Each Creativity Case study is an intimate look into a personal, creative world. These longitudinal conversations explore lowercase art -- the ways individuals create private meaning -- and the way lowercase art weaves threads through our lives.
This is the first conversation in the Creativity Case Study with Melissa Black. I'll check in with her again a couple of times at 6 to 8 month intervals for the follow-up conversations.
Download the full conversation to listen at your leisure (mp3 format, run time 1:11:47), or continue reading for the spiffy-fied transcript with links and photos.
Hello, everyone! This is a creativity case study. The case studies are intimate looks into personal, creative worlds and today that world belongs to Melissa Black. Hey Melissa!
MB: Hi, Andrea. [Noted: Melissa's side of the conversation is shown throughout the transcript with MB]
MB: Well, Black Ink Virtual started out as Black Ink Virtual Assistance about 3 years ago, so the traditional virtual assistance business. When I was starting the business I created my own website and realized I really liked it. Over the years I've been quietly creating websites for clients, and also tweaking my own, rebuilding my own. It became something I just really love to do. These days, mostly what the business is is web design with a side of creative and tech support, which is if somebody already has a website that either we built or somebody else has built and they need support around that, they need changes or updates, graphic elements -- we provide that as well.
So leaning more, or trending more towards the area of creative problem solving for your clients.
Before we get too far into it, because we're going to jump right in in a moment, these conversations tend to be, as you know, kind of fluid and flowing. If there's something that comes up that we want to go after, we're going to do that. We'll say "squirrel" and run after the squirrel (laughing).
MB: Great! (laughing)
One of the reasons I started the Creativity Case Studies was because I didn't feel like there was enough conversation about personal creativity, about what I call lowercase art which is different than when people do creative work for a living. I really wanted to have these honest and real conversations about it. We did a little bit of that in our preliminary conversation. One of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you is because you have had a creative awakening fairly recently.
MB: Exactly. Yeah, I reached out to you to share that with you about a month ago. Over the summer, my husband had some health issue and it was a very stressful time. He's fine now. It turned out to be a bad reaction to a medication but at the time, we didn't know what was going on. It was a scary, stressful time filled with doctors appointments and testing, and a lot of uncertainty. We both were extremely stressed out and anxious. What I really needed was something different to focus on. I don't know how it came into my life. I don't remember if I read something about mandalas, or if I saw a mandala and decided I wanted to make one, but it started with mandalas and also Zentangles. I learned about Zentangling. I started kind of playing with that. I found that while I was creating those and learning, I was just so focused and so sort of in the zone, nothing else was coming into my brain. It was really a form of meditation. And when I was done, I just felt so relaxed so it was like my blood pressure dropped. I felt like, I want to share this with my husband, because he was the one that was sick and the one going through all of this, so I said to him, let's learn how to draw. We put on YouTube tutorials. He's a huge Disney fan and so he found tutorials on how to draw Disney characters and that became his thing. It was this nice thing we sort of shared, and it was this thing that took our minds off of the stressful stuff. Since then, it's been a period of taking in as much as I can -- discovering other types of art, now I'm like, watercolor pencils exist, what's that? (laughter) I'm in the art supply shops all the time, and my husband is fine now so that's not a concern anymore, but art has remained a thing I need almost every day. I need to be able to make something and zone out, and it really completes my day.
Yeah. I was thinking earlier this year about how essential our creative outlets really are, and how we just don't have opportunities to express everything that's going on. Email doesn't really cut it and Facebook updates don't really cut it. It's really hard to have places to be that expressive and to keep things from keep being bottled up inside, especially if there's a lot going on.
MB: I know. I looked at one of the pieces that I drew and I remember a couple of days after I did it, going back and looking at it and saying, "Whoa, what was on my mind at this point, wow." (laughter) I think I sent that one to you, and there was so much going on in the page. Obviously I had something I needed to get out.
I think it's a common thing that we have creative awakenings or feel our creative urges tap us on the shoulder and say, 'Hey, let's do something,' after life transitions and whenever there are moments or periods of stress in our lives. I know I've experienced that with myself personally. I don't get the urge to paint with watercolor -- landscape type paintings with watercolors -- unless there is some unresolved tension in my personal relationships. It's just a particular pattern that I've noticed. I don't reach for that, or I don't get the urge to reach for that, unless I have that particular stress going on.
MB: hat's so interesting. Yeah, I could say that I haven't really done -- I think when I was super stressed, I think the Zentangles were the things I gravitated to. I'm not feeling stressed right now so I'm not really doing much of that. I'm doing more of the mandalas and learning new art techniques now. It's interesting that you say that -- you lean towards a certain type of art when you're feeling a certain thing.
I think we have seasons as well. Certain seasons bring up certain creative urges, at least for me. When the air starts getting colder and the air starts turning, all I want to do is write poetry and write letters. It's amazing.
MB: I love that. (laughter)
One of the comments you made in our preliminary conversation is that all you want to spend your money on now is art supplies? (laughing)
MB: (laughing) Totally. Totally! Any time I have any kind of discretionary fundage, I'm in the art supply store, and it's crazy and it's expensive.
And there are so many things. I went to art school probably 10, maybe 12 years ago. I only knew about the supplies we needed to have in class. I didn't really go to the big, fancy art stores so much because I was focused on the assignments for class. I didn't do a lot of creative work or creative play when I got done with art school. Recently, in the last couple of years I've really got back into it and I'm amazed at what has emerged since I've been away.
MB: The wave of materials? [8:58]
As far as materials and techniques. It could just be I was living under a rock for so long, or maybe it's not true, but it feels to me that there has been just an amazing emergence in technique and resources for personal creativity, for things like art journaling, intuitive painting, Zentangles, mandalas -- doing things that are meditative and personal as opposed to focusing on traditional art techniques.
MB: It's interesting that you say that because I thought it was just that I hadn't been aware of all of this. It sounds like you're saying that it doesn't seem like it's been like this until recently (laughter).
I mean it could be, we could have been living under the same rock. I don't know. (laughter) I'm amazed -- I checked out a stack of books from the public library on art journaling - wow, people have really gone wild with this.
MB: The art journaling is not just like keeping a sketch book, or drawing, it's a lot of mixed media stuff and so these art journals end up being three times as thick as they were when they were purchased, right? (laughter).
Yes, the mixed media world has just exploded. I don't think we were living under a rock because I do remember sketchbooks and people keeping personal sketchbooks, and even writing journals, but I don't remember art journaling being such a thing. People did rubber stamping and card making and scrapbooking, and there these things that were separate, and now the art journaling is combining them all into this big...I don't know...big effort.
MB: Yes, well, I think it's great. I think we all need to express ourselves more (laughter), so whatever means there are available, I think that's great.
I do think it helps us all be...I don't want to say better people, but nicer people when we have creative outlets because things build up and there's only so much you can hold inside. The place to unleash it is maybe not in the email to your boss. (laughter)
MB: Take it from me, draw a mandala. (laughter)
Start with a mandala.
MB: ee how you feel after that (laughing), and if you still need to write the email, draw another mandala. (laughter)
Park it in your draft folder and take a moment, take a break and come back to it.
There is definitely something to that -- taking mini art breaks. That's something I wanted to talk about, because you talk about the calming effects and the meditative state -- how it feels like meditation to be doing these mandalas, it's soothing, kind of a balm for what's going on --
MB: Absolutely, yeah.
How do you set yourself up to do that? How do you set yourself up to make sure that that sanctuary, or that your creative practice is available to you?
MB: You know, there are days when I wait until my work is done for the day. But there are days when I stop in the middle of the day and I need a break. It's not scheduled. It's not like, I draw every morning or I draw every night before I go to bed. It's something that I feel like -- I have the freedom to do that. Being self-employed I have the ability to stop in the middle of my say and say I need a break and to just do something different. It can actually help me become unstuck creatively in terms of my work, and it's helpful that way, too. No, I don't schedule it, but again, I realize that I'm fortunate I able to stop when I need to. And I'm not saying that every 10 minutes I need an art break (laughter), but you know, I listen to it. If I realize that I'm getting stressed or something's just not coming together, I need to stop and I do.
I like that phrase, "I listen to it."
MB: Yeah, it's not something I have always been able to do. But, you know, I'm getting older. With age comes wisdom, right? (laughter)
Yeah, I like that you said your creative awakening didn't really happen until your early 40s.
MB: Yeah! I'm going to be 42 this year, and I was never the kid that was drawing or painting or anything. I was just not that kid, I was just never that person growing up. I dabbled in writing a little bit, I had a job where I was responsible for graphics and creating flyers and little things like that, but I had a boss that was super specific about the type of look he wanted. I didn't feel creatively free and it was probably frustrating in the beginning, but because I was in that job for so long, it just became something I was used to, and so I didn't look for that freedom. Then, when I was creating my own website, things started to turn around then, I think a couple of years ago. It wasn't until this summer when I really started to embrace tactile art as opposed to making something pretty on a screen.
There's something very different about tactile art, about being able to use your hands and show it to someone after instead of here's the URL, go take a look (laughing).
MB: Right, right (laughing). Well, it's interesting that you say that about showing people and sharing your art. That's something that I have a tough time with. I will show my husband. I have a close friend that I'll share some things with. I think I sent you something. I'm not comfortable yet with sharing my art and I don't know when that's going to come (laughing). I'm sure it will come at some point. It's very personal right now.
It is, because it's part of your personal expression, right, there's that intimacy to it. Even if you don't feel like you're writing out all your secrets longhand, there's still something very personal in everything that you make. I'm curious about that. I wonder if people have art that they are willing to show and then they have things they keep for themselves. I had always assumed that the stuff people kept for themselves was the experimental stuff, the 'I'm just going to try this, I don't know how it's going to turn out,' but I actually think it's not. It's things that just have more meaning. We create meaning through art and so we probably hold more close than we think.
MB: think that you're probably right. I know when I'm making something, creating something, there's always something...yes, I'm focusing on what I'm doing and I'm really into that...but there's always something in the back of my mind, something going on in my world that's coming out through the art. I think it that way, it is, it's personal.
I still have stuff I'm not comfortable sharing, just because I don't really think there's a reason to share it. I made it and there's no reason for me to put it out in the world. Last year, I was doing a project where I was making art -- I was doing an art-by-mail program -- and one of the reasons I paused it was I realized how draining it absolutely was to be doing all of this work essentially for public consumption, even in a small circle of people, and not being able to keep any of that for myself, or retain creative energy for myself.
Hmmm. I do think there's a balance between internal and external, and what you keep and what you share. Maybe it's the introversion/extroversion scale of creativity, I don't know. (laughing)
MB: It could be. I think about things I'm comfortable sharing. For example, my brother got married this past Spring. They had asked us to create...my husband has always been more creative than me. He's a photographer, he paints a little bit, now he's drawing. He's always been more creative than me. They asked us to create a guest book for them with the covers made of wood, and etch the covers. That was something we created together. I made the design and he did the wood burning. I was really proud of it because it's something we did together. I shared it on Instagram, or maybe Facebook, I don't know. I was comfortable sharing it because it was a joint effort. I was able to give my husband a lot of the credit, and also because it was a gift for somebody and it was a request. They had told me specifically what they wanted and so this wasn't where I was creating something out of nothing. This was a guided request, and it was a joint effort. It’s interesting I was so comfortable sharing that. [20:23]
You were, in a way, creating meaning for someone else. It was meaningful for you to make this and and be involved in creating that gift, but maybe the meaning you created wasn’t necessarily for you.
MB: Yeah. That's so interesting. It was for somebody else so I was more comfortable with that.
(laughter) One of the things I find fascinating about creativity is when people start talking about creativity, or let's say you’re out networking or out in public meeting new people and they find out you’ve got this creative facet to you, immediately it’s like, ‘What do you make?’ ‘What do you paint?’ ‘What medium do you use?’ or whatever. It gets very specific. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around that. Once you start down the creative rabbit hole, things get very unspecific (laughing). You go to the art store and you know, there’s all these supplies — I want to play with that, I want to play with that. I don’t want to just do one thing in one way. I play with everything. (laughter)
MB: I know! I can never imagine going into the art store to just get one thing, buying it, and walking out (laughing). Because it’s like all of these shiny things. Oh, what about this? What if you also incorporated this, or how would it look if you did it with this kind of paper? I know. You’re right, it’s not just one thing. My sister-in-law is an artist, and she’s an art teacher. She’s actually doing some work with me. She’s doing some illustrations for me and we’re starting to incorporate those in our web design. I would never just say she’s just an illustrator. She paints, she does all kinds of things. She’s an art teacher so she does all kinds of art. Yeah, it is hard to qualify, “I’m a creative person.” Well, what do you create? I don’t know, lots of things. (laughing)
And the emphasis is on the finished product, which is also particular fascinating to me because the handwork part of it, the process of actually bringing your idea or your vision to life — there is something to be said for the finished product, and for someone to look at it and start to understand the hundreds of creative decisions or decisions you had to make that result in that finished piece — but there’s also the hidden part, the part that nobody sees and that’s all the creative problem solving that happens in your brain before you even start.
MB: And as you go.
MB: And I know that there are pieces of art that people have worked on for years. It’s not always something you create in an afternoon. These projects can take so much time. I actually know a sculptor and he’s just amazing. The materials he was using were not good enough for him, and so he created the materials with which to sculpt and he now sells this sculpting medium.
MB: It’s really amazing. I’ve seen some of the work he’s done and I know that some of those pieces just take a really long time to do. But I know there are some pieces that take an afternoon and it fascinates me. And I don’t know why we’re talking now about how long things take — I got sidetracked there. Squirrel! (laughter) There is a lot of focus on the finished product, but I know that for him, it’s not just picking up the pieces. His material is called CX5 and his name is Adam Beane and he created this material. He doesn’t just it up and start sculpting, which he could do. You know, he sketches things out, he meets with a model, there’s all of these decisions that have to be made before starting something major.
I like this particular squirrel that we’re after (laughter) because I do find the time scale of creativity and the creative process can vary so much. I know I have projects tucked away in the closet that I’ve been sitting on for a number of years not because I’m procrastinating, but I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready to finish that piece. And I know there are pieces that people spend — pieces that end up being like career pieces for an artist — and then there’s also the quickness. I think we need a balance in our creative work between the projects that involve a lot of creative problem solving — those are the things I think that push our edges and get us to expand and do more things, or take creative risks — and then there’s also the part where we have to check our own seriousness, call ourselves on it, and do what I call creative vomit and just be extremely experimental and rapid. More intuitive than methodical.
MB: Just let it out.
I’m a big fan of creative vomit (laughing).
MB: (laughing) So you’ve had an experience where you’ve taken out a piece you’ve started years before and worked on it some more and either finished it or put it away again?
MB: That’s amazing. I love that. So much happens — say it’s been two years since you touched it — you’ve lived so much life and you’ve learned so much between then and now. Does it make you want to start over? [27:32]
Sometimes. One of my creative outlets is jewelry making. I’ve been doing that since 1994, off and on. It all started with a summer in college where I was an intern far away from home with no money really, and no TV, barely a working radio, and this was before the Internet. (laughter) There wasn’t much to do besides read the newspaper. I guess I could have gotten into a lot of trouble (laughter), but I started making jewelry instead.
MB: (laughing) Good choice.
(laughing) I have beads and supplies and partially finished things that go almost all the way back to 1994. I’ll take them apart, or I’ll revisit them, and there’s something for me very meditative in taking out all the supplies and letting them be out together kind of by accident, a little serendipity — Oh, I’ve never seen that piece with those beads before, now that gives me an idea — but holding onto them and just seeing where it’s going to go.
MB: That’s cool — if there’s something you haven’t touched in a while, it must be cool to kind of look at it and see, this is is where I was in my life when I last looked at it or when I last picked it up. I guess it would be like that with any piece of art...I’m somebody who just recently started creating things that I’m displaying in my home and things like that. I’m already, just having started a couple months, already looking at those pieces and thinking about what I was thinking when I was creating, looking at what was going on my life when I was creating it. As someone who has been an artist for so many years, you must do that a lot — look around your house, pick up pieces that you’ve created and thought about where you were in your life.
There’s a bit of that. I do a lot of repurposing. A lot. I like to change it up so I’ll move things, I’ll rearrange the art in the house that’s on display, move it around and say, ‘Yeah, I like this here better.’ For things that I’ve made that I could easily repurpose and take apart, I do that, with the jewelry. Just recently, this past week, I started doing these Open Workshops where anyone can come and bring something they’re working on. It’s like co-working but we co-art.
MB: I love it.
And one of the things I’m working on is collage, and I’m very new to collage, this form of mixed media. It’s really fun to play with. I was building up my layers and working on this collage, and I really didn’t like it. It felt tight. I have a hard time loosening up in my creative work. I can get very detailed and very focused on tiny little things. So, I just took the scissors and cut it up into pieces, like 3 columns and 3 rows of varying sizes. So now, what if I space it out and let something else exist between the pieces. That’s kind of what I do when I repurpose.
MB: That's really cool. I'm envisioning that and it's really cool.
I like to break things, is what I’m saying (laughing).
MB: I like it. (laughter) I like it! Do you find — where I have found that art is a form of meditation for me — do you feel that way? Do you feel like, if you are stressed out or anxious — I know we talked about watercolors a little bit — do you gravitate towards art to de-stress?
Yes and no. I think for me...I go to Netflix, honestly, to distract during stressful times. The way I use my art, or really get a craving to do something creative, is usually when I need to remember how to be brave, or where to find my courage, or take risks. When I start feeling overly constrained, it’s like ok, creativity is my way out of the box.
MB: Wow. When you’re looking for a form of de-stressing or meditation, you're like, I don’t want to create anything, I want to just consume. So you consume a movie, or binge-watch Orange is the New Black or whatever.
MB: Yeah, I was telling you that a friend of mine who’s an artist, and went to art school, makes a living as an artist...I was telling her about my summer and my creative awakening, and she said it was so interesting that you say that...she was telling me about her dad was sick years ago, and the thing that she gravitated to was not tactile arts, something she did every day in her career, it was...she learned to play the ukelele. That gave her something to focus on, to not let anything else in just for a little while. She focused on learning a new song on the ukelele for an hour, and that’s all she focused on. She said it was just so helpful for her to have that thing that she could turn to, and it was a form of meditation for her. It’s interesting to me that you both said kind of the same thing, which is, you are an artist in your everyday life and so that’s not the thing you turn to when you are trying to relax.
I get very energized by creative projects. I don’t find them relaxing. I find them joyful, but I don’t find anything about them relaxing.
MB: It gets you going. I hope I get to that point someday. I’m just learning, you know, and so it takes so much focus for me. I’m just getting to the point where I’m creating something myself rather than looking at something somebody’s created and seeing if I could reproduce it. That was kind of big for me in the beginning — I wonder if I could do that — that took my focus. Now I’m in a place where I’m just starting from scratch and I’m not looking for something else to guide me. That’s a bit more energizing than using the energy to try to reproduce something.
Yeah. And trying to reproduce something can also be frustrating, like, crap, I’m not doing it right because it doesn’t look exactly like...the Pinterest Fails when people are trying to make the fancy cakes on Pinterest and this is actually what it turns out like (laughing).
MB: (laughing) Those are hilarious.
I think there’s something to be said for tuning out the world and saying, “I have no input no for how to do things. I’m going to learn to do my own thing."
MB: Yeah, it’s a different experience.
I do find that there are phases that I go through, and I’ve gotten better at seeing these so I don’t get so frustrated by them, but I do go through phases of intense input for whatever. There might be something thatI’m obsessing over and I have to learn everything about it, and then I get to a point where it’s like, ok, I am not interested in what anyone else has to say about it.
MB: I get it.
I’m moving forward, I’m doing my own version of it. Which is probably why my quilting is so terrible (laughing), becauseI never pay attention long enough to learn how to do it right. (laughter)
MB: I recently decided I want to learn how to knit now, so now I’m like...it’s intimidating for me, I don’t know...(laughing)
There is some complicated knitting out there. Holy crap.
MB: (laughing) Yeah. I played with jewelry a little bit. I bought some memory wire and some beads, and I was making memory wire bracelets. That wasn’t something that I felt compelled to continue with. I mean it’s fun to do but I think for me it’s more, for me right now, about learning technique, in terms of drawing and painting. And of course, now I want to learn knitting. (laughter) And you, you do some stained glass as well, right?
I haven’t for a while, but yeah, I have experience with it.
MB: That’s cool.
It’s the color. And right now I’m vary attracted to noodling on projects I could do quickly. Are you familiar with Twyla Tharp at all?
So she wrote a book called The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. I love this book. Love it love it love it, so I do recommend it. Chapter 6 in the book, I think, deals with what she calls “scratching,” which is really about creative vomit and experimenting and really keeping your input and your inspiration fresh, which is a squirrel (laughing). But one of the things she also talks about that’s very interesting to me is the idea of the creative fingerprint, and how we all have our particular style. Some people are very much into detail, so when they take photographs they tend to zoom in, they’re into macro photography, whereas other people really like to zoom out and see the broader landscape. I am...I like rapid things. I’m not quite instant gratification, but I get bored very very quickly with tedious things. I can do a large project if it involves several tiny pieces that I can put together. Something like crocheting a long blanket that’s just all the same pattern? I’m never going to finish that. Ever. And I finally learned that after half a dozen started, and not even a blanket not big enough for my cat, kind of projects. (laughter)
MB: It’s important that we know ourselves. (laughing)
It is, it is. And releasing that, ‘I really should be more like this,’ or, ‘I really should be more patient with the tedious part.’ No. I don’t want to, so I’m just not going to do it.(laughing)
MB: And you don’t have to (laughing).
So I think that’s one of the interesting things for you to experience as you get deeper and deeper into the creative rabbit hole is what your signature ends up being, what types of things really turn you on, and what are the themes that seem to always be present in your work. For some people it’s really about color, or certain colors. I know a photographer who works almost entirely in black and white. There are ways that we are obsessed, and niches that we stay in.
MB: I find that patterns really do it for me. When I think about the things I’m kind of drawn to...with Zentangles, the pattern within each little space, with mandalas there are definitely patterns. Even with bracelet making, with beadwork, I would always establish a pattern of the beads before I started making a bracelet. Maybe that’s why I am attracted to learning how to knit. It’s just interesting now that I'm thinking about it that way.
Very rhythmic. Yeah, you’ll have to tell me how the knitting goes for you (laughing).
MB: (laughing) I know! I don’t tend to be a super patient person, either, so I don’t know. I don’t know if a pattern I could kind of zone out on would keep me there, or if I would indeed become impatient. I will keep you updated (laughing).
What are some of the stories that you’ve discovered through your creative awakening — and you can take this however you want to take it — for example, stories about your self or stories about the world, like, oh wow, this is interesting...I thought I knew this about myself but really it’s more like this. Does that make sense? Am I being coherent in my question? [41:55]
MB: You mean something that I thought I knew about myself is not so, from being creative?
Yeah, stories, or revisions to the stories that have surprised you. Besides discovery, hey, I might actually be creative. (laughing)
MB: (laughing) Yeah, that was kind of a big one (laughter). One thing I’m noticing is I’ve never been somebody who’s drawn to florals. I don’t really like super feminine decor. I don’t like floral patterns. I stay away from that usually. Now that I’m sort of learning to draw and to paint, and even with photography — I’m always asking my husband to take photos of flowers. It’s interesting because I’ve never been somebody into florals, but if you think about the kind of flowers that I’m drawn to — gerber daisies are my favorite — that looks like a mandala, that’s a pattern. I always thought I was somebody who didn’t care about looking at florals in art, but now I want to learn how to draw a vase of hydrangeas. I want to learn to draw flowers and I don’t know where that’s coming from, but there it is.
I’m always fascinated by the things that we end up circling back to, like, I don’t like that, and then there it is. So I guess I’ll go back on that, add a revision or addendum to the policy (laughter).
MB: I think you’re allowed every couple of years to make a change (laughter).
I think it’s healthy. Going back to the idea of the creative fingerprint — I think it’s very possible to get so isolated, or insulated, within that, that you kind of get stuck and bored with it.
I heard the story recently of someone who spent a lot of time working in a very specific form of tactile art, to the point where she’s afraid to do anything else.
MB: Mmmm. And it’s such a shame because you know she probably has so much to offer with other forms of art. I think it’s probably, for her, a matter of touching on one other thing to get her out of that. I get it, though.
Maybe it’s even accessibility. There are so many options out there it can be overwhelming, especially with the focus on finished results — when people talk about creativity, it’s ‘what did you make?’, ‘what have you done?’ or ‘where is your work,’ and it’s like, um, it’s in my garage, not in a gallery — with that focus on finished work we tend to compare our in-process stuff to other people’s finished work. Like, I suck so I’m not going to do that. Or we don’t know anyone or have a route of entry close enough, like maybe I have this friend who’s doing a weird workshop working with encaustics, do you want to come along. I don’t even know what encaustics are, but sure I’ll come along, and the next thing you know, this whole other thing...I think we all need creative contagion on our lives.
MB: Right, you need to be exposed.
So what do you want to be exposed to?
MB: Ah...what do I want to be exposed to...that’s a good question.
Or what do you want to discover, I guess is another way of thinking about it.
MB: I want to discover what else I could do with my hands. Meaning, I’ve always been fascinated by pottery, and using a pottery wheel and creating from that. I wonder if my hands could make something like a bowl, or something beautiful from a pottery wheel. But that’s something that’s not really accessible to me. I’ve recently learned that there are a couple of studios where I live where they do offer classes and workshops, so I’m totally interested in looking into that. But it’s not something where I could just go to a local art shop and just buy the supplies I need and go home...I’m not just going to buy a pottery wheel, you know? (laughter) So, that’s something I’d love to be exposed to.
I love the three-dimensional aspect of that type of work. I’d really love to be more exposed to it as well. It’s on my list of someday things to do, to take up some pottery, so I need to find someone who does that so I can get their contagious vibe. There’s something about opening up that whole other dimension. Now I can experience this from the sides and the top and the bottom, and it can look different depending on where you are. Super fascinating.
MB: I’m fascinated by just...I could just watch somebody throw pottery all afternoon. There’s a shop here in Providence...you can watch him. I really could watch him all day. Glassmaking is also really fascinating to me. For my birthday one year, my husband took me to a glass studio. I made an ornament, a Christmas ornament, and it was very cool, a very cool experience. That’s something I would want to do again. Again that’s one of those things that’s just not easily accessible. I don’t have those supplies, I’m never going to have those supplies in my home (laughter). Even just watching somebody make those things, that’s so satisfying. Just watching it being done is so cool to me.
I love watching someone work when they have this amazing dexterity with the tools, where they just have the feel for it. They can intuit what’s going to happen next and what needs to happen now. It just flows. It’s so fascinating to watch that.
MB: Yeah, it’s like a dance, very cool.
There should be a YouTube channel or something where you can just watch that.
MB: I know.
Not like a screensaver but something going on in the background. You know the fireplace backgrounds, to be soothing? I want to watch people do art. (laughing)
MB: (laughing) Yeah, totally! I wouldn’t ever get anything done (laughing).
Maybe that was part of the popularity of Bob Ross and his little trees. People would eat their lunch and just be mesmerized by how in the world did he creative this whole landscape in half an hour (laughing).
MB: I know, I loved Bob Ross (laughter).
So with the creative awakening you’ve had so far, and your foray into the world of mandalas, you talked about being more aware of flowers now where you weren’t particularly interested in anything floral before...what else are you noticing more now? What are some interesting sources of inspiration? Where do you hunt for inspiration?
MB: Well, nature. One of the things I’ve found in my mandala madness is that there are people who are creating mandalas on the beach, or on the forest floor, using leaves and rocks and twigs. There’s some really cool stuff happening. They make it and they leave it. They don’t need to have it with them. I think that’s so amazing. I live in New England and right now the leaves are starting to turn, so I find myself just staring at the trees all the time (laughter). The color is so beautiful. I do feel lucky to live in a place in the country where we have this gorgeous foliage. It’s making me want to create something from the leaves. What can I make from these beautiful leaves? I want to keep them in my home somehow.
So this is another squirrel...speaking of leaves, and also the fact that what we create — our art is expression. You mentioned being able to look back through things and projects that are not fully completed, or supplies or whatever, and I could probably recall what was going on in my life at that time. There’s something about creativity that bookmarks our particular feelings or perspective on life at the time. I grew up in the desert. I grew up in the Arizona desert, and then we lived for a decade in California. The whole thing about leaves change was a foreign concept for me because we had like what, five trees, in town (laughter). It really wasn’t a thing. I was like, I don’t know why people get excited about this (laughter). I would see the photos of these beautiful Autumn landscapes and I could appreciate that they were beautiful but there was nothing moving about them to me until we moved to the Seattle area. And then it was like, oh my god...
MB: get it now.
So now every time I see a photo, I get it now. I have this internal grasp of, yep, I know what that is now.
MB: It’s special. It really is. I’ll be just driving down the highway and the scenery isn’t, you know...I’m on the highway and I’ll be just so taken by the color. And it’s interesting just to go back to the bookmarking thing, it made me think about how sometimes people will get a tattoo to remember a place in time in their life. I have two tattoos and I can remember where I was in my life when I got them. People actually get tattoos to commemorate a specific event — a birth of a child, a passing of a relative, whatever it is — that’s a way of using art to bookmark a place in life.
Definitely one with deep meaning, because if it didn’t have deep meaning, you wouldn’t get a tattoo for it (laughter).
MB: Well, hopefully.
Yeah, there are assumptions I’m sure...but for the most part, there’s a lot of personal connection involved. We talked about reasons for creativity and motivations and what not...meditation and other motivations...so this may or may not apply but I’m going to ask it anyway. What about your creative practice makes you feel brave?
MB: Everything right now because I’m learning. It’s just the beginning for me. Even, like I said, I don’t really share my art with the world, I’ll share it with somebody close to me like my husband...even when I do that it’s a little scary for me. I’ll show something to my husband and he’ll say, “Oh, that’s so beautiful,” and I’ll be like, you have to say that, of course (laughter). Even when I get that sort of like approval or appraisal from him, I’ll be like he loves me so of course he’s going to say it’s beautiful. It still feels like I’m putting myself out there even though I know that I’m going to hear nothing but positivity from my husband, yeah, that’s what makes me feel brave. I’m putting myself out there and sharing what I’ve done. It’s all pretty new for me.
I like that you have, at least though, that praise part of it. He’s supportive. He’s going to be supportive of your creative outlets, which is awesome.
MB: Yeah, he’s a good one. Like I said, he was sort of more the creative one of the two of us when we first met. When we picked up photography, his photography is beautiful and to this day, for him, he probably feels the same way I do about sharing it. How is this going to be received. He understands that. He was always the one who was always dabbling in painting, picking up photography. Of course I’ve always been supportive of that. I know that there’s something to be said for critique if you have any, but it’s also nice to know that somebody just loves you (laughter) and loves whatever you create.
One of the reasons I like the idea of having a personal creative practice, something that’s just for you, is that it’s completely free form the whole world of unsolicited advice. Which is really the world of unsolicited critique. If you’re looking for critique, that’s one thing, but it’s really, really hard when you show work to someone and that work is bookmarked from an emotional place, which it usually is because it’s expression, and the first thing they go to is technical aspects. And it’s like ok, you’re missing the point. And it could be the thing with the leaves, if you don’t have the internal grasp of it, it’s just really hard to make that connection. I know I’m much more appreciative now when I see somebody else’s work, especially work in progress, of being open and more considerate of what’s going on there.
MB: Yeah, it’s meaningful. It’s all meaningful. It’s not just a scribble or something I don’t care about, it’s always something you always care about.
I think that’s why art retreats are so, so powerful. I haven’t been to one yet but I’m pretty sure that once I do I won’t be able to stop going. There’s something about co-creating and everyone starting from stretch and leaning into intuition or whatever, really being brave, and putting stuff down on paper with other people in the room — shit, everybody’s going to see this (laughing) — and then everyone respecting that in a way. Have you seen or heard of the documentary Indie Kindred?
MB: Yes, I have. I have. It’s a documentary right? If it’s available, I need to get my hands on that because it sounds right up my alley. I’d love to see that.
I think you would love it, and not just because I loved it (laughter). I loved it so everyone else has to love it (more laughter). For me, it was very important a couple of years ago and it’s really what turned me back towards my creativity. The idea of finding a creative tribe, of finding the people you can safely create with is one of the premises there. I think that’s part of it, part of that whole respecting the covenant of expression in a way. Which is getting kind of lofty and philosophical, but unless people have that particular inner grasp of how important and how meaningful it is, it’s hard to share work with them.
MB: Right, right, right. So you have to make sure you’re in a safe environment in which to do that.
This is one of the takeaways from that.
MB: I really love that, because only somebody who’s been there, or is there, is going to have that respect and compassion.
There are squirrels popping up everywhere now in my brain. Brene Brown’s work with vulnerability touches on creativity for sure, because there’s a certain vulnerability involved in...it’s one thing to think about creative work and have it be in your head and be safe. It’s a whole other thing to sit down and let yourself be vulnerable to the blank page and whatever is going to come out, like I’m going to be ok with it, I’m just going to go with it. But I saw her speak a few years ago, and this is a quote...I’m not going to give the exact quote because I’ll butcher it, but it’s something about how she no longer has an input mechanism for people who are not in the arena. If somebody is in the arena doing the work and getting their ass kicked all the time, she’ll listen to what she has to say. But if they’re in the arena, she has no input mechanism for what they have to say.
MB: I get it. I like that. It does. It takes so much to put yourself out there, and it is meaningful to know that who you are exposing your vulnerability to will receive in a way that’s compassionate and respectful and understanding and kind.
And I guess all that is to say is that it’s ok to have your work be for yourself. You don’t have to show it.
I see people put a lot of work out into the world, in all different forms, like everyday there’s something else going out, and that’s where I got the idea of creative introverts and extroverts. There are people who process out loud and it’s not real to them maybe until its out, and there are people for who it’s plenty real and that’s why it needs to stay in (laughter).
MB: Right, oh that’s funny (laughing).
We’re getting towards the end and there’s a couple of things I want to do, but I also want to pause to see if there’s anything else you wanted to add or ask about, or bring up.
MB: I think I asked you a couple of questions I had in mind...I wanted to ask if you put pieces away and then pulled them out to work on them later, really kind of interested in that so I’m glad we talked about that. But, no, I think we’ve touched on a lot of good stuff here.
I want to circle back to that a little bit though.
I have kept things, and gone back to them. I’ve held onto them because the time will come later when I know what to do with it. I have also let things go, just looking at them knowing I’ll never finish that. Or the part of the process I was interested in, I’ve already done. I’m not interested in the rest of it. Being willing to release the work is liberating. Oh my god. Especially for me because I get bored easy. I can accumulate ideas and projects rather quickly (laughing). The day that I decided that I am not a knitter or a crocheter, that was like freedom because half of my craft closet opened up (laughter). I had so much yarn. Oh, I’m going to do this afghan — I don’t start small.
MB: Yeah, I was going to say, start with a scarf or something (laughing).
Yeah, buy one skein of yarn. I’m not that kind of person. I get the book and I’m like, I’m going to make this and make that and I’m going to buy all the yarn now. And then I’m like, shit, I don’t want to make any of this (laughing).
MB: (laughing) I hear you.
I’m better about that now, just because I’ve gotten more aware I think about my creative urges and patterns and what actually I’m into. Being willing to let something go because I’m no longer interested in it is a requirement. I think we can become very obligated to stuff.
MB: Right. Yeah. That’s a big deal. For me, anyway, I think not letting go is more like...I have to finish it, I have to complete it. I have a hard time not finishing things and so that’s going to be a challenge for me as I go, knowing when it’s time just...let it go and move on to something else. It will be interesting as I go to see where that comes in.
Or seeing if something stops becoming interesting, what can I do to change it up? Which I guess all of this could also be applied to our self-employment as well. There’s the, ‘Oh, I really have to keep doing this type of work,’ and ‘Do I really want to do this type of work?’ Knowing when to let it go and when to move on...
MB: I’ve done a bit of that over the last year or so myself. It took a long time to get to that point. In terms of business and work, there are the things you can do and you’re good at, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s something you want to do, or that it brings you joy or that you should pursue. Those are things, for me, in terms of business, I’ve just had a hard time letting go of. But I did and it opened things up for me. So creatively speaking, artistically speaking, I could look at that and say, wow, if I get to a point where I need to let go of something, I just need to remember that if you let go of something, you really do make room for other good stuff [1:08:02].
I think it’s also keeping it as an outlet. We need creative outlets for our work — we just need outlets for our work, and if it doesn’t feel like one we want to feed anymore, it’s done. (pause) So I know you’re familiar with the Creativity Case Studies because there’s been a couple of them now. I do think these are going to get more difficult as I do more because there’s more history — this is what happens — so I’m changing it up a little. I teach these Art Improv workshops which are really about being experimental and messy, and not taking ourselves so seriously. One of the things I used to do at the end of the Art Improv workshops was have people write a creative promise for themselves, because the people who tend to come to those workshops are really kind of looking to get back into their creative world. They need a way in, or they need a way to freshen it up. What is a creative promise you would want to leave with and keep as a reminder? If you were going to write one for yourself now, with where you are right now in your creative awakening and your creative story, what is a reminder you would like to hold on to?
MB: I think for me, right now, it’s just Make Something. Right now, it doesn’t matter what it is, I need to just continue making because I really do get so much satisfaction from the process, and it feeds my soul. I know that sounds kind of...it does. I just feel happier when I’ve made something.
Yeah, I get it. I definitely get that. Feed your soul and make something.
I think we are...I don’t want to stop, we could talk forever (laughing)...
MB: I know (laughing).
...but we’re at the end of our time. We could have all these squirrels that keep coming up, but I do think we have to call it because one of the benefits of the Creativity Case Studies is that they are longitudinal. This is not actually the end of our conversation, it’s just the end of our conversation today. Six months down the road, maybe eight months down the road, Melissa and I will be back together talking about what’s going on and what’s changed, and what new thing that she’s into.
MB: Can’t wait.
So thank you very much for being part of this. It’s been wonderful talking with you.
MB: Thank you. It’s been great. Thanks so much.
Looking forward to sharing some of the things that you sent me, they’ll be posted in with the case study, and we’ll talk again. It will go by faster than you think.
Alright, thank you!