Carolyn Mackin is a wonderful painter who I met on Instagram not long after I started my own artistic journey. She has been so encouraging to me both through her supportive comments and through watching her on her own beautiful journey. She paints beautiful, complex, and layered works and she also makes gorgeous abstract Christmas ornaments. Carolyn’s fresh, eclectic vibe is inspiring, and I have been so excited to read her answers to the Why We Create questions.
Carolyn, I am grateful and humbled to have you participate in this project with us. Thank you for your beautiful answers!
- For those who are not familiar with you and your work, could you give us a glimpse of what you do and how you ended up where you are?
I am an artist who creates multi-media abstracts inspired by traveling, city life, and intimate connections. I use an intuitive process which results in paintings that are rich in layers and pattern, and have a modern and eclectic vibe. I have identified as an artist my entire life, and earned my BFA and MFA at Syracuse University and California College of the Arts, respectively.While in school I studied photography, and created photo-based artwork for a couple of decades. My photo work was very painterly, as I used the photo as a starting point and would layer many images either digitally or hand-paint directly on the photo.Eventually I realized that I was spending the majority of my work hours sitting in front of a computer and my back and neck were always aching. More importantly, I felt that I was no longer learning and growing as an artist. I craved a more tactile relationship with my artwork, and dreamt of dancing with large canvases and touching thick layers of paint.
Several years went by and I had two children, and the longing to paint became stronger. But I had a creative block when it came to starting. I had absolutely NO IDEA how to begin. Just the idea of a blank white canvas petrified me!
Finally, in 2012, an artist friend told me about a website (http://dowhatyouloveforlife.com) that I should check out. Through this site I found artist Flora Bowley who was teaching her first Bloom True e-course and it was about to begin a few days later. Flora’s intuition centered approach resonated strongly with me, and by the end of the 5 week course I knew I had begun an exciting and beautiful new trajectory to my life.
- Do you think creativity requires discipline? If so, what kinds of disciplines have you found helpful as you pursue your creative calling? If you could embrace one new creative discipline this year, what would it be?
Creativity absolutely requires discipline only if you want to evolve as an artist, develop your own style, and/or make a career out of it. If you are happy dabbling in many creative endeavors and have no agenda, then discipline is unnecessary. And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with not having an agenda!If your desire is to progress in your creative endeavor, having consistency and focus will help to get you there. For example, I find inspiration everywhere— it is a matter of simply paying attention and recognizing what lights me up or takes my breath away. But harnessing that inspiration into a piece of artwork is not easy or obvious!That is why discipline is essential. I think of it more in terms of developing habits and routines that continually help propel my work and business forward. For me that means working each day on doing a mixture of painting, business administration, meeting with clients, taking business related classes, social media, documenting (via photos and video) my work, process and inspirations, etc. I have to keep reminding myself that it is the continual and consistent effort that lets my clients know that I am a hard-working, trustworthy artist who they will enjoy doing business with.
My latest creative discipline is striving to simplify the aesthetic of my work. My heavily layered paintings tend to be extremely visually rich, the kind that you could look at for months or years and still be discovering new bits that you had never noticed before.
However, many clients are asking for companion pieces for their larger statement paintings, that would coordinate with, but not visually fight with one another. I find this latest endeavor to be very challenging, but am excited to stretch my comfort zone.
- Creativity and artistic practice can be generative following our culture (contributing to growth and betterment) or degenerative (contributing to breaking it down and weakening it). In what ways would you like to see your work be generative to the culture in which you live?
Currently, as my business is still just a few years old, my intentions in this realm are humble. I am focused on putting as much joy and positive messaging out into the world through the art itself, my one on one interactions with clients, and my social media posts. I strive to let people know that living the life you were meant to is never easy, but doing so brings the most peace, satisfaction, and joy possible. I feel grateful every day that my life is aligned with these ideals.Now that I listen to my intuition in the studio, I have found that it translates beautifully into life too. I hope that other aspiring artists might see my successes and realize that they can manifest the same in their own life with enough dedication, passion, and focus.I also want my clients to feel joy and excitement and find meaning in the artwork they bring into their homes. I want them get lost in the painting over a cup of coffee in the morning, or share a beautiful conversation over dinner with friends about what they see in the work. Ultimately, I hope my art intrigues, create connections, and most of all produces joy.
I have a seed of an idea about my art and business growing bigger and doing good on a greater scale, but I am not yet sure how that will manifest exactly. But I trust it will happen when it is meant to.
- What, at your deepest level, drives you to create?
I create because I feel that I have to. I begin to feel anxious and irritated when I haven’t produced in a day or two. But the paintings I create come though me, from a higher source. The process often (but not always) feels like a spiritual practice. I feel a connection to God and spirit, and something greater than myself.I also love the idea of putting more beauty (at least my version of it) into the world, and the connection it fosters with others. So many of our daily interactions with others are mundane and surface. Listening to a client talk about how the red marks I made with oil pastels within a flurry of blues and greens and grays reminds them of being on the water in their boat is so cool. My art is a gateway into a deeper conversation, an excuse if you will, to dig deeper. But my greatest satisfaction is in the happiness my art brings to the intended client. That is priceless.
- What does the process of creating look like for you from start to finish/ how do you tackle a creative project?
This is a fabulous question that is difficult to pin down. My process is varied, messy, and not linear by any means. I work best with many (between 10-30) different paintings in various stages of development at any given time. I try not to get too hung up with any one piece (unless I am on a deadline), as sometimes paintings can come together in a few days, but most take me weeks or months to finish.The beginning layers are free and loose and fun to create. I often start new paintings as a warm up or when my energy is really frenetic. I need to be in a good flow (meaning that I have been painting for at least an hour) and more rooted to complete a painting.
- How has social media influenced the way you view yourself as an artist? What do you find most helpful/most difficult about this aspect of your creative process?Social media has allowed me to slow down and assess where I am that day. I consider it a public journal of sorts, and am surprised by how much it has helped me to understand my own work and process. The feedback I receive helps to keep me accountable, and knowing that others are interested in what I do is validating. I also find that the virtual friendships that I have made online have been surprisingly intimate and beautiful. I absolutely love seeing other artists, particularly women, making amazing businesses on their own. I find this very inspiring and powerful!I am only human, so my ego often compares and wishes that my social media numbers were higher, or growing faster, or translating into more sales. I also know that consistency is very important when growing social media followers, but at times I struggle with wondering if it is worth the insane amount of time I spend taking pics, writing copy, replying to comments, checking out and interacting with other’s feeds, taking online social media classes, etc.
- Do you have any routines that help you get in the rhythm of creating?
I practice yoga, which helps me focus quiet my brain and get my body feeling open and strong. I also have 2 young boys, so as soon as I drop them off to school I know that the clock is ticking and I need to make the most of that time. I think that many mothers can relate to this. It is amazing how much I can fit into that 6.5 hours! I also like to work after the kids go to bed. I am usually quiet relaxed and productive in the evenings and love to work between 8-11pm.I always listen to something while I paint. I rotate through podcasts, music and audio books. Sometimes I chat on the phone. I love having my brain work on something else while my body gets into the painting process.
- Do you have any advice for those early on their creative journey?
Be kind to yourself and learn to enjoy the process. It is so easy to get caught up in negative thoughts about what you are making. Typical self-defeating thoughts might include- “This is ugly, not what was in my imagination, I can’t even draw a straight line (um- who cares), it is too much like someone else’s work, etc.) Developing your own unique style and voice takes years (yes years!) and there is no shortcut.I want to let you know that this journey has not been easy or obvious for me. For years an internal whisper kept prompting me to paint. I had many excuses (all based in fear) that prevented me from actually picking up a paint brush and making it happen. They sounded like this- “I don’t know what kind of paints to buy, or what mediums, or how to stretch a canvas. And even if I had the right supplies, I don’t know what I want to paint, or how to even start.” A few times I pulled out some old supplies from art school and the painting process felt terrible. My ego kept telling me that I had no idea what I was doing, and that what I was producing was no good.What I have learned is that no amount of education is going to make that evolution easier, and in fact, you will always go through creative struggles if you are expanding, taking risks, and navigating new terrain. And, this is the absolute point of it all!!! Learning to embrace and welcome the challenges, knowing that a break though is on the other side, is very important.
The trick is to learn to be kind to yourself (hint- quiet the self-criticism in your head), and to recognize that these places of insecurity are opportunities that have the capability to propel your work in a unique and new direction!
- Where can we look forward to seeing you next? Are you working on any exciting projects?
I am currently traveling in Europe with my husband and two boys for 8 weeks this summer. My main goals during this time are to continue taking big risks and simplifying my paintings, while creating small works on paper. I also plan to make some larger bodies of work based on all of the fantastic visual stimuli (both mentally and captured in photos), which I am gathering during this time. These bodies of work might be centered around location (ie- France, Prague, Morocco, Sweden, etc,). Or they may be based on themes (castles, bridges, ruins, etc.).I have plans to release a video tutorial about how I paint my super popular abstract Christmas ornaments sometime this fall. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list on my website, if you are interested.I also have a few local (Boston area) shows coming up in the fall including an open studio, pop up shop at West Elm, and holiday marketplace (check out my website carolynmackin.com for details).
Where to find Carolyn: