About a year ago I was lucky enough to be introduced to Sprout, an online magazine created by the phenomenally talented Amanda Fall. Last month I joined her community of contributors for the Friendship issue. And today I am ecstatic to present Part One of my interview with this creative marvel and inspirational Wild Woman. (By the way, if you’re tired of nothing but bad news and complaining on your Facebook feed, Like the Sprout Page to receive bursts of Amanda’s creativity and sunshine every day.)
Amanda not only took time to thoroughly and thoughtfully answer my questions, she also created this amazing collage just for Generation Cake.
Sprout is the result of a lifelong dream. When did you first realize you were an artist?
Truth? I’m still realizing it. I’ve never fit comfortably into one category. As a child, I knew without a doubt I wanted to Be a Writer (but oddly enough, my first novel began with a drawing of my twin characters. Yes, I was reading Sweet Valley High at the time. Ahem Editor note: Nothing wrong with that! I wanted so badly to be Elizabeth.). Words were my escape, my home, my safe place.
In college, though, I stumbled my way into an art class. After attending a lecture featuring humor in art, I realized (what!) that art didn’t have to be Art. Art could be funny. Art could have meaning without being melodramatic. One fiery yet petite teacher said, “I just love to make—stuff.” Something about that tactile quality really appealed to me, since I’d always been more comfortable in the world of words—not so much in the physical world. I emailed the professor, saying, “Um, I’m not an artist, but can I take your class? Please?”
Two or three courses later from that same lovely, laughing teacher, and I was—for some reason—spending more time in the art department than in my own English wing. My teacher pulled up a stool next to me and said, with that impish look of hers, “Why aren’t you an art student?”
Why, indeed. I never looked back. But I did find my way back to words. Sprout is my aha moment: I don’t have to be one or the other. I don’t have to be Artist or Writer or Photographer or Designer or any of the –ers I once wanted to be. I’m just me. Sprout allows me to pull all my loves into one glorious, colorful space. The definitions never quite fit me—but now I finally realize that I can create my own new, ever-changing definition. (You can, too.)
Artists of all types (writers, painters, musicians, etc.) deal with creative blocks at one time or another. What helps you through periods like those?
I think it depends what’s causing the block. Fear? Exhaustion? Frustration? Jealousy?
Sometimes taking a nap helps. Really, I think so many of us are just TIRED. It’s amazing what sleep can do.
Sometimes I take a walk, either hard-fast-angry-pounding-the-pavement, or slow and meandering by our local creek.
Sometimes I pull out my art journal, spilling my heartscream and heartsing into the pages in mess and color and confusion and question and affirmation.
Sometimes I take a deep breath, step back, and ask: why am I blocked? What can I “flip” about this situation? In college, I learned a powerful trick while writing those dreaded essays: start where you are. Use your emotion, whatever it may be (you can clean it up later). I once struggled for days (like, daaaaays, like, had to ask the professor for an extension because I was so aaaaangsty about it) writing a paper on Jack Kerouac. I thought he was a jerk. I thought On the Road was irresponsible and indulgent. (And, yes, beautiful.) So I finally wrote that. I used the emotion. I was honest. And I got a B+. Not bad, coming from total-meltdown-angst.
The bigger answer, then, for me, is this: stop trying to be who you’re not. Be you.
One of the fascinating things about your magazine, Sprout, is that it captures a decidedly artisan quality in a digital medium. How do you meld handcrafted with technology?
Oh, you have no idea the grin you just put on me. Yes! This is exactly the feel I want: handcrafted technology. My first vision of Sprout, undoubtedly formed back when I dreamed of it as a physical zine (when I was a tween), printed on dot matrix, stapled, stamped. Mailed. I want this digital version of my original idea to carry some of the same charm. I want it to feel real. This is my heart, on the page. This is me. These are my guests (who rock my world!). We are here, we are honest, we are brave and true even when we feel anything but.
Technically, how? I paint the backgrounds. I get my hands actually messy with color and movement and life. I then photograph the pages and zoom, crop, alter, or otherwise play with them in Photoshop. Physical. Digital. It all blends for me now, which I love—and I think is so needed in this increasingly digital age. I want to encourage others to get their hands messy, too. To play. To explore.
I also include notes from me to the reader, sometimes literally handwritten with Sharpie and then photographed, sometimes written with a stylus on my graphics tablet. I used to hate my handwriting. But now I see it’s me, too—messy, real, vulnerable, perfectly imperfect. (You are too. Beautiful, as you are.)
Color and nature are prominent themes on your website and in your magazine. What role do they play in your life and work?
Oh. They are everything. My husband calls me a magpie, because I’m always gathering bright colorful objects for my desk—a rainbow spiral of notepaper, macaw feathers, a yellow lamp. Color is visceral for me. Bold, saturated, full-of-life color makes my heart pound.
I think part of the reason is that I used to do everything in my power to fade into the background. I struggle with (–or, rather, I used to struggle; now that I understand better, I struggle less and embrace more) social anxiety, shyness, and introversion. Now that I’m loving who I am, weirdness and all? I crave color. I yearn for vibrancy. I’m done with beige life. (No offense to people who love beige. I do, too, in nature, or when I need quiet.) Recently I found a vintage necklace at a thrift store: big chunky beads in sunshine yellow, for $2.99. Ohhh, the happy.
And nature? Nature is where I most easily connect with the divine. Nature is where I breathe most freely. I am so blessed to live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where there is room to spread out. Trees. Hills. Lakes. Canyons. As that introvert, I need these places of openness to balance me. I need to step outside (or at least gaze out the window) to remember who I am. Even five minutes breathing fresh air does miracles for me—it loosens knots in my stomach that I didn’t know existed.
What is the process of creating an issue of Sprout?
Oh, that’s a tough one to encapsulate! I’m always juggling what feels like fifteen balls at once. I don’t necessarily work in a linear way—I’m always thinking ahead to future topics, gathering material, sorting through submissions, creating my own work to include, tweaking layouts, editing, proofing, marketing, etc. Sprout is much more than a job for me—it’s a whole way of life. Everything I do ties in, whether it’s taking a walk with my camera in tow, writing poetry under a canopy of leaves, or chatting back and forth with readers and contributors.
Once I’m closer to release of a particular issue, I gain laser-like focus (whoa mama!) on the current theme. I sift through material gathered and see how each piece fits into the puzzle. My goal is to approach every theme (serenity, creativity, inspiration, etc.) from a wide range of perspectives. Every issue is a journey—an exploration to see how and where our everyday lives intersect with these themes, and how we can plant and nurture “seeds” of goodness right in the middle of our messy-beautiful lives.
Please join me for the second half of the interview next Thursday when Amanda discusses her relationships with her contributors, friendships, and spills a secret. In the meantime, aside from getting your virtual hands on a copy of Sprout, enjoy Amanda’s words and images on her blog and Instagram.