Posted by: Liz Massey | May 11, 2011

In the Studio With … Lisa Michelle Cohen

Today we feature a truly diverse artist — Lisa Michelle Cohen, whose blog Life is in the Details chronicles her adventures in photography, scrapbooking, mixed media art, yoga and cookery. I enjoyed this interview because Lisa is the living embodiment of a person who truly infuses creativity into everything she does. The art work and photos with this interview are truly awesome – thanks Lisa!

Also, I enjoyed Lisa’s attitude about managing her workload and her ability to “wait” on certain creative projects when other priorities take the lead. It seems to me to be a healthy antidote to a culture addicted to “do it all and do it NOW.”

Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.

I do a little of everything because I am fortunate enough to have many things about which I am passionate. I love cooking in my kitchen with simple, fresh ingredients and making healthy and scrumptious meals for my family and friends. I am always blogging about what I’m whipping up in the kitchen. I teach a 2-month online wellness class at the beginning of each year at Big Picture Classes, as well as some other classes and workshops there on digital and hybrid scrapbooking.

I also enjoy working with all kinds of paint, paper, fabric, and canvas to create mixed media art and I’m in the process of photographing my art so that I can start selling my work online soon. I opened an Etsy shoppe a while ago but haven’t yet posted anything for sale and I’m hoping to change that in the near future.

I love carrying my camera around with me and taking photos of anything and everything that catches my eye (many times it’s my family, a new flower or vegetable growing in the garden, or a delicious meal I’ve just made).

I am also a certified yoga teacher and am enrolled in a 200-hr registered yoga teacher training program. Creativity comes into play here as well when creating asana practices for my classes each week.

In the past I’ve worked as a web designer, print and digital designer in the scrapbooking industry. I’ve learned that it’s always a good idea to let my passions guide me and show me the way.

Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?

I don’t have any formal training in what I’m most passionate about (cooking, art, photography). I think showing up, doing it, and forming a habit of creativity is most important in an artist’s development.

What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?

Getting my body moving in some way is my creative flow essential. Each day I try to get a good workout. I don’t belong to a gym and, instead, head outside on my bike or walk downstairs to my basement (in colder months) which has all of my fitness essentials, whether it’s a day for strength training, yoga, indoor cycling, step, high-intensity interval training, core work, step aerobics or a combination of things. I’ve recently developed a regular meditation practice where I set a timer for 10 minutes and just sit and try to clear my mind. This often proves harder than it sounds but I’ve found that even if I can’t calm the chatter in my head, simply sitting in stillness for 10 minutes really helps to open things up in the creativity department.

I’m also a big list-maker and I find that it helps me to stay organized so that I don’t have to remember all the things I want to do so my mind is able to think more freely.

What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?

Recognize that feeling blocked is part of the creative cycle. Instead of fighting it, go with it, be with it, and use this time for other stuff. Let it be a gathering and collecting time.

I’ve been short on time lately, and re-prioritizing things. I know that while these past few months and the next few months are not going to be creatively “productive” in the sense of creating a large body of work to sell, but I also know that this is my gathering and foundation-building time, so that I can be where I want when I have more time to focus on active creating. I’m keeping my mind open to inspiration everywhere that I look and I’m keeping lists of ideas, thoughts, techniques, and series that I want to eventually work on when my schedule opens up a bit more.

Lately I’ve been focusing on fitness, cooking/food, and de-cluttering. I’m setting the groundwork for when my little one goes to school for a full day in the fall. I already have many healthy habits in place and my physical environment will be pared down so that I have breathing space to think and plan and dream what I want to do with this next chapter of my life.

Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?

I’ve been spending a ton of time in the kitchen lately, where there is an amazing amount of creativity to be had, and thinking about food and meal planning and how important meal times are for bringing people together at the table and I’ve been carefully selecting cookbooks to add to my expanding collection. I have been keeping categorized lists of things I want to make and flavor combinations that I enjoy and have been having the best time cooking through them.

I’ve found some great cookbook gems that I will have for a long time to come. I’m making sure to jot down notes on the recipes that I’ve tried so that I can pass them down to my kids and they can have little snippets of our lives and can use them to create gatherings with their family and friends. I would love to have something like this from my grandmothers and my mom. I think these are the best kinds of family history (in addition to photographs and stories)!

Along with trying out various recipes, in the back of my mind I have this wild idea to create a cookbook someday. It’s mainly because I wish a cookbook existed right now to help me feed my family with good healthy food, preferably seasonally, that fits into a realistic family life with kids activities, volunteer responsibilities, and personal pursuits, without going crazy. I’m the one who does the cooking in my family, which currently includes a vegetarian or two (me and lately my 9-year old daughter), an omnivore who really likes his meat (my hubby), and a discerning eater (yes, my 6-year old son is picky and has a bunch of food allergies to boot). So I’m really thinking of making a book for me to use as my guide so that everything is written down and in one place but I imagine that there are probably others out there that are going through the same challenges of wanting to provide wholesome, delicious, and nourishing food for their families that help provide vitality to all the other activities that are a part of a rich and full life.

How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?

I am continually intrigued by learning something new. New techniques or using things I already have on hand in new ways is always exciting. I create and work at home, which can be wonderful in its own way but I often find that because of this I love the chance to collaborate with other people that share my passions. So if a project has elements of both of those then I’m usually game!

I also go with what feels right and what I have time for. I only say yes to things I know I can do whole-heartedly, which means I’ve had to turn many things down these last few months. My youngest is in kindergarten (which is a half-day here) and I wanted to make sure that I was with him during this last year before he goes to school “for real.” I chose this as a year that I would put my focus on my family, my health/fitness, and getting things in order. This has meant that some other things had to move to the back burner and I’m totally happy with my decision and know that when I have more time I will add things back in that I have been missing. This has definitely been a year of rebuilding and collecting inspiration for me.

Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?

Look for inspiration everywhere. Keep it simple … making things more complicated than they need to be is just exhausting. Sometimes going back to basics is the best thing you can do. Strip away what isn’t essentials and start anew. Find support from like-minded creative souls. Don’t read too many blogs or it will just discourage you and make you doubt yourself.

Be authentic and create what you like. If others like it too then all the better, but if you try too hard to be like someone else it will show and you’ll get tired of it, because it’s not really who you are.

Whenever I find that I’m feeling overwhelmed or the negative internal voices are getting too loud I remember my favorite quotes:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~Lao Tzu

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” ~Charles Mingus

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