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Being an Artist

By Leslie Graff

Photobucket When I was in high school, other kids in my studio class senior year were going on to art school. I remember the signs up for portfolio days with the big schools—Pratt, Cooper Union, Chicago, RISD. “You should go,” my art teacher pressed. But when I thought about being an artist as a profession it seemed scary and somewhat irresponsible; after all, all you ever heard about were unsuccessful artists. I also didn’t think I was “weird enough” to be an artist. Well, twenty years later I find myself an artist, and I know I’m not normal enough to be otherwise. As much as I fought it, I eventually succumbed and fully embraced being one.

The truth about artists is… we are often a little different. And well sometimes artist are kind of intense. While I like to think of it in a good way, I know it’s not necessarily typical. We get easily captivated by colors or images or textures or sounds. As a grown adult I am often easily amused by things that sparkle and glow, a trait not unlike that of children, and small animals. My brain logic doesn’t always follow a normal path. It tends to be frenetic stream of conscious. Or I can take an idea and pull it in a hundred different directions. I feast on images and sensory experiences and thoughts (this is how I love to justify great food and music—essential artist fuel). Words and thoughts bounce around in my head incessantly. In fact, it is well known joke that the L Graff brain has no off switch.

Sometimes I laugh at my husband and say, “Sorry, honey, I know this wasn’t actually what you signed up for… having the crazy artist wife.” My husband is a mechanical engineer so he is a creative in his own rite, but in a much tighter, technical way. At the time he married me I had disclosed my past dabbling and relatively serious forays into art, but I think he thought I’d stay the course of my graduate degree. However, the sad truth is, once an artist, always an artist. Little did he know that thirteen years into marriage he’d be living amidst hundreds of half-done paintings and two studios. He probably didn’t imagine the music playing till 2 am as I finish up a piece, having to find intelligent critiques for pieces, and being constantly asked for opinions— “Should I paint this pose or this pose?”—or having to double as my shipping lackey.

Still, he humors my art conversations with other friends, and the way I can be aghast at a combination of lines, or enamored with an image to the point of near obsession, or talk for 5 minutes about how much I am in love with my jar of maimeri polycolor navy acrylic (the richest, most, intense deep blue paint ever—don’t get me started). He has come to enjoy museums and galleries, although I know not quite to the same degree as I do.

It doesn’t stop there, though. I am known for keeping my camera on my lap during the nine-hour drives from our house to my parents’ because I might need a picture of that power line on the New Jersey turnpike for a painting, and I jot scribbly notes in sketchbooks, which always travel with me. He is patient with the chaos of creativity; on many occasions he’s found our kitchen turned upside down to make golden 3D sarcophagus cakes for a son’s birthday, or our house turned into a floral design room to prep someone’s wedding flowers, or the dining room table littered with thirty scrub hats being sewn for an upcoming medical mission. And I don’t tend to confine the creativeness to myself. There are endless parades of friends, children, and neighbors through the house as I suck them into my web of crazy creative projects and try to turn them all. I will admit to flat out brainwashing them with creative talk and bright colors.

Someone once asked if it was hard for me to be LDS and an artist. My answer was no, not really, it’s much harder just to be a responsible citizen or a mother and an artist. Because at times being “creative” doesn’t fit so well with the schedules and routines and responsibilities of normal life. Still, I have to say I love being an artist. I love to think like an artist. I love the joy of creating.  So can I convert you?

Are you a “crazy artist,” or are you married to one? Have you learned to peacefully coexist with creative craziness in yourself or others, have you embraced it, or is it still lurking covertly? And if you have any favorite creative stories, do share!

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

24 thoughts on “Being an Artist”

  1. Lurking covertly still. 🙂 Still trying to get up the nerve to take a course and buy materials, but it's boosting my morale to know that you took a break and then threw yourself into it later. I am feeling inspired again, which is nice. Another thing holding me back is that my mom is an artist, so I'll always hold myself up to that (mostly imagined) standard. Maybe soon I'll just take the leap without thinking.

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  2. Not a crazy artist, but married to a full-time musician, and his schedule makes me crazy!! I would love any advice or help anyone on here could give as to how to keep a family connected when the husband is gone weeknights and weekends and home in the darn mornings when the kids are at school. It's been tough for years, and we keep trying to tweak things and make it work, but now I'm wondering if I just need to homeschool them all so they can have enough time with their dad. . . .(really would prefer not to – we love their schools and they are doing well).
    On a more positive note, I do love being in that world – going to his concerts and hearing his stories about people he's met, etc. And I love the music itself (he's a violinist)

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  3. I am most definitely a crazy/passionate artist– but my husband does NOT love my creative compulsions. He doesn't understand why projects draw me in, why I have to keep a notepad by my bed, why I'd rather create something than watch a movie. I envy your ability to simply be yourself; to be loved and adored as YOU. I am constantly apologizing for my personality and trying desperately to be someone else.

    Does anyone else struggle with this? Be assured, my children are fed, clothed and my bills are paid, but I wish I could unapologetically be myself.

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  4. I can relate to what you are saying. I am a Camp Director for the Boy Scouts of America. There are camp standards to be update…I have endless amounts of binders…everywhere…. forms to be updated…I had to end up getting my own laptop so I would not hog his computer all the time.
    Right now we are kicking off our camping season, forms, flyers, applications, recruiting staff members, patch and t-shirt orders, promotions, staff meetings and trainings….update websites…all the while Cub Scout packs are asking for more information and current program is being fined tuned and all the stuff for that. I do this times 3 since I have 3 separate camps I direct. Pays off though because I have the highest rating BSA Camps can have and everyone is registering now though camp is in June, July and August.

    I also homeschool a child, but not for long. He is returning to public school since his health has improved enough to return.

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  5. I'm such a fan of your art, Leslie, so I love this glimpse into your creative process.

    We're not artists around here, but I often wish I had the inspiration to have the projects going on like you've described. It all sounds vibrant and exhilarating.

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  6. I sent this link to my husband. He'll share your husband's pain.

    I have imaginary friends. Lots of them. I talk about them to him like they are real. My kids don't feel the need to have imaginary friends because they know all of mine. (I think it's weird, them not having imaginary friends. I thought ALL kids have imaginary friends.)

    I sat in church last month sobbing all the way through it. I was so glad nobody asked me why I was crying, because how weird would it be to say, "My imaginary friends are fighting and it makes me sad"?

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  7. I am a husband of another wacky Mormon creative type(writer) who blogs about stuff, but less so since twitter brings her more business(e-book formatting). Yeah, I put up with it, cuz I love her.

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  8. My insane artsy projects – mostly for Girls' Camp because then I can justify it – used to drive my husband bananas. But he finally realized that creative pursuits make me a whole person. And when I'm whole, I'm happy, which he likes.

    I'm on the Stake Girls' Camp Committee again this year, and the craziness starts next week. My sweet husband (who handles any power tool usage) essentially said, "Just let me know what you need me to do."

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  9. i am married to a musician and have learned to embrace it, because, like stephanie said, it makes him a whole, happy person. when he is absorbed in his art, he is the most himself.

    plus, i just hope that some of his creativity rubs off on my mathematical/lawerly self. he balances me.

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  10. Thankyou for this insight. I don't have a creative bone or other body part, but your description of yourself has given me such insight into my amazingly artistic granddaughter. As a child, what she could sculpt from tinfoil or paper rivaled store displays. It always leaves us awe-struck.

    My understanding has deepened because of this – and yes, she is uniquely different. The only one playing a tuba in her school band and a ballerina to boot – but wow, the talent encased in that one person.

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  11. I am there with you Leslie, except I can't quite shake the routines and structure that seem necessary to make a family run. I love those late night painting sessions, but I haven't had one in a long time because my daughter goes to early morning seminary. The structure of family life supersedes my creative craziness for now.

    I love that you've found ways to bring others into your creative crazy realm. It is fun that way! Sometimes I wonder if I'm squandering my creative efforts in making dozens of paper mache peppers for the ward chili cook off though.

    It was refreshing to read your descriptions, to know I'm not alone in overthinking or living so much in my head. Inevitably I'm the one at bookgroup who keeps going back to the themes/images of the book while everyone else wants to move on to gossiping. I'm the one in Relief Society that gets so invigorated by a newly understood concept that she won't keep her hand down.I'm also the one who can't stay focused on the ramblings of her 9 yr old son because of my own mental ramblings. I always have a notebook on hand for notes and sketches, but ideas come too fast and often when my hands are full!

    Another aspect of being "artsy" that is difficult is, "You're so lucky to be so talented and creative! I'm not creative at all!" I bite my tongue every time, but that's a lie. Everyone is creative to some extent. The only thing that might make me different is courageously pursuing it. (Even my husband, the math/stats geek, is creative in his use and understanding of statistics.) And you courageously pursue it even more Leslie. That seems to be the difference between successful/prolific artists and those who quietly linger, like me.

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  12. What an interesting question about being LDS and an artist. I am coming to find out that as sons and daughters of God we are creators. We create families. We create (or try to)a good home. We might create some good food or a garden. We might have some artistic talents like painting or composing music. It might manifest itself in writing. The possibilities are endless and artistic talents are not required to be a creator. I recall I talk given by Elder Marvin J. Ashton. He mentioned that there will be times where you feel an intense longing for home. He suggested that these feelings are not about our earthly home but about our longing for our heavenly home. For me, when I have those kind of feelings I need to create. Creation is a part of God's good work and when we are creating we draw closer to Him. We become like Him.

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  13. Do you have to live a chaotic life in order to be an artist? Because I live a VERY ordered life and yet consider myself rather creative at the same time. I ALMOST majored in art in college (I did humanities with a fine arts emphasis instead) and since then I have scarcely drawn or painted–my time has been much occupied elsewhere. But I have gotten into photography, made LOTS of cutup birthday cakes, written TONS and TONS of journals, and basically spent my creative energy into other areas of my life–like my own home. (But if you came to my house you might not agree–I can take YEARS to decorate a room. I am able to ignore a blank wall for a LONG time until I figure out just what I want to do with it. It may look like I'm not creative, but in reality I just haven't made up my mind about it.) And I LOVE hanging paintings of master artists on my walls. This is one side of me. The other side LOVES order and will happily spend an entire Saturday redoing a room, decluttering and tossing things. While I'm involved in a project like that I have to confess that it feels VERY similar to how I used to feel when I'd be wrapped up in a drawing. I recently dug out my art pencils though and bought a sketchbook to pick up drawing again. So what do you think? Is there hope for me? 😉

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  14. I've never been able to decide exactly where I fall: as an English major and former aspiring artist (I took art classes all through college and high school), I don't think I have a really artistic temperament, although I enjoy writing and drawing. Sometimes I think I'm the most left-brained English major I know. But I do appreciate creativity when I find it in others!

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  15. Loved this post. When I was in middle school I spent my summers drawing paper dolls with swimsuits and all sorts of crazy outfits. I designed Barbie clothes. I went through a Modern Bride phase too, where all I'd look at were bridal gowns in magazines and I'd draw them at home. I drew graphite portraits and made sculptures and entered all sorts of art contests.

    I also went to the Pratt Institute the summer right before I went to BYU, just because. It was one of the best things I had ever done.

    But somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that I should be doing "more practical" things and picked a different major, which turned out just fine, but now I always wonder…Now I just draw cartoons on my blog and make wedding cake toppers and Halloween costumes, which is really fun and therapeutic.

    This post just reminded me how practical artists are! I would hope that if my children developed artistic talents, I could encourage them to fully explore their options (instead of discourage them, or not do enough to nurture those capabilities).

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  16. I am a professional artist. I came back to creating art after taking 20 years off to raise our 5 children, which as you know, takes all your creative energy. I can be a professional artist only because I have a dear husband who supports our family, and who enthusiastically supports my art. I am grateful – I know that I have the best of all possibilities. I would not be able to support our family financially, but I am able to support us emotionally because he values me and my contribution. I don't intend to brag, but I want to encourage sister – you can do it! If not now – then look forward to later.

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  17. I can totally jive with your husband's perspective on things. I'm the computer scientist and my husband is the artist. (Intelligent critiques was definitely something new for me to strive for!) We've found great satisfaction in combining talents for new media projects.

    I would definitely agree that being an artist and being a family person is the harder mix. Though "artist" sometimes intimidates ward members, throwing kids into the mix has made it harder for him to work. It also has meant that he chose to channel his energy into academia for now, since neither of us has business sense enough to make art pay the bills. We tried him staying home with the kids, but that didn't do a lot for his creative mojo and equally little for my nurturing yearnings. We've currently found a good balance for ever shifting dynamics, though I suspect it's a dance we'll keep working on for awhile.

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  18. I was very upfront about my needs when I got married. I told my hubby that I would always need a place to paint that was just for me. He's been great about it. I think he knows art is cheaper than therapy!
    I will say, sometimes it is hard for me to pull myself into the reality of daily "momness" and out of creating. I have a hard time staying balanced when I am wrapped up in an idea.

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  19. Well there are mnay great types of artists and creatives. My version is just one of those.

    tay- just do it 🙂

    michelle- as i sai di find being a mom sometimes very challenging with being a creative i think musician schedules are especially taxing, that is one thing i get to control more as an artist

    anon- i think it does take some time and evolution to personally figure out how you integreate it well into a family system, but really artists are cool

    shelly- glad you have found good results in your productivity

    moriah- well as a child my imaginary friends were named after foods (gouda and tutti-frutti- as you can see i wasn't totally normal then)

    emily CC- thanks– watch it if you get around me– I'll share the creative bug

    miztr-oh we love the dear husbands– i swear my husband earns sainthood for living with me!

    steph- husband love!

    debra- i lov eit when we get to rub off on each other- the great part of relationships

    sharon- glad to share insights- keep nuturing
    jendoop- so with you on everyone is creative- its just finding the direction for it- i hear it all the time- and i take it as a personal challenge– and if someone says i am not an artist- i challenge them to come work in the studio with me

    Becky- so try i feel entirely validated in creativity as an eternal principle.

    ana- i love ordered creativity- i wish my creativity were more linear and categorical by nature– come share some with me!

    rosalyn- i can apprecaite the l?R split- in fact i feel myself that way alot- although i think in recent years the R has conquered much of the L's territory

    sarita- isn't it funny how we view it as so irresponsible- ironic given its the best job i think i have ever had…

    annette- yah- love others who live that life- my website is http://www.lesliegraff.com

    becca-love the collaboration– yes "artist" is a funny label

    kirsten- amen- cheper than therapy- and prettier too!

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  20. Leslie: Thank you for the insight into the creative mind. I am not creative in the same way, but I populate my life with people who are. I have had a number of friends who are graphic designers, poets, and painters. My friend Steffi(art teacher, sculptor, painter and stain-glass artist–and currently, RS president in her ward) tells me that she doesn't feel content unless she creates something every day. Her home is filled with beautiful objects that she and others have created. She rejoices in colors and textures. She also gives me courage to take a few more risks in various venues in my life. Hooray for artists!

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  21. Leslie,thank you, and thanks for including your website. I really love the Domestic Series and your explanation about it. Beautiful! I often feel a surge of creativity, strive to satisfy it, and then retreat for too long to clean up or catch up. My desire is to find harmony between the two.

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