Michelle Berg Radford recently illustrated our lately reviewed book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. And we can’t get over these drawings! So along with Hannah’s interview, Michelle shares her thoughts on the creative arts, how she came to connect with Hannah & Humble Roots, and how to encourage creativity in your kids.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF:
I live in Greenville, SC with my husband, Paul, and my three kids. My daughter is learning to read this year and my twin boys are learning to write their letters but would rather be shooting their dad with Nerf guns or jumping off the couch onto each other. None of the kids are laid back—I think they may come by that trait honestly. I’m a college professor and teach painting, fiber arts, and a little theory.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOUR LOVE FOR THE CREATIVE ARTS?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in art. I was always saving scraps of paper and pulling things out of the trash in hopes of making them into something. My dad started paying me a quarter for every full grocery bag of “art supplies” (trash) I would throw away out of my closet to keep me from hoarding way too much. I amassed enough of a collection of “art supplies” and projects that my two sisters insisted I have my own bedroom while they shared. Dad also took me to art shows and museums from a young age and educated himself about art so that he could partner with me in learning about art and art history. We had a family friend who was an art professor and repeatedly told me that hard work is more important than talent. I’m so thankful for that advice.
DO YOU HAVE A CURRENT FAVORITE ARTIST? AND OF COURSE, BOOK?
I can’t say I have one favorite, but a few I’ve been thinking about recently: I love the compositions and brushwork of Andrew Wyeth. The Greenville County Museum has a collection of his watercolors and tempera paintings, so I’ve seen them my whole life and still haven’t gotten over them. In grad school I fell in love with the Dutch Golden Age landscape painters (Jacob van Ruisdael is one) and wrote my thesis about them and the Hudson River School. Savannah-based Marcus Kenney is so good—his boldness and his attention to detail in his assemblages really make me want to be bold in my own work.
Since becoming a mother of three I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs by creative women, especially mothers. Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber has been a favorite among those.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SNACK AND/OR DRINK WHILE MAKING ART?
I drink a decent amount of green tea while making art, and while not making art.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO RECHARGE?
Taking a walk alone outside—when it’s cool—does a lot for me. There’s so much beauty out there that I often rush by. Having the time to soak it in has started to feel like a privilege at this point in my life. Being alone in my studio for a chunk of time really helps me recharge. While I’m painting, making, and drawing I’m also praying, cleaning out my brain, feeling my stress level come down a few notches. There’s also a huge satisfaction in doing a kind of work that yields visible progress and that won’t (most likely) be undone in the morning.
With three little kids, I don’t range too far from home during my down time. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC is pretty close to my idea of a perfect get-away: gardens, architecture, mountains, history, quiet. There’s so much beauty there—it’s too much to soak in all at once, but every little bit helps.
HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME FOR YOUR ART WHILE RAISING KIDS, WORKING, AND MANAGING A HOME?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The biggest hurdle for me was to decide whether art was worthy of my time when there are so many other demands. I believe that I’m loving and serving others through my art, and I believe that I’m also stewarding the talents and opportunity God has given me. Getting rid of false guilt about staying active as an artist took a weight off my shoulders.
Practically speaking, the ways I make time for art are always changing as my kids grow and our schedules shift. Sometimes it means letting go of perfection: allowing laundry to stay on the couch for one more day, going to work without ironing, saying “no” to extra activities, letting the kids make a mess next to me in the studio. If I’m doing art, it always means there is something else I’m not doing—I’m no superhero. Sometimes Paul takes the kids swimming or on errands so that I can finish up a project. Sometimes we eat at Chick-Fil-A so I can paint instead of cooking. I rarely have long stretches of studio time; usually I’m working in small bits, but the fragments of time accumulate until the artwork is finished. Sometimes I just can’t be in the studio, and even though that’s hard for me to accept when it happens, that’s one of the ways God is teaching me to surrender my desires to His wise plan.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE TO HELP FOSTER A LOVE OF ART IN KIDS?
You don’t have to be an artist to allow your kids to have hands-on experiences with art making. They don’t need a fancy art class—the just need opportunity to cut, glue, and smear paint on a paper. Don’t be intimidated by the sophisticated and trendy projects online. Kids need to learn that paint drips, that pastels smear, that paper folds, and that you can make a box out of popsicle sticks and glue. They’re not just learning art—they’re learning physics and geometry and patience and hand-eye coordination and narrative. I talk to my college art students about how beautiful paint is, that these materials are something God has given us to enjoy! We can nurture a sense of wonder in our kids by pointing out the beautiful and the surprising things around us. Making art at home won’t always feel magical, but it’s always valuable. Your local library probably has a book showing how to draw 40 birds or 20 horses. YouTube has videos demonstrating beginning watercolor techniques for older kids. Don’t be paralyzed by a desire for perfection. Let kids make things, whether it’s with paint or sticks or mud or flour, sugar, and eggs. Then help them learn to clean up—that’s the hardest part.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
HOW DID YOU GET CONNECTED WITH HANNAH?
After I read her book Made for More, I connected with her on social media to tell her how helpful the book was to me. She later asked me to be a guest on the Persuasion Podcast she co-hosts with Erin Straza to discuss the topic of motherhood and creativity. When she was looking for someone to illustrate Humble Roots, she contacted me to help her find an illustrator; and after we talked about what she was looking for in terms of style, concept, and medium, I agreed to do the job myself. I was in love with her concept and I knew it would carry me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to have to push myself and take on a new challenge, so I agreed.
WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE BLUE RIDGE NATIVE PLANTS USED THROUGHOUT THE BOOK?
My husband loves gardening, and we have about half of these plants at our house. I wasn’t as familiar with Red Anemone, Milkweed, or the Sourwood tree, so I spent time learning about these and looking at hundreds of pictures. Hannah provided me with a couple paragraphs for each illustration, explaining the deeper meaning behind each plant in her writing. I wanted the illustrations to communicate her concepts, not just provide pretty, generic images of the plants mentioned.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ILLUSTRATION FROM THE BOOK?
The wild blackberry illustration might be my favorite. It was important to show fruit and thorns growing from the same plant, and to communicate the wildness of it – and I think I was able to make that happen. As my friends have seen some of the images I’ve been working on, it’s been fun to hear how these plants are woven into their memories.
Thanks again to Michelle for her time and inspiring perspective on creativity and motherhood.