How to be an Artist
How to create art with a purpose beyond yourself with Morgan Harper Nichols
In this episode of the podcast, I was awed by Morgan Harper Nichols. Yup, that’s right. The Morgan Harper Nichols. MHN and I talk about how selflessness is important to her artistic process. How she finds purpose in her art by creating beyond herself. As someone who created an entire life and business around creative community, this chat rocked my world.
Morgan Harper Nichols
Morgan Harper Nichols is a writer, artist, and musician who makes her work around people and their stories.
Highlights, wisdom, + catalysts for your art
In this episode, we talk about
Morgan Harper Nichols’ creative story revolves around creating art from and for others
Morgan: “The thing that keeps me grounded is this project I started in 2017 where I invite people to send their stories to me and I make art around their stories. I started this as something to keep myself grounded and to remind myself why I do what I do and it ended up becoming a big part of what I do and it turned into something much bigger than I ever thought it could be.”
A huge part of my inspiration now is hearing other people’s stories and being inspired by them.
Cultivating creativity in children
Morgan was raised by artist parents. Her mother especially would encourage creativity and would encourage her to make something new every day. She’d fill cheap Dollar Store notebooks with stories, pictures, and ideas from early on.
Being an artist means practise
Morgan: I put out typically at least 100 pieces a week. People ask how do you do it. I’ve had a lot of practise. I have a lifetime of practise.
(Morgan has been journaling every day since she was 8 years old!)
Being an artist is for everyone
Creativity is not just something for a special group. You have ideas. You have something to contribute that’s unique and special and I feel like that applies no matter what you’re doing.
The tools Morgan uses to create
- Adobe Sketch (preferred) with Kyle’s Brushes, and Procreate
- Dollar Store notebooks
Morgan Harper Nichols’ journey started in a quarter life crisis
MHN’s journey started in defeat and a quarter life crisis. She turned to her Moleskine and wrote a poem to herself. That quickly went viral. Here are the words that started it all:
Morgan: “Here I am sharing this really vulnerable, personal poem with the world and other people are connecting with it. How can strangers connect with something so deeply personal? … Here you are, you don’t know the story, you don’t know me, but you connect with it, you feel like it is for YOU. So I started to be inspired by people’s stories.”
“I love focusing on those topics because I really think that it has a way of connecting us all.”
We can so easily focus on our differences that we forget that beneath our layers, so many of us are dealing with the same thing.
Put processes in place in order to take on other people’s stories without it weighing down on you
It is important to give yourself space and find peace in knowing that people don’t need you to fix their problems. They just need to be heard and affirmed. It is important to realise the value that each step of the process has.
The therapy of art.
Morgan uses the act of writing for other people to stay grounded and away from self-critic mode. It’s nice to have someone else to think about while writing or creating. I’m in a season of how can I put this to work? How can I turn my art into something that others can experience too.
Create a purpose beyond you for your art in order to silence your inner critic.
Morgan talks a lot about “purpose beyond me”. Those words are SO powerful.
Morgan: “It’s not about the colour pallette as much as it is something to encourage an 8th grade girl who is dealing with a struggle in her life. That is the focus.”
Practical tips for silencing the inner critic with MHN’s technique:
- Make the art.
- Using third person to take a step back (“she felt…” even when talking about yourself)
- Let your selflessness extend to yourself
Tips on how to create just for yourself even when you’re creating for others
REMEMBER TO MAKE TIME TO CREATE JUST FOR FUN.
Morgan loves writing in a physical journal because she gets to scribble all over the page with markers and pens and fill the page with whatever she wants. It’s more freeing than working digitally.
Morgan’s response to “How to be an artist”
Morgan: “When I think of art, I think of self expression. So how do you take what you know about yourself and express it in a way that is true and also beautiful? Beautiful is subjective, but is it beautiful to you.”
We all have beauty to bring into the world.
“Art is something that has a purpose. It is taking something that you have experienced or gone through and turning it into something that has a purpose beyond yourself for someone else. “
Ways that MHN is not a stereotypical artist
- not elitistic,
- just as inspired by Marvel movies as Mary Oliver
- not worried about if something is ‘mainstream’ or not – if you like it, you like it
Going through different seasons and whether pregnancy changes how you create
YES! While dealing with major fatigue during her pregnancy, MHN decided to become more intentional with her time.
Morgan: “I’m making a human being – I don’t have to do everything else.
She’s had to become more selective in what she takes on, which sometimes means saying ‘no’ to certain projects.
Morgan’s struggles as an artist
- Charging for art and supporting yourself financially. If you’re not the bookkeeping type, know that it’s okay to get help and encouragement from people who are better in that area.
- When you put your work out in the world, it’s no longer your own. You can’t control how people interpret it or receive it.
- People do not get the context of each story.
IT’S HARD BECAUSE YOU WANNA BE OPEN AND HONEST, BUT AT THE SAME TIME PEOPLE WILL JUST NOT GET IT.
How to deal with criticism
Go somewhere private first – to your journal or someone that you can trust. Know that it is okay to be vulnerable about what affects you. Welcome criticism. Do not alter your work based on it but hearing other perspectives is important – just make sure to take it with a grain of salt. Most importantly, go back to the ‘WHY’.
REMIND YOURSELF OF WHY YOU CHOSE TO DO WHAT YOU DO.
Morgan Harper Nichols is such an incredible example of pure selflessness in the creative process. She is passionate about pursuing the purpose beyond herself and finding ways to show the beauty in different experiences. She uses her platform (and amazing talent!) to tell stories that unite people in a way that is vulnerable and authentic.
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 How to Be an Artist 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.