I'm so happy to have her here to share her story.
Hi, Jenny, on your about page you say that you have “been in the habit of creating/sewing/making a mess” for as long as you can remember. In addition to being talented with a needle and thread, you are also talented with pens and paintbrushes. When I first “met” you online I was enchanted with your whimsical paintings. I know that before becoming a fulltime artist, you worked, not in a career related to the arts, but as a professional midwife. Have you had any formal art training or are you self-taught? What would you say has been most helpful to you in your development as an artist?
I'm a self taught artist and stitcher with no formal training, despite my plan at age 12 to go to Art College.
I did spend my last year at high school preparing a portfolio to submit to art college, but a passing comment made by my art teacher had me reconsider. I ended up going to University to study Social Anthropology. A slight tangent!
For the many years that followed I continued to be involved in art/craft projects but only as a sideline. I told myself that this was all I wanted, and that to do it all the time would ruin the enjoyment for me. Eventually I realised the opposite was true, and began the steps to making art my main income. It was when I was taking these first few steps that I met you Anne!
I've taken the long way round to get here, but I see it as being the perfect road for me. Everything has been allowed to unfold naturally and without pressure, and I would say this has helped the most in my development as an artist. The essence of creativity, to me, is about fun and enjoyment, following inspiration and being allowed to experiment and play without being told there is a 'correct' way of doing it. I've had the freedom to try out lots of different mediums and creative avenues and find what fits and feels true. I'm not sure this would have been possible with formal training.
Although you do teach workshops, your work as an artist, designer and creative business person has far less of a social component than when you were working as a midwife. Was that a difficult transition for you and do you ever miss the constant interaction with coworkers and patients?
Oh blimey, the leap from working as a midwife to being self employed and working from home, was definitely a change that took some getting used to. However it wasn't about missing the interaction with people. I really enjoy my own company and am happy to be alone (in fact need it on a daily basis). Also with having children (my youngest daughter was age 3 at the time) life was never going to be quiet and people deprived.
What took a while to get used to, and which challenged me the most, was that I was now self directed, and I had to establish my own purpose and value. This is a challenge when you have self doubt and are comparing the value of your art with the obvious value of midwifery. It took quite some time to really feel my own worth and feel the value of what I offered.
Your work is colorful, whimsical and there are recurring themes and motifs through all of your pieces, no matter the medium – animals, flowers, the seaside, summertime – all infused with joy. What feeds your creative imagination? Do you ever feel at a loss for ideas? How do you find your way back to creating when you’re feeling blocked?
That is so lovely to hear. Thank you! My intention is to come from a playful, light place when I create, and my hope is that the viewer feels this too... so that is great confirmation for me.
To be honest there is not much that doesn't feed my imagination, and I rarely feel at a loss for ideas. The problem I usually have is too many ideas tumbling about in my mind and having to narrow my focus to just one idea.
My strong point is definitely starting a project....the trick is getting something to completion. I find if I have several different projects on the go I can alternate as the mood suits, which helps keep things fresh and interesting, and over time the project will get done. Usually for every piece I have shared, there are another couple of projects behind the scenes which remain unfinished!
Similarly, I’m always curious about how artists whose work is infused with joy handle the dark times. Your art is so colorful and joyful and your outlook is joyful as well, but I know that just like everyone, you have down days, too. What are your favorite ways to handle life’s ups and downs?
Me? a down day??
Haha... I jest.
Actually humour is a great tonic for a dark day...have a wee laugh at myself and my seemingly large 'problem'.
Nature is probably my greatest soother (as well as inspiration). Some fresh air and a horizon is often enough for me to see things from a larger perspective and be reminded all is well.
I've also meditated for years, not so much the 30 minute sitting cross legged style, but 5-10 mins here and there in a day, to stop, be present and breathe. Its like a reset button...and great if you have children :)
As a child you fell in love with crafting and did everything you could to get your hands on craft supplies and kits. I love how you describe your creative journey has taking you full circle, back to your beginnings, back to the craft kit (or your version of it). Can you share a bit more about that? Was coming full circle a conscious decision or plan or was it something that happened organically in your development as an artist?
It's so funny...it feels like this (designing and selling needlecraft kits) was always what I was 'meant' to do...however it was a natural step by step approach, following what I enjoyed, which got me here over time.
With the hindsight of being 4 years down the line, I can see quite clearly how important this unfolding has been. Everything I have picked up on the way, all the detours and tangents, new skills and experiences, they are all being used in some way right now. Nothing is ever wasted!
Interestingly whenever I would try to force my business, plan ahead and do what all the books and business courses tell you to do, things never worked out.
You have been blogging about your creative adventures since 2010, first at Love and Peas Creations and now at Bloom and Sew. Blogs and blogging have changed a lot during that time. Do you follow blogging trends? How would you respond to some peoples’ claims that blogging is “dead”? What would you say has been your biggest blogging challenge and how would you say that you have evolved over the years as a blogger?
My blog and I have had a tempestuous relationship in the past but it seems to have mellowed now, where I'll show up every week or so and document a bit of whats going on and not much else. Before that it used to taunt me in my sleep telling me I should be writing more, and be more interesting!
I did consider turning my blog into a craft blog..but could only managed 2 tutorials in 2 consecutive weeks before I caved and decided against it. Kudos to craft bloggers.
I've never really gotten into reading blogs so am probably not the best person to give an opinion. I've always found the volume of what is out there once you look quite overwhelming, a bit like social media pages so I tend to not look unless I come across an artist/maker that inspires me and I am curious to see more.
You, your art and your business have grown and bloomed so much in the years since you have been on your creative adventure. What do you see on the horizon for you and your business?
Oooh...there's a question. More steps following what feels good, and hopefully more blooming! I'd like to add some more kits to my stock, some with stitching rather than just embroidery. I'd like to spend more time creating original pieces. I'm really drawn to soft sculpture at the moment so have been playing with ideas and seeing what emerges. In the long term I'd love to offer stitchery related e-courses and of course there are a couple of dreams that I'll only whisper out loud once they have come true...
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, Jenny!
Thank you so much Anne for the opportunity of this interview. I've really enjoyed answering your thoughtful questions ...it's given me an opportunity to reflect on where I started and where I hope to go, which is something I don't do often enough. Such a delight to have shared this adventure alongside yours :)xx
Be sure not to miss the other posts in my Artists Series; they can be viewed here.
*photos in this post © Jenny Blair. Used with permission.