The exciting thing about creativity is that it is dynamic in its expression and we were super excited to have had a chat with Emily Levenson a creator and connector who embodies that. Emily is a mom of two adorable (yet sassy) kids, and runs a weekly art challenge on Instagram called The Tuesday Collective. She mentioned that she feels most at home when creating things and has a knack for bringing people together. In this interview, she talks about consistency, creative expression and a couple of insightful juices to help in your creative journey. Let’s meet her!
Hi, Emily, it’s so great to have you. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your achievements in the past 5 years?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me. My name is Emily Levenson and I’m a mom and creative. My background is in mental health (I was a licensed therapist for about 10 years) but found my way back to art and creative expression after dealing with severe burnout in my late twenties.
My first creative business was making hand-bound books and notepads. I also ran a food blog, a holistic health coaching business, and a local networking and mastermind group for women entrepreneurs. After my first kiddo was born, I stepped away from everything to focus my time and energy on her. Motherhood has a way of shaking things up — both internally and externally — and I struggled to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my time and energy. When I had my second kiddo, I felt like I needed to have something that was just mine, but had no idea what that meant or would look like.
I found drawing again in my 40s after getting an iPad Pro. Drawing has given me a much-needed creative outlet and allowed me to find myself again after motherhood. Carving out time to create each night has been my saving grace in this season of life and has helped me cope with everything that is going on in the world around me.
Speaking of achievements, The 100 Day Project on Instagram. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Can you speak on how you handled inspiration and consistency as you worked on the project?
Can you believe that this year marks my 5th 100 Day Project?! For those that don’t know what it is, The 100 Day Project is a global challenge to do something for 100 days straight. It looks like the focus is more on creative projects now, but when I first started it was for anything. Over the years I’ve done 100 days of blogging, 100 days of meditating, 100 days of yoga, 100 days of crafting (with my oldest daughter!), and 100 days of drawing (which ended up being 365 days of drawing).
Finishing that first 100 Day challenge was seriously one of the proudest moments of my life. Before completing it, I would tell myself that I was no good at finishing things and that there was no way I could focus my time and energy on something for that long without getting bored or bailing.
What I have learned over the course of doing these is that preparation is absolutely key. Without it, you will likely not be able to complete your project. I generally take a week before starting to map out what I want to do — whether that’s brainstorming ideas for writing, making a playlist of yoga routines or meditations to do, or compiling a huge list of kid-friendly craft projects to do with my daughter.
It’s always easy in the beginning when motivation runs high. But once the lulls hit — and they inevitably hit — it’s really important to remove as many barriers to creating as possible. It’s also important to remember that some days you’ll want to spend hours getting lost in your work, while other days you’re going to want to put in the bare minimum. And that’s OKAY. The key is to show up anyway and make it as easy as possible to get it done.
Do you think creativity and consistency are mutually exclusive or one is completely/slightly dependent on the other?
Great question! I think consistency is the more important factor and one that can enhance creativity tenfold. The more you show up and create the space for something, the easier it becomes to do it.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this concept a lot in her book Big Magic. She talks about the concept of having a creative genius — something outside of ourselves that gives us inspiration — and not being a creative genius. All we have to do is keep showing up and doing the work. You can also listen to her TEDTalk on the subject
For me, that looks a lot like sitting down every night after putting my kids to bed and drawing, whether I feel like it or not. It’s looking through Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration until something says to me “this is interesting” and I begin. Some days all I can get out is a sketch and other days it’s a finished piece. Some days I love the work, some days I find it frustrating as hell. Regardless, I sit down nightly and do the work.
Let’s talk about The Tuesday Collective, such an amazing outlet for creative expression. Tell us about it.
The Tuesday Collective is seriously one of my favorite places on Instagram! It’s a weekly art challenge that I created with my Insta-pal, Jessica Rigsbee of @mydepictionaddiction. She and I connected through Charly Clements #funwithfaces challenge back in 2019. We were both new to digital drawing and were looking for ways to continue on with daily prompts. DTIYS (Draw This In Your Style) challenges were also becoming big and we would send each other different ones to do. We also started finding some really cool inspiration photos online and began sharing those with each other. And then we began creating prompt lists for even more things to work on.
The culmination of that exploration and idea sharing was The Tuesday Collective. We figured if WE were looking for inspiration and ways to continue connecting with other creatives on Instagram, there had to be others as well.
We officially launched The Tuesday Collective in January of 2021 and have been putting out inspiration weekly ever since. Jessica took a step back from the behind-the-scenes organizing at the end of last year, so now it’s just me running the show (for better or worse!).
I am in awe of the work people submit each week and have to pinch myself sometimes at how this spark of an idea a year or so ago has become such a vibrant and welcoming community of creatives.
Interesting! So, when you started out as a creative, did you ever think you didn’t have enough platforms for expression?
I don’t think there has ever been a time when I thought there weren’t enough platforms for expression. It’s probably been the opposite for me. 😂 I am someone who thrives in the face of limitations, so often struggle when I have too much freedom or too many choices. I tend to stick with Instagram and have yet to explore any other platforms for my work.
If asked, would you call creativity a safe haven of rest or simply a task to complete?
Creativity is mostly a safe haven for me, but there are definitely days when it’s a task to complete. I will say that I feel off-kilter when I stray from drawing for too long.
Now let’s talk about balancing family and the creative urge to just be alone and make magic. Do you ever get the luxury of those alone times? How do you navigate this terrain?
Ah, the consummate struggle of finding the time to create and balancing that desire/need with my other responsibilities. Which also happens to be the inspiration for my Instagram handle, @thenaptimecreative
With an 8 and almost 3 year old at home, nap time has always been a sacred time for me. It’s when I get to breath a little slower and focus on whatever lights ME up. I can break out the good craft supplies or the iPad and not have to worry about sharing it with anyone.
It is a constant struggle, though. Some days my youngest goes down for her nap 20 minutes before I have to pick up my oldest from school, so I have to wait until bedtime to get my creative time in. It’s not always ideal since I’m tired after a full day with the kids, but it’s what I have to work with right now.
It used to really stress me out and cause me a lot of anxiety. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be “productive” (whatever that means) and often felt like I was falling short at just about everything. When I was with my kids, I’d want to be creating and when I was creating, I’d want to be with my kids. These days, I am trying to be more gentle with myself and know that everything will shift again once my youngest goes to school full time.
Learning to be patient (NOT one of my strong suits) and leaning into what I do have time for has really been a big lesson for me.
So, was there ever a day you just wanted to ‘not create’, even with family responsibilities?
There are LOTS of days that I don’t want to create something and just want to binge watch a show on Netflix or go to bed. And some days, I allow myself to do just that. Especially when the world feels like it’s falling apart (which seems to be happening a lot lately).
I also know that once I sit down and do it, I feel better. About myself, about life, about tomorrow. On the days when I’m not feeling particularly motivated to draw or am feeling bored with things, I try something new. I use a new Procreate brush, I pick up a pencil and draw on paper instead of the iPad, I take a class on Skillshare, or pick up a completely new medium like cross stitch or seed beading. I love getting lost in new projects and ideas, so that always helps to rekindle my creative spark.
As you know, most creatives have had their fair share of ‘burn outs’. How did you prevent or tackle burn out while you took on the 100 day project?
My mom and I talk about this a lot. She’s an artist and has navigated her fair share of burnout and periods of low inspiration. Her belief is that burnout and feeling unmotivated generally happens when you’re on the cusp of a quantum leap in your work. It’s a place where your taste and your vision for your work exceeds your skill level in the moment. Knowing that helps me immensely and allows me to seek out areas to learn something new or to simply ride the wave and keep paddling. I also find myself looking forward to those periods now because I know something really wonderful will come from it.
I also think it’s important to know when taking on something like The 100 Day Project that there will be times when it feels easy and times when it feels like you are slogging through it all. Embracing those ups and downs and being prepared for it can make it so much easier to get to the other side without giving up.
Being prepared, being curious, and being willing to step outside of your comfort zone can help take that boredom and burnout and turn it into something that inspires and shapes your work as you continue moving forward.
Looking at the future, what social issues would you be passionate about championing and why?
I have always been passionate about lifting up women and shining a light on their accomplishments; it has been an underlying current in everything I do. Continuing that work seems like a natural fit, especially with reproductive rights coming under attack, laws targeting the health and safety of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the gender pay gap (which is especially bad for women of color) being so pronounced.
I’d also love to continue with a series I started a year or so ago called TNC Trailblazers. I created 28 different portraits of trailblazing black womxn and shared their stories during Black History Month. I’d love to expand on that and feature even more inspiring womxn from all backgrounds throughout history.
So what role do you picture the Tuesday collective playing in these issues you pointed out?
From the very beginning, The Tuesday Collective has focused on supporting female (and female identifying) creatives. All of the images we share are of women or more gender fluid individuals, and the majority of our community identify as female.
This year, I have been working on sourcing more diverse images to use for our prompts and would love to be able to amplify more diverse perspectives and creatives. I’d also love to be able to share more work from BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ designers and models, bringing attention to and celebrating their work.
Lastly, what gap(s) have you identified in this generation between creating and expressing or sharing your creative works, and how would you advise a fellow creative to bridge this gap?
Consistency is key! Participate in challenges like #funwithfaces and #thetuesdaycollective.
Comment on and be supportive of other creatives. The creative community on IG is amazing and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Bonus: you get to learn from others and help build them up. Keep showing up and trying new things.
Don’t get caught up in the numbers game. Yes, it’s fun to have a big following on IG or other social platforms, but that doesn’t always translate into sales or success.
Do what brings YOU joy, even if that means saying no to the latest trends.
It is 100% okay to make art your side hustle or hobby. Not everything you do or like has to be profitable.