I’m excited to share the first in a new blog series with you – featuring inspiring women who are balancing their creative pursuits in the midst of all the other demands of daily life. These little chats will explore not just the creative process, but also how these gals approach the challenge of integrating their art into their lives in a sustainable way.
Sleightholm Folk Art
The first artist to share her story here is Heather Sleightholm of Sleightholm Folk Art: “I am a wife, mama, animal wrangler, knitter and painter living in northeastern Oklahoma. I work out of my home studio in our century-old carriage house in my prairie hometown. I am inspired to paint by my love of history and homespun pursuits.”
I adore Heather – she has been an inspiring friend-from-afar to me for years, sharing the most whimsical folk art that embodies old-fashioned skills and a slower pace of life.
Kristin: When did you develop your unique folk style, and what was that process like?
Heather: I honestly didn’t really set about consciously creating a ‘style.’ My way of painting has just sort of evolved from the art I liked to make as a kid. I always enjoyed drawing people, especially ‘old timey people.’ When I was a kid I was really into Little House on the Prairie stories and was into drawing in the style of Garth Williams or Renee Graaf. I didn’t really start making and selling art seriously until I was married and home with a new baby. I wanted to find something I liked to do that was just for me, and started painting at the kitchen table when my daughter was napping. She’s 13 years old now! It obviously got way out of hand!
K: Do you plan out your work carefully with sketches, etc., or do you just dive right in? Or maybe a bit of both depending on the project?
H: I have been known to just start sketching right on the surface I’m going to paint on— I do sketch a bit, but only roughly. I’m a bit superstitious about putting too much detail into sketches, because if I do I end up liking the sketch better than the painting! So I try to save ‘the magic’ for the piece I’m actually painting. I’m often inspired by ideas or old photographs, and I collect old magazines to give me ideas for interiors to put my characters in when I paint them!
K: How would you describe the common thread or vision that runs through all your work? Has that changed much over time?
H: Most of my artwork centers on a theme of home, tradition and simple, old fashioned activities. I’m very inspired by heritage crafts and life that runs on a slower pace. I also want to show that things that can seem so mundane— sitting on the porch, working in the garden, sitting down to knit with friends, can be beautiful and are worthy of being seen as a work of art.
K: You’re a busy mom, with so many crafts as well as dedicated volunteering at a local historic home. How do you weave your art into that very full life? What are your art habits/routines like?
H: As much as I’d like to report that I have a very solid and fruitful routine, it has so far evaded me! But I try to think about my time for work as seasonal….there are times I am busy and there are times when I just can’t get to the painting table. Having kids definitely keeps me on my toes about painting time, but I am known to sneak off after dinner for some alone time in my studio. When my kids are in school, I try to get my chores for the day finished in the morning, have lunch and then go out to the studio for a bit until it’s time to do school pick up. However, this global pandemic we are currently experiencing has made that routine a distant memory! So it’s important to be flexible— things are always changing! But luckily for me, time to sit down and paint is always a joy and something I really look forward to doing. I just have to be careful not too treat it as too much of a luxury— moms are very good at saying “if I can just all these things done, THEN I can paint.” I have learned that things are NEVER ‘all done.’ Sometimes you just have to walk away from chores for a bit and nurture your sanity!
K: You’re so prolific, not just in one medium like painting, but in so many crafts…from spinning to embroidery. It really makes for such a vibrant, multi-faceted art presence, and I love seeing every new project you’re working on. How do you parse out your creative time for those different interests? ie do you go with the flow, based on what you’re excited about at the moment, or do you try to do a bit of each craft regularly?
H: I am a 100% go with the flow crafter and artist! I have to be inspired and interested or whatever I make feels flat. I am a dabbler at a variety of crafts, mostly because I am so curious about the old, analog way of doing things. Human beings have been able to make some amazing things with their hands, for hundreds of years— I hate the idea that we will lose all that knowledge because we are too dependent on technology. So I am a very joyful dabbler. I also feel like since I paint people doing so many of these old fashioned activities, I should experience them myself. My hope is that all these interests meld together to be a better artist. What I choose to focus on at any given time, however, is really just what I’m in the mood for. Some things lend themselves to different times of the year— like knitting is such a cozy winter or autumn activity, or sometimes the spark of an idea sends me into a whole new project!
K: What are your biggest hurdles in regularly creating?
H: Time. There’s never enough time! And it always feels like I should have been painting Christmas art weeks before I do (which reminds me, I should be painting Christmas art!). There are times too when I so desperately want to be churning things out but the inspiration isn’t there. That is the most maddening thing. Because I can try to rearrange my day for more time, but there’s no making creativity show up. I’ve just had to learn to trust that she eventually does!
K: How do you integrate the sharing side of your art – sales, social media, etc. – into your creativity? What are some methods you use to find a harmonious balance between the creating & the social-sharing aspects of your art?
H: Well, I am very lucky in that the people I interact with online all seem to be very nice, encouraging people, so my social media sharing feels very much like sharing what I’m up to with friends. I am interested in so many things— crafts! art! history! gardening! But I imagine people who follow me online are used to that by now and perhaps have dovetailing interests! One thing that I am very grateful for in my artist life is that my husband is an accountant, and he’s very good with technology. So I don’t have to worry too terribly much about those nuts-and-bolts aspects of running a small business. I just paint, and when I share online (mainly on my blog and my instagram sleightholmfolk) I treat it very much as just checking in with friends and sharing bits of my day or what I’m creating.
K: What do you see as being the benefits & risks of sharing art in social media contexts?
H: Well, when I share finished art online I make sure that it is ‘watermarked’ with my business name and I also don’t put any high resolution art out on the internet. It is so easy for an image to be saved and shared a million times without the artist given credit, so I try to be proactive in making sure my name stays with my art. You also have to be willing to say no to people wanting to use your art in ways or in places you’re not comfortable with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to let someone use an image just for a Christmas card or a family reunion booklet, but I have to say no because I don’t print quality want electronic versions of my art in the public domain. Your art is YOURS and I’ll tell ya right now, always get paid for any art you let a third party use. The idea of ‘free for the publicity’ is never a plan I’ve heard work out for any artist. Be your own advocate. You’re worth your time!
K: What are the elements of your art life that you’re concentrating most on in this season – i.e. technique, developing a regular discipline, trying other media, etc?
H: I’m always trying to improve….be better with shading and shadowing….I’m trying to improve my animals too! I don’t want them to look too cartoony. Painting people has always been my favorite subject, but I’m also trying to get better at animals, architecture, landscape and flowers. I’m also having a lot of fun painting woven baskets! It’s weaving with paint!
Many thanks to Heather for sharing her creative journey with us! Be sure to visit her web site and follow her on social media:
All of Heather’s images are used with her permission and are copyright Sleightholm Folk art.