Welcome to the eighth in a series of interviews with creative friends and acquaintances I have collected over the years. My aspiration is to share their insights on what inspires them, how they work through creative blocks and rejection, and learn about their upcoming projects on the first Saturday of each month (the idea: if you get inspired to “play,” you have the weekend to manifest what your Muse demands!!!)
This month, I’m doing a “selfie” interview (a. my original invitee fell off the face of the earth and b. thanks for the suggestion, Stephanie Kiker).
Cheryl was born and raised in Connecticut and New Hampshire, where she spent every summer on Lake Winnipesaukee. She visited Virginia when she was 10 and knew that she wanted to live there (lesson to parents: if you want your kids to stay close to home, don’t drag them all over creation for spring break). She attended University of Richmond (go Spiders!) where she earned her degree in English (yep. No dangling participles here).
Upon graduation from UR, Cheryl started what became a series of jobs relating to sales and marketing. In a nutshell, she has worked in gourmet food, wine, art and travel – and now (in a strange but fascinating twist) commercial construction. In several of those roles, she worked either in retail, as a manufacturer’s rep or directly for a manufacturer, and in those capacities, she cut her chops on the salient points of designing a product line and how to bring it to market.
Lucky Ginger Studio was borne of settling divorce dust many years ago when Cheryl reconnected with photography, an interest that laid dormant for a couple of decades. She started exhibiting her works in area galleries, which led to her using some of the images on cards she made for friends, which led to her thinking, “Heck. I should sell these.”
Lucky Ginger Studio Christmas magnets, gift tags and cards
Cheryl started wholesaling her line of cards, bookmarks and desk calendars to museum gift shops, botanical gardens and independent shops up and down the East Coast. A few twists and turns – coupled with balancing this endeavor with a full-time job – made her re-tool the line and business plan in 2012. Lucky Ginger Studio products are now sold exclusively online at ShopLuckyGinger and at Orange in Carytown (only the coolest shopping section of Richmond. EVER!) and at some regional shows in the fall and winter.
Enough of the preamble. Let’s learn a tiny bit about me/Cheryl (I am having a Seinfeld moment of sorts with this third-person bit)!
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Lucky Ginger Studio: At what age do you remember first embracing your Inner Creative Voice?
Cheryl Shanahan: I was four when I taught myself how to read music and play piano. I was around eight or nine when my journaling obsession manifested itself. I picked up a camera for the first time when I was 12.
LGS: In what ways do you enjoy expressing your personal creativity? (writing, cooking, drawing, etc.)
CS: Gardening, interior design/decorating, cooking for friends, making candles, writing, graphic design….and photography, of course.
LGS: What’s your favorite way to express your creativity and why?
CS: I am one of those people who cannot narrow anything down to one favorite. Right now, the creativity mainly oozes out via photography and graphic design. Earlier in the spring, it was landscape design. Much to my mother’s chagrin, the answer is not “playing the piano.” I may circle back to that one day, but the urge is not there now.
LGS: Do you allow yourself creative “play” time? (just messing around with creative stuff making things for YOU…with no project in mind?) If so: how often?
CS: I allow myself an extraordinary amount of creative “dream” time and I use my journal to put dreams to paper. From there, I map out a plan of attack to try new things for the line. I probably don’t play enough – which is sad, because some of the best ideas or solutions come to me when I’m just noodling around with something. I chalk it up to the fact that I balance what I call “studio stuff” with a very engaging full-time job. My time is limited; I have to give it some sort of structure to maximize results on both fronts.
LGS: What time of day do you feel most creative?
CS: Early in the morning. I like being the first one up on the house. The phone’s not going. E-mails aren’t arriving. I can collect myself. Now: let me clarify. In my world, there’s the CREATIVE portion of my world (in which I come up with the concept, or I’m doing some post-production work) – and there’s the PRODUCTION portion to my world (in which I’m actually banging out 200 magnets or 90 candles). Late mornings tend to be better for production. Sometimes I’ll get in a good groove to survive the After Lunch Slump. It really varies.
LGS: Do you have any creative rituals? (example: when I am doing post-production, I HAVE TO HAVE MUSIC)
CS: Well, you wrote this question. The answer: when I am doing post-production, I HAVE TO HAVE MUSIC. Basically, I have to have music going all the time. It helps me get in a state of flow.
LGS: When you encounter creative blocks, how do you work through or around them?
CS: I accept that they are part of the process and are bound to happen. For those of you who are in sales: your parallel is a sales drought – you know…when you can’t even close a front door! As my regional manager at my “real job” says: “The marketplace rewards activity.” In other words, just keep doing what you’re doing – and eventually, the drought will end.
Many years ago, I heard someone ask a similar interview question of legendary musician Neil Young. When asked about the ups and downs of his lengthy career, he essentially said that he feels as if he’s always out in the water. Sometimes he’s in a trough (drought); sometimes he’s riding the wave (on a roll! Hit songs!). Either way: he’s always in the water.
I feel exactly the same way. Hate to say that I welcome droughts, but I notice that when I am in one, it usually signifies that I’m about to have some sort of creative breakthrough or have a huge growth spurt.
LGS: What other artisans/creatives inspire you?
CS: Hungarian photographer Andre Kertesz (to me: he is the master of composition and the champion of elevating seemingly ordinary details to the extraordinary). Mozart, Haydn, Chopin: they help me establish my flow. My friend Lynne Cunningham (she is an excellent “player”: not afraid to try anything new).
LGS: Do you have a support group of other artisan/creative friends? If so – how do you help each other out?
CS: I do. My “show friends”on the Q4 show circuit are like a traveling circus. I think we help each other out from a moral support perspective. My friend Cathy Davis, who owns Orange in Carytown has pulled in some very talented artists, and some of us share intel on supplies and suppliers. Never underestimate the power of finding good sources.
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LGS: If the “What You’re Doing Is No Good” voice pops into your head, how do you shut it down?
CS: Toss it or delete it and start over. The older I get, the more I realize that voice guides me to stay true to my vision. It’s OK to tear stuff down and start over.
Louis Comfort Tiffany – of the stained glass fame – had a reputation for demanding perfection. There are accounts of him walking through his factory floor, knocking over stained glass lamps with his cane if they didn’t meet his exacting requirements for flawlessness.
Recently, I have been struggling with new labeling for my soy candles. I just chucked out the batch that came back from the printer and I’m starting over from scratch. Perfection is a demanding muse. Not only that: she is fickle. What is perfect today is probably going to look awful to me in a couple of years. Sometimes you have to tear down in order to rebuild (that’s the Scorpio in me talking!)
LGS: How do you move through criticism or rejection of your work?
CS: When I was younger, it really stung. As I have gotten older, I realize that a) sometimes the criticism is constructive (so: Listen. Learn. Eat the meat, throw away the bones. There may be ways to improve) and b) a lot of this is SUBJECTIVE. Not everyone is going to connect with what I make. That’s OK.
LGS: What’s your favorite tool that helps you get your creative work done?
CS: Music. Again: it totally helps me establish my flow. I’m lost without it.
LGS: What was the most favorite thing you ever designed? (I know….there’s favorite…and then there is MOST FAVORITE, right?)
CS: I really liked Stephanie Kiker’s answer last month: I always like the newest piece I have done. Ha!
That being said: I owe an enormous amount of success to my desk calendars, and anything with hydrangeas on it.
LGS: Fill in the blank. When I have not created in awhile, I feel __________.
CS: OK. I really am not bogarting all of Stephanie’s answers from her interview last month, but…..when I have not created in awhile, I feel anxious.
LGS: What’s your next project?
CS: Well, believe it or not…even though it is September 2013, I am already thinking ahead to 2015 calendar designs (the 2014s are on the street; have to start planning for the next round).
I am also toying with designing “The Doors of Monument” poster, based on a Christmas card of mine which showcases about a dozen doors from the prettiest street in our city. It was a suggestion a client gave to me over a year ago. It’s nagging at me now, so it’s time to bring it to life.
EVENTUALLY: I will get the “Grand Tour Honeymoon” project off the ground. Oh, how it has languished….
LGS: What advice do you have to share with burgeoning artists?
CS: If you’re like me and balancing a full-time job with your art: remember how your bread is buttered. If your schedule doesn’t permit a ton of time for you to devote to your craft, remember you don’t have to do EVERYTHING…it’s OK to do just SOMETHING (this advice is as much for me as it is for you). You can always do a little something every day to advance your cause, your talent.
Also (again: echoing Steph): make art for YOU. Make it come from the heart.
© Cheryl Shanahan
You may purchase Lucky Ginger Studio products at Orange or at ShopLuckyGinger.com
If you care to read other “Creativity First” interviews, follow these links:
Poet Margaret Vos
Children’s Book Author Trisha Malfitano
Artisan Amy Freeman
Connector/Visionary/Marketing Genius Tyler Snidow
Photographer Karen Gowen
Textile Designer Victoria Lowe
Graphic Designer Stephanie Kiker