Creating a Supportive Art Community
Welcome to Creative Conversations. Today I’m talking with artist/photographer Heidi Pettit about fashioning a Supportive Community to help your creative life thrive. Heidi and I began Artemis years ago, and it’s been crucial to us both. We have a lot to talk about, and though this is about a particular supportive art group, I hope our conversation can inspire you to start your own supportive community. See more specific suggestions to help you with that at the end of this conversation. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at Artemis with Heidi.
“Heidi seated in her little house, where Artemis usually meets, and interactive art-parties happen.”
Janet: Hey Heidi! Let’s start from the beginning. Do you remember when we began Artemis?
Heidi: I remember our meeting in late Fall of 1989, and of course keying into one another right away. It would be about three months later, in January of 1990, that we decided to start our group, Artemis.
Janet: Woah!! That’s 27 years ago. I do remember you recently pointing out that we started our group a few years before Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way exploded on the scene. We came up with our own group and guidelines out of need. I was feeling alone with the struggles I faced in my creative process. I longed for a safe place to talk frankly about my fears and blocks that were getting in the way of my writing.
Heidi: We were both young mothers at the time, with the responsibilities that entails pulling on us. We were both thinking it was impossible to juggle our creative lives with motherhood without some kind of support.
Janet: Yes, that juggling act was a big issue for me right then. I felt guilty when I wasn’t writing because I Should be doing stuff for the family, and guilty when I was swept up in family stuff because I Should be writing. It was so early in my career that saying “I am a writer” aloud felt phony. I thought I shouldn’t say that until the golden day when I was published (that turned out to be 10 years later!). Sitting in Artemis meetings and talking candidly about this issue while the rest of you listened helped me admit I was a writer, whether I was published or not. That changed something vital for me.
Heidi: yes, I remember that. As for me, at the start of Artemis I was saying I wanted to do art for my own personal purposes. I did not think I would claim Art as a career. I was still fishing around with what I wanted to do for work when I “grew up.” 🙂 I had a lot of resistance to calling myself an artist, too, though for different reasons than you did. I’m happy to talk about those if it would help our readers.
Janet: Sure! Please talk more about the resistance you felt back then. That sounds interesting.
Heidi: Thanks, I will. First, though, I want our readers to know that we started our group with the intention that we would focus on the “Creative Process” vs. the usual critique and networking done in art groups. We wanted to extend permission to seek different outcomes, albeit be united on that one common purpose: supporting one another in her individual creative walk.
So while you were pursuing writing, and music at the time, I was seeking to develop my artistic vision through drawing and painting. Photography came later for me.
I wanted to pursue self-development through practicing creativity in some shape or form. It just happened to be the case that I am gifted in the visual arts, more than in other forms. I wanted to grow from the somewhat repressed existence I felt myself stuck in. It was no easy task, as you know given the many hours we’ve sat in group together over the years.
Janet: It’s been beautiful to see the way Artemis works. I think the solidarity of the group helped us all develop in our own unique directions. Each person set their own course and had to tackle their own demons. Knowing we were not alone really helped. One of the best things about this group is how diverse we all are, practicing different kinds of creativity. So, when you’d share about a drawing or a painting or what you were seeking in a photograph, I learned so much just listening since I don’t know anything about how to do that kind of work.
Heidi: Not a simple question to answer, really. It is a complicated process to unravel years of being one way, for me – mostly scared to be myself, to one of being self-actualized in the best sense of the word. I can say that the gradual work of acting outside the box, which is essentially what engaging in the creative process is, and the accumulated experience of being listened to and encouraged, which is what Artemis does on a regular basis, changed me. I became comfortable in my own skin. I think that renders me more loving and compassionate of others, too. Besides, perhaps, leaving the world a better place by the art I create.
Janet: That’s beautiful, Heidi. I see that in you. And I liked the expression “acting outside the box.” It brings “thinking outside the box” to a higher, more challenging level. I’d like to talk a little about other ways the group supports each member. We listen to each other when we face disappointments (and there are many in the creative life!) and celebrate good news, whether it’s publishing a book or poems or photos or getting sculptures or visual art into a gallery show.
“Artemis member Dawn (painted face) at Janet’s book launch for Dragon’s Keep. Artemis members lend support for crossing creative milestones by celebrating one another’s special events.”
Somewhere along the way we started a fun Artemis Award tradition. We clap and shout Speech! Speech! and offer the award when a member has good news. (Note: I found the little Artemis Award statue hidden on a shelf at a second-hand store. It’s not about price. You can create an award for your group, too.) We’ve passed the Artemis Award around for years. I think you have it right now, Heidi, for the gallery showing. Want to talk about that?
Heidi: Well, as I said, I had started on this path wanting to make art for art’s sake, or rather for my sake, really. It was my noble mission. 🙂 Anyway, I painted and drew many articles, but did not submit any for show. Til recently.
Instead, my career took a different path: I was working for our local library system at about the time that digital photography began gaining steam. I volunteered to photograph a library special event. That went well, and I was invited to do more. Eventually, my photographs were being published by both the library system and outside sources. I became a “professional photographer.” (Surprised me, too.)
“Parenting Magazine cover features King County Library System’s Summer Reading Program. ‘That’s my faithful dog, Shiloh, posing with the boys.” See Gallery for more of Heidi’s work.
To make my story shorter given our purpose here, I later surrendered my status as a professional photographer, for now anyway. (I still do photography informally.) And I took up Drawing & Painting again. Although, now I was more ready to have the world see what I would create. My first try at getting into a gallery show was successful. Again, surprised me. – Goes to show you, “don’t assume.” (Heard that in a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie.)
What inspired me to submit was the theme of this particular gallery show: The Monarch Butterfly. I put on my nature-lover/amateur scientist hat and made my point about the plight of the beautiful monarch – through painting.
“I painted with dyes on a long silk scarf that hung freely. Whenever the gallery door opened, it would wave gently at you.”
Janet: I love the movement the silk makes at the slightest breeze, Heidi. Two other members of Artemis have talked on Creative Conversations (Katherine Grace Bond and Lisa Sheets) though we didn’t focus on finding or creating Supportive Community like we’re doing today. Heidi, you and I began this group. It’s been amazing to watch all the members grow. I’ve also loved the traditions we’ve created. Aside from the Artemis Award, we also do a yearly River Rock ceremony, where we gather at the first of the year and take turns throwing rocks in the river. Getting rid of things we no longer want to carry, praying for people and the world, making wishes, and naming dreams for the coming year.
“River Rock Ceremony: Artemisians Heidi and Katherine throw rocks in the river.”
We dared to sail, Thanks to Jill’s husband, Ken Sahlstrom, who offered to take us out on their boat. We took turns posing as the ship’s nautical figurehead.
“Posing for perpetuity, Artemis sets sail in the early 1990’s”
“Pictured in order front to back: author Janet Lee Carey, artist Jill Sahlstrom, author/poet Katherine Grace Bond, artist/sculptor Lisa Sheets. Not shown: artist/photographer Heidi Pettit, musician/poet Margaret D. Smith, and author Dawn Knight.”
“Art retreat on the Pacific coast, 2008. Poet Margaret Smith leading us in a song she’d written.”
You’ve also hosted many creativity nights at your house, where people got to play around with visual art and sculpture. These were open to Artemis and to other friends who wanted to join in the fun. One time you had us make masks using (what do you call it?) Anyway, I freaked out having to breathe through straws stuck in my nose while it dried on my face!
Heidi: Ah, yes. I remembering many fun, creative nights at my house over the years. I call them interactive art parties. That was plaster bandages we used to make masks, by the way; the kind they used to cast broken limbs in. No wonder it freaked you out. 🙂
Heidi: At one party, I had participants pose in front of a beam of bright light coming from a projector of the old slide projector sort. I had you each pose, one at a time, in any way you would like. (Katherine posed like a teapot.) I then outlined with marker your individual cast shadow onto the paper backdrop I hung behind you on the wall. (Some may remember posing like this as children for the teacher to draw our profile on paper.) Anyway, this night we created full-size profiles on paper. From there we each collaged sections within our own drawn profile(s) to represent/express things about our individual selves. Then others collaged sections outside the lines of our profile, to represent/express things they saw in us. At the end, we held up our individual pieces to explain why we chose our contributions, and for others to explain why they contributed those particular images to our artwork. (Picture cut-up magazines, bits of Nat’l Geographics underfoot and strewn about the floor :).
Really, it was both a moving experience and an evening full of laughter. Like gatherings tend to be when creative types get together.
Janet: I love the challenge of doing art in an area where I have zippo talent. It gets me in touch with my playful side. It’s been great talking with you, Heidi.
I want anyone reading this to know that you can start a group like this. One that gives you support and helps your creative life flow and grow. It’s fun to do this with people who practice many kinds of art.
The rules have always been simple–> Meet regularly. Let each person share without interruption or advice (that’s a biggie). Avoid critique as it’s not a critique group. Keep what’s said in the group confidential. Support each person’s dreams wherever they take them. Stand by each person in the good times and through the hard times.
Heidi: Yes, I think that’s an important point to make. This is not about having talent or even being skilled at art-making. It’s about coming together and being creative. Supporting one another through the various twists and turns of the creative life.
And thank you, Janet. I love how you’ve expressed how it works. After all, with you and other Artemesians by my side – like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, I can “laugh in the face of adversity!”. (Well, sort of :).
Janet: Thanks right back. We’re on this yellow brick road together, Heidi. It’s been great talking with you!
~If you want to learn more about starting your own creative support group, email Janet using the contact email from this website. [email protected] And put “Creative Community” in the subject line.
~If you are an artist in any discipline and would like to have a discussion with me here on CC, email me at the above address and put “Creative Conversations” in the subject line.
Until then, Dreamwalkers, walk well.