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Creativity Interviews : Christen Douglass

An Interview with Christen Douglass (March 2004)

Artist, Jewelry Maker, and Photographer

By Chris Dunmire

Jewelry Design by Christen DouglassThe following interview is in response to a series of questions put forth to readers of the March 2004 Creativity Portal Newsletter. The questions were aimed at people who actively pursue creativity in their lives.

Christen Douglass, owner of Black Water Siren Studio (BlackWaterSiren.com), responded to the questions and is a self-taught artist, jewelry maker, and photographer. Included here are some images of Christen's original jewelry designs and photography. Images © copyright Christen Douglass.

Did you always think you were creative or is it something that you discovered later on in life?

I've always been creative; my mother was a painter, my father a photographer, my brother a theatre set designer. I grew up with it, and fortunately was encouraged by my family.

If the latter, how did you discover it? Did you actively seek it out or did it come to you unexpectedly?

I'm going to answer this one as well — because although my mother encouraged me to become a ballet dancer, or pianist/musician, I was always playing with costume jewelry, and then found my niche during high school creating jewelry.

How do you express creativity in your life? What is your art?

I express it in many ways — taking photos of winter scenes for the local newspaper, some of which you can see here (I created this site when I joined Found-Art so people could see what I do). Mostly I make jewelry, or write, or paint; I always have some art project I'm working on in addition to my jewelry business. I think the big thing is that no matter what I'm doing, I think artistically — my perspective of the world is through an artist's eyes.

Jewelry Design by Christen DouglassWhat has this expression brought to your life?

It's hard for me to remember what I did before I focused my attention on jewelry-making. When I first met my husband, he asked me what I really wanted to do, and I answered "become a jeweler". That was the beginning of my journey into my art.

Are you a full-time artist or do you do art (in some form) just for personal pleasure?

Back in the late 1990s I was making a decent living being a full time artist. Then I succumbed to exhaustion for several years. At this point I am still a full-time artist, although I do not make enough money to support myself. I used to do many craft shows, but they were exhausting. I am at a certain crossroads now - not wanting to do shows, but wanting to be financially successful within my chosen artistic profession, and looking for a "day job" in the meantime to help support my family.

There are numerous books, guides, exercises etc., telling people how to access and cultivate their creativity. Did you ever try any of these? What worked for you and what didn't?

I think the absolute best book I've found on the subject of cultivating creativity is "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. This book is very detailed, and guides a person in a practical and precise manner toward a more creative way of viewing themselves and the world.

How would you recommend that someone could discover their creative talent and cultivate it?

I would say to Just Do It. What did they always want to do? If they wanted to build a 30-foot sculpture I would tell them to build the model for it first — start with something that incorporates skills they probably already have before they embark on a project that requires specialized training, so as not to get discouraged.

Just do it, and make sure not to get into (or at least minimize) that self-defeating battery that all artists fight with "It looks stupid, I'm no good, I have no talent" — if they want to paint, just paint no matter what. In the beginning, the initial attempts all look stupid, but art comes from within — the skills develop as you allow the art to come out. After my husband encouraged me to go for it, my first pair of earrings were horrifying — I still cringe in embarrassment when I think of them, but someone bought them. Fifteen years later I'm impressed with myself and how far I've come.

One thing I want to say here is that, again, I am one of those "lucky" people who oozes so much creativity it makes others sick, and sometimes I find it to be a curse. I often get negative responses from people who are jealous of my talent, even my best friends sometimes get a little twisted and testy when they see one of my new designs.

I have so many diverse talents that sometimes it is hard to focus — how can I sit down at the piano and write a song when there is a piece of jewelry I need to finish, or a phenomenal sunset to photograph?

And as far a having a permanent job — now that's a novel concept! I haven't found one yet that is creative enough to keep me from wishing I were in my studio, and this makes me a poor risk for long term employment in the standard job market.

Because I am a self-taught artist, I don't have the degrees prospective employers want to see to validate my expertise, so I am not "qualified" to get an enjoyable "day job" doing creative things like photo-editing for a catalog company, even though I'm extremely good at it.

Ice Photo by Christen DouglassIn social situations people shy away from me because I'm "different", my creativity is often intimidating to others, and I've spent a lifetime trying to minimize my accomplishments so others would feel comfortable. I remember doing this even in 2nd grade because the other kids would vandalize my belongings if they knew about my creativity, and I still do it now to avoid social ostracism.

Don't get me wrong, I love my creativity and my talents and feel very blessed to have them, and every day I forge ahead to find my own artistic place in the world.

Sometimes being creative is a rough road to travel, and I would tell those who want to develop their artistic talents to be persistent in developing their art, and most of all to be courageous, especially in the face of adversity, whether it is their own self-doubt or the jealousy of their peers.

Creativity is also the most rewarding road to travel; it develops strength of character and self-acceptance, is a productive avenue for self-expression, and provides a sense of personal fulfillment that nothing else quite can. I encourage everyone to live more creatively, because to be creative and to express creativity is ultimately to bring more joy into your life by truly tapping into the center of your own essence. •

Learn more about Christen's art and creativity at: www.BlackWaterSiren.com.

03/31/04