How Kiala Givehand is Leaving a Legacy with Her Art
We are so excited for you to get to know our first guest artist of 2018 properly. Be sure to welcome her with kindness in the comments.
When we planned the Season of Kindness we knew that Kiala Givehand would be the perfect match for it. Kiala is an artist with heart. She shares what she’s learned openly with others, she elevates other artists in her How To Art Journal Interview series, encourages community in her monthly artist meetups, and she’s pretty proflific with book making. Hello. She created a book every single week in 2013 and 2014.
Kiala is a double Capricorn, ambivert who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida where she learned to appreciate and respect hurricanes, humidity, and the transformational powers of the sun, the moon, and the ocean. She holds six academic degrees in various subjects from various Universities, but the one she cherishes most is her M.F.A. from Mills College where she studied with (and later apprenticed for) world renown Book Artist, Julie Chen. Finding and falling in love with Book Art was a life changing experience for Kiala after having gone through a traumatic two-year health battle and realizing life is too short to put off doing the things we most desire.
Kiala is proud of many things, but at the top of the list is having a successful 20 year professional teaching and training career at the K-12 and College levels, being married to her best friend of 30 years, raising her nephew Treavor, mentoring more than 20 young women over the last 25 years, and unapologetically pursuing her creative and entrepreneurial dreams. She now runs two successful online businesses and through online courses and in person retreats, teaches women all over the world how to find what makes them happy and pursue it without regrets.
She’s always seen books as a vessel for sharing our journey and documenting our lives. And while many believe that Book Art is a complex skill that only a select few can master, Kiala is on a mission to demystify creativity & handmade books in order to make both accessible to anyone who wants to document their ideas, images, and stories. Through her love for paper, words, and handmade books, Kiala has been able to cultivate an artistic life that includes Book Art, poetry, lots of silly doodling and tons of creative exploration and discovery.
Kiala says… “Stories connect us while also highlighting what is unique about us. I’ve always been a storyteller, relying on words to convey feeling, energy, and information. So learning to make handmade journals changed how I connect and communicate with others by giving me a way to help people feel more creatively empowered and encouraging them to share their stories. My art always begins or ends with words. By adding color and imagery I am able to visually share how I see the world. I believe art can look multi-layered and complex while being extremely simple and approachable. I use paper, color, mark making, and wordplay to create tangible versions of my stories in hopes of inspiring you to do the same. This is why I teach!”
We’re so excited that you’re here, Kiala. Thank you for sharing yourself with us through your art and your words. Thank you for the kindness you put into the world. Over to you…
What is your creative story?
The short version is that I’ve always been creative, but I didn’t always create. I didn’t take art classes in high school or start painting when I was 3. I loved words and poetry and stories for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t truly find my creative juice until I was a teacher in a middle school and had to create thematic boards each grading period. I would spend hours picking just the right colors and image and quotes for the board so that students would want to read it and hopefully be inspired by it.
Then in my mid twenties I fell in love with poetry again. I started to write and take classes. Then I starting writing short stories. I even wrote a children’s book that I was going to illustrate myself. That’s when I decided to take a drawing class. On the first day, the teacher gave an assignment and I froze. Left the class and never returned.
In my mid 30s I completed my MFA at Mills College in Oakland, CA. There I studied poetry and creative writing and fell in love with the Book Art classes offered on campus. I think I took every course offered in my two years there and made countless books. I knew from the first 10 minutes of my first bookbinding course that I would be a book artist.
It was after graduation from Mills that I was sitting in a cafe doodling in my journal that I was introduced to art journaling by a woman at the table next to me. It was a glorious rabbit hole I went down and spent the next few months binge watching art journaling videos on YouTube. I was hooked and knew there was a deep connection between handmade journals and art journaling. That connection is one of the things that drives me to continue creating.
Why do you love creating?
I love to create because I feel powerful and empowered. When I’m creating, it’s the one time when I am as close to my truest self as humanly possible. When I’m creating, I’m tapping into and connecting with my higher self. The folding, creasing, and sewing of a journal is meditative for me and I can go into a zone for hours and feel like only minutes have passed. I love to create because I love to bring into the world things that would not otherwise exist. Yes, other people make handmade journals, but no one will ever make the ones I make the way I make them. Each journal will always be unique to me. They are my legacy. Creating is my legacy.
Art journaling is one of the only ways I know how to bridge my love for paper, paint, and pens seamlessly and without a lot of rules and restraints. I feel most free when I have a blank page spread staring back at me. It feels like an invitation to be fearless and play. Art journaling was the next step for me after years of keeping a diary, then a journal — adding paint and color just felt like the next step for expressing myself. I continue to grow with Art Journaling because it seems there is always something new to learn. I love that I am always learning and growing.
Describe your creative process. Do you have rituals to making?
My creative process is both intuitive and intentional. Most of the time, I come to the blank page with intention and I know exactly what I want to do and often have an intended end result. But then there are times when I simply allow my intuition to guide me. Both approaches have their benefits and so I blend the two when necessary and when possible. Either way, it usually starts with a handmade blank book or a sheet of folded, cut, or torn paper. And I almost ALWAYS have words on my pages, even if they get covered up by the end. I love to paint with my fingers so that usually is a good way for me to begin and then I almost always finish the page off with words or paint splatters.
I have a lot of rituals in my everyday life and have just recently started to find rituals in my creative life. The two rituals I practice around my creative process are to always take a photo of my work when my session is done. That is my way of documenting what I’ve created. I may or may not share the photo, but I definitely save it for myself. The other ritual is to write in my studio log. This is something I learned from Connie Solera. Keeping a running journal just for my reflection after each artsy session I complete has done wonders for finding my own style, likes, dislikes, favorite supplies, and future inspiration.
I’m currently enrolled in RITUALS with Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd in hopes that I can further explore how rituals impact my creative process.
What tips do you have for beginners?
Experiment and repeat the same process over and over until you find something that feels like YOU. Play and allow yourself to “get messy” and discover the unexpected in your “mistakes”. Use what you have at first, even if it’s just office or school supplies. Take classes. Find communities that support playfulness and exploration. Make your own journals sometimes — the process of creating both the container and the content can be freeing in ways you’ve never imagined. Find your style by trying lots of different things over and over in different ways. Your truest self will emerge.
What do you do when you don’t know what to make?
I grab paper and start folding. I created a card deck called the Mixed Media Inspiration Deck™ — it has become my go-to inspiration when I need a quick bit of help. I’m also a huge fan of YouTube and Pinterest for inspiration. I like trying new techniques and mixing techniques (trying a watercolor page using a technique done traditionally with chalk pastels, for example). But hands down, when I don’t know what to make, I start with words — handwritten gibberish sometimes or book pages or rubber stamps — but words can usually get me going. Eventually, I end up with a hand bound book of some sort.
How do you fill your inspiration well?
One of the things that inspires me most is traveling. The more I travel, the more inspired I am to find connections that I can bring forward in my creative work. Some other things I do to fill my inspiration well are — reading & writing poetry, walking or hiking, watching past recordings of my Book-in-a-Day series on YouTube or rewatching videos from courses I’ve taught. Two places where I find lots of inspiration are my favorite Instagram accounts (like Get Messy) and rereading my studio log.
How important do you believe self-reflection is in journaling? What are your tips for digging deeper?
To dig deeper I use prompts, oracle and tarot cards, and the age-old question — “why?” If you ask yourself why enough times, you’ll uncover things that you didn’t even realize were inside of you. Not all of it will be beautiful, but it will get you closer to the beauty that is you. Keep digging.
How do you find time to make things?
Oh goodness, I don’t find time, I make it. I just declare that I’m going to make something and then I do. Otherwise I might never create if I had to “find” time.
What is your biggest struggle or barrier to creating and how do you overcome it?
My biggest struggle or barrier is self-doubt. I am working to overcome that by creating more and more. It’s like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. I also take classes for the things I want to learn. For example, this year I’m really wanting to learn lettering, collage, printmaking, urban sketching, and abstract painting. So I’ll take classes to help me move beyond my self-doubt.
How do you go from beginner to expert?
Show up everyday. Practice. Practice. Practice. Teach others. Share your knowledge. Share your progress. Document your journey. Then repeat until it’s no longer an option whether you show up or not.
What are your must-have supplies?
My must have supplies are: gesso, watercolor, good paper, a bone folder, a fountain pen, a black Sharpie, double-sided tape, a white Posca pen, and Derwent Inktense Blocks (my latest obsession).
What is your favorite technique?
My favorite technique for book binding is a book I call the back-to-back journal. It’s one of my favorites to teach and to make. I think in 2017 I made 15 different version of that book structure.
My favorite art journaling technique is using the end of my paint brush to draw in wet gesso as a first layer.
My favorite journaling techniques are to rotate the page as I journal and to make some words larger (or smaller) than the rest.
Can you tell us more about your Book in a Day (The Journey Within) project? Who is this project?
At the end of 2012, I was faced with turning 40 and feeling like I was in a creative lull. I needed something to get me excited about my art again and to get me excited about turning 40. I also needed something to help me move past my fear of being seen on social media so that I could take my coaching business to the next level. I did what I always do when faced with a life situation that requires me to think — I made a handmade journal to capture my thoughts. My mother was visiting and saw me make the book at the table from start to finish in less than 3 hours. She said, “Wow, you made that in one day.” And Book-in-a-Day was born.
The class is for anyone who wants to explore art journaling and handmade books. No matter what level of artist you are — beginner or expert, there’s something for everyone as long as you are willing to let go and give in to the journey. We have students as young as 7 in the class and women who have been making art for 40+ years. It’s a good, supportive and nurturing group. Join us!
Please share your favourite type of book to make for art journaling? Why is it your favourite, and why is it so great for art journaling?
Oh this is such a hard question. I love so many kinds of handmade structures. But if I have to pick one, my favorite art journal / handmade book is what I call a Stacked Portfolio book. — I love that every page in the book is a fully uninterrupted page spread with no stitching or holes. That’s what makes it so great for art journaling — every page is a spread and if you leave your cover off the book until the end, you can add more pages to the book without a lot of fuss. It’s a simple book to make, but requires a lot of glue and a ton of patience. But it’s so worth it in the end.
I just taught the students in the Journey Within class how to make this book and they are loving it too.
What is your favourite thing about collaborating with artists towards a project? Are you of the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?
Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE collaborating. I’ve done several collaborations — from creating a letterpressed broadside to this latest collaboration with the 18 guest teachers in The Journey Within class, I thrive on collaborations. Mostly, I think of myself as a connector of people — a resource of sorts. That means that when I collaborate with others, I get to expose my community and my followers to new people and I get to meet the communities of the people I’m collaborating with. Also, I love bragging on the work and art of others. This is so much fun — telling others how amazing someone else is — that gives me lots of joy. It’s the kind of work I can do without anything in return.
Yes. I agree that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts and that we are stronger and more powerful in numbers. I think my love for collaboration also has to do with the fact that I have seen the power of working with others who compliment what I do or people who do what I do but with a unique twist on it. I only collaborate with people who are doing the kind of work I believe in and who I would have no problem bragging on. 🙂
The Journey Within is a year-long class. Do you have any shorter classes for those that might be intimidated by a yearlong commitment?
Yes! The Journey Within has a quarterly option where students can join for three months at a time. I also have a series of unrelated classes launching in March and April that are self-study and much shorter. There’s also the December Mini Class that I created for the students who signed up early for The Journey within. I teach one handmade book and provide several tutorials in that class. It might be a good starter class for someone who wants a taste.
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Kiala Givehand is a published poet, bookbinder, creative business strategist, teacher, fountain pen collector, and radical nomad. She believes in surrounding herself with ordinary humans who live extraordinary lives, gathering with people who make her laugh & love uncontrollably, and living a life intent on cultivating happiness.