As a full-time artist living in New York City, I am endlessly grateful for and frequently amazed by the creative life I get to live. You might say it is a dream come true but, in truth, it was not initially my dream. Rather, through synchronicity and serendipity, along with a few twists and turns, I came to discover the world of art and have not looked back.
Rewind to the year 2000 – a date that in and of itself represents the start of something new. I was living in NYC and working full time as a psychologist in a local hospital. Up to that point, my only connection to art was as a viewer at the myriad of museums and galleries in the city. That was all about to change.
On a solo trip to Vancouver, Canada, I was drawn into a gallery as I was nearing the end of my stay. I was mesmerized by the artwork on display and, in speaking with the gallery owner, found out that she—Patricia Larsen—was also the artist. I purchased several small pieces and headed back to real life at home. A few weeks later, I received a handmade postcard from Patricia thanking me for buying her work. I was touched by the gesture and felt compelled to answer in kind, making my own postcard for her. Definitely a first for me.
A few weeks later, an envelope arrived from Patricia — this time a small painting on a torn book page. And once again, I was driven to create something similar to send back to her. All I needed was a cheap watercolor set plus a poor attempt at painting, and I sent her my reply. As you might have guessed, the envelopes kept coming and this exchange (which I later learned was called Mail Art) continued. For years.
Many of us have people who come into our lives and completely upend the path we are on. Patricia was one of those people for me. All her creative gifts to me were my art education and set the direction of my life to bring me to the point I am at today, twenty years later. At first just a hobby and escape from a very stressful job, creating art became increasingly important, exciting, and fulfilling to me with each passing year. By 2012, I realized that I wanted this hobby to be so much more.
Fast forward to the present. In looking back, I realize that the choices I have made in terms of both my activities as an artist and the studio environment I have created connect back to the distinctive way I became a maker. While a part of me loves the solitude of being alone focused on creating art, still a bigger part sees my life as an artist intertwined with others. Just as it had been with Patricia.
I have organized dozens of collaborative projects over the last ten-plus years. These have ranged from collaborating on art with a single other person, to round-robin book collaborations with larger groups of artists, all the way to online projects with 100+ participants. In fact, an online group event called The Pulse, which I held on my blog five times, led to my first published book, The Pulse of Mixed Media.
Up until the time of the pandemic, I spent the majority of my time traveling and teaching mixed media art workshops. Since that fateful day in 2000, travel had become fuel for my creative fire. Nothing quite compares to the energy that occurs in a room full of creative people during those classes. With these group experiences, community became more and more important to me with each passing year.
All of this changed in March 2020. Cancellations of a year of workshops and a halt to all travel had completely upended my routine. And, of course, I am not alone in that. I quickly made the decision to focus on developing and strengthening an online community of artists, doing live online art demos and interviews several times a week, offering online classes and events, and overseeing an online FB group community, which, with good timing, I had started in December 2019. I crave to once again travel and teach live workshops, but at least the Internet has allowed us all to be alone together.
This brings me to my studio. What started out first as a dining room table and then a single desk has ultimately become an entire room dedicated to my art practice. Mixed media and minimalism do not get along, and as is true for most of us, the space is filled wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with stuff. Art supplies and tools, found objects, flea market finds, books and magazines, the inventory for my online shop, including my own product lines, artwork, and ephemera, fit into just about every nook and cranny. My studio has become my oasis and my happy place. Even more so this past year.
True to my roots in community-based art, many items have been purchased from and gifted to me by other artists. Other pieces have been gathered from my travels over the years. Some have simply been picked up off the streets of NYC. Nearly all of my collaborative projects are on display as well. Everything comes together to create an environment in which every square inch provides me with comfort and inspiration.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust
Right by my computer desk, where I have seemed to live out most of my life this past year, is my inspiration wall. It started many years ago with six eighteen-inch magnetic squares and has spilled out over, under, and on both sides. Bits and pieces of anything that inspires me, from rusty washers to artwork from friends and artists I admire, keep me company and look out at me as I work away. Once a year, I take it all down and create another wall in one stretch of continuous time. The actual process is quite daunting, but the result gives back to me all year long.
I do not know when I will safely be able to return to my before life, and I am not so sure that I 100% ever will. Going forward, I think the world will be forever changed, and I expect that I will be, too. While I cannot say for sure that I will never meet another person like Patricia who will again shift me 180 degrees to something completely new, my expectation is that I will continue working away in my studio until the moment I cannot. It is hard to imagine a time when the fulfillment, contentment and just plain fun that I feel each day will go away. What once was not even my dream has now become a dream come true.