“Write On” is a blog series by ArtYard Playwright Fellow TyLie Shider on the topic of creative discipline and how local creatives overcome obstacles in their respective careers. Each creative develops a box of tools they use to create. The objective of the series is to take a glimpse into those toolboxes and shed light on the process behind their craft.
My creative discipline series continues with Dawn Ferguson. Dawn is the Operations and Special Projects Manager at ArtYard, an arts center dedicated to developing, exhibiting, and presenting new work. Although Dawn spends her day working in arts administration, she is also an artist who draws inspiration from comic books, fantasy, and nature. In the interview, we discuss the eternity of creativity, her favorite snacks, and resisting self-sabotaging thoughts.
TyLie Shider: In a recent article I define creative discipline as the ability to complete a single project from idea to creation to development to production. However, it may also be defined as one’s creative practice e.g. cinematographer, dancer, or sculptor. How would you describe your creative discipline?
Dawn Ferguson: My creative discipline for being a mixed media creative comes from my inspiration for a piece. For me, there is no start and no finish. I just leave things alone. I have artwork that I’ve been working on for several years. Some I have abandoned because it has told me to. Others I have returned to frequently when the mood strikes. From this, my creative discipline and practice are more like a whimsical dance when left up to me. The only thing that makes me produce from start to finish is a deadline that I have to meet for another person’s expectation. I make what I want when I want with whatever medium I decide fits the project.
“For me, there is no start and no finish.”
TS: What determines your interest as a fine artist?
DF: I have to be inspired by something that has sparked a deep impression on my heart. I’m a lover of any and everything that grabs my fantasy-seeking imagination. The question of how can I make this awkward and weird just like me? The more I can connect a piece to our everyday reality, but put a twist on the unexpected, and cause a pause to the viewer, interests me the most.
“I cannot create without a good night’s sleep, a good sci-fi movie, and snacks!”
TS: What are three things you cannot create without? And why?
DF: I cannot create without a good night’s sleep, a good sci-fi movie, and snacks! Those are my top three things. If I don’t have a good night’s sleep I will be the equivalent of an irritable three-year-old child. Oh, a good sci-fi movie or something comic-book-like keeps my mind going. Watching these types of films gets my creative juices flowing. Now, let’s talk about snacks! Yes, I love good snacks, a little chocolate, tea, Arnold Palmer, and some chips. Those are my go-to happy treats. On a more serious note. Clarity, patience, and checking in on my sense of self. These are the core things I cannot create without, because not connecting with myself before stepping into creating makes me feel completely disconnected.
TS: Walk me through your creative process? How do you create? Can you identify a routine?
DF: I create when in the mood, and sometimes I try to initiate a spark. Sometimes I set up with paint, my brushes, a canvas, or just a pencil and a sketchbook then start to doodle. I don’t think I have a routine that I can identify. Now that I’m thinking about it, a routine may be something I need to push my creativity even further.
TS: Yes, it could be helpful. One of my professors would say that sometimes work comes before motivation. Which basically means, get started and the motivation will follow. It’s like starting a car, or warming up before a workout. Where does your inspiration come from?
DF: My inspiration comes from comic books, nature, and fantasy stories mixed with a little horror. As a child I was heavily into nature and all things that were not of this world. To this day I long for the “what if’s” in nature. This helps me to see beyond and explore the possibilities of the unknown.
TS: For whom do you create?
DF: I create for the person craving fantasy with a twist of questionable curiosity. People who are hungry for the unusual with an appreciation for a variety of colors.
TS: When do you know it’s time to abandon a project?
DF: I know it’s time to abandon a project after I’ve walked away several times out of disgust. Sometimes, the piece is not saved, and I’ve lost all emotional connection to it. I don’t throw it away. Instead, I’ll tuck it away in the closet for weeks/months, maybe a few years just in case I am called to revisit it.
TS: I love the space you’re willing to give a project. Have you ever returned to an abandoned project? If so, why?
DF: I’ve returned to many abandoned projects. Some I just can’t let go. Even though I become frustrated I try to pull something out of it. Only a few have survived, others I tend to destroy or rebuild and incorporate with another piece of artwork.
TS: At what stage in your creative process do you invite collaborators?
DF: Typically I don’t invite other creatives. My projects are pretty much a solo mission. If I do invite other collaborators it will be when I’m looking for creative insight to help guide me out of my creative blockage.
TS: How important is it for you to finish a project from start to finish?
DF: I don’t hold my breath on completing a project from start to finish because those types of expectations cause a creative blockage for me. The only time I find that it is important to finish a project is when the creative piece is commissioned.
TS: What creative obstacles do you face? Personal or professional.
DF: Being uninspired is the biggest obstacle. Getting in my head and self-sabotaging a project that I haven’t even begun to start is not just a professional but also a personal obstacle. I fight with myself because I don’t have a college degree and I’m a self-taught artist. I’ve had people judge my work based on that but it’s taken me time to realize it really doesn’t matter what they say or think. However, I won’t deny that it does make me pause when it comes to taking a professional opportunity.
“Don’t let the lack of a degree or your self-sabotaging thoughts stop you from doing the thing that you love.”
TS: What tips do you have for creatives who may be facing their own creative challenges?
DF: Don’t let the lack of a degree or your self-sabotaging thoughts stop you from doing the thing that you love. Comparison and feeling unworthy can destroy you and your creativity so push through and create.
TS: What projects are you currently working on and where can our readers follow and find your work? And/or What projects are you excited about?
DF: I am currently working on several projects. One project is connecting with collage. Another project that I’m excited to bring forth is the opening of my workshop and studio space to connect with other creatives. People can connect and follow me for more of my artwork on Instagram @artbydawnsherie!
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of an artist/engineer father, Dawn Ferguson is a Frenchtown resident and creative soul with 20 years of administrative experience in health care and data analysis. Dawn applies these skills to organizing and streamlining the many moving parts of ArtYard. She studied liberal arts at Montclair State University.