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Artist Feature

Fri, Mar 29, 2019

3 Creative Tips from Tessa Hulls: Artist, Researcher, Bikepacker, Chef, Unbelievable Person

It’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon in March. The third floor is roped off for the installation of Guided by Ghosts. Inside the Art Forum Gallery, Tessa Hulls is balancing on a stepstool, masterfully handling a heavy-duty black paint marker, and handwriting 2,484 words on the walls.

Handwriting. 2,484 words. By hand. This cannot be stressed enough.

Altogether, these words comprise a timeline that Tessa painstakingly researched. It’s a mingling of her personal Chinese ancestry alongside Santa Cruz’s Chinatown history. This 600-year history snakes around the perimeter of the gallery, framing Tessa’s gorgeous watercolors and a cross-section replica of her Port Townsend studio.

Lest ye think she is merely an impressive artist/researcher hybrid, she’s also a cross-country bike traveler, feminist cycling historian, backpacker, writer, and...also...a professional chef who occasionally spends summers cooking in Alaska. Yeah.

The short version? Tessa works hard, is unbelievably creative, and wildly productive. She’s the kind of person you have an artist crush on, get incredibly jealous of, or a little bit of both.

In a time when our attention spans are shot, Tessa’s mixture of creativity, deep work, and curiosity is a rarity. To help those of us who struggle to pull up a chair and get started on the creative project on our to-do list, Tessa shared some of her tips for setting yourself up for your creative best.

1. Randomize your inputs as much as possible.

“When I get inspired, I don’t go to museums,” says Tessa. It can be tempting to look to art sources when creating an artistic work. It’s the obvious choice; if you aspire to be in a museum, look at others whose work is already in a museum, right? But this can prevent you from looking at the big picture, Tessa says.

Instead, she prefers to go outside and “literally move my body.” She’ll pick a cardinal direction and aim there on a bike, or grab a roundtrip ticket for the ferry just outside her Port Townsend studio to enjoy the ride.

Tessa also recommends going to the library and picking something at random. Recently, she picked Saudade: The Possibilities of Place by Anik See and Notes from No Man’s Land, a series of essays about race in America. “We have this tendency to keep ourselves focused and on task, but things get the most interesting– and weird– when you roam.”

2. Dabble in different genres.

When blocked on an illustration, it may feel easiest to shift to a different illustration. Or jump to a personal essay when you’re paralyzed writing a blog post. As a self-proclaimed “compulsive genre-hopper,” Tessa suggests changing up your medium entirely.

“If I’m stuck on a painting, I’ll go write. If I’m stuck on writing, I’ll make a performance slideshow,” Tessa says.

This tactic is about more than just ‘switching it up’ or going outside of your comfort zone. By shifting mediums, Tessa says, you get to operate by “a different set of rules.” This re-adjustment frees you from the confines of your original medium, gives you permission to try something new, and might just unblock you from what was holding you back in the first place.

3. Don’t freak out.

Let’s be real: advice like this is nice in theory, but the reality of our internal cynic can be sobering. When you’re stuck– or haven’t even begun– it is scary. It is shameful. It is disappointing.

For comfort, Tessa considers the source of her inspiration and freedom: the land. “It’s natural to have fallow periods and not freak out about it,” she says. “If you have a growing season throughout the year, there has to be a period where the soil renews itself.”

This is partially why she flits between ways of working as much as she does. “That’s what my seasons cooking in Alaska were for. When I am in Alaska, I am not making anything. It’s been crucial to my longevity as an artist,” Tessa says. There’s no point in being afraid to get stuck– if you do, you risk getting yourself more in a rut than you’re already in.

“As an artist, there’s a pressure to be constantly producing. It leaves out the period when you need non-generative periods.”

You can see Tessa’s show Guided by Ghosts until June 23rd.

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