Creating Art in the Midst of Everyday: Real Information for Real People

This is me, writing to you.

I have created a career in the arts by snatching, scrounging, begging, borrowing and stealing time and space from my busy, family centered life. I raised not one or two, but six children (youngest now in college) who have blessed me with six grandchildren – all girls, so far.

Typical of most moms (and grandmas) I used to put myself last in line when it comes to time and space. Yet in the last 15 years I’ve created a very successful life as an artist – writing eight books, filming three DVDs, and teaching worldwide. I’ve contributed art to numerous book and magazines, interviewed 75 artists on Art & Soul Radio,  juried quilt shows, and completed the BA degree I started back in 1970 (magna cum laude, to boot). Until three years ago, I did all of this in my bedroom. I’m not telling you all this to impress you, but to press upon you that if I can do it despite the challenges, well, I see no reason why you can’t do it too.

Time and space are not the only problems an artist runs into. There’s fatigue from a long day at work, mom drain, no motivation to GOYA (get off your @&%), fear of failure, bright shiny object syndrome…the list goes on. These monsters are no longer hiding under the bed. They’re sitting right next to you in the studio. They can appear even when you do have all the space and time you need.

Let’s face it, being as creative as we would like to be is not all that easy. There are traps and troubles, problems and pitfalls, highs and lows, yeses and nos. Yet we have this innate urge, a longing even, to create. It’s the joy of making and the way it makes us feel that keeps us going. The rewards far outweigh the struggles.

Yet the struggles persist. So what’s the solution? That’s exactly what I’ll be sharing with you in the weeks to come.

I know how art changed my life, so it is important to me to do whatever it takes to ensure your success as an artist or maker, whether you are new to art, returning to your art, or are lucky enough to practice some form of art everyday.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing both practical and spiritual tools to help you overcome your internal and external struggles and turn your creative dreams into reality. Let’s start right now. It begins with making a choice. Are you going to wait until everything is “just right” before you start, or are you willing to make it work? One of my favorite quotes by John Assaraf is “If you are interested, you will do what’s convenient. If you are committed, you will do whatever it takes.” Are ya ready to commit?

Now it’s your turn to write to me. Leave a comment below and let me know, specifically, how I can help.



  1. Marlaine says:

    I love this post and your video Lesley and can’t wait to see what you have in store for us! Like so many others I’m not sure what exactly it is I want to do/make/create. At this point in my life I have some time to myself after my day job is complete but with so many ideas floating in my head I can’t seem to just pick one and go with it. I love making gifts for friends and family members but I feel like there’s something more that I want to do. I really don’t feel like I have a burning desire to “say” something with my art – I think its all about just enjoying it and seeing what happens. Why is that so hard to do? Looking forward to what advice you can offer us!!!

  2. You have power to influence people like me through what you do and are an important part of my life! I benefit from your body of work in many ways. As a quiet lurker on the fringes of your electronic world I want you to know that I pay attention. I read. I subscribe. I occasionally buy a product you mention or promote. I follow your schedule and look into possible participation or attendance at your events. I am going to Paducah and may be able to meet you there. You help me feel more comfortable with the dictates of my so-called “artistic” personality. Most importantly you inspire me particularly to get into my studio and do stuff! I am from the MD suburban area where my children still reside. I feel a real affinity for you and your work. I want to make sure you know your efforts are appreciated. Thank you.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Your comments feed my soul, Josie. Thank you so very much! I certainly do hope we are able to meet in Paducah.

  3. Smaranda says:

    Thank you! Every word from your post is NOW important to me.
    I’ll be here from now to be connected with your energy and your vision about courage in an art life.
    Thank YOU!

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Wonderful, Smaranda. Thank you so much for letting me know. It’s wonderful knowing you are here!

  4. A great message. Art, motherhood, family is a juggling act. Thank you.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Juggling is the key, we just have to be sure we are one of the balls we don’t drop. Thanks for your comment Katherine.

  5. Hello Lesley! My, your video reached right into my heart – it’s all all true, I know it is. What’s holding me back? Well, I don’t have a husband to support me, so besides the obvious of rent and food, theres a car payment, insurance, cell phones and internet, oh…and of course, cable t.v. And the job pays for my health insurance, which if I quit my job, there’s that too. (Affordable, it is not exactly) So, what’s holding me back is that I guess I fear I can’t support myself on my art – I’m not good enough. I would love to have a husband, (one that would ‘get’ me and not be bothered by the fact that I have to make art) or some source of income that would afford me the luxury of living my dream, so I keep thinking … retirement – ? I don’t really know what to do…I know that while I am working, I see colors and patterns dancing in my head, serenading all the ideas that are screaming to be created. I make art every chance I get, it is my joy and my solace in this crazy mixed up world. Thank you for sharing your story! I so enjoy you, Lesley, and your encouragement is great exercise for my big ‘but’, lol.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Sue, so good to hear what you have to say. I love what you said – “your encouragement is great exercise for my big ‘but’” Great thought!

  6. bright shiny object syndrome, that’s hilarious, love it.
    That is just so me, even though it’s art shinny stuff. We call it squirrel syndrome from the movie Up. Dancing to the studio…….

  7. Rita Barker says:

    Hi Lesley, Thank you for the video and wonderful blog post…I wonder about our angst as artists…I have a nagging suspicion that we are in some ways afraid to count ourselves worthy of the time and space to create art. Actually maybe we feel worthy but somehow we still put those close to us first, most or all of the time! I am a wife, mother, grandmother and now a caregiver every other week for my 88 year old mother…those four loving commitments don’t leave much room for desired creativity, or so I thought. I am slowly realizing I need to take time to create! I had fallen into the belief, as others, that I needed big chunks of time, but I am discovering that little snippets can just as sweetly soothe the soul. I am not a bad anything if I take time to refresh and nourish my inner, thirsty, dry self. Those who love me don’t demand a parched soul so why should I?! Maybe we need to think of our creative time as GIVING to ourselves instead of taking from others…thank you for expanding my thoughts about this lovely part of my life! And thank you for letting me express my thoughts…Rita

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Spot on, Rita – we are in some ways afraid to count ourselves worthy of the time and space to create art. And yes, we do need to refresh. It’s the only way we can continue to give of ourselves to others. Plus – we set a good example for them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. just finished watching your video from Santa Fe, loved the big buts section. My mother had, as a child, won art awards in Ireland in the 30’s BUT try as I might I could never capture her talent. BUT it was her talent, not mine.The buts always haunted me until 2000, when I pretty much adapted to a damn the torpedoes full speed ahead attitude. I think it was about that time I discovered your transfer group on Yahoo. The art I started to create was mine, not my mother’s, and has been well received and has made me some very good friends of kindred spirit. Since retiring in Sept I have been actively and happily bringing to life all the ideas that have filled my brain (and heart) all my life. I will never be a Vermeer, BUT then again he won’t be me! oh by the way, love the necklace, now I know what to do with my hubby’s teething ring

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Kitty – thank you for all of your comments and sharing your comments with Adele. Nice when that connection happens. Nina Bagley made that necklace for me. It is a wonderful way to have a piece of family history close to your heart. Send me a photo when you are wearing yours.

  9. Lynne Sward says:

    Hi Lesley, Just watched your video. ” So very good”, and there’s something else that’s” so very good”: all the above comments, totally resonate with me. Through therapy, a lot of my fears trace back to my childhood. Not that it was horrible, just the opposite,,,,,,but,,,,,sometimes you just can’t shake words, or situations that you can’t control,,,It’s been a while since I’ve really created anything with “depth”. Am I concerned,,,,,,not a chance. Since being on a antidepressant, I’ve turned “off” my driven-self. I’m more calm, happy, not as worried about “stuff”, feel more free, only want to create for me and my family, and make art that I love. Sid (my hubby) is my rock, always positive and so very supportive. I try not to make excuses about whether I’m in the studio or not. I am definitely in “another world” when I am making something, but if not,,,,,than my “other world” stays in my imagination and day-dreams. One thing that I have noticed,,,,,I’m more interested in producing small works,,,,and maybe that’s due to the fact that I am a small person. I can get more intimate when I’m working small. So, I’m playing with segments of fabric/mixed media that will “grow” into something else, or maybe just “be”. Thanks for letting me share,,,,,,,big hugs,,,,,,Lynne

    • I also find small work so appealing, I like the challenge of how much texture? images? items? backgrounds’? I can cram into a 3×3 canvas. and then comes the point when I know to just let it be

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Hi Lynne, Thanks so much for sharing here. We go way back, don’t we. I am so happy to hear that things are going so well. Hugs right back at ya.

  10. Wonderful post, once again! I met with 2 great friends last month to do some “art”. We had a blast! I felt energized. But another month went by, and 2 out of the 3 of us did not find time to do anything on our own in between sessions. We got together again yesterday and worked with paper, gesso, paints, molding paste, etc. Another great time! This time I want to make sure to fit in those little snippets of time to at least gather more materials for future use, and maybe work on a quilt project sitting in the studio waiting for me to sew it together. I don’t know what on earth gets in the way of my working daily on my art, but I feel so frustrated with my self in this area. I love it when I get the chance to work on it. Maybe it is the fear of messing up, or simple procrastination learned from child raising days. Those are long gone. I love to read what you write and I continue to hope, before it is too late, that I will drop some other stuff and get moving with my artsy side. Thanks for your inspiration!

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Hello Maeve. So nice to hear from you again. It’s never too late and 5 minutes a day can add up. You have the power inside so go for it.

  11. Madeline Sosnowski says:

    Hi Lesley Thank you so much for your video. I relate to so many of the things you touched on especially the supplies comment I As a mixed media artist I sometimes think I suffer from “potential hoarding” For information surfers which i am one i would like to have your thoughts on creative procrastination while living through other artists work.
    I find myself spending time searching for idea’s only to be totally overwhelmed by the prospect of creating something original myself..

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Potential hoarding – good phrase Madeline. Let’s use that stuff up. I’ll talk about procrastination and living in others work and inspiration overwhelm so stay tuned.

  12. Wendy Milone says:

    Lesley, I moved to upstate NY, out of necessity, but I tried to choose a place where I thought I could have more needed space to expand my creative desires. I had been taking classes at Parson’s School of Design. And most of those class homework assignments were completed on top of my bed. I used it like a desk, a drawing board. I journaled and wrote while sitting on my bed. Now that I am in a small house I am trying to use every bit of space for creating. While it is lonely to not have created family there is the fact that it leaves me time to create and be selfish with my time. I don’t know how I could have accomplished this with having a family. I still truly wish I had one, though. Having a room to go to, a room devoted to creating, has made all the difference in the world. I have two more rooms next to that room and they are slowly transforming. What I desire more than anything is to be a college graduate. I never finished school. I heard a small voice speak to my heart several years ago and it said, “So what do you want to be a famous actress or a good artist”. I choose art. I am not even asking to be an excellent artist. I just know this is much more satisfying than my interactions with people in show business have been. Perhaps, it was fate because I had chosen the wrong path. I attracted the worst of the worst. At 60 years of age, I try not to think about how much time I will have on this earth. And, I almost steer clear of men, because the angst it can cause will take me away from things that bring me joy. I am open to all possibilities as long as they meet my criteria for allowing me space and solitude to create. Thank you for this article and the opportunity to share my experience.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Thanks so much for sharing Wendy. Doing so is good for the soul. And welcome to a fellow former bed artist, lol. It sounds like you have a good thing going now. Choosing art was a wise choice. It is in the creating of your art that you become whole.

  13. I have created the studio space, I can find the time if I really want to, I have the supplies, I have done so much research on the internet and Pinterest and what not. Yet I can’t seem to get going. I have vague ideas of what I would want to do. I am a documentary photographer and always thought I should incorporate my photography into art somehow. I also see a lot of stuff on the internet that I like and want to be able to do. So does it come down to choices? Or just starting to explore? I have had ideas I did not pursue because I thought they would not be interesting to others, only to find years later that others have done with success what I did not. My other problem is not being in a creative environment. I seem to be the only creative soul in my life, so somehow I need to find my tribe… And oh yeah, there is that little irritating factor called “perfectionism” and another one “fear of wasting supplies”. I know I need to get off my butt and start wasting stuff to get somewhere. Why can’t I get there? I’d love to come to the Red Thread Retreat in Castricum in May (I am based in Holland myself), but it takes quite a bit of money… It will be interesting to read your blog the coming weeks!

    • I don’t often leave comments, but I can so relate to everything you have written right down to attending a “Red Thread”. I think fear, not knowing what to do with anything I create, and lack of like minded people are my biggest buts. I am such a chronic underacheiver, I feel I never live up to my potential. And I need to put the device down and start doing! Looking forward to inspiration over the next weeks.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Marilyn – stay tuned! Unachiever no more!

  14. Just thank you. Big buts really made me smile, then cry. Another artist, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, advocates 15 minutes of play each day and I find I fight myself to ALLOW me to have that. The days when I have won have been so energising and encouraging, then life overtakes my 15 minutes the next day. And why does not having a tidy space to create become such a paralysing big but?? Thanks again – am encouraged to become a stronger fighter and create in the middle of a mess instead of waiting for the super clean space to materialise.

  15. Hi Lesley! There’s something about New Mexico that stirs the soul and ignites creativity. I’ve been curious about your recent visit there and what unfolded for you. The video you posted was wonderful. Very inspiring. As you know, art is my passion and I am fortunate to be making it as well as teaching it. My struggle is with “finding my tribe”. You once said about the younger generation that “they are not us but we are still them” and that resonated with me since I teach at the community college. My struggle is with finding my “tribe” …. And here’s my “but” …. But I can’t attend all the retreats and workshops while I am still teaching and that’s where I could meet fellow tribe members. There is a feeling of isolation to being an artist that can be uncomfortable sometimes even with the world wide web. So, if you can address that feeling of isolation (even in the age of the internet), I would love to hear what you have to say…. Thank you!!! ~Sharon (ArtL8dy)

  16. Karen Connelly says:

    I look forward to hearing more of your ideas (I attended your Red Thread Retreat in 2013). I find that it helps to put even small snippets of time to use. Use five minutes to cut out newspaper/magazine headlines or pictures, apply gesso to my journal pages, etc. Then, when I do have an hour to work, everything is ready to go and I can jump right in. If I have a page in progress, I’ll use the five minutes to apply some stamps or writing. It helps to have a place where you can leave things out, too. In the old days, I used a desk that I put in the basement, before I had a real work space. Not optimum, but it enabled me to fit just a little art into a short time span. The positive side to not having large blocks of time, for me, is that I often have new inspiration when I return to a partial piece. Thanks Lesley!

  17. Cathy Burnett says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have always had a creative spirit. But….life always gets in my way. Over the years I have created items from various mediums….crewel embroidery, cross-stitch, sewing, painting, beans (lol), etc. I have several quilts that were hand-me-downs from relatives who always meant a lot to me. I have never created a quilt myself, but this week I have been painting a quilt block to hang on my shed. I love kaleidoscopes, and I drew my pattern on a piece of plywood, and I have had such joy in creating this piece, JUST FOR ME. I don’t worry that anyone else will like it, “I LOVE IT”! I am glad to have that part of me that feels comfort in creating. If I could just get all these ideas that are in my head to become a reality…… Thank you for your inspiration.

  18. Hi Lesley: Just stumbled upon your blog. It feels like it was meant to be for me to read your struggle to be a full time artist. Just last night I was spilling my guts to a friend how much I have to beg, borrow and steal time from my very busy schedule to create my art. Plus, dealing with a lack of support and encouragement from my husband. He doesn’t see the value of my artistic abilities and that alone is a challenge to deal with day in and day out.
    For the past 8 years my determination to do something with my special gift has been my main focus no matter what I am doing in my regular life of working and taking care of the household; in my head I am always creating something new or finishing a project. No one can take that away from me!
    I have a successful online educational figurative art website Plus, I teach and create art. My determination to be a full time artist never alters. I always say, “It runs in blood, it is a part of me and who I am”.
    The negativity that I have been surrounded by has fuelled me to move forward with a, I will show you attitude, and the positive energy that I receive from friends just makes me smile and know that I can do it.
    Thank you again for you post I am sure their are many women that struggle through the same challenges of wanting to become a full-time artist. Thank you so much for your article. Have a wonderful creative day! Adele

    • Adele!! your site has been such an inspiration to me for so many years! It has grown so much and brought so many talented artists and techniques for doll making to the world. I can’t believe you run this site AND work full time! I met a sewing teacher years ago who said, you need to block in time for yourself, just as you do to go to the gym, go to a soccer practice, have lunch with a friend. Take your date book out, block that time, same day each week and DON”T alter it. The world will continue for those sweet few hours of you time

  19. Hi Leslie. What a spectacular photo of you on the stoop! I am returning to the Fabienne Vortex and have been remembering our time together fondly. I’m getting into Facebook and see you are all over it! The ease and grace with which you do art (including how you handle the bumps in the road) is such an inspiration. Kudos and applause!

  20. This is great! I would love to hear how you manage your time in the midst of a busy family life. Do you schedule in a certain amount of time per day or per week? How do you deal with being interrupted by kids who need assistance or want to help? Do you set certain goals for each day or do you go with the flow when you get in the studio?


  21. Just what I needed to read this morning, Leslie. I realized I’m just going to have to do this while I’m doing the day job, being present for my third and last child at home and everything else. I need practical advice, like how to get myself organized for projects, how to focus when I have so many GREAT ideas coming through at once. It feels slow going and way too easy to get distracted from keeping on track and moving forward.

    • Lesley Riley says:

      Thank you for sharing your needs, Susan. I’ll be sure to address them. Great ideas are wonderful but yes, how do you handle that with everything else going on? I’ll let you know in the coming weeks