What happens when you choose the alternative?

Polymer clay guru Christi Friesen on creative fun

Creativity is everything to me! I am fortunate to have been born with the desire and ability to create. I’ve spent my whole life trying to do so to the best of my abilities. But it’s not really a choice, I think. To be creative for me is to scratch the itch that is always there… and you know how very satisfying a good scratch can be.

Mary Ellen Beads talks with Christi Friesen, polymer clay artist, about creativity.

Christi Friesen, polymer clay artist, delights in life and recommends alternative headshots.

I was one of those kids that showed artistic talent very early: in my first art class at age three (in oil paints, of all things!). Since then I’ve continued to try just about every kind of art I could. As you may have guessed, I grew up in a family that appreciated art and saw to it that I had supplies and classes. I attended school at that time in America where there were good art programs, and I was fortunate to have had excellent artistic outlets during all my growing up years.

Art as business still creative fun

People always wanted to buy what I made, so art as a business choice was an early development. It’s an interesting thing to have someone want to purchase what you’ve created. Some people can’t bear to part with their creations, but I always found the act of creating to be very satisfying in itself, and the extra funds allowed me to part with my artwork rather easily! There was always something to spend money on (candy and clothes, mostly, I think!). But even though I did sometimes create things because I thought they would sell, I always made things purely for my own amusement. It is one of the most important things about growing as an artist – follow your own voice and create what you want and need to create, not what you think you should create.

I got older to the usual things — marriage, kids, credit card bills. I still created but not as much. In my early 40s I figured I better get serious.My life grew to include creativity immersion daily. I couldn’t be happier!

Chocolate adds to creative fun

When I am in my creative space (and I’m lucky to finally have a nice roomy studio full of all the things I need to create with), I am content. It is a sanctuary, figuratively and literally (I can close the door and block out everyone and everything whenever I want/need to). I have filled it with the things I need to create, but also creative things to look out – paintings and sculptures and things I’ve acquired from my teaching trips all over the world. It’s important, I think, to have inspiring things around you to keep your creative juices flowing. Also chocolate. That’s important to have nearby at all time. Hee hee.

Mary Ellen Beads talks with Christi Friesen on creative fun and shows one of Christi's polymer creations entitled Coming in for Landing.

“Coming in for Landing,” Polymer clay by Christi Friesen

To increase creativity, I recommend get your own creative space: a place that is yours alone; space you don’t have to clean up unless you feel like it; an area that offers privacy. The creative process can be almost trance-like. When you’re interrupted, your flow stops. A big space isn’t necessary. A personal space is required.

Art expands creative fun

The work of other artists is always around me in my studio. By choice, I am constantly influenced by others’ work. The more art we see, the more connections we can draw and the more unique we can become. While that sounds contradictory, it’s true. Your influence is restricted if you only look at small variety of art. Your work will probably look a lot like those few artists you admire. If you look at everything, everywhere, all the time, then your input is immense and it swirls around and gets all mixed up and everything sloshes over into everything else, so when it’s time to dip into that soup, you’re going to get quite a mixture of influences that you can shape into your own new thing. That’s the goal, anyway.

I purposefully look at art in mediums other than the one I work in, and art from contemporary artists all the way back to ancient artworks. There is soooo much!

My unpredictable path began in 2000 when I got serious about my artistic career. Since then I traveled the world teaching, wrote 11 books, participated in galleries and shows, and developed a product line. I had no idea that one thing would lead to another. Lo and behold: here I am.

This polymer clay item entitled Bone Metal Heart is by Christi Friesen, who is talking with Mary Ellen Beads about creativity.

“Bone Metal Heart,” polymer clay by Christi Friesen

Growth as an artist

A couple years ago I realized that this journey had compromised my growth as an artist. The demands of social media recognition and business success meant no time to grow as an artist. The time it takes to explore, develop new ideas and push yourself forward just never seemed to be available. I took efforts to slow down and carve out time to nurture my artistic soul. In talking with my peers – other teachers and business artists – I’ve found that many were struggling with the same dilemma.

So I’ve been devoting time this year to studio-only artwork. Art for it’s own sake. I now share works in progress and my thoughts behind each piece or series of pieces on Facebook. I’m amazed and delighted to see how hungry many of my friends also are for more meaningful art.

Unexpected joy. I created as I wanted and then shared with a group of interested people. (Previously much of what I created was to support products workshops, books and how-to projects). I challenged myself to keep up with my own creative development:. take more risks in what I create, share deeper expressions with my peers. Yeah, I still make fun creatures, of course! But that’s not all I do anymore.

Creative fun includes the meaningful, impactful

I’ve realized that I do care about saying something interesting, meaningful, impactful. I want to reach a broader group of people. I’ve set goals for myself to enter international competitions, and look to the larger art community as a constant part of who I am and what I do. I’m not looking to shake the world, just be a part of it.

I am delighted beyond words to have the innate talent to create and the desire to grow in my art. I am grateful to have access to so many wonderful supplies. I am daily buoyed by the outpouring of support and love I am given from my community. I am very lucky to be here, now, making.

“Count me in on creative fun!” -Mary Ellen Beads 

This picture shows Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque with Christi Friesen, Gail Crosman Moore and Anne Mitchell

Triple Terrific Pendant – Christi Friesen-polymer clay, Gail Crosman Moore-felt embellishment, Mary Ellen Merrigan wears her tt pendant, Anne Mitchell-silver

Disclosure: Christi Friesen, Gail Crosman Moore and Anne Mitchell presented a fun and informative workshop, “Triple Terrific Pendant” in Tucson. My mouth is open with amazement at the end-of-day results!

This interview with Christi Friesen is part of my ongoing series on artists and creativity. Please subscribe to follow other creative fun adventurers via your inbox.

About Mary Ellen Merrigan

From embroidery to dressmaking to needlepoint to beading, Mary Ellen Merrigan weaves a lifetime of handiwork into one-of-a-kind works of art that speak to the spirit. Her pieces are adventuresome, creative, and sometimes, magical.
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