Kaitlin Meadows: Hospice Nurse/Creative Healer

Kaitlin’s life is a fascinating tale of innovative solutions, applied as she worked with creative individuals, and a life rich in relationships and positivity. She was 69 years old when I interviewed her in 2015 at Kaitlin’s Creative Cottage, a safe haven for women and young girls, victims of abuse. 

Kaitlin Meadows at her Creative Cottage, 2015


K: I am trained as a Nurse and Archeologist. I got my Masters degree in Nursing, in rural communities and indigenous communities. And Masters in Archeology and Anthropology. I had at least as much to learn from the indigenous cultures that I wanted to serve, and I could offer them my services. It was a wonderful trade.


K: Yes, I worked all over the California coastal areas and with the United Farm Workers. I was young and idealistic and thought I could make a really big difference. I got little tiny Grants here and there to do things, and develop programs. Sometimes the nursing part of me was treating the physiological, and the Archeologist/Anthropologist was treating the cultural issues. So it was a nice learning curve for me as well.

I retired from Nursing last year after 44 years. The last 20 years I worked with the Hospice community. I developed my own Hospice program where I worked with Cultural Creatives, people not able to fit into the normal standard grid of Hospice. They wanted to stay in their own homes, they had artistic collections; they wanted to be productive in their creative capacities until the end of their lives. 

I worked out a way to do reconciliation and reconnection. Lots of artists are disenfranchised from family for one reason or another. They prioritize, sometimes, their creativity above some of the structural elements of family. I wanted to get that healed up before they passed. 

I also wanted to get their creative and cultural legacy in good order, so it could be passed forward as a part of their legacy. I do poetry readings, and create chat-books with people, and organize their journals and diaries, and expunge certain parts that would be hurtful to others, and recreate them in altered books, and things like that. It was important to take the gifts I’d learned in my own creativity and try to help people transition (through death) as the creative beings they wanted to be.

I had an opportunity to re-create myself, with the traditional education I’d had, to do non-traditional work. So it was a great melding.


K: It’s not uncommon in a certain brand of Irish immigrant, my story. Of course you won’t hear about it because most of those young women grow up to be cloistered nuns, and their story isn’t known. I happen to have escaped, and had a different life. 

A work table with inspiration and items made by clients, adorn her space

A certain kind of very loyal and generational Catholic had some guilt about the famine, and escaping to the United States, and not dying with your kin. You needed to pay that debt, so many people tithe their children to the church. Most that were tithed felt this was their greatest salvation, we ate three meals a day.

It was a very rigid and confined atmosphere. As a very imaginative young girl, I had to live interiorly. I lived very much in my own head, and I took from what I gleaned in the Convent library. Imaginative tales and wove them together with lives of the Saints. I gave solace to lots of young girls who came in the middle of the night as a result of disasters, and were having a very awkward transition. We sat in a tree well, I was just whispering, making little stories up, using things in the dirt to make little vignettes of different kinds. 

I realized pretty early on, I had a way of really being able to help people transport themselves out of whatever was hurting, causing them grief.


K: Because I majored secondarily in Anthropology/Archeology I took lots of classes in ceramic making, weaving, in order to understand the cultural motifs. I had a passion for that. I developed a vocabulary to go into indigenous communities as a sort of “novitiate of craft” rather than an Anthropologist that had a clipboard and questions. 

Kaitlin enjoying her own art practice

I said, “I’m having a hard time with this glaze, and your traditional culture has a wonderful slip that you make. I would just love to apprentice myself to you.” I found that sitting with people that were creative, their stories came out in a very different language than if I used my scientific hat.


K: The women I work with are the most powerful inspiration. Many are working actively, day-to-day, to re-invent themselves. And I work with little girls, 7-12 years old in a project that I built called “Girls with Heart”. They come from backgrounds much more storied than my own. They carry deep and profound woundings that could define them for the rest of their lives if someone doesn’t intercede early and often to say, “How can we make something beautiful of this?”

Hospice patients have given me such wonderment about their ability to transition to the next phase with optimism and hope and a sense of real accomplishment.

I’ve always been a storyteller. In indigenous cultures, very often their entire cultural history is embedded in stories, so it behooved me early on to allow myself to have some imaginative courage, and stories; to understand the implications of creating cultural history through storytelling.

Area for conversation and art making

Nothing is an isolate, nothing stands by itself, it’s all embedded deeply in all kinds of other things.


K: “Be here now.” That has been my guide all my life. Be precisely, exactly in this moment. I have great confidence.


K: Imagination is the strongest suit. Resilience is a really important quality. If I can cultivate a certain degree of personal resilience, I can lend you some when you need it. And you can lend it back to me when I need it.


K: I don’t do well in competitive environments.


K: I’ve seen the healing capacity of art-making. That is the reason I do all of the things that I do.


K: Live creatively. Be creative in everything you do. What you wear, how you eat, how you decorate your room, what you decide you are going to do with your life. Make art every day.

When a problem is presented and your first instinct is to run, stand there for a second, and think of another option. Re-scripting in the moment is a creative option you have.

On Mastery and Breadth in a Creative Practice

Innovative architecture requires masterful skills as well as a breadth of knowledge about social context, human behavior, and structural issues. (Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles)

Whether to specialize and focus on mastery, or to seek breadth and explore multiple directions, is a recurring issue in a creative practice. Valid arguments are made for both approaches.

Musicians spend hours practicing to attain skills.

Mastery is valued for the obvious growth of skills that come with ongoing attention over a sustained period of time. Creative practices improve in quality in this way. We hear that Mastery takes at least 10,000 hours. That is a lot of time and attention. Nuance and subtlety become more pronounced with advanced skills. A certain level of functional skill is needed before one can achieve results that transcend the ordinary. Without time invested pushing development of manual, visual, and conceptual skills, we are unlikely to achieve a level of proficiency that will carry our work beyond the obvious. Distractions with different media, or other creative directions, can dilute our rate of growth.

Mastery of wine making includes years of repetition and skill development

In addition, time with our area of expertise is required to be able to envision work that explores complex concepts. Intellectual concerns, context, and content can be developed once we surpass the need to explore basic “how to” skills. We learn to “think in paint”, for example, before being able to ponder and push to complex personal or social concerns that are expressed through the medium of paint.

But, breadth of experience, with multiple media or directions of creative exploration, has inherent growth value as well. This type of experimentation develops an understanding of the numerous ways to approaching a question or problem. What some might dismiss as “aimless wandering” along the journey is not a waste of time. Wandering helps us see options, understand the limits of one medium or direction, and become aware of what other choices might offer. Each direction “Informs” others, they are often not completely distinct. The possibilities and implications of a solution may be impacted in ways that someone with more versatile experience can anticipate. In addition, there is a flexibility of thinking that comes with an understanding of various solutions.

Las Setas de Sevilla, another example of innovative architecture that results from exploring new directions.

One of the hallmarks of a creative mind is the ability to combine unrelated thoughts, solutions, and ideas into new ways of approaching a problem.  Without an understanding of diverse approaches it is rare for “unrelated solutions” to come together in our thought process. The more we know about more things, the more likely we are to have innovative ideas. These ideas contribute to new and exciting solutions. For example, a scientist’s lifetime of research may result in a discovery that finds application in unforeseen ways. Two seemingly disconnected directions converge. It is the justification of “research for research’s sake”.

Innovations in clothing design, and creative display design, at Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art.

Balance over time, defined individually, seems to be the answer. The learning process requires phases of heightened inquiry, immersion in skills development, time for evaluation, followed by renewed inquiry. This leads to mastery. However, the creative process, which often mirrors the learning process, requires pursuit of tangents, asking seemingly “unrelated” questions, trying something new, asking “What if…”, and the freedom to ponder how things might be changed. This leads to innovation, and new solutions.

Creative use of space, light, form, and structure at Sagrada Familia by Gaudi.

While working with creative individuals I see both impulses at work. There is a rhythm of intense focus in a given direction toward skill development, balanced by new interests and questions from surprising directions. As you develop your creative journey embrace both, and listen to a voice that suggests exploring something new. 

Creativity Interview: Stephanie Balzer, Non-Profit Coach, and Writer/Poet

Stephanie is the Co-founder of “Mission” which provides executive and team coaching for nonprofits and mission-driven companies. She was previously an executive and/or director for organizations such as Philanthropic Communications and Development for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; The Drawing Studio in Tucson; and VOICES Community Stories.

Educated as a writer and poet, Stephanie is supportive and grounded in her work as an executive. When faced with multiple challenges she guides organizations with insight into the “big picture”. Thoughtful about her creative life, she is attentive to her creative practices which now include the visual arts. Her responses are candid and show a creative person grappling with issues faced by many creative people such as deep loss, life changes, and disconnection with your creative energy.


S: I really wanted to pursue Architecture. I wasn’t brave enough to do it. OR I was intuitive enough to know that wasn’t going to be my path. Either way, I didn’t. 

I kept taking English classes, Literature and Writing, because I enjoyed them and I was good at them. I was interested in all of it. In documenting real stories, the real world, in the Poetic expression of poetry and other art forms. So my formal University training ended up being in English.

I literally just fell into a job at a newspaper. I walked in to buy the “Business Journal” in Phoenix and they said, “Are you looking for a job? Our receptionist is going on maternity leave, do you want to answer the phones for 2 months?

Stephanie’s playful side shows in a collaborative collage project done with family at Thanksgiving.

Near the completion of that period I went to the editor and said, “I think I can do this.” He gave me a paid Research Intern position. [After] about 8 months I said, “You know I think I can write articles.” I’d never taken a journalism class. I had no background in business. All I knew was English, English Literature. And they said, “Alright, our Healthcare Reporter is going on maternity leave, do you want that job for 2 months?” So I jumped in, and mimicked the people around me, writing stories and messing them up. I just learned it on the job. 

I continued to write pieces that were recognized. Feature pieces, profiles. So I still was getting the recognition, or confidence, that this was something I could do. 

I was part of a series about: How did you change your life after 9/11?  I started thinking about what did I really want to do? What is my Path? I was interested in the news, but it wasn’t what drove me. 

So I got accepted to the University of Arizona MFA program in Poetry. I loved it. I just felt like I was with “my people”. Thinking differently, being challenged in a different way, was amazing. I just loved my life, the freedom that gave me! 

I didn’t love teaching, but I really like Systems. I think that’s why I liked being a reporter. Because it’s about how things got put together, how things happened, how they could be better.  A lot of it was about systems thinking. I decided to go into Non-Profits.

What I am discovering about my Creativity, is that I really like building complex systems. I think that is what I liked about writing, and what I like in Non-profit work. How do we build a better world? How do we build a better organization to serve people? Reporting let me start to look at what the world needs for systems.


S: I have a regular meditation practice, a morning routine to ground and root, that’s important to me as a person.

Stephanie describes the sense of confusion that can accompany a creative practice.

For a lot of years my Creative Process involved my creative partner. He died 5 years ago. We were so intellectually in sync. We were very good at challenging each other, and supporting each other.

When he died, I thought, “I don’t know how to be a creative person without him”. Even though, of course, I was before. But it really shifted. My pattern shifted. My rhythm shifted. When he died, like half of my creativity felt like it didn’t have an anchor.

After he died I became more interested in Narrative, and how narratives work and how art forms work. I got more interested in art forms that have a broader and more contemporary cultural influence.

Writing poetry feels like making art to me. Where as I am still struggling with making narratives or these other things. Journalism just flowed. Poetry just flowed. These other things I’m trying to do now…. It feels…it does not flow…it feels like a labor. Editing the problems seems really hard, not creative and fun.


S: I think it’s shifted over time. I think this new era of storytelling television has had a significant influence on me. Attending live poetry readings, or hearing, or entering any kind of art form fuels it for me.

I don’t know that I have the inspiration right now. Sort of stabbing out and nothing really holds. Except for Big Vision, and my Administrative side has been a big inspiration: building an Organization has been more of an inspiration.


S: When I was a poet, I thought that was an identity. I was a “Poet”, not a person who writes poetry. I’ve started to slough that off, that idea that I want to hold onto a certain identity that closely. But also sometimes those identities fuel our creativity. When we can identify as an artist, or as a poet, or a writer. I guess I identify more as a writer than a poet now.

Another piece from her family’s collage.

I think learning to flow with them, seeing them all as fluid and connected has some value. I think it is a Creative Process in itself, navigating all of that.


S: I went through a phase where I really wondered, “Why am I doing this? Why am I spending my time writing? Of all the things I could do in the world, why do I want to do that?” I gave myself permission not to do that. Which was really scary because it had been so connected to my identity.

I tried to be open and see what other paths there might be. I gave myself permission to channel it in other things that felt productive. I realized I might have to give myself permission to open up a lot more broadly, and think about Creativity in different ways. Or think about myself, and my personal role, in different ways. 


S: I’m very curious, and open. I’m interested in a lot of different things. I’m very disciplined. I can sit for 5 hours and just be in my own world. Dedicating time to it. I’m not afraid to learn as I go. Half of it is just showing up every day and staying calm. The rest will figure itself out. 

I’m very associative, that served my writing. I can work with metaphor well. I put pieces together unexpectedly, quickly.


S: A lot of the time it’s going to feel like you are in the weeds. Just keep going. Even if you’re not writing every day, or even if you question. Keep going! Being in the weeds is part of it. Questioning it is part of it. You’re going to come out of it if you keep going. Don’t give up.

And find: You have to study and learn. [There’s] the the “Myth of Talent”. Break that down, start reading, start learning, do your scales, do your exercises. We all have to learn it,  you have to work at it.

Being a Novice

The events of the past three years have shaped many of us into different versions of ourselves. Over this time I rediscovered the joy of being a novice in a new discipline.

Early leaf piece with Hummingbird nest, 2021

During the cautious re-opening of life after Covid shutdowns in mid-2021 I was seeking creative exploration. Painting was, and continues to be, a major part of my life, but I was restless after months of isolation. 3 dimensional form became of interest, as did the learning gained from having a teacher and being with fellow students. I was ready to try something new. A ceramic studio* near my house offered lessons. I signed up, with no experience. A complete novice.

Learning form, handles, structure 2021

Being a novice is an extremely valuable experience. It is humbling, and exhilarating. It is a period of intense growth where mistakes are expected, and new skills developed. This is a freeing, and frustrating, part of the creative process. As a novice there were seemingly limitless new directions, and I found that at times I lost sight of which questions to ask. Everything needed exploring, and presented new problems to solve. And yet, each solution provided a sense of satisfaction. It kept me coming back for more. A novice is on the edge of being overwhelmed most of the time. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to know.

Learning surface treatment from an article by Dawn Candy, 2022

In this stage a new world opened up. Ideas began to form, and new concepts fed my curiosity. Ceramics were viewed with expanded appreciation as I discovered previously unseen details, and began looking at new sources of inspiration. Gaining new skills is a clumsy and yet gratifying adventure. There is an expanding appreciation of the work of experienced practitioners in the field. Skill-based questions such as “What makes a good result?” “Why do certain techniques produce better results?” and “How did they do that?” became more informed. 

Plaque, 2022

At the same time, there was a growing appreciation of the aesthetic, history, and philosophy associated with my new endeavor. I began to ask, “What defines quality work?” “What is the context of my discipline?” and “Where do I want to take my work?”. My visual aesthetic for ceramic has changed over the past year and a half. During this time I have explored many directions that developed both skills and visual insight. I am increasingly aware of the complexity and interaction of form, function, surface treatment, and spatial relationships. The more I learn about the nuances of these facets, the more I appreciate successful pieces, and am able to define for myself what represents interesting results. Currently, I am drawn to curved and organic forms and surface design.

Learning the firing process with my home kiln, 2022

Understanding where your own work fits within a larger field of study, and considering the purpose and goals for your work, also helps to define your approach. Increased exposure to other’s work helps us find like-minded people, and formulate a direction of inquiry. Resources for exposure to experts in your field may include museums, histories, lectures, websites, classes etc. Seek them out, one thing often leads to another.

Current piece in progress, experimenting with form, finish, and surface design, 2022

Eventually the lessons, research, and skills begin to come together in more sophisticated work and more informed development of personal goals. This is where we begin to leave the truly novice stage, and move toward the roll of practitioner. I continue to be challenged by both technical and aesthetic issues, but am feeling a growing confidence, which is gratifying and helps me stay with the journey.

Current piece in progress, 2022

The novice process applies in any new field. Creatively entering business, science, the arts, etc. leads to vulnerability, excitement, and a quest for knowledge. It feeds growth, expression, and discovery.  This immersion makes being a novice an extremely energizing and fulfilling stage. It is one of the cornerstones of the creative process. As we enter a new year, I encourage you to experiment with being a beginner. 

Three pots, early efforts with the Slip Trailing technique, 2022

*Many thanks to the generous instructors and students at the Tucson Clay Arts Center for their help with my journey.

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Creative Retreat

Ocean study; watercolor

Recently I created an Art Immersion experience for myself. Immersion in a creative practice facilitates personal growth and artistic exploration, allows for the flow of ideas in unplanned directions, and provides time for making a body of work. My goal was to create plenty of time to paint without limitations on subject matter, style, or medium. I wanted to reconnect with the joy of creating. To have time where painting and art were my primary activity, but with enough other things to explore to keep my mind fresh and active. A time with limited outside pressures.

Tide coming in, June; Watercolor

For four and a half weeks I lived by the ocean in southern California. Distractions were limited, other than those I chose for myself, and there was an abundance of inspiration.

Rocks at the jetty, July; Watercolor

I am an “ocean” person. Ocean time is always treasured. It is where I center myself, and find peace. It inspires my creative soul. As a result it was a perfect place for me to focus on my art practice.

In the field, portable supplies

While planning my stay I thought a lot about what supplies to bring. I wanted only the essentials, but enough to provide flexibility. I brought art supplies allowing me to work in watercolor, oil, or acrylic, depending on which media resonated. A few books on art, other inspirational materials, and a list of museums, galleries, and possible places of inspiration were gathered. I researched art styles in the area, located design and architectural places of interest, as well as nearby Botanical gardens.

I expected to work mostly in oil and cold wax, in an abstract style. Surprisingly, I did very little of that. Sketching, primarily in watercolor, and overwhelmingly focused on realism resonated with my location and mindset. Watercolor’s portable nature was perfect at the beach or on a hike overlooking the ocean. 

Painting on site

There is an immediacy about painting on site that provides impressed memories and visual nuances about the subject. Sights, sounds, temperature, and smells create a palpable impact. Watercolor is forgiving, and comes fairly naturally to me. It allowed me to concentrate on learning about the ocean as subject matter, and express the “Water-ness” of the subject with a liquid medium. It is a “quick” medium so I was able to create a new painting each day.

South End Strands Beach, June; Watercolor

Upon arrival I began a practice of painting the ocean or beach every day. In the beginning I focused on what it is about the water that makes it look and “read” like the ocean. I walked, observed, and painted at various times of day, in different types of weather, lighting, tidal levels, and currents. I watched the tide pools and rock formations influence the flow of water. Waves have shape, light, colors, values, and motion. The more I looked, the more I saw; the more I painted, the better I was able to interpret what I see onto paper. 

Kelp, Oil and cold wax

Initially the exercise of simply understanding the look of the ocean was consuming. Over the weeks I found myself increasingly thinking about more abstract concepts, such as: the visual movement of light and form, the description of “mood”, and how to express how I feel about the ocean. Some of this was developed in a few small, abstract oil studies.

Study, Receding fog bank, July; Watercolor

Over the weeks the ocean and atmosphere changed. When I arrived it was the middle of “June gloom”. A delight. The overcast, cool, foggy mornings and cloudy days were respite from the heat and sun I left in Tucson. However, it was challenging to paint such different lighting, and islands that disappeared while I was working. In July the mornings began as cool and lightly overcast, then became sunny. The tone and look of my paintings changed in response. 

Wave study, July; Watercolor

This retreat was a time for focused artistic exploration of subject, concept, and expression. Ideas changed and developed. I looked at a lot of art in museums and galleries. I reconnected with my past as an artist, returning to my original medium: Watercolor. I hope that this renewed energy and connection to a creative practice guides me as I explore future work. I am inspired, observing more, and feel connected to my identity as a creative person. 

Sunny Morning, Salt Creek beach, Watercolor

For anyone considering a similar artistic retreat I recommend the experience. Consider your goals, research and choose a destination that resonates with you personally. Once on the retreat, allow for change and flexibility, and open yourself to what the experience has to offer. 

Finding Time for a Creative Practice

Tree Study, pencil

I teach Creative Expression sessions at a destination health and wellness resort in Tucson. These are individual sessions, focused on the unique needs of each guest. We discuss their creative life, and hopes and goals for the same. We consider their personal life demands, creative interests, and past creative activities as we explore options for a visual arts practice or experience. These guests come from all kinds of professions and backgrounds, and are generally very successful in many aspects of life.

Tree Study

One interesting facet of this job is seeing the drive humans have toward creativity. These are people actively seeking ways to enhance creativity in their everyday lives. They describe a longing to explore imagination, to connect more closely with their internal and external world, and to express themselves in fresh ways. Most lack formal art training, and often see that as a barrier to using the visual arts. With support they begin to explore the many, varied ways an art practice can occur.

Occasionally I work with trained artists who have lost their way over the years. They often describe a deep sense of loss about their disconnection with a creative life. 

Personal considerations vary from those who have just retired or lost a spouse and want to use their days in a personally fulfilling way, to those in the middle years of raising children, working full time, and running a household-with or without help. The amount of available time varies, and often drives the type of creative activity that is reasonable to attempt.

Tree study, pencil

Remember to set yourself up for success. If time is limited, space is tight, and days are full it is best to pay attention and choose accordingly. A short, portable, quick practice may best support your creative drive and not lead to further frustration.

Tree Studies, pencil with watercolor

Years ago, while working full time as an attorney, raising two pre-teens, and running a household I still had a personal need to engage in an art practice. There simply was almost no time. My solution was to carve out 10 minutes a day, with a sketchbook and a pencil. Every day I stopped at a park on my way to the office and drew a tree, a different tree each day. Eventually my daily tree drawings filled an entire sketchbook. Many days I simply drew what I could see from the parking lot. It was not a glamorous art practice, and was not shared with anyone. 

However, that simple art practice provided several important things. First, I had private time for myself and my art life. I was an artist, each day, for a specific amount of time. It provided a quiet transition space between family and the office. Drawing provided an opportunity to focus intently on something outside of my head, turned off the list of things to do, and allowed a few minutes of what is called “flow”. Ultimately I got really good at SEEING and drawing many different kinds of trees! I had time to experiment with drawing styles, and when I looked at art I felt engaged with other artists.

Foliage study, pencil

I interviewed a woman, Norma Hendrix, who was running a busy non-profit arts organization and was also a part-time musician. She described a similar practice. Every morning, before getting out of bed, she opens her sketchbook and does one blind contour drawing. She gets out of bed having connected with her personal art life at least once each day.

There is tremendous value in even the most limited kind of regular creative practice. I believe those tree drawings were a vital part of my mental health, and my development as an artist. I encourage anyone longing for a creative practice with limited time and resources to create a practice that is sustainable in even the smallest ways.

(All drawings by the author)

Tree Study, pencil

Creativity Interview: The Value of Creative Synergy, Lea and Jim McComas

Jim and Lea McComas at home with their two dogs, and her art quilt behind

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)

Jim and Lea at the Depot Art Gallery in Littleton, CO where Jim won Best of Show in the All Colorado Art Show with “Reflection”

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 with her long-arm sewing machine, and an art quilt hanging in her studio

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.

Jim at work, using Lea as his model

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.

Jim’s new painting studio, studies for the ballet series on the easel

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.

Lea was recently interviewed by the Denver Art Museum. A portion of her commissioned quilt, partially completed, is visible behind her. 

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. 

View from the McComas property.

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.

Lea and Jim at the studio, doors open, relaxing under the stars. Lea’s quilts on display.

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.

A Creative Burst

“Transitions Series: Patience” Oil and Cold Wax, 12×12″

It has been several months since I posted here. Fortunately much of my creative time has been spent working in new directions, both in my painting and on a new creative interest: ceramics.

Transitions Series: Possibility” Oil and Cold Wax

As the vaccines were becoming available in January, and we ushered in a new Administration, spring was approaching in this warm desert city. A budding optimism was taking hold and I began thinking about the nature of change. There was a tiny but growing sense that things were moving in the right direction. I still felt I was inside, looking out toward the world with hope, rather than that the world had fully opened. But I was inspired to paint my experience of this time. It soon became clear I was beginning a new series which is entitled “Transitions”.

“Transitions Series: Hope” 12 x 12″, Oil and Cold Wax

Imagery came in the form of separated spaces, apart but also together and influencing each other. During most changes we proceed in a direction, aware of both the now and the different future. The work expresses my experience of being “here”, looking toward “another”, and bridging the transition of “passing through”.  

Of course life is full of transitions, and during this phase of inspiration I was more aware of the process of change all around me. It is not surprising that my interests expanded and I felt inspired to connect with life in a more immediately tactile, 3 dimensional, and social way. I started a beginning ceramics class at a nearby studio and am very attracted to the wet clay and the sculpting aspects of hand building ceramics. For now I am enjoying learning this new creative method.

“Transitions Series: Vision” 10 x 10″, Oil and Cold Wax

The struggles of the past year are not forgotten, but a sense of growth, opportunity, and even delight has given my creative life a boost. It was important to continue to pursue creative work even (maybe especially) when times were tough, but there has been quite a bit of joy in this new creative burst. I am grateful, and pursuing this phase with less attention given to writing and more to the practice of making. I think the nature of creativity benefits from grabbing inspiration with gusto when it presents. 

“Transitions Series: Coming Together” 8 x 12″, Oil and Cold Wax

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Repost: Drawing and a Creative Practice

“Field Study, Agua Caliente Wash” pencil and watercolor
“Three Pots” blind contour drawing, pen on paper

I recently realized several of my earliest posts have disappeared. This article originally posted in late September 2020. It discusses some of my favorite creative practices: Drawing, and Blind Contour Drawing. It was written well into the pandemic, with no vaccines offering glimmers of hope, but the quick, fun exercises apply anytime you want to access your creative energy.

“Field Sketch, Chiricahua National Monument”

Like many creative people, I am reflecting on the challenge of remaining engaged with my creativity as social unrest, in all its forms, drags on. I am aware of an exaggerated ebb and flow of creative energy. 

“Waterfall, Canyon Ranch” pencil

Sometimes the extra time available for art motivates me for focused work, and drives me to the studio. There is time to experiment, work through themes, and explore new techniques and concepts. All of which feeds creativity (until it doesn’t).

Other times I struggle to get into the studio, feeling an almost physical irritation and anxiousness as I crave new stimulation, sights, and experiences. I feel a need to crawl out of “my own life” and connect with the external world for inspiration.  

I know that continuous engagement in creative practice is one of the best ways to “jump-start” flagging creativity. Luckily, I love drawing. It is a low pressure, quick and easy way to explore visual ideas, exercise eye-hand connections, and to maintain an art practice on even the busiest or least inspired days.

Drawing experiments, mixed media

Drawing and sketching transforms a brief break into a full creative experience. With the simple tools of a sketchbook, pen or pencil, maybe watercolors, it is possible to immerse yourself into the world differently, and quickly access that lovely sense of “Flow”. 

One of my favorite quick creative exercises is Contour drawing.  This is simply drawing your subject with one continuous line on a page, while not picking up your drawing tool. The goal is to examine the edges of your subject and describe them in one fluid line. BLIND Contour drawing adds the further challenge that you are not to look at your paper while making your drawing. It is fun, and makes you to engage with your subject, and your drawing, in a unique way.

“Potted Plants” blind contour drawing, ink on paper

Blind Contour drawing forces me to truly explore the subject matter in a quick, visual manner. I am primarily engaged with the act of really SEEING the subject, studying specific relationships of size, form, shape, line, etc. while making the one continuous line on a page. The goal is not an accurate representation of the subject, but to coordinate what my eyes see with the movements of my hand.  

The resulting drawings often have a unique freshness and lyrical line quality that I very much enjoy. Marks interact without the restrictions of tight representation. This is drawing for drawing’s sake, and is extremely freeing. 

“In My Garden” blind contour drawing, ink on paper

These quick drawings take very little time, from a minute to a couple of minutes each. When finished, I have had an “authentic” creative experience.  Sometimes they form the basis for a painting; sometimes the reward is just the drawing. Either way, I recommend you spend a few minutes a day drawing, whenever and wherever you have time. It is so enjoyable, and I think you will feel a boost of creative energy.

“My Brother’s Garden” pencil on paper

Creativity Interview: James E. Scherbarth, artist

Jim Scherbarth is a visual artist living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We first met in 2018. He works in a variety of media including oil and cold wax paintings, mixed media on paper, and weaving. 

HW:  What was your background and education with regard to your art and creativity in general?

JS:  Early in life my family environment was not really a creative one, although later in life both my parents had creative aspects to them. Some of the guiding principals I incorporate into my approach come from them.

I was in Viet Nam in the ‘70’s. I spent a semester at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so that helped me reconnect with my art. But that decade was very difficult for me. I had lost my way. For a decade I was trying to find it again. My GI Bill ran out, and I never returned to a formal school.

Artist Jim Scherbarth

I’ve just always been a creative, found it best to keep my hands busy. I like to make things. I like to tinker. I like to explore. And create. I like working with fiber; I did some weaving. 

“Vessel #73A (Home), hand woven telephone wire and fibre, 2020

H:        I’m hearing a lot of what they call “self taught”.

JS:        Oh, definitely. I’m an avid reader. If I don’t know something I get a book, or go online, to learn. To find out. Or l seek out the person I need, doing exactly what I’m interested in, and I’ll learn from them. I’m Self-Motivated. I’m a continuous learner. I hope that never stops.

“Life Goes On”oil and cold wax, 36×36”, 2020

We learn from so many people, our teachers, our parents, our friends, the stranger that just walked by and impressed us, imprinted on us. Or made us aware of something we hadn’t noticed before. It’s from awareness I guess.

We tend to think that creativity is for the few anointed ones, where in reality I strongly believe we all are creative. The real task, I think, today is to help people engage with their own creativity and bring it out. It’s there

They told us you can’t make a living at that. It’s not a career. Poppycock. If you want it badly enough, you can make it happen! I’m living proof. I didn’t get back to my art until I was 60 years old.

Some of Jim’s painting supplies

In 1980 I had to be a responsible adult, earn my own way. I worked for the telephone company, and spent 30 years there, doing very little art. Slowly but surely it started to creep back into my life. The more I got to travel and see other cultures, other people, other art, the more and more I wanted to get back into it. In 2007 I up and left the corporate world, with the personal “condition” that I get back to my art. Then the question was, “What is your art, Jim?” What do you do? 

I wanted something. I wanted to be a “real artist”. And to me that meant painting. So I spent more time with my paints. I spent a lot of time researching other artists, reading about their work, reading what they wrote about their process, their thinking behind or supporting their work. 

“Anticipating Monet” oil and cold wax, 30×30″, 2018

In February 2010 I came across some paintings that, online, I thought were remarkable. They spoke to me. I was very excited to learn that this artist lived only 2 ½ hours away from me. Her work was hanging, right that very moment, in downtown Minneapolis. So I jumped in my car and ran down to see the work, and instantly knew I had found something that I could relate to. I wanted to be able to create, to work, like that. It spoke to me! 

Her name is Rebecca Crowell, and a few months later I drove to Wisconsin to her studio. Without missing a beat, from the beginning to the end, she always spoke to us (her students) as an equal, and always referred to us as an artist. It was significant. It was the first time anyone unrelated to me saw me, treated me, and respected me, as an artist. No questions asked. It was very impactful.

I find 99% of artists are the most generous of spirits.

HW:    Can you talk about your creative process? 

JS:   I’ve only had this working studio for about 4 years, so it’s a real gift. It is my Church. It is my Sanctuary. I love spending time there, even when I’m not very productive. Just being there. 

Jim pulling an oil print

As far as always leaving a problem to return to the next day, that’s not an issue! There are many unresolved things every day, and that’s what brings us back in. That challenge. I can either pick up where I left off the other day, or can immediately start something new. Go to one table, or go to my easel, or work on something I left.

HW:    What are your most significant sources of inspiration?

JS:  Like so many of us, I respond to Nature, landscape, the environment we live in, and all the variations to that around the world. That is one reason to travel, to see all the wondrous places and vistas, and colors and textures. That all informs the work. 

HW:    You also mentioned about language. You talked about the ancient Irish alphabet.

JS:        The Ogham alphabet. It’s an ancient alphabet, no longer used. It was first used to write the old Irish language, and most of the remaining existing examples are etchings on the standing stones of Ireland, Wales, and on the Isle of Mann. Nowhere else in the world. Instantly I knew I had something I was going to be able to work with. I was standing in this beautiful landscape with these ancient beautiful stones. Marked with this language. 

“Celtic Code II” Oil and cold wax

That ancient language is 20 or 25 characters, basically hash marks. I didn’t want to use that literally, like a saying spelled out in Ogham. But I wanted to imply some type of mysterious message in the work. So I decided I would break it down to its basic element, which is a single mark. A line. 

If you blow that line up a little it becomes a rectangle. If you blow it up more it becomes the stone itself. If you use that mark repeatedly in different directions you start to build pattern textures. 

Experimenting with that: What can I say with that? What can I do with that? led me to a body of work, The Ogham Series. Twenty-some paintings and I still feel there are more to come.

HW:    Thank you, that was a really good description of how something can be an inspiration, not a literal copying of it. How it can be used in other ways.

HW:  Have you experienced “Creative Block”? If not, why do you think not?

“Envelope Collage #1” sympathy card envelopes, pen, pencil, 2018

JS:  No. I can’t say that I have ever felt Blocked, in the sense that it was ever just cut off, or stymied. I sometimes run out of an idea, or the energy on a certain direction. But then I just start making marks on something, or tearing something apart and gluing it back together. Or just anything which generates the next thought or next action.

HW:    And does that take an hour, or three months?

JS:        To get through that period? No, maybe an hour. Who’s got three months to waste being blocked? Maybe some people do, I don’t. I don’t. 

If this isn’t working, just do something. Do something. That’s how I don’t get blocked. Even if that means go out and take a walk. Get some Nature time, fresh air, and thinking. Then the head is full of ideas and we don’t have enough time to execute those ideas! 

“Vessel #72 (Hope Stone)” handwoven telephone wire, fibers, 2020

HW:    How often do you go to your studio?

JS:        I try to go to my studio every day, when I am in town. 7 days a week. Including Sunday, the studio is my church. Painting time is precious. I will go every day somewhere between 3 to 5 hours. Somewhere around 3 hours I start to get tired, and when I’m tired I start to make poor choices. So part of my discipline is to work about 3-5 hours, then I have permission to leave until tomorrow.

HW:  What have been the biggest rewards of your creative life?

JS:   Knowing that I am an artist. It’s given me purpose. The rewards are so many, and many of them are very intangible. It’s priceless. It is. 

Jim experimenting with color and shape

A little bit of bee’s wax (used in his painting process) has opened up my world! It’s taken me all around the country, meeting other people, taking other people’s workshops. It’s taken me to Paris, where I taught a workshop. It’s kind of mind-boggling! In a very wonderful way! So it’s all very rewarding. I don’t see any down side to any of this. I just don’t. I’m very blessed. 

HW:    What advice would you give young artists/Creatives?

JS:   For anyone, for any age, for any endeavor: Just do it. Just show up. And give it your best. Where you find you lack knowledge or experience, find out how to get that. Seek out the people who can help you. Read the books that relate to that subject or that endeavor. 

The immediate end-game should be to show up and do the work. And improve, and explore your reality and expound on it. Just grow

“Wee Creature” hand woven telephone wire, 2020

Update:  2020 brought significant changes to our lives.  For me it was not only the Covid confinement to my home, but a major health challenge as well.  I closed my studio and now work on my dining room table.  This does not allow me to paint with oil and cold wax presently, so I shifted gears, returned to the basics and began drawing and collaging on a smaller scale.  I’ve also resumed hand weaving telephone wire and fibers into small “soft” sculptures.  I believe inherent to the creative process is the need to remain adaptable.  I continue to use my themes/inspirations of nature, stones, currachs, colour, line and texture.  Examples of the most recent series – Currach & Stone – (collage-drawings) can be seen on my website.  www.jamesedwardscherbarth.com 

“Passage” oil and cold wax