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010 The Magic of a Sketchbook with Karen Abend

Mar 26, 2020 | Podcast

Once again I am freaking excited about this week’s guest on the podcast. This week it’s the beautiful Karen Abend. She has a heart of gold and I’m really excited about our chat today.

In this episode we discuss the absolute magic of sketchbooks. We discuss how sketchbooks are the root of everything creative, no matter what you call them – sketchbook, art journal, notebook, junk journal… all of those good things.

I hope you play this while you are creating in your sketchbook, your art journal, whatever you call it. Let’s all create together.

Karen Abend

Karen is an artist living on the island of Sicily long enough for her to call it home. She loves to draw, paint, collage, design and illustrate. One of her greatest joys is immersing herself in the creative process and channelling that energy in service of a collaborative project. 

Highlights + takeaways

In this episode, we talk about

  • Karen’s artistic adventures, from her art conservatorship to living in Italy

  • How Sketchbook Revival started, and the reason it started

  • the urge to be an artist and the journey to calling herself an artist

  • the top 3 tips for consistent practice

  • what being an artist means

  • advice for those who are scared to call themselves an artist

 Links

transcript

Caylee:
Hello, Karen and welcome to the podcast.

Karen:
Hi, Caylee.

Caylee:
Can we start off with you telling the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Karen:
Absolutely. Well, so I’m Karen Abend, and I’m originally from the US, from the LA area. But I’ve been living in Italy for I don’t know, the last forever. I married an Italian, wonderful Italian man. He’s from Sicily. And so, I’ve been living on the island of Sicily for the last almost 11 years now. But before that, I was in Rome, and I’ve traveled a lot because before I became an artist, I was an art conservator. And so, with that job, I worked in different museums and on excavations, and so I had this adventurous spirit. I like to move around a lot. So I’m not that surprised I ended up in Italy. But here I am living in Italy now, and pretty settled here in Sicily. We have a son who’s 12. And so, having a kid kind of makes you settle down.

Caylee:
Oh, yes. Do you find that Italy is still magical to you?

Karen:
Yeah, there’s a lot of things about Italy that are definitely magical. I mean, honestly, people love Italy. I mean, I understand, it has a rich culture, the history, the food, the museums, the art, all of it is so inspiring and beautiful and unique. But I was never like an Italian… an Italophile as they say. It wasn’t my dream to live in Italy. It just sort of happened because of my husband, and then… So yeah, I’ve always been very… Always looking for those things that inspire me about Italy that are different from where I grew up. So, obviously, it’s the history, and when I lived in Rome, Rome’s an amazing city, so it offers so much. I love museums, so going to museums is one of my favorite things to do and just cultural activities in general.

Karen:
So, visiting those sites or just strolling the ancient streets, and all of that is so inspiring. Then here in Sicily, we have the sea. So the seaside, the nature and the volcano, Mount Etna, and all those things. The food, also here is amazing, very different than Rome, but different kinds of things inspire me here. But yeah, it definitely is an inspiring place to live. But there’s the good and the bad, like every place. So, I try and focus on the good.

Caylee:
All right. I’m asking that because I feel like I’ve been in Germany for five years now. I go through phases. Like when I moved here, obviously, I was bursting with inspiration and with everything about Germany. And yeah, after a few years, you go through dips, and then you remind yourself, “Hey, this is like magic land, you know?”

Karen:
Yeah, yeah. I feel that way too. It definitely, you start taking it for granted after a while. Initially when I first moved to Sicily, I remember we’d always go on weekend adventures in the car driving around. And now we do less and less of that just because also my son’s older. But I’m like, I want to do that again. Because that really fills me up, seeing new places, and being motivated to do things, and take advantage of being here. It’s one of the things that I don’t want to miss out on, and it’s easy to forget to do that after a while.

Caylee:
Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure. So, we chatting today because you’re currently hosting Sketchbook Revival. This is its third year. Am I correct?

Karen:
Yes.

Caylee:
Can you tell us a little bit about that, and what inspired you to start it?

Karen:
Absolutely. Well, Sketchbook Revival is this free online workshop, but you could call it a summit. It has that format of an online summit, where there is a whole bunch of amazing experts, artists, speakers who come and share during the workshop. This year I have 24 artists who have joined me. And so, it’s this collaborative effort. We join together and each day of the workshop a different artist, or really two artists share a session related to creativity, their creative practices, their sketchbook practice, but I use the term sketchbook kind of loosely. It’s sort of like the symbol for a creative practice. For me, it’s like that place where you show up for yourself, and explore and try new things, and discover different ways of being creative. And also there’s that piece of consistency and practice and discipline. A lot like what you do on Get Messy is my feeling.

[Sketchbook Revival is] that place where you show up for yourself, and explore and try new things, and discover different ways of being creative. And also there’s that piece of consistency and practice and discipline. – Karen Abend

Karen:
So, it’s those two things. It’s being inspired and creative and discovering and having fun, and keeping it as a practice so that you can actually grow and develop and really reap all those benefits that creativity offers us. I mean, there’s so many benefits, and it really depends on what your goals and interests are with creativity. Why you’re in for it, or what you want out of it. So, Sketchbook Revival is sort of all of that. And the thing that I think is unique about it is the diversity. It’s not focused on one style or type of art. I really like to get all kinds so we have art therapists, intuitive artists, people who do really realistic art inspired by nature or their environment or travel, or what else, art journaling, mixed media art. What else? This year, we have people doing more with architectural backgrounds. So, that’s really technical. I also like to have at least one creativity coach. Somebody who can work on your mindset because that’s also such a part of taking care of ourselves as artists like staying positive and all that.

Karen:
So yeah, the diversity of the speakers i think is what makes it such a rich experience and super inspiring because you just end up seeing and trying new things that you wouldn’t have normally thought of doing is what it feels like for me and the feedback I get from the participants. And then at the end of it, you’re just full of all these new input, and so the magic really happens I think, at the end after you’ve done the workshop, and you’re like, “Okay, now what?” So, that’s Sketchbook Revival, more or less what it is, and then a why. You want me to talk about what gave me the idea to do it was really, okay, for me in my own journey I was so inspired by or I still am by people who have practices and those consistent practices. Now with social media, we see on Instagram people sharing their challenges. I’m creating our everyday for 30 days or for 100 days or 365 days, and so seeing people with those consistent practices, and then what happens to their own artistic expression, and growth and careers when they do that is amazing. The results of giving yourself that practice.

Karen:
And so, I was just so curious, how do you do that? How do you create that for yourself? How do you find the right way for yourself to do that? I was just really curious to hear from artists who have been successful with their own practices. And I wanted to learn from them and have a chance to like connect with them, and then share it with everybody. So that’s really the vision for Sketchbook Revival, what inspired me to start it out three years ago, just connecting with other artists. Letting them share the secrets or the insights into their success, and then giving us opportunities to try different ways, like their favorite ways of creating a sketchbook or an art journal, or whatever you want to call it was really the thing I wanted to learn.

Karen:
And so, and then of course, sharing it is where the magic also happens. Because artists are often alone in their studios or at home, and so having that chance to do it together, really share the journey was something I was also really called to do because I was feeling a little bit lonely I think. I wanted to get out of my little bubble, and do something that could have help others, and have a bigger impact. I didn’t know when I started what it would be like but, it ended up reaching a lot of people, and it’s been… It’s kind of like a movement it feels like at this point. People look forward to it, and are asking me, “When’s the next one going to be?” And everybody’s excited about it. So yeah, I feel like accidentally, I created this movement. This Sketchbook Revival movement. It’s like, once a year, come, join us, and get inspired.

 “Sharing is where the magic happens” – Karen Abend

Caylee:
It absolutely is a movement, and I feel like you’re exactly the right person to lead the movement because you’ve got so much kindness and heart, and you just like giving. It’s actually crazy. It’s been wonderful to meet you, and to see what you’re doing. I think that it’s interesting and beautiful the fact that it stemmed from a loneliness, in a solo practice. You’re by yourself, and bringing together all these people that are a little bit lonely, and connecting them with art, and it’s so beautiful.

Karen:
Oh, thank you so much. I’m so glad you get it.

Caylee:
Absolutely. I mean, that’s why. Yeah, that’s what why Get Messy started too is with a bit of loneliness, right? Because exploring art by yourself is lonely, and I think that having the internet, hello, is fantastic because we get to… It’s difficult to find people that think exactly the way we think in our town or in our exact location. Especially as expats, and especially as people living in small towns, but that we’ve got this internet where there are a bunch of people that feel like that and you can get people who completely understand you. And when you’re talking about your sketchbook being the basis of everything, I’m just like, Yes, it 100% is. I 100% get you.

Karen:
Oh, that’s so great. Yeah, yes, yes. I feel… Yeah, I love that we have those parallels. It’s really, really cool, and exactly like being an expat, living in a foreign country. Yeah, I speak Italian fine, but it’s not the same as your mother tongue, and then having a chance to use my mother tongue, connect with artists from around the world. And yeah, create a tribe of people interested in the same thing. It’s really incredible. Oh, my gosh.

Caylee:
It is and I feel you on the language thing. I think that’s why I like this podcast is a fun creative exploration for me too because I feel like I’m losing my English.

Karen:
Really?

Caylee:
I’ve already lost my Afrikaans. I was speaking Afrikaans to my husband so that our son couldn’t understand us the other day. And he was like, “Caylee, you know you’re not making any sense?” And I thought I was just hitting it, no. So, I’ve lost that language a little bit.

Karen:
Oh my goodness. That’s crazy. Well, you have so many languages that you have to keep a handle on.

Caylee:
Oh, man. Yeah. So, okay. Your sketchbook, so do you keep a regular sketchbook throughout the year?

Karen:
Yes, I do now thanks to Sketchbook Revival. Before Sketchbook Revival, honestly I did not. I tried many times over the years because even before I declared myself an artist, when I was an art conservator, I had taken a lot of art classes in my life. And it was always an interest and passion of mine, but I had other friends who were… I viewed them as real artists. I remember back in the day when I lived in New York, and I would just see them with their sketchbooks and they would take them around when they traveled or go in the city and I was like, “I want to be like them.” This urge goes back for a long time, and I would try and then I would stop, and then I would try, and then I would stop. So, this went on for many, many years for me, and then after the first Sketchbook Revival, everything changed, and I figured it out or I got enough tools, let’s say that helped me be consistent with my practice for the first time in my life.

Karen:
And so, now three years later, I have a scheduled practice. I do it pretty much every day. There are periods of time when I skip days, but that’s okay. I’ve come to be fine with that because it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. It’s such a part of my life now that I’m able to trust myself that I’ll come back to it, and it’s not the end of the world to skip a day because sometimes having that kind of pressure can be hard on yourself. It’s good, I think for periods of time, but then it’s also good to be more easeful with yourself. You have that experience too?

Caylee:
Yes. Exactly that. I feel like… Oh, man, I’m just completely relating to what you’re saying with that. Just something clicks, and all of a sudden it’s not a thing that you’re constantly trying to do. You just do it naturally, and you trust yourself. If you don’t do it today you know you’re going to do it again. You don’t have to worry about it.

Karen:
Yes, exactly.

Caylee:
There’s definitely an evolution to that. Tell me what do you think your, let’s say three things are. Your three tips for consistent practice. What was it that clicked in you?

Karen:
Okay, for me it was keep it really easy was number one. So, whatever your goal is or your ideas for what you want to show up and create, keep those really easy. And just the goal in general. Initially I remember I tried to do a 100 Day project, and after a couple weeks I failed because I had these… I just got more and more involved. I started thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna do 10 minutes a day,” and then it ended up being 20, and then 30, then an hour then two hours. I’m like, “Okay, I can’t.” Then I got overwhelmed, and then I quit. So, it’s really being strict on that. I guess there’s a time limit. So, just on what easy can mean a lot of things.

I know you’re asking for three simple tips, but it’s hard to make this concise, but when I say easy, it’s okay, really doable. So, that’s in terms of time. In my head I’m like, “Okay, I could spend 10 minutes a day on this,” and keep it the type of practice that I can do in 10 minutes. If it’s longer than that, fabulous, but if it’s just 10 minutes then that’s great.

Karen:
So, knowing in my head, I’m just going to do this for 10 minutes and making sure the type of practice I do fits into that 10 minutes. So, for me I choose things that feel… One of the ways that helped me keep it doable is making my page really small. So, that’s just my-

Caylee:
Amen. Yes.

Karen:
Yeah, yeah, so my pages are really small, and I started out with these tiny little accordion sketchbooks that I made out of printer paper I’d fold up. I learned it from Kiala Givehand on the very first Sketchbook Revival.

Caylee:
Love her.

Karen:
I know, isn’t she wonderful? And so, I ended up making this little mini one because that was all the paper I had. But I’ve just used that over and over and over again as my little tiny rectangle to fill up each day. So, that’s it. I know if I have that tiny little rectangle, it’ll be like 10, 15, 20, maximum 30 minutes to do it. And so, that really helps me.

Karen:
Then the next thing is I like to create themes for myself, and I also learned this from other artists at Sketchbook Revivals. Themes, like a series. So, like right now I want to create just art. I’ve done hearts. I’ve done birds. I’ve done where I live, inspiration from where I live. Right now I’m doing little people. So, I like to do series based on my personal interests. So, it’s things that are meaningful to me for different reasons. It could be because I want to learn that skill or because that subject makes me feel good, to create it and connect with that each day. So, finding a series that feels meaningful, and so I know I’m just going to show up and create that thing each day. I don’t think about, “Oh, what am I going to create today?” It just really helps me keep it easy and doable when I have that series. Do you work in series Caylee?

Caylee:
I think if I look back I naturally tend to do it, but I’m definitely going to take this tip and apply it to my practice and see where it goes.

Karen:
Okay, I’m just curious because everybody’s… I’m not sure if that works so much for art journaling…

Caylee:
I mean, it does. If I look back I can see, okay, I constantly use these exact same products, three products or I kept using this… I’m looking now at my journal, and I can see I’ve got… My last five, 10 pages are all dusty pink, brush pen, and this vintage ledger paper.

Karen:
Oh, cool. Yeah, I love that. So yeah, so it can be in the materials that you choose. Exactly. And I’ve done that. I did collage for 30 days once. Just collage from old magazines, just upcycling magazine images or colors I would find in pages to make collage. And so, that was really fun, and yeah, that was one practice.

Karen:
So then, and then number three is keeping it fun. So, for me fun is the materials that I ended up choosing usually. I mean, it can be a little bit out of the topic. But also the materials for me are the thing that make me feel really happy. So it’s like, what makes you feel happy and good when you’re creating. So, if I can just connect with my colored markers each day then I’m super happy, and I want to show up each day. So, it’s like that thing that keeps me coming back. Like, oh, I’ve got to play with my markers.” So finding that material that makes you feel happy, I think is another way to help you stay consistent. And I’ve experimented, like I said, I did collage that also makes me really happy.

Karen:
I’m moving into paint, playing with paint more now too, but I’m not… I’m still dipping my toes into that, but I know I want to do more with paint. So, that’s something I’ve been drawn to, but I haven’t fully… I’m still stuck with my markers because I just love them so much. They’re bright and happy. I love bright colors, and I feel like a kid again. Yes, that sound of the mark on the paper. So those little experiences that are very tactile are important for me making me feel good, and want to show up each day.

Caylee:
Oh, yes. Yeah. Tell me more about your themes. Do you have… You spoke about 30 days of collage. So you set those specific…

Karen:
I set… Yeah, well, that a couple of times a year I do offer online courses that are more like support groups for creating your practice. I don’t teach technique, I teach or I offer that container of support for sticking to your goal, and then doing it in community, in a smaller community because Sketchbook Revival is so big and really that is a big accountability as well, but that’s another tip, having accountability. So, in these smaller groups, you get more intimate form of accountability that can be… You actually feel like you make friends and you’re doing Sketchbook Revival to the big group, but even more so on the small group. So, in these small groups, in one of the courses I teach, Find Your Flow, it’s a 30 day course and we do… You create a goal for yourself at the beginning, a project for yourself that you want to complete over 30 days. So, that particular project, the collage was created for that. I did that during last year’s Find Your Flow.

Karen:
And then the first Find Your Flow I was working on the heart series. I did 100 hearts, and that was a very more like, yeah, finding inspiration from within, based on your feeling of the day, and then creating a heart around that feeling. I don’t know. What else would you like to know about this series, Caylee?

Caylee:
Yeah. So, I mean, when you think about what your next series would be, do you just say, “Oh, I want to try this out?” I’m trying to think of how I’m going to go about this because I definitely want to try it. What do you think?

Karen:
Yes. So, what I do is I write down. I heart storm or brainstorm.

Caylee:
Heart storm, that’s a great word.

Karen:
I got that from Amber, one of my teachers. Heart storm, so yeah, you really think about all the things that you would love to learn how to do someday, and write them down. So, for me… or all the things that you love, and want to try out in your sketchbook. So for me, it’s like I have on there collage. I have lettering. I have painting, abstract paintings. I have like more illustrative style things. I think it’d be fun to do draw my son every day for 30 days or my dog. So, there’s lots of ideas. I write down all my ideas, and it could be based on even one thing that you love. For example, one summer, you know I’m from Los Angeles originally, and when I go back in the summers I love… I get inspired by being there, and one of the weird things about LA is that there’s these wild parrots flying around Los Angeles.

Caylee:
What?!

Karen:
Wild parrots, and I’m in love with those parrots. I don’t know why, but I find them so adorable, and they’re just so weird. When I was a kid they weren’t there, but later as I grew up they appeared somehow, and now there’s flocks of wild parrots, and they’re noisy, and they’re colorful, and they have fun personalities, and they perch on your tree, and stuff. So, I see these parrots everywhere, and I love them. So, I started drawing parrots one summer. So, you could get your inspiration from anywhere. It could be the thing you dream of doing or something that you see that sparks an idea or whatever. So you write all those ideas down with no limits, and then that’s sort of like your list. And then you look at your list and you think, “Okay, what do I…” You just pick one. What do I feel called to try out now? What would be the fun thing to do now that feels easy and not overwhelming, and wouldn’t take too long. And all those criteria that I mentioned to help me make it feel doable. Which one actually feels doable now in the time that I have available?

Karen:
And then just pick one, and you just go for it. Usually at the beginning, it’s like, you’re shaky because it’s new, and you’re still getting a feel for it. And it’s so fascinating when you do work this way because you really see that evolution. Within 30 days you’ll see those first baby steps of being a little shaky, and not feeling sure of yourself. And then by the end of the 30 days, you’ll be at a completely different place, and it’s amazing. So this is why I keep coming back also to that series because it really lets you see your growth, and it really lets you develop something that is going to… That feels amazing, and it really helps you see the value of a practice. Whether it’s even if you’re in it for more inner work it’s also you feel that. You just get more fluid and fluent with your art materials, how you express yourself, how you feel confident and comfortable with materials and filling up your page. All of that will grow the more you… just by showing up each day for 10, 15, 20 minutes on that same similar thing each day.

“It’s amazing how much magic can happen just by coming to the page” – Caylee

Caylee:
Just by showing up, it is really… It’s amazing how much magic can happen just by coming to the page, and I mean, yeah, you just need to do it for a little bit. I love that you call it heart storming. I call it brain vomit. So, I think yours is much better.

Karen:
You’re hilarious. I love it. You always make me laugh.

Caylee:
But I think that, that’s something that you’re very good at as well like with your class called Find Your Flow, and with Sketchbook Revival, you’re so good at finding exactly the right words for each of your projects.

Karen:
Thank you. That’s so nice. Yeah, I love the word revive, revive, revival. I don’t know where that came from, but it was exactly the feeling that I had for the sketchbook practice. And yeah, I’m really happy with that word and Find Your Flow. I mean, everybody… It’s not uncommon, the word flow for us creatives. I think we all want to be in that place of flow. It’s something we all strive to be in because it feels so good. That’s another thing that keeps us coming back, I think is that feeling of flow.

Caylee:
Yeah. When is this class offered? Is that available at any time? Could someone go there right now?

Karen:
No, I offer it once a year, generally after Sketchbook Revival, so it’s sort of like, you come and you just get to work a viability, you get all jazzed up. And sometimes lots of people have experienced, and they’re like, “I’m good.” Then there’s those people who are like, “Okay, I need more support. I want to keep going but I’m not quite sure how. I don’t know if I can really keep up what I’ve started.” So, Find Your Flow is there to help those people who are looking for a little extra support to really feel that creative practice into their lives, so I generally do it after Sketchbook Revival. Sometime like a month or two after.

Caylee:
Yeah. So, if someone is signed up for Sketchbook Revival, they’ll get that invitation.

Karen:
Absolutely. Yes.

Caylee:
So, in other words, if you’re listening to this and you feel like that’s something you want to do you better get in on that.

Karen:
Thanks, Caylee. Yeah, absolutely. I just love the experience of sharing the journey with others, and supporting each other, and then sharing that evolution. It’s amazing to see how others grow in their own practices and I love finding beauty in everybody’s work. I really am open… That’s the other thing about having that open heartedness is sort of my thing because I love working on that skill of seeing beauty in whether you’re just a brand new beginner or you’re an incredibly experienced professional artist. So, we have all of that in Sketchbook Revival and everything in between, so seeing the sparks of beauty and inspiration and amazingness in each person’s work is something I love to cultivate in myself. And so, I really love sharing that energy with others during the small group. I try and do in Sketchbook Revival, the big group, but it’s harder because there’s so many people in the Facebook group. But in this courses I’m really on… that’s one of my goals is just to really be there seeing that. Seeing everybody, really seeing them and their journey. It’s really a precious thing, and I get a lot out of it personally.

Caylee:
So, the beauty of seeing… Obviously, there’s a lot of beauty in a prolific artist who’s making masterpieces. Tell me more about the beauty of someone who’s just starting.

Karen:
Yeah, just the courage to show up and do something or even… My personal aesthetic taste tends to be very, I love naïve folk art, and that kind of thing. So, I often see those kinds of stylistic… Even though they’re accidental in a lot of people who are just starting out, there’s not that perfection. It’s like there’s something innocent in those lines. I can’t explain it. I try and go back to being a child in my own art, so I can’t explain exactly what I mean. But it’s something like that, that amazingness of being the natural. Wherever you’re at just naturally showing up and creating something in your own style, and seeing those often people… you know what I mean? Those sort of naive look of a beginner can… People might think, “Oh, I’m not good,” when they’re seeing their own art. But I actually really like that. I don’t know how to describe it.

Caylee:
No, it’s a difficult thing to put into tangible words. It’s more like a feeling, right? Seeing someone working towards it, it’s just such an amazing thing. I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about the beauty of art for art’s sake instead of it being… I mean, everyone knows art is something to be looked at in that, but there’s just a beauty in just doing it. And in just showing up, and in just choosing to do that that day for a few minutes and working on your abilities and your skill set and the tools that you’ve got in your arsenal.

But I think that that’s also why Sketchbook Revival is great because if you are a beginner or even someone who’s been doing this for years and years, you get to see all these different artists in the way that they do it. And you get to… even if you don’t do the exact technique that that person is teaching, you can maybe learn a new way of doing things, or you can see the world a little bit differently. And so, you’ve got the opportunity to take something from each of those artists and apply it to yourself. And then that’s how you get to find what you love.

Karen:
Yes, exactly. Yes, that’s really it.

Caylee:
Yeah. I want to talk more about your art conservatorship.

Karen:
Yeah.

Caylee:
How do you say that? Art conservator?

Karen:
Art conservation.

Caylee:
Okay, so do you know that guy… What’s his name? I think his name’s Baumgartner on YouTube. Do you know his channel?

Karen:
No, I don’t. Who’s that?

Caylee:
It is the best channel to watch. He restores old artwork, and he films it, and he puts it on YouTube, and he takes ear bud, and tweezers to clean the artwork or to paint over it. Is that similar? Is that what you do?

Karen:
When I was an art conservator. I mean, I still am because once an art conservator always an art conservator. I’m not actively doing it. I only conserve things for my husband. I’m married to an archaeologist. And so, when he goes on site, one of the things I do is archaeological conservation, so conserve the objects they excavate. So, I still do that. Excuse me, during the summers. Sorry, I need a sip of my tea. I’m not used to talking so much, Caylee.

Caylee:
I’ll stretch you.

Karen:
Yeah. But yeah, being an art conservator is different and specialties within the field of art conservation. Art conservation is a combination of preservation, long term preservation of cultural material, and restoration, which is more like the aesthetic side of things. And so, conserving is both of those things. So, let’s see. When I’m an objects conservator. So, to become a conservator, yeah, at least in the United States you usually study different areas. So, there’s paper conservation, paintings, objects, what else is there? Textiles, archival material, photographs, furniture. And then there’s then people who are doing built heritage that’s a whole other world like buildings and houses and sites. That’s another branch of conservation. That’s not what I do. I do movable heritage, that’s immovable heritage.

Karen:
People who do objects… or you know moveable heritage often work in museums, and so that’s what I did. I worked in museums in the US, and in conservation departments taking care of the art collections that were three dimensional. So, depending on the kind of museum that you work in or what your interest is you end up working on materials that are different, but I love that about objects conservation is that it’s really mixed. You’re not just working on paintings. You’re doing metals, and ceramics, and glass, and then organic materials like baskets or leather, skin, feathers. I love archaeological and ethnographic collections. And so, that was what was… and decorative arts I like as well. So, I worked in all those areas when I was an active conservator working in museums.

Caylee:
That’s amazing. How have you applied that to your own art practice?

Karen:
Well, I think one of… Yeah, that’s interesting that you asked that. That’s a good question because I know that… Not many people ask me that, but I know that you have to be very detail oriented to be conservator because like you say, you’re using those tiny tools. So, there’s something called manual dexterity, go with your hands. And so, that’s definitely something that I know that I can sit for hours and hours and work on my iPad doing an illustration. That’s me being in my zone, doing those tiny little things or painting with a tiny little brush something. I love little details. And let’s see. So, that’s one thing.

Karen:
Then I think the other thing is more my interest in other cultures, and through their cultural heritage, those things show up. I think in my love of folk art or naivety or publicity in my forms that I use in my art. I think that I draw on symbols that I see like on ancient ceramics or on Killeens from Turkey or that kind of stuff. Those designing forms and shapes really excite me. So, I think some of that. I love flat. I’m very flat in my art. So, those flat kinds of things that you often see. I like that stuff.

Caylee:
That’s amazing. Yeah, because I feel like you were speaking earlier and you said, from when you declared yourself an artist, and I was thinking, but art cons…

Karen:
Art conservation.

Caylee:
Art conservation. Thank you. My word. I told you my English is going. But that to me, that immediately made you an artist. It’s a different-

Karen:
It’s different. It’s more like an art doctor in a way. You’re caring for the heritage.

Caylee:
Clearly an art doctor is more of an artist.. what!?

Karen:
You’re like, you have to study. It’s fascinating, you study how art is made. You study the material side of things. You learn about the materials, how they’re made, the technology of the manufacturer of things, how they’re made, how the materials behave together, how they degrade over time, and all those kinds of things you learn about. And so, that’s really fascinating, and it gives you a lot of knowledge about art materials. Whether or not that influences my work as an artist, I don’t think it really does necessarily, other than, okay, yeah, I’m good at mixing colors, because you do have to match colors when you’re doing that in painting. Toning, when you do that restoration. You have to be good at matching colors. So, that is a skill I have, but I don’t necessarily use that all the time. Because when I’m making my own art, there’s something, there’s a different energy. It’s a different… It’s much more like, I’m much messier, and less careful because you have to be so careful when you’re a conservator. I’m much less careful. I drop things, I tear things, I make mess, and you can’t do that when you’re a conservator.

Caylee:
I love that. So, do you think that that making a mess, and just letting go, do you think that that’s what makes “an artist?”

Karen:
I think an artist… Well, sure. I think there’s all kinds of artists. But no for me, it’s more like somebody who’s actually making art regularly. You know what I mean? For me it’s as simple as you’re just showing up and making art, creating stuff. So, yeah, when I was an art conservator, I wasn’t making stuff because I think that part of me was satisfied. That desire to work with my hands, and it’s very creative in the problem solving area. So, it felt very creative, and I was using my hands and in contact with all these amazing artwork, so I was full. I didn’t need to make my own art even though, yeah, sure, I wanted to do more sketching. I always want to make things, but it wasn’t like a huge hole in my life.

Karen:
Then when I stopped doing art conservation, I had a big hole in my life. And so, that’s when I started making my own art. And so, that for me, that was a big switch. So, it was like, really dedicating myself to the practice of being. Showing up every day and making something is for me what being an artist is. Really, I recognize it’s a lifelong journey. So, really being like, I’m in it for the journey. I’m not just doing this here and there dabbling. I’m like, I’m in it. That for me is what made the difference for feeling like an artist.

“Showing up every day and making something is for me what being an artist is. Really, I recognize it’s a lifelong journey.” – Karen

Caylee:
Wow, I feel like you’ve really articulated that well, because yeah, there is this thing where we’re able to fill that creative urge in other ways that’s not necessarily art. And when you were talking, I was thinking about the fact that for me, I think coding and web design are my art, because I’ve noticed that if I’m doing a lot of coding, I’m not actually physically making that much art. So, it’s interesting to think about it in that way, and to think about art. I mean, yeah, my definition of being an artist is someone who makes art. But to think of it on a very practical level that just thinking about creativity and thinking about art and stuff doesn’t actually make you an artist until you’re actually doing it.

“Just thinking about creativity and thinking about art and stuff doesn’t actually make you an artist until you’re actually doing it.” – Caylee

Karen:
Yeah, there’s the action, right?

Caylee:
Yeah. I think about this a lot. The other reason I think about a lot is because there are a lot of people that have that struggle to call themself an artist because that word has so much intrinsic value, and society puts a lot of pressure on that word. What do you say to people who don’t want to call themselves an artist?

Karen:
Well, what my heart says is that if you are making art you’re an artist. It’s as simple as that, and you don’t even have to share it with anybody necessarily to call yourself an artist. It’s really up to you what you feel… What makes you feel good about making art and how you want to make art, and if you want to share it or not. It doesn’t really matter.

I think you can still be an artist, but for me, I definitely like the idea of sharing it, and using it to have an impact somehow beyond myself. But that’s not for everybody, but you’re still an artist, just if you’re making art for me, that’s seriously my… But I understand it’s hard to claim that because, yeah, like you say, there’s so many… It just feels like it’s so easy if I’m not a real artist.

For me that that fear or that insecurity comes from not having gone to art school. I took art classes. Yes, I went to art conservation school, but I didn’t go to art school. So not having a formal training of art school I think maybe, for me is my personal inner critic saying you’re not a real artist, but I’ve learned that there’s so many artists I admire who also didn’t go to art school. So, it’s also looking at those other people that are further along on the journey, and learning about them, I think can help us embrace our own journeys wherever we’re at in life and be like, “Oh, no.” There’s so many ways to be an artist, and there’s really no… that’s the thing. It’s so open, so, I mean, everybody can be an artist.

Caylee:
Amen, amen. You just need a one, two, and then put it into action.

Karen:
Yeah.

Caylee:
Wow. I think that is great. Something great to end on. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and your heart with us. And thank you so much for putting together Sketchbook Revival, and everything that you do for the community. I think you are an amazing person, and I think what you’re doing is amazing. And every single person listening to this needs to hop on that. Sketchbook Revival is totally free. You have zero excuses. You can do it at home with no pants on with the tools that you have.

Karen:
Yes, thank you, Caylee. Thank you so much for inviting me onto your podcast. It’s been… yeah, what an honor. And just so lovely to chat with you and get to know you. And I’m so inspired by what you do, so I just feel like, “Oh, this is so wonderful.” Thank you very much for having me, and it was just a delight to chat with you. Like we say, to share these conversations with others that are doing something similar. It’s so inspiring, and it’s important, so thank you very much.

Caylee:
Oh, yeah. Oh, man. Thanks, Karen.

Your podcast host, Caylee Grey

I’m Caylee Grey. Creator of Get Messy, official fairy freaking artmother and your pro excuse-squashing ninja.

In the Get Messy podcast I’ll be chatting to a selection of amazing, real-life humans just like you are who are dealing with the very same barriers … but overcoming them to create their art.

Together, we’ll explore what it REALLY means to be an artist. Practically. Warts and all. So that you can be an artist, today, now, even if you work a day job, have a million and one commitments and own a cat that likes sitting on your art.

No more excuses. Okay? Okay.