As part of my series of interviews with amazing, over the top, inspiring women...I am so pleased to post this interview with Lis! When I first got to know Lis...what struck me was her extraordinarily huge heart, her capacity to extend grace and love to all she met, her amazing mothering skills as well as her creativity. I am sure once you get to know her a little more...you will be touched by her as well. She so willingly shares her journey with authenticity, bravery and heart.
I love the way you infuse creativity into every aspect of Cowgirls' life!! I get so many ideas from you Lis! You encourage your daughter to paint, write books (!!!), take photos...can you share a few practical tips on how we can do the same? Do you expose your daughter to certain interests or do you let her take the lead?
This journey to recover my creative self began with my daughter. The very first online course I ever took – Mermaid Warrior Art Camp with McCabe Russell - was geared towards children or “the course you wish you had when you were a kid.” McCabe is great. She really encourages people to believe we don’t have to dumb art-making down for kids. Our very first project was to create art journals and Cowgirl’s journal is almost full! Cowgirl was 4 at the time and her art experience was limited to crayons and finger paints. It has been really fun to introduce her to new materials – she loves watercolor paints and has used up two of my somewhat expensive watercolor sets! I try to show her how to use the materials and then I do my best to step out of the way. As a kid, I remember being frustrated because I hadn’t been taught any technique. So I try to help her understand how certain materials may work and show her how to handle different tools. I then let her have at it, but I may step in to suggest other ways of working if she seems to be getting frustrated. I guess I set things up, suggest ideas or projects and then let her do what she wants. She always surprises me. She has a great sense of color and a vivid imagination, so it is fun to see how she interprets things.
As a kid I was always told I was “artistic” and talented which one would think is being supportive, but it had the opposite effect upon me. I believed being talented meant things should come easily. But because I had to work hard at art, well, then I must not really be that good at it. Fear and doubt crippled me. So I am very careful with Cowgirl to ask her if she is enjoying herself. I praise her on how hard she worked on her art and how she seems to really like making the piece rather than saying how good it is or how creative she must be. For us, making art is a time to be together talking and sharing and we focus upon that experience. She will often say “I really like making art with you” and I love hearing that! We also talk about how there is no right or wrong way to do art (she heard this on one of McCabe’s videos) and I think it really comforts her to know she can do what she enjoys and there is no judgment involved.
I love your photography and how it has evolved since I have been reading your blog. You capture depth and mood so well; when I see your photos, I actually feel them! Can you give us beginner photographers any tips on how to capture a moment, an emotion...a mood?
Photography is my first love, so thank you for that lovely compliment! I am a lover of detail, so I am always stepping in closer and closer to see what is perhaps hidden or less visible. I think every photography teacher must say, before snapping the shot, take one step closer. Fill the frame of viewfinder. Don’t be afraid to crop something. I studied art history and I recently realized my photographs are informed by painters like Degas who were influenced by photography! To convey a sense of a moment captured, you don’t balance everything symmetrically; you cut something off to convey the sense of having a fleeting glimpse of a moment, an action or event.
The only other tip is shoot with your heart. What is happening that you want to remember or preserve? Where is the emotional center to the scene? The drop of ice cream rolling down your daughter’s chin? The way your dog rests one paw against the other? A single flower against the green of the lawn? If I’m not moving around a lot – squatting, bending, flipping my camera up and down then I am not looking actively enough and probably am taking dull pictures. Oh, my favorite tip – you can turn your camera and frame the shot vertically! I probably do it too much, but I seem to prefer the look of a vertical or portrait framing versus the horizontal or landscape orientation.
I understand you are a yogini. How does your spirituality translate or affect your creative life?
I am finding there is little difference between my yoga practice and my creativity. Both are about dropping into flow, opening to intuition, and cultivating presence and self-awareness without judgment. Both are about discovering the truth that who I am is greater than my fears, doubts, limited beliefs and understanding. Both mentor me in the experience of being a part of something vast and unending. When I teach yoga, I allow the teachings to flow through me and from that experience I’ve come to realize that I do not possess creativity or talent, it is simply a part of me – or I am a part of it perhaps? However it works, I open to it and allow it to flow. Or not. There are those days too.
I find myself drawing upon the teachings of yoga to support me in my creative life. The obstacles that Patanjali lays out in the Yoga Sutras can be applied to the spiritual as well as the creative journey: mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, loss of ground gained – all of these will arise to challenge us. Call me crazy, but I take comfort in knowing this! If I am having a rough day, I think “ah yes, this is to be expected” and somehow that helps me keep things in perspective. I know it is just something to be gotten through.
Essential in both areas is nonattachment to the outcome of my actions – what is known as Karma Yoga. I have to show up, do my share, put in the effort and then accept whatever happens as a gift or an opportunity to learn or grow. So whatever I am doing, I try my best not to focus so much upon the end result but be present for the process. What am I learning? Often my biggest messes have given me the greatest insights and lessons. The seemingly random bird added to a painting turns out to be a reminder to look for joy and magic in every situation. I am constantly blown away by what creeps in when my controlling mind is temporarily on sabbatical!
You have become very involved in Half the Sky Foundation. I love to see how one ordinary extraordinary woman can lift...half the sky!! What would you like us to know about the situation against girl children in China?
I’m not as up-to-date on the situation in China as I was when we were going through the process to adopt our daughter and that was over 6 years ago. In terms of the welfare centers, a lot has changed since then. Most of the children currently available for international adoption are special needs or older children, including teenagers. Half the Sky’s programs have expanded to include these older children whose likelihood of becoming adopted is very slim. So Half the Sky’s educational and training programs provides these kids – girls and boys who have no other resources or support - a chance at a brighter future. It is humbling to read the newsletter these kids produce as part of their training. Their outlook is amazing – very practical, but also hopeful. They have been given a huge gift: the belief that they can make a difference in their world. They are the generation that will instigate change and it is important to let them know we all care.
Lis, thank you so much for granting me this interview. I have learned so much from your answers and...I am totally inspired to become more and more of who I am (just like you are!)
*all photos used in this post courtesy of Lis
*all photos used in this post courtesy of Lis