My next guest is UF, PNR, and romantic thriller author, Suzanne Johnson. She’s here as part of a guest blog series I’m doing featuring Writers Who Create Other Things. Many of the authors I’ve hosted recently have been jewelry designers, which is really neat. But Suzanne’s other creative talents are in drawing, painting, and mixed-media artwork. Below, she tells us her secret to staying young and sane. She also shares a bit about a new workshop she’s going to be giving next year, “Art Therapy for Writers and Readers,” and she’s giving away a signed original 9×12 mixed-media piece. Leave a comment below to enter to win. (U.S. only due to mailing costs unless Suzanne tells us otherwise in the comments). Welcome, Suzanne!

Be Creative and Play!

“I believe this is a fundamental truth: in order to stay young, in order to stay sane, humans need what I call creative play—call it a hobby or a craft or whatever, but we all need something creative to do that isn’t involved in our livelihoods.”

I’ve worked in journalism since I got out of college, and as I look back over the years, I realize my need for creative play has taken different forms at different times in my life. For a while, I scoured flea markets and resale shops and garage sales for pattern glass. I dabbled in macramé. I quilted. I made jewelry. I tried knitting scarves (accent on “try”).

Five or six years ago, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, just for fun, and then the world tilted on its axis. Life changed pretty quickly as I fell in love with fiction writing, got published, and wrote more novels. Now, even though I maintain a day job, I consider “novelist” my primary occupation, and the past five years have been an absolute whirlwind of change.

So I found it a little strange that last winter, I found myself becoming obsessed with art. I’d done a lot of graphite drawings in high school and my mom painted a bit, but my school was too small to have offered art classes and I didn’t have enough talent or patience to pursue it as an occupation. But last winter, there I was, drawing. I had five novels due within the next thirteen months, the deadlines were mounting, and the day job was in turmoil.  I sure didn’t have time to be drawing pictures.

But I did it anyway, and it helped me write those books (well, the fifth one is almost finished) and survive the day-job chaos and remain relatively sane.

A year and a bulging box of artwork later, I’ve gotten a little perspective on the role art can play in the writing process. It’s tactile, and uses a different part of the brain than the one that’s tied up in knots trying to unravel plot points and figure out why the hero and heroine don’t have any spark.

This has nothing to do with artistic talent. Believe me, I’m no artist, not on any kind of commercial scale (and sometimes, not even on an aesthetic scale—LOL). What’s important is not what kind of art you produce, but about the process of producing it. The creative play. While my art brain is awash in ink and paper and paint, my writing brain can relax and noodle around those plot points without my interference.

(It’s the same process, I think, as why writers often get their best ideas while they’re driving or shopping or in the shower. Our subconscious is able to work interrupted, without us.)

When I began writing for publication, novel-writing was (and is) still fun, but it also became a business. It’s the most enjoyable, creative business in the world and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it’s no longer play.

What I was doing in going back to art, I realized, was seeking a new form of creative play. I can’t claim to have come to this conclusion on my own. I took an online workshop from artist Jane Davenport, who said that when she was a commercial fashion illustrator, art journaling was her play, her hobby. Now that she makes much of her income from art journaling, she’s turned to canvas painting as her hobby because she still needs that creative outlet that isn’t tied to her livelihood. That really zonked me over the head.

Thus, my love of mixed-media art, which after some experimentation, has become my artistic mode of choice. I started 2014 with the intention of spending at least one hour a day making art this year, an hour playing. I knew it was taking time from an already insane schedule, but hoped it would pay off in productivity.

I think it has. And it’s FUN to play!

What do I do with the pieces I create? Right now, I don’t think they’re good enough to sell, but I give them away as gifts. The rest, I bind into journals to remind myself of my own creative journey. I write notes on the back—not just when they were completed or what techniques I used, but also what was fueling my life the days I worked on the piece: a run-in with the boss, the loss of my 16-year-old, beloved dog, worry about a family issue. It’s therapy with a brush and a tube of paint.

Suzanne Johnson Mixed Media Artwork

New Workshop for Writers and Readers

The act of getting messy and stretching new creative muscles has allowed my writing brain to get reinvigorated, stay fresh, and avoid burnout. I’m planning a workshop for authors and readers alike in March, doing mixed-media pieces tied to our works-in-progress or our favorite books. If you’re interested in being on a waiting list for “Art Therapy for Writers and Readers” send me an email at: suzannej3523 at gmail dot com or keep an eye on the Workshops tab of my website.

Till then, keep on playing! Do you have a creative hobby of your own? Leave a comment for one of my signed original 9×12 mixed-media pieces.

The Giveaway

U.S. only due to mailing costs unless Suzanne says otherwise below. To enter to win, leave a comment. Giveaway will be open until midnight EST Monday December 15, 2014. For my complete official giveaway rules, click here.

More About Suzanne

Susannah Sandlin, who also writes as Suzanne Johnson, writes paranormal romance and romantic thrillers from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick. She’s the author of the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance series, a spinoff novel, Storm Force, a standalone novelette, Chenoire, and a new romantic thriller series, The Collectors, beginning with Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, she also is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series.

Suzanne can be found online here:

More About Suzanne’s latest release: DEADLY, CALM, AND COLD

Deadly Calm and Cold, romantic thriller, crown jewelsFrom award-winning author Susannah Sandlin comes the second book in The Collectors series (each book reads as a standalone).

How far will ordinary people go to protect their secrets? The Collectors’ games are as much about manipulating lives as finding lost treasure. Everyone is expendable as the ruthless C7 pushes people into gambling with their lives in order to find priceless objects lost to history.

Samantha Crowe’s secrets could ruin her career, while Brody Parker’s could get him killed. They become pawns for two Collectors seeking Bad King John’s crown jewels, which disappeared in rural England back when Robin Hood roamed Nottingham.

This time, however, the Collectors–a ruthless dotcom billionaire and a desperate London detective–might not be playing for the same team, leaving Sam and Brody trapped in the middle.

One thing’s for sure: If either hope to survive, Sam and Brody will have to find a way to overcome their distrust–and their growing attraction–in order to succeed on this winner-take-all treasure hunt.

So how about you all? Any creative hobbies?

Me? Not really, unless you count painting rooms in my house every now and then (which I don’t, although it can be a fun project). I’ll admit though, I’m intrigued by the idea of mixed media artwork. I’ve mentioned previously (not sure if it was here or on Twitter) that I’d love to design/draw maps to go with my stories. And it would be really fun to do dioramas or models for certain settings (buildings, boats, bars…) but for now I’m going to stick with creating worlds out of written words. 🙂

Thank you, Suzanne, for guest blogging today and for sharing your artwork with us!