Paula Timm: Visual Artist, Creative Instructor, Wellness Advocate, Writer & Presenter http://www.paulatimm.com/
Most of the time we don't know the full story of people's lives. Usually we are just plopped down somewhere in the middle of their story and we have to figure out what happened and where it might be going. This is something I try to remind myself when I meet someone new, I have no idea what they have been through, and no idea where they are headed, and it's up to me to be a curious learner about their journey.
When I met Paula Timm she was my mixed media art teacher. I was plopped into her world of paint and medium hoping to learn and refine my skills. Her classes were different, she was offering freedom to her students and a process to cultivate our creative instincts rather then wade through the technical bits of colour theory or illustration (although there is some of that there too!) Her approach felt refreshingly safe, allowing me to play at art and drop the intimidation and pretension that stifles so many other creative environments. As my time with her unfolded I began to get glimpses of her past and pieces of her story. Stories about her connections to the community of people suffering from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis a reference to her YouTube video about caring for her ostomy that had suddenly racked up astronomical numbers of views. I learned about her journey as an evolving artist, about her creative mentors, and the risks she had been taking as an emerging artist in Calgary. Flashes of her past began to show the nuance of her as a person.
Her art told me stories too. Stories of risk taking through her changing styles ranging from digital to mixed media to black and white drawings. It spoke to me about someone who was clearly on a creative journey with a voice strengthening with each new exposure and challenge. My experience as her student revolved around expression and creativity. It was about me trying to connect to what I was drawn to, or interested in, and a chance for me to explore the reasons why. She mentored me to find new confidence and approach a canvas with curiosity rather than fear. Clearly, she knew what it was like to feel the terror of the blank canvas and the deep desire to at last find your creative voice. I could have easily made up a story about Paula as someone whose life was pretty easy, someone who had the luxury of being an artist with all of the sexy cache that title holds in our world. Her works are featured in galleries, she has just been selected to have studio space at the up and coming King Edward Creative Hub & Arts Incubator and she is well respected as a teacher for people who identify with various disabilities. But her story is much deeper than that. Her story is about a creative voice, a coming into being, vulnerability, survival, healing, transformation, hardship, and above all bravery. As I have come to know Paula more and more I have come to learn that the creative risks she takes as an artist and teacher stem from her new life. Paula underwent a transformation of body and spirit over the past 5 years and as she healed, her creative voice strengthened and became a clear calling and drive for her to approach life in a more authentic way. It is challenging for me to relay the details of another person’s pain and
suffering. It's not my story after all, I can't actually relay the details with the accuracy and weight that it deserves. But I can tell you that in her story Paula bares the scars of a very long and intense battle with ulcerative colitis that culminated in a surgery gone terribly wrong. She lives with the ghosts of real stories about her literal death and rebirth, a painful recovery process riddled with confusion and the dangers of opioid painkillers. The painful navigation of needing love and support that so many of her relationships could not withstand. Paula's life went from being comfortable to one of chaos and pain and she has come through the other side in large part because of creativity. The ghosts of her past still haunt her but as she surrenders more and more to her purpose and calling as someone meant to support and nurture creativity her ghosts seem to be less scary. Paula inspires me to look at fear and pain in new ways. She has shown me that creativity and art are so much more than just aesthetics they hold the stories of ourselves and they shine a light on paths that can often seem to dark and scary to move down. Her trauma could have ended her. But she chose to let it awaken her instead and the thing that she awoke to is her creative spirit.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Paula uses so many mediums and techniques in her creations. She is someone who looks to all of life for inspiration- the challenges, the pain, the love, and joy. She is someone who seeks to continue her awakening and her healing not just through her own art but through shining a light on other people's creative voices too. This makes her a Muse worthy spirit to me. I am inspired by her willingness to show up each day and face it all. To absorb it all and express it through whatever tools she has on hand.
I had a chance to ask Paula some questions about her process and teaching...
How has your relationship with creativity changed over your life?
Perhaps my relationship with creativity today has not changed but reverted to when I knew the essence so clearly. Being an elementary student of Waldorf, I learned that the creative mind doesn’t get excluded when solving an equation in math, or preparing a hypothesis in science.
Being a public school art student in junior and senior high showed me Art class was a battle between my intuitive wisdom and institutionalized thinking. In my mid 20’s my creative activities lacked confidence and the paints and ideas were often shelved for job security.
This pattern came at great cost to my body when diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and celiac disease at age 25. These conditions albeit not a blessing, did encourage my creativity during medical leave.
The ultimate life lesson was schooled to me when I awoke in ICU from complications during ostomy surgery. No longer could my creative passion take a back burner, I had been given one last opportunity to live a creative, joyful life. I now facilitate a class where I lead you to find your creative voice for your health and growth.
Do you have a piece of art or creative experience that has been particularly significant to you in your own healing journey?
As my body healed from surgery, I created art to heal my mind and soul. At the beginning of my recovery, I could only create on an iPad. As my physical abilities improved I was able to create standing up for short periods of time. I recall creating the Goddess, a mixed media portrait; not 100% recovered but
well enough to know how far I had come in my healing journey. I listened to the music and felt my sorrow and my joy, as I painted, I sang, I danced, I cried, I felt joy! This feeling and expression of joy seemed to be the first time in my life I had experienced this.
I could feel the shackles release their grip of fear, pain, judgment and creative critique break free if for only that moment, it was memorable and sweet.
This piece was the first to sell at my first solo show and there was nearly a bar room brawl for the excitement of who would buy it.
What have your students taught you about creativity?
Through teaching art classes for the past three years, I have learned that I love to facilitate the student’s journey to connect with creativity. For most, this is a foreign concept provoking an inward journey to know their own unique voice. Some people are looking for art, some for healing expression, some are looking for art skills but ultimately when they start class -it begins a relationship with them selves.
I often see my students experiencing closed mindedness, fear, perfection issues, or else they chase themselves away from the process. To experience one’s own Creativity is to feel connection, vulnerability, and innovation all at once with the chance of judgment dashing it way like ripple on a glass pond. The key to their success is that they make a commitment to the process.
What is one thing or an activity that people can do if they want to begin exploring their own creative voice?
Creativity is a way of thinking, a behaviour, a preference and an action. Like all new interests it takes time to cultivate proficiency. Start to explore your creative voice by keeping an art journal to keep track of your creative tools in your toolbox.
Make it a daily practice to be mindful of what inspires you. Perhaps you find yourself attracted to geometric patterns. Do you find you are always purchasing home decor in the same family of colours? Do you love collecting a certain object or theme? Are you preoccupied with words? Do you love combinations of colours together? Is there a style of art that you love? Write down that composition, poem, word that popped into your mind.
In time this will be an invaluable mindful practice and resource of tools which will help to inform your creative practice.
You can learn more about Paula and see her work at: http://www.paulatimm.com/