Virginia Simpson-Magruder (Kentucky Girl Designs) teaches creativity workshops in Marin County, CA using the visually exciting mediums of altered books, art journals, and collage. She also designs, makes, and sells hand-soldered glass pendant jewelry specializing in the iconic beauty of wild animals, as well as custom pendants featuring the cherished animal companions who accompany us through our lives.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Virginia! When did you first discover your love of the arts?
As a child I loved drawing in my classes, but I think somewhere around the age of 9 or 10 I stopped creatively expressing my world. I think the reason for that was my love of horses became my passion and expression (encouraged by my grandparent), and the emotionally inhibiting factors of growing up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic home.
Carrie: How would you describe your art to Artist Strong readers?
My art becomes increasingly multi-faceted as I grow older. But, my love of altering books (taking a hardbound book and transforming it using collage and art media) and creating art journals is at the forefront. I am equally passionate about my line of Wild Spirit Animal necklaces. These are hand-soldered pendants and semi-precious beaded necklaces that feature wild animals and our connection to them.
I am also excited about a new venture I am embarking on — partnering with wildlife conservation organizations to use their photos of animals in my jewelry, and donating a portion of the proceeds of my sales to these organizations.
Carrie: How does your life experience and emotional state feed into your art?
My life has been a spiritual journey and a desire to know who I am and my relationship with the Universe (Divine, Creator, God) within me as I walk through this world. My childhood and adulthood, including both the joys and the challenges, influence my art daily. I have had to work hard at moving through the insecurities and lack of confidence that arose from childhood trauma.
Self-judgment about my artistic abilities hindered my creative development until the desire to create became bigger than the critical voices! My art is now a continual discovery and creative expression of what lies within me. There really are no limits but I do have to be aware of when my critic comes in to play and then I have a series of actions I take to deal with it.
Carrie: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
I don’t! I could keep playing and altering my pieces forever! Many of my “finished” pieces are “unfinished” — but I like that — it kind of leaves the door open, you know? It leaves you and the viewer questioning. Life is never finished — well maybe once you are in the coffin, but then there are all sorts of possibilities after that! So why should your art be finished?
Carrie: What does your creative space look like?
I have two studios — one at home where I solder and make my jewelry. It’s absolutely chaotic until it comes time to create — then I start to clean up a bit so things won’t catch fire!
My collage and mixed media studio is in a community art center in Novato. I create my altered books, journals, and paintings there as well as hold my creativity/altered book workshops there. It’s inspiring for me and serves as a reminder that yes, I am creative — especially on the days I don’t feel like I am.
It’s also inspiring to most of the people who walk into my studio. They often say to me “I’m not creative, but I wish I could be (like you).” I tell them that I didn’t think I was creative at all — yet I had the desire to be. All it takes is the intention to create, the willingness to make “mistakes”, and perseverance!
The first two years of having a public studio I kept it very organized since it’s open to the public 5 days a week. However I seem to be getting more prolific and teaching more so it’s now messy more often than not! I am solving that problem by moving to a twice as large studio in June where I can reorganize (or, let’s be real — get more messy!), plus handle more people in my workshops. It’s a little bit scary to move from my small, intimate studio to one so big. Friends laugh at me when I say this — they know I’ll have no problem making it my own!
Carrie: You recently created your first online course. Please tell us a bit about the course and it’s journey.
Creating an online e-course is something that I wanted to do for the past few years. I felt that it would be a way to reach a whole new market and a way to inspire more people to incorporate creativity into their lives. I decided to create a course based on how I affirmed my own creative abilities — by setting a year-long challenge for myself of creating one journal collage a day.
I figured that by the end of a year I could either say “Yes, I am creative!” or “Nope, I’m not” (and chuck it all). Among other things wonderful, doing this challenge helped me to establish a daily creative discipline, gave me the artistic self-confidence that I was looking for, helped me to develop my eye, and the tangible, physical evidence that I was creative.
To take on the technological aspects I found a course on developing an e-course (Kiala Givehand’s “Design, Develop, and Deliver”). It took me about 8 months to do it, but this past February I launched “Your Daily Creative Practice: 30 Days of Pocket-Sized Journal Collages to Grow Your Creativity.” It delivered videos and daily prompts for four weeks and opened a private Facebook group so course participants could have a sense of community. I had 37 participants from all over the world — and people loved it! That was thrilling for me — to see how people benefited from my course.
Carrie: Do you have any other upcoming or new projects on the horizon for you?
Moving my studio and making the new space my own is a pretty big priority. I plan to rerun “Your Daily Creative Practice” in August or September, and I plan to run a new e-course “Unleash Your Creative Magic with Altered Books” also in the Fall.
Carrie: What’s one piece of advice or practice on your blog that you find indispensable for your own artist practice?
It’s to create something daily, whether it be a piece of art, a bit of writing, gardening, cooking, a song, or a poem. Also, don’t listen to your inner critic — its job is to keep you where you are. Say either “Thank you” — or “Shut up!” and stay the course. Pretty soon feelings of expansion will outweigh the naysayer.
Carrie: What advice do you have for people who are learning a new skill?
This is what I tell my students repeatedly: If you doubt your creative ability, yet you have a desire to express yourself creatively — feed that flame! Challenge yourself to create something every day. Keep it simple and be willing to make less-than-satisfactory art.
Start with a one-week challenge, and if you feel it’s more fun than not, fan that fire and up the challenge. Don’t punish yourself if you can’t get there for it every day, but keep returning to your goal. You can do it because everybody has a creative soul and when we coax it, allow it to emerge, and then share it — that’s a beautiful magic that feeds each and every one of us!
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
Nature, animals, earth, sky, color, love, Spirit. And then there is Matisse, Chagall, Gauguin, Joseph Cornell, several unnamed street artists, Instagram photographers, and the amazing array of “every day” artists all over the world.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Glitter of course! (I’m like a magpie — anything shiny!)
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
My definition of creativity is a bit more mystical, a combination of the sacred and the mundane. Creativity involves our whole being, our sum total of experiences — thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It comes from a very deep well that is Spirit-infused. Wow. I can’t believe I said that!
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Can you commit to your art everyday? What kind of small, creative, EVERYDAY commitment can you make to your creativity? I want to know! Tell me about it in the comments below.
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