being an artistic polymath

I used to wonder what was wrong with me, because I couldn't stick with a single medium in my art practice. And in college, I straddled the worlds of words (the English department) and images (the Art department), while still holding on to an interest in science (biology and chemistry were favorites).

I believed that in order to succeed I really had to specialize. And so I focused heavily on my photography. It's a favorite medium of mine, of course, but the more I focused on it exclusively, the more trouble I had feeling like it was a fulfilling exercise.

And then I recently found permission was in the Accidental Creative's interview with Emilie Wapnick, a self-proclaimed "multi-potentialite" -- someone who enjoys being involved in a wide variety of interests.

And it dawned on me: it's unusual to work in a single style or medium forever. Many famous artists didn't. And then there are conceptual artists whose work spans a wide variety of mediums because of its nature.

And I realized: I enjoy taking the time to learn new processes because it teaches me how to make mistakes again.

So I'm going to embrace my artistic polymath nature and continue to experiment in the places where it makes the most sense for me:

  • sketchbook (where nothing matters)
  • self-directed (secret) project
  • proclaimed collaboration with another person
  • fooling with my kids (who don't care)

I'm a generalist. And I'm okay with that!


local maker crush: brenden bohannon

LOCAL MAKER CRUSH is a series of interviews with artists from around the East Tennessee region, whose work I admire and who I want to share with the world.

From martial arts to woodworking, Brenden Bohannon has transitioned his physical mastery into the creation of beautiful works of art. But he works with more than just traditional tools--his process of creating involves electricity and fire!

Tell us about your creative beginnings. What was your earliest experience of artmaking, and what drew you in? Was creativity encouraged in your early years?

I have always liked making and doing stuff. One of the things that stuck was painting metal miniatures for fantasy wargames in a traditional art sense. I liked working on the tiny details and seeing them come to life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, movement arts were always a huge attraction to me. Breakdance, martial arts, even a ballet once. I liked seeing what my body and other bodies could do and being able to control and manipulate that. Some injuries led me to retire from all of that.

An assortment of electrified cutting boards, by Brenden Bohannon.

An assortment of electrified cutting boards, by Brenden Bohannon.

Now I have discovered woodworking and making Lichtenberg figures. Every new piece has surprises and secrets. Those tiny details that I love so much just vault to the front if you know how to coax them out.

Tell us about your creative process--what makes it unique? How do you create your best work? What do you love most about your process?

A big part of my process is finding the right pieces of wood and looking for certain qualities that will show up once everything is done. For anyone who has not worked with wood, 90% of the job is carving, planing, shaping, and lots and lots of sanding. It is amazing what you can accomplish with hand tools and time. 

What has been a habit or focus you've had that's integral to your art practice?

Being obsessed? I tend to get really really focused on things. I started carving spoons and loved that. Just seeing what each piece turns into. The wood has its own will and spirit, so even if I sketch out a base shape and say "this will be the end of the road" the wood can say "nope" and end up totally different from my initial vision.

Electrifying the wood is a rather exciting process.

Electrifying the wood is a rather exciting process.

You can find most of Brenden's wares in-person at various local markets.

You can find most of Brenden's wares in-person at various local markets.

That being said, I try to make at least one small piece a day. The muscle memory and general skill improvement created through regular practice is vital.

Tell me about a hurdle you've had to overcome in your artmaking or art career.

I suppose the biggest hurdle since I started making things from wood was simply learning and expanding what I can do with various tools. I look at my early pieces compared to now and see such huge differences. Convincing myself to become a full time artist was probably a close second. I really would not have been able to do that without my wife, Joy. She has been a huge supporter, gives me some of my best ideas, helps out in a million ways, and is always there when I need advice or encouragement.

What is your educational background, and how does it influence your creative work, if at all?

My educational background is in Physical Education K-12 and English Literature. I suppose it lets me read books on wood working and leaves me fit enough to lift heavy pieces of wood. Jokes aside though, I think the body control and focus from decades of martial arts has benefited me more than anything from an art standpoint. It lets me continuously make minute adjustments in position to get the most out of each movement. And focus and patience keep me from setting a lot of pieces on fire when they decide to disagree.

What are you most excited about in your creative landscape in the moment?

I suppose I am most excited about expanding and getting more of my art out there and in front of people. I think more people need to take the time to really appreciate wood and all of the possibilities it brings for art.

Share your favorite local hangout & or another hidden gem.

There are tons. Let's go with the pond at Willow Springs Park. It is a great place to just slow down and take it all in.

Where can we find you on the interwebs?

Instagram: @tennesseehighlandheavythrower
Etsy: ElectrifiedWoodArt
Facebook: @electrifiedwoodartisan

. . .

See all the local maker crush interviews here.

self-care is not a luxury

or, why stock photos of women in bathtubs surrounded by candles are bullshit

I learned the hard way.

Environment, genetics, and circumstances certainly had a say in it, but I can't ignore that my autoimmune disorder came in part from things I did to myself.

I ignored my body's signals. I listened to the oughts in my head, which were louder than my personal needs. I didn't ask for help, because I was ashamed to be so vulnerable.

I didn't even know I had a problem until I started crying in the doctor's office without fully knowning why. I went to therapy, got medical help for my disorder (which is a whole other story), and learned to pay attention to my body, emotions, and thoughts in a new way.

I don't accept the full blame for my illness, as I believe that an illness like this isn't something you can ever truly claim responsibility for. It's dangerously satisfying to put the blame in a single place, but entirely wrong to do so. However, if I ignore the habits and things I did that contributed to the problem, then I haven't learned my lesson and continue to do damage to myself.

I had to change my habits. I had to learn self-care.

And in searching out what "self-care" actually means for me, I discovered that our cultural representation of self-care is a big lie.


(this is bullshit)

Self-care doesn’t look like a beautiful woman sitting in a bubble bath surrounded by candles. NOPE. Self-care is made up of the small things you do that indicate that you're taking care of yourself.

For me, it's not a glamorous spa getaway. For me, self-care is about asking myself questions:

  • have I sat down for a meal today? when I ate, was I focused on eating and nourishing myself? was anything distracting me?
  • when was the last time I went for exercise (to a class, by myself, or with my kids)?
  • how many times did I have to reheat my coffee this morning?
  • did I lie horizontal somewhere for 20 minutes? did I stare out a window and take some deep breathes?
  • have I been able to get up before the kids and enjoy some quiet time? how can I make time for quiet and prayer today?
  • have I gone to bed on time? what's preventing me from getting to bed?

There are some times when the circumstances around me conspire to undermine my self-care. My kids get sick and sleep schedules get off, or exciting events or prevent bedtime from happening the way it should. But instead of readjusting, a single deviation creeps into a new norm. I fall into the familiar grooves of my old habits, all of which are rooted into wearing a badge of busy-ness and efficiency, and paint more concealer over the undersides of my eyes.

And so I try to ask myself these questions to snap me out of it. I have to check in with myself super intentionally, because I've been trained to ignore my boundaries. But these days, trespassing those boundaries has greater consequences for my health.

With my autoimmune issues, part of my self-care is staying within boundaries, and knowing when I’m stretching myself beyond my boundaries. Everyone—autoimmune issues or not—has boundaries beyond which lie illness, stress, anger, and more.

So we all have to make time to take care of ourselves in some fashion. I simply don't accept the "not enough time" idea. If we behave as if we don't have the time to do the necessary things, eventually it will catch up with us.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve always needed a little extra TLC, but was reluctant to carve out time for it or ask for it out of embarrassment, distraction, and pride. Needing that makes me feel vulnerable, because I still equate it with being weak and unwanted. I've been trained (culturally and personally) to think of myself as a machine of efficiency and productivity.

But people aren't machines--I'm not a machine. The metaphor is just that -- a metaphor -- and if you transfer enough of your machine-thinking into your life, you'll lose sight of who you actually are and what your needs are.

What questions do you ask yourself to check in with your boundaries? What does self-care look like for you?