This week we take in three continents as we share the stories of artist Mandy Saile of Bijou’s Whimsy and art therapist Karen Wallace in Canada, and ‘jack-of-all-creative-trades’ Helen Agarwal in the UK
- A creative & inspired maker of whimsical things
- A gal who’s usually most comfortable around animals, or in rooms full of books
- A a self-confessed rabbit addict, animal lover and animal advocate
- Intensely sensitive, especially about animals
- Plagued by severe chronic & acute migraines which heavily affect my day to day life and creative business. But, I try to see them as positive in their own pain-riddled way, because the headaches and migraines really do force me to slow down and really take notice of the small simple beauties in life
- Slightly obsessive when it comes to my work – I am a workaholic when my head allows
- Hugely passionate, joyful and find some form of bliss in almost every single day because I am always acutely and nervously aware of how short life is
- Full of wanderlust and dream of great travel adventures but at the same time I’ve had a long-standing dream of opening a rabbit sanctuary for rescued test-lab rabbits…so I’ll have to find a way to do both
- Still finding my footing as an entrepreneur but have huge hopes, plans and dreams which I will stubbornly never give up on.
I am Mandy Saile of Bijou’s Whimsy, and this is my story.
I graduated from one of the best art schools around, the Ontario College of Art & Design with associate and honors standing in 1999. I minored in communication and design and majored in illustration. I’ve been an artist and have made the making of art a priority in my life since I was a kid. Lately however, I am realizing that it’s not been that long since I’ve really been putting my artistic dreams out there to be answered or believing in the beauty of my own dreams.
In 2003, with the incredible support of my honey, I was ready to take the leap, pursue my own work, and I resigned from my beloved job as a gallery coordinator. A couple years of light-hearted attempts followed, when I thought I believed in myself, but looking back realise I didn’t. I was making tons of pictures, doing lots of work and building up my portfolio and style most definitely BUT I still lacked the courage and belief that I was truly good enough to make a living as an artist. I don’t think it was until I immersed myself in the online world, that I started to see all of the incredible opportunities available that could be mine. Up until this point, my own dreams were not firmly set in my own heart as truly being possible. And, it’s really just in the last few days that I am starting to ease up on myself. For I am realizing that I’ve not been giving it my all for THAT long, it just feels like I’ve been pursuing this art thing for a long time. Because though my dreams have long been big and lofty, I until recently didn’t realize the importance of courage, belief in oneself and the ability to accept abundance as being key factors in the road to success. I would say that it was in 2008 when I became more proactive; I started a blog, opened online shops & just started spreading my art around more and more and now I am really trying, NOW I feel like I am REALLY pursuing this art thing full time.
I can’t really think of a time when making art and being inspired by art was not a major part of my life. It was not however always a nurtured aspect of my life. Many people around me tried to persuade me that ‘art is not a steady or wise path’ , and even nowadays there are more naysayers than positive people around. I do often wonder where I would be now – whether I’d be much farther along the road of success – if my artistic nature and aspirations had been fully nurtured by others. But I’ve always been an artist and I always will be, regardless of where life takes me or how much money I make from it. Making images and being creativity is really just as necessary to me as air, food and shelter. Besides, my love and the rabbits, creativity and art makes up the rhythm of my heart beat.
With my art I want to create images that refresh the soul and fill the viewer with joy; I want to use a vibrant & rich colour palette to quench colour hungry eyes and hearts; I simply aspire to inspire and shed a bit of positivity into a world that is often negative; I want to show and speak of the strength, beauty and fragility of the human spirit, especially that of the female side; and I must create work that prompts reflection and brings attention to the beauty of animals and the need for their conservation & protection.
My perfect day doing what I love is one where I wake up refreshed with no head pain and the sun is streaming into the house basking everything in a golden light. Jazz is tinkling away in the background, and healthy happy rabbits are playing around my feet and napping all stretched out in the sunlight. It’s a day that feels full of promise and feels deeply positive in future plans, dreams and hopes. It’s a day where this soft blanket of peace falls over me because I know I am exactly what and where I should be in that day. It’s this incredibly intense knowledge that I am happy in my life because I could do this life, just as it is for the rest of time. It’s where the day feels long with oodles of time to snuggle rabbits, cook delicious meat-free meals, have plenty of time to read and to hang out with my spectacular honey. A day where I let assumptions, fears, doubts, pressures and expectation fall by the way side because instead I am welcoming in whimsy, abundance, light, luck and love. This is a perfect day for me.
[All images courtesy of Mandy Saile. Find out more about Mandy on her website Bijou’s Whimsy, on her blog, in her Etsy shop, or connect on Facebook or Twitter]
If you’d told the small girl who liked ‘making things’ that one day she’d have a studio – a whole building of her own – and that in it she would craft lovely things and show other people how to do the same….she would have thought it too good to be true.
And my path to doing what I love has been as much about blasting apart the ‘too good to be true’ myth as it has about actually creating the dream. I’ve had to learn that we can have what we want….our wildest dreams, our deepest desires. They’re not pie in the sky; they’re put inside us for a very good reason. Because that’s who we’re meant to be.
It hasn’t been a straightforward journey. Nor a quick one. It’s encompassed ten years of illness and a move to another continent that I fought against tooth and nail. There were years of trying to figure out the road ahead before I took so much as a single step; years of going it alone; and years more of playing small. Ultimately, it took three years of solitude in order to get in touch with what I really wanted, establish new mindsets and put the basics of life in order.
I could write reams about the lessons learned along the way; and about the things – and the people – that have helped me get this far. But the biggest boost of all – the life-changing turning point – came when I went to Squam Art Workshops in the summer of 2009. I finally found my tribe….and discovered the existence of the online creative community (how had I missed that one?!). That virtual – yet very real – world of connections has catapulted me forward to places I never dreamed of venturing. There’s so much inspiration, so much support out there. We are living in extraordinary times and I’m thrilled to be a part of them.
These days I don’t go it alone. I share the journey with friends; share my art with the world. I write and talk and teach and offer retreats so that others will be inspired to live their creative dreams, too.
And I keep showing up. Bottom line is, I’ve learned that you get to do what you love by doing what you love. So these days, there’s no more hanging back. No more dithering. I just do stuff. I let my inclination and gut feeling lead me. I say yes to whatever opportunity presents itself. And the consequence is that the road rises up to meet me. One bizarre circumstance leads to another. And I suddenly find myself places I never expected to be. But loving the journey!
So what exactly do I do?
Well, I write a blog. Take an inordinate number of photographs. I’m currently working on one book and have been asked to contribute to another. I’ll soon be running my first retreat here in the Pennines and I’m also going into business with a local holiday company. I’m designing a wedding, selling skirts, teaching regular piano classes and occasional craft workshops. Oh, and I travel a lot!
Friends comment on how opportunities fall effortlessly into my lap these days. They want to know how it happens. I say:
* Believe the creative life you yearn for is possible. Your dreams aren’t too big. They’re probably way too small.
* Just keep showing up. If you don’t know where to start, do SOMETHING. You don’t have to know where it’s going. But action creates momentum.
* Say yes to any opportunity that comes your way that sounds appealing. Even if it’s scary. Even if you don’t feel qualified.
* You don’t have to opt for just one passion. Or one expression of art. (Believing this one kept me in a place of stagnation for YEARS!)
* Don’t worry about finding your voice. Just do what comes naturally. Do the obvious thing. (Your obvious is totally different from the next person’s.)
* This journey has everything to do with mindset and attitude. Pay attention to those.
* Let go of perfectionism. It’ll kill the joy and halt the momentum. Practise imperfection!
* It’s more than okay – it’s actually necessary – to enjoy yourself! That’s usually when you’re most truly you and can be of most service to others.
* Dare to call yourself an artist. Claim the title. Others will treat you like one and you’ll step into those shoes.
* Connect with others. There’s a world of support and inspiration out there. Tap into it.
* Everyone’s journey will look different; will be unique. So don’t worry there isn’t room for you. Or that it’s been done before. Your journey – if authentic – will be beautiful and wholly your own.
* Let the future unfold. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start Just accept what comes and see where it takes you. It’ll be far more exciting than anything you could have planned, anyway!
[All images courtesy of Helen Agarwall. Helen is a writer, photographer, musician, textile artist and jack-of-all-creative-trades whose life and work are rooted in the landscape of the Pennine hills in Yorkshire. For more info see her website Dixon Hill, Instagram (dixonhillgirl) or connect on Twitter (@dixonhillgirl) ]
My name is Karen Wallace and I am an Art Therapist. Perhaps you know what that means or you may be thinking: ‘Does she work with tortured artists; help people who come to see her become artists, or use colour to heal people?’ It is in fact none of those things.
I am a therapist who works with others to heal emotional or psychological issues. You can think of it as being creative or artful about working with emotional, psychological, and/or physical issues in the therapeutic process. It is not about doing ‘good art’. What matters is whether it gives you a new perspective, helps you get in touch with your feelings and/or helps you make changes. Even if you are not doing art as therapy, you most likely have experienced feeling calmer, happier and more relaxed while creating art in your studio. Getting in the flow and connecting with your creative spirit is enjoyable and healthy.
At the age of forty I began my journey of becoming an artist, art instructor, educator, and Focusing Trainer. I had worked in fashion, run an organic gardening business, had my own gallery and a few other things along the way before I started my career as an Art Therapist. At forty we had sold our farm in the Gulf islands and had taken a year off to backpack through the South Pacific with our two children. Once we settled in Australia I wrote a book on Archetypes that I had been studying and reading about for years. Studying Archetypes (see note below) and Archetypal Psychology lead me to realize that I loved working with the mysteries of the unconscious, symbolism, art, and story. I was ready for a new career and I enjoyed working with others in creative healing environments. I had attended many therapy and art workshops, worked on my own wounding and had started reading about this new career choice, knowing that it was for me before I really knew what it was about.
When we returned to Canada, I enrolled in an Art Therapy school and started my post-graduate studies. At first it felt like I was on holidays; the joy of learning, freedom of not having to earn money (we still had money from the sale of our farm), and movement away from being a mother of small children to a mother of an eight and twelve year old. I loved the profession from the beginning knowing that I would have a private practice with adults and children. Initially I specialized in many different kinds of creativity and art therapy groups: The Archetypal Journey, Learning to Love the Body You Have, Claiming Your Ruby Red Slippers, Soul Garden and Honoring the Mother. Having a private practice meant that I could keep things fluid and fresh by offering groups that I was really passionate about. The challenge was having the faith and patience to build up a solid client base. My partner was a schoolteacher at the time so I had some financial support as I began the business. Yet, it did grow and flourish and I feel very privileged and fortunate to have found life work that is so satisfying, challenging, and spiritually gratifying.
[Archetypal Theatre: Fool]
Currently I specialize in trauma work, disabilities and autism. This is the work that I find the most challenging, rewarding and meaningful. Being a good therapist has meant that I have had to do a lot of work staying mentally, psychically and emotionally healthy. I meditate, run, eat well, and work on my own personal healing. In my early days of this work, I often felt overwhelmed, shocked and depressed by people’s stories. It is a profession where you learn as you go no matter how much you read, attend workshops, or courses. I realize now that it is the quality of presence, mindfulness and authenticity that I bring to a session that may help the person sitting across from me heal—rather than any great therapeutic technique or brilliant idea.
When I was very young, during the winter months I would make classrooms of snow people and teach them until my mother called me in for dinner. In the summer I carved out a classroom in the lilac bushes behind our house and created art camp for my dolls. Now at fifty-five, I don’t feel all that different. I am still that little creative, playful sprite setting up the art table for my clients in the morning. I challenge myself to always think of new and dynamic ways that may help a client get in touch with and release some anger in a healthy way, or a client mourn a death in the family, or a client get some resolution from a childhood trauma that still haunts her. I am lucky enough to teach Art Education at the University of Regina helping student teachers learn how to bring Mixed Media and process art into their classrooms. I am moving more into teaching, but I am not ready to leave working with clients. I have been working on finishing material for three books: A book on Art Therapy and Focusing, Archetypes, and a book of poetry that I have written in response to the work that I do. I will end this post with one of my poems.
[Archetypal Theatre: High Priestess]
Talking about Art Therapy
I am asked to explain, “What is art therapy?” over and over, again.
In my talks, how do I explain,
That when someone is playing, creating art the imagination wakes up?
And for an hour they are free of feeling stuck, depressed, and/or pain?
In my talks how do I explain,
That when someone is playing, creating art, the body relaxes, lets go.
And for an hour the anger, defenses and hurt
Fall into flow, comfort and ease?
In my talks how do I explain?
That when someone is playing, creating art the mind frees up,
And for an hour the circular thoughts, self-hatred, criticism,
Give way to curiosity, wonder and clarity?
In my talks how do I explain,
That when someone is playing, creating art, the emotions shift, balance,
And for an hour they experience joy, happiness and peace?
In my talks how do I explain,
That this new way of being does not get lost, but becomes embodied,
And slowly their lives become more creative and full of colour they can’t remember what it was like to be before they had creative license
How do I say all this when Art Therapy is about being in the experience not talking about it?
[Archetypal Theatre: Magician]
Note about archetypes: Archetypal stories are universal, enduring stories that transcend culture and time. Myths, or stories about Archetypes often become part of folklore and mythology. These legendary stories about heroes attract us as keys to or blueprints of how we can become more enlightened, successful, creative or happy. Archetypes hold the stories of our primordial desires and fears, and collective dreams. According to Carl Jung, the concept of archetypes can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Jung felt that archetypes function somewhat like instincts, by shaping our behaviour. He thought they existed inside the human psyche. We see archetypal behavior in ourselves and others as we play the joker, teacher, mother, leader, and hero.
[All images courtesy of Karen Wallace. The images show Archetypal Theatres being made by Karen for each archetype that she am writing about in her book on Art Therapy and Archetypes. For more info on Karen see her blog here]
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Don’t miss this opportunity to get creatively inspired, relax in a stunning environment, meet a new community of lovely like-minded people and start or grow your creative business.
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