwed it up!”

I’ll never forget how my mentor looked at my face and said, “No, you are doing it right! It has to look ugly before it gets pretty!”

There were so many layers. I couldn’t lose sight of the fact that these were just the first steps.

That story stayed with me over the years as I have grown and developed not only as an artist, but as a human being. Most recently, my daughter was crying over a picture she had drawn for a friend. She had only colored in the first element, but she was disappointed in the way it had turned out in contrast to her expectation. I found myself repeating the words of my mentor — ugly before pretty! –– and encouraging her to finish it and finish the steps before she cast judgment on herself.

Later that night, I was discussing my father’s journey with my husband. I have written before of my father’s drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. In 2021, my father had hit rock bottom and was out of his mind.

Having him committed was the only option. I had worked with authorities and family to have him arrested and committed to an institution.

I’ll never forget the image of my father being arrested and realizing that I had tricked him into being arrested. It was in a Costco parking lot right in front of a full line of gas pumps: a captive audience witnessing my father’s arrest.

He began screaming my name at the top of his lungs. He fought the police. They tackled him to the ground and carried him, arms flailing and legs kicking, to their squad car. He continued screaming at me — my daddy — my first love — the gentlest person in the world who had lost his mind, his heart, and his center.

It was ugly.

Very ugly.

I still tear up even now writing this. It was a very sad day.

But! That was just the first step. Dad was committed for 90 days (the max time in Arizona). He got cleaned up. He was diagnosed as bipolar and placed on court ordered medication. He got a place to live. He got a car.

Today he lives in a 5th-wheel near friends. He is no longer on court ordered medication. He is no longer homeless. He will never be the same person again, but I have a relationship with him. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it “pretty” but it isn’t ugly anymore.

AND…I have hope that he will get well and make good choices. I have hope that even now, we are still in the ugly stages, and we may have something beautiful again.

But we wouldn’t have what we have today if it wasn’t for that ugly day, and those ugly steps.

As I was talking to my husband about this, I was reminded — “ugly before pretty.” Sometimes life takes us through some really ugly stages, but they are just that — stages, and each layer of ugly contributes to the overall beauty of life.

We wouldn’t have the beauty of today without the beautiful ugly of yesterday.

By: Mae Lewis