Suzanne O'Dell | Portraits of an Artist

What is your name and what do you do? 

My name is Suzanne O’Dell and I am a writer. I mostly write creative content for web, print, and visual media. 

How did you start making your art? Why do you keep going?

It’s all very unremarkable, really. I should make up a more exciting story for this one in case I’m ever asked it again! I started to think like an artist long before I ever “became” one professionally. My mother, who is an artist herself, was very influential in this process. Even though she had four children, she managed to carve out the time to read aloud to each one of us. Her love for books and learning was contagious, which is why I believe I’ve been able to keep my imagination so young. I continued to read widely and often, and a natural outpouring of my own words quickly followed. In my head, I felt like I was simply drawing from a reservoir of prose I had been collecting for years and then connecting that language to the topic at hand. I felt more like a facilitator of words than a creator. Now I realize that no artist is able to create from nothing—we can only create through community, which includes the knowledge and work that precedes us. 

The funny thing about it all is that I never set out to become a writer. In fact, because the practice seems so natural to me, (not that there aren’t plenty of times of difficulty and frustration) I often feel like I haven’t earned the right to be good at it. I still feel this way often.  Ultimately, the reason I chose to write as a career came because of many brilliant and encouraging teachers and professors. I only began to believe I could write after years and years of their collective belief reached its maturation point. I write today from an overwhelming sense of gratitude and the hope that somehow, in some way, my writing may provide a small, but true reflection of the goodness and grace of God.  Through the dimness of my imperfection may His light be seen all the clearer. 

How do faith and creativity collide for you?

I don’t see it as a collision as much as it is a cause-effect relationship. Creativity is both a reflection and extension of my faith. They are cut from the same cloth—or rather, they comprise the same seamless garment. I believe that any act of creativity is an exercise of faith, which is why it’s so easy to abandon creativity as we get older: the world tends to reward certainty over faith, as if they were mutually exclusive. So, I suppose creativity, for me, is simply an awe-filled response to faith. An “unlearning” and letting go of the temptation to eliminate all risk and to keep my life neat and tidy and locked up. It’s kind of worship and obedience that draws me out of myself and closer to God. 

 
Suzanne: "The first time I read Mary Oliver's poem, I got the distinct impression that this is what God would have me do with my life and writing pursuits."

Suzanne: "The first time I read Mary Oliver's poem, I got the distinct impression that this is what God would have me do with my life and writing pursuits."

 

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

Books: 
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee: This is Lee’s sequel to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Being from North Carolina originally, I feel a certain kinship to Southern literature, which is why I loved this one. I also might have named my daughter after the author . . . but who knows. 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Masterfully employs all the senses. Super interesting so far. 
Rising Strong by Brene Brown: I don’t usually read “self-help” types of books, but this is one is an exception. A powerful and well-searched study on the role of vulnerability in facing failure of all kinds. Brene has a super endearing personality, which makes the heavy content more palatable and (often) very funny. 

Audiobooks: 
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Want to know how to write perfect internal dialogue? Develop characters with startling precision? Master the art of short story? This is your book. Also, I recommend the audiobook version because Brian Cranston (Breaking Bad) narrates it so impeccably. 
- The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller: The best contemplative study on marriage I’ve ever heard. 

Podcast: 
The Tim Ferriss Show: One of the most useful resources for learning the habits and practices of highly successful people in a variety of fields. I especially enjoyed this recent one where he interviews B.J. Novak (The Office) about comedy writing, creative process, etc. 

Periodicals: 
The New York Times: Treat yourself to the printed Sunday edition and a pastry. 
The Atlantic: Depth. 
The New Yorker: Learn what good writers do. Be intoxicated by it. 

Any advice for women who are aspiring creatives in your field?

  1. Read promiscuously. (Isn’t that the best use of the word, ever? All credit to Milton.) Seriously, though. Read all you can and learn to recognize good writing. 
  2. Write drunk, edit sober. (That’s quintessential Hemingway. I have the keychain to prove it.) And before you get all out of whack, you don’t have to consume alcohol at all to participate. The principle still applies: Learn how to write without any inhibitions. Anne Lamott calls them her sh***y first drafts. You can’t write and edit in the same state of mind, or you’ll go crazy. 
  3. Find other creative women and hang on to them for dear life. This is the most important one, so I’ll explain more. 

I think there’s this underlying tension sometimes between women who possess the same skill set. Call it competitiveness or fear, or whatever, but the root of it is in this idea of scarcity—that there’s not enough success, attention, resources, connections, etc. to go around. It doesn’t help that our culture’s definition of the ideal woman is a paradox: She is sweet and likable but must firmly speak her mind; She must be fiercely independent, but not overconfident; She mustn’t fuss over her appearance, but should always look toned, put together, and “naturally” flawless. She must vigorously pursue her career goals while being a specimen of domestication, a supremely sexy romantic partner, AND an incredible mother. No wonder we’re so anxious all the time! 

The expectations we place on ourselves—and on other women—is as astounding as it is unhealthy. Women—especially those of us in the creative field—need lock arms and reclaim the ground we’ve lost over the poison of comparison and self-isolation. Imagine what we could accomplish together instead of in opposition, judgment, or indifference towards one another. Forming a tight-knit community of other women creators has been—hands down—the best investment I’ve ever made in my career and in myself. Having these women (writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc.) in my corner who deal with the same struggles and insecurities has pushed me to love and create in ways that would otherwise be impossible. We eat together, read together, celebrate together, pray together, and create together. How do you find a community like that? Be vulnerable with another artist you trust (key=that you TRUST) and begin to reach out to more. Start a group based on a common interest—books, films, etc.—and watch how that gathering blooms organically into a dedicated core of friends. Find your people and stick with them for the long haul. You can’t do this alone.  

Describe your perfect day of recharging/relaxing. 

Waking up early, but fully rested. Reading or daydreaming while outside and sipping coffee slowly. Making a big breakfast with my husband and kiddos. Taking a family walk and then working outside in the garden. Having a picnic. Taking a nap. Inviting dear friends over for dinner and talking late into the night after the kids are in bed. Falling asleep to a funny sitcom with my husband.  

Complete this sentence: "I cannot live without..." 

Hope. A good sense of humor. People who love me as I am, but inspire me to be better. 


Portrait by Sean Berry

Portrait by Sean Berry


Where to find Suzanne:

Instagram: @suzanneodell 
I’m basically like Ron Swanson right now on social media. Sorry about that — I’ve got two kids. But I do post photos of them occasionally on Instagram.

Websites:
Personal 
Creo Stories


Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

If you'd like to be featured, please contact me: sjlee@sohostory.com

Elisa Fisher | Portraits of an Artist

mundanetype_elisa-3-square.jpg

What is your name and what do you do?

My name is Elisa Fisher. I'm the community manager at WELD Dallas as well as a photographer.

How did you start making your art? Why do you keep going?

I remember as early as the age of five, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, "an artist". That passion for creating things has stayed with me the past twenty years. I ended up getting my BFA in Studio Art with a Photography emphasis, and never once did I consider changing my major.

After I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to be a travel photographer, but wasn't sure how to get jobs. After a year of teaching English in Thailand, a year and a half of working jobs in the service industry, and trying to do photography, I ended up as an intern at WELD. Being in a creative community for the first time in 3 years, I was so inspired everyday and learned so much from the members. I still wanted to be a travel photographer, and felt like WELD was the perfect springboard for me as I developed relationships with people like Kelsi Klembara, Esther Havens, Austin Mann, and more. 

After my internship ended, I had more local work but still wasn't traveling the world to take pictures for big clients as I had hoped. Something was keeping me in Dallas despite my desire to travel. God's plans are always so much better than our own - in February of 2015 I was offered the job as Community Manager of WELD. I had an "at last!" feeling and although I didn't totally believe that I was the best fit for the job, I accepted it without hesitation.

I had an identity crisis when I felt the full reality of accepting a job where I had to plant roots in Dallas with people that would get to know me really well, people that could hurt me. I realized that traveling had become a defense-mechanism in which I didn't have to be totally vulnerable or work too hard at my relationships with people because I would soon be going to a new place with a whole new set of people. The idea of staying in Dallas made me feel stuck and stagnant and was way more scary to me than going to a foreign country.

As I've settled into my role as WELD's Community Manager, I've realized it's not where you are or what you're doing, but who you're with that defines your experiences. Even though I'm planted in one place for a while, I get to invest in some of the best people everyday, and I'm so incredibly thankful that God has brought me here despite my nomadic tendencies. 

The people at WELD keep me restless about the fact that I haven't settled into my niche of photography yet; it's creative accountability, if you will. That and the innate desire God has put in me to create, that feeling deep down that I can't ignore, is what keeps me going. 

How do faith and creativity collide for you?

I used to struggle a lot with the question of, "How do I create Christian art that isn't cheesy?" I had no desire to create that stuff that is trying so hard to be overtly Christian that it becomes kitsch, but felt like I was a bad Christian if my work didn't point to the Lord. Over the years I've come to believe that if you are a Christian and you do whatever work God has set out for you to do, whether it's something creative or not, that is what we are called to do and it doesn't have to be covered in crosses and bible verses. If we use our talents to the best of our abilities and ask the Lord to guide us in that, there's nothing more we can or need to do.

What are you thankful for in this season of your life, your work?

It can take me a really long time to be my true self around people I've just met. I feel like I'm finally no longer hiding parts of my personality from the people in my life, and it's very freeing. Life's too short to care what people think about you!

What inspires you?

People, places, great food, underwater creatures, dinosaurs, and geometry. 

Was there an artist in your creative field you admired when you were young that inspired you to become an artist? Why?

When I was eighteen I saw an exhibit in Berlin by conceptual film photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. He is one of the most insightful and enigmatic photographers I've ever come across. I think it's because his images both have a deeply thought-out and well-explained concept, yet are also extremely interesting aesthetically. 

What are you working on now?

Being a really good listener and encourager. I find that I am the most happy when I'm focused not on myself. I want to be someone that builds others up to succeed. I'm EXTREMELY empathetic, so I genuinely feel other people's pain as my own. I have the ability to understand what anyone is going through because I tend to take their burdens on myself. Thus, I'm also learning that I have to be careful not to get bogged down by other people's problems. I have to balance being available for others as well as taking time to decompress every day so that I can still be a source of support for people.

Photography-wise, I've been shooting whatever comes my way: weddings, architecture, portraits, and events. Very recently, I've discovered that I really love taking environmental portraits. It makes sense as it combines my love for people and place. I would really like to figure out a way to do that kind of thing for jobs. 


Environmental portraits by Elisa Fisher.
Click on the images above to enlarge.

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

Listening: Ratatat, Small Black, Lucius, Atlas Genius, Tei Shi, Prinze George, In The Valley Below, Knox Hamilton, Lisa Hannigan, to name a few. 
Watching: Parks & Recreation
Reading: Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Any advice for women who are aspiring creatives in your field?

It doesn't matter how many Instagram followers you have. If you're serious about wanting to be an artist, then create what YOU like creating, and if you truly believe in it and work really hard, people will see that and will hire you. 

 
mundanetype_comparison.jpg
 

Describe your perfect day of recharging/relaxing.

Waking up late, making coffee and breakfast at my apartment, going for a run in a beautiful place with perfect weather, exploring a new area, and enjoying some really delicious food and drinks with awesome people.

What is an interesting fact about you most people wouldn't know?

 I was classically trained in piano since the age of seven, and took lessons for about thirteen years. 

I cannot live without ...

Peanut butter. It's just the best. 


103-20141117-150957.jpg

 

Where to find Elisa:

Instagram: @elisafisherphotography

elisafisher.com


Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

If you'd like to be featured, please contact me: sjlee@sohostory.com

Courtney Ware | Portraits of an Artist

mundanetype_courtney-ware-1

What is your name and what do you do?

My name is Courtney Ware - and I’m an independent filmmaker.  That sort of sounded like a weird confession.

How did you start making your art? Why do you keep going?

I grew up around the theatre.  My dad was a playwright and also an electrical engineer.  My mom is an interior designer and was also a Math major.  So, I sort of got this incredible mix of right and left brain from my parents.  It was an awesome gift - something that I can take to my filmmaking - the technical and the creative.  

I remember growing up, I would grab my parents camcorder and film with my Beanie Babies (ha!).  I think I edited my first film project in the 7th grade for a school assignment.  I’ve always loved communicating and telling stories through film. I really love chasing the emotion of film - the way that film can so intimately evoke emotions is something completely unique and wonderful.

What are you working on now? Or current obsession?

Currently, I’m writing, which is funny because I’m terrified of writing.  What's also funny - that’s exactly why I’m writing.

What are you thankful for in this season of your life, your work?

I’m thankful for failures, as strange as that sounds.  I used to think that I was incapable of failing, which is really ridiculous.  This season of my life has been full of failures and as difficult as it is to deal with, I’m really thankful for them. I have grown more in my artistry and craft in this season than any other, and it all started with accepting my failures for being a beacon of growth.  

What does "being creative" mean to you?

I love this definition of creativity:  “Creativity is the ordering of chaos.” I love that something “creative” can be orderly - it can be chaotic in it’s own specific (non-orderly) way.  It's finding correlation between things that shouldn’t go together but do. 

I think being creative is also a bit of a state of mind - of being open to observing the world in a different way and deconstructing it through your eyes.  I believe there are no new ideas - but there are new perspectives and voices.

 
mundanetype_courtney-ware_quote.jpg
 

What inspires you?

I’m definitely inspired by a really great film - but that’s an obvious answer.  I love going on walks - I try to clear my head and just listen and be still.  These times of quiet are wonderfully inspirational.  

I’m also inspired by those around me - especially those that are creating and fully being who they are. There’s a group of women and we meet once a week (Sojung is one of them!) - I’m so inspired by all of them.  They’re incredible women - and amazing artists.  What better inspiration do you need?

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

I’m reading a book by Richard E. Cytowic, Wednesday is Indigo Blue.  It’s part of my research for my next screenplay.

Any advice for women who are aspiring creatives in your field?

Go and do.  People follow action.  Don’t be afraid - just go and do. 

More importantly, surround yourself with other women who are in your field.  Having the support of other artistic women is so important - and something that I count on.  

Describe your perfect day of recharging/relaxing.

Sleeping in.  I love sleeping.  Then, watching a movie.  Then, sleeping again. Coffee would probably be involved at some point. Basically being as lazy as possible. I’m definitely an introvert (with extroverted tendencies) - so having time to be alone is really important. 

I cannot live without …

Chips and queso.  My husband and I have our favorite Mexican restaurant that we go to basically once a week.  We get the queso - and the guacamole - every time.  I really could eat it every day if they’d let me. 


Courtney Ware directing on the set of her film,  Sunny in the Dark. Photographed by Miah Oren.

Courtney Ware directing on the set of her film, Sunny in the Dark.
Photographed by Miah Oren.

Where to find Courtney:

Social Media: @courtneypware
- Instagram
- Twitter

Watch: Blue Disquietude
by Courtney Ware

www.awarefilms.com


Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

If you'd like to be featured, please contact me: sjlee@sohostory.com

Miah Oren | Portraits of an Artist

It is with great pleasure that I feature Miah Oren as my first woman artist  for "Portraits of an Artist." When she was writing her series, "Interviews of Artists on Art and Fear," she also featured me first. I am so happy to get to return the favor for this thoughtful, creative individual! I am so honored to call her friend.

What is your name and what do you do?

My name is Miah Oren, and I’m a writer and photographer.

How did you start making your art?
   Why do you keep going?

I became interested in photography when I was living overseas as a missionary. I struggled to find words for all the new things I was experiencing, so I started taking pictures to explain to people back home what my life was like. I grew more and more interested in learning how to take exactly the picture I wanted.

I’ve been journaling on and off for years, but I started to really pursue writing when I found an online class taught by Elora Nicole. During the class, I began writing my first book almost by accident; it started as a long email to someone else in that class who was  a missionary overseas. And now I’m getting ready to publish my first book, The Reluctant Missionary, this December. It’s a memoir about my two years as a missionary overseas and what it was like when I returned home.

Was there an artist in your creative field you admired when you were young that inspired you to become an artist? Why?

When I was young, I read a lot. I read most of The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, and the Choose Your Own Adventures books. But when I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I got chills. I had never read about a character who seemed so much like me: Meg didn’t fit in at school, she would wander off to daydream, and she felt unsure of herself. But Meg still had grand adventures and her talents (and her faults) made a difference in the world. Madeleine L’Engle gave me hope that I wouldn’t always be a lonely, out-of-place teenager. And that’s a big part of why I write now: I’ve been so encouraged by all the times I’ve said “me, too!” to other people’s words. Knowing that I’m not alone has been really important as I still struggle to accept myself and my own faults.

What are you working on now?

I am currently writing an ebook about the seasons, I’m working on a children’s story about a dog, I’m making lists and gathering ideas for NaNoWriMo, and I’m doing research for my next book.

Miah is also working on making a quilt from all of the beautiful African textiles she has collected over the years. 


Miah is also working on making a quilt from all of the beautiful African textiles she has collected over the years. 

What are you thankful for in this season of your life, your work?

I am most thankful for the women in my Wednesday book club/Bible study. They have encouraged me, provided essential suggestions for my writing projects, and prayed for me during this year of transition. I’m also so grateful that all of my immediate family lives in the same city as me. For about 12 years we’ve been scattered, and I’ve loved being able to see them for our weekly Sunday lunches.

What am I reading/watching/listening to right now?

I’m rereading some mystery novels by Dorothy Gilman while wondering what it would be like to be a spy. I’d want to be the kind of spy who observes people from a cafe on a tropical island, but I’m not sure that’s a real thing. When I’m driving, I sometimes listen to the classical radio station and let my mind wander. When I’m writing, which is most of the time, my current favorite album to listen to is Tycho’s Dive. I’ll usually listen to the same album or playlist for a month, and then find a new one.

Describe your perfect day of recharging/relaxing.

I would wake up early and spend the morning taking pictures at the beach, at White Sands, or in a rainy forest. I’d spend the afternoon writing on a cool, quiet porch with a cup of homemade chai. In the evening, I would go with a friend to see a play at National Theatre Live. Their plays are magnificent, and I always leave wanting to be a better creator and a better person. 

Complete this sentence: "I cannot live without …"

I cannot live without God, and I cannot live without friends. And dark chocolate. My current favorite is the fair trade Bark Thins dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds and sea salt. 

Any advice for women who are aspiring creatives in your field?

Some of the best advice I was given when I began writing and blogging was “choose yourself.” There are millions of websites, millions of books, and trillions of photographs in the world. It’s difficult to create with the constant pressure to check how big my audience is, how many “likes” I’ve gotten, and how I compare to others. And it’s easy to quit when I find someone whose writing resembles mine. I begin to think, I should give up. They are already doing so well.

 
 

But God has given me a unique story - if I stop creating because I believe that it’s not worth telling, I’m not doing what I’m meant to do. For me, choosing myself means claiming my space. Even if I have just one reader, that person is exactly who my words are meant for. It’s simply my responsibility to put the words out there, and God is responsible for what they do from there. There’s always room for you and your art.


Portrait photographed by  Hoyoung Lee

Portrait photographed by Hoyoung Lee

Where to find Miah:

Social Media: @miahoren
- Instagram
Twitter

Writing

Wedding Photography


Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

If you'd like to be featured, please contact me: sjlee@sohostory.com