How to Be Creative When You Are Exhausted: 3 Things You Need to Know

When people find out you have written a book, they often will share that they, too, have a book idea. It's in their head, this book, and one day, they will write it down. I get it, I really do.

Colorado artist Jonathan Fenske

Most of us--all of us, really--have something creative inside that's yearning to get out. We have been blessed with a gem of creativity and before long...it starts to rattle and roll around our heads and hearts until we just know that it must come out. Maybe it's a new recipe, maybe it's starting a blog or a book, maybe it's taking a photography class to finally master that new DSLR.

Whatever it is, this creative nugget can wither in the face of life. In the face of reality. The just getting up and getting on can smother even the most elegant and eye-popping ideas.

I know tiredness. I know messy houses with clean laundry piled high waiting for the folding fairies to show up. I know the exhaustion that comes from starting the day early with small children, commuting to an office, doing good, hard work, and then returning to love those children with dinner, baths, books and prayers.

After that, what's left? A scrap of an hour? But what of bills, organizing, phone calls with sisters, or a quiet chat with your spouse? How does anything creative get done in a home like this? 

I'm only an expert in my own life (and Jonathan would say his, as well, ha!) but here are three things that have helped us. I hope they can be of use to you, too.

1. Communicate to the people who live in your house what you will be doing. 

I have a persistent child who loves to draw out bedtime so it's about two hours long. If I give in to her nightly demands, I would never write another word in my life. So, I say to the older girls: "Mommy is putting you to bed at 7:45. You can read for a while, but I am going downstairs and writing." They hardly ever argue when I set up the evening like this.

You have to draw the line in the sand for your time to be creative. Protect that space. Maybe your time is your lunch hour when you walk to a coffee shop and bang out some words on your tablet at a dented coffee table (I've done this). Or perhaps you trade babysitting with another mom so you can attend a Craftsy class while the house is quiet.

I know some of you are thinking: "But I am tired and you're telling me to work more!" Yep, I sure am. Trust me on this one: when you step into that magic hour, you will work hard. But you'll come out jazzed, energized, more alive. And the best part? You won't be resentful or snippy because you are doing what you are supposed to do: fulfilling your calling.

2. Accept that you cannot do everything. And then do just one thing. 

We are launching an online store to sell stretched canvas prints of some of Jonathan's designs. My to-do list is a mile long as we get ready to roll out the store to bloggers, designers and our art supporters. My head could spin, but I learned long ago that today only has a few things on the list. Maybe five, sometimes just one. You'll get better at figuring out what goes on the list, but here's a hint: When it's on the list, it gets done. That's because you've given it a sacred place on the list, and you have focused your heart and mind on it.

It does no good to make lists that you cannot do. If you cannot devote an hour to writing a blog post, then don't add it to the list. Instead, your list should include the things you can do. Maybe it's Return Liz's email and Send invoice to client.

3. Never, ever compare yourself with anyone else's success. 

You've finally stepped into that magic hour. The work is happening and you take a moment to read a favorite blogger. She's just announced her new book contract, her development deal with a cable network and she tops it off by sharing glamorous photos from a recent trip to New York (sponsored by Glade!)

This is what you must know: you will drain away your last resources if you waste a moment of jealousy on someone else's success. 

You don't want her troubles, and she doesn't want yours.

Let it go, wish the wonderful writer/artist/actor/mom well and go back to your journey. Your gift is something the world needs and even though you are exhausted, it's up to you to make it happen. Being resentful or spiteful or envious only hurts your creative offering because we might not get to see it. Discouragement is an ugly step-sister to jealousy.

Guard your time well. Be grateful for your opportunities, even when they happen quietly, out of the public eye. Give thanks for each spark of genius you have. And may you have many more.

What about you? How are you creative even when exhausted? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Art on a Budget: 6 Ways to Find Art That's Affordable

Jonathan and I love art, and we share our home with paintings and other special one-of-a-kind pieces that mean a lot to us. I know from talking with friends who come over that they often want original art---but don't know where to start. It's too expensive, right? Well, of course, it can be. But it doesn't always have to. With a little work, Googling and luck, you can have beautiful art, all for not much money. We're living proof!

Okay, if you're still with me, read on for a few tips on buying art on a budget. (Or finding art on a budget...but we're getting ahead of ourselves!)

Art on a Budget Tip #1: Find An Artist You Love and Then Figure Out How to Buy from Them

I'll let you in on a secret: artists like to sell their work. And they usually do it with a smile on their face. So, get out and meet artists. You'll be collecting on the cheap, so head to undergraduate art openings at a college or university near you. Stopping in at the local yogurt shop? Chances are, there's an artist on the walls that month. Even Barnes and Noble displays art on the hall leading to the bathroom. Look for artist "studio tours" in nice weather. Go on gallery crawls where there are pop-up exhibitions happening on nearby streets.

Use Twitter to find artists by following hashtags such as #illustrator and #artist. Strike up Twitter friendships with artists and visit their websites. Often, artists will set up online stores where they offer paintings, prints and even pillows of their work. Want something different but completely cool? DENY Designs based in Denver sells home decor goods printed with amazing art, including stretched canvas.

Become friends with your new favorite artist. Get on their email list. Comment on their blog. Be supportive and introduce them to other potential collectors. They'll be grateful and when you commission them to paint the perfect 24"x24" piece for your foyer, they'll gratefully move you to the top of the list.

Once you find something that's in your budget, ask yourself just one question: Do I like this piece? If you do, buy it. This is where you decide to part with cold cash: if you like it, it's yours.

When I was in high school, I was really into Georgia folk artists. I adored R.A. Miller and found out a cool gallery in my hometown of Greenville, S.C. carried a few of his pieces. I walked in the door (probably decked out in a vintage dress and humming an R.E.M. song) and trotted out a few minutes later with this tin cut (below) for $40. (The painting on the left was purchased in Nicaragua off the street for less than $20. It has a cardboard frame...isn't it the coolest?)

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Pro Tip: When buying art from a cafe or bookstore, it's a universal truth that the frames will be atrocious. Look past it---it's okay. Head over to Dick Blick and re-frame your sweet new piece of art.

Art on a Budget Tip #2: Trade Something

From time to time, Jonathan (who is an artist and children's book author/illustrator, if you are a new reader to this blog) will trade with another artist he admires. It's how we got this piece by David Nielson when we lived in Atlanta a few years before we moved out West.

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If you aren't an artist with another painting to trade, maybe you are a graphic designer and can trade a website design. Or maybe you're an attorney who can give some contract advice to an artist. Stay-at-home mom? What about babysitting for an artist who needs help watching kids so she can work? Trading works best if you have a relationship already established with the artist. So, I say ask--you never know what you might be able to arrange. Back in Atlanta, we once traded a painting for a Danish Modern dining room table and chairs. (If you want to see that painting, "Chivalry Is Dead," click here. It's peeking over the shoulder of our friend Brian.)

Art on a Budget Tip #3: Troll Etsy

There are some amazing artists on Etsy.  It's like an art fair on your laptop. You'll have to sift and sort but when you do, slap a heart on shops you love and come back again and again. We purchased this print from 12fifteen and then framed it with a Target matte/frame combo. I love prints and think they are a great way to collect someone you love...even if more than one person has the same one you do. Total cost: $47.50.

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Art on a Budget Tip #4: Ask an Artist to Paint Your Walls

This one takes a little more coordination, but you probably won't be turned down. As long as you are not asking the artist to paint a Disney character (blech), most early-career artists will happily come over and draw something special on your wall and then paint it. Jonathan got his start doing murals all over the Upstate of South Carolina. Send a friendly email...what do you have to lose?

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Art on a Budget Tip #5: Don't Forget Sculpture

An often less-expensive path to an art-filled home is to remember sculpture, vases, birdhouses, lamps...anything that you love and expresses who you are.

This TimeStone clock makes me happy every time I walk downstairs for a badly-needed cup of coffee in the morning. The bright yellow bird slides back and forth. We found this at a thrift store for less than $5.

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These blocks were a gift for the new baby. They are fresh, modern and so pretty. From tiny giraffe on Etsy.

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Art on a Budget Tip #6: Make Friends with Your Local Thrift Store

Every thrift store in America has a huge bin of mouldering frames, 1970's owl art and assorted motivational posters housed in gold-tone frames. You, dear reader, are going deeper. Remember to disregard the frames and the cleanliness of the art. Pounce on anything that is clearly original and well done. Jonathan rescued this awesome 1982 painting from a thrift store down the street. It's by Denver artist Bruce Clark and I can't imagine what happened so that it ended up where it did, but we couldn't be more thrilled to be the new owners.

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I should definitely add that many quality galleries offer paintings in the low hundreds. Some even may have very small works for less than $200 if the artist is just starting out. Or they may sell high-quality prints that cost around $100. But if those prices are too steep for your budget, then I hope some of my ideas may help. Good luck and happy hunting!
Do you have a fun art collecting story? Share it in the comments!  And don't forget to subscribe to more Fenske art news by scrolling to the bottom of the blog and entering your email. Keep up with Jen and Jonathan on Twitter, too: @jenmanskefenske

Love Is in the Air: Jonathan's New Children's Book Is Published!

This week was a fun one in the Fenske household. Jonathan's first children's book that he wrote and illustrated published Dec. 27. Love Is in the Air (Penguin USA) is the story of a lonely balloon and a lively kite and their special day in the park together. Jonathan is pretty excited and I am over the moon. It's not every day you get to walk into Barnes and Noble and see your sweetie's new book on the shelf. Proud of you, baby!  

http://www.jonathanfenske.com

 

http://www.jonathanfenske.com

 

Love Is in the Air is available in soft cover, hardcover and (soon!) it will be an enhanced ebook, produced by Penguin's awesome ebook partner.

 

http://www.jonathanfenske.com

 

What's next for Jonathan? Penguin will release Guppy Up! Feb. 7, 2013. Plus, he always has new children's books in progress, and Penguin is interested in some new titles for 2014. So, stay tuned!

Art Party!

Our middle girl turned four Sunday, which of course is a terribly big deal. We hosted an art party and Jonathan took the kids through a lesson in painting their own "Pop-art"-sicles. It was an adult joke, but some of those kids were pretty smartypants and I think they got it. We were overwhelmed with the kids' creativity and powers of concentration. Cake, presents, art...color us happy! (and completely exhausted.) http://www.jonathanfenske.com

http://www.jonathanfenske.com

 

http://www.jonathanfenske.com

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http://www.jonathanfenske.com

 

 

Heavy Odds: We'll Take Them

Yesterday, we woke up to fun news and several "congratulations!" emails: Healthy Creatures, our children's app for iPad was featured in the Denver Post. We were interviewed by technology reporter Andy Vuong; Aaron Ontiveroz took our portrait. Both journalists were awesome and couldn't have been easier or nicer to work with. I liked Andy's angle in the story about the hard road ahead of us as indie mobile app developers in a crowded market. He's absolutely correct---finding mobile app success on the App Store without Disney or Dora in your name is really, really tough. But here's the thing: working our tails off in the creative world is all Jonathan and I have ever known. It was tough when Jonathan was a talented painter in search of a gallery. He walked in and out of galleries in Atlanta until he found one that believed in him. Jonathan's paintings now hang in collectors' homes across the U.S., a museum, foundations and currently, Santa Fe. His commission backlog is months long.

It was tough when I wanted so badly to publish my novel, I could barely step into a bookstore without being overcome by longing. I wrote query letters and was rejected by everyone on my list--until an agent took a chance and asked me to rewrite my first novel. That one didn't sell, but my agent sold the next one to St. Martin's Press. And the next one.

It was tough when I wrote novels at the kitchen table after working all day at my marketing job. Both times, my belly was swollen with a kicking, nutrient-sucking daughter. But Jonathan would not let me give up. When the development dragged on for Healthy Creatures, Jonathan told me to dig deep and keep at it---that we would see it through, together. And we did, with a third newborn daughter kicking on the floor beside me as I worked.

And it was tough when Jonathan kept rising to the top of the slush pile for his children's books that he wrote and illustrated. He came so close several times before a major publisher offered a contract. We rejoiced, champagne flowing, and then plummeted to earth when the publisher shuttered the imprint, dumping all of the recently acquired titles. I watched in awe as Jonathan picked himself up and headed back out there, pitching his books on his own. In December 2012 and then again in February 2013 Penguin USA will publish Jonathan's children's books Love Is In the Air and Guppy Up!

Do you have a dream? Of course you do. If you've read this far, let me tell you: it will be tough. You'll never work harder. But don't you dare give up.

The odds are heavy? Of course they are. You are short of money? Time? Connections? We are, too.

But here's the thing: the alternative is not trying. That's not an option for so many of us. So, for that, I'll take a longshot any day.

What's your longshot dream? Tell us in the comments so we can encourage you.

Sunday at Home: Flying Cars

Around the suburban manse today: making mixed berry crisp with my 6-year-old while the other two girls sleep; trying vainly to clean a curtain that has yogurt splatter-patter; also, lots of lazy reading and skipping around the backyard that now has sad-looking flowers and tomatoes, hardened by last night's cold snap. And of course, the whispered wish of a 3-year-old: "I wish we had a flying car."

In Which A Visit to the Museum Is A Study in Fickleness

Denver is ridiculously blessed with wonderful cultural opportunities. We are members of the stunning Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the kids love to go there. We set out last week to see the new Lizards & Snakes exhibit. Expectations were high with our two eldest girls. Lizards! Snakes! What's not to like? Plenty, it turns out. Within minutes, we heard cries of "This is boring!" from our eldest who was doing her best to channel a 13-year-old (she's six).

I am the type of museum-goer who wants to read every single word on placards and such. Regrettably, with three small kiddos, those days are long gone. By the time you read a paragraph on, say, illegal alligator poaching, your kids could be two floors down and running for the gift shop.

Nevertheless, we forced---ahem, encouraged---the girls to tour the entire exhibit. And then we headed for their favorite spot in the museum, a beautiful atrium that overlooks Denver. All in all, a good trip.