Joanna from The Blue Barn and I have been Instagram friends from way back. I love her love-soaked tales and colourful insights into raising her brood of 4 in the countryside, fostering creativity in the Big Blue Barn on her property. I once asked her why it mentioned in her profile that she was an “occasional rally car driver.” She replied that it was an accurate description of the way she was often tearing around in her car, shuttling kids between activities. That’s when I knew she was my kind of lady. How fun it would be to hang out with her in The Barn, elbow deep in paint. One day.
Until then, it’s a pleasure to introduce this Oh Creative Lady, Joanna.
I am… Joanna, a Welsh transplant by way of London and New York now raising four children in rural Connecticut alongside my husband and soulmate who I met at college 20 years ago! We landed in Connecticut almost 6 years ago and have fully embraced country life. Since living here we have acquired 6 goats, 7 chickens, 2 rabbits and a dog. Life is full and always crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My background is a little like a patchwork quilt. As a child I dreamt of being an artist, my Mum taught art and specialized in ceramics and so we always had access to a creative life. As a teenager I excelled in science at school and dreamt of becoming a forensic scientist. A mean chemistry teacher put pay to that. To rebel against science I chose to take a politics major at college which led to my first job…working in a fragrance laboratory for a major cosmetics company. While working there I got my MBA in marketing and then worked for a few years at various agencies in London and New York before having kids. Despite this hodge podge of direction I’ve always enjoyed art as a way to relax and unwind, and after my children were born it seemed a natural thing to share with them and quickly became a great way to connect.
That’s really where The Blue Barn started. My oldest is extremely creative and also a total introvert, when she was younger she refused to go to any camps or classes but I needed to encourage her to socialize. As a way of having her interact with kids her age in a safe environment I started my own messy art group for her and a few friends in an old barn on our property here in Connecticut. It quickly took off and the Blue Barn was born. I like to mix a little bit of art and science into what we do in the barn, probably because my background involves a bit of both. The children that come love the mix and also all our animals, it’s a whole lot of messy fun and the kids always have a great time.
Motherhood makes you realise what’s important and having kids helped me realise that I’m happiest when elbow deep in paint with a two year old (probably why I ended up having 4 children). There is just so much joy to be had creating with kids, it’s such a gift when you see their face so proud of something they have made or watch as they experience something for the first time. It allows you to see the world a fresh again and reminds you of the joy found in the simple things.
As my kids have grown, (my youngest started Kindergarten this year and that was a big change for me) I’ve continued to offer creative classes for preschoolers and recently started running preschool art classes at our local art center.
I find inspiration… Oh gosh that’s so hard, all sorts of things spark ideas. My kids are all very different and all enjoy creativity in their own ways so that often leads us in many directions. I try to find things that will engage them all but often a project starts out one way and then goes in a completely different direction simply because my kids look at the same things so differently, that’s another reason I enjoy making with kids I think. You never know what you are going to get.
I also get inspired by things I see out and about, walks in nature, a trip to the movies, maybe something I see in a shop or magazine. Sometimes though an idea will just shoot into my head I can’t explain it, I’ll be doing something completely mundane like packing lunchboxes or feeding our animals and there it is. I try to write those ones down when they happen because if I don’t I forget and then I’m left thinking “I know I had a good idea” but it’s gone – I blame mum brain on that one.
Instagram is also a constant source of ideas. I only discovered it about a year ago and have met so many wonderfully creative people who are all so nice and supportive I find it an amazing resource and network. I’d say these days it’s my happy place to hang out online and one day I dream of all my virtual friends sitting down together in person and enjoying a real chat over a nice cup of tea and cake.
I am excited about … Where this will take me in the next few years. Life evolves at such a rapid pace these days. My Blue Barn Blog page started as hobby to document what we were getting up to at home so family across the Atlantic could see and a lot of my old posts used to reflect that. Then the barn evolved from things I wanted to do with my own kids, and their friends. It just sort of grew on its own. Then just over a year ago I posted a photo on IG and someone liked it and I thought wow someone somewhere saw that and liked it so I shared more and now here I am meeting lots of lovely ladies like Shannon from Oh Creative Day! I’m lucky to have the support from my husband to explore this further and to see where this all takes me.
When I’m in a creative slump, I… Oh I actually get stuck a lot, if I’m trying too hard to have ‘an idea’ they disappear all together. I find the best thing to do then is do something completely different and mundane that doesn’t require thinking, like taking the dog for a walk or hanging out in my vegetable garden. Another way of breaking a creative stalemate is to put a bunch of supplies out on the table and let the kids lead me to a new idea.
I’m really proud of… My kids. Too cheesy?! I don’t know that’s a tough question. I think I’m most proud of the moments in my life when I’ve taken a risk on something, those moments when you follow your gut because something just feels right. I think when I’ve truly listened to what my heart is saying I should do I’ve made the right choice. Sometimes it’s super hard as there are so many forces pushing and pulling you in different directions but if I take the time to stop and focus on what’s really important to me I know what to do.
‘Look for the Rainbows.’
I love this saying, and as a mother I think I’ve come to appreciate it even more. My grandmother was a super positive person who always saw the good in everything and everyone. As I try to raise my kids to be kind first in a world that is often filled with so much negativity I often find myself thinking ‘look for the rainbow’ and no matter how big or bad the day is there is always a rainbow.
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