'the creative process is something you work with; it’s a force that you rise up to meet' - a Q&A with Canadian artist Katie Brennan

Published: December 8, 2017
Author: Steven Thomas


Can you tell us a bit about what you do and your journey so far?

I’ve been pursuing art for many years -- I hold both a BFA and MFA in Visual Art. I’ve also been a curator, an art instructor at galleries and universities, and the head of an arts council. In September 2017 I stepped away from my other positions to focus on my artistic practice full time.

What are you working on right now?

Building my life as a full time artist, which is meaning taking a look at my life across the board: my artistic practice, my health and well being, my sense of belonging and connection, and the admin structures I need to build to make my business work -- finances, inventorying, marketing, etc. I’ve also started writing about my ideas about life, art, creative process, entrepreneurship and spiritual practice on Medium, which is showing me that I have a LOT to say about this.

Tell us about your creative process, what principles do you apply? How does it look and feel?

I’m in this really beautiful place right now where when I sit down to make something, I effortlessly step into creating. Yes, sometimes the first few things I make are a bit funny looking, but then I hit my stride and all the following pieces I make flow like water. Previously it would sometimes take me longer to catch my stride and feel somewhat more bumpy and frustrating upon entry.

I’m of the mind that the creative process is something you work with; it’s a force that you rise up to meet. It’s always there waiting for you if you can figure out how to access it in your ever-changing, ever fluid, everyday life.

Where do you take influence and inspiration from?

Everything around me.

I remember in my first year of art school learning about Fluxus, an experimental art movement of the 1960’s that believed that everything is art -- from your day-to-day surroundings to brushing your teeth to instructions on how to make art. This stance allows me to see everything I encounter as fodder for everything I do.

My favourite places to take inspiration and ideas from are from things that have little or nothing to do with art. I like getting an understanding of an idea or concept and then applying it somewhere totally different and unexpected, particularly in how I build or dream up my business practices and offerings. For example, I’ve recently been reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and have been thinking about how to map that onto creative practice; a curious mirroring where artists start with Why and viewers start with What has emerged.

My thinking and outlook on life and art are influenced by a lot of different schools of thought and spiritual practices. Abraham Hicks. Brene Brown. Seth Godin. Danielle Laporte. Simon Sinek. 5Rhythms - a dynamic movement practice and practice of being in your body. Osho. Yoga. Kundalini. Reiki.

As for art making, there I think in shape, colour and form. So feeding my eyes with things on instagram or pinterest is super fun and important for me.

What do you do when things get tough or you hit a creative block?

I change lanes -- immediately and often. I like to have multiple things on the go so that when one thing isn’t working I can switch over to something else. This also means leaving things alone so that they can breathe.

For example, when I first sat down to write out these answers, I wasn’t feeling quite right. What I wanted to say wasn’t clear and was feeling clunky and unyielding. I also noticed that I was pushing. Trying to make the words come and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet! (wasn’t listening to my own advice as you’ll see in a couple of questions) So I went and made some breakfast. I cleaned a bit too. And as I was doing that, all the ideas started to percolate and swim into my vision.

I believe that we are always working on things, mulling them over, letting them ferment in some back room of our brain, even when we’re not “working” working. This idea gives me space and permission to let myself off the hook, go and rest or do something else -- a change of scenery, mental, emotional or physical, is almost always the way back in for me.

What advice would you give someone who wants to push themselves creatively?

Number 1: Lighten Up! Be softer and kinder to yourself. More generous and understanding. This is something I have to work on all the time. When I get it, it’s the magical icing on the creativity cake. Don’t “push” yourself to be creative. Dance or trick your way there. Pushing can take the magic of creativity away all too easily.

Number 2: Know Yourself! How do I know when it’s time to step away or change lanes? Because I have taken years and years to get to know myself, inside and out of creative practice. I am finely attuned to what it feels like when I’m in creative flow; something I am always listening for. So I know when I’m avoiding something or when I’m doing things for weird intentions -- watch out for “I must be productive!” on this one. Doing something because you “think” you “should” is killer!

Number 3: Create a sacred place in which to work. Now I don’t mean get the absolutely perfect desk or space. I mean, create a mindset in which what you’re doing is sacred and separate from any other part of your life. It’s a space where the only voice that matters is your own -- in your sacred studio space you are God. Yes, other influences will creep in. But you are the vehicle through which they arrive. You decide what form they should take or how much room they are allowed to take up.

Number 4: Don’t ascribe a purpose to what you are doing. This goes part-in-parcel with working within a sacred space. Let your creativity lead the way. Don’t decide too closely what you’re going to make beforehand. Allow for surprises and play and enjoyment. I think about this as accessing another part of my brain that thinks totally differently from the more logical, linear part. It will come up with the most magical solutions if you let it.

Where can we find your work?

Website - katiebrennan.ca
Instagram - @katiebrennan_ca
Medium - @katiebrennanart
Twitter - @katiebrennan_ca