Leah Piken Kolidas is a mixed-media artist who has been at the forefront of the creativity movement in the blogsophere for many years. She’s the creator of the popular Creative Every Day year-long challenge and Art Every Day Month challenge each November. Leah has a knack for leading creativity groups in a way that feels inclusive and gentle. A visit to her blog is nothing short of inspirational, whether she’s explaining the process she used to make one of her own pieces or inspiring you to create your own. She lives near Boston with her husband and four kitties. Leah is my oldest blogging friend and I’m thrilled to feature her here.
1. Leah, this is a very exciting year for you—you and your husband are expecting your first child. Congratulations! When are you due?
Thank you, Marilyn! We're so excited. Our baby girl is due May 10th, 2011.
2. You’re continuing to lead the 2011 Creative Every Day challenge, you seemingly didn’t miss a beat during Art Every Day Month and you consistently create your own wonderful art. How have you managed keep up through your pregnancy?
During the first few months, I was taking it a lot more slowly and just doing what I could, without any guilt about it. I'm sure I'll have to do more of that in the first few months after the baby arrives!
I feel very fortunate that Art Every Day Month happened at the beginning of my second trimester, when I was just getting my energy back. It would have been a lot harder to manage during those first few months when I was feeling so sick and exhausted. I'm trying to take advantage of this time, when I'm feeling great!
3. You’ve always seemed to me to be a sensitive and intuitive person. Has your muse brought different images or previously-unexplored ideas to you during your pregnancy?
I can't help but create about what's going on with me, so being pregnant has definitely affected my art. Some folks noticed during Art Every Day Month that my color palette was different. I noticed the more curvy, motherly feel to my work. Making art now feels like a dialogue with my body and my baby, so it's a lot of fun to witness, as I create intuitively.
4. Trees are a recurring motif in your art. (I love your trees, by the way.) Why do you think you’re so drawn to them? How do they speak to you?
I attribute my love of trees to growing up on the edge of a State Forest. I spent loads of times amongst the trees with my siblings, friends, and by myself. I see trees as living beings and I'm in awe of their beauty and strength.
In high school, I started exploring my sense of spirituality and trees became a symbol for me of the life-death-rebirth cycle, a symbol of infinity. I remember I made a huge infinity symbol out of paper leaves in my senior year.
As I've gotten older, trees continue to mean different things to me. I love the way the roots mirror the branches above, a symbol of the internal and external. There's something feminine and motherly about the curves of a tree that I'm drawn to. And I'm also interested in the way the branches of trees relate to structures in the body. Overall, I see trees as a symbol of life and I adore painting and drawing them.
5. Several years ago you led an online group through the lessons in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Are there any lessons or exercises from that book that continue to weave through your life today?
That was such a powerful book for me. There are lots of lessons from it that continue to come up.
One of the simple, yet profound lessons I gained from that book was the idea that treating yourself well can impact your feeling of self-worth, which can then lead to further blossoming of your creativity. Taking good care of yourself also includes having compassion, trusting your inner urges, and taking action on your ideas. While I may not agree with everything Cameron says, there's so much juicy stuff in that book if you dive into it.
6. You and I share something in common: we’re both introverts. As someone with such a public profile in the creative community, how do you practice self-care when you need to turn inward to recharge?
Hooray for introverts!
I need a lot of time to recharge. Having a blog has been really wonderful in helping me feed my need for connection, while also allowing me to retreat when I need to. I tend to plan when I'm going to post, but I also cut myself some slack if I'm needing to stay offline for a day or two to simply read, be outside, or paint, without any personal interaction. I know that I can step away and dive back in when I'm ready without anything imploding.
7. At what age did you know that art would be a vital part of your life? What kind of art did you enjoy making as a young person?
I'd say I was fairly young when I knew this deep down. My mom kept drawings I made when two years old, so I've been making art as long as I can remember. I knew for certain that art would be a vital part of my life by the time I hit high school.
As a young person, I used to enjoy writing little stories or comics and illustrating them. I liked to draw people and cats. And I also remember enjoying making illustrated workbooks for playing school with my siblings and neighbors. Most of my artwork was drawing-based when I was young. I didn't start playing with paint until high school.
8. Which mediums do you enjoy working with these days? Have you had to make any adjustments in terms of the materials you use to ensure a safe pregnancy?
Right now, I love playing with collage, acrylic paint, and inks, in various forms.
I've always been sensitive to smells, so I stopped using oil paints after college. And as much as I've loved learning how to use encaustics in the last few years, the smells from that get to me too, even in a well-ventilated area, so I don't use them anymore either. The materials I use now are safe for use during pregnancy, but I'm more careful about getting paint on my skin and I wear gloves if I know I'm going to get messy.
9. Your creativity challenges are known for being inclusive, low-pressure communities. How did you arrive at that style as a leader? Did you have a good or bad experience along the way that convinced you that a gentle approach could lead to more art being made by a wider group of people?
I think it's partly just my personality. I'm not a boot camp instructor type and I don't like working with that type of leader. I have had experiences, both good and bad, that led me to the approach I take with my creativity challenges and I can think of a couple examples from college:
I had a drawing teacher who really pushed me to challenge myself, but she also had a gentle, encouraging way about her that allowed me to feel brave enough to experiment and blossom as an artist. She gave this one assignment to do twenty 18"x24" drawings of one object in a week. At the beginning of the assignment, I was drawing these more controlled, bland images of my object (a pair of scissors), but by the 10th drawing, I was getting really wild. I absolutely loved that series of drawings and I learned a great lesson in the process about letting go. The environment the teacher provided gave me permission to play openly and learn this lesson for myself.
I had another teacher that had a very different outlook. She was talented, but she was also very opinionated and critical. She felt things had to be a certain way or they were no good. End of story. I didn't like the way she spoke to me or to other students. Creating for her class, I felt stiff and constricted. Nothing felt good enough, so I didn't feel able to open up and create freely. I didn't like the work I was creating and soon I found I didn't want to create at all.
Through different experiences like these, I found that for me, the best approach is a gentle, encouraging one. I want the creativity challenges I run to have that feel. I think a challenge helps motivate and inspire, but it also needs to be open enough that people feel there's room to make their own rules and grow in ways they didn't know were possible.
I also believe that everyone is creative, but for a variety of reasons, many haven't felt free enough to create, therefore, I try to make the challenges as inclusive as possible, open to a wide range of styles, mediums, and abilities. I really love seeing the way people blossom when given the smallest amount of encouragement and permission, so I do my best to create that kind of environment for others.
10. I have no doubt that your child will grow up with a deep love of art-making. What’s one thing we can do with and for children to help them feel safe to create art?
Children have a great way of being free with their art and only seem to shut down when they get discouraged by others. I think it's important to encourage children to create as they please, to play, and to go with their instincts.
Here's an example of an exercise I use to loosen up sometimes. I've done it with children and the art they create from it is so imaginative and inspiring!
You'll need a piece of paper, a drawing tool (pen, pencil, crayon) and some music. Put the music on, ask the child to put pen to paper, and then have them close their eyes. Tell them to draw with the music while keeping their eyes closed. You can do this for about 30 seconds or for the full song. Then have them open their eyes and look to see if they see anything in the scribbles (a face, an animal, a house, a flower, etc.) They can then spend time bringing out what they see in the drawing. It's amazing what children will see in the scribbles.
Thank you to Leah for a creative and inspiring interview!
Leah Piken Kolidas is a mixed-media artist and creativity guide, living with her husband, their four meows, and their baby on the way, near Boston, Massachusetts. She has a love of silly socks, hot chocolate, laughing loudly, and the turquoise shoes. Leah sells her artwork at BlueArtGallery.com and blogs and runs creative challenges at CreativeEveryDay.com.
Website: Blue Tree Art Gallery
Creative Challenges: Creative Every Day
Etsy: Blue Tree Art Gallery
Facebook: Leah Piken Kolidas
Art Every Day Month (November)