Take an Art Break Podcast

How do you feed your creative life?

How do you feed your creative life?


Lauren (00:01):

Yay. We’re here. Hi!

Lisa (00:02):

Welcome. This is Lisa and Lauren, and we’re so excited today. We are gonna have a chat with Esther Maloney and she’s from Canada, and we just really wanna know who you are or tell the world who you are. What’s your passion. And then we’ll lead into an amazing conversation.

Esther (00:22):

Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a pleasure to be on with you both. So yeah, my name’s Esther. I live in Toronto, Canada, and I grew up, I was born and raised in Montreal and I’ve been telling stories my whole life. I think when I was like 10 or 11, I asked my parents for a typewriter <laugh> that’s like in the eighties and I was like, I wanna sit and like type my stories. And so I studied theater. I am an actor I’m trained professionally as an actor. And then I worked for about a decade in Toronto doing plays and doing voiceover work and film work. And then I started turning my attention to community engaged work and really working alongside groups of seniors, young people and thinking about what it looked like to tell stories at the grassroots and, uh, alongside community.

Esther (01:13):

And I have to say that kind of like reinvigorated my whole creative practice. I started questioning ideas around like elitism and spaces where people are kind of allowed to create who is seen as a, sort of a true creator, what that, what that really entails. And then who is kind of left out of a lot of conversations and what that looks like. So over the last 10, 15 years, I started working on a project called Illumine. I was the director of that project. And that was working with a lot of young people, newcomers to Canada who were creating really uplifting content that highlighted young people and showed them as real contributors to their society. So I worked on that project for about a decade. At the same time was writing a thesis and gave birth to my son.

Esther (02:05):

And in the last few years throughout the pandemic, I started drawing, like drawing like a maniac. I just started working on digital designs and I had a short film that was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts. And, um, and then I, I also coach creatives and I love to think about creative process and to share my art in all kinds of different spaces. And that’s been like a, a process of also allowing myself to share my art and thinking about what it looks like to do that as a mom, as a community member and yeah, as a person who draws on spirituality in my work.

Lauren (02:44):

Awesome. Yeah. So we had a chat with you a while back. We were just meeting, we met via zoom and we, it was a blast and we, we all actually came up with a question together it’s the first time that’s ever happened, which was super exciting. And the question we kind of wanted to dig into today was how do you feed your creative life? So it sounds like you’ve, uh, shifted a little bit, but your core seems to have maintained the same. So, what do you do to feed that, that creativity in your life?

Esther (03:16):

Yeah, I was thinking about this, like in advance of coming on, you know, today. And I was thinking about really this idea, and it’s a quote that the source of all crafts sciences, anything that we bring into being is the power of reflection. And I, you know, I was thinking about that and I was like, gosh, like how many times do we give ourselves that space? Like the space to have deep and true reflection on our social reality on our inner world, on the dynamics, in our family, the things that are kind of coming through the stories that, that are asking to be told. so I think, and I, I was actually, it was coaching someone yesterday and we were talking about how to reinvigorate those roots. Like whether you wanna think of your creative life as a tree

Esther (04:04):

and how do you kind of re-mineralize those roots when you feel all dried up and you’re like, I’m disillusioned with this and this isn’t going the way I want and we feel drained or we feel burnt out. Um, and it’s funny because it’s almost counterintuitive. It’s like we feel drained and burnt out. So it’s so hard to imagine that we actually have this very profound creative, well within ourselves, if we can only slow down enough or make space enough, carve out the distractions enough, create space and prioritize that creative life enough to let it kind of re-mineralize. And I think sometimes, I mean, this is my experience, we’re scared that it’s done. We’re done. We got like, we got our, you know, allotment of creative stuff now. And cause we’re living in a, a society where there’s always this scarcity mentality, right? Like if you got it, I don’t have it. If you win, I lose. If you, and like, that’s not how nature works. That’s not how creativity works. That’s not how flow works. Um, I don’t know. That might be too existential to <laugh>

Lauren (05:12):

Oh, that’s right on. I’m totally into all that kind of stuff. So

Lisa (05:15):

I am too. And what I’m, what I really love is your you’re talking. It’s like a, it’s an intuitive process, creativity. It’s also, it’s a paradigm shift where you’re actually going to an holistic viewpoint of what is, who are you and why, why do we feel that creativity is separate from us? It’s almost like when you describe the, you know, we have this scarcity mode where the, well, we’re, we’re going dry. It’s almost like we ate we’re aging. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, you know, when you, you know, you get to a certain age, you’re like, oh, I’ll never, you know what I mean, how we like are so captured by youth and it’s, you know, once it’s, it’s drying out and it’s almost like, creativity is kind of like that. It’s, it’s like, it’s this fleeting moment. What you’re saying, it’s not, it’s actually a deep holistic well that’s really at our roots. And if you could kind of talk more about that, I think it’s really fascinating.

Esther (06:09):

And like that there will be fallow periods. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, like I’m actually just looking at your logo. Right. And it, I think like your logo actually captures this, that creativity is it’s like anything in nature, it’s cyclical. And there are times when, like we check in and the body or the mind, or the heart are just like, I’m tapped out. I don’t have anything at the moment. That it’s like, we can stay still long enough for some new little shoot to come out of the ground. I think here in Toronto we have four seasons and we have a real winter and to feel that like blanket of snow and that the quiet and the stillness, and to be like, this also happens in life and spring, it comes every year. It’s shocking. It’s like every year there’s new little green leaves on those trees. There’s buds, there’s like this abundant floral explosion, you know, and it’s, we’re the same. And we get so scared in winter because also we’re in this capitalist paradigm where it’s like, we’re supposed to be in perpetual spring and summer making, making, making, generating, seeding new projects, like I’m on the, go on the, go on the go. But like sometimes we’ve gotta be still

Lauren (07:22):

I think. Yeah. I think that honestly, some of the most important work for artists is, uh, that I wouldn’t even call it downtime, but for my personal experience, most of my work is done inside my head. A lot of the time for very long periods of time. It’s a constant planning and moving things around and shifting ideas and developing ideas. It’s all mental. I don’t even sketch it. I don’t write it down. Um, it’s all in my head mm-hmm <affirmative> and I think, and, and it’s really difficult to feel like an artist when you don’t have an object to show people. And, but frankly, most of my art is not even focused on the object. And so I’ve had to kind of go through the steps of almost having that self-confidence that I’m an experience based artist and I’m all about interaction.

Lauren (08:23):

You know, the art for me is not the thing that people are making. It’s the connection they’re making while they’re making the art. And so, you know, honestly, strangely enough, that takes a lot of planning and it takes a lot of finesse to get even two people together that would normally not even want to engage with one another to sit down and make art. That takes a lot of energy. It almost, it’s like I have to mentally it’s psych myself up and that is done during the quiet periods where I am not making anything. And I think that, um, yeah, it’s like, you kind of get uncomfortable cause there is, there’s this idea what it means to be an artist. That means that you have to be producing something, something, um, and you know, at least, and I definitely have more of a, like, everything you do is art idea. And so if everybody would just kind of reflect on that and live like that, we imagine a world what that might look like, you know, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah. I don’t know. What do you do, Lisa, when you feel like you’re not, you’re not where you want to be creatively or is that, does that ever happen to you?

Lisa (09:42):

Oh yeah. <laugh> of course it happens. I mean, yes, it happens through dry period. I’m a reflector, you know what I mean? So it’s like, I, I do, I’m also a very into spirituality and kind of diving deep into my inner world. So I, I dive deep into my inner world. I start doing reflection, maybe lectures, books, nature. You know, I, I go, I deep dive deep inside and, and then at some point you just have to realize like, it’s okay not to produce and what is producing anyways? Do you know what I mean? <laugh> like, what does it mean to produce? And I think what, you know, it’s like, for me, it’s like a remembering that we, we’re not, we don’t always have to, like you said, have to be flowering, you know? And I love the metaphor of the seasons.

Lisa (10:35):

I think that’s really, really powerful. It’s like there are winters in all of us and I think, and there are summers and Springs and falls and, you know, and they’re also beautiful and rich. And I think I agree with you, Lauren, actually, I think winters are the richest. And I think, Esther, you’re speaking about that. It’s like, winters are where the alchemy is, you know, where you F you go into the deep darkness, and then you find the light, you find the gold and you’re like, whoa, I’m, I’m even more rich than I even thought.

Lauren (11:10):

It’s almost like you distract. It’s like, I’m just thinking of this off the top of my head. It’s almost like that notion of, of making can almost be a distraction from what you actually need to be making, if that makes sense. Yeah. Like if you’re so concentrated on producing something, because you think that that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re this quote unquote artist you’re missing a lot, because you’re just making something and you’re not doing the work that’s involved, but I think some people need to do that. I think they need to make and make and make and make and make and dig. That’s how they dig, you know, mm-hmm <affirmative> um, and then they get to that one that is like, oh, wow. That’s what I needed to get to. It just took the, these five sketchbooks to get there, you know?

Lauren (12:03):

And that’s what it is. I think about in terms of like feeding your own creativity. It always comes back to what least and I are always talking about, which is self-awareness, you need to get to know yourself and to figure out what works for you, because what works for me is gonna be different than what works for you, Esther than what works for you Lisa. Like you can try on a bunch of hats and, you know, and, and then like, maybe hat worked one time and it’s just not gonna work the next time. Right. So you gotta have a lot of tools in your toolbox.

Esther (12:32):

Yeah. And I think because this is, I was thinking about this too, that because our creative engine is so closely linked to our emotional life and our spiritual life and even our physical life and our life circumstances, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, it’s like everyone’s set of circumstances is gonna look different and everyone’s, you know, every level of those things could be at a different point. And I think, especially with the pandemic, we’ve seen that, you know, even just our living situation, like I’m in a small apartment, you know, when my child gets up, we all get up. Like, there’s just gonna be no other way about it. Right. So how to craft some kind of space, even if it’s just for, you know, 10 minutes a day or whatever that looks like. But actually dissolving this binary of like, when I’m working, I’m working and when I’m, you know, with my kid, I’m with my kid mm-hmm <affirmative>, and it’s not, I’m not talking about multi-tasking, but I think I’m building off what you were describing

Esther (13:34):

Lauren of like often we are, we’re doing something in life we’re with our child and suddenly, you know, three ideas that we had been like working on really seriously go boom, in that moment. And you’re like, wow. I was just like flying a kite with my kid and suddenly, you know, these three ideas coalesced. And I think that’s also part of it is like, all these systems are connected and they can be coherent if we’re open to that. You know? And if our spirit is like, you know, when I’m parenting, I’m still an artist when I’m cooking, when I’m in community, when I’m reading, I’m always collecting, I’m always kind of weaving these things into my practice and that can be quite powerful.

Lisa (14:21):

That is powerful. I was listening to you something yesterday. It was about, um, it was about energy, but it was about that we are electric being. So it’s like, you know, we’re not, we don’t, we always forget that we, you know, we are our hardest electric, you know what I mean? Our, our brains are electric. Our cells are electric and it’s like, we have this language that we say that, oh, we’re burnt out. That means we have no charge left in us. You know what I mean? And it’s like, it’s so interesting. It’s like, I think we need to reflect how creativity is a charger, but also life is a charger and it doesn’t have, like you were saying, it doesn’t have to be separate. It’s not separate. And I think when you do that separation, you know that, um, I gotta, I gotta do my work. I gotta do my art. I gotta do my kid. <laugh>, you know what I mean? I gotta make the meal. I, I think that’s when you’re charge, your electric, being just like starts being depleted because it’s like, you’re fragmented if this is making sense. Yeah,

Lauren (15:20):

No. Yeah. Well, I was thinking about, you know, so like we’re obviously on this big movement to get everybody to take an art break, and a lot of artists will respond to us and be like, oh, well, that’s what I do for my job. And we’re like, oh yeah, that’s actually not what we’re talking about. And I think that’s what we’re talking about right now. It’s this notion that you can make space for yourself to, to get out of this, like, da, da, da, da, da, da, I gotta do this. I’ve gotta do this. And then I have to do this. It’s almost like you enter a space when you’re taking an art break where it’s all floating around at the same time, as opposed to linear. Because that’s really what it is. That’s real life. Right. But you learn to embrace it and you learn to let it feed you as opposed to right

Lauren (16:16):

Lisa, suck it out of you. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so that to me is the true essence of take an art break because that’s why I’m, I’m constantly talking to people and be like, it’s not what you think it is. You don’t have to set up a studio. You don’t have to be a painter. You don’t have to be a photographer. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, you can, you can sit on a bench and you can look at the world while you listen and pretend that you’re at a symphony. And if you did that for 10 minutes, to me, that’s, you’re make art. To me you’re witnessing art and you’re making art. And I, um, pretty much can guarantee that you’ll feel at least a little bit better after you do that, because you’re, you’re snapping out of, of that like forced idea, right? That forced idea that your life has to go in certain steps. And then if you’re not hitting your goals, then you suck. You know what I mean? <laugh> and that doesn’t feed you, right? Yeah. Doesn’t feed you in a positive way.

Esther (17:21):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s, um, like, yeah, I was just thinking about this because yesterday I was working on a grant with a friend and we’re thinking about, you know, what are we gonna write? What are we gonna write? And we’re really like in grant mode and grant mode, you know, it’s like, you’ve got all these deadlines and things in deliverables, and it’s 500 words about this and it, and you’re in that mode. And then suddenly we had a question about like the story and the characters and like, what are we, what are we developing here? And I, I kind of was like, well, we can’t, that can’t happen here. <laugh> <laugh> was like a trusted friend and collaborator. We were like, yeah, yeah. I gotta go like, do yoga over that one. Or I gotta go to have a walk in the forest over that one, or I gotta, you know, and it’s exactly, I think this description that you were like, what you were saying that you have to go to dream world, like you have to go to the other part of your brain, the other aspect of your creative life and call it in, you know, and that’s what we were saying.

Esther (18:18):

We’re like, let’s call it in. Like we gotta, you know, bring this thing in because I am always interested in how passive or active that process is. Because again, we’re like, you know, through schooling and through, we’re always thinking like, come up with an idea it’s due in 10 minutes, you have to kind of like, it’s always this like attack mode thing. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. But like, I love this idea. I think it’s in the Elizabeth Gilbert big magic book that like, the ideas are actually waiting for us to tune in. The ideas, wanna come <laugh>, you know, and it’s just about us being like, okay, I’m gonna stop. I’m just gonna like close the computer, not do the dishes, just make a little space and call it in. And that’s a very different mode than, than life mode. <laugh>

Lisa (19:05):

Yeah. It’s, it’s being. You’re just being right. And I think instead of doing,

Esther (19:14):


Lisa (19:14):

It’s very interesting.

Lauren (19:16):

Yeah. So, um, yeah. Oh gosh. I’m, I’m going off on this like little tangent in my head as like, how could I, like, what’s a new way for me to look at my day-to-day life and help it feed me. Because life, life is life and it’s a beautiful thing. So, you know, because I’m constantly thinking about when you said doing the dishes, I was like, well, what if you were doing the dishes like you were doing a dance or something like, what could you do give us just after the top of your head, what do you think you could do in your day to day? Because that’s gonna happen no matter what, and it is, it’s such a great thing. How do you let that, those things you kind of have to do become those things that feed you, is that possible?

Esther (19:59):

Hmm. Yeah. I absolutely think it is. I think you can, you can choose. And I think a lot of this is about being intentional, right? It’s like not just being a victim of our lives or being reactive, right. Like being like, well, I had to do this and I had to race here and I had to be in a bad mood about it. And I had to like, it’s like actually, no, you get to choose. And I, I, that’s hard. Like we don’t wanna do that because that’s all this responsibility is, but it’s really annoying. And it would be more convenient, to be a victim, but to actually say like, I wanna, um, you know, I wanna bring this creative question into going to the park with my son and I’m just gonna let it mull around in the back of my mind. And suddenly he’s like playing with a squirrel or he’s like throwing things down a shoot and watching them go down and I’m thinking about like that movement.

Esther (20:48):

And then, you know, and then a neighbor comes up and has a conversation with me. And then I’m thinking about the things that they’re saying. And then all that’s kind of rattling around and then you walk by like a sign or something in the city and then that’s in there too. When I think about my film, it’s called another world. And that film was really a poem that I wrote my son at bedtime when I used to have to sit in his room until like 9:30 PM. And I was like, I’ll never be out of this room. That poem just came through and it was such a gift, you know? But it, it came because I was kind of open and it was after the murder of George Floyd and I was just thinking about so many things. My days were really long and I was like, I don’t know how I’m ever gonna make art again. And I think in those quiet spaces at night, that actually became kind of my refuge. And I was like putting my kid to bed, but it was creative time. It was just dreaming time. And I think that’s where that poem came in. <laugh>

Lisa (21:44):

I love that. I was listening to Brent brown and she was saying the exact same thing. She was like, either you can let somebody else write your story, your life story or your, whatever it is, or you can choose to write your story. And I think that is the shift in the paradigm where you say I’m stopping and right now I’m gonna create the next chapter of my life or the next paragraph of my life. I think that’s really powerful.

Lauren (22:09):

Or it’s this idea of, you know, you can be an active participant in your own life. You can either be a robot or you can, and I’m not saying I do this, I rarely do this. <laugh> This is a very difficult thing, but it’s about mindfulness, right? It’s about living in the present moment and you can either float through life, flow through life and look around and see how absolutely amazing it all is for all of the ups and downs, the horror, the trauma, but also the people picking other people up during that struggle. And you can either live in the world like that, where you find it all and you really live it all. That can be difficult because there’s a lot of trauma, um, or you can be a robot. And I think a lot of times we’re robots because there’s a lot going on and it’s, there’s a lot of trauma and it’s really, really difficult.

Lauren (23:09):

Right. And that’s where I think that art break comes in, that that intentional time to reflect comes in and it, it can be your savior, right? Because if you’re really living your life, then you’re feeling a whole bunch of stuff and if you’re really open, like you were saying, then everything’s coming in and you’re not able to filter out and you’re not able to be like, Nope. I only wanna look at summer. I only wanna look at spring. You’re looking at all of it. I know you’re looking at it all at the same time. Right. And so you have to have that space where you can, right. Lisa always talks about going to the shadow where you, where you open yourself up to the shadow and you get comfortable with talking to your shadow and the shadow of the entire world, the shadow of our history, the, the like terrible fear of the future that keeps getting like pounded on us. Right. Uh, cuz we’re such a fear mongering culture, uh, you know, how do you deal with that? Because I would encourage everyone to live openly because that’s the only way to live your real life. You have to feel those. You have to acknowledge it, but it’s not easy. It’s really difficult.

Esther (24:19):

I think this is why asking someone to take an art break is a very profound invitation. Like it sounds like, well just sit down and grab some markers. But like I think inherently we know probably from being children, that there is that opening. And then I think to your other point, like we, we have survival mechanisms of shutting down and being robots for a very good reason because we needed those coping strategies. And sometimes we do need those coping strategies and there are days where you’re like, it’s full on autopilot till 9:00 PM. Like it’s gonna be autopilot <laugh>, you know, but to mark that and be like, okay, noted, noted. Maybe tomorrow I can make the morning not be autopilot or you know, and even the morning afternoons, like I was talking to someone the other day, they said, I don’t get my creative work done because in the morning I get up and it’s like, I just start with my emails.

Esther (25:13):

And I start with, you know, and I said, no, like try to, to that’s my practice is, the morning is special. The morning is my sparkly brain. <laugh> right. But trust that there’s always the afternoon. There’s like plenty of things that you’re gonna have to do. But I find as soon as I get into that mode, it’s really hard to go back to the sparkly brain. It’s it’s often impossible. So I think it’s, it’s asking ourselves those things, like when do I have that sparkly brain and how do I put lots of like protection around it so that I can preserve it and honor it and trust that like the life stuff’s gonna get done. Um, there’s like a full 24 hours in the day. And it’s the intention setting again. It’s like, I can give myself an hour. I can give myself half an hour.

Lauren (25:58):


Lisa (25:59):

Yeah. I really appreciate it. I think this is like a really, like a real conversation. Do you know what I mean? Cause I think there are people, well, no everybody’s life is so busy and I know both of you are moms and that’s a different level of busyness where you have to take care of, nurture a being. So it’s like everybody, I think this is, I love that. It was like, if it’s like, this is like nuts, it’s it sounded kind of esoteric, I think for some people. But I think if people reflect on it, it’s really kind of like nuts and bolts about going back to who we really are. Our true selves.

Lauren (26:37):

Yeah. I think, I think it’s, it’s also the like, it feels very, this whole conversation feels cyclical cuz I wanna bring it back to, um, that point. Like I feel like we were talking about winter and then you were talking about sometimes you need to be an autopilot. I remember the advice I got when I was about to have my first born son from one of my best friends from college, she said the first four months are survival mode and do not judge yourself cuz you will feel like a robot and you will be a robot and it’s biological and it’s okay. You know? And it’s like, that’s what I wanna say is like, it’s okay if you feel like you’re in winter right now and it’s summer outside, it’s okay. If you’re not producing what you want to produce, it’s okay. Um, that’s where you need to be right now.

Lauren (27:20):

And it’s like, if it’s not where you really wanna be, then accept that and then make some changes and just make some decisions about how to make it. But is it really where you don’t wanna be? Or is it where you think you’re not supposed to be, right? And so those self conversations that you need to have with yourself, right. In order to distinguish the real root of this, like feeling inside of you because everybody does need winter and everybody does need to be a robot sometimes. And we need to accept about ourselves and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to, to be that maniac production person or happy all the time. Like, oh yes, sunshine and roses or whatever people wanna say, um, because it’s all, it’s all us and it’s all beautiful. Um, and it can all teach us something, you know.

Esther (28:12):

And every season has its subtleties and its little surprises. So even in winter you get gorgeous, beautiful sunny days. And in summer you get right days where it’s pouring rain. And you know, I think I’m always interested in the dynamics of like the more I give into winter, the more beautiful the spring is, or, you know, can I find the sunny day in the winter? Can I, and even like the shock of summer, sometimes summer we are in full production mode and things are just rushing through. And that can also be really terrifying to, to feel like our own capacity or the amount of content that wants to come through. Or so I think in all of it, we feel like society brushes up against us and says, no, you should be more normal, whatever that is. <laugh>

Lauren (28:59):

I love that. Yeah. Awesome. Beautiful conversation. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I’m sure we’ll be talking to you again soon, cuz it’s always so, so rich. So thanks everybody and yeah, we’ll talk again soon.

Esther (29:16):

Take care.