Synergy: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. (Oxford Languages, online dictionary)
I first interviewed this married couple in 2016. It is the only time I have interviewed two people at the same time, and I admit I was skeptical. However, this extraordinary couple has a creative dynamic that enhances and balances both of their work. That dynamic was on display throughout the interview, and as I have gotten to know them I have seen it ever since. They provide enriched perspectives and obvious mutual support, with ongoing encouragement when challenges arise.
Lea McComas is a fiber artist (and Special Ed teacher) who has received national and international acclaim for her artwork. She teaches fiber art workshops, and has written a book on her complex quilting and thread rendering techniques. Jim is a fine art oil painter focusing primarily on the human figure. He is also a retired pilot. They live high in the mountains above Golden, Colorado on several acres of land.
Over the years we have become friends. On my recent visit to Denver they invited me to see Jim’s new studio building. The space, a renovated barn, is on several acres of wooded land adjacent to their home property. Jim is working intensely on his oil paintings, recently beginning a new series inspired by a solo ballet performance he attended. He is winning awards and recognition for his work.
Last fall the Clinton Library invited Lea to create a quilt as part of an exhibit commemorating women’s right to vote. Her detailed piece is 8’ x 13’ and features figurative depictions of significant women throughout the history of America.
What continues to strike me about this couple is the creative energy and encouragement they provide each other. They offer genuine enthusiasm, insights, and admiration. Deep discussions about artistic goals, techniques, and resources are a core part of their marriage. They prefer to work nearby each other, and plan to expand the studio to allow her to work in that building as well. “We actually like each other” they agree.
There is a palpable energy when they interact. Each has studied art, art making, and their specific craft with a passion that drives success. Neither has an art degree, but both are extremely well educated in art history, techniques, and principals. They provide honest, thoughtful critique for each other through the creative process, and can rely on their feedback to be deeply considered, and part of an ongoing conversation about their work.
Not all artists are married to someone who shares their passion with equal intensity. However, seeing the value Lea and Jim provide each other is a strong reminder of the power of synergistic energy derived from interactions with other creative people. Creative energy grows when it is nurtured by other creative energy. This is the nature of synergy. We see it over and over in the support groups creative people maintain around their discipline. Musicians play together, artists develop painting and critique groups, scientists attend conferences of like-minded researchers.
Research shows that creative ideas commonly grow in small, consistent steps that build on tiny improvements on existing ideas. Rarely do they bolt into existence from a vacuum. When we discuss our ideas with other supportive and knowledgeable creatives we increase the likelihood of inventive ideas arising. Ongoing conversations help us advance a concept or idea, and allow us to realize that at some point actual progress has been made.
If you are not in a personal relationship with a co-creative, you can surround yourself with peers. Form your own group, offer support, and be open to receiving support from like-minded individuals. The dynamic that results intensifies everyone’s creative energy, and offers much needed support when creativity is strained. Be cautious when selecting these people. They must be willing, and able, to provide feedback and comments that are trained enough to be of value, honest without being hurtful, and knowledgeable enough about your personal goals to help you on your creative journey. But well-chosen, supportive peers can help you advance your efforts and encourage you to persist when the going gets tough.