Updated: a day ago
It started innocently enough.
I follow a few visual artists on Instagram, some of whom I’ve met in person and others I’ve admired from afar. I really wanted the opportunity to have some interesting and inspiring conversations, so I reached out to a few artists about a small three or five-part series about local female artists in and around Toronto.
One thing led to another... that led to another that led to another (as many exciting projects tend to unfold) and before I knew it, my fingers were typing madly, direct messages and emails fired off, invitations sent…. and I began receiving a whole lot of yeses to my requests for conversation. Even when I felt in over my head, I kept finding artists whose work I gravitated towards (across town, across the country and then, finally, across the ocean), who I thought would be a great fit for this series.
Every time I would chat with a friend who knew what I was working on, I would mention that the episode count was up to nine or 11 or 14, and each time they would say ‘What are you thinking?!’ What I was thinking was that there are just so many creative and curious people I want to connect with. I felt this magnetic pull to speak with them and learn from them. Before I knew it, I had 17 people scheduled into my calendar ready to chat ‘art’, their sources of inspiration, their creative processes and the tools they use in their individual crafts.
Curious Heart, Open Mind
I’ve learned that when we listen with a curious heart and an open mind allows us, as human beings, to better understand the world and ourselves within it. When we listen - really listen - multiple truths can begin to emerge. Very few things in this world are binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Even fewer things in the world of art are binary and, as such, grey areas and multiple realities begin to surface if we listen intentionally.
In 17 conversations with 17 female visual artists who encompass 17 different specialties offering 17 unique points of view, strong connections emerged; a web of wisdom born out of nodes of knowledge. First and foremost, these artists are now connected through this series, but I wanted to dig deeper and find underlying connections. During the conversations, overlapping circles formed in my mind as to how these very different artists were very interconnected. Like backing away from the individual tiles on a wall mosaic to reveal something much larger and much more significant than each separate piece on its own, after each conversation my aim became clearer; to find the intersections between the artists that speak to larger themes about creative processes and practices.
As travel writer and novelist, Pico Iyer, states in his book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere: “...but at some point, all the horizontal trips in the world can’t compensate for the need to go deep into somewhere challenging and unexpected.”
As I continued to reach out to artists, I couldn’t help but feel that this series was careening out of my creative control in the best way possible. It was becoming bigger and more exciting than I had imagined, and I allowed my creative intuition to remain a few steps ahead of my creative brain for much of the experience. I was going somewhere deeper, more challenging and unexpected than I had originally imagined... and it was exhilarating. I was kept awake more nights than I’d like to admit, but in the best ways possible. The entire process became this huge puzzle that consisted of 17 artists, 9+ hours of audio and a blank screen ready to be transformed into a visual story. I became fascinated (nay, obsessive) by how to solve this giant puzzle in front of me, with very few constraints and the promise to myself that I was creating something a little new and novel and never quite done before.
“Your art was the prettiest art of all the art.”
- Roy Anderson to Pam Beasley, The Office
My artistic talent, in the traditional sense, was virtually non-existent growing up. My perspective drawings in grade 7 barely made the wall for parent-teacher night. My paintings were few and far between. My clay sculptures… underwhelming.
But I had lots of arts and crafts in my life growing up. As a kid there was always a crafty project within reach: pipe cleaner people and painted ornaments and paper projects a-plenty. I’ve had this need to create, to make, to design (in the broadest sense) for as long as I can remember.
Is this art? Have I been doing ‘art’ all along?
In addition to the big picture ideas and themes unfolding within the series, I was also presented with the opportunity to ask: What is art? Who is an artist?
In her incredible book, Big Magic, author and creative soul, Elizabeth Gilbert, reminds us that we all come from makers. Even if we don’t remember our parents making art or stitching together our clothes or tending to a garden, our grandparents and great grandparents and great-great grandparents very likely did these things out of both necessity and enjoyment. To be human is to be creative and to make things. Liz explains: “The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old, which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story we decided it was way more important to make attractive superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.”
But my art isn't of the calibre of the artists in this series. In light of this fact, can I consider myself an artist?
I recently had the opportunity to moderate two round-table discussions at RGD’s DesignReThinkers 2021 conference. I was given a choice of a few different discussion topics, but the one my heart and soul gravitated towards was called ‘Gaining confidence when you don’t *feel* confident’. There were many, many takeaways from the open and honest discussions, but one that resonates here is the fact that there will always be someone whose work is better than yours. And there are two ways of looking at this fact: one is limiting while the other is liberating. (I choose the latter.) Someone will always have work that is more refined/professional/interesting/creative/noteworthy/special than yours. Period.
But that doesn’t mean that your work is any less important. The beautiful thing about creative and artistic pursuits is that there’s rarely a right and a wrong answer. Instead there are hundreds of different ways to approach an artistic practice and process. Our unique views, our life experiences and our specific ways of thinking all help us create work that is meaningful to ourselves and to others. Furthermore, the nature of creative work means that not only is it encoded and created in many different ways, but it’s also received and decoded differently by each viewer. Beautiful work to one person, is less-than-stellar to another and vice-versa. The subjectivity of creative work makes it both scary and exciting, challenging and rewarding.
So what is art? Who is an artist? I don’t know. But I don’t think it matters as much as I originally thought it might. I know I am a maker. And I think that makes me an artist too.
I also know that the older I get, the more important a role creativity plays in my life. Trying something new, no matter the outcome and dipping my toes into the pool of artistic practice where I could very well sink to the bottom, is a risk I’m willing - no, I have to - take. The need to express myself in a very real, deep, intrinsically-motivated, non-performative way is helping me understand my sense of self.
This podcast series is my creative output about creative outputs so I thought it was only fair that after having completed the series that I go back and ask myself some of the same questions that I asked my guests. Namely, what was my creative process?
The Creative Process to Uncover Creative Processes
What making Intersection afforded me, beyond having interesting conversations with incredible artists, is the ability to use my creative process to uncover others’ creative processes.
This series was unlike any other I’ve produced before, not only because of its sheer size but also the way in which I approached recording, editing and finalizing each episode. Typically I get an idea and I run with it. Full stop. For example, when I released my ASMR episodes back in April of this year, not 48 hours before their release I had just learned about this world of ASMR. Within a very short amount of time, I took an idea, did some research, came up with a concept, recorded 3 episodes and released them into the world. Like a sleek, trendy high speed train travelling on the most direct route from the starting point to the destination, it was a whirlwind of a fast and exciting ride. That’s the part I love the most when it comes to this podcast. Spontaneously taking an idea and running with it to create audio that is inherently interesting to me (and hopefully others) in a given moment.
In sticking with the train analogy, Intersection, by contrast, is more like an interestingly and ornately painted antique train that stops at every station along the way and takes months to get from its starting point to its destination. The tracks are non-linear, curving, circling back on themselves and drifting into interesting places not on my original map.
For many, many weeks I had no idea where I was going with this project. I counted 52 different name ideas for this series before I landed on Intersection. Do I focus on the ‘making’ aspect of these artists and their work? Do I really focus on and push the fact that they are all women pursuing artistic disciplines? Do I focus on their energy and the importance of this invisible force in their practice?
My close friends can attest to the fact that I was scattered throughout this process and it was driving me crazy that I couldn’t figure out a theme or focus or direction for this series. When I introduced a new constraint by finally deciding that I would try to find commonalities and connections in artists whose backgrounds and disciplines were so diverse, the puzzle-solving became more focused but it continued. When name #53 finally entered my consciousness - Intersection - it was a lightbulb moment. From this point forward I was able to see a path to my destination on my mental map and steer the slow-moving locomotive toward the final station, regaining control and enjoying the scenic ride.
Both trains (and processes) are interesting, useful and have merits in their own right. Intersection’s ride required greater focus and greater trust that I could pull this off, as well as continue to maintain the motivation needed for the marathon 3 months (versus the usual 3 days) of work involved. Needless to say, it was just a different ride than I’m used to.
And I’m so grateful for it because it has allowed me to grow and shift and think differently. The ways I’ve pushed myself here have spilled over into other areas of my personal and professional lives. And that’s the neat thing about growth: it accumulates compound interest. Invest a little time and energy and curiosity and if you do that often enough and for long enough, you’ll end up with a fortune.
Furthermore, instead of my typical process of editing each conversation directly after it happened, I recorded all conversations in this series and let the ideas marinate. I then went back and listened again, editing the audio and taking meticulous notes to capture and catalogue the main ideas, sources of inspiration, creative processes and tools used by the artists.
Like the pieces of an intricate puzzle that could fit together in a number of different ways, I had no idea if, in the end, I would still have a piece of two left over in the box with nowhere to go. But with a little flexibility, adaptability and creativity, all the pieces fit and, in fact, I’m delighted to say that the puzzle forms a circle of connection looping from one artist to the next to the next, all the way back to the beginning again.
In summary, my process for this project involved collecting, dissecting and then reflecting, connecting, and ultimately intersecting the conversations and the stories of 17 diverse female artists. (And I’ve got the spreadsheet to prove it.)
17 artists, intersecting
Over the next 17 episodes you will meet a realist painter, a Photoshop artist, an art therapist, a makeup artist, an abstract painter, a textile designer, an animator, a portraiture artist, a henna artist, a tattoo artist, a filmmaker, a photographer, a paper cut artist, a LEGO artist, a digital paper artist, a watercolour artist and a woodworker. Some of the artists are just starting their careers, while others have been in the business for 20+ years. Some are full time artists who make a living from their craft, while others pursue their art part-time or strictly as a hobby, determined never to make it a source of income.
There were so many intersecting ideas and practices and underlying motivations within each of these conversations, which made it both easy and challenging to fit the puzzle together in a meaningful way.
From a birds eye view, some of the most interesting overarching themes include the fact that many of these individuals started out and trained as professional illustrators, branching off from this starting point into their unique disciplines. Most, if not all, of these artists are also multi-disciplinary. They specialize in one or two or three crafts, but dabble in many others. Furthermore, many of the artists spoke about the importance of not only participating in artistic communities of like-hearted individuals, but also creating spaces for these communities to flourish. Many of these women are creative leaders in their communities, both digitally and in-person, that help to elevate the work of other artists and create joy through helping others discover and rediscover their artistic practices. Interestingly, while many of these artists do make a living through their craft, competition was rarely discussed. Community, collaboration and focusing on the development of their own artistic practices was much more commonplace.
I’m excited to share with you now the points of connection interwoven throughout each of the 17 artists and their stories. A theme found in one artist’s conversation, connects to a theme found in the artist whose episode came directly before theirs, as well as a theme found in the artist whose episode comes directly after. The present will connect to the past that will connect to the future. So at the end of 17 episodes we will not only hear incredible stories of female artists, but we will also hear the stories between the stories, listening deeply for the common themes, ideas and truths that emerge and interweave one to the next.
The connections start here, with this primer episode and through creating my art; reflecting and writing and storytelling. The themes include:
The journey is more important than the destination
Art as therapy
The importance of creating safe spaces through art
Bright colours bring joy
The power of immersing oneself into nature
Exploring the ways traditional meets modern practice
Maintaining creative control
The power of play
Doing work that's meaningful to oneself
Finding one’s flow state
Spontaneity in the process
After having worked on this project, I have new levels of understanding about art, artists and the worlds in which they create. One of the key insights I’ve extracted and held close is that my work, both personal and professional, is ever-evolving. Growth is an exciting part of the process that reminds us that nothing stands still for too long and that’s a good thing. In the upcoming first episode we meet Brooke, a realist painter, who shares my feelings about the process of growth as an artist and as a human being.