How She Does It: Liz Pike
Liz Pike lives in Shropshire with her husband and three young children. She writes short stories, fiction, and poetry. Her work has been published in the Guardian, Third Way, and Fractured West, among others. She creates hand-lettered poems and commissioned work. Liz also teaches creative writing to children. She previously worked as a bookseller and librarian and earned a master’s in creative writing from Goldsmiths University, London. She likes long train journeys, old photographs, and earl grey tea. You’re going to enjoy your trip to Shropshire!
SM: Please introduce yourself and your family. Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
LP: Hi, I’m Liz Pike. I live in Shropshire, UK, with my husband Joel and our three children, ages 8, 6, and 4. I am a writer and hand-letterer. I recently completed a novel, which I’m currently submitting to agents. I also just finished hand-lettering a collection of 34 of my poems about motherhood called There You Are. I sell that at my Etsy shop, along with prints of my poems and take commissions for custom hand-lettered prints. I teach creative writing to 7- to 11-year-olds at afterschool and Saturday clubs. This year I have plans to write another novel, hand-letter some other poems, build the hand-lettering business, and write a graphic novel about the experience of living with Type 1 diabetes (my daughter was diagnosed when she was 2). I’ll probably get about a quarter of that done, but you never know!
SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
LP: Ooh, that’s a good question. Ultimately, I would love to have my novel published. I also would love to make a living from my work (as opposed to a side living, which is what I’m making now!). I love The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and was thinking the other day about my “true north.” I think a lot of it has to do with my writing being out there and for it to resonate with people. That’s why I write; to connect with people.
SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
LP: Oh, so much! At first, I thought it robbed me of time and energy, but it has made me love more deeply and care more deeply. I think motherhood has helped me to grow into a real human being. I was so self-centered before. The first few years of motherhood were so overwhelming but now there are days when I have the house to myself and I can claw back a little time to make sense of the whirlwind. Motherhood has also given me a good chance to step out of work for a few years and to carve out a creative niche for myself.
SM: Where do you do your creative work?
LP: In my bedroom, I have a corner that is taken up by two cupboards full of writing resources (storytelling dice, ink stamps, typewriters, first lines from novels, all sorts of things that I use when teaching creative writing). I also have a nice big desk, made by my husband and father-in-law, that I do all my drawing and writing on. I have a wall with lots of great quotes pinned on it that is ridiculously messy but gives me comfort. There’s also a lot of stock for the shop and random bits and bobs.
SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
LP: I write and draw whenever I can. My littlest isn’t at school yet but goes to preschool three days a week. So those are my work days. I don’t make other plans so I just sit and make to-do lists and get on with whatever feels most pressing at the time. I tend to have a chaotic mind as I’m often juggling different things at the same time; drawing commissions, planning lessons, submitting writing, etc. So, to-do lists are my friends.
SM: What does creative success mean to you?
LP: Hmm. It always feels elusive doesn’t it?! I think I would like to earn enough to not keep thinking I should go and get a “real” job. Also, a clear path to getting my writing out there and an audience that wants to receive it. Something I’m writing around at the moment is the freedom of being an artist as opposed to being a writer. As an artist, you can create something you’re pleased with and then sell it. As a writer, sometimes you can work for years on something that you’re really pleased with but it must be validated by someone else for it to exist in the world [if traditional publishing is the goal]. This is why I went down the zine route for my collection of hand-lettered poems and published it myself. I just wanted to get it out there.
SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
LP: I don’t know if I feel successful; that doesn’t feel like the right word to me but it feels great to watch the children thriving and enjoying life, and also finding their niche in the world.
SM: What do you struggle with most?
LP: Lack of time. It’s fine during term time because I have a nice balance, but I really struggle during school holidays when I can’t find the headspace to be creative as I’m so exhausted!
SM: What inspires you?
LP: Reading great books. I got some great books for Christmas: I’m reading Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I just discovered her writing. I first read Bird by Bird and am now reading everything else I can find. I’m also reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is, a blow-your-head-off graphic novel about creativity.
SM: What did you do in the last month that felt hard?
LP: I’m not very good at surviving winter! We live in an old cottage that’s always freezing cold, so I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to hermit. My poor laptop also suffered an injury just before Christmas and had to go in for repair. It felt awful sending away this baby and all the years of work that are on it! But I just got it back today so life can carry on.
SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
LP: I would love for me and my husband to feel that we have arrived. He is a musician (Tiny Leaves) and we still kind of feel we are in the uphill struggle. I would love to travel more with our children. As our daughter is Type 1 diabetic, everything a bit more complicated when it comes to travel.
SM: What are you reading right now?
LP: As mentioned above, those are the ones I’m reading right now, but am also partway through the stack of books that are teetering on my bedside table. I’m halfway through All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (which is amazing) and I’ve just ordered Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual as I have half a plan to try to extend a short story that I’ve written into a novel this year — it’s about a bunch of different people living in a terrace of houses and I thought it might be interesting to see how he did it.
SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
LP: I’m finding Instagram really great for finding fellow hand-letterers and other creative types — and I love how people discover my work through hashtags. I seek out great sites like Studio Mothers that highlight these fantastic, creative women, juggling motherhood and creativity. Ella Sanders has a fascinating Instagram account, merging poetry with image — and I’d love to find more people in this field. I also love Popshot Magazine for its fresh dose of positivity and questioning whenever it arrives on the doormat. I feel like I’m out on a limb a bit with my hand-lettered poetry because I can’t find anyone else doing what I’m doing. It’s not a graphic novel because it’s not sequential, and it’s not visual poetry. I don’t even know what to call it but I feel happy that it exists.
SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
LP: To get my work out there instead of waiting for external validation. It has been the source of a lot of frustration! Also, to like myself a bit more and to be patient with myself. But maybe they were things that I couldn’t have known 10 years ago because I had to go through the journey that I’m on to get where I am now. So that’s OK.
SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
LP: I love Quiet by Susan Cain. One of the encouragements she offers is that it’s ok to have a niche and to go deep into that one area. Be a specialist. Concentrate on what you do best. And don’t rush. There is so much pressure to rush with social media. I am noticing that for the last three years, I have had one major output per year. And when the kids were really little, it was like zero output per year. It is only now that I have the time and I look back and find all these treasures that I created when I didn’t have time that can be worked on again.
The year before last, I spent all my time redrafting my novel. Then last year I was submitting it, but also working on my hand-lettered collection and the business was starting off. This year, there are lots of things that I’d like to do. But headspace and finding a balance is important too. I also think that times change. There are different seasons when we want to concentrate on different things. The year before last, I was doing a lot of teaching but now I find I am doing more hand-lettering. I like the variety though, it keeps it fresh.
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