This month’s creative is a photographer, graphic designer, and Etsy entrepreneur who is used to creating her own art opportunities in new cities. Aleisha Knight Evans says she likes to surround herself with pretty things. When moved to a city without traditional graphic design opportunities, she took on the challenge of creating her own studio. Now she experiments with a variety of mediums. Pieces of her work can be found in this interview, and you can connect with her on her website or Etsy store.
Describe your passion or your current creative project.
My degree is in Graphic Design, so I started my career as a designer, which led to photography and then video production/editing. When I became a military spouse, I took the opportunity to be more of a “fine artist”, showing in galleries and selling at art shows. These days, I'm a WAHM (work at home mom) trying to make a niche for myself somewhere between traditional graphic design, photography, and fine art.
What called you to be creative/how did you begin creating?
My parents are both very creative, talented people – my dad supervised the print department at Craft House and is an excellent guitarist, and my mom is a visual artist and a teacher. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at gigs and craft shows. On quieter weekends at home, we'd be working on home improvement projects, woodworking, sewing, painting, making maple syrup, basket weaving, pouring ceramics... As an adult, my first impulse is always to think about how I might make something myself, rather than buying it. I was really fortunate to have parents who valued the creative process as a way of life.
Do you stick to one form of creative expression or do you have multiple creative outlets?
I would probably be a lot more successful if I could get myself to focus on just one creative outlet. I'll be happily working on a graphic design project, when I get an idea for a photography shoot, which leads me to start sewing a costume. The sewing will inspire me to sculpt a headpiece. Before I can even get my supplies out, my kids will need something, and *poof!* my work time is gone before I have accomplished much. I've learned to work quickly and efficiently, but finding the balance between creative work and parenting is hard. I have a lot of ideas on my list, just waiting for enough free time to be realized.
How do you deal with negative feedback about your projects?
Learning to gracefully accept constructive criticism, ignore the nonsense, and most importantly, distinguish one from the other, is the most important skill any artist can have. There is always room to improve, always something new to learn. I try to stay objective, and at least consider even the worst feedback. Sometimes a terrible suggestion will lead me to a good solution I hadn't considered. Sometimes I have to stand my ground, and have faith in my own instincts. Deep down, most of us know when our work is at its best (or worst). Never put up with abuse from people who fundamentally don't value you or your work, even if it means giving up a job or a networking opportunity.
Who are your biggest influencers?
I'm really attracted to art that is both beautiful and weird or macabre. Growing up in the 80's was great for that! Jim Henson (working with Brian Froud and David Bowie) and Tim Burton (his early work, anyway) were very influential. There are a bunch of imaginative editorial fashion photographers producing great work right now. I particularly like Tim Walker. I love the Surrealists in general. I'm reaching the point in my career where I've done enough work over the course of enough years to see a pattern of subconscious choices emerging. It's fun to see the influences that I didn't realize were there at first. My Art History professor would be happy to see that his lecture on Rembrandt and chiaroscuro (in short, a very high-contrast style) stuck, apparently.
Tell me how you continue creating during emotionally difficult times.
I'm much better at visual communication than written or (yikes!) verbal communication. In a picture or video, I can show all the complexities and nuances of a feeling. Nothing gets left out because I don't have the right words to describe it. Making art usually keeps me fairly happy and sane. I try to not be too literal in my work, but whatever is bothering me in real life tends to appear in some form, even if it's obscure. When I stop making art, I lose my ability to communicate, and I start feeling depression almost immediately. Depression leads to creative block, which keeps me feeling depressed – it's a vicious cycle. The only way out (for me) is to consume lots of art until I can't help but feel inspired by something.
Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome?
Don't we all? I'll never forget how nervous and exhilarated I felt when I signed up for Drawing 101 in college. I'd been a fairly good artist all my life – I'd even won a few art competitions as a child, and still felt like I didn't belong there with the “real art students”. I've been successfully making a living as an artist for 15 years, and still have days where I feel like a complete fraud. Every now and then, I'll see a respected photographer/digital artist's work up close (you can't fake technical precision at 100% magnification) and realize that maybe, just maybe, I actually am pretty good at my job. Most of the time, I'd love to hide in a cave and anonymously make art while someone else sells it for me, though.
Do you have a creative community you work with?
Having a supportive community where I can share ideas and frustrations is absolutely essential for me. With every stage in life, and every new military assignment, that community has looked and functioned a little differently. In general, I've felt that the face to face situations were healthier and more constructive, but online communities can provide opportunities too (even if it's the opportunity to practice forgiveness, humility, or to grow a thicker skin).
What would you say to people just beginning to explore their own creativity?
I would encourage people who are beginning to explore their creativity to find others who are doing the same, but in different mediums. When you take the unintentional rivalry out of the situation, it's easier to be more genuinely supportive during each others' trials and triumphs.
Three weeks to deadline and I was stalled. My characters were no longer speaking to each other, let alone me, and I’d been struggling with a scene transition for several days. Trying to shake my story, and myself, out of my funk, I’d taken walks, read a book on my subject, listened to music, switched writing spaces, cleaned my closet, discussed the story with my husband, and generally lost all hope that I’d finish in time. I was debating whether to drop the story altogether when I got a text from a fellow writer working on the same submission call.
“If you’re stuck, I’m happy to help. What’s the conflict? What are the stakes?”
After a brief exchange where I spelled out my characters and basic plot, my story was not only back on track, but moving so fast my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain.
This is the good that comes from being part of a creative community. It’s easy to get in a rut, to tell yourself that your project is unwanted or unimportant. That’s why even the most introverted creative can benefit from a group of people genuinely excited to share the journey and offer the help we need to make us better. There are clear benefits to joining a community or building one of your own.
A basic need
In his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Abraham Maslow defined five basic needs that all humans have. Basic physiological and safety needs are first, but social belonging needs come right after. Without intimate social connections and the sense of belonging acquired through these connections, Maslow argued that a person can not move on to the realization of their potential. In basic terms, a group of collaborators, mentors, and friends are what help a person thrive. Your circle will become your support when you need encouragement, your connection when you are isolated, and your knowledge base when you’ve hit a roadblock. Everyone needs a place to feel safe and accepted. It’s the only way to get encouragement and keep moving forward.
A place for understanding
It’s helpful to gather where everyone has a core knowledge and uses the same language. Your creative community is where people understand writer's block, cyclical breathing, Rosco gels, or whatever terms apply to your particular art. This is where other people can relate to your frustrations and experience. Creative groups are usually formed because members need a forum to discuss concerns that aren’t important or aren’t considered outside their discipline. For that very reason, many creative groups make themselves approachable to new artists seeking more information.
A chance for growth
It sucks putting your heart and soul into your work only to have it blasted by someone who doesn’t understand the difficulty involved in creating. Being criticized by other makers is a whole different experience. People in your circle should understand that discipline and maturity are a process, not an endpoint. Whether you’re struggling or succeeding, these are the perfect people to offer suggestions for improvement. They have overcome similar problems and offer new perspectives. Your community is the best place to hone your abilities, ask ‘dumb’ questions, find information about workshops, and allow yourself to fail. The right community will help you thrive by offering advice, and asking for some in return.
A way to give back
Being active is a major part of a community. Just as you are given help, you get the chance to share your wisdom with newcomers. Ask about the abandoned stories of your peers. Offer insight on great places to get art materials. Take something that was difficult for you to master and make it easier for the next person by offering your insight. This can be the best part of a community, because you’ll often see the impact of your advice in the output of others. Giving back can remind you why you first got interested in creating.
Whether you find a creative community or build your own, simply having a group to share your ups and down can be the best part of the creative process. The people that understand you, encourage your growth, and offer you opportunities to share your hard-earned experience are people worth keeping around. Whatever your passion, finding your people will help you and your art.
Harley Easton is a Renaissance woman dabbling in everything life offers. She's worked at a theme park, found expert witnesses, been a guest lecturer at a national museum, and worked with medical students. Putting experience and insanity to good use, she's become an author specializing in erotic, romantic, and speculative fiction.