Hello! Today's artist interview is with my wise and warm-hearted friend Noëlle Nadeau Khoo. I have long admired Noëlle's art and her playful aproach to creating. I hope you will, too. Enjoy!
Where in the world are you located? What is it like being an artist there?
I live in the beautiful Interior of British Columbia, Canada. The Okanagan is the wine and fruit basket of BC. Glorious Okanagan Lake is 135 Km Long and 5 Km wide. It is shouldered by rolling hills and expansive vistas. My home studio is located on the side of a dormant volcano overlooking the lake. Hiking and biking trails abound and deer, coyotes, quail, songbirds, and the occasional bear are visitors to our yard and pond. The life and land around me are a source of constant inspiration. It is not surprising that many artists are drawn to this area so I’m therefore fortunate to have many artist friends who also live and work here.
I think for a lot of artists, there's a tension between feeling called to be an artist and the pull to have a "sensible" career. Have you always known that you're an artist? How has your art career evolved?
Yes, it’s true. I taught art for twenty years before I decided to take the leap of faith required to focus on art full time.. I’ve been creative as long as I can remember and when I was six years old I made small pots out of clay by the side of Kootenay lake - where we lived at the time..I went to art school twice (when I was four and five years old I accompanied my Mom to Kootenay Art School. As a young adult I attended art school a second time. Creating art for me has always been a safe place. I love the feeling of jumping into the unknown and discovering something that feels brand new and ancient at the same time.
In my twenties I mostly worked in clay, sculpture and installation. I always painted on the side because it gave me the most joy. This may sound weird but my Mom was a painter and I erroneously felt that was kind of ‘her domain’. It wasn’t until 2001 when friend who had organized a show asked if she could include my paintings. I was reluctant at first but the show hung and I felt encouraged by the response to show work again after that.
Can you talk a bit about your creative process?
I had a wise and insightful ceramics teacher at art school who taught us students to listen to the clay. His tutelage helped me find a way to make room for conversation in art. It’s a process of working with the materials to let them guide and direct actions and the direction the work takes. Like many things in life, It’s really about getting out of our own way.
How has your work evolved over time?
I started painting with oil and transitioned to acrylic paint when I was pregnant with our son. I worked with very wet and medium thinned acrylic paint for years and more recently started creating heavily textured work, and most recently completed a series of collages using canvas, various materials, and mixed media.
Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?
Spirals, circles, ladders, appear usually when a larger shift is about to happen.
What is your studio practice like?Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into the creative zone? Do you ever get creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?
I like to start my day at 5:30 am. Before the rest of the family is awake I rise and do a 10 to 15 minute yoga practice followed by a 15 minute meditation. Depending on the day, I go out for a walk either before or after the rest of the family is up and fed and out the door. When I enter the studio, I set an intention. I move with what Im inspired to work with. If I have a series on the go, usually I’m pulled in by what is on already happening. Creative blocks are unusual. Creative traffic jams are more common. It appears there is sometimes a pile up of ideas and inspirations and my biggest problem seems to be finding clarity in this and sometimes slowing it down. Often, for better or worse I jump in and dance and sing and paint it all out and try to sort it all out later :-)
What I find is the greatest creative block is doubt. This really can be a destroyer of inspiration and motivation. The good thing is that the flip side of doubt is faith. Usually it only takes throwing the paint around to move through inertia and freeze. As Picasso said, Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” My recipe (if there is one ; -) is:
- Make a cup of tea
- Put on music - or leave off
- Stand up
- Set up paint
- Make a move
- Respond to that move
- Repeat until rest is needed.
- Seeing/being : doing = 3 :1
I have certain music I listen to that can get me into the flow. I often sing and dance whilst I’m painting and that movement of energy can help shift and create better flow and better energy.
I know from following you on Instagram that you have a regular meditation practice. Does your meditation practice influence your art practice?
Meditation helps with clarity and calm. Meditation practice certainly makes everything simpler more enjoyable.
I really admire the sense of play that you bring to your creative work. I wonder if you have any advice for those of us who may be burnt out and trying to reconnect with that sense of fun and spontaneity?
Take your inner child on a playdate to wherever she’d like to go; a park, a forest walk, for a swim, etc. Maybe she wants to go for a run or a bike ride or a car ride or go to an amusement park. Perhaps she wants to see a movie or play a while with a certain material or colour. Start listening to the littlest, quietest voice within (or maybe she’s a loud, foul mouthed badass ;- ). Maybe you have several creative inner voices that desire expression. Give them all room to explore and create and be free.
Don’t listen to the voice that is the opposite of this - the one that’s critical, demeaning, ruthless in her contempt.
If you can, set up a dedicated space where you’re invited to sit down with materials around you. Surround yourself with things you love and are inspired by.
I really love your recent collage series. Can you talk a bit about what that series means to you?
Thank you. I started this series while recovering from an ankle reconstruction surgery. I couldn’t weight bear on my left leg for 8 weeks so I largely worked on the floor. I tore apart old paintings and used old journals and note books, materials, and collaged and wove works together. Creating this series helped me deconstruct and reconstruct ideas and concepts to formulate and come up with new ways of seeing things. As you I’m sure are well aware, art making is a transformative process. Going in, one does not know how one - or even who- will emerge. It is a shedding and letting process as much as it is an additive process.
Are you a full time artist or do you also have a day job/side hustle? If you do have a day job, does it tie in with your art practice?
I consider myself lucky to be able to dedicate my energies to a full time art making practice. I’m blessed to be Mom to a wonderfully creative and energetic 7 year old son. I’m also honoured to facilitate an art group, one day a week at BrainTrust Canada. I teach workshops and give individual art lessons, as time permits, when asked. Otherwise I focus on creating art in my home studio.
Let's talk about work/life balance. How do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?
Ha, well there are only so many hours in a day. My first priority is taking care of myself first. By waking up early and getting my meditation and yoga practice time in, it sets the tone for the day and makes me a better person to be around ; -). My husband and I make a point of getting out for a date night at least once every couple weeks. Our son is in school during the day so I try to make the most out of all those hours. On Mondays after school drop off I meet with some Mom friends for a hike and then when I get home I focus on business. This is a necessary (and my least favourite part of being an artist but something friends like you are helping me see the need for making time for). In the past I would paint as much as I possibly could and not deal with the business side until I had to . This is still definately a weakness for me but by doing something fun and connecting with friends and then focussing on business for the next few hours on Mondays, it helps me focus on the week ahead. I also feel good that I got my least favourite part of the work done. (i’m also working on changing my lense about the business side of things and lately I’ve been finding more fun in it - simply by looking for fun in it. Like most things, it’s a matter of perspective.
What does being an artist mean to you?
Being an artist is a responsibility and a gift. We are all given a life - our life - to play with and create whatever it is we want. There is a responsibility to grow, learn, share, care and trust. There is an invite to be as brave as one dares and courageous as one can be. There is an obligation to be true to oneself while at he same time recognizing there is no self… there is only energy and effort. It is our responsibility to make the world a better place. The French have a term for an artist ……. It is ‘master thinker’. Artists are the canaries in the coal mine, the sensitives who dance the fine line between reality and illusion… and hopefully share something of value in the middle.
If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Thank you, Noëlle! For more information about Noëlle Nadeau Khoo, please visit her website or you can follow her on Instagram.
Do you have any questions or comments for Noëlle? Add them to the comments below!