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Breakfast with Elizabeth

If you’re looking for a dose of inspiration, voilà. I guarantee that what artist Elizabeth Beck has to say is going to hit you like a double espresso. When you finish reading (and laughing), you’re going to leap up and get busy. (Just don’t leap up so fast that you twist an ankle.) So here, for your bloggy delight, is the latest installment of Breakfast.


CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
I’m Elizabeth, a wife, a mom, and an artist—those are the big ones, anyway. I was a teacher before I started staying home with my kids more than 11 years ago. When I was ready to go back to work, I decided to pursue art as a fulltime career choice—or, as fulltime as I could manage it. Andy and I started dating in college, dated a LONG time, and have been married for 18 years. We have boy/girl twins who are 11 and start middle school this week and a little one who is 7. I would be remiss in discussing my family if I left out the dog. We have a five-pound Maltese named Dixie. My twins asked for a dog, and I gave them a baby sister; the baby sister asked for a baby brother, and I gave her a dog. I wonder what the dog is going to ask for?

CC: Tell us about your artwork and your Etsy shop.
Eep! I’m kind of slack on my Etsy shop. I have some prints of my art there, and have sold some—like five! But I’ve sold about 200 of those prints at art shows and such. I think the groovy thing about them is that they can be completely personalized. I have an Etsy shop because it seems like the thing to do, but I never really got on board with the marketing of it. Those prints are from original collages that I make on stretched canvases. I sell my canvases through a GREAT gallery, Lola’s in Roswell, Georgia. A couple of other galleries carry my work as well, on a smaller scale. I also do a couple of art shows a year, have some decorators who sell my work for me, and have quite a few word-of-mouth buyers. My collages are not the typical collages that are prevalent now. I primarily do NOT use other people’s imagery. Instead, I paint groovy papers and use them to make my imagery. I tend to have traditional compositions done with a non-traditional kick.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
when I started REALLY trying to be an artist, the hardest part was the business end: the marketing. I could paint a thousand paintings, but I worried that they’d all end up in my basement if I didn’t tell the world I was making them. I started with flickr, just putting my art on my page. My signature line on my e-mails had my flickr site, so everyone I had any e-mail contact with knew I had “started” being a REAL artist. That flickr community was a perfect way of networking with other artists and I even sold some pieces online when people who found a piece on flickr contacted me.

Moving on to a blog from that was a natural progression. I wanted to write about my art: what I was doing, how I was doing it, how it made me feel, what I was planning. It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t doing it for my friends and family to read, but for an art community that has developed in the blogosphere—and I do think that someone interested in investing in art is more likely to do so if they “know” the artist, even if that knowledge of them is from a blog. Why do I keep on blogging? I think it is partly accountability. Nearly every day I can say, yes, I did something artsy today and can post it. Having that blog keeps me from having long stretches of no creativity. I’m always working on something. I also do it because I like it. I enjoy it; it makes me happy.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
I have a very groovy basement. I even have a whole flickr set of its evolution from messy to tidy to messy to tidy to messy. It is currently on the rapid descent to disaster area. After my next art deadline passes, I’ll do a big cleanup. It’s a cyclical thing I have going. When we bought this house, the basement was an unfinished, unwindowed, dank, dark, yucky spot. But it is now finished out. I put in a sink and yummy yellow happy walls. It has perfect cement slab floors that give me no angst when I spill or splatter paint. It has lots of organizational drawers and bins and cupboards—and it is ALL MINE. It used to be my kids’ playspace with a tiny nook for my art. But as they’ve grown, my space has expanded and theirs has shrunk. The nice thing though is that my kids are all artsy, fun, and usually have their own projects going in my art studio.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? Tell us about your leap to fulltime art.
When my youngest child was nearing the age for kindergarten, I had a fleeting “oh-my-gosh-what-am-I-going-to-do-without-my-baby” thing. I considered going back to work as a teacher. Then I figured that I could actually give fulltime artist a try. It was a very conscious decision. Before the kindergarten year started, I had signed up to participate in an art show that fall with no paintings to show!! But it was a plan, and I love a good plan. That show went very well I sold loads. And all it takes is one sale to make you want to sell another. I have all this art in me trying to get out—but I think it would manifest itself differently if I weren’t selling it. Because I am fortunate enough to sell my pieces, I take risks, like painting giant canvases or doing a series of 18 canvases. if they were collecting dust in my basement and not getting sold, I’d be working smaller or less or in different media. I actually love sewing and ceramics and painting furniture. I’m pretty sure I’d like woodworking and welding and wedding cake decorating if I had a go at them. So if I wasn’t selling what I create, I might be creating something altogether different.

That was my leap to fulltime art. I skipped the “do you have a schedule” part of the question…Yes, when my kids are in school I try to do art EVERY day, skip none. Sometimes that time is an hour or less but some days I walk the kids to school, walk the dog a couple of miles, and then start art at 9 o’clock. I can get in six hours with just a couple of dog-walking breaks. I try to do more than 20 hours of art a week. Some weeks I can do 30 or more, especially if I’m building up for a show. It took me a while to figure out that my art time is not actually JUST while a paintbrush is in hand. All the business parts of it need to count. During the school week, when my kids are home, I am not painting—instead, I’m busy doing that mom thing that really takes full attention.

The best thing that I have going for me is that my best pal, Allison Strine, is an artist too. We paint at each other’s houses frequently. She pushes me to be more and better and riskier and cooler and groovier. We do a lot of our shows in side-by-side booths. We talk each other through the rough spots of being artists. She’s my biggest cheerleader. She gets it.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
Wow, I’m pretty struggle-free. My big picture is very, very happy. So the stuff that isn’t so easy doesn’t seem like too big a deal. I’m pretty laid back but I do have struggles, of course, everyone does. Three kids and all their activities keep me hopping. I don’t much like to cook, and yet I cook dinner for my family every night. Maybe that’s their struggle, not mine (spaghetti, again?). I’d join a nudist colony if you promised I’d never have to do another load of laundry in my life. That won’t happen because my family shouts me down every time I suggest it (do you want to join a nudist colony or help me with laundry?).

And art wise? I’m so happy to be doing art that it never feels like much of a struggle. My biggest art struggle at the moment is a September 1 deadline for two four foot by six foot canvases. SO big is not SO easy, but “struggle” might be overstating. It’s more of a procrastination thing at this point. Another struggle is a gorgeous green canvas that I made about two years ago, four feet wide. At the moment is has a cow I cut from a map taped to it, waiting for me to be brave enough to move on with it, glue it down. Rather than actually work on it, I expend all my moments dithering on it. So, considering I started the paragraph saying I’m pretty struggle free, that’s a lot of struggles—but all low-rent struggles, as struggles go.

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
EB: I don’t really do guilt and I don’t know why. I think it is actually a pretty unique thing about me. Nearly every woman I know feels guilt about something or other, or even about multiple things. Mostly I do what I think is right—and what I need to do and what I love to do. So where’s the need for guilt? I think I don’t bother to take the time for guilt. It’s just not productive enough. Rather than feeling guilty about eating another bowl of ice cream, I just enjoy the ice cream. Same with chores. Oh, I didn’t go to the bank for the ninth day running—I hope I go tomorrow—now where is that check I’m meant to deposit? Hmmmm, what should I have for dinner? Noodles are easy, and we didn’t eat them last night. Oh! Here’s a true confession. My son had noodles all three meals yesterday. In his words: for the first time in his life! Leftover mac ’n cheese for breakfast, leftover tortellini for lunch, spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner. You might think I’m a bad mother, but I have no guilt—and he did have a banana with that mac ’n cheese to make it a bit more breakfast.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
This is the hardest question. I don’t KNOW where I find inspiration. I THINK I find it everywhere, in maps and dictionaries, in the perfect red paint (Van Gogh’s), in the perfect paintbrush (feathered), in huge canvases, in tiny canvases, on flickr, in my backyard, in my heart, in my head, in colors, in books, in letters, in stencils, in stamps—it kind of just happens. I’ll work on this answer and see if it is conscious or subconscious and where it comes from. So ask me again later.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
EB: My read-it-every-day-and-feel-so-enlightened-and-smarter-for-having-read-it blog:

My never-met-in-real-life-pals-who-are-artists-and-have-happy-artsy-blogs-that-I-try-to-visit-every-day blogs:

I know that’s too many, but I’m not much for rule following and those are all artsy happy blogs that I really enjoy.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
At the moment? Tennis. I had to think for a while about if that was just too weird to write, but it’s my favorite thing right now. I’ve been playing not quite two years and I’m not very good, but I play on a team and I take lessons. I scheme with a best pal, Dana, how to play more, more, more. It takes up some very precious commodities: time, money, and energy.

she: e, what are you doing today?
me: oh, I’m planning on spending 9 to 3 in my art studio, yada, yada, big plans, green canvas, map cow, yada yada
she: can you play tennis at 9:30?
me: yes

Without batting an eyelash, it seems I’ll drop anything for tennis. That’s indulgent, right?

CC: What are you reading right now?
EB: I am reading Snakehead, an Alex Ryder mystery, by Anthony Horowitz. It’s teen fiction. My 11-year-olds have both read the whole series—this is number seven for me. I finished Ark Angel yesterday and am already on page 100 or so of this next one. One of my most favorite joys is that my kids are growing up and matching my interests. I love playing games, and they all are happy to play the games I love (Rummikub, Life, Sequence, Yahtzee, Apple to Apple, Ruckus, Set) and the big two are finally reading books that I can read and love too. Another series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, was awesome. I think we’ve read four of those. They are smart and interesting books, made all the better because I can talk to my kids about them.

Redux on indulgences: Books are my indulgence. I don’t just love READING books; I love buying them, I love having shelves and shelves of them. When I was a kid, my parents had books in every room. When I had to read a book for school, my parents ALWAYS had it on a shelf somewhere. My freshman year in high school I started reading Agatha Christie—and probably read fifty of them that year, just because my dad had them sitting there available to me. (I just googled it: Agatha Christie wrote 79 mysteries, 6 romances under a pseudonym, and 4 nonfiction books! Gosh, I love google.) So, that said, I hope to have loads of grand books in my house for my kids to choose from. I want everyone to always have a good book available.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
Be happy. Find the things that you love and do them. If you love playing on the playground with your kids, play on the playground. If you HATE playing on the playground, skip it. They won’t grow up thinking themselves playground deprived; they’ll remember the great stuff you did do. My kids have logged in countless bike miles, because that’s what I love. Some people think that taking your seven-year-old on a ten mile bike ride is torture. My seven-year-old thinks she’s lucky I let her come. She knows she’s strong. My kids had used more paint by the time they were three than most people use in a lifetime. We painted because that is what I love. My kids know our bookstore as well as I do. When they were especially little, we did what made ME happy and it made all of us happier. When the kids were little, I did NOT enjoy (or play) Candyland but I loved Hi Ho Cherry-O, Busy Town Bingo, and Concentration. My son has been beating me at Concentration since he was 2. My husband played a lot of Candyland—it didn’t bug him.

So, while you are with your kids? Be happy, do great things, have fun, be happy. And, just as important, make a point of not being with your kids. Whether it’s naptime, after bedtime, with a babysitter, a girls night out, or a date with your husband, be a grown up with interests and a life. Find what you love and do it. Be happy make a point of being happy.

CC: Thank you so much for sharing. You are truly an inspration, Elizabeth!

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Juliet Bell #

    Awesome interview! I wish I lived next door to you, Elizabeth!

    August 22, 2008
  2. Cathy #

    that last paragraph is absolutely necessary to hear!

    August 22, 2008
  3. yippee!

    August 22, 2008
  4. juliet, the house next door is empty …. i’m looking for an artsy tennis player to move in ….. i’m scaring everyone else away!

    August 22, 2008
  5. Sam #

    I just love the answer to that last question…do what you love to do…right on!

    August 22, 2008
  6. Dana #

    I am the bad tennis influence – but I learned all my impulsive “let’s go do something fun together” from Elizabeth. Her outlook on life is unique and I’m glad she plays tennis and has lunch with me on a regular basis. She was also the influence to get me into beading… something I love. love ya e! d

    August 22, 2008
  7. outstanding interview with an outstanding artist! i love elizabeth’s thought process and her ability to balance her art life with her family life. great blog; it’s my first visit here and i will definitely be back 🙂

    August 22, 2008
  8. Jeannie #

    Great interview — elizabeth is cool

    August 22, 2008
  9. I love the answer(s) to that last question, too! I really relate to e’s “be happy” lifestyle. For the most part….when I’m happy my family is happy! EB is seriously happy. Really! LOL…I loved this entire interview.


    August 23, 2008
  10. Great interview. Elizabeth is definately my go-to girl for a morning dose of happy. I’m lucky to be the owner of one of her Christmas canvases as well.


    August 23, 2008
  11. YEAH! Finally after 4 days of soggy wet mess I am back on line and see Elizabeth here! I’ve been a fan of her blog for quite a while now. And now I finally get to see a face!

    August 25, 2008
  12. I can’t keep up with Elizabeth, she is the creating-est artist I have ever had the pleasure to know. I love her “nests” and her “branches” – images that mean so much in her art. I’m one of her fans that’s for sure.

    August 30, 2008
  13. Wow, what an impressive girl you are! I love love that you don’t do guilt and that you do do happy!

    September 23, 2008

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