Local Gem: The Dirty Easel
If you haven't heard of The Dirty Easel yet, you should definitely check it out! Run by Christiane Michaelis, The Dirty Easel provides a time, plac, and materials for people to get together and create art. (Recognize Christiane? We've worked with The Dirty Easel before at our December Wellness Retreat!)
Read more about Christiane's business and inspirations below.
Q: What inspired you to start working in your industry? Did you have any role models or learn from someone in particular?
A: The idea for my business wasn’t so much born through inspiration but developed naturally out of my previous work experiences. I am a synthesizer. I synthesize arts. And my life is synthesized by the arts. My career is like a puzzle that is held together by one big picture, one purpose: bringing art and creativity into people’s lives. Before I started my own business, some of the labels on the professional puzzle pieces used to describe me were: musician, theater director, opera director, teacher, conductor and mother.
In the first part of my career, I brought art into people’s lives as a theater and opera director by giving them the chance to listen to music or watch a show. I actively interacted with those involved in the shows (the singers, the actors, the stage crews, etc.), but the audience participated passively by watching.
The second half of my working life has been devoted to teaching and coaching people actively doing art —theater, music and visual arts. For me there is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding than witnessing a person discovering or developing their creative self. My business, The Dirty Easel, is based on that idea—giving people an environment to be creative in a fun and fearless way.
Q: Do you have any tidbits of advice for people with passions, in general?
A: Recently I heard a five-year-old say, after being asked what she wanted to do when she was older, ”I haven’t found my passion yet.”
Sometimes it seems like everybody is supposed to have a singular passion but that is not always the case. I think you can have a wonderful life when you just like things or have interests in many directions. In a way, that makes life almost easier because you are flexible to adapt to changing circumstances. It is OK not to have a single passion.
But if you do have a passion you should take it seriously. Often there is no way around it. And your passion will help you to stay motivated and to find the energy to recover from failures. But to turn your passion into a profession, you need more than passion alone. You need to gain lots of knowledge and have to work hard, too. Passion is the engine, but you still need a well-built vehicle to actually move.
Q: What have been your favorite moments of creativity?
A: I have found that it is not so much the moments where you get a lot of applause and praise, though they are really fun, but the small moments of creativity—when I get into the flow while creating, when my mind is completely on and focused. It is that "ah-ha" moment when an idea is born, a solution is found that wasn’t there yesterday. It's this almost euphoric state of mind when you realize with certainty that an idea works. During these special moments, you feel momentum.
Q: What have been your most challenging moments in your career thus far?
A: After having worked for 10 years in theaters and opera houses, I decided to end my career as a theater and opera director. It was a very hard decision because I absolutely loved that work. It fulfilled me immensely. I thought I was good at it, and I thought I had a lot more to say, share and invent.
But I realized that the lifestyle that is required for that profession wasn't the one I wanted for the rest of my life. Instead of being the permanently traveling artist, I wanted to have roots. I wanted to be grounded. I wanted to have friends who would be part of my life instead of just telling them about it during the few times a year we met. And I wanted to have a family life. So making that change was probably the most challenging moment of my career.
Q: What's your day job (if this business isn't your day job)?
A: I feel very fortunate to have gotten rid of my “day jobs.” I’m able to work only on my business and our family of six.
Q: When you're discouraged, what do you run to or away from?
A: Two things really help me. First, I like to exercise. Yoga helps me quiet my thoughts and get into my body and spirit. I like to go swimming, and keep my head under water to silence all other noise. I like to go on long walks and let nature take over me. I like to ride my bike really for long distances until I am covered with sweat and every bone in my body aches.
Second, I reach out for things that fuel my inspiration, that help me get excited. Right now I am reading lots of books about creativity. The ideas in them inspire my own energy. Another great source of inspiration is going out and meeting people and talking to them about their work—like the women in #bossbabesATX. Talking about what I do and why I do it and listening to people talk about their own passions never fails to energize me.
Your favorite band at the moment: Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen... Oh man, I really don’t have the one favorite in anything.
Your favorite book at the moment: I have been a big fan of Haruki Murakami’s books for a long time. But I really don’t have an overall favorite. Not for movies, not for food, not for pets.
Your local Austin gem: The East Austin Studio Tour. That is one of our favorite events of the year. We take our bikes, put our youngest kid and beer in a bike trailer, and explore neighborhoods and enjoy art all day long. It is so fun because you meet many people, find inspiring art, get to walk into people’s houses and get to know Austin better. Every year we explore a different section of east Austin. We love it.
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