I grew up in Arcata, California, a progressive college town, just about an hour and a half drive away from the Oregon border. It was an incredible place to grow up. I spent every day after school exploring the redwood forest behind our house and building forts out of things I found in nature.
My mother really nurtured our creativity; always having activities and art projects put together for us to complete. She first lent me her camera when I was six so I could start taking pictures of my sisters and I shot with it until I got my own in my teens. She never tried to rein me in or forced me to color in the lines. One of the first items I made when I was five that I was very proud of was a tiny, dinner party spread made out of modeling clay. It was complete with roast chicken, shrimp cocktail, fruit and veggie platters, crackers, and cheese. I transformed a shoebox into a tiny dinner table and used a cloth napkin as a tablecloth. It went on to win “Best in Show” in the mixed media category at our county fair. I was over the moon!
I am a very empathetic person and that empathy feels intertwined with my creativity. I can feel people’s emotions often before they disclose them to me, and I have always tried to use my creative energy to elevate and make people happy. Lately, the world has felt very polarized and aggressive. In response to this, I am more actively using my Urban Exodus project to highlight stories of good people doing good things. My hope is that through these stories, I can help inspire people to be kind and find a positive way to contribute and give back. I’m thankful that my creative community keeps me focused, humble, and hustling. In the creative world, so much of “making it” is never letting the fires burn out and keeping all of our plates in the air.
The hustle is exciting but also exhausting. It has been so important to find friends and mentors in the creative world to commiserate with and celebrate successes with. The main way I have built my creative community has been through teaching. When my husband and I teach photography together we are able to form tight bonds with both our students and the other photographers who teach.
I don’t think I could do what I currently do without the support and guidance from others who have paved the way before me. My mentor, Joyce Tenneson, has had so much faith in me and is always there when I need advice or direction. When she recommends me for something I always bring my A-game. I refuse to tarnish her reputation by not doing my very best. Now that I am nearing a more established point in my career as well, I have started guiding and mentoring young people who are interested in building their own creative businesses.
I keep myself from burning out by forcing myself to work through the inevitable creative blocks. I’ve been through some really tough dry spells. The only way to get back into the groove is to just schedule a bunch of photo shoots in a row and fight your way through them. I also would advise others to set aside a short period of time every single day to create something. Don’t let yourself get lazy. You can post to social media so your audience will hold you to your commitment. Yes, some people are just born more creative than others, but all working creative people have spent years of their life practicing, working, failing, and evolving. Don’t let yourself get discouraged and whatever you do – don’t compare yourself to others!
“Anybody can be good in the country.”
My studio was the only heated space outside of our house that I could work from if I wanted to work from home. I tried working from our kitchen table, but I found myself constantly getting distracted with household projects and chores. Now that our daughter arrived on the scene, we honestly can’t work in the house anymore. It has become necessary to separate family life from work life. We didn’t do much to the studio other than painting. It used to be brown and forest green—we painted it black and white. I wanted windows to gaze out of, so I placed my desk facing the windows and my back to the black wall for easier photo editing.
We recently renovated our barn to serve as our teaching space, gallery space for my husband’s fine art, and a working photo studio for our business. The barn doesn’t have a heat source though. When November rolls around, we have to move all of our necessary gear back into the studio until the April thaw. We’ve done a couple of winter studio shoots, but they involved a propane heater, long underwear and copious amounts of hot coffee!
“Creativity is a muscle that needs to be worked.”
It’s never too early to start your side hustle. We bartered and did a lot of pro-bono work when we were first starting out. This allowed us to build a portfolio and create a name for our business. You can start out with little design, photography or illustration jobs on your nights and weekends if you really feel the burning desire to make that your full-time business. Nearly everyone I know started small, then once their side business got big enough to support themselves, they made the leap.
My dog Dottie has been my studio companion since I first started my business. She keeps me both sane and healthy. If not for her constant need for attention, I’d probably never take a break and just work right on through lunch and dinner. She consistently reminds me to go outside, change my scenery, and breathe in the fresh Maine air. I am more productive and creative when I return from a break, rather than when I work myself hangry (hungry + angry).
I currently run Urban Exodus, teach solo expedition workshops, photography courses at Maine Media Workshops and Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, co-operate our graphic design and photography business, and I manage my husband’s fine art career. It always feels like I have spread myself too thin so streamlining it all is my biggest challenge. We have never had a full-time employee, but finding a way to earn enough money to have someone to assist in these various endeavors would help significantly. I love the variety of my job, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but the administrative work for these multiple operations can be daunting. I’d prefer to focus on my creative work rather than invoicing, contracts, negotiations, sales and the like.
Urban Exodus has evolved into something bigger than I ever imagined. That project, along with the book it inspired: Ditch the City and Go Country, have been two of my biggest accomplishments. When a publisher asked me to write a book on transitioning to country life, I jumped at the opportunity. Writing my first book was a very stressful and difficult process, but it made me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to.
Creating feels like breathing to me. Both are necessary and (usually) involuntary. I’ve definitely gone through creative dry spells, but I find my creativity manifests itself in different projects. I don’t know what the initial catalyst was for this passion; but I do know that I couldn’t live a happy or fulfilled life without being able to use my imagination and simply—create.