Creative Family Series | Raincoast Cottage
Sometimes in life, you meet exactly the right person at exactly the right moment. You may not know it then, but when you look back, you’ll call it kismet. That’s how I feel about Sandra Harris from Raincoast cottage.
I met Sandra at a time when I was feeling seriously anxious and overwhelmed. There I was, at a design conference, in a huge ballroom filled with all manner of awesome people I revered. And there was me, not knowing a soul and feeling completely and totally self-conscious.
Now, I don’t know many people who feel comfortable in those situations. So you’ll probably understand when I say, if I had an anxiety meter on me, it’d have blown the roof off that place.
Enter Sandra. We struck up a conversation. And she was funny and witty and just plain old awesomesauce through and through. We laughed, swapped stories and suddenly, I didn’t feel quite so small. Some people are given a gift of being able to inspire others just by being themselves. Sandra has that gift in spades.
So it is with great delight that I introduce you to the Sandra Harris and her fam…
Have you always considered yourself creative?
In hindsight I’d have to say yes. But in childhood I didn’t have the words to describe it. And I didn’t know anyone in real life who pursued anything creative. Despite that I was always creating something. I painted. I wrote. I decorated my bedroom. I listened to cast recordings of Broadway musicals. I read. I played music. I created all my Halloween costumes. I watched Chaplin movies.
I didn’t grow up in a traditionally creative family – it was very working class. I believe it’s circumstance that prevented my parents from following their own creative impulses. It was hard enough to make a living and a home. However, in their own ways they were creative – my dad can make anything out of anything and my mom comes from a long line of textile artists (crochet, sewing, needlepoint).
Living a creative life is something that I have circled around throughout my adult life. Over the years I’ve moved toward it and moved away from it. For example, I DID start university as a music performance major but later transferred to business school as it was safer and felt more responsible. Throughout my life I kept coming back to creative pursuits.
It was very much an “either/or” paradigm – creative vs. responsible, follow your heart vs. have a stable life. I find that “and” is much more freeing than “or”! It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
How do you nurture your creativity?
Right now I have more projects I want to complete than I have time for! So rather than nurture, it’s about “how do I prioritize my creative inspiration”?
Seriously, though, what I find inspiring and nurturing is to have something I call a cross-media journey. If my life is filled with theatre and music and art and design and film, then I am inspired. It doesn’t have to be in the exact same field of practice – it’s better if it isn’t. I just need to be immersed.
And I find too that doing something physical, something that gets me out of my head helps as well. I love to snowboard in the winter and waterski/wakeboard in the summer. The concentration that I need to execute those sports stops the thinking and enhances the being. Even more specifically, the snow was fab at Whistler this past weekend and the swoopy turns in the powder while snowboarding inspired some swoopy lines on paper. That feeling of physical flow is similar to the feeling of creative flow.
But the main thing is that I am finally taking my creative life seriously – giving it the respect that it deserves.
Funnily enough (or perhaps it’s serendipity) I married a man who also is a closet creative. He does photography on the side and has had a few shows. Plays jazz drums to my jazz piano. He’s all over going to galleries and museums and hearing live music. We inspire each other and support each other’s creative interests. So having a partner who is creative nurtures my own creativity.
How do you nurture it in your daughter?
A few different ways. First of all – access. Our kitchen table is covered with art supplies and paper. And I have a storage cupboard in my home office with craft supplies. So it’s easy for her to pick up something when inspiration hits. She has markers and paper and a white board and paints at the ready. And she draws every day.
I get curious about her work – what she makes, whether it be at home or at school. What is it? Why this colour? What happened before? What happened next?
I also build our family life around holidays. We decorate the house and make crafts and cook and celebrate together as a family and with friends.
She takes art classes on occasion. I try to follow her interests and let her explore what grabs her attention. I also find things through the Craft Crow and books like The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas and Kid Made Modern by Todd Oldham. I show her pictures and see if she is interested in doing any of them. She’ll also come up with her own ideas about what to make and we’ll brainstorm about how to do it.
We act pretty silly around here – dressing up, narrating whatever is happening with made up songs. Lots of spontaneity.
What are your favorite ways to spend time together?
Outside of doing crafty arty things? Travel is a big one. The city that we live in doesn’t have a huge arts community so we are lucky to be able to travel to NYC and Seattle and Toronto a few times a year to take in the museums and theatre and galleries.
Outdoor activities – skiing, snowboarding, swimming, biking, walks.
We play games. She’s six so is of an age where the world of games opens up.
I am the family “media” person so I am always on the lookout for movies and tv shows that will be inspiring and fun and different.
Reading – we live in a smallish cottage and turned the landing outside of her bedroom into a reading nook. We also cook a lot together.
Celebrating family milestones and holidays as I mentioned above. Anything is worth making a bit of fuss about!
How have you integrated work with creative passions?
I haven’t! I had a big corporate-y career that I left a number of years ago. When I was working full-time I did as much creative work as I could in the evenings and on the weekends. And I found that I gravitated towards anything in my day job that was remotely creative.
But as for the day-to-day unpaid work of running a home? I fell into the trap of “when this and that are done, THEN I will create”. That’s a hard habit to break. Now I schedule time daily to pursue my artistic interests – if I wait til there’s some free time, I’m either too tired or mostly just run out of time.
I’m also very much a morning person so I do my big thinking and creating after a coffee first thing.
What are you working on right now?
I started learning photography in January and am in the midst of practicing my tabletop techniques. I love the storytelling aspect of taking photos.
Very much interested in mixed media collage and dioramas and miniatures crossed with photography. Some projects in process…
I have a blog where I write about living a creative life. It’s really about my own commitment to creative expression – no more going back and forth between being “responsible” and following my heart!
I have always been intrigued by creative collaboration and have a few projects on the go with other creatives.
And finally, I am new to Vancouver and working at building a local community of likeminded creative folk who can inspire each other.
Many, many thanks to Sandra, for being here today! I think this line from the interview is going to stick with me forever, But the main thing is that I am finally taking my creative life seriously – giving it the respect that it deserves. Makes me want to jump up on the dining room table all Norma Rae style. Go Sandra!