Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Wisdom of Mary Engelbreit: How to Live a Creative Life

All of us in the creative world have role models and heroines. One of mine has long been Mary Engelbreit. Last Thursday, thanks to the nice folks at For Keeps Sake Scrapbooking Superstore, I had the chance to finally meet the woman whose career I've followed with admiration.

I didn't think to take notes...which is unusual for me. I was too stunned, to tell you the truth. I figured she would be distant from all of us. She's a superstar. I didn't expect her to be approachable. But she was.

Mary made a short presentation and took questions. I'll try to share what I remember:

* She started by saying that if you choose to make a living of your creativity that you need to give up control. Her point was that there will be ups and downs, high-points and disappointments.

* She owes so much of her start to the support of her parents. As a child, she came home from an older friend's house where she saw her first art studio and announced to her mother, "I need my own studio." So her mother turned a closet into Mary's work area. "It was about 120 degrees in there," says Mary with a laugh. (Anyone who's lived through a summer in St. Louis can understand exactly what that must have felt like.)

* Which led to her advice, "Surround yourself with supportive people." And if the people around you aren't supportive? What if you have a boyfriend, best friend, whoever and that person can't share your vision? She said, "Get rid of them." (And let me say that this was the only time in her presentation where Mary seemed cut-and-dried. She said this with such utter authority that you knew she was speaking both from her heart and from experience.)

* I asked her how she handled career set backs. She said, "You can be upset about them. For about a week. That's it. Then...I always think, 'Okay, now I can do something else with that time.' You can't get bitter."

* I can tell you that she's a lifelong learner with a total lack of pretension about her skills. She mentioned at one point that she's unable to do illustrations that are representative art. (In other words, she can't draw one of her people and make that person look like someone living.) When she learned that you can use the blending tool of a Copic pen to lift color, she immediately asked Nancy (who teaches Copic marker use at For Keeps Sake) to come to her studio and give her a lesson! "I didn't know that," she marveled about the pens. "Hmmm."

* She draws for five or six hours a day. Once in a while, she doesn't want to work on her art. But, when that happens, she says, "Deadlines are great for inspiring creativity." After she gets started, she "gets into the drawing." She starts with pencil sketches and works to get them just right. ("I wish I could just do pencil sketches," she says with a sigh. But she knows her audience loves her sense of color.) After the pencil drawing is perfect, she goes over it with ink. Then she lays down color with markers. Finally she goes over the markers with colored pencils.

* I asked her if she ever made a mistake with the colors she chooses or whatever. "In the beginning," she says with a half-smile of remembrance, "there was a lot of throwing and stomping around. Now...I see the finished product in my mind. Besides, things can always be fixed with computer." (But she quickly admits she knows nothing about computers. She does have someone who works with her who is an expert.)

I've asked if I can come take Mary and her assistant Beth to lunch. Stay tuned!

You know, I wore ME colors to the event and a special pin that I thought she'd like. By golly, she honed right in on the pin....did my heart do a flutter-kick or what?

PS Does she scrapbook? She hesitated. She looked at us. We looked at her. Finally she said, "Uh, no. But I sure own a lot of scrapbook paper! And I know I should!"

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