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Molly: Honoring Your Creativity

Molly Tinsley recently posted several comments here at Studio Mothers, and I was intrigued by her creative process. I knew you’d enjoy hearing more from this Australian, home-schooling mother of three. Enjoy!


My “studio.” I did have one in the garage, but it got engulfed when my parents moved house!

My “studio.” I did have one in the garage, but it got engulfed when my parents moved house!

I double-guessed my creative impulse for far too many years. I’ve always been “crafty”; always decorated the edges of my school notes with complex designs that were far more interesting than what I was writing down. I studied art, particularly ceramics, all the way through high school, but was told quite seriously at the age of 15 that creativity was something that I would “grow out of” and so being a good girl I shelved it away and studied to become a lawyer. (That was an absolute disaster — its own saga.)

But now, 25 years after that unhelpful advice, I find myself struggling back towards that creativity — back towards a creative life, a life in which I take my creativity seriously, in which I listen to it and honor its impulses. This is how I found Studio Mothers — looking for someone who could help me with this re-focusing while homeschooling three energetic little boys! I found the advice to do something creative every day, even if it’s just jotting down an idea on an index card, to be incredibly helpful and inspirational. I find it very hard to find and honor my creative impulse and this is a way of acknowledging this part of my life on a daily basis.

“Gum Leaf” bowl. Stoneware, underglaze and underglaze inks.

“Gum Leaf” bowl. Stoneware, underglaze, underglaze inks.

I often liken my creativity to listening for a faint sound of music on a windswept beach. I need to turn carefully to hear the thread of sound and to follow it. I’ve found that the second I try to force something — to do what I “should” — the sound dries up and I have to start at the beginning again.

Some people are born with the equivalent of full-blown marching bands: they’ve always known what they wanted to do and have never doubted their calling or their path. For the rest of us, particularly those of us who have had our creative leanings deliberately discouraged, the process is a little more tenuous. I’d like to add that that discouragement isn’t necessarily cruel. It’s simply that most people don’t understand how a living can be made from artistic pursuits, and so assume it can’t be done and try to discourage the budding artist “for their own good.”

Leonie Dawson has a wonderful, and quite different, way of describing the creative process. She calls it Riding the Wild Donkey. Actually, being Leonie, she calls it “Riding Ze Wild Donkey” and it’s a much more robust way of framing the issue than “Listening for the Windsong of the Universe.” 🙂

“Bushfire Sunset.” Acrylic on MDF.

“Bushfire Sunset.” Acrylic on MDF.

Her take is that a Wild Donkey of an idea shows up in your paddock and you jump on and ride that thing until it’s done. She has periods of intense creativity and yeehahs her way through until the project is finished, then has periods of recuperation. She calls the stuff she’s tried to do slowly “Mount Project” as it’s piled up into a heap on her desk and slowly gets bigger.

I think that the key to this approach is that you just go at it until it’s done. This may well work better with e-books and courses than with 15-foot canvases or epic photography series. In those cases, you have to find a greater depth of stamina and commitment to see the project through. Or, alternatively, you may need to find some way of chunking the project down so that you can throw yourself at each part with mad abandon.

This approach also has echoes of The Cult of Done Manifesto, which is, as it sounds, about finishing work. I don’t agree with all of it. Number 5, for example: “Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.” That wouldn’t work for me. I tend to pick things up, do them for a bit, put them down again, then pick up something else. Eventually, I work my way back around to something that I put down and finally finish it. This is where the bit about honoring my creativity comes in. The urge is to finish at all costs, but I just don’t work like that and I need to trust in my process — that I *will* circle back around to those pots and finish them; but right now I’m sticking seashells to my collage (isn’t acrylic medium AMAZING?!).

“Gum Leaf” platter. Porcelain, underglaze. ceramic inks.

“Gum Leaf” platter. Porcelain, underglaze, and ceramic inks.

I’ve also found it unbelievably annoying that the second I try to monetize my art, the creative impulse just dries up completely. I have an Etsy shop that has held the same scarves for the last year. I have a studio FULL of art that I keep putting off photographing and popping up for sale. I have a wide selection of rather cute ceramic dishes (if I do say so myself!) that have been waiting for 4 months to have their bottoms waxed and to be dipped in clear glaze and given their final firing.

I’m lucky in that my family is not dependent on my ability to make money from what I love. I have the opportunity to experiment widely both within and across genres and media. In the last year I have experimented with photography, stamp carving, reduction lino printing, ceramics, acrylic and watercolor painting, needle felting, and collage. In the past I have also experimented with papier-mâché, mosaics, garden design, acid etching, dying, and sewing.

Without a supportive partner, I’d currently be working as a librarian and checking out craft books from the library on the weekends! When I was working fulltime, I had absolutely no time or energy left for my art. Homeschooling has its own set of challenges, but I can set the boys up with paints and paper and they can splosh away while I try to get some painting or glazing done.

Actually, while I have my librarian’s hat on, I can highly recommend the book “Creating a Life Worth Living” by Carol Lloyd. It’s not a quick read, but the book is worth dipping into and out of as Lloyd covers a huge number of the issues to do with both having a creative life and paying the bills at the same time.

Needle-felted Fairy Tree with Bluebird of Happiness & Zombie Pig & Rabbit. Wool.

Needle-felted Fairy Tree with Bluebird of Happiness & Zombie Pig & Rabbit. Wool.

She’s also a great believer in daily creativity — whatever that may mean to you. I find Morning Pages a bit daunting these days, but can always find time to do a Zentangle. I also find needle-felting in the evenings while listening to documentaries (I MUST get into podcasts!) to be both relaxing and a good way to express my creativity. It’s turning to winter here in Australia and so I suspect that I will circle back around to my knitting needles and start again on the Bolero I put down last October.

Its difficult to trust in this process — to accept that its not an efficient way to get art done, but that it’s *my* way to get art done and if I don’t honor it, the desire to make art at all just dries up completely.

I’d be very interested to hear of your approaches to honoring your creativity. Do you work slowly or do you get things done fast in a fury of inspiration? Does getting paid for your art change the way you approach it? If you get paid for your art, do you approach paid and unpaid work differently? If you are a mother, how does caring for your family impact on your ability to honor your creativity? If you work, what affect does that have? We all have so many roles to play that it can sometimes be difficult to honor our creativity and still get everything else done! I’d love to hear how you do it!

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. I enjoyed this post, Molly/Miranda, and want to thank you both for it. I’m continually encountering various mental roadblocks on my creative path. I’m currently working on a piece that discusses creative roadblocks on my own blog, but I hadn’t heard of Dawson’s Wild Donkey in the paddock metaphor. It rings true. I’ll be looking for that. Thanks for the referral to it.

    One of the things that strikes me here is how powerful simply doing something, almost anything, in a mindfully creative manner, can help me feel more connected to that creative part within. I don’t have to be actively writing or directly creating art. Sometimes I have to remind myself that all my various activities, including the ones that aren’t seemingly directly artistic, can all be used to nurture and inform that creativity.

    When I am stuck, I find that if I give myself permission to take a walk, clean the house, blow up zombies online, do the dishes…whatever it may be, if I identify it as being a part of either the generative percolating state before and during creative endeavors, or the recuperative process afterwards, that whatever the activity is, can become a way of honoring my own creative spark.

    This was a timely read for me. Thanks again.

    March 28, 2013
    • Wonderful, Jody! You’re absolutely right — being intentional with how we spend our time, and allowing seemingly unrelated activities to fill the well, is vital. Sometimes we need that space in order for the Big Ideas to percolate, don’t you think?

      March 28, 2013
  2. Many moms that I have known have said that they don’t have the time to explore their creative freedoms after having children. For me it has been the opposite. I was very closed off from my creativity for years, because of I was told that I was ridiculous at one point. It was crushing and I didn’t even realize how much that changed me. Since my daughter (5) was born, I seem to be in touch with my creativity and don’t stomp it down anymore. In fact, it could still be said that I am ridiculous, but I could say “Hell yes, isn’t it great!!” right back 🙂
    I write, paint, craft and do free form stuff up in Sequoia National Forest in CA. My daughter is a terrific artist, ablaze with the confidence to do her own thing. Life is good.
    I will be following along here. Thanks for the post. If you have the time and interest, I invite you to check out my blog of kids’ projects and mom stuff. Have a beautiful day!

    March 28, 2013
    • What a great story, Karen! And your blog is lovely. Wonderful to have you here.

      March 28, 2013
  3. Oh gosh this was just perfect to read! I look back and even now ‘think’ I was creative but still have doubts. I went to do a psychology degree! I then started an art foundation and began doing lots of painting and doing workshops with schools. Then I had a family…..I started my blog to try and reintroduce a little bit of creativity in my life with two young boys. My blog gives me a lot more structure and an incentive. Though I have also taken up knitting in recent weeks- we will see how that goes. I really liked the earlier entry about using the most of your ten minutes. I am going to start trying that! Please I found this blog, very inspirational. Thank you 🙂

    March 28, 2013
    • Thank you so much for your kind words, thesculptorswife! Good luck with the knitting. I wish I could knit…well, to clarify, I *can* knit, but that’s all I can do! Can’t cast on, can’t cast off, can’t fix problems, can’t do anything aside from a basic knit stitch — I once created a 10-foot-long mohair scarf because I didn’t know how to stop, lol 😉

      March 28, 2013
  4. Love your post :). During a couple of months of bedrest, I was able to rediscover a whole host of previous creative pursuits…writing, drawing, etc. However, now I have a busy 1 year old and 5 year old and not much time to devote to these things. However, the kids do inspire me. (Ie: writing for children)

    March 28, 2013
    • Wow…sometimes I dream of enforced bedrest, for just that reason, Cathy! Not that I want to be really sick, of course — just sick enough to be relieved of all responsibilities while being well enough to enjoy anything that can be done while prone — reading, writing, drawing, crossword puzzles 😉

      You’re still in the trenches with a wee one, but one day your kids WILL need less of your attention. I remember thinking that that day would never come — but mercifully, it always does!

      March 28, 2013
    • Jody@FakingSane #

      I sometimes fantasize about what I could do with a couple of months of bedrest. I suspect I’d have to be pregnant to arrange for that, and that’s unlikely even with today’s technologies. I don’t suppose you have any suggestions for other ways I could convince my doctor I needed to stay abed for two or three weeks?

      April 3, 2013
      • Gosh, the only things I can think of are too painful — like breaking both of one’s knees badly, or something like that. If you think of anything more feasible, do let me know! 😉

        April 3, 2013
      • Haha! The grass is always greener. As much as I appreciated the time to pursue creative activities, bedrest was terribly frustrating.

        April 4, 2013
  5. Thank you for this post. It is refreshing and a relief to know that someone else using the “circle back around” approach to creating. I have a few projects on the go at a time. There will be a flurry of creative juice then, for some projects, something comes up or I get in a creative slump. One project took me 2 years to get back to; maybe a bit long. 🙂

    March 28, 2013
    • So interesting, dbubble! I agree — Molly’s post is refreshing as well as a relief. When I thought about it, I realized that I know several artists and writers who work in this way — I’ve just never considered it an option for myself. I’m going to think about this a lot more in the coming months….

      Thank you for your comment!

      March 28, 2013
    • You know, I often have about three or four different projects that I end up taking out, dusting off, tinkering around a bit with, then putting back into mental storage for a while. They sort of leap frog in their progression towards completion. I have a book I’ve been working on for five years. I have set it aside at least three times. At what point do you decide a project is dead? For some of these projects I feel like they are perpetually in circle back around mode.

      March 28, 2013
      • All this time I thought I was subconsciously procrastinating, but it’s my natural process. I think I’d decide that a project is dead when I felt I’d rather be doing anything else but work on it; or I spent considerably less time working away at it when I got back to it; or I felt something wasn’t right or didn’t fit with who I was or wanted to accomplish any longer. It’s mostly about passion for me. You have it or you don’t. Thanks for commenting. I love your picture you attached to your name! Very fun, great capture!

        March 28, 2013
  6. Molly #

    I’m absolutely thrilled that so many of you have found this article useful !

    I think that children, and their unadulterated joy in playdough and paint and glitter, make it easier for us to express our own creativity. Having said this, I found it very, very hard to get over the mess factor !! Investing in some plastic smocks for the children, and cheap plastic dropsheets for the floor made a big difference 🙂

    I should also add that I’ve only really been able to do any solid work since my youngest turned two or so. I kicked off with a weekend long print workshop last year, which I was very hesitant to commit to. My partner pointed out that he was quite capable of looking after the children (rather huffily, I might add !) and that’s really how I started to take my art seriously – the idea that I could actually dedicate time and money to it…..

    I found doing a ceramics course and a day-long weekend painting course have had a number of knock-on effects apart from giving me a dedicated time and space in which to do my art. Perhaps the most important one of me is meeting real (!) working artists. People who are professionals and who make a living from their art. All of the artists I have met have been unfailingly supportive and generous with their time and advice. For some reason, I thought that artists would look down on someone like me, but if fact they all seem to be thrilled that someone is interested in what they do, and interested to learn how they do it.

    I’m particularly interested in process and its fascinating and very enlightening to learn exactly what an artist’s working process is. My print teacher, Helen Clarke will take two or three years to put together an exhibition of her exquisite reduction prints; and this was eye opening for me as I just sort of assumed that an exhibition is something you can just knock up in six or so months !!

    Oh and definitely check out Leonie Dawson !! She’s an Australian hippy and an absolute scream as well as being very inspirational. I must give a language warning though 😀

    March 28, 2013
  7. Loved the post! I stopped painting and drawing completely ever since my twins were born. Though on hindsight I started writing more seriously. Mothers really need to be told to reclaim their creativity. They tend to forget….Hope I can get back to painting and doing those charcoal sketches again soon!

    I write in bits and starts- sometimes because the words come to me and sometimes because there’s a project! I read a lot, strangely I read the most after my sons were born. Am a bit distracted by the creativity in general….but there seems to be no other way to go ahead. I tell my kids stories….that’s the best part of being a compulsive storyteller. Thank you Molly and Miranda for making me want to draw again….

    March 28, 2013
    • Thank you for your comments, Neelima — and good luck with those twins! (In a shameless display of self-promotion, I’d like to suggest my e-book short, “The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years.” It’s the guide I wish I’d had when my children were younger — might speak to where you’re at!

      March 29, 2013
  8. Molly, Thank you for this inspiring post:

    “I often liken my creativity to listening for a faint sound of music on a windswept beach. I need to turn carefully to hear the thread of sound and to follow it.”

    I think, like you, I have always been creative in many media. When I am not working, I am writing, or knitting or photographing something. The quote above also reminded me that I have missed pulling out my instruments (flute, guitar, piano) and creating music. Even though I may be following someone else’s creation, the sound is entirely my own.

    Unlike many, I have a job that allows me to be creative on most days (architecture) so that feeds part of my soul. But it doesn’t make me whole. Neither do any of my other pursuits.

    I think the struggle for me, at this point, is how to really develop any of my creative outlets beyond just mediocre unless I really focus on something.

    Any thoughts on developing skills while still honoring our “pick up something here and there” natures?

    March 29, 2013
    • Molly #

      This is why I like ceramics so much – you can build, throw, cast, or just buy pre-made greenware forms. You can paint, sponge, stencil, print, carve and spray those forms. It allows me to squish together a number of artistic mediums which I enjoy.

      I find the same thing with collage – its very freeing as it allows expression of many different forms of creativity.

      Another helpful thing for me was the decision to behave as though I am at Art school. I have neither the time, nor money to actually attend Art School; but I made a conscious decision to try out as many different mediums as I can over the next two years; even ones that I think are really hard, or don’t really appeal to me – because if I was at Art School I’d have to do them anyway. This is how I got into painting – I thought it was really hard and it didn’t really appeal to me, but I gave it a go anyway and its turned out to be loads of fun !

      In the same way, you can use this approach to develop skills you already have. In terms of ceramics, I know quite a lot about throwing and building, but almost nothing about surface decoration. I can then approach that in terms of “Well lets do a couple of units of glazing – one technical, one freeform” so I read up about the technical aspects of glaze chemistry (and make a decision that I REALLY don’t want to be measuring out cobalt and lead in my garage !!) I also purchase two videos from Ceramics Arts Daily which are about surface decoration and then apply the techniques I have learnt to pre-made greenware.

      I’m not sure if you are aware of the technique of mind-mapping ? Doing a mind-map of your skills is a fabulous way of seeing exactly where there are gaps which you can then fill, one “Unit” of study at a time – a You Tube video here, a book there, maybe a workshop for a specific technique, or a course of evening classes to learn about a medium in more detail, where there is a large gap in your knowledge.

      In this way, you are building on the skills you have, and then when you’re feeling a bit flat and disengaged, you have a list, or map, of things that you are interested in learning and you can pick this up to find inspiration on where to go next to fill out your skill base.

      March 31, 2013
      • Jody@FakingSane #

        Plus one on the Mind Mapping. There’s some great software out there for that that i’ve used on my ipad to develop blog posts and themes, general writing, as well as for things like planning vacations or work projects. Also helpful for when you are weighing the pros and cons of decisions. Well worth looking into, I say. I’ve not thought of using it for skills development, but I should. I’m a child therapist, and it would probably be a unique and fun activity for my clients to work on in session. Thanks for the idea.

        April 3, 2013
      • Fabulous ideas, Molly! (I love for mind maps, btw.)

        April 3, 2013
  9. Thank you for this post Molly and Miranda.

    I really wanted to do Art & Design when I finished high school (which I got accepted into, although not according to my mother) and often wonder what wonderfully creative life would I have lead if I had have had their support to follow this dream (instead I was “encouraged” to pursue a business degree).

    Like Molly, and I’m sure many of you, I was always crafty and creative as a youngster and tried to revist that passion on ocassions during my adult life.

    Now as a nearly 45 yr old mother of three young children, although I dapple in creative pursuits I still don’t do anywhere near as much as my soul calls for!

    My goal this year is to “create happiness” so I am aiming to do something creative as often as I can each week, whether it is the art school version of creativity such as drawing, painting or collage, or the homemaker versions that include cooking, gardening and sewing. In order to help achieve this I have earmarked set times and days to follow these pursuits, almost making an appointment with myself. Some weeks I am more successful than others but at least I am letting my heart and soul guide me!!

    I love your idea of behaving as if you are at Art School Molly (as per the above response to a comment) and may just have to incorporate some of your ideas!

    April 3, 2013
    • Wonderful to hear from you, Kym! The many stories of women being discouraged from their creative passion just makes me shake my head. Imagine if we were all encouraged from the beginning to excel at what we really loved? But there’s no reason that we can’t do what we want to do NOW. Bravo to you for creating your own happiness!

      April 3, 2013
  10. I too try to do something creative each day. I like that I can choose what it is, though often it chooses me. Recently I bought a quality drawing book so that I could do a ‘still life’ while chatting to my mother interstate in the evening, something I do once or twice a week – now that she’s frail. And I’ve always prioritised being creative (without calling it that) with my children, now teenagers, who think that it’s just normal – which it is. Keep at it!

    April 12, 2013

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