My Letter to the Creative In You

By Abi King | Careers and Blogging

May 26
Abigail King looking at blue art at the Fairwind at Baha Mar

An encounter with an artist who works on "overwhelm" reveals some fundamental truths on creativity, constraints and the commercial concept of selling out.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Last night, quite aptly, I found myself looking at a piece of work called "overwhelm."

It was a series of "structural assemblies" which looked like beautiful, rainbow bright discs, pins, swirls and circles beneath a horizontal snow globe on the wall.

And I was lucky to have the artist standing next to me.

Jordanna Kelly at the Small Works Exhibition at Baha Mar: Overwhelm

Jordanna Kelly at the Small Works Exhibition at Baha Mar: Overwhelm

The Creative Conundrum

I've felt a little lost, creatively, since trying to balance work and motherhood. In part, the exhaustion, the night after night of disrupted sleep and distracted attention.

In part, let's face it, the increased need to make more money with less time, the Gordian knot of every generation. 

I've felt like a sell out with less and less to sell.

And last night, as I looked at this work in the Bahamas, I realised that I had forgotten two important things. 

One, that seeing art in the flesh always sprightens up my soul. 

The second is more universal: how to make creative work pay. 

And it took me back to the time I stood with an artist on another Caribbean island. 

Blue shell print Artist Studio Elisa Lejuez in Caribbean
Desk and fan in artist studio
Elisa Lejuez Artist Stunning Colours in Aruba - green canvas
Sofas against a lime green wall in an artist studio

Visiting an Artist's Studio in Aruba.

Stepping into an artist's studio still gives me a shiver and a thrill, even in the tropical heat. It's the closest thing to a magician's cave: artefacts sourced from around the globe, pigment-splattered paintbrushes and swirls of paint so thick they dare me to reach out and touch.

It's the visual version of the cupcake quest: a chance to reach beyond the everyday - glue, canvas, sketches - and look up to see pure beauty.

Then, the background was the palm and pelican-beached Aruba and the artist's studio belonged to Elisa Lejuez.

Elisa Lejuez Artist in Aruba

Elisa Lejuez, An Inspiring Personality

Lejuez is the kind of woman who radiates inspiration just by walking in the room. I was wilting from an ill-advised long walk in the Caribbean heat and she breezed in with the energy of someone who's just stepped out of a salon.

She took me through her work, how she started with circles and moved on to silk screen printing.

Elisa draws on her Dutch-Curacao heritage, extensive travel through Asia and everyday life here in Aruba to engage in a "secular spiritual quest." She describes creating her art as a kind of meditation, an approach that has served her well through local business and exhibitions in New York. Clients send in photos of the gap in their house they want filled with colour and she comes up with something to set their retinas ablaze.

She works with textiles and fashion ranges and we talked about the challenges involved in making a creative career pay (even magicians need to eat, buy toothpaste, tweezers and flip flops, although not necessarily in that order.)

Carving Out A Career In the Art World

Her zesty yet no-nonsense approach seems essential to carving out a career in the artistic world, it seems, much more so than the gaunt and  grizzly stereotype of the tortured artist of years gone by. 

Her words reminded me of the couple I met in Catalonia, Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, who had this to say on the subject of creativity:

"When you are young, you think that your ideas are the best and you want to spend your life developing your own creative ideas. You feel frustration when, rather than if, you need to take on work that pays more money but that seems to stifle your creativity.

“What you realise as you grow older is that you can be just as creative in commissioned, commercial work. Often more so. You work with other people… become exposed to more ideas… Their restrictions actually force you to expand your own creativity and they provide you with different inspiration.”

Rosa Serra, Olympic Sculptor

Colourful catalogue from artist Elisa Lejuez in Aruba

Elisa is very matter of fact. "We ran through the numbers and realised that making some of these in this way just wouldn't work."

Limits As Fuel for Creativity

Here in the Bahamas, the exhibition I'm looking at is called Small Works. 

Artists were deliberately restricted to works of art measuring 12 inches by 12 inches. The idea was to make the art accessible to more people. They didn't want visitors overwhelmed by giant canvases and unreachable price tags. 

But the limit forced the artists to create in different ways too. 

And in a sidestep, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody on the flight over. There's  a scene where Freddie Mercury begs the original members of Queen to take him back after his solo bid. 

He says that he asked his new band members to do things for him - and they did. There was no disagreement, no compromise, no frustration. And as a result, the music was not as good. 

And it's got me thinking. 

Overwhelm artwork by Jordanna Kelly

Overwhelm artwork by Jordanna Kelly

We humans do seem to do better with limits. From Freddie Mercury to suicide rates increasing during peacetime, we seem to be designed to thrive when we have something to rail against.

So. Perhaps the message should be this.

Set limits to your creativity. Do the commercial work. And when you're doing commercial work. Bring creativity to it.

Set limits to your creativity. Do the commercial work. And when you're doing commercial work. Bring creativity to it. 

I'm going to give it a try.

What do you think?

Disclosure: I met all these artists through press trips to various places. 

As artists or writers, how do we make art pay without selling out? Artists give their advice on commercial success with creativity and creativity with commercial success. #freelance #amwriting #creativity
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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Sophie @ Sophie's World says:

    Love the vivid colours here; the world is just too white.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah – Aruba was such a welcoming place in terms of splashes of colour. Though I’m actually a fan of the Caribbean as a whole, Aruba seemed quite different to the places I’d been before – arid and barren rather than green and lush. But these bright colours were everywhere. Loved it.

  • Found you through your flying fish recipe and then stumbled on this post – I adore the colors of this artwork. It’s like Aruba in a nutshell, personified through design!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, well hello and welcome! I love the Caribbean (who doesn’t?) but I’m really enjoying the discovery that the places are so different, actually. There seems to be this idea in the UK that they’re all just sandy beaches and palms. And, yes, this artwork is stunning.

  • Dear Abi,

    This is Elisa Lejuez (the artist) I really Love Love Love your article.
    Also your pictures are so great! Thank you.
    Hope to inspire the world a little by my art.
    Lots of greeting from Aruba

    • Abi King says:

      Ah – hi Elisa! Thank you so much for stopping by! As you can see, you have reached an inspired the world a little with your art. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope that all is well x

  • Nancy Woods says:

    Loved your article. The conundrum of creativity versus commercial is always facing artists who need to survive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as I sit here in Quito heading out on a National Geographic trip.

    • Abi King says:

      Yes, it’s universal, isn’t it? The need to earn a living! Have a fabulous time in Quito – beautiful, fascinating city. Visit the market for me but sidestep the stinging nettle whip beauty treatment! (Unless, of course, that is your idea of fun…)

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