And I’m watching you now, I see you building a castle with one hand while tearing down another with the other. - - Lyric from Me in You, Kings of Convenience
I recently ran into a friend who is in her seventies, is a vibrant artist who has lived a rich and adventurous life, and who continues to adventure through each day painting, celebrating nature, moving her body and doing whatever the hell she wants. I met Linda when I was working as a barista. At the time, I occasionally toted my young daughter to work with me, setting her up on the cozy coffee house couch with her favorite books and activities for a few hours. It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes that was just our day. Linda had also been a single mother with one child. She and I would chat about the realities, the challenges and the amazing gifts, and she would remind me to enjoy it because it was so fleeting.
When I saw her most recently, I informed her that my young daughter had moved out and could now legally drink booze. What?? I introduced her to my husband and we shared our awe at the ways life has been changing for us as our two daughters have already left the house and now it is just us and one son left in the house.
Linda's face lit up to hear that we are both creatives, and she said something that we have reflected on quite a few times since that meeting. It was along the lines of, “If you have children, this applies once they have started their own adult lives because when you have children at home, life is very centered on family life... But once you begin the years beyond raising the children, your life’s purpose may shift, and every ten years or so, you may find that you have reinvented yourself. You find a project or purpose that touches something inside, and you work that until you move into other purposes and projects. Your art will transform and evolve, and you have the opportunity to explore any medium you can get your hands on - and those things can change the direction of your life. I think I have reinvented myself every decade since my forties”
Lee and I both felt that on such a deep level, as we are literally celebrating being together for a decade - in our forties. Our first decade has been focused on family, supporting kids the best we can, and carving out together time whenever we can. The decades following this one will have a very different tone, and I think there is a bitter sweetness to that. The sweetness is in the possibilities, the freedom, the adventure, the learning and the art of creating. The bitterness is in the emptiness that is filling so many evenings where there once was quite a bustling life. Our 17 year old still hangs out a little bit with us, and sometimes brings friends. I’ve found myself more and more appreciative of the bursting energy of teens blowing through the house and snacks. I’ve even tried to bring home good snacks to encourage the hanging out.
Soon, though, maybe even by this time next year, our little nest will consist of two adults and two pets. As I envision this, maybe that is one of the reasons I am embracing a new professional direction in my life. I like having kids around. I mean, certainly there is a new felt sense of freedom knowing they are navigating life on their own and releasing me of the daily deeds that once made their lives a little easier. But I really do enjoy doing the kid stuff - so now, I find myself trying to enjoy our last year of having a kid at home while also preparing for life when the quiet gets quieter.
One of the things I am most excited to explore is what kind of artist I am. I have spent quite a few years on the marketing or publication side of creativity and I only dipped into illustration on certain projects that I felt confident in. Even the current products on my website reflect a slightly more graphic style than illustrative as I dabble in learning how to place my art on apparel and mugs, all the while wondering, what is my style? I know that my graphic design style is. If you give me some full page ad specs, a logo and an objective, I will produce marketing collateral with a clean visual appeal, concise messaging and on-brand color scheme. White space is key, subtle transitions are preferable to chunks of info... Finding a consistent style with a pen and paper is much less formulaic and much more practice based.
Practicing new styles is something I do in private mostly. But part of my transition from full nest to empty nest, from graphic design to illustration - is to isolate less and connect more; to create more of the art I want to create; to share the good and the weird - and to shift in a gentle way from production design to eventually creating my own picture books and being contacted for my mad lettering and illustration skills. The messy periods in between these stages are usually the times I create work I try to hide because it may not meet my standards of “curated web sharing perfection” that seems to be the baseline of Internet land.
I created this website as a place where I could create practical products with important or fun messages - because it encourages me to continue creating and sharing. I chose to donate 10% of web product sales to non-profits who are doing important work so that I can feel the greater purpose in my work - and that helps me to share things even when I feel like I may be “in between styles.” I also joined Instagram, and for some reason it’s really hard for me to get into Instagram… But I will persist and continue to put out the work in the phase I am in.
There is an awkwardness in starting new things that tends to turn people away, and I am no exception. Sometimes when I am forcing myself to doodle, I just want to quit these shenanigans! Thankfully, I have started new things before. I started a creative business when maybe I “had no business” doing so and I hardly knew what I was doing. I didn’t die. I envision the next five years as foundational years for the next phase of my creative career and I can shape them to fit our soon-to-be-more-nomadic lifestyle.
Fortunately, I have built credibility in one community and I have faith I will be able to build credibility in other communities. I am learning from some really great artists, letterers, illustrators and content creators and I am LOVING feeling like a student again. I have an extremely supportive husband who encourages me in my (sometimes fruitless) endeavors and is my biggest fan. I am inspired by my kids in different ways, and I look forward to our new adventures together as we all transition into practicing what we want to be when we grow up. I look forward to launching a few more self-initiated projects this year, which will scoot me into the Instagram waters where I will flail and flounder but by the grace of the goddesses I will post.
I may find a solid illustration style through this process. My fingers are crossed. I work at a slower pace than some, so I will be patient and give myself two or three years to see if I settle into a certain style. For now, I love exploring the art of hand illustration and digital illustration. I love searching through the matte pages of art books for patterns and textures, balance and chaos, blood reds and butter yellows, light and dark. I am thrilled with the availability of learning resources and experts out there willing to get on camera and teach. And through all of the exploration, the familiarity with new materials, the hunger to learn more about art history again, I weave together experiences that will continually answer the question, “What kind of artist am I?”