Creativity is more than just a side hustle for these 5 everyday artists
Below, we spoke to a variety of professionals who weave creativity into their daily work, or express their artistic inclinations through side projects. From musicians with a unique sound who utilise social media to showcase performances, to PR professionals who spend their free time in the painting studio, below are a few everyday artists who harbour a creative flair.
1. Meet everyday artist: Erica Gerald Mason
Day job: Writer and publisher
Current project/side gig: Creating found poems on Etsy
As a publisher, it’s crucial that Erica Mason stays “curious” in her job. To encourage this mindset, she reads — a lot.
“Most of my time is spent in used bookstores, so most of the salespeople know me,” she says. One day, one of the salespeople asked her what she did with the used books once she’d read them — and for once, Mason was at a loss for words.
“I give away most of my pre-loved books, but some were so torn and tattered they were no longer in ‘giveable’ condition. I didn’t have the heart to just toss them into the recycling bin,” she says.
The stacks of books were growing. One day, a few words on a page caught her eye — and the rest, as they say, is history. Mason began her current project, creating beautifully framed poems composed of the pages of damaged books and displaying her work on Etsy, based on this moment of inspiration.-
“It’s fun to take a favourite book and make poems, that’s to be expected,” says Mason. “But it’s especially exciting to transform the pages of a book I didn’t necessarily love in high school. I end up falling in love with the story, in spite of myself.”
Recently, Mason finished one of her favourite projects to date, a series from an old book of Emily Dickinson’s poems.
“Making poems from the Zeus of the poetry world was challenging, but worth it,” says Mason. “I felt like in some small way, we were collaborating.”
2. Meet everyday artist: Raynay Valles
Day job: Website, software and app tester
Current project: Where The Pretty Things Are, a self-published colouring book
Valles’ day job is “more analysis and clicking than creativity,” she says. “I might create pie charts to show testing progress, but that’s about it.”
In order to find an artistic outlet, Valles has to get creative in more than one sense of the word. So, she makes the most out of her work commute, which averages around 90 minutes a day. Having loved to draw since she was a kid, Valles found sketching a natural creative outlet. She decided to self-publish a colouring book of her work last year.
The work was all completed in the off-hours of her day job. Despite the long days and nights, Valles actually found that the project injected vitality into her life. “The funny thing is, I used to be very tired after work,” she says. “Working on this project energised me. I was staying up late and waking up early. That was a surprise.”
Growing up in a family without much money, Valles says she focused primarily on securing a “practical” job, instead of nurturing her creative interests. It’s a mindset from which she hopes to deviate while raising her own children.
“When my own kids started college, I wanted to encourage them to share their talents,” she explains. “The best way I thought I could do that was to show them an example of sharing my own.”
Though it’s been a great deal of work, Valles finds her side project rewarding.
“I am touched when strangers tell me that my drawings brightened their day,” she says. “The most rewarding thing was when my book went live on Amazon, my daughters told me they were proud of me.”
3. Meet everyday artist: Natalia Paruz
Day job: Musical saw player
Current project: ‘Saw Lady” and founder/director of the NYC Musical Saw Festival
Though Natalia Paruz’s day job is intricately intertwined with her creative nature, she expresses her musical talent in quite a unique way: As a session and stage musical saw player.
Paruz’s work can be heard on a number of movie soundtracks, as well as on TV commercials, animation short soundtracks, etc. She also plays with orchestras, chamber groups and conducts solo recitals on stage in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Gardens, Lincoln Center and more.
She says that the “coolest” stage on which she’s ever performed was a 19th century mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where she was a musical-saw-playing Victorian ghost for Atlas Obscura.
“What I find inspiring about my craft, besides the beauty of the sound, is that it is a tool for communication,” she says. “Because of the uniqueness of the sound and the visual [nature] of what I do (playing music on a really big handsaw), the natural curiosity in people makes them forget their inhibitions, and attracts them into a collective and spontaneous group experience in the moment, through the music, with me.”
In her own time, Paruz is the founder and director of the NYC Musical Saw Festival, now in its 12th year. The group has made its way into the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest such musical saw ensemble with 53 players.
Despite the “in-person” nature of Paruz’s work, she relies heavily upon the Internet for promoting her performances, and she also conducts Internet recording sessions to share her craft with the world.
4. Meet everyday artist: Jay Paavonpera
Day job: Public relations director, Dior Homme (North America)
Current project/side gig: Painting and mural artist
Though public relations may not seem an “artistic” field to many, Jay Paavonpera begs to differ.
“I do have the opportunity to be creative in my work,” he says. “Public relations is an incredibly creative field. In many ways, it too is a form of art. I’m shaping a story about a brand. That requires constant reflection (interior and exterior).”
Paavonpera spends his weekends and down time at the studio working on paintings, and he finds the process meditative. “It’s an opportunity to let the physical space inspire thought,” he says, adding that the most rewarding thing about his work is finding the opportunity for philosophical, existential self-investigation.
Paavonpera also has strong opinions on the impact of street art, a format which piques his interest.
“I like the bridge that graffiti — or ‘post-graffiti’ (to coin a popular term) — offers between the ethos of post-WWII New York school abstract expressionism, and the form in which graffiti is presented today,” he says, going on to list names such as Kaws, Futura, Roids MSK, Conor Harrington and Jaybo Monk as artists who have “transcended the assumed notion of what we expect from graffiti.”
“I admire what they are achieving with their process,” he says. “In many ways, I am attempting a very similar practice with my work, in my effort to translate the use of intentional mark-making (an inherent element of graffiti) as a means to convey an apparent sense of time and interference with time.”
Though his job can be demanding, Paavonpera says that he’s passionate enough about his art to find the time for it.
5. Meet everyday artist: Jessica Greenwalt
Day job: CIO of medtech company CrowdMed, founder of Pixelkeet
Current project/side gig: Hosting crafting DIY parties and creating custom greeting cards
In high school, Jessica Greenwalt started her first design firm. By the time she was out of college, her graphic design website had reached the first spot in organic Google search results for “freelance graphic designer.” This firm evolved into her graphic design and web development company, Pixelkeet. Later, Greenwalt also went on to found CrowdMed, a site dedicated to medical crowdsourcing.
To continue pursuing her creative strengths — and to inspire them in others — Greenwalt began organising group crafting circles and parties, attracting people from all over the Bay area.
“I’ve been into making things for as long as I can remember,” she says. “Over the years I’ve made comic books, video games, board games, clothes, accessories, toys, paintings and a variety of other things. It just makes me happy to create things.”
Greenwalt says that her favourite type of craft varies.
“It depends on what I get curious about or decide I want to get really good at,” she says. “For awhile it was papercrafts, then I got really into metalsmithing, then knitting and crocheting, and now I’m going through a seed/bead geometric jewellry phase.”
For most of her crafting events, Greenwalt puts together custom greeting cards, which she puts on display online.
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