Q&A: Creative Process with Renee Phillips and Everyday Adhara

A few months ago, I had the honor of sitting down the Alaina Gurwitz, founder of Everyday Adhara, to chat about my series, Controlled Chaos, and the often unplanned reactions and results that create each work of art. Enjoy!

Alaina: Let’s talk about your most recent series, Controlled Chaos. What is your process?

Renee: I’m a big fan of the concept of alchemy, the medieval ancestor of modern chemistry, as my approach relies heavily on investigating the properties of materials in my studio. Manipulating acrylic paint with water and alcohol, applying enamel over a wet surface, creating papers with chemicals, using heat to alter material composition - these are just a few of the practices I use in my work. 

Alaina: How many layers do you typically do?

Renee: Anywhere from ten to fifty. I build up, and sand away many layers of these alchemical techniques to reveal the passage of time, energy and process, and draw the viewer into a conversation about how the piece was made. My favorite question to hear from any viewer is “how did you do that?”

Alaina: What are you inspired by most?

Renee: The passage of time intrigues me. When I work in my studio, I allow the a work to unveil itself over time, while also contemplating the notion that time as we experience it is an illusion. My surroundings inspire me in so many ways. Nature and its evolutionary cycles of birth, decay and change, urban decay and transformation. The city is in a state of constant state of evolution as layers are applied by humans and removed by nature, revealing a unique conversation of decay and rebirth.

Alaina: Given that you layer over time, how can you tell when a painting is complete?

Renee: I live with them for a really long time, and through that rest period, I usually know when it’s not done. I never say “It’s done!” I say to myself, “It’s not done.” A lot of the time, I live with them to settle myself into thinking they are done. After a week or two, I usual know. 

Alaina: You know what I like about them? To you they might not be done but there is something to talk about at every aspect of the process, which can’t be said for all art. I would hang many of them, even though they aren’t done, because they are already interesting. But I like how you don’t force action until the feeling is there. Does there come a time when you feel in a rush to finish something?

Renee: No, that's why I work on a lot of pieces simultaneously, because I’ve learned that it can drive me crazy. I ruin art by not being present with the piece. I create art so that I can get into the flow and lose myself, and I can lose myself down the wrong path if I’m forcing it. 

Alaina: What happens to the limitless timeframe when someone is commissioning a piece?

Renee: They are different because after meeting with them I usually have a very clear vision about what they want. My own pieces take longer because they are completely unknown. I like working on a mix commissioned pieces and unknowns because the unknown itself can be hard to live with.  

Alaina: There’s seem to be a push and pull in the creative process where we have to know when to push ourselves forward and pull ourselves back and sit with things. Do you work every day regardless or work within this push and pull?

Renee: It’s all a process. I’ll go for a morning walk or an afternoon jog to clear my head, I work through a lot of creative problems while moving. sometimes that problem solving only reveals the next step or idea, but, sometimes it is the next two or three steps. It’s always on my mind. I literally dream in colors and shapes.

Alaina: What do you think your relationship is with creativity in a more general sense?

IN my life. I’m constantly inspired by everything around me. And I choose to see things with a creative eye. I made that choice when I chose to become a full-time artist. I was in business before and when I made that switch, the business side of my brain shutdown, and the creative side rebooted. Now, I live a creative life with a business minded sense, whereas before I lived a business life and tried to incorporate hobbies creatively, but I live a far more inspired life now that it is fully creative. 

Alaina: How did you know to make that decision?

Renee: When I would try to infuse creativity into my life, I would get a headache. I was taking art classes to keep my craft up, but trying to be creative pained me because it wasn’t what I was doing with my life. It was in my heart but was being forced. 

When I made the change, it was pure intuition that led me to become a full-time artist. I was listening to my intuition the entire time and it took me from next step to next step, and it wasn’t ever forced ever. And it isn’t on a daily basis. 

Alaina: How do you deal with creative blocks or bursts?

Renee: Either way, I need to move my body physically. If I have too much of a burst, I’ll meditate. If I’m in a rut, I’ll run. So, it's the yin and yang of whatever I’m going through. I’ve realized that keeping my body strong helps me to keep my mind strong so I can get through anything that arises. 

Alaina: How do you use action as a tool during the creative process?

Renee: Action is the best for me when it is focused action – action with a purpose. I ask myself what type of energy do I want to put in the expression. I use grand gestures in my art with my entire body and I want to make sure when I move my body with that gesture that I am focused with that intention. If I want to put energy or serenity into the piece, I focus on specific frequency of energy to try to channel my expression. 

And I try to make sure that I take a moment before every action. It’s hard to remind ourselves of this, but over time it becomes a habit. Now, I notice that after the first layer or two some paintings are complete when I’m super focused. If the right initial energy is put into it, it turns out really cool. 

Alaina: We often have preconceived notions about what creativity is supposed to look like. How do you give yourself the space to break these molds?

Renee: I found that trying to be creative puts pressure on myself. I created these perimeters around what creativity was, and I had to be, in order for me to feel good about my work. Once I untied those perimeters, I realized creativity can be anything. 

Alaina: What is one that inspires you and gets your wheels turning?

Renee: I started journalizing before bed every night to right down wandering thoughts and what I’m grateful for, because I have a great life and I need to remind myself how awesome it is. Being an artist isn’t an easy path. There is emotional turmoil, constant questioning and working solo, and I find that journaling really helps me live a more positive life.

And for inspiration, nature is the biggest inspiration. Every morning, wherever I am, I go for a walk and just experience the environment and culture around me. That mixed with my growing curiosity about science and technology – how our brains work, what’s in the universe, what is the universe.? I subscribe to all of those magazines to keep myself informed and inspired. 

Alaina: If you could speak to your younger self, what is one piece of advice you would offer her?

Renee: Don't be so much of a perfectionist!

I grew up not wanting to draw outside of the lines (literally) and it shaped who I was as a teenager and young adult. At the time, I thought it helped me gain control of our crazy world, but it made me more stressed out than I needed to be. I could have enjoyed the littler moments in my life if I wasn’t trying to control them so much. 

Alaina: What is one thing you are reading, watching or listening to for spiritual growth and wellness that you want to share with our readers?

Renee: I am obsessed with the TED Radio Hour Podcasts. They are hour segments with the most intelligent and insightful people. 

I’m reading Tony Robbins original book called “Unlimited Power” about Neurolinguistic Programming. Basically, he says that our brain is a machine that can be taught how to work properly if we know how our brain functions. And we can learn about how other people’s brains work as well to have more heightened conversations. It’s made me think differently about my art and the world and every human I talk to. Humans are weird and cool and different, and as a New Yorker I went through so many years with a head down mentality but now I want to talk to people and learn as much as I can about being human. 

And then there’s "The Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh about mindfulness. To me, art is the one thing where people are present. And I’m present while I’m creating it. They are both practices in mindfulness. That's why I love what I do.

My goal is to make viewers truly feel something. I believe that every object, person, environment has a vibrating energy that can be altered and elevated through human emotion and connection - my goal is to connect the viewer to their environment, to instill a presence that allows them to open up to a deeper dimension within themselves that ultimately reveals the answers they seek.

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." Erma Bombeck

Check out the complete is of Everyday Adhara HERE.