Thursday, April 4, 2013

Take Five With Kadie Pangburn

Welcome to our first take five post!  One of the things we are most passionate about on this blog is learning how to live a creative life.  While we could post up research studies and articles and write fancy posts about it, we figured it would just be easier to ask people and see what they have to say.  So we put together a list of our top 8 questions about living a creative life.  Each week we will send the list off to a fresh new amazing creative person, have them pick their five favorite questions and answer them… get it… take five… yes we know we are so clever… First up this week we have our very own Kadie Pangburn up to bat, so sit back, grab a cup of cocoa and enjoy.

Name: Kadie Pangburn

Creative Specialties: Photography, Music, Swing Dancing, Fiber Arts and Creative Studies

Current Location: Huntsville Alabama

Mini Bio:Kadie graduated with her BA in Expressive Arts and a minor in Photography. She has a diverse background in the creative arts ranging from running a commercial photography company, to songwriting, to fiber arts, to swing dancing. Recently she has spent the last several years passionately studying creativity itself and how artists can lead long happy lives free from depression, addiction and mental illness. She spends most of her time as a creativity coach, teaching workshops on creativity and writing extensively on the subject. Her book "How To Be An Artist And Not Go Crazy" is due out later this year.


1) What is one thing you've learned as an artist that you wish you'd known when you first started out? 

Oh god, everything.  There are so many things I did or thought about in the wrong way when I was first starting out, but I think the biggest mistake I made was putting to much emphasis on other people’s opinions.

I am a people pleaser, it’s just who I am by nature.  I want everybody around me to be happy 100% of the time, all the time, and if they’re not I somehow convince myself that it is my fault.  My husband could stub his toe on a door three rooms away from me and I could somehow convince myself that it was my fault it happened, my fault he was unhappy.  I have learned that this is as ridiculous as it sounds, however, this same behavior used to creep into my creative work as well and be almost undetectable (like one of those infamous untraceable poisons CSI seems to love so much).

When I would make work, instead of asking, “what would make me happy?” I always found myself asking, “what would make my client/patron/gallery/public/teacher/pocket book happy?”  This didn’t seemed to be that flawed to me at first, I mean, I was getting paid to do a job (or hoping to get paid in some cases) so it only seemed logical to care what my client would think and try to make something that they would be pleased with… or would make them happy.  While this may be logical and might work out well for Spock, it doesn’t work out so well for a creative person.

As the years went by I became burnt out and couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing in my life.  I realized that all this time I had been falling into my old people pleasing ways and that if I wanted to be truly be creative, truly make things that brought me joy and fulfilled my passions, I couldn’t work for other people, I had to work only for myself.

This then made me unbelievably nervous that I would live a poor destitute life with no money.  I mean, if I wasn’t trying to make work that made people happy, why would they want to pay me money?

What I discovered was the exact opposite.  The more I worked from a place of pleasing myself, instead of pleasing others, the more creative my work became, the more desirable it became.  When I was working from the viewpoint of trying to please other people I was left shackled to a set of their preconceived ideas about what they wanted, what it would look like, taste like, feel like.  In essence I was simply only able to regurgitate other peoples work and call it my own because what people *think* will make them happy is always something familiar, something they are already comfortable with, something sort of like something they have already seen before.  When you let go of those preconceptions an entire world of possibilities opens up to you and your thoughts and dreams are able to see connections and outcomes you had never before been able to imagine.  Your work then becomes something unique, because it was birthed solely out of you and from you, it is an extension of your unique voice as a human being, your unique viewpoint.  

In the end, that is really what people want, they just couldn’t imagine it themselves to say so.

2) What is the greatest challenge you have faced as a creative person? 

I think I’m still facing it right now quite honestly.  About two years ago I sat down with my husband and told him that I wanted to jump ship on a lucrative photography career and business I had built myself from the ground up and spent years and thousands of dollars training for.  What for?  Research.  Something I had no clue of how it could possibly pay me a dime, yet it was the only thing I could think about or wanted to do.  

I had been inspired by an art teacher one semester to start digging into creativity itself and I found myself becoming more and more passionate about what makes artists and creative people tick.  I wanted to understand the whys and hows behind their work but more so I wanted to understand how to take care of them.  I’d been around the art scene long enough to see my share of creative casualties; from alcohol and drug addicts trying to find inspiration; to the burnt out, used up, and spent artists who just didn’t know how to carry on anymore.  I wanted to understand these people, I wanted to be able to help them – hence the research.

It’s been two years now and I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve read, articles I’ve examined, papers I’ve written, psychology classes I’ve taken, interviews I’ve conducted and I’m still just as passionate. From all of that I’ve written my first book (Its so close to being published I can hardly wait!), started going into highschools and teaching workshops on creativity and launched this blog with the help of the wonderful and amazing Mrs. Kate.  Can I say that I’m raking in the cash yet?  No.  But I’m doing something that really matters to me and I’ve learned that that is more important than the paycheck in the end.

3) How do you cope with creative anxiety and societal expectations? 

As for the societal expectations, like I mentioned earlier, I have learned to work for myself and for what makes me happy instead of for what I think will please others.  I’ve learned that even if my actions don’t line up with what the world expects of me, it doesn’t mean they aren’t best for me.  I’ve learned to trust that my mind and my body really do know what I need and what is best for me, I just have to actually listen to them.

As for the creative anxiety, this is something that I really struggle with.  The morning of big projects I always used to literally get sick to my stomach with worry.  My fear of failure would always exponentially multiply into this insane rabbit trail of thoughts that would eventually lead to my demise.  I would literally tell myself that my entire future hung in the balance with this one project and with my ability to successfully pull it off.  Not only would this make me so sick I could barley function it would also give me severe insomnia for weeks leading up to the event.  Then I started studying creativity, I interviewed a few people and one day a man said something so insightful that it literally changed my life.  

We were talking about this very subject and I asked him this very same question to which he replied. “One day I was taking a ride with some friends on my motorcycle. After we had been riding for a time I saw a tight turn coming up and I decided to take it a little faster than usual.  I attempted the turn but ended up crashing the bike and landing in the hospital.  As I sat in the hospital with metal pins in my knee I couldn’t help but find the irony in the fact that I was willing to take a risk so great that it landed me in the hospital on a whim while riding my bike yet I was afraid to take even a fraction of that amount of risk with my art.  If you compare the difference between the risk of taking a bad photograph and crashing a motorcycle, that’s a very very different thing. You take a bad photograph and put it out there, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? Somebody’s going to go “I don’t like your picture. You’re not going to end up in the hospital, you’re not going to have any broken bone, they’re not going to be putting any pins in you bones.”

This statement really hit home with me and made me think about risk in a whole new light.  Yes something may be scary, it may be uncomfortable but in the end what’s the worst that could possibly happen, literally probably nothing.

4) Do you have a ritual way of preparing to create? 

For me this usually involves taking myself seriously in some regard.  I have a hard time just stumbling into my office in my PJs and expecting myself to be creative.  Instead I get dress, particularly in an outfit that makes me feel good about myself.  I eat breakfast, and I drive somewhere.  The driving helps me mentally kick into work mode, for someone who is self employed it gives me the feeling of actually going somewhere to do a job.  My workspace itself varies depending on the project but its almost always somewhere away from home where I won’t get distracted by laundry, chores, or the dog wanting to go outside and use the restroom every 10 minutes.

5) How do you deal with the inevitable uncertainty that accompanies a creative life? 

Journaling has probably helped me more with this particular problem than anything else.  As I mentioned earlier I am very prone to bouts of insomnia and when the going gets tough, I stay awake.  I used to just literally pace up and down in our living room listening to the clock tick by my mind swirling out of control with thoughts of failure and all the lovely things that accompany it.  Then I got a journal.  Every evening, especially when the going gets tough I sit down and write.  I write out every fear that I have and try to exercise as many of them as I can out of my mind and into the paper.  I write and write and keep writing until my mind is finally blank and there is nothing left.  At this point I can usually fall asleep.  The next day (when my brain is fully rested and actually thinking straight again) I read over the entry.  It is amazing how silly and foolish some fears seem in the daylight.

Of course there are always things that are harder to let go of, but I’ve learned to try and structure my life in a way that lends it as much inherent stability as possible.  For one I stay on a budget, just because I get a big payday doesn’t mean I can spend that money.  If I set up my life to live on as little as possible the savings I take in every once and a while balance out the dry spells and my lifestyle isn’t affected as much.  I have also learned to see dry spells as a blessing.  Yes it’s hard to just sit around and watch your bank account dwindle, but think of all the amazing things you have the time to finally do when you aren’t crazed out of your mind with client work.  I get to finally read that mystery novel I’ve dying to read or watch some movie that everyone keeps talking about.  Learning to see dry spells as moments of preplanned respites for your creative soul, there to help you refill and refuel for your next project makes the world of difference.

If you are a passionate creative and want to share your own Take Five on The Art Abyss shoot us an email at and let us know!


  1. Hi Kadie! Just finished reading, I needed to hear these words this morning, I can identify with the self doubt and the fears. You are an inspiration and I love reading anything you write!

    1. Thank you so much! One of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog was because I think we all need to hear that we aren't alone in this creative struggle. Art is hard, but we don't have to do it alone! Thanks so much for sharing!

    2. Kadie you continue to amaze me with your writings! I find out things about you that I never knew existed and I thought I knew you fairly well. I think it is great that you can express yourself in writing about your fears, doubts and insecurities and maybe in the end cleanse your body of all these troubling things.
      I have never had any doubts of what you are capable of accomplishing. I certainly enjoyed reading your post. Love, Grandma