Meet an Artist - Elise Wehle

The mantra for years has been 'do more with less.' Less time. Less money. Fewer resources.

But what creations does this mantra eliminate?

Some of the greatest creations still in existence took a long time to create. From places like the York Cathedral in England (252 years) or the Angkor Wat in Cambodia (418 years) or the 10 years, it took Julie Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to create their cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Or the 11 years it took Art Spiegelman to illustrate and write his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus.

Elise Wehle is one of those artists who steps back and asks, 'what is possible with time, hands, and attention?' And you know what, we think we should, well, make more time to ask that question ourselves.

We talked about many ideas but the ones we thought we would share with you are Elise's thoughts on:

  • Cultivating a good relationship with time

  • Working motherhood

  • Prioritizing

  • and getting into the creative flow

“I hold an awe and reverence for what a human can accomplish.”

-Elise Wehle-

Examine the relationship between time and meaning.

Elise is a mixed-media artist, known for her artwork revolving around intricate patterns cut into paper.

This wasn't always the case. While she studied studio art in college, it wasn’t until she walked through the intricately designed halls of the Alhambra in Spain that she found her muse.

Every surface of that palace is covered in exquisite hand-carved patterns and tiles that were all laid by hand centuries ago. Many people (justifiably) marvel at the elaborate geometry in the designs, but Elise was fascinated by something else:

The sheer number of hours it would take to create something so beautiful.

“I love the correlation between time and devotion, because truly in the end, you spend the most time on what is most important to you,” she explains. “The art that I’m attracted to always has that kind of relationship.”

Elise asserts that because you put time into it – it is meaningful to you.

Choose what you devote yourself to — or it will choose you

Elise inspires us to look at our schedules (be it your crowded Outlook calendar or your makeshift post-it note to-do list) as the art that we are creating with our time — and so our lives.

In those meetings and family time and gym classes, do you feel like your time and actions are reflecting what you value?

In other words, ask yourself — what are you are devoted to?

That’s not to say there needs to be immense artistic value in every minute of your day. (That would be exhausting probably.) For example, those 1-on-1s with your reports show how you devote time to leadership.

Sometimes, the things that at first glance seem mundane can be the most beautiful and necessary part of life.

It’s simply good to take some time every so often and ask yourself:

Are you spending your time on the things you prioritize in life? Or could you ask yourself: is there an adjustment I could make to how I approach the mundane, with new purpose?

Slow down

“When you buy my artwork, you’ve bought hours of focus and dedication from me.”

We live in a world of instant gratification and constant digital stimulation. Elise firmly believes in consciously disconnecting from all of that. Disconnecting not only helps her get in the zone for creating art, but improves all of her relationships.

One reason is, that if we are not disconnecting from devices, we are disconnecting from people. The tiny moments that we turn away from the people around us to glance at our phone or smartwatch to check a notification — those add up. The people around us, whether our kids or people on our team, notice when we aren’t wholly invested in any given interaction.

Elise’s art is a physical manifestation of her undivided attention—

A reminder of what that kind of attention can accomplish.

Working and motherhood

Navigating motherhood and career is the subject of books, podcasts, and TED talks. It’s something that our society hasn’t quite successfully mapped out.

After all, time is finite and we can’t truly have it all.

The good (and bad) news is that there is no right way. “It’s so personal, and individual to each person,” Elise says. "It’s all about what path brings you the most joy."

That could be focusing on kids while your artistic endeavors lie dormant. In Elise’s case, she finds the most joy when she can devote time to her work.

We discussed the reconfiguring of identity that comes with motherhood that can sometimes be hard for women to talk about and explore.

“I think that’s part of the reason I use women and cut shapes out of them. I’m taking away from them because that’s how I feel – like some of my identity has been lost, but something new is being formed out of the things that were taken from me.”

And there is always something new that forms.

Elise had an epiphany that her art changed after becoming a mother. Years ago, her art contained a lot of texture that was created through a very unpredictable transfer process. When her oldest was born, that texture suddenly disappeared. As her life became more unpredictable, her art became a little more ordered and controlled.

Elise's tips for getting into a creative flow

Elise has carved finite, specific time in her days to work on her art — there's not much room to wait for the proverbial muse. Here are her tips for getting into a creative flow, especially on a schedule:

  • Give yourself time. “I always have to give myself a half hour to just transition my brain into a creative space,” Elise says. After that half-hour, she'll completely disconnect as she starts creating the art. The first hour is usually no phone, no music. Just creation. Everyone has a different process, but Elise reminds us that thinking you can jump from one project to another is wishful thinking. It takes time to transition, so make sure your day has space to devote time to the things you need to accomplish or explore.

  • Get intentional. Elise has very specific times that she works, answers emails. As soon as she starts working with a client, she’ll set deadlines and expectations. She is very up front about not immediately answering emails. This is because, she reasons, instead of emailing her clients she’s working on the art they commissioned.

  • Tell your story. “It is a skill to learn how to communicate with people — what you're doing, and why you're doing it,” Elise asserts. However, once you do, it’s much easier to find the people that resonate with you, and to set boundaries and create a life that enables you to spend time on what’s truly important to you.

Talk to Elise

You can find Elise's art at her website

Or, if you have more questions, drop her a line.

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