Oriana Lewton-Leopold: An Important Conversation

by Yolanda Wysocki

Oriana Lewton-Leopold in her studioOriana Lewton-Leopold is an artist included in the summer 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions. After completing an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts degree from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Oriana took painting and drawing classes at the New York Studio School and was an exchange student in Germany that same year. She then moved back home to Portland where she married, had a baby in July of 2014, and also completed her Master of Fine Arts in Visual Studies at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA).

Oriana’s art school background weaves its way throughout our conversation and is apparent in the language she uses as well as how she approaches her work. Although she still considers it valuable to think about what and why artists make the choices they do – and she does think there are reasons behind all creative choice – she is finding herself moving away from the rigorous explaining and defending of her work as required in school. “I think the studio practice is far more important than all the thinking and writing and talking we did,” Oriana says. “It influenced our work but now that I think about it, I don’t remember some of what I said about my paintings, so it wasn’t as important as it seemed at the time. But I do think the work is more interesting when artists think and can talk about what they are doing.”

When I Love You Close, by Oriana Lewton-Leopold

When I Love You Close, by Oriana Lewton-Leopold

Oriana explains it further for me. “In school we start out with theories and meanings and fit our work into them, but in my last bodies of work – like the Manet and Rihanna paintings – I began by saying, ‘I love looking at these Manet paintings and love the tradition of artists copying other artists’ work and I love this pop star. What would happen if I juxtapose these images?’ It was only after the work was completed that I saw different meanings, made new connections and saw it differently.”

It seems this process is typical for Oriana. She often begins by perusing different mediums, looking for images that strike an emotional chord with her, and then copies them into her sketchbook. Sometimes she uses a repetitive image in her paintings. Oriana compares it to a musician liking a particular chord and wanting to hear it again in different contexts, maybe next to a saxophone or put in different combinations. She will recreate the image in different sizes; explore how it changes meaning if put next to this image as opposed to a different one, or she will put another image over it.  Can she evoke the same emotion in the painting when it is buried? She would like her audience to ponder similar questions, but likes when others create their own stories. “Putting my paintings out there is about placing my work in the context of a larger conversation about art and life. And I think it’s an important conversation.”

Don't Won't Two, by Oriana Lewton-Leopold 2013

Don’t Won’t Two, by Oriana Lewton-Leopold 2013

Her current work combines the idea of performance (What is real? What is performance and when does one become the other?) with interests in hysteria (her MFA thesis topic), dramatic moments and similarity of gestures in completely different situations. Talking about her Blackfish Gallery show in December 2014, Oriana says, “I want people to find my work challenging, both the content and formal aspects – composition, painterly choices, powerful gestures that evoke emotion, and to make different connections. I like to create questions and a little discomfort in the viewer. But I don’t think my work excludes people without an art school background. Everyone may not have the same ideas about the work that I did but I hope it is visually compelling to draw people in, whether it’s a powerful figure or colors that work well together or something that draws viewers in.”

Yellow Bird by Oriana Lewton-Leopold

Yellow Bird by Oriana Lewton-Leopold

Dilemmas: Our conversation took us to subjects all artists have to address at some time in their creative lives … how to combine what the market wants with their own interests and the ideas they want to explore.

“When I was at Hampshire they encouraged us to do exactly what we were interested in and not pay attention to what consumers want. I found that very valuable but it didn’t leave any room for how to earn money from my work. I look at beautiful, well-executed work – and there is great value in that and that seems to be what most people want to buy. I tried working on realistic portraits for a while thinking they might sell but I had no interest in them so I stopped. It’s a challenge. Eventually I would like to sell my paintings, teach, and have shows in different parts of the world. I would like not to be working in restaurants for the rest of my life, especially now that we have a baby, I think about all of this but I also have a broader perspective. I don’t feel I have to do my best work now; I will improve tremendously over the years and I will be so much better in 20 years than I am now. Looking at life in a larger context takes off some of the pressure.”

Family: Being surrounded by a supportive family allows her time to work, as well as care for infant daughter Anouk, as she prepares for her show. Our conversation was occasionally interspersed with baby Anouk making her own needs known.

“I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without my family’s support. My mom and sister help take care of the baby when my husband and I are working, or dad will pick up our dog, Hux, for some exercise and love. They’re really supportive. My husband is also a really talented artist, and chef too. Nathaniel got his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting.”

When asked about possible collaboration: “We have really different styles; I’m very stream of consciousness and very gestural and he is very detail-oriented. We haven’t collaborated yet, but we’re are intrigued by each other’s way of working so we may collaborate some time in the future.”  She then points to their baby and laughs, “We did collaborate and we created a masterpiece.”

See Oriana Lewton-Leopold’s exhibition, Hushing the Crowd, December 2-27, 2014
at the Blackfish Gallery, 420 W 9th Ave., Portland, OR 97209 | 503-224-2634
Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m

Oriana Lewton-LeopoldOriana Lewton-Leopold is a painter based in Portland, Oregon. She received her MFA in Visual Studies from PNCA in 2012. Her work has been exhibited in New York and Portland, most recently at Blackfish Gallery, where she is represented. More of her work can be viewed on her website.


Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for more than 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Walking the Talk: Meet Sculptor Carole Murphy

by Yolanda Wysocki

Carole Murphy’s work appears in the 2014 Summer issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions. Carole embodies creativity; she is energetic and evolving, creating and collaborating in many arenas of her life, changing her world, impacting many artists. She is not only a sculptor but also a teacher. She is completing her term as president of Pacific Northwest Sculptors, and is organizing the remodeling of a building in Northwest into 30,000 square feet of artists’ studios, expected to be available in December 2014. Here are snippets from our conversation:

Becoming, 2004

Becoming, 2004

Looking at her early sculpture, I was amazed when Carole told me she had never taken art classes. When she was 40 she decided to get a degree in psychology, based on the work she had been doing. Later, realizing she didn’t want to keep working in the field, she asked herself what she wanted to do instead. “I always thought I could sculpt, but was afraid to discover I couldn’t.” She decided to work at sculpting for an hour every day. Slowly, while she ignored all resistance, the art eventually started to flow. Going deep into the process, she would sculpt for twelve-hour stretches, ignoring all bodily needs! She has been at it for 23 years now, never imagining her life turning out like this.

Enigmatical, 2013

Enigmatical, 2013

Having started in realism and wax, she was judgmental about abstract until she began to understand it. “Working in abstract gives me much more freedom; realism was a tighter way of working. Before I was trying to represent and duplicate; now I try to show what it feels like, what it’s about, the essence, and hope it speaks to others” She rarely works in realism anymore.

You have a vision and then ask yourself, how are you going to get there?

That is the essence of how Carole works. The starting point may be an idea, image, dream, or simply the look of a piece – she has no shortage of ideas – then she starts to play. “Whatever is going on inside – whether it’s joy or the ecstasy of being, spaciousness, or some detailed introspection – also shows up in the piece,” says Carole.

Her studio has several rooms with numerous shelves full of found nature objects and items that students brought her. It’s not hard to imagine how she manages to have 25-30 pieces developing at the same time. There is plenty of inspiration and possibility to feed her imagination, curiosity and creativity here, and everywhere she goes.

The Dragon Flying

The Dragon Flying

But it’s not just play; she is always learning, researching, stretching, and experimenting. Hearing about aerated cement online, she decided to try it and has been playing with it ever since; or pouring white cement into balloons, painting recycled paper clay, molding it, and seeing what it – and she – can do. When a piece seemed to call for a metal coat, she searched until she found a process that incorporates a metalizing gun that melts steel (at 6,000 degrees), so she could spray it onto her pieces.

“That is what you have to do to keep the sculpture alive and evolving. It’s the process that is so exciting.”

Walking around her studio, I see her students’ work takes up at least one wall. Carole expresses as much energy and enthusiasm for her students’ work as she does about her own.

Carole said, “I’m not interested in students going where I want them to go; I start with whatever they bring or are interested in and then I help them into that space beyond where they think they can go. I ask them where they stop liking it, or it feels wrong, and then help them work through it … same thing I do for myself. You have to be tuned into the piece and inside yourself to the place that knows, and everyone knows. Once you go to that place you never forget it. You can always access it again. It’s very important that I listen to what they want.”

A Devastating Turning Point
I wondered about the source of her abundant energy and optimism, her enthusiastic involvement in the art world, and asked her about it. Carole responded:

“I had been going through a really hard time that had lasted for years. The love of my life took his own life. After five years of mourning that encompassed my life, I was grasping for anything that could offer me a way out of it. I thought perhaps a change might offer me an exit door. I moved to Portland, Oregon from Vermont, with no relief.

Holding Preciously, 2014 "Within us all lies the beauty and the dance."

Holding Preciously, 2014 “Within us all lies the beauty and the dance.”

“Emotionally, I fell down once again and decided that I wasn’t going to get up this time, that I wasn’t going to hope for anything, any more. Giving up all hope doesn’t sound like a positive thing to do in this culture. But giving it up was the best thing I could have done. When I stopped hoping for tomorrow, I was left with only today, and my past.

“I found myself looking at who I was in the past. My past was riddled with what I have come to call ‘suffer well’ chips. I had been adding them up and subconsciously calling myself a good person because I had suffered so well. I had acquired quite a mountain.

“Having let go of the future by giving up all hope, I then let go of the past by letting the mountain of ‘suffer well’ chips leave. In response, I started waking up in the morning to ecstasy for no other reason than being alive.”

Finally, Last Words to Artists
“Just Play. Do it and play. Artists often work alone in our studios, but I say collaborate, cooperate, support each other. If you work together there will be more art; if you make more art, then there will be more call for art. Connect to others and make it happen. Art is about changing the world.”

And Carole walks her talk. Her life is art.

Carole MurphyCarole Murphy’s sculptures have been shown nationally in such places as the Maryhill Museum; the Coos Bay Art Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon; New Mexico Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Robert Paul Gallery in Burlington, Vermont; KGB Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Brueton La in West Hollywood, California. Moving from bronze figurative realism, Murphy’s art has morphed into a more organically fundamental aspect of form using cement, steel and mixed media. Carole also writes poetry and essays and is presently writing a book. Find more at her website.

Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for more than 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Botany by a Natural Talent: Meet Mary McCarty

by Yolanda Wysocki

Mary McCarty was the featured artist in the Winter 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions. Seeing Mary’s drawings, I was delighted by the skill, excellence and the wonderful restraint in use of color. I was curious to learn more about the artist who created them. Although she has taken numerous art classes throughout her life, I was surprised that Mary never went to art school. Meeting in Starbucks one summer afternoon, we chatted about her journey and the well-earned successes she has experienced recently.   –Yolanda Wysocki

Yolanda Wysocki: What got you started in art?
Mary McCarty:  In fourth grade, I had rheumatic fever, and in those days – I am pushing 80 – you were on complete bed rest. I was allowed one visitor a week. I couldn’t even listen to most of my radio programs because they thought excitement was bad for you. My sister-in-law showed me how to draw simple pictures, so mostly I drew dresses for my dolls but that’s how I started. When I was nine, I couldn’t believe it – my parents were very strict – but my mother let me paint this scene on the bathroom wall with swans and water lilies in oils. Then I was always doing something with my hands. I knit, weave, spin; I’ve done pottery … you name it, I’ve done it. As an adult, I was the artist for two tool companies. I taught classes for them and traveled with them; I demonstrated uses for their tools in booths at national shows.

YW: So art has been part of your life for a very long time.
MM: Yes, but I never really made much money at it. I raised four children by myself, so to earn money I became a psychiatric nurse, and later an administrator of a retirement home. I have always done art but mostly for myself.

YW: When did you start doing these detailed drawings?
MM: I signed up for a watercolor class about four years ago, and was told to bring a photo of something I wanted to paint  – I brought a photo of a sunflower  –  and to draw it the size I would paint it. I had never done details in my watercolor painting before, but surprisingly I knew exactly how to make the proportions, every detail, do the shading … it was like magic!  Everyone else had gone on to watercolor but I spent the rest of the six-week class still drawing that sunflower; I was thrilled with the new realization that I could draw!  All my paintings before were nice, nothing exceptional, but this was magical, like a gift that was waiting to be used.

By accident, I discovered a way of shading. All my shading is done with tiny circles … it was natural for me to do it that way. Then, after doing a few drawings, it started feeling like they needed a bit of color so I started adding bits. Every time I put some color in it, I get terrified, afraid I will ruin it. I am working hard to improve.

But I just followed my instincts. It became my signature style but none of this was planned or thought out. Now people recognize my pieces and remember me.

Chinese Lanterns by Mary McCarty

Chinese Lanterns by Mary McCarty

YW: How long does a drawing take?
MM: It takes 40-60 hours. I go to the Portland Nursery or Fred Meyer and buy a plant. I always feel sad because I know this plant is going to give its life for art. I take it apart, looking for all the details. I have learned so much about every plant I have ever drawn. I really enjoy that part of it as well.

YW: What is your favorite drawing you have done?
MM: I did a very large narrow one of Chinese lanterns. It’s the only one I have ever done that I have never felt any need to do anything more to it. I really wish I could have kept it.

YW: You sold that one?
MM: Yes. Early on I decided that everything I did I would sell. Anything I really, really want to keep I put a higher price on it (laughter).  The only three I wouldn’t sell are the sunflower the very first drawing I ever did, and the ones that were chosen for this book, Strokes of Genius.

Double Geranium by Mary McCarty

Double Geranium by Mary McCarty

They accepted two of my drawings including “Geranium” … I’m so excited. When I found out, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

YW: Will you be in the Art of the Pearl coming up?
MM: No I was in a small gallery downtown; the owner loved me and she said to me, “Mary you could really be a hit here in the Pearl if you made your work a little edgy.” (laughter) Now how do you make a botanical drawing edgy? What do you do, make a little skull on it?


Zinnias by Mary McCarty

Zinnias by Mary McCarty

YW: You’ve been in numerous shows and the city of Tualatin recently bought one of your drawings, Zinnias. You take your art very seriously. Some people do it for the meditative quality and pleasure it brings them, but you take it more seriously than that.
MM: Yes, I do. For some reason I feel I was meant to do something with this drawing gift. It is such a joy and pleasure. It was like someone handed me a present and said, now do something with it. I want my drawings to be as beautiful and detailed as I can make them.
I am very fortunate. I have found something I love. I have 20/20 eyesight, a very steady hand, and at my age I am very lucky. I am very grateful; it’s such a pleasure and a joy that people like my work. You can always do it for yourself, but there is an added pleasure when you can share it and someone enjoys it almost as much as you did when you were creating it. I love it when they really look at it, and start noticing the little details.

My collectors don’t want me to, but I do want to make a change in my drawings; I don’t know what yet but I’d like to experiment again; it’s been a long time.

(YW: On our way out of the coffee shop, we pass a shop window with antique children’s clothes hanging in the window.)
MM: Those would make great drawings, not everything works in black and white but these would. I wonder if the owner would let me come and draw these.

(YW: I could see the wheels turning )


Mary McCartyMary McCarty’s art has been in numerous juried shows including Celebration of Creativity in Beaverton, Oregon; Portland 5; and the Hood River Gallery. She has won many prizes including Art Splash, Best of Show. Her work was chosen for a highly competitive book of drawings, Strokes of Genius, coming out in November 2014. McCarty also juried into the Bush Art show in Salem, honoring the work of David Douglas, the first botanical artist of the Northwest.

Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for more than 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Shapes of Place, Shaped by Place: A Conversation with Roya Motamedi

by Yolanda Wysocki

Roya Motamedi, the featured artist in the Summer 2014 Issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions, comes from a rich cultural background. Her Afghani father was an archeologist, her Japanese mother an art historian. Archaeological sites in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley — the land of giant Buddhas — were her “playground.” In 1979, before the coup d’état, her family moved to Kamakura, Japan — the town where Zen Buddhism started; her father stayed in Afghanistan.

Yolanda Wysocki: What role do you think art plays in culture?
Roya Motamedi:  It’s very interesting how in some ways art is so insignificant; it doesn’t bring income, but it feeds the soul. Without it we are empty inside. The culture gives birth to art but art turns around and feeds the heart and soul of the culture, of individuals. It becomes part of the rhythm, richness of life, of the earth. On so many levels it wakes you up, alerts you to the moment, and makes you smile. I think of the culture that is not allowed to paint or create; you feel death inside you even though you are alive.

YW: And I assume that is why you paint?
RM: Yes, it definitely feeds me; it’s the only place I make sense. I truly love it. I go to my messy studio and I get really excited. I am never not excited to be there. It’s like a meditation, like a journal, like turning a stone and seeing how the light hits today, within me, within this place. It’s a safe place.

April 19, 2012 by Roya Motamedi

“April 19, 2012” by Roya Motamedi

YW: Would you feel as satisfied if you didn’t show your art?
RM: There is something in me that needs to show it. Sometimes I go to a museum and question my relevance, but because of the way I was raised, I see color differently than a person who has been disciplined in only one culture, so I feel I have a small but valid voice. I know what I had – the country I lost – doesn’t exist anymore, so I have to be strong, and have a voice and show for them.

YW: With such a rich cultural heritage, you state your painting is beyond language and culture. Will you say more about that?
RM: Culture has a boundary, and I don’t fit in any boundaries. Paintings are beyond the restrictions of culture … so people can enter into them; they can communicate beyond cultures. Abstract art is a language, another doorway for a new paradigm.

YW: Yet your art is so much about place.
RM: Yes, like writing letters. I relate to the place where I am now, and write letters from that place. When we lived in Mexico for two years, the light, the life reminded me of my time in Afghanistan. I hope my paintings are like sending letters home, stopping time, capturing moments, the feeling of them.

YW: Do you ever go back to Afghanistan?
RM: No, it would take me years to process all the sadness. What I had doesn’t exist anymore; it would be like going to a burned house. I feel like someday I should write about my life. I know a place that is no longer; I should save it.

YW: What would you write about?
RM: Watching my grandmother cook, the light, the way the door hit the frame whenever I went in, the echo; the quiet of the museum that I walked within with my father, on weekends; the archaeological sites I went to with my mom and brother. The Buddha’s head was my height; I wasn’t sure why I only saw his head. It was beautiful and I related to it as a person, from a child’s perspective.

YW: You have many sense memories.
RM: Yes, because I lost it all, I put it in a box, all these memories.

YW: How does that come through your paintings?
RM: I think it’s emotion. I translate these into the emotion of color: shapes and juxtaposing color. I first started painting blocks of the city and myself in relation to color in New York; they became so ingrained that it became the structure of my paintings: I am feeling this — I may be a red dot — and this is how I feel next to this color.

YW: I imagine you have a specific memory that comes with an emotion and from that you allow a painting to come through.
RM: Yes. For example, if the feeling of walking around Bamiyan is the feeling I bring to my studio, the colors of the murals of Bamiyan are very much in my paintings. When I did the blue and white paintings, it was surprising how Japanese they were, like my grandmother’s kimono. I don’t intentionally do it. It doesn’t work if I try to think it and make it happen; it comes through.

Blue and White Series March 14, 2014 (a) by Roya Motamedi

“Blue and White Series March 14, 2014 (a)” by Roya Motamedi

Blue and White Series March 14, 2014 (b) by Roya Motamedi

“Blue and White Series March 14, 2014 (b)” by Roya Motamedi

In my last show, I was processing the choice my father made to stay in Afghanistan. It’s always been a question, why did he choose to stay? A tear, the rain healing, healing the sadness. It’s like making sense of my life through paintings, but also a kind of letter to him, too.

Painting is a relationship. I have a conversation with my painting, and rather than doing too much, sometimes I go to my studio and just watch the painting. I listen and watch and wait. It takes 6-7 months for a painting to develop from beginning to end. I cannot map out what I’m going to do. If I do too much I am not allowing that other dimension to happen; I’m killing it.

Paul Guston said,

When you’re in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you. Your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics … and one by one, if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you’re really painting, you walk out.

That’s what I want, to be affected by the relationship, to become one with it. I become so much part of it that it influences me.

YW: What is your favorite painting, one you may never sell?
RM: One of Brooklyn, I  felt strong there, I felt myself, like I belonged. I keep it to remind myself.


Roya Motamedi with daughter MinaRoya Motamedi has been living in Portland with her husband and daughter Mina for six years, drawn by the Japanese immersion school. She also chose Portland because it is beautiful and more possible to live here than in New York, where they had been living. Roya started taking painting classes at Guilford College, NC, where she earned her BA in oil painting. She won first prize in the student art show in 1992. She is represented by the Blackfish Gallery in Portland.

Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

An Artist in Transition: Interview with Kendall Madden

by Yolanda Wysocki

Kendall Madden is an emerging artist featured in the Winter 2014 edition of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions.

Kendall Madden: I am very much an amateur; I make art for the love of making art. Through middle school I drew and explored various mediums, took art classes in small groups from retired art teachers who taught out of their homes, nothing formal. But in college I studied psychology instead and got a degree in education. I teach middle school English in the gifted program. But I have to make art for my own sanity; I realized that when I finally found my medium.

Yolanda Wysocki: How did that happen?

KM: A few years ago, in California, I took a five-day sculpting workshop with Paul Lucchesi and found I loved the physicality of it, the feel of the clay, so I started sculpting figures. I love working with the human form, especially the female form.

When I moved to Portland I quit my job and was unemployed for two years, so I took another figure sculpting class at PCC for four terms. There, students have to create a sculpture a day, no matter where it ends up. The goal isn’t to capture a likeness — you can’t make clay into skin — but to create a sculpture through line, gesture, strokes and texture of the palette knife, using shadow to create depth and color.

I’m not taking any classes now and that’s a new transition — not having models to work from. I miss seeing the three-dimensionality, and the connection I feel when working with a model that doesn’t come through when working from photos.

I also make whimsical teapots, each with its own personality. Sometimes I start out my session by making a teapot. I have less judgment about it so it’s really easy to start creating from there. They’re very tiny and purely decorative.

"Curly Teapot" by Kendall Madden, 2012

“Curly Teapot” by Kendall Madden, 2012

YW: What is your very favorite sculpture that you made?

KM: I created a small bust, not even 12 inches. There’s something about her look — I didn’t use a model, but she has this very wistful expression I love. My teacher looked at it and said, “I am very disappointed.” I was a bit shocked, but he went on, “I’m disappointed because this is one of my favorite pieces in all my years of teaching and the base of this sculpture doesn’t fit the beauty of it.” It was the best back-handed compliment I’ll never forget.

"Elsewhere" by Kendall Madden, 2012

“Elsewhere” by Kendall Madden, 2012

YW: What do you enjoy most about creating?

KM:  Being in the moment; it’s like a meditation; you’re focused on that process of creation, nowhere else. When I feel in the flow, I know that what I’m creating is good and what I intended; it’s very satisfying.

YW: I love that. So when it’s not working, how do you inspire yourself?

KM: Although my husband and I live in a very small space, we live on 1½ acres and we have sculpture everywhere outside, so I get to enjoy my work all the time. But it’s not always about being inspired. Sometimes, it’s more about doing the work — getting into the studio, and seeing what happens.

We block ourselves. We judge what we do and think oh, that’s not good enough, but it’s totally good enough. Even if it’s awful, it’s good enough because it’s not about mistakes; it’s all about playing and learning in the process.

The greatest part is creating art but it would be great if other people saw it, too.
I created a lot for two years, then started teaching again, but am now on a leave of absence. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of my healing tools in this cancer journey has been The Artist’s Way. I found a small group and we meet once a week and do different activities.

Although I cannot do as much, I am working on a few sculptures.

"As Is" by Kendall Madden, 2013

“As Is” by Kendall Madden, 2013

YW: How is cancer informing your work?

KM: Usually I celebrate the human form in my sculpture, but for the first time I created a bust that was intentionally ugly; it’s full of rage and fear, the feelings that a cancer patient goes through but people don’t want to discuss. It shows scars, words scrawled into it.

Yet cancer is giving me a whole new appreciation for life that I didn’t have before, so I’m back to making beautiful or whimsical things again. We’ll see how this cancer journey will continue to inform my work.

"Moment of Weakness" by Kendall Madden, 2014

“Moment of Weakness” by Kendall Madden, 2014

YW: Has being a teacher influenced your art?

KM: They seem mutually exclusive. I love working with young people and their energy, but I was most productive artistically when I wasn’t teaching full-time. Part of my future transition is about figuring out how to balance those two. I know I want to grow as an artist, and I hope to be inspired by their enthusiasm.

Being around these young spirits who have their whole life ahead of them with their big dreams is a great energy to be around.

YW: It must be wistful in certain ways to be with that youth, energy and potential, when you are dealing with a life-threatening illness. I wonder if/how the juxtaposition of those impact you.

KM: I think it’s important for young people to have adults who are vulnerable and completely real with them; I wanted to model that. I think watching their teacher battle cancer at a young age will give them a valuable perspective on life. The kids have been so supportive and responsive. I have these amazing eight graders who organized a surprise going-away party for me — all on their own — everything from making decorations to food and individual notes. It was heartbreaking to have to leave them halfway through the year.

YW: So what is it that you would like folks reading this to “get” about you?

KM: I create just for the love of it and for myself. I think it’s a wonderful gift when someone else can feel the energy in a piece. It’s an amazing thing as an artist, to make an impact on someone else.


Kendall MaddenKendall Madden is a Vancouver, Washington ceramic sculptor compelled by the human figure in all its manifestations. From empathetic portraits to odes to the feminine form to fanciful teapots, Kendall’s pieces speak in a vibrant visual language, sharing stories of the human condition: longing, uncertainty, rumination, vitality, whimsy and hope. Kendall works from her tiny home studio, inspired by the rippling of Salmon Creek passing just outside her window.

Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Distilling the Essence: A Conversation with Sarah Fagan

by Yolanda Wysocki

Sarah Fagan was one of the featured artists in the Winter 2014 edition of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions.

What struck me about Sarah’s work was the exquisite craftsmanship: the order and structure within her paintings. In our conversation, what kept coming through was her desire to express the essence of objects in her work. I too will attempt to distill the essence of our conversation here.

Yolanda Wysocki: Tell me about your paintings. What drew you to such order and structure?

Sarah Fagan: I’ve always been interested in science, genetics and biology, so I’ve always liked being outdoors knowing the names of things, and I’m interested in taxonomy and the order in the universe. I’m also a very messy person; I paint in my living room and there’s a lot of clutter so I like painting a lot of space in my canvases, and simple single objects, fields of color; nothing is hidden, nothing is covering anything. It calms me, feels meditative to paint that way.

YW: How do you choose the objects you combine?

Lava Soap by Sarah Fagan 2013

Lava Soap by Sarah Fagan 2013

SF: I am fascinated with objects and the way they feel. I have synesthesia, where senses cross. I see numbers and letters and shapes and things like that in different colors. When I see an object that has symmetry and balance, or something handmade, with texture, I want to touch it, but I also want to paint it. I think of my paintings as portraits of objects. Then I play around and see what things look balanced, have symmetry together.

YW: Your paintings seem to have an idea behind them and the titles suggest that as well.

SF: I have a lot of fun with titles, but I think the idea comes after I put things together. Certain things pair nicely, and I wonder what is it about those two that make them go well together.

They are ordinary objects; everyone knows what they are. I think that people who are drawn to certain paintings create their own narrative, and that’s what I hope for. I like to draw people in because the objects are empty slates. But they really are about order and beauty, and I like people to fill in the blanks after that, to find their own meaning. That’s my favorite part.

YW: You teach kids’ art classes. How has working with kids informed your art making?

SF: Before I started painting I was an FT preschool teacher, and I loved watching how the kids experienced the world every day. If we found a ladybug, we might spend the whole day being entertained by the ladybug, and I thought Wow, these kids are seeing the world the way I want to see the world.

I left teaching to go to art school, but I think I’m attracted to things that a child might be attracted to. I think there are a lot of beautiful things in our daily lives and I want people to look closer and to look at things as an object of potential. I want people to think about the everyday objects, and to stay curious.

Equilibrium by Sarah Fagan, 2013

Equilibrium by Sarah Fagan, 2013

Kids give me so many ideas. I still work with them because they’ll always ask the questions you never thought you’d be asked.

YW: What’s your favorite question that a kid has asked you?

SF: “Why would you make a painting of a pencil?” A bunch of kids thought it was so cool that someone would make a painting of a pencil. That may have been the first time I thought about this; an artist doesn’t have to paint a Mona Lisa. I love pencils, so why wouldn’t I paint something that was really important to me? It seems that question had to be asked sooner or later.

YW: What would you like people to ask you that they are not asking?

SF: I know my own my work so well, so I expect everyone to see it a certain way but they don’t. I like questions that take me off guard, when someone makes me stop and wonder why I am doing things a certain way. You think you know everything about your work and then realize you know nothing, you aren’t paying attention to the decisions you are making; you’re just kind of doing it.

YW: Other influences?

SF: I love Dutch Baroque art; they make it look so realistic and that’s the epitome of painting for me, and seeing a brush stroke here and there.

I don’t like the clutter of Baroque painting, but I would tease it apart and do a single painting for each object that was in that one painting, and give each the reverence it deserves.

YW: Just like what you are doing! Is there a challenge you are currently exploring with your art?

Captain's Wife by Sarah Fagan

Captain’s Wife by Sarah Fagan

SF: There has been a little shift in my paintings. I’m getting a little more abstract, maybe including a landscape that is so abstract you can’t see it’s a landscape anymore. I’m also trying to notice how I feel, or think about where I was when I found certain objects, to impart a mood and try to be less literal. Or I may visually split a panel, pairing something literal with an abstract field of color, and create a mood. I am seeing if I can orchestrate a certain feeling through objects, through color, to be able to make viewers feel a certain way and not leave it totally open-ended. I am seeing what abstraction does for me. It’s just a different language.

YW: It sounds like you are trying to distill the essence behind things.

SF: I love the word “distill.” A lot of the work I do is practice for me: I’ve been building a vocabulary, painting it, then if there’s an object I really like I will use it in more advanced paintings, maybe with more of a narrative. Going forward, I’m working on being more in tune about what I choose and where I place things.

YW: I’m curious about where this leads.

SF: Me too!


Sarah FaganSarah received a BA in Fine Arts and English Literature from a small liberal arts college outside of Boston. She worked as an editor and writer for a New England arts magazine for three years before relocating to Portland, Oregon in 2009. There she decided to concentrate on her own artmaking, and attended a post baccalaureate program at the Oregon College of Art and Craft where she studied bookbinding, printmaking and painting. In Portland, Sarah has developed a traveling curriculum of art classes which she teaches at various venues. When not teaching, she is painting: Her work is represented by Portland’s Blackfish Gallery. Sarah is the guest art editor for VoiceCatcher’s upcoming Summer 2014 edition.


Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

A Conversation with Katie Todd: Artist and Healer

by Yolanda Wysocki

Katie Todd, an artist featured in the Winter 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions, is an energy healer. I was curious how the two aspects of her — artist and healer — intersected and influenced each other. Before I share the details of what I discovered during my phone conversation with Katie, I discovered some pertinent facts about Katie’s life and art:

Katie grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where there’s a great art museum. She told me how her mom supported her kids in doing art; how having great art teachers and classes helped define her early on as a creative being and artist; and how she started painting landscapes as a means to nurture her spirit while experiencing post-partum depression.

As Katie explained to me,

Painting made me feel better but I didn’t paint anything that I wanted to hang in my house and look at until the landscapes. I had stopped painting for a few months, but I really missed it. So one day when my daughter was taking a nap, I painted this spacious sky and it felt good. When I looked out into the horizon, I was looking out into vastness and it felt good so I kept painting more.

We Can Come Back Here

We Can Come Back Here

She told me that her first art show seemed liked serendipity. “When I had my first show, I had to call my little brother – he went to art school in New York – and ask him, ‘What do I do?’ He gave me some good suggestions.”

The show was at a sustainable furniture gallery, and Oregon Home magazine was doing an article about the furniture there. “They saw my art on the wall and asked if I’d like to be a featured artist in the magazine. So I called my little brother again and said, ‘Help! I need a website because my art is going to be in a magazine.’ So it just happened – and I became a “professional” artist.”

Our conversation turned to Katie’s perspective on art and energy:

My intention now is to create a specific vibration or feeling with the color, mood and space in the paintings that shifts the viewer into that feeling. For example, most people say they feel calm and peaceful when they look at my work.

Intrigued, I began to shower Katie with questions.

Yolanda Wysocki: And is that how you create them?

Katie Todd: I might think I want to do something with purple. Then I’ll add green and
think, “Oh, that doesn’t feel good.” It may end up to be completely different
then when I started. I paint with a lot of layers. If I’m going for calm, I make
sure I feel calm while I’m painting, especially when I call it “complete.”

Go Bucks

Go Bucks

YW: I am wondering, after doing energy work with a client, does it make a difference when you go to paint?

KT: My gallery is my office where I see my clients. My paintings are hanging all around the space. The paintings contribute to the energy of the space. I use the paintings to help me work with a client. The paintings are really alive for me … they have a special vibration that they’re here to bring to someone or a vibration the client needs to shift into.

Sometimes I feel the paintings do more for me than I do for the paintings. When I am not inspired to paint, I really have a hard time painting. I don’t want to push them. I don’t try to produce and produce. I try to go with a more natural flow. But when a painting wants to happen, I paint it.

YW: What do you love best about creating?

KT: You know the feeling you get when you look at something and you think, “Wow! I made this; I brought this into reality and it’s never been here – or maybe it has but I did it in my own way.” It’s a spark you feel. That’s the feeling that is most rewarding, most satisfying to me; it can last a long time.

YW: What makes you want to put your work out in the world then?

KT: Interesting question. It’s layered for me. Earlier, when I was a new mom, it was like being seen and acknowledged, getting accolades and praise, to be totally honest. You don’t get that as a new mom. There is also an innate part of me that wants to share it. I know, hanging out in the art community, there are people who paint just for themselves and don’t want to show it, but I’ve never been like that. I crave the attention.

YW: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing art?

KT: I like to keep things interesting for myself. I like to connect with people and energy work feeds that. When I’m not painting I miss it. I do get that creative spark with my energy work; that too is a very creative process. I also love to cook as a creative outlet.

YW: You are beginning to paint more abstract color and form. Is there a question or a challenge you are exploring?



KT: If I can make the color and form really beautiful and nurturing to me, and make it work on the canvas, it’s a success; but it’s a huge, huge challenge. I have an abstract painter friend who helps me with it.

YW: What is it that you really want people to “get” about you?

KT: Some artists have something they want to say or are creating something totally innovative for the art world. I paint because it feels right and good and I want people to have art on their walls that feels good to them. Art can be instinctual – you like it or you don’t – and that’s enough.

YW: Here’s the question I ask all artists: What advice would you give to others who want to nurture their art?

KT: It helps to buddy up, join a group or a class. Finding someone to help you create a container of time and space for your creativity is paramount. And, you can’t really make a mistake … it all adds to the richness of what you are creating. Let yourself mess up, let the mistakes teach you.

YW: Great words to live by.


Katie ToddKatie Todd is an Energetic Healer and Artist. Her paintings actively radiate calming superpowers that shift your personal energy and that of your space. See her art at KatieToddArt.com, and learn more about her energy work at KatieToddEnergy.com.



Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Like Winning the Lottery: A Conversation with Huon Quach

by Yolanda Wysocki

Huon Quach is an artist featured in the Winter 2013 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. After completing a biochemistry degree as well as a year of a graduate program, Huon discovered she didn’t like biochemistry at all. She then decided to take a figure drawing class and loved it. After considering how to earn a living, and wanting to combine art and science, she became an architect, which she pursued while raising her family. When her younger son was eleven, a friend suggested she “give her son a break” and take some art classes. She chose painting and has been painting ever since.

Huon and I met at Starbucks in the Fred Meyer off Burnside. Amid the blaring PA announcements, homeless individuals with their loaded shopping carts, and two men concentrating on their chess game, we talked and laughed about art, luck, remembering Cambodia, passion, and more.

Yolanda Wysocki: Tell me how you’ve managed to work and raise a family and paint.

Huon Quach: My family was always most important when the boys were young. But when my son was eleven, I started painting. I would come home from work on Friday and get my chores and responsibilities done so I could paint on the weekend.

YW: So you organized your time to make sure you could paint?

HQ: Yes.

YW: There is such great variety in your subject matter. How do you choose what to paint?

HQ: It depends. I used to watch what’s going on, read the paper, and notice what captivates me; there was no focus. My abstracts are responses to events or emotions. For example, “Forgotten Memories” was a very personal painting.

I grew up in Cambodia and was sent by my father to Hong Kong to continue my studies right before Pol Pot’s regime took over. My brother and I were the last in my family to leave in 1971; my parents and two siblings stayed and were caught in the whole thing. I was lucky. But I think I had pushed the whole thing down to survive. In 2007, I went to see this beautiful Vietnamese dancer named Minh Tran at Reed College. He had made a trip to Viet Nam and Cambodia and re-visited the torture sites. He had suffered; I had suffered emotionally but not physically. When he came back, he put on this show called Forgotten Memories. When I went I didn’t know what it was about, but when I saw the show, it brought back memories. The dance moved me to tears and I painted this painting afterward and gave it the same name. I had no concept before I started; I just attacked the canvas and it came in four hours.

Forgotten Memories

Forgotten Memories

YW: Which is more satisfying – the abstract or the very detailed?

HQ: The same. I am painting a lot of detail these days. The “shakes” run in my family and I am afraid I, too, will get them so I am painting a lot of detail while I can.

What I love about all painting is it’s always a discovery, always something new. Sometimes it’s discovering my limits. Also there is a higher power. Of course, you start a painting with an idea but then the painting will take over. I really do whatever the painting asks me to do. I can feel it when it’s not right; the canvas will fight me back, and I feel it when it is finished.

YW: What is inspiring you these days?

HQ: I am trying to combine Western techniques and Chinese painting and calligraphy, with the Chinese sense of space – like in my bird paintings. That is what is most exciting for me; that is my focus now. In my heart the Western and Chinese have not come together yet. I have the Chinese part and the Western part and they happen to be on the same painting. I haven’t discovered yet what it would take for them to feel integrated, to blend. I am still searching. When I discover that it would be like winning the lottery!

YW: Does the calligraphy mean something specific to the painting?

Feather by Huan Quach


HQ: Yes, I do the painting, then take it to my class and to my calligraphy teacher and ask them, “What do you see?” The calligraphy reflects their response. It’s also a composition tool.

Lotus by Huon Quach


YW: You don’t show your work very much.

HQ: I have no patience for hustling all the time. It is very difficult for me to do. I don’t enjoy it and I can never sell my paintings for the amount of hours I put in, and people don’t want to spend on something that will last forever. I paint because I want to paint. If someone wants to see my paintings, I am happy to show them!

YW: What would you suggest to artists who want to nurture their art, but may also have very busy lives or are raising a family?

HQ: Create time. Use your time wisely and make art a priority. Try not to feel guilty if you are not spending all your time with your children. Painting takes a lot of emotional energy and so does raising children. It’s easier when they get older and have their own friends. I also have a very supportive husband.

YW: Is there something else I haven’t asked or you would like people to know about you?

HQ: I feel very lucky in a way that I discovered my passion. If more people discovered their passion, the world would be less tedious; if people focused on what they like to do the world would be a better place.

YW: How did you find your passion? Do you think it was luck?

HQ: Luck and natural ability, if you have those two. The main thing is what is your natural ability. My husband found his passion, too; he found philosophy at 17 and has been studying and teaching it ever since. If I didn’t have passion, I wouldn’t be doing this. It does take so much time to do each painting so I feel I am very lucky.

As we left Fred Meyer, I considered whether “finding one’s passion” is a matter of luck or commitment or what exactly? Many questions, not so many answers.


Huon QuachHuon Quach is a Chinese woman born in Cambodia who immigrated to the United States in 1976. She received her BS in biochemistry from San Francisco State University and her MA in architecture from Virginia Tech. She has lived in California, Virginia, Michigan and now in Oregon. An architect by profession, she shifted her focus to painting in the past few years and enjoys the journey she takes wherever she paints or draws.

Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.

Conversing with Liz Walker: A Self-Proclaimed Lucky Woman

by Yolanda Wysocki

Liz Walker was the featured artist in the Summer 2013 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. In 2003, the first time Liz was accepted into a Northwest Watercolor Society show, her husband had to travel to China, so he sent a small delegation of Intel employees to support her at the opening reception. Since then, she has exhibited her work in many group and juried shows, has had several solo shows, won numerous awards for her paintings, and is a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society.

Speaking with Liz is inspiring. Her enthusiasm, passion and love for art sing through the phone lines. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:

Yolanda Wysocki: What gave you the confidence to pursue art in the first place?

Under the Plum Trees Redux

Under the Plum Trees Redux

Liz Walker: My parents raised me to be what I want to be, saying, “Pick something you’re interested in and do it.” I always liked drawing, painting, doodling. As a kid, I attended summer art/drama programs at the university where my dad taught. It was heaven! When I started college I thought I’d major in psychology; I took one psychology course and said, “NO! That’s not it.” Then I had an art teacher who figuratively “set my hair on fire” with his passion for art and that set me on my path.

YW: You also teach.

LW: When I teach I learn so much because I have to break down every step, and I love demonstrating because all the “oooohs” and “aahhhs” make me feel like a magician. We’re all impressed by things we can’t do, but we all have to go from ignorance to experience. It took me five years to learn watercolor. I’m a slow learner.

YW: So what made you stick with it?

LW: I get one great painting for every ten “so-so” paintings. You get excited, you frame it, you give it away or sell it and people are impressed. I think even a lousy day painting is better than a good day working in an office, which I used to do.

YW: What do you love best about creating art?

LW: The quieting down of myself and tapping into the imaginative. I’m such a practical and efficient person; but with art, I’m more spontaneous and free. I’m completely fearless in my painting but get a bit scared at the thought of driving in heavy traffic.

Also, everything I paint can be touched again, manipulated, and repaired. And I never throw anything away. Sometimes five years later I will go back and think, “Oh, I know what to fix now.”

YW: How do you stay inspired?

LW: I want to be with people who are as excited about the same things I am, and strive for excellence among artists I respect. I’m in a critique group; and sometimes another artist’s small suggestion helps me improve a painting. I often submit my work to juried shows; whether I make the cut or not, I look very carefully at the accepted paintings. I talk with the jurors and ask about the show, and sometimes they give me suggestions for improvement. And I don’t call a painting done until I love it.

Blue Cloche -  Time of No Reply

Blue Cloche –
Time of No Reply

YW: On your website you say “the most interesting thing to paint is what you don’t know about yourself – the true meaning of a painting is beyond any story you can expect or imagine.” I’m curious; could you say a little bit more about what that means to you?

LW: What I’m trying to do when I’m painting is leave things open enough so that the viewer can meet me halfway. I like it when people say, “That reminds me of something in my life”. Years ago, I had a painting called “Lady in Waiting” in a show at YMCA downtown. A woman called me and bought it a year after the show. She told me that the image spoke to her because she was walking with a cane and going to pool therapy every day at the Y. She said, “I feel like I’m a lady in waiting, like I’m waiting to get better.”

As to how I start a painting, I like sitting down and just moving some paint around. Years ago I used to carefully draw the drawings, and add paint – like color by numbers – but after a while that got boring. I studied with other teachers who suggested I put some shapes and colors down and then stand back and decide if I’ve got an abstract, or if there’s a figure or other subject matter in there.

LizMarblingBestsmYW: You started with watercolor, then acrylic, and are now using acrylic marbling in your work. What do you like about marbling?

LW: Randomness. Each piece is unique. I can play and experiment. I’m like a mother with her newborn baby – excited at each turn. I love it.

YW: It sounds like you organize your life around making art. What suggestions would you make for those trying to nurture their art?

LW: Even if you just have an hour or two, devote time to art. As long as you have a room or small space that is your own, so you can keep your art set up, make a mess; even if for only brief intervals. It’s so important. Also art cannot be created in a vacuum. Join a group of like-minded people; observe other more experienced and established artists and ask questions. All art is using other people’s ideas and making them your own.

YW: What question didn’t I ask that you wish I had?

LW: If I couldn’t do art, what else would I be doing? That question is too scary to consider! I think I will always be involved in art in some way, teaching, volunteering, and talking about it. I’m very lucky to be living my passion.


Liz Walker_croppedLiz has a B.A. in Art from Trinity University in San Antonio and has been active in the local art scene since moving to Portland from Boston in 1999. She began painting in watercolor in 1991 and now works primarily in acrylic and marbling. Liz’s favorite subject matter is fanciful people in everyday settings. Color is an essential part of her work, but she also enjoys telling a “story” within each painting.

A member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon, Oregon Society of Artists and Northwest Watercolor Society, Liz has displayed her award-winning paintings throughout the Northwest. She recently self-published an extensive compilation of her work titled Lap of Luxury.

Click here to find out more about Liz’s upcoming exhibits and see images of her latest paintings.


Yolanda WysockiYolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51-years-old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream. She is now exploring various mediums to find her creative niche.

Leap of Faith: A Conversation with Trista Cornelius

by S. H. Aeschliman

Trista Cornelius and I have been crossing paths for several years now, sometimes without our realizing it. Every spring, she and Perrin Kerns collaborate on the creative non-fiction class I took at Marylhurst University in 2012. The class in which I produced “On Voice,” a lyric essay that was published in the Fall 2012 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. The same issue in which Trista’s creative non-fiction piece “Running with Dragons” appeared.

Months later, not knowing who I was, she commented on the article I wrote for VoiceCatcher’s website about Liz Prato, and we finally connected. Trista, too, has been volunteering for VoiceCatcher; she writes the monthly grammar column, “Dotting Your Ts and Crossing Your Eyes.”

I looked Trista up on Facebook, and it turns out that she’s the same Trista my dad’s wife’s sister has been telling me about for years. The one who teaches college writing. I, too, used to teach college writing.

And if all those coincidences aren’t eerie enough, when we meet for this interview – at a little place on NE Fremont known for its made-to-order doughnuts – she tells me that two days ago she decided to take a leave of absence from her job as a full-time instructor at Clackamas Community College.

“It feels like stepping off a cliff,” she says, and my heart thrums in recognition. That’s how I felt, almost a year ago, when I quit my job at a university to pursue a full-time career as a writer and freelance editor.

She’s taking this leave of absence to pursue a dream: She wants to write and illustrate her own books. “I’m finally gonna give writing and art my full attention,” she says. I am tempted to jump up and down in excitement and wonder at the serendipity of it all, but I manage to stay seated.

Trista is a creative person who hasn’t done much creative work for the last several years, and it’s started to take its toll. “I think there’s potential for damage if creative people don’t make time to do creative work. You’re kind of not a complete person.”

Not giving her creative work priority has “turned the rest of [her] life into a black-and-white film.” She hasn’t felt whole, and she doesn’t think that’s healthy. To Trista, healthy isn’t just the absence of major illness; she wants to find a path to vitality. “I think people in general accept a quality of life lower than it should be,” she says, and adds, “The daily grind takes up all of our energy.” Now she wants to collaborate and create in daily life.

Taking this leap is scary, though. “There is a ton of fear in being creative,” she says. “But failure – what does that even mean?” It can mean being afraid to commit a drawing to paper because it might not turn out the way she wants. And when she’s writing, there are a lot of critical voices in her head. She has the notion – which she knows is false – that there is one right way to do something. “It’s not true, but it makes it hard to write and publish.” And to abandon her schedule, to open up her days to nothingness, feels very risky. But rather than see emptiness, she wants to see possibility.

Trista writes non-fiction, and one of her favorite topics is food. (I almost died laughing reading “Vampire Food” on her eclectic personal blog.) She’s written a book about her own “food transformation,” but, for several reasons, she can’t decide whether to query it. Part of her wants to finish it, illustrate it, and offer it up to people to read. Another part of her wants to find the perfect ending before calling it done.

She also has doubts about its marketability because, although it’s about food, it’s really about making big life changes; the book doesn’t fit neatly into one particular genre. But the truth is that it might be more about that old fear of failure than anything else. “Maybe I’m waiting for a fairy godmother to say, ‘You won’t fail. You can be confident sending it out.’”

Trista tells me that she has a friend who sews. This friend has to tear apart what she’s making three or four times before she gets it right. “Writing is like that, too,” she says, meaning it’s probably not going to come out perfect the first time, that it’s going to take time and energy.

But she’s noticed that she won’t start a project until she’s reasonably sure she won’t have to work so hard at it, won’t have to try it six different ways. “I don’t know why we do this,” she says, referring to writing. “It’s really hard.”

Why does she write, then?

“I think it was Cheryl Strayed who said you can’t run away from who you are. You have to be who you are and write from that place.”

As part of her process for deciding whether to take this leave of absence, Trista did a lot of digging through old things and reflecting on them, including a notebook she’d been using a few years ago. In looking through it, she was surprised to find that, at that time in her life, she’d been “on a roll. On the verge of something really cool.”

But she also remembers feeling like she wasn’t getting anywhere, like it was just a waste of time. Which is why she quit before the “something really cool” was allowed to emerge. She hopes that this time she can stick with it and continue to have patience with and faith in herself.


Trista CorneliusTrista Cornelius writes Voice Catcher’s monthly column, “Dotting Your Ts and Crossing Your Eyes” and is currently on a leave of absence from Clackamas Community College where she has been teaching writing, literature, and food studies. Follow her writing, reading and eating adventures here.


S.H. AeschlimonS. H. Aeschliman is a native Oregonian living in Portland with her dog, Milton. By day she’s a freelance editor. By night she’s a writer, reader, learner and dreamer. She blogs about culture, travel, food and lifestyle and writes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and cross-genre work. Her prose piece “On Voice” appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions, and she’s thrilled to be volunteering for the organization. You can learn more about her work on her website.