Wednesday, October 8, 2014

She Lives Creatively Spotlight: Shadia Zayed

Shadia Zayed is an artist who will forever remain near and dear to my heart! I met Shadia about 9 years ago (when I still lived in Michigan) after I signed up to take her acrylic painting class. It was Shadia who taught me how much fun it is to play with Golden acrylic mediums. And she's responsible for my addiction to adding interest to my paintings with interference paints.

Since studying acrylic painting techniques with Shadia nearly a decade ago, her passion for creating, her commitment to blazing her own trail as a self-employed fine artist and muralist, and her over the top scary - in a good way! - annual Halloween parties continue to inspire me. So this month, my teacher and friend, Shadia Zayed shines in the She Lives Creatively Spotlight.

That's Shadia (on the left) and me (on the right) during her visit to Denver in 2010
Marcella: You are a fine artist and you own Ambiance Design Studio, a decorative painting and mural company. What are your favorite types of wall treatments or murals to paint?

Shadia:  I am always most excited to paint children’s rooms.  Not only are they the most fun to paint because they tend to be more vibrant and colorful, but also the children get so excited and have so much awe and interest in art, so it’s great to see their reaction to the process.

Calvin & Hobbs children's room mural

M: How do you balance creating your studio work, which you show in several galleries throughout Michigan, with decorative and mural work you create for your clients?

S: Honestly, it’s challenging.  I have found what works best for me at this stage in my career is to set one specific weekday, each week, to focus strictly on my studio work.  I certainly paint and work on marketing my business on other days as available. But holding a specific day exclusively for art has helped me re-focus the direction of my career. My intention is to gradually up that ratio of 4 murals/faux days to 1 art day, until my work is exclusively in the fine art realm rather than the decorative art realm.  What’s important to me is consistency, so while I don’t have a definitive date for that goal, I know I am working daily to get there.

Shadia' art at the Urban Pearl in Northville, Michigan

M: You recently hired an assistant to help you with decorative painting and murals. What types of duties do you delegate to her?

S:  Presently, her duties are primarily in the preparation of the room.  She helps tape, drop cloth and sometimes does base coating.  She is gradually learning different faux techniques and, as a very skilled artist herself, recently assisted on mural projects by laying out some sketches.

M: How has hiring an assistant improved your creativity and your business’ productivity?

S:  As all people who are self-employed assuredly learn after some time working for themselves, it is very easy to get in the “habit” of doing EVERYTHING on your own.  Hiring an assistant has greatly improved my productivity by helping realize my time is best spent where I have the most to offer. Sure, I can tape a room expertly in preparation for a decorative painting project (after over a decade, anyone could)…but my expertise and time is better spent doing things for which I am uniquely gifted.  This understanding has enhanced my creativity by allowing me the added flexibility in my schedule to commit to the weekly “studio day” I mentioned earlier

Before and after faux finish mural work

M: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist? Who, or what, inspired you?

S: I knew I wanted to be an artist as soon as I learned what the word meant in kindergarten.  We learned the idea of a “career”… you could be a nurse, a police officer etc.  Having already realized I loved to paint, (I would literally bring home my finger paintings from school and re-hydrate the tempera paint with water so I could play more) the idea that anyone would ever pick another career when the option of “artist” existed was crazy!

M: For 10 years or more you have been hosting the most creative Halloween parties I have ever attended! What is it about Halloween that inspires you to create a new costume and decorate each year?

S: I still carry my childhood excitement of Halloween with me today.  I remember getting so excited about Halloween as a kid…poring over all the potential costumes, all just to race around in the dark with that little bit of spookiness was so much fun.  I wish I could go trick or treating still! Since I can’t I, I bring that memory to my parties by going overboard on decorations and lighting, so I can help create that little bit of spookiness and tons of fun feeling I remember as a child. Costumes, naturally, are mandatory!

Shadia  (right) and her sister Judy (left) in costume for Halloween

M: What tips and advice have you learned for planning and hosting a memorable Halloween party?

S:  #1 – Unique d├ęcor. I feel it adds so much to the ambiance and success of a party when you create an environment and a mood. I don’t mean just store bought skeleton cut outs and plastic pumpkins….I mean go all out!  For example, a few years ago I was in the middle of bathroom remodel when Halloween rolled around.  As I stressed about finishing the room and repainting the walls in time for the party, I had a great idea.  I dug out some red paint and made bloody handprints and drips around the bathroom walls.  Coupled with red lighting, scattered body parts and hanging ‘flesh’ I created with foam and paint, the scene was horrifying.  The bonus?  I didn’t need to worry about repainting the room in time!

#2 – A killer play list is essential.  I play the list in advance while I decorate, to ensure it flows well.  I time it for “Thriller” to show up around midnight, just in time to announce the costume contest winners.

#3 – Involve your guests.  It can be overwhelming putting all of this together.  Get your friends and guest engaged by soliciting menu ideas, playlist suggestions, costume ideas etc.

M: What are your self-care practices (nutrition, exercise, etc.) that support your health and vitality, to in-turn support your creativity?

S: I started running in 2006 after getting divorced.  It helped me feel calmer, healthier, quit smoking and deal with anxiety.  I am now an avid runner, and I have run 2 full marathons and participated in over 50 races and events.  My long runs feel almost meditative to me, and I get lost in thoughts, the beauty of the being outdoors and in daydreaming about creative projects.  Additionally, I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years.  I feel strongly that my choice to not kill other living beings supports my vitality by making me feel connected and in alignment with the Earth.

M: If people want to learn more about you, or your business Ambiance Design Studio, where should they go?

S: The best place to check out my fine art is  To learn more about my work as a muralist and faux finisher, visit

M: Thank you Shadia! Happy Halloween!

S: Marcella, thank you for hosting this unique site, and being a creative resource and inspiration to all those you touch!

Monday, August 4, 2014

She Lives Creatively Spotlight: Denise Allen Incao

Denise Allen Band in Dreux France
"Just go to your creative space every day and write, paint, sculpt,
whatever you do, and just enjoy the process and do it."
~ Denise Allen Incao

In the spring of 2013 I received an email from an art gallery in New York City. They gushed about how much they loved my paintings. And they made promises that they could help me take my art career to new levels – if I was willing to pay thousands of dollars to have them represent me. Not afraid to invest in myself and my work, I replied to the email with a few questions. But the fancy NYC art gallery didn’t get back to me for weeks.

In the meantime, I received an email from Denise Allen Incao and her business partner Barbara Allen. They were starting a new online art gallery. An exclusive virtual venture that would help hand-selected artists gain more exposure for their work – at no cost. The contract they sent me was completely transparent. And all of my questions were answered promptly.

By the time the gallery in New York City finally got back to me, had launched and I was proud to be one of their Flagship Resident Artists. My involvement with G247 has given my art more exposure and given me more credibility as an artist. In the fall of 2013 my writing also received more exposure when I was invited to write a monthly creative lifestyle guest blog post on their site.

I’m grateful for my partnership with G247 and that I didn’t go with that gallery in NYC. So this month I’m delighted to feature Denise Allen Incao, co-founder of, in the She Lives Creatively Spotlight!

Marcella: You are a co-founder of, an online art gallery that represents artists throughout North America. What inspired you and your business partner to start your own gallery? 

Denise:  I’m an artist myself and know how much time and investment is involved in exhibiting in galleries and doing art shows and festivals. I wanted to have a place to show my own artwork and reach a much larger audience than who might walk in to an art gallery or visit my booth at a show.  So my partner Barbara Allen and I, and our other co-founders, had the idea to offer an online venue to artists who are looking for alternative ways to get their art seen by a much larger audience. 

M: What appealed to you about starting an online art gallery, as opposed to a traditional brick-and-mortar gallery? 

D: What appealed to me was the possibility of creating a place where emerging and established artists can reach a very large number of viewers who might just be looking for that perfect piece of artwork (their artwork!), but wouldn't find it hanging on a gallery wall in some other town on the other side of the country. We want to connect people with great art and the artists that create these works. And our goal has been to offer the opportunity for artists to exhibit with us, with no sign up fees or monthly dues.  We want there to be very little risk or investment on the part of the artist. I've managed several art galleries over the years and also shown in quite a few, so I myself wanted to be involved with something cutting edge and with limitless possibility. 

Denise's masks left to right: "Shaman," "Peacock Dancer," and "Spirit Hunter"

M: You are a visual artist who specializes in sculptural ceramics. How do you balance creating your studio work with running your online art gallery? 

D: It's not always easy. When there is a lot happening with the gallery, my studio time has to wait.  But I love the work I do with, so it's not a problem for me.  I try to stay on a schedule as much as I can with both things, and that helps a lot. Otherwise, I may flounder around and that's not a useful way to spend my time.   

Denise Allen Band
M: You’ve also been the front woman for the Denise Allen Band for the past 10 years! What came first – your love for singing/song writing or visual arts? 

D: I was a visual artist long before starting to perform with my band and write songs.  I graduated Auburn University with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art, with a studio emphasis in Sculptural Ceramics in 1984. I've been working as a studio artist and teaching kids and adults ceramics classes and workshops since then.  It was my first love as far as a creative outlet. I have been very active with music and my band over the past 10 years. There is a natural flow back and forth between the two that has happened to just work out great! 

M: I read that you were born in the South and raised on rock, blues, and gospel. Who have been your biggest musical influences? 

D: I've had so, so many influences over the years and it changes as time goes on. But if I had to name a few early influences they would be Bonnie Raitt, Joan Osborne, the Black Crows, the Pretenders, Patti Griffin and more.  I also love Pink, Katie Perry and Taylor Swift, but I guess that's another thing altogether.

M: How have you and your band made the time to record 6 albums and tour Europe every summer? What are your time management tips? 

D: I try to make schedules for myself and work with deadlines. That keeps me on track. I am usually more productive and consistent if I always have that next goal on the horizon to work toward. The most important thing is to put the time in every day, and whether I'm getting paid for it or not (or at least not yet), I consider it my work.  I can't speak for the rest of my band, but for me and my family we've made it all happen because it feeds me and that feeds our family life.  The European Tours with the band are quite a stretch because they are usually very packed and it's tiring. But my daughter loves to travel and the experience is great for her (and me too) so it’s worth it! 

M: You’re also married and mentioned that you have a daughter. How do you balance being a wife, mother, and a multi-passionate artist? 

D: My family is involved with all that I do and very supportive. I think it all works because of that and there is a natural ebb and flow to the creative projects that I'm involved in.  When one comes to the forefront, others fall back a bit. And I have to be careful to religiously keep to my designated family time. I can push things too much sometimes, not always knowing when to quit. My daughter is a good barometer of that. She lets me know when I'm spreading myself too thin.   

M: What are your self-care practices (nutrition, exercise, etc.) that support your health and vitality, to in-turn support your creativity? 

D: I am a walker and hiker, not just for the exercise, but for the time out in nature. I'm lucky because I live out in the country very close to National Forest Lands and other beautiful places to explore. I also Kayak whenever I can. I meditate and eat a mostly raw vegetarian diet. I also know that creating artwork and music is absolutely necessary for me as a whole woman, a soul.  It sounds corny maybe, but if I am not putting my time in and honoring my creative self, I feel out of touch with God. It's just that simple for me. I make sure I make time to always be creating because it's necessary for my health and well being.  

M: What advice do you have for aspiring and emerging visual artists and singer/songwriters? 

D: It's good to have schedules, but sometimes you do have to go with the juice and stay up till the wee hours of the morning when the muse strikes. And deal with the consequences the following day.  It's usually worth it though, in my experience.  That being said, if you're serious, make your creative work your work, as in job. Put some time in every day. Create something every day. And don't judge your own work. What you think is garbage, might totally light up someone else’s life. I've learned that from experience. If you aspire to write a hit song, a best selling novel, or a million dollar painting right off the bat, you might never even get started. Your expectations may be too high. Just go to your creative space every day and write, paint, sculpt, whatever you do, and just enjoy the process and do it. Don't think about how great or crappy it may be. Just do it. That's what's important for you, as an artist… the creating itself.  It's good for your soul!   

M: If people want to learn more about your visual art, and the Denise Allen Band, where should they go? 

D: For Music, they can visit Our newest album, "This Heartbreak," is the best, in my opinion. For Artwork, they can visit and visit Denise Incao's gallery page. 

M: Thank you Denise! 

D: Thank you Marcella! For all that you do to inspire and encourage other people, women and artists. I always enjoy reading your newsletters. They inspire me!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Before You Say Yes

Guest blog post for

Some days I feel that even if I live to be a centenarian, a person who is one hundred or more years old, that this lifetime will not nearly be long enough. There are so many things I would like to learn, experiences I hope to have, travel adventures I dream of going on, and so many paintings and books I feel wanting to be expressed through me.

An infinite number of possibilities and opportunities present themselves to us on a daily basis! How do we choose from amongst them all in this short lifetime?

I invite us to go within, to ask our higher-self for direction, and then listen for the still small voice to guide us. I'm the first to admit that I suffer from FOMO - the fear of missing out. Symptoms are...

Read the rest of the guest blog post here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

She Lives Creatively Spotlight: Melissa Kline

Prior to moving to Colorado, my search for a support group for aspiring writers was fruitless. I hadn't heard of Meetup yet. And Google searches for a writing tribe in the Metro-Detroit suburb I called home were dead ends. 

But in 2009, the year I relocated to Colorado, I found a flier for a new women's writing support group on a community bulletin board. We became known as the Rocky Mountain Women Writers. And five years later, we continue to be led and inspired at our bi-weekly meetings by our founder, the talented and creative, Melissa Kline.

Left to right: Poet Janine Trudell, Melissa Kline, and yours truly

This month I'm delighted to feature Melissa - Author, Publisher, and Inspiration Ignitor - as our creative, entrepreneurial woman in the She Lives Creatively Spotlight!

Marcella: You are the co-founder of DreamFusion Press, a Denver-based company that offers publishing and literary services. What sets your company apart from other publishing houses?

Melissa: Our mission is to inspire, uplift and actualize the dreams of both writers and readers alike; all while ensuring the experience remains positive and harmonious. In a society where so much is superficial, technical and digital, we approach the literary world in a more holistic manner, considering the heart and soul a vital part of any project we take part in. We strive to create lasting relationships with those we work with, which in turn promotes a sense of community amongst writers, readers and everyone in between. We believe in connecting and empowering one another, as opposed to distancing and competing with them. After all - there is room for us all at the top!

Marcella: In addition to being a publisher, you are also an award winning young adult novelist. How did you make the transition from writer to publisher?

Melissa: At some point in my own creative metamorphosis I had a vision and desire to give others the same gift that I have received – the actualization of seeing my dreams come to life. That desire is what spawned my transition. Now, I get to have a hand in helping other’s birth their creations into the world whilst still pursuing my own passions. There’s a powerful magic in creative collaboration and actualization.
Melissa receiving her medal for Next Generation Indie Book Award

Marcella: You also founded Rocky Mountain Women Writers. What inspired you to start your own writing support group?

Melissa: I started the Rocky Mountain Women Writers as a means to inspire, support and encourage women writers to share their strengths, passions and creations with one another. As writers we have a tendency to isolate and separate ourselves. I was a closet writer for many years – disconnected from other creative people and the community. It wasn’t until I began to open up and allow people in that I realized how very important it is to connect with like minds. Since 2009, more than half of our members have become published authors and have seen their literary goals actualized. There is strength in numbers!

Marcella: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Who, or what, inspired you?

Melissa: I had no idea I wanted to be a professional writer for most of my life. Writing to me was fun, entertaining and a form of escape. It wasn't until after the completion of my fifth novel that I realized I wanted to share my writing with the world. I had been writing my entire life, but up to that point all of my novels were private. There was something that occurred while writing that fifth book - a metamorphosis. Since then, I have been very passionate about sharing my writing with others. My children have been a huge inspiration for me.
Storm book launch

Marcella: How do you balance being a wife and a mother of two boys, ages 10 and 6, with being a writer and business owner?

Melissa: The key to balancing my life is flexibility, spontaneity and patience! Being willing to write on the fly or jot notes down when inspiration strikes. Having patience – knowing and trusting that my writing and creativity is always inside of me regardless of what is happening externally. I like to keep in mind that I have all the time in the world to write and create. My kids come first, no matter what. Life is constantly changing, shifting and moving. I enjoy looking at everything as an adventure. The glass is always full and I am always up for a challenge.

Marcella: Now that you run a business, do you still have a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?

Melissa: I have always written on the fly, so to me, owning a business is just another facet of inspiration and an outlet for practicing my craft. I find that I always get inspired in one form or another by each project I work on. My business actually helps fuel the creativity for my personal projects. So when I feel motivated or get an idea, I jot a spontaneous note or two. I like to get my writing in late at night. All of my best ideas come to me around midnight.
Book signing

Marcella: What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Do you have any favorite books or writing workshops you would recommend?

Melissa: Believe in yourself and never give up! Create a platform, network and promote yourself as a professional. Define what you want and go for it! I highly recommend immersing yourself in whatever category or genre you’re most passionate about. If you are a romance writer, join RWA. If you’re a children’s book writer, join SCBWI, and so forth. I think it’s important to get as close to your goals as possible by connecting with others who are in the field or genre you’re interested in. One of my favorite writing retreats for any writer is the Highlights Foundation Workshops in Honesdale, PA.

Marcella: The publishing industry can be very competitive. What advice do you have for handling rejection?

Melissa: Try not to take it personally. Everyone is going to have a different opinion and advice on what you should or shouldn't do. Stay true to yourself and your own ideals. Most importantly don't ever give up! Always have a submission or query pending. You never know whom you might inspire or impress with your writing.
At the Englewood Public Library

Marcella: What are your self-care practices (nutrition, exercise, etc.) that support your health and vitality, to in-turn support your creativity?

Melissa: I am a highly sensitive being so it is extremely important for me to listen to my intuition more than anything. I enjoy getting grounded in nature, having quiet time by myself, recharging with massage, hot springs and hikes. I also find that getting creative in unorthodox ways is inspiring and invigorating. Sometimes all it takes is a little re-organizing or gardening for an energy boost. Music has always been a huge part of my creative process as well.

Marcella: If writers want to learn more about DreamFusion Press, or Rocky Mountain Women Writers, where should they go?

Melissa: You can find submission guidelines, dreamlore mini posters, book teasers and more at Join the Rocky Mountain Women Writers on Facebook or through

Marcella: Thank you Melissa!

Melissa: Thank YOU, Marcella! It has been an honor to be a featured guest. xoxo

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What's Beckoning You to Begin?

"And like a blank canvas, our life stands before us, beckoning us to begin, to paint with bright colors and passionate brush strokes with all that we have deep within."
~James R. Plagmann

This past Saturday I had a blast attending the Summer Solstice Art Workshop led by Laurie Maves and Anya McManis at Laurie's warehouse art studio in Denver!

Photo credit: Laurie Maves
To celebrate the first day of summer, 12 beautiful ladies painted journal boards. We began by writing on our boards what we're ready to release that is no longer serving us. Then we painted over our words with colors and images that symbolize what we imagine, believe, and want to create in this new season of being.


As we waited for layers of paint to dry on our journal boards, we took turns painting a group mural of a sun to represent the Summer Solstice. Similar to the journal boards, we began by writing on the mural what we're ready and willing to release. Then we painted over our words, ushering in new beginnings.

Creative ceremonies are great fun when tied to a holiday and done with others. But you don't need a special event to have a ceremony - they can be done anytime you feel called to have one. And solo rituals can be just as effective as those done as a group. It's the strength of your intention for the ritual that has the greatest impact during a ceremony.

Ceremonies to release the old and invite in the new aren't limited to painting rituals. You could journal about what you want to let go of, and then burn the paper you write on, releasing the ashes to the wind. You could burn sage, commonly used to clear spaces, to change the energy of your environment. Or you might consider a common Buddhist practice of creating a mandala with sand or flower petals. Then
practicing non-attachment, and mindfully destroying your beautiful creation.

As we embark on this summer season I invite you to ask yourself the following questions:

What am I ready and willing to release?

What's beckoning me to begin?

Live creatively this summer, 

P.S. Read my inspiring (and ballsy) interview with Denver artist Laurie Maves - featured in the June "She Lives Creatively" Spotlight - here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

3 Nights in the Crystal Forest (and My Favorite Camp Dish)

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed. And to have my senses put in tune once more."
~John Burroughs
Last week my husband and I made the spontaneous decision to get out of Denver and off the grid so we went camping for a few nights in the Rocky Mountains. While our favorite quinoa dish cooked, I packed a few layers of warm clothes, and Sean threw our camping gear into the back of the truck (affectionately known as the art mobile - that is, when it's not being used for camping).  

Enjoying the sunset.

With my sketchbook, and drawing utensils, packed, our adventure began. We purchased some bundles of fire wood as we drove through the small town of Sedalia. Less than an hour later, we entered Pike National Forest - or what I nicknamed the Crystal Forest. You'll see why... 

Entering Pike National Forest - or what I nicknamed the Crystal Forest.
(click on image to enlarge)
For the next 3 nights, and 4 days, we hiked, explored, and built camp fires. Sometimes we sat in silence. Other times we sat in wonderment and awe as the rocks replaced our meditation cushions and nature became our church.
Mountain view from one of our hikes.
When I wasn't bird watching, collecting crystals, hunting for wild flowers, or doodling beside the camp fire, I was snapping LOTS of photos. And since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, the rest of this blog is in pictures (with captions).
Live creatively - even when you take a break to live in nature,

P.S. For the recipe of our favorite camp dish - it's super easy and SO healthy and delicious! - scroll to the bottom.
Another mountain view. This one has snowcaps!

Sean loves that Rampart Range, within Pike National Forest, allows his street legal dirt bike.
Trail guides indicate "Easiest" to "More Difficult."
(click on image to enlarge)
"Be Bear Aware." We're not in Denver anymore...

Yet another mountain view. This one is from our camp site. 

Our home away from home.
(click on image to enlarge)
Car camping. This is as rough as I rough it.
(And no, there isn't a bathroom and the closest outhouse is a few miles.)
It wouldn't be a Colorado summer without a hail storm on a sunny day.
(click on image to enlarge)
Sean the wood chopper.

Wild flowers.
Taking in the view.
A winged  one.
Quartz crystals. The one on the right is larger than a softball!
(click on image to enlarge)
Crystals were EVERY where! So I nicknamed Pike National Forest the Crystal Forest.
Sean on kitchen duty.
(click on image to enlarge)

Doodling by the camp fire while the sun sets.

Camp fire doodle 1.
Inspired by wisdom of mountains and vibration of crystals. 

Camp fire doodle 2.
Inspired by wisdom of mountains and vibration of crystals.
Camp fire doodle 3.
Inspired by wisdom of mountains and vibration of crystals.

Sean the fire starter.

Stoking the fire.
Our favorite quinoa dish is a camp staple.
Crystal Forest Quinoa
Serves 8

12-oz package of sprouted quinoa (we buy the truRoots brand from Whole Foods)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup dried cranberries (or cherries)
1 cup raw unsalted chopped pecans
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tsp sea salt, plus additional to taste (optional)
Combine 12-oz of truRoots Sprouted Quinoa with 4 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Quinoa is cooked when each grain is translucent and white germ is visible. Let quinoa cool to room temperature before adding additional ingredients.

While quinoa is cooling, measure and mix wet ingredients; set aside. Measure dried cranberries, chop and measure pecans, and slice scallions; set aside.

Once quinoa has cooled to room temperature, add wet ingredients to pot. Stir well. Next, add dry ingredients to pot. Stir well.

Can be served same day, but we think it tastes even better if served the next day. We prefer to eat it chilled. Freezes well for up to 4 weeks.

Download and print a PDF of this recipe here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

If It Wasn't Hard, Everyone Would Do It

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.
The hard... is what makes it great."

~Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks' character), A League of Her Own
It's not always easy living the creative life! We may struggle to make time to make our art. Or we may have to overcome fears of self-doubt and insecurity to perform or exhibit our work. And at times it may feel like an uphill battle, with no assurance that we'll book the gig, sell the work, or receive recognition for our sweat and perseverance.

When it feels hard, and we feel like giving up on our creative dreams, is when we most need to remind ourselves why we do what we do. And then recommit to our dreams, ourselves, the life we came here to live, and the love we came to express.
In 2009, the first time I showed my paintings at Art Farm (an Eric Matelski event to benefit Denver Urban Gardens) it was rained out and our work spent the day under garbage bags.

Photo credit: Tim DeMasters
On the surface, the event didn't appear successful. But through a contact I made that day, the event led to my first solo art exhibition 3 months later. The night my show opened at Michelangelo's Coffee and Wine Bar, I sold 5 paintings and a percentage of the proceeds benefited another non-profit, The Cunningham Foundation, through my Canvas for a Cause practice. It was a huge success!

Photo credit: Sean Richardson
We never know who we'll meet next or what new opportunity will present itself. That's the mystery and magic of the creative life! And it may happen when we least expect it, when it feels hard and we feel like giving up. So don't! Instead, get some rest. Then step back in front of the canvas, the page, or the audience, and keep doing the work.

It's when our fears are the loudest, and we want to turn back, that it's most important to keep moving forward. The seeds we've been planting and nurturing are right under the surface of the creative soil getting ready to breakthrough. Keep giving them love and light. 
We're going to bloom! 

Live creatively, even when it's hard,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

She Lives Creatively Spotlight: Laurie Maves

"I want to be as relentless and as ballsy as [Frida Kahlo] was - and yes, I said ballsy."
~Laurie Maves
Laurie Maves was the first artist I met in Denver the summer of 2009, the year I moved here. I didn’t know any other artists in Colorado and I knew nothing about navigating the Denver art scene, but a painting of mine had just been accepted into my first juried art show. Laurie – BIG hearted soul that she is – took me under her creative wing. Five years later, it is an honor to feature her in this month’s She Lives Creatively Spotlight!
Right: One Million Faces photo credit: Peggy Dyer
Marcella: So Laurie, you have a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Art Therapy. After college, what were your initial creative career aspirations and what career path did you follow?

Laurie: After graduate school, I worked briefly at an outpatient treatment center, called the “Rock Creek Center,” as an Art Therapist. It was a beautiful facility in a south suburb of Chicago. But I lived in the city and the commute was crazy. I thought there had to be more to life than working as a therapist driving over an hour in each direction. So I said, “ENOUGH!”

Laurie: My love of the outdoors, of big blue skies, brought me to Denver. I had various jobs as an Art Therapist working with the elderly, working with mentally ill adults, and then with PTSD children. After filtering all of that trauma for others I said, “ENOUGH! I need to get back to my roots as an artist.” It was the one thing I knew in my heart I wanted to be since I was a child. So I slowly left the counseling field and slowly opened my small business as a full time artist.

Marcella: What advice do you have for artists – like me – who are primarily self-taught?  Do you think creativity, and running a creative business, can be learned? And if so, what challenges, or advantages, might a self-taught artist face?

Laurie: Make work, make work, make work. Thousands of hours are required to having a perfected creative relationship with yourself.  You have to know what drives your images. And make those images a dozen , a hundred, a thousand times. As long as you are called to make certain images, certain paintings, certain drawings, make the work!

Laurie: I think anyone can learn to run a business, but not everyone has the discipline and the drive to do so. Any artist, whether she is a, “self- taught,” or a, “professionally schooled,” artist has the same challenges.  Until one experiences high levels of success in whatever market they choose to pursue, the online market, the real market, or the gallery system, most times the only one who will market your work is yourself. And if you’re not willing to put in the time or effort to get your work out there – wherever that may be – I believe you’re going to be frustrated easily.  You just have to put your head down, get going, and believe in yourself. Because if you don’t, it’s hard to ask other people to.

Marcella: When did you leave your day job to pursue your painting full-time? For those aspiring to be a full-time working artist, how did you know when you were ready to take the leap?

Laurie: I quit my full time non-profit job in 2006, but took a few other part time jobs to supplement my studio income until about 2008. I didn’t know I was ready. I think my part time work kind of just dwindled out. Maybe that was the Universe talking to me. But I wasn’t interested in finding another form of part time work, even if it was creative in nature. I just wanted to paint. So I started to market, market, market myself to anyone who would look or listen.
Laurie Maves' paintings
Marcella: When I first met you in 2009, you were working out of what I would describe as a mid-size studio in the Santa Fe Art District in Denver. Since that time, your business has grown and you relocated your art studio into a spacious warehouse. How did up-leveling your creative space come about?

Laurie: I had a studio in one of Denver’s many, “Arts,” districts. But I found that most of my commissions and work came to me by referrals, word of mouth, and via social media. So having realized that, I didn’t need to have a studio in the, “Arts,” district to thrive. I found that the studio rental spaces were more expensive for the real estate than what I could get in a not-so-popular area for artists. The move has been refreshing for me. I can afford the much larger space. And as one of my friends says about my new 2,000 square foot studio, “I now have room for all of my big ideas."

Marcella: Were you nervous about making the transition to a larger, more expensive, warehouse space? How did you overcome any fears or anxieties you may have had?

Laurie: Sure I was. And sometimes it’s a challenge to make the rent. But I also feel that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. So I just keep making the work. Some months are gracious and some months are super skinny. But again, I believe in what I am doing and that making paintings and commissions for people is my primary purpose on this planet. So if the finances suffer, so be it. This studio I have now is a dream studio for me.  As long as I can afford to keep it, then fabulous! I finally can say that I have had the painting studio, “of my dreams,” and that’s a wonderful feeling to have.

Marcella: Also when I met you 5 five years ago, you were donating a lot of your art work to charities for fundraising events.  Are art donations still part of your business plan for getting your work out into the world? Do you have any favorite causes you like to support through your art?

Laurie: I have donated hundreds of artworks in Denver and across the country over the past 15 years. One year I donated $10,000 worth of work to various charities. Sometimes I think artists can be, “overexposed,” so you just have to find a fit for yourself. I am asked almost monthly, if not more, than that to donate something to somebody. So I made the personal choice to reel that in a bit.

Laurie: Now I focus the majority of my donated time and artwork to the LLS and to cancer organizations. From time to time, if I have extra work on hand that has not sold, I will try to donate that to organizations that are asking. But I often find that many artists are asked WAY too often just to give their work away. We don’t get a tax write off, as many people do not know. We only get to write off the value of materials used in making the painting, not the retail value of the finished work. So donations really only come from your heart as a way to help others. Not as a way to get more exposure or as a write off. So it’s not currently part of my, “business plan.” I think it’s a good idea for new artists to Denver, or just artists who are newer to the game in general, to get your work out there, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Marcella: You also used to live paint  – a LOT! You even painted live at Red Rocks Amphitheater during a musical event, toured with a local band one summer, and at least once you were featured on the evening news. So is live painting something you still do?

Laurie: Live painting is still something that I do and love. I do it mostly on a, “for-hire,” basis for non-profits and their annual events and fundraisers. And the paintings that I have made on-site at a fundraising event are put to a live auction and have helped raise $1,400 - $3,500 at a single event. So over time I’ve proved my talents as a great way to not only provide entertainment for their guests, but as a great method for raising extra dollars as well.
Laurie Maves live painting
Marcella: I know you’re a HUGE fan of Frida Kahlo. You even made a pilgrimage to her home in Mexico a couple years ago. How has Frida influenced you as an artist?

Laurie: She is the classic example of a woman that used her creatively as her life line. I have always admired her boldness in her works. And she would not apologize for who she was or what she painted. Her paintings were her truths. She lived an amazing life traveling the world with a great deal of physical and emotional pain. She also accomplished great goals in her short life. I want to be as relentless and as ballsy as she was - and yes, I said, “ballsy."
Frida Kahlo painting by Laurie Maves
Marcella: You use social media a lot to promote your art / art business. Which are your favorite platforms? What marketing advice do you have for fellow creative types looking to use social media to grow their creative business?

Laurie: It used to be Facebook, but I found that to be a, “closed,” audience in a way. So I’m focusing on Twitter at the moment. My advice is the same as it is in regards to becoming the artist that you were meant to be. And like making work and spending thousands of creative hours. You have to be relentless and to post, post, post. Those who don’t like your work, won’t follow you. But those who do, look forward to your posts every day. A following can become a blessing and a burden. But when people are looking for your work and give you constant feedback, then you know you are making a difference in someone’s life, simply with your creativity and your willingness to share that

Marcella: How do you define success – for you?

Laurie: When I receive random feedback from people I’ve never met in person and they reach out and say I have inspired them today. And tears. When a client picks up a painting and they have tears of joy, for feeling understood, or simply feel a deeper level of human connection. I have the greatest success when my clients cry. I know I have nailed it.

Marcella: What do you consider to be your greatest artistic achievement – so far?

Laurie: Painting live at a TEDx talk. I completed a live painting in under 10 min. That was awesome!
Laurie Maves live painting during TEDx Talk
Marcella: What are your self-care practices (nutrition, exercise, etc.) that support your health and vitality, to in-turn support your creativity?

Laurie: Green juice, yoga, and meditation

Marcella: You are a mom of two very active boys. How do you balance being a mom with being an artist?

Laurie: I don’t know how I do it. You just do.

Marcella: What’s next?! Are you getting ready for any upcoming art shows or events?

Laurie: My friend Anya McMannis and I are hosting a summer solstice creative workshop at my studio Saturday, June 21 called, "Art 1 on 1.” We may still have a few spots open if any of your readers are interested in participating. It will include live painting a large group mural and creative journaling.
Laurie: But my most exciting project is a series of healthy cell paintings that I am making and sharing with cancer patients. I believe art and imagery can help in the healing process for anyone who is ailing, physically or emotionally. These paintings are driving my studio time on a daily basis. I have been studying Edgar Cayce and it all seems to be coming together. I just have to make the work...

Marcella: What is your long term vision for your art / art business?

Laurie: My ultimate dream is to paint live in front of thousands of people who are attending motivational workshops and conferences. Like for holistic health guru Kris Carr or something similar. I believe people receive messages differently and for visual learners, witnessing a live painting may inspire them with the speaker’s message on a whole other level. But I would like to keep growing my business as much as I can handle. Then maybe someday I can retire and live off the income of print sales. But I think I would just paint in my retirement anyway. I continue to look for ways to expand my work. So that’s what I’m doing and sharing it with the world. 

Laurie Maves with Kris Carr and Peggy Dyer
Marcella: If you could speak to your younger creative self, what advice would you give to her with the wisdom you possess today?

Laurie: Just make the work. Don’t worry about your audience. And focus less energy on trying to be accepted by others . If I make work that is genuine to me, the rest will fall in line.

Marcella: Thank you Laurie! xo

Marcella: To learn more about Laurie Maves and her art visit