The journey I have taken has been challenging but always interesting. Like many people I tried out a few dead ends before my own inner creative purposes asserted themselves.
I remember living in Canada as a young mother, leaving my educational pursuits to raise a child. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
I still painted for awhile, but gradually quit, not quite noticing how my supposedly loving husband derailed me in that process. I remember going into galleries and admiring the artwork with a deep sadness. I knew I could create high caliber work if I applied myself, but my life was taking me a different direction, so I only watched what others did.
All that ended when my husband went violently insane. Suddenly, it became vital for my child that I pursue my creative interests, instead of those interests being in conflict with raising her. This was an entirely shocking change, but one that brought its own gifts.
Pottery as a Creative Solution
I sold some furniture and bought a kiln, potter’s wheel, and supplies. I began making pots like a woman possessed. I have always loved wheel work and it calms me during times of high stress. To give you a clue about the stress at the time, during one week alone I threw over 800 pots.
I nearly made it back to the states undamaged, but a week before I finally got an Ontario Supreme Court custody order that allowed me to take my Canadian born daughter to the U.S.A. with me, my deranged spouse nearly killed me by breaking into the house and pounding my head on the floor.
Recovery from my concussion was long and difficult. Working clay is a highly manual form of creativity and my damaged neck was slow to adjust to the strains of it.
Stuffed Toy Design Adventures
As a temporary solution I started sewing stuffed toys on a piecework basis in Boulder, Nevada, where I was getting divorced. The women then refused to pay me, which did not greatly surprise me since I had suspected they were not too trustworthy.
I went to a store in town and got an order for some Easter chicks and a little elephant I had designed on my own. All was well. I bought fabric and was sewing busily.
Then the order was cancelled. I checked around and discovered the ladies had gone behind my back to get my order cancelled, even though we no longer had anything to do with each other.
I had a really good temper tantrum at that point. I hopped in my van, drove to Las Vegas and stomped all over town looking at every toy shop. The most upscale one I could find was Nancy’s Playhouse in MGM Grand Hotel.
I sailed up to the owner and announced I was a designer recently arrived from Toronto and how would they like an exclusive luxury line of stuffed toys designed for them? She immediately liked the idea.
When in a jam I can usually make it worse, so before I left I had promised the designs would all be copyrighted, etc. I had no idea how to do that of course. She asked me to bring some samples in two weeks.
Somewhat in shock, I went and found a phone booth. I called my attorney and asked him how you copyright stuffed toys. Bewildered, he replied, “I thought you were getting a divorce?”
After I clarified the matter, he referred me to a copyright specialist and I got the information I needed for a mere $26.
The next problem was actually designing the toys. I had made the one experimental elephant, but no others. Designing clothing is much easier as it has to follow the human form.
Toys have no such restrictions, curves compound each other when sewn together, and myriads of other factors arise. I definitely did not want bland characterless toys, even though those would be easy. I wanted ones with strong personality.
I drank a cup of tea every time I got stuck on a pattern. A tea bag count later revealed I drank over 70 cups of tea in that two weeks. I was really sick of tea.
By the time I had my samples ready my initial temper tantrum was gone and sheer terror had replaced it. With over a dozen toys ready I had to go show them to the staff at Nancy’s Playhouse.
Gathering my nerves as best I could, I took the two huge boxes into the shop. I stood there in shock as the staff eagerly pulled the samples one by one from the boxes. They were gleefully laughing at the toys, hugging them, and generally falling in love with the crazy characters I had created.
My next discovery was that while it might (and might not) be fun to design a toy, it is much less fun to sew 25 of them. That is simply rote work without any creative juice to it.
Nonetheless, I made stuffed toys for Nancy’s Playhouse and another line I designed for the Merrymaker in Scottsdale. I did what I had to do until my body began healing enough to return to the clay.
Pottery as Solution Again
After a few years I was at last getting a full schedule in the clay studio going and had a clientele for my pottery. A car wreck then undid much of the healing and I found myself unable to work in the clay again.
Jewelry as Unexpected Creative Outlet
At that time I unexpectedly was offered a job at a military and class ring manufacturing company for which I had not even applied. I found I had an aptitude for jewelry work and pursued it with a single minded intensity.
Soon I was once again at home, supporting my daughter with jewelry design from a studio there. The inspiration of lost wax processes carried me through another cycle of my life.
Painting and Creative Expansion
I moved from Arizona to the state of Washington and met the wonderful man who is now my husband. We create jewelry together, we both paint, and our creative drives are the foundation of our deepest sharing.
For me, the times of greatest expansion have always come when I honored that indomitable creative spark within me. Denying that core of inspiration has been detrimental any time I have done so.
The great thing about following my inner spark is that it has led to greater and greater creative expression, which then made its own path through the world. The process is as natural, and as surprising, as the unfolding of a flower.
The hisbiscus painting was a special commission, 48″ wide by 36″ high in acrylic on canvas. More of Lexi Sundell’s work can be seen at RiverStone Gallery.
Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2007. All Rights Reserved.