Posts filed under The Creatives

The Creatives-Jennifer Lewis

Today's guest is Jennifer Lewis, who just illustrated her first children's book! How exciting is that? I was introduced to Jenn by my friend Rachel who you might remember as our Peruvian Imaginary Vacation guide! Rachel is quite the creative herself so I let her take the reigns of this interview. I was really impressed by the way Jenn has used art to connect with other people from a very young age. Connecting with people is what art is all about, right?
Please welcome Jenn Lewis to the Creatives!

1. You have been an artist for a long time now.  How old were you when you started and what in particular sparked your interest in drawing and painting?

I remember illustrating my first "book" (really, a piece of copy paper folded in half) for my dad when I was about 5.  He wrote a story about a cat that had selected our family's garage as its maternity ward, and left space for me to draw the pictures.  I wanted to draw the cat hiding under the car, but made the mistake of drawing the car first; so the cat turned out as more of a snake with a cat's face.  I've been interested in drawing and music for as long as I can remember.  It's probably because my parents didn't let me watch more than an hour of t.v. each day and set me up with headphones and records or gave me projects like illustrating the story of the cat.

2. Was there a particular time or piece of work that you created that you felt like your passion for drawing and painting exploded?

I'm pretty sure it was when I was in 4th grade.  I had the same teacher for kindergarten and 4th and 6th grades.  She always set aside a part of the day for creative projects.  I remember realizing that drawing and painting might be something special for me while doing a project where we drew and painted an emperor penguin, then crumpled and flattened the paper to add a neat distressed background.  It wasn't so much the project itself as the fact that other kids started coming over and talking to me because of it.  I was painfully shy, and art became a way for me to interact with other kids.
3. Who are artists that inspire you?
I love the precise detail in the illustrations of Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter, Jill Barklem and Maurice Sendak.  And I love the simplicity and boldness of Ian Falconer's Olivia.  But my all-time favorite illustrator is Alphonse Mucha because he somehow seamlessly combines bold, delineated shapes with exquisite detail.
4. Many artists create out of a means of expressing themselves, what they see around them or even as a social commentary.  Much of your work is pretty personal and centered around your family and friends and I am curious to know how that started?  What are other inspirations for your work?
Well, as I mentioned before, art has been a way for me to connect with people for a long time.  But also, I think that there's a satisfaction in creating something for or about a specific person because I get to see him or her enjoy it.  It probably started with my family: we had a white board hanging in the hallway for phone messages, and sometimes I would get inspired and go write a silly poem or draw a picture on it late at night.  Then I'd wake up to hear people laughing.  More recently, I've made storybooks for my husband about things we've done together or things I love about him which is a sort of in-depth love note.  And it's also been a way for me to connect with kids when we've gone to Peru in spite of the fact I know very little Spanish.
5. Recently you illlustrated a children's book called Valentine the Porcupine Dances Funny by Derrick Brown.  Have you always wanted to illustrate a children's book?
Yes!  But it wasn't until college that I actually thought about it as something I could do for a living.  Some friends were talking about what they ideally wanted to do when they graduated.  When they asked me, I surprised myself by saying that I wanted to write and illustrate children's books.  Since then, I've always given that disclaimer when people ask me what I do.  I'd say, "Well, I make signs for Trader Joe's; but what I really want to do is illustrate children's books."
6. How did you find a story which needed an illustrator?  (Or did they find you?)
I actually met Derrick when I started college; but I only knew him for about 4 or 5 months.  When I moved to Orange County for college and met my husband, Steve, he just happened to be friends with Derrick.  Last March, Derrick e-mailed Steve, "Do you think your wife would be interested in illustrating a children's book?"  Steve didn't even ask me.  He just told Derrick yes.
7. How was your experience as an illustrator different or similar from other projects you have done?
It was similar to other art jobs I've done in that I started out feeling that I was working for Derrick: that my job was to represent his story in the best way possible.  What made it different was that after the initial design for Valentine--as far as what she looked like--he gave me free reign to make each page look how I wanted it to.  The result was a greater feeling of ownership--and therefore responsibility--for me.
8. Would you be up for illustrating another children's book?  If so, would there be anything you would do differently or want to experiment with?
I can't wait to illustrate another children's book!  I'd love to write my own.  As far as illustrating, I think I'm always going to be tweaking the style and the process a little.  Valentine was the first project I've ever had photographed instead of scanning.  I think that I'd stick with the photographs next time, but maybe play around with better ways to flatten the collage just the right amount to get the illustrations to look more like the real pieces when they're reproduced in print.
9. You dabble in a variety of mediums and many of your pieces are a mixture of drawing, painting, cutting, and collage.  What led you to the style that we see in "Valentine the Porcupine Dances Funny"?
The first time I used the collage style was in one of my final college classes.  Then, I insisted on only using cutout shapes and interesting textures (the corrugated inside of cardboard, pipe-cleaner mosquitoes): I thought it should be as graphic and simple as possible.  As time has gone by, I've almost completely changed my process.  Now, I paint my own paper, shade each piece, cut everything out, and paste it back together: it's much more detailed... and time-consuming!  I imagine that I'll continue to change and refine my style for years to come.
10. Your husband is also an artist (a videographer).  What is it like to be a part of a creative married duo?  Do you ever collaborate on work?  And if so, do you receive each other's ideas well or can there be friction between creative opinions?
We're both each other's biggest fans:  I'm amazed at the way he can take boring footage and piece it together into this heart-wrenching final product.  And he's been the main reason I've finally made it to this point with my art.  Because we have such different media, there aren't often chances for us to collaborate; but I do design the covers for his wedding DVDs and he has been sweet enough to teach me a little about photography and videography and has trusted me to run his back camera a couple of times.  In general though, I think that we just admire each other's processes and talents and try to inspire each other to keep creating.
11. "When I draw, I feel... at home".
Jenn it's been such a pleasure having you. I love how well you were able to articulate the importance of giving children different ways to express themselves and connect with others. We haven't seen the last of Jenn, so come back later this week for a special surprise!
Posted on April 18, 2011 and filed under The Creatives.

The Creatives-Photographer Jennifer Squires

Remember how we were musing about the necessity of alone time last week? Yeah, I planned that because today I knew that today I'd have the pleasure of introducing you to Jennifer Squires. I met Jen through the List Love Book Club and I'm so glad I did because her work is absolutely gorgeous. As a professional photographer Jen captures the stillness and beauty of a quiet moment. Just looking at her work feels like a break from the busy, her photographs are a breath of air that stretch and lighten the heart. Please welcome Ms. Jennifer Squires to The Creatives.

1. You studied photography in college. How did you come to that decision? Did you enjoy majoring in photography? Would you suggest it to others?

I took a class in high school and I loved it so much I decided to further my skills in college, I now hold two diplomas in photography. If you’re interested in photography I definitely recommend some sort of formal study. There’s so much to learn about lighting and exposure, it’s nice to have a solid base to build on.

2. What is your goal as a photographer? As an artist?

I want to show people the peace and beauty of the world that’s all around us. Encourage them to stop and admire it, coax them to slow down and reflect on who they are.

3. Where do you look for creative inspirations? Who are your muses?

I look all around me and within myself for inspiration. I make photographs of the world as I see it. My current muse is our glorious Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

4. How does your etsy work vary from other photographic work?

My landscape photographs that are available as prints are images that I truly enjoying making. They help me to learn about myself and hopefully bring peace to everyone who sees them. My stock and editorial photography has a similar sense of design and lighting but is much different in subject matter. The overall scenes are still quiet but not necessarily so peaceful.

5. Do you have a criteria you use for deciding which photographs to list in your shop?

The landscape photographs included in our shop are images that were captured for that specific purpose. It’s rare that a photograph from a stock shoot ends up available from us as a printed piece, although it does happen. I like the images in our shop to maintain a certain cohesiveness; that of the simple, peaceful beauty.

6. Are there other artistic mediums that you enjoy in addition to photography?

I feel like everything in my life is a creative outlet. I love cooking, gardening, knitting, design, and colouring (yes colouring). I dabble in sewing now and again, I love listening to music, and I’m reigniting my fondness for movies.

7. What do you think the number one mistake amateur photographers make is?

Believing that cameras and equipment are what makes photographs.

8. What would be your advice to creatives who are considering art as a career path?

It’s definitely a tough road. Get to know your tools and techniques inside and out, work for other small companies and artists to see what it takes to run a business, then poor your heart and your soul into not just your creations but everything they entail, and put yourself out there.

9. Most of the pics in your etsy shop have a very spare aesthetic. Is that your personal style/signature or just the curation of a single collection?

The minimalism of the photographs in my shop is definitely one of the themes of the collection. My signature style is the diffuse glow of light and how it plays across my subjects.

10. What’s the favorite picture you’ve taken and why?

Almost always my favourite photograph is one that I’ve made from my most recent session. I think it’s because my work is constantly developing so I’m always excited about my newest creations. My favourite today, right now, is of a lifeguard station on a snowy, frozen beach. It’s an image that I made yesterday, I love the lightness, the glow, and the quiet.

11. Complete the following sentence “When a picture comes out just the way I wanted it to, I feel _______

delight. When a photograph surpasses my initial concept and pushes me to create something entirely different and on a level all it’s own, I feel on top of the world.

Thanks for sharing with us today Jen, I think this sneak peak will be a treat for each person who visits. To see more of Jen's work you can visit her website.

Posted on February 14, 2011 and filed under The Creatives.

The Creatives-Tyler Watson of The Space Between

Today’s guest is Tyler Watson author of the blogs The Space Between my Ears and The Space Between the Arts. Tyler puts into words what I feel but am not able to explain: to myself or other people. He has this strange ability to give form, structure and voice to things I find hidden in my heart.  When I first started editing this interview I started out by italicizing all my favorite parts but I had to stop because I was getting completely out of control. There is just so much in here about the beauty of written word, the necessity of dialogue for growth and the wild enormity of God. Tyler thanks for visiting and joining the Creatives.

1) We knew each other back in college but I didn’t know that you were such an amazing writer until recently when I found your blog.  What’s your history with writing? Have you always liked writing or is it something you discovered recently?

Thanks for the compliment – that is very generous. I’ve been writing seriously since early high school when I became enamored with the lyrics of some of my favorite bands. Early on it was Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), and Scott Hunter (Poor Old Lu). I had fantasies of fronting a band that would open for Pearl Jam one day. So I started writing bad poetry. Mostly navel-gazing self-involved stuff, yet it got me started. Enjoying writing stuck despite the fact my singing never developed and the rock star dreams went away. High school assignments forced me to write a bunch and I had a terrific English teacher – Mrs. Fritz – in two different grade levels. She instilled in me a love of reading and showed me how to make arguments on paper. In college I took a couple of creative writing courses, which I enjoyed greatly. I sometimes wish I stuck with that field of study further as I would love to write more fiction. From college I went to seminary and since theology is literally “God-talk,” we had to deal with words all the time. Nearly every assignment involved writing something, usually a multi-page paper. The amount of work helped me create and shape arguments greatly. After seminary I took a position as a pastor, which required me to preach every Sunday for a season. Much of my creative writing for twenty months was meant to be heard and not read. Beyond writing for the ear rather than the eye, however, writing sermons is not all that different than writing academic papers, short stories, or poetry. Good sermons deal with complex issues like an academic paper, have a narrative flow like a piece of fiction, and pay attention to the kinds of worlds words can create like a poem.

2) What is it that makes writing appeal to you as an artistic medium?  Is it something you can describe?

Selfishly, I enjoy writing because the discipline helps me figure out what I really think about a topic. On another level, I enjoy writing because I like to read so much. By writing I get to be a part of a conversation with people I may never meet. I get to interact with their ideas and add a bit of mine to the mix. I’ve always enjoyed the process of creation. My medium of choice has simply changed over the years. When I was a kid it was drawing and painting, in high school it was songwriting and poetry, now I enjoy other types of writing and photography.

All photographs courtesy of Tyler Watson

3) You are in your own words “slowly becoming an ordained pastor in the Covenant Church”.  How does that relate to your writing?

I haven’t really thought about that question before aside from ordination classes and their written assignments. I view my ordination as a part of my vocation, to be a pastor. In my church denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, we have to take classes and work in congregations in order for the denomination to ordain us. Serving people in congregations is especially helpful in becoming a better writer because different people learn and grow in different ways. Communicating in one manner won’t work for everyone. Some people like clear lists of ideas and others prefer ambiguous stories. Also, at its best, being in ministry opens my eyes to God’s grandness, as well as humanity’s cracked beauty.

4) I think sometimes religious people (from many different faiths) sometimes think that there is “religious art” and “non-religious art”.  One of my favorite authors Madeline L’engle said, “There is no Christian art vs. non-Christian art.  There is just good art and bad art” What do you think about the subject?

I really had to think about this one. I think L’engle is on to something, but I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. The danger of labeling something, “Christian art,” is that it often limits the audience to either those who are Christians already or those whom the artist is apparently trying to convert. This limiting unfortunately happens to and frustrates Christian artists who aren’t making “religious” art, i.e., art that serves specific religious purposes. I’m thinking of writers like J.R.R. Tolkein, Flannery O’Connor, or musicians like Sufjan Stevens. In that sense, L’engle is right that a good – however one defines good – piece of art should not be reduced to the worldview of the artist. Great art resonates deeply within people even if they may not ascribe to the same religion or philosophy of the artist. On the other hand, most artists are trying to make some kind of argument in their work, trying to show the audience a different way of seeing the world, and to deny that element of the art is to greatly misinterpret it. People listen to and are moved by Bach’s music, which was written primarily for the Church, even if they never attend a worship service. But to deny that Bach’s music is trying to make some argument about who God is, misses the point to an extent. Calling something, “Christian art,” usually places limits on it. We see, however, in cases like Bach’s works, where the label, “Christian art,” expands that art’s horizons, it tells us more about the music. So a piece of art, I believe cannot be reduced to its arguments, nor can its arguments be ignored.

5) One thing I really love about your work is the way you organize academic ideas in understandable ways without dumbing them down.  Is that a goal you have in your writing or just part of your natural expression.

It is absolutely a goal of mine and something I’ve tried to make a discipline so that it becomes more natural. It’s helpful to hear that my intention is coming across. The fact is that I love and can easily get lost in academic, esoteric, jargony discussions. These kinds of discussions cause most normal peoples’ eyes to glaze over. At the same time, I’ve been a part of many conversations about exciting and life-giving matters in the academy that made me think, “The rest of the Church needs to know these things and be involved in these conversations.” So much of what I see in popular Christian writing is pretty thin and doesn’t reflect the richness of this conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. The Christian faith is just so interesting, which isn’t a common view in American society. Most of the time Christianity is seen as prosaic, boxed-in thinking. I think that has to do with the fact that a lot of Christian writers and preachers try to reduce the faith down to a set of rules or a few easily-manageable points rather than guiding people to see the expansiveness and mysteriousness of the Christian story. The God we read about in the Bible is big and surprising and irreducible. Many of the authors I read in seminary embrace this expansiveness, but have difficulty explaining their ideas to people who aren’t as educated as they are. My favorite theological writers explore deep matters at a level that honors those matters’ complexity while doing so in accessible language. I want to follow in their footsteps. I believe everyone is a theologian because everyone has some ideas about who or what God is or isn’t. I think we are better served when more people join the conversation.

Photo Courtesy of Tyler Watson

6) What is your process like when you start to write something?  Do you sketch out what you want a message to convey or describe?  Or do you throw it all on the page and see what happens?

It’s an ad hoc and usually sloppy process. I’ll chew on an idea for a blog post or a sermon for a while in my head and when shapes emerge, I begin writing. I often neglect the exercise of outlining, which gets me in trouble. I end up throwing ideas on the page and then rearranging and editing from there. That means I’m not that efficient of a writer and that is evidenced in how I’ll publish several posts in a flurry and then go silent for weeks. I have many unfinished drafts sitting in my blog. I chuck whole paragraphs and sections at a time because at the moment of writing, it made sense to me, but when I read what I wrote, it has little connection with the whole of the piece. I don’t know how many sermons I complained to my wife about, saying, “I don’t think this is going to come together,” when it finally did in the end, usually because I radically rearranged the paragraphs. I’m slowly learning to become better at creating outlines. For years I hated outlines because I thought they were set in stone. I’d write an outline, start work on the piece, and then grow frustrated when it wasn’t working, but I felt trapped by the outline. I saw Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, speak and he said he always writes with outlines, but if the story goes in a different direction than the outline, he’ll change the outline. I thought, “You can do that?” Since then, I’ve tried to outline more, which means getting those initial shapes out of my head before I start writing paragraphs. Results have been poor since old habits are hard to break.

7) I am notoriously into blogs and have been for a while.  How and why did you decide to start blogging?

I’m curious as to how one becomes notoriously into blogs. Do the authorities know about this? Are there pictures of you up on the walls of Post Offices? (Note from Emily-It's easy to become notorious at anything. You just self proclaim!) I started blogging six or seven years ago. I think it was peer pressure, you know, most of the cool kids were doing it. A lot of my friends in seminary were blogging about what they were learning and I enjoyed the opportunity to have written discussions about those matters.

All photographs courtesy of Tyler Watson

8) You publish two blogs: one about faith-centered musings and one about the arts.  How did you come to the decision to keep them separate?  Have you considered keeping them together?

Originally they were one and the same because I would write about whatever I was thinking about at the time. There was a time when I was writing more reviews and I noticed comments were declining rapidly since I was often writing about things people had not seen or read and therefore had nothing to add to the conversation. I didn’t want my blog to become only a place for reviews, so I started a second blog. If there is a something that engages in more theological or political reflection on a piece of art, I usually post it on both blogs, like my reflection on There Will Be Blood for Lent in 2008.

9) Who are you inspirations as an artist (art or non/art)?

This is hard to limit to just a few names. I’m inspired by curious people, people who are always learning. In that sense, my parents have been a big inspiration. Currently, three living theologians also stand out to me: Miroslav Volf, William Willimon, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Volf says the great thing about theology is the field of study is wide open, we get to learn about anything – all one has to do is look at any area of life and ask, what does God have to say about this? Willimon reminds me that the Bible is surprising and challenging. Usually we ask of a biblical passage, how does this apply to my life? That’s moving in the wrong direction. Rather, we should be asking, how does my life fit into this bigger story, or how is this passage trying to convert me? Kärkkäinen inspires me because while he has strong and clear views, he first asks of any other person or view, what can I learn from them, where do we agree? I’ve noticed we tend to look for areas of disagreement first and Kärkkäinen challenges me toward humility. I currently love the fiction of Cormac McCarthy, although I have to be careful with him. Sometimes I read his amazing prose and think, I’ll never be able to write another sentence again. I actually draw a lot of professional inspiration from Marilynne Robinson’s character John Ames in her novel Gilead. He manages to be learned without losing a sense of wonder and mystery. I’m also inspired by people who look for beauty and justice in this world and who believe those things are worth defending. It may be cliche, but I really do find inspiration in Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa (especially her struggles of faith). I find their commitment to Jesus and his purposes encouraging. And then there are movies. Good Lord, how I love movies – way too many to name. After watching a Wes Anderson film, I want to write.

All photographs courtesy of Tyler Watson

10) What drives you as an artist?

Lately I would say it is communication. There is always an element of self-expression in art, but if all I wanted to do was express myself, I don’t think others would be interested, nor should they be. I think art is about connecting with people, which means communication. And I don’t mean that I have something to say and the world needs to hear it. I mean communication as a two-way street, in which one person offers some view of the world expressed in whatever artistic medium and another receives it, chews on it, and offers their response. Blogging is fun because readers can leave comments.

11)  Please finish the following sentence. “When I finish a piece and hit the publish button I feel…”

A mix of relief and anxiety. I love the feeling of finishing something and getting it out there. I really like that sense that I crafted something that says what I really want it to say. But I’m also anxious because I wonder how people will respond. The topics that interest me most, after all, are core matters for most people and we all have strong views on them. I’m also anxious because I’ve found no amount of proofreading is ever enough. I don’t know how many typos I find after publishing a blog post.

Tyler, I have the same typo angst as you! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts, I’ll be chewing on many of them for a while.

Posted on November 23, 2010 and filed under The Creatives.

The Creatives- JJ St. James from the Love Shop

Today’s guest is JJ St. James from the wonderful print store The Love Shop.  I’ve featured her work on the blog previously and today we get to meet the woman behind the inspiration.  JJ was gracious enough to share her creative process, the story of her career as an artist and most importantly the story of how she turned her personal struggles into love, love, love.  I was truly touched and inspired by JJ and I know after meeting her you’ll feel the same.

Note from JJ: Firstly I'd like to say a big Hello to all your lovely readers! It's great to be here and thanks a bunch for having me :)

1) I love to hear about the career paths of artists. How did you end up working as a full-time artist?

I guess it was pretty inevitable that I'd do something creative. My father has been a professional artist for 50 years (he's responsible for many of the portraits on our Australian money & stamps). My grandmother was insanely creative too, as was my great grandfather. My family tree is just a long line of artists, musicians, fortune tellers and actors. So not wanting to break with tradition, after high school I went to acting school, and while there, landed a job on a T.V show Countdown (Revolution) as a dancer.

So I danced for a while, had a truckload of fun, but then began to feel a bit lost with all the free time I had outside of shooting the show. Answer: get a qualification girl - in something other than shakin' your booty :) Art seemed like the next logical step, as I liked to draw and was pretty good at it - the only problem was I didn't have any work to show. So I spent a few months creating my own "folio" of work from scratch, hoping I was doing the right thing (as this was pre internet I couldn't simply Google schools and examples of their folios. Bummer.) Anyway eventually it was done and I ring the school to make an appointment for an entrance interview - and low and behold they tell me that entries have closed for the year as they've picked all their students. Whoah. What?! Basically I was a big nitwit and had missed the submission date. But never say die! Somehow I managed to convince the headmaster to see me (an embarrassing amount of tears will sometimes do that) and by some miracle he liked what he saw. Once they let me in I became part of the furniture, staying 5 years learning everything about designing and art. After graduating they got me back to teach, and I worked the rest of the time at a prestigious Design Firm with a bunch of soulless people (harsh but true). I hated it SO much it was an easy decision to leave *runs screaming from the building* the corporate world behind and return to the land of the living and teach full time! Yippee! (With the occasional design job such as a CD cover or two to keep the design skills sharp).

2) What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Well, I certainly don't have all the answers, but these are some things I've learned along the way. Number one is: Just go for it! Research and learn as fast as you can, but act fast. Get the wheels in motion. Don't wait for someone to give you permission and don't wait for the so-called perfect moment or place - it rarely comes, so just get going from wherever you are. Do what YOU love, not what you think people might love etc. Ignore the naysayers. Draw inspiration from everywhere. Don't just do work on the computer for example, try using a photocopier, painting, photography.... and read, read, read. Get quiet to "hear" what the next step should be for you. Also - do huge amounts of work. It's by doing that you really learn. The rest is only theory. Be willing to make awful art too - meaning, be willing to take risks and make mistakes. There are often seeds of something exciting in those so-called 'mistakes'. Find out who you are through your work. It's the you that's in the work that makes it interesting and unique.

3) How did the Love Shop come about?  Why the focus on love?

Good question. Well very simply, because I believe there is really only one truth. And that truth is love. Everything else is a form of fear, and fear is simply our resistance to love. Emotions such as anger, depression, hatred, jealousy etc are the fear based energies - they resist what Is and what always will be - LOVE. On the flip side, if you're feeling, love, joy, peace, happiness, gratitude etc then you're living in truth, you're energy is resonating with Source, or Spirit, or God or whatever you would like to call it. The important thing I've learned is that being in either camp is a choice. And this is key, because this means that in any given moment, you can choose fear or you can choose love. You have control. When the truth of this really hit home with me, that I have the power to choose - that I am not at the mercy of events - that I can choose to find the good in everything - or rather the love in everything - this is when I decided I wanted to live in love as much as possible. So I choose to focus on love - even with my business, because the more time I spend choosing love, the happier I feel. And the happier I feel, the more happiness I have to give. And that is a whole lotta fun!

4) In your shop bio you say that hard times in the past years have pushed you to hold on to love and share it with others.  Do you mind sharing more of that story?

Sure :) The times were hard; we (my daughter and I) were days from living on the streets, saved only by the wonderful generosity of family and friends that I am forever grateful for. To cut a long, messy story short, due to the sudden break up with my partner of 15 years, I was suddenly left financially destitute, without a job, half a million dollars in debt, with no money for bills or food and the sole parent to a beautiful daughter. I mean they were desperate times, like I was trying to scavenge for a stray $1 that might be under the car seat so I could buy two-minute noodles for dinner.  There are only so many times you can hope to find money! We had no heating in winter and no fridge in summer. And forget paying bills. I lost an extreme amount of weight as whatever food we got I would give to my daughter. I could go on and on but you get the picture. It was stressful to the max and very challenging to see any light at the end of the seemingly endless dark tunnel. But even through it all I was grateful. Grateful for that $1, grateful for my daughter's smile, to still be able to hear music and dance, even when you're broke you've still got dancing! I was grateful for the softness of my bed, for water coming out of the tap, and many, many, many other things. I would lie in bed and force myself to focus on the good, the beautiful and the things that I do have - rather than what I didn't. I mean don't get me wrong, the panic about our future wanted to devour me. At any moment I could've burst into tears or screamed, but still, there are always, no matter what, things to be grateful for. And I realized if things got worse I still had the choice as to how I would react. And the power to choose how we act and react I believe are an unbelievable gift. It was my focusing on the good, and the love in my life that got me through. Gratitude changed my life and kept me from living on the streets. So, as a way of continuing to be grateful and give back is why I started The Love Shop.

5) What is your creative process like to create a print? How do you choose your quotes? Do you hand write the fonts?  Give us a glimpse of how it all works!

The creative process is just so much fun! I come up with an idea - usually about 10 - 30 a week (I have approx 2800 designs on my computer that are waiting to see the light of day!), I choose one and create it pretty quickly, anywhere between an hour to a few days. Then I leave it for a bit, and take a fresh look at it later. Often I don't like it anymore or see what needs to be changed. I then print them out to tweak the colours. I am quite the perfectionist when it comes to my work. When I first started learning how to design, it would take me forever to design something, and the designs were average, but I guess after doing it for sooooo long it becomes second nature. I think having a passion for it helps a lot too!! I am rather obsessed with typography; it is a constant love affair. I am always looking for the most beautiful fonts and if I can't find them I design my own, or hand draw them. A beautiful font is like art to me. Oh and the quotes? Either from fave lyrics, or usually I just make up the quote myself from things I believe etc, like the Live Simply print, and Love Is The New Black.

6) Where do you look for inspiration?

Everywhere. Seriously. Books, fashion, TV, nature, art, travel, Paris, family, music.... The list is endless, so I might as well say my inspiration is LIFE! I have never, ever been short of ideas. I could not possibly get out all of the ideas in my head. Sometimes I really exhaust myself :) Ha.

7) Who are your favorite artists (can be in any medium, dance, music, painting, literature etc.)?

I love this question! Well I have very eclectic taste.

Fave music is artists such as The Beatles, Etta James, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Coldplay, Blondie, Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Angus and Julia Stone, Edith Piaf, Phoenix, Air, David Bowie, Mozart, Bach, Broken Social Scene, Fleetwood Mac, Cat Power, Daft Punk, U2, Justice, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Joy Division, Sébastien Tellier, Van Morrison.... and on and on and on!

Books & Authors; Abraham and Jerry and Esther Hicks, Harry Potter, Twilight, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Paullina Simons, and a trillion others. I read mostly spiritual, self-help kinda books and the occasional novel :) Note from MLE: Isn’t it so cool that she namechecked Harry Potter and Twilight? Love the honesty!

Artists I would say Monet for his sublime use of colour and capturing that ethereal landscape...ah so lovely, some of the renaissance painters, and on the flip side Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. I love pop art for its fun and immediacy!

8) What drives you as an artist?

Happiness. Doing what I love makes me happy, and giving as much love as possible via creative expression makes me doubly happy. Those things drive me at full throttle :)

9) For you personally what does personal and professional success look like?

Success to me is feeling happy. If I feel happy I know I'm on track. When I receive letters from clients telling me how my work has uplifted their life, or when I discover that a print of mine is on the wall of a cancer ward, I am deeply touched and honoured, and that makes me feel successful. Very important for me too, is being able to finally take good financial care of myself and my daughter - not having to scrounge on the car floor for a dollar is a miracle to me!

Personal success to me is how much I love others. I mean, even strangers. I pass a grumpy looking stranger on the street I smile at them and if they smile back I actually feel lit up inside for a moment, like my spirit is glowing. Sounds crazy maybe, but try it and see! So that's success to me - how much love I give and how graciously I receive it.

10) Hok Konishi, a dancer and past participant in The Creatives described different types of art as different languages for expression.  Do you enjoy other types of art in addition to what we see in The Love Shop?

Oh my, do I ever! I wish I had more time to be involved in all the different areas of creative expression that I love, such as music, photography, dance, painting and film making. If I could wave a wand I would be doing all of them. I think it's important to have a wide range of experience in different arts, well at least for me I think it's been valuable. So currently I'm finishing a book on Happiness set for release in 2011, an ipad app, and a series of affirmation, meditation and manifesting CD's. Really I am always working: always creating something and dreaming up new projects. My family is constantly trying to get me to chill out and stop working but I can't seem to and don't want to. I believe if you have talents, no matter what they are, you have a duty to yourself and the world to share them.

11) Please finish the following sentence. “When I see my work printed for the first time I feel….”

Peaceful anticipation and slightly nervous. I guess I want it to come out flawless. I usually like it when I first see it. I feel that rush of pleasure, but then I instantly think how I could improve it. So I go and make changes. Then I like it better. I keep doing this until I think it can't be improved any more, that it's at its peak. My customers deserve nothing less that 100% of my effort, and I feel like I've wasted my time unless I give 100%. I'm always pushing to be the best, offer the best product and the best service etc etc. It’s exhausting, but really there is no other option if you're passionate about what you do!

JJ, Thank you so much participating and sharing your story. I have always loved your prints but after getting to know you a bit I see them in a totally different light.

Posted on November 16, 2010 and filed under The Creatives.

The Creatives-Allison Holker

Today's guest is Allison Holker!  Allison competed on Season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance and is still one of my all-time favorite competitors.  She returned last summer as an All-Star and is currently touring the country with the Season 7 contestants.  Today Allison will share with us what it's like to be a professional dancer AND a working mother. Welcome to our space Allison!

1) You’ve been in a lot of memorable routines on the show including one of my personal favorites “Sexy Love/Umbrella Dance”. What has been your personal favorite to be a part of and why?

Of my entire experience being on SYTYCD my favorite routine I've ever had the opportunity of performing was from this season, choreographed by Travis Wall "FIX YOU". This number meant alot to both Robert and I and we feel blessed to have been able to dance for Travis' mother!

2) What has been your favorite dance (from any season-that you were in or not)

I loved "MAD WORLD" its a piece that Stacey Tookey choreographed on ADE and BILLY. Also the group number DIMITRY choreographed on season 5.

3) My friends and I are So You Think You Can Dance fanatics and even though you were our very first “favorite” dancer and always have had great technique we noticed that you have grown a lot since the time you competed on the show. I feel like you have a much greater depth to your dancing now. What’s changed for you between now and then?

I think it might be my maturity level. Since being on the show I've traveled alot, worked on alot of different gigs, and then also became a mother. So I feel like my heart is full and that's what maybe shows through in my dancing.

4) What do you think is one of the most important ways for dancers to grow and mature?

Never let yourself feel like your too good for a job. Everything is a learning experience. The moment you stop learning and embracing the new, is the moment you just lost!

5) You have a daughter that is almost exactly the same age as my son (2 years old). I work full time and love being a working Mom but I absolutely cannot imagine trying to manage the kind of career you have and being a Mom. What advice do you have for dancers who would like to have a performance career and a family?

IT'S POSSIBLE!!! Never let go of your dreams, there's always a way to work things out. It's not easy balancing my life, or in my case having energy for everything I want to do haha!! But because I'm so determined it works! It's sometimes difficult to figure out the balance, but my biggest hope is that by me working as hard as I am, my daughter will grow up and see that with enough hard work and dedication anything is possible. And because I've had to become a working mother, I've also decided that as much energy I give at work I will give my daughter daughter double when I'm with her. So after work it's not TV time, it's singing and dancing, going to the park or museum, or riding a bike! It's tiring but she deserves it!

6) Becoming a Mom changed me a lot as a person on every level. How did becoming a Mom change you? Did affect you as a dancer?

It definitely changed me. It helped me grow up faster, and also opened up my eyes to the more important things in life... FAMILY, having my daughter helped my relationship with my own parents. It made me appreciate all their hard work, and now I almost don't go a day with out talking to them.

7) You are working as a professional dancer. What to you is the ideal dance career or definition of professional success?

I feel like the ideal job might be different for everyone and also is determined in the different stages of your life. For me right now, I want to experience jumping from job to job dancing for recording artist in award shows, music videos, and cameos. But my favorite gig is working for movies. But in 5 yrs I would hope to maybe have a more stable job performing in a show that will run for 2 yrs or so. The definition of a professional dancer to me , is someone who is consistently working, accepting new work, still learning, and dedicating time to their craft.

8) Many creative people express themselves in various outlets. Do you have multiple creative outlets? How do you find dance and other creative outlets to be similar or different?

I often look at artwork and explore my movement through their images.

9) A lot of dancing involves partnership: in your opinion what makes for a great dance partner?

Dance partners need to not only know there own body and strengths, but that of there partner they are dancing with! You need to be aware of each other at all times.

10) Who are you inspirations as an artist (dance or non/dance)?

I really admire Stacey Tookey, she really opens her heart to her work, and still keeps a gentle soul at the same time. She is a gem to work with.

11) Please finish the following sentence. "When I dance I feel...."

When I dance I feel.... The warmth of the world

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Allison.  You were my very first "favorite" dancer on the show and I wish you lots of luck in your career!

Posted on October 19, 2010 and filed under The Creatives.