“The most potent muse of all is our own inner child.”—Stephen Nachmanovitch.
I have always been a maker, a creator, and an artist. I have created drum sets from pots and pans, sleds from sleeping bags, and blush from chalk dust. I look back on my childhood and delineate different ages and phases by what medium I was working with at that time. My interests are diverse and my imagination is enormous. I’ve always been lucky enough to have some incredible mentors who have played pivotal roles in instilling a sense of purpose in my artistic pursuits. In a world where arts and creativity have become the sacrificial lamb in budget cuts, I ask myself how I kept my sense of self and the creative shore in sight, and who served as my lighthouse.
Growing up, I found that my mentors provided me the framework and courage to explore myself as an artist. The most important players in my development asked me to question myself. They asked me to look inside and to hone in on what made me feel warmth and passion at my core. They reassured me that the journey to discovering my passion was an important one and that it would take time and energy. They shared their own wins and pitfalls. They came in all forms: family, friends, and educators. The most influential mentors in my life were not active in their approach to pruning my journey with creating. They were passive influencers. They were always there to lend an ear when the going got rough, to agree that draft #2 would be even better, to share their own journey, and to frame any skewed perceptions that were based on my lack of experience in life at that time. They were always flexible and ready to shift as my interests transformed.
I grew up in a very small town surrounded by some wonderful adults, fellow students, and creative mentors. What I lacked were relationships with men and women who were working as makers, creatives, and artists who were business owners within my own community. I craved exposure to these individuals. Successful students who graduated and moved on to pursue a form of art or design felt like urban legends. At that time, I was without someone who was a mentor and who was also able to field my doubts that I could ever be successful in pursuit of my passion. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that growing up, I heard remarks that were meant to discredit artistic pursuits as a serious career or means of financial income. Perhaps not malicious in intent, but merely someone trying to “protect” me from what they felt would be failure in a worst-case scenario. Nonetheless, those words still jingle in the back of my mind time and time again. It is an unfortunate reality that these remarks are still made to young creatives everyday.
I have asked myself along my creative journey “when will I make the switch from a mentee to a mentor”? How will I know I am ready? Is this title earned through time, through Instagram likes, or a degree? I believe that in different phases and mediums along our journey with making and creating, we will always have the opportunity of playing both roles. In many ways, I am still a student, a novice, and a mentee. I am still learning and am still seeking the guidance of my own mentors. The switch is not as linear as I may have originally thought but instead more undefined. But what do we do when we are presented with an opportunity to become a mentor? How should we react and what can we gain through the process of mentorship? How will I know what parts of my experience are worth sharing?
In the past few years I have found myself in the position to share my own story and have been asked for guidance. It appears now, that I have begun to wear the hat of a mentor. Initially, I may have been overbearing towards my mentees. I gave too much advice and attempted to give hard answers about what was the “right” way to do something. I’ve learned the hard way that as makers and creators, we need breathing room during our growth. I found myself ignoring that space and attempting an active approach to mentorship. In most situations, all my mentees really needed were a word or two of encouragement and the assurance that I’d be there to impart experience when asked for it. So much of the fear we experience on the start of our journey with pursuing passion, stems from fear of isolation. We fear that we won’t have someone who understands why we are pursuing our craft, and that if we fail, no one will bat an eyelash. Letting your mentee know you are with them on their journey is how I believe mentorship and creative role models are crucial to their growth.
Each year as a new season approaches (specifically Spring and Fall), I find myself lost in a fog of nostalgia. I fall victim to counting the ways I may have fallen short creatively in the months prior. This is a long-standing struggle of mine; one that I have worked actively for years to combat. This past Fall, I sought out the advice of one of my own creative mentors: my childhood babysitter. She invited me over for coffee at her kitchen island; the same spot where she and I had brought so many of my creative works to life over the years. That day we discussed our own personal creative journeys. I mentioned offhandedly that I was feeling in a rut with moving forward with new ideas I was testing out. Her newest venture was furniture refurbishing and interior décor, something she had been passionate about for years, but only now has taken to the level of a creative side business. She had invited me over to help her navigate the absolutely overwhelming world of social media, branding, and photography. It was during this interaction that I realized our roles had somehow reversed from their previous positions. I felt myself light up being able to support her as her own personal dream took a tiny shuffle towards it’s creative end goal. I left there that day thinking a lot about the future and what I could do to catapult my craft and passion back into high gear. I left feeling energized having tasted the role of creative mentor briefly. I could feel inspiration bubble back up into my chest. It was then, that I began to pursue opportunities for mentorship and to be visible as a creative small business owner. I decided to start where my first serious dreams of bringing my passion to the small-business level developed; in my own high school art room. I reached out to my beloved and inspiring high school art teacher Becky, and we set a plan for me to host a workshop for young prospective makers and artists.
I framed my workshop in a relatively straightforward manner. I let the students know where I came from, what I had to work with when I got Jake Kenyon Designs (now known as Kenyarn) off the ground, and how they could prepare for the internal dialogue that comes with the creative process. I outlined my journey with photos of myself in the very same classroom I was presenting in. I tried to disassemble the negative idea that making your passion profitable is unattainable. Much of my workshop was spent simply being honest. I opened up to the students about feeling a sense of purpose and the importance of our passion on our mental health. I was frank with them about my own struggles with trying to force things to happen simply because I wished they would, not because they were truly right for me. I knew going into this workshop that every one of those students were filled with passion. It was my goal to jump-start them towards unlocking it through sharing my own story. I wanted to share with them tools for having difficult conversations with themselves. I shared with them how I used resources within my already established circle of friends and family and discussed how social media has been instrumental to my work. I shared with them my own struggles with patience and in some cases, my lack thereof.
In my closing segment I shared with them something that has been pivotal to my work: the importance of setting S.M.A.R.T goals. They are goals that are Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. I emphasized with the students that by setting S.M.A.R.T goals, I could free myself from the disappointment of not reaching unrealistic goals and could track my progress by creating goals that were measurable versus subjective-based. I emphasized the importance of setting timely goals, the dangers of setting goals too far in the future or too soon, and the different pressures I have experienced with both. My goal as a mentor that day was to share my experience, not to guide them towards the same journey. I emphasized that everyone’s journey is immensely personal and will be vastly different.
For the technical portion of my workshop with the students, we dyed yarn. I had the students pair off and create skeins that they felt representative of their individual auras. I taught them the chemistry of dyeing and even gave a mini lesson on color theory. As a huge sucker for symbolism, I had each student use the remaining dye from their skeins to add to a unity skein. Each color in the skein meant to represent themselves within our maker and creative community. I shared the final words with them that sometimes, our biggest sources of inspiration can be from those already surrounding you. I asked them to watch out for one another. It just takes the right lens and the right frame of mind to turn everyday experiences into extraordinary inspiration.
I have found that in being a mentor and in being visible, I feel recharged and energized. This role has helped me to deconstruct my own creative process. It has jump started my thoughts on my own efficiency as a maker and has helped me discover new facets of myself that have developed without my knowing, Being a mentor has helped me to reflect on my own beginnings and inner child: the one that still glimmers beneath the surface and inspires my most creative ideas.
I’ve learned that being a mentor is about being human. It’s about leading by genuine and honest example. It’s about being vulnerable and reminding your mentee of all the risks you’ve taken to get where you are. It’s about answering questions when asked. It’s about being a mirror for your students to reflect on their own creative process in. The creative process, with the added pitfalls of small business; is not a linear one. It’s full of curves, turns and dead ends. As artists and creators we spend hours reshaping, recoloring, redesigning, and reviewing; but so often do we lack the ability to reframe. Being able to address a negative situation, a fear, or a sense of defeat and turn it into a positive thought is not easy, and is not learned overnight. Being a mentor allows us to highlight our mentee’s growth in perceived moments of failure.
How will you plant your seeds of creativity? Have you considered gaining inspiration through inspiring others? The concept of paying it forward is not a new one, however the benefits of acts like these are two fold. When we begin creating we are filled with many questions and fiery passion. As we grow, we use our experience to adjust the settings of our creative compass and create identities for ourselves. As mentors, we should strive to listen more, lead by example, and share what helped us to navigate through our tribulations. Let us use these acts to help our mentee better understand themselves. I left my workshop that day feeling as though I had added a new layer to my craft and to my own creative identity. Let this relationship help ourselves explore the raw energy we once started with and to reflect on our own journey.
By planting creative seeds of inspiration, through gentle pruning, and through the provision of space to grow we can watch passion in our mentees bloom into something truly beautiful. Help to unlock the potential in others in order to explore the parts of yourself that may have been locked away on your own journey. Pay it forward and stay humble. Always remember your roots, who it was that helped you to grow, and never pass on a chance to visit with your inner child.
Make on, Mentees.
Make on, Mentors.
Make on, Makers.