Krissy Teegerstrom is an artist and creative consultant, the founder of Featherweight Studio, and the voice behind Beyond + Back Podcast. Here we talk about the link between healing and creating, comfort zones, self-actualization, and more.
(Cover photo by Todd V. Wolfson.)
I'd love to start out by having you paint for us a picture of your childhood.
I remember being a very creative kid. I loved spending time alone in my own little world. I loved to draw and color and dream and make things up. The thought of a big box of 64 crayons still brings me joy.
I have one older brother who would paint model airplanes, but other than that it wasn’t a creative household. My father battled addiction and died when I was 11, and I’ve never been close with my mother. So, I don’t have many great childhood memories. I’ve had to do a lot of growing and healing as an adult.
Do you recall any of your early creations?
My first memory of being creative was feeling enthralled with my Fashion Plates toy at around 3 years old. You could mix and match different outfits, kind of like paper dolls, and color them in with colored pencils. I felt like there was a whole universe in there to discover and I never got bored of it.
I’m still drawing and creating outfits to this day. I love to customize clothing by reconstructing it or adding paint or appliqué, all to upcycle old pieces into something new. I stopped buying fast fashion 10 years ago and 95% of what I buy is secondhand, so I do a lot of reworking and redesigning clothing. I do this because I love the earth, and also I’m inspired by the challenge of making a lot out of a little.
As a working artist, what would you say are common misconceptions that others have about your path?
The biggest misconception I feel people have about working artists is that what they create does not have any value. I see respect for artists who have huge followings on social media or who have ascended to the upper echelons of the art world. But I don’t think working artists get much respect. That’s part of why I started my podcast, because I wanted to give creative people a place to go where they could feel understood and valued. I think creative work is tremendously valuable, whether it makes money or not.
When you first began to turn your passion into your work did YOU have any moments of fear? Any blockage? If so, how did you deal with this? How do you deal with self-doubt, negative voices now?
Constant fear! I tried to quit every single month for at least the first three years. Every new project revealed a new block that I had to address, in order to complete the project. In that sense, my creative journey has been a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Coming from a childhood where I was left alone a lot, I didn’t learn how to feel safe and valued and seen. My creative journey has given me the opportunity, and the extreme challenge, to begin to value myself.
These days, I trust my intuition over my self-doubt, because following my intuition has always yielded better results. Self-doubt keeps me small, and I want to expand, despite how terrifying it can be. Another major way I deal with doubt and negative voices now is by remembering not to trust everything my mind tells me. Meditation helps with that.
Doubt is a part of any creative process, if you’re making something that hasn’t been done before. The only way to remove doubt is to copy something that’s already successful, and I can’t imagine wanting to do that. I think the doubt may always be present. You just can’t give it control. That’s why I made the sock puppet video, because I wanted to visualize a voice of kindness and encouragement to counteract the negative voice of doubt—and the idea of angel and devil sock puppets made me laugh.
I know you recently started teaching, and I love that. It's very inspiring to see someone push past her comfort zone, continue to push herself, continue to evolve. Can you tell us a bit about this?
All of my most meaningful experiences have happened outside my comfort zone. About two years ago, my intuition made it clear that I needed to learn how to use my voice to talk about the things I really cared about. I had a rich inner world that I hardly would talk to anyone about! I was too scared. I knew I had to follow my intuition despite feeling terror, and I knew it would be a series of steps - not just one big leap.
One day, I was encouraging a new friend to sew, and she said I should teach a sewing class at a studio where she was taking classes. I knew the owner, who approved my class proposal, so I took it as a sign. Teaching that first small class was a baby step toward using my voice. It took a LOT of preparation to face that first day of teaching. I was terrified. But I got through it. Each time you take a step toward your fear, and don’t disintegrate, the next step gets a tiny bit easier.
Teaching a few classes made it easier to imagine starting my podcast.
As far as continuing to challenge oneself, it is a great practice to do the things that scare you. For anyone ready to take a risk, I have a few pieces of advice:
Believe that it will be worth it and know that the reward may not be apparent right away, but it’ll show up. Find out what you need to manage your stress physically, mentally and emotionally. To face fears, it helps to cultivate your resilience.
I also strongly recommend being there for yourself after you take a big risk. The day I launched my podcast, I closed my computer, took a long bike ride and then threw myself a little party with streamers and a cupcake. Schedule something restful or joyful right after you do something that scares you. You have to celebrate yourself, because no one else knows how hard it was for you to face the challenge.
In terms of your creative process, what does that look like?
I have a very old iPod in my art studio that I haven’t updated since I started my creative journey about 7 years ago. I listen to that iPod on shuffle when I’m painting, drawing or sewing. It must have a Pavlovian effect by now.
Fortunately I have a good relationship with my inspiration. For client work, once I understand what the client needs, I just believe that my intuition will show me something. In a matter of days I’ll see a picture in my head and then I’ll start to do what it takes to translate that mental picture into something tangible—I create and design with my hands; I don’t know how to design on a computer.
I maintain a lot of faith in my inspiration. I don’t think ideas are personal, or that they belong to anyone. I think there are a million ideas flying around us at any moment, and all I have to do is keep my butterfly net up so I can catch one.
I don’t allow self-doubt into my art studio.
I allow myself to create in peace and joy. The self-doubt comes in when I have to share what I’ve made with others!
I find there's a great link between creativity and giving oneself the permission to play. So, how do you play? How do you recommend other adults who may have lost that sense of their inner child find it again so they may play, too?
I play and clown around at home, when I’m alone or with my boyfriend. I’ll make up songs, talk to the birds, leave flower petals for the fairies in my backyard, dance for pure silliness and joy. I allow myself little delights like getting a donut with sprinkles or wearing my kimono as a robe on Sunday mornings. Anything that delights you is good for your inner child.
If you weren’t treated with safety and tenderness and positive attention as a child, it can be difficult to connect to your inner child. It’s taken me a lot of self-healing to get there, but I love to play when I feel safe.
You need to give yourself that sense of safety and freedom in your creativity. There are no rules. You’re the boss of you.
What’s one of your favourite creative moments you've experienced? What does it mean to you?
One of my favorite creative moments came after I prepared for my first big craft fair in 2013. I had just started customizing vintage jackets and it was the first time I put together a dozen or more pieces. I looked back at the collection of what I’d made, and I learned something about myself. I didn’t realize it while I was designing each piece, but I had been adding symbols to the jackets that reflected my values. I was amazed that something that I had made could teach me something about myself. That’s the first time I realized how much potential for self-discovery there is in creativity. Now that I have been at it for 7 years, I believe that self-expression and creativity are wonderful vehicles to really get to know your true Self.
My other favorite moments are when an artist chooses to wear something I’ve created for them while they’re on stage, or while they’re making their art. It’s a very high compliment because you can’t tell many artists what to wear, and they have a reputation to uphold.
Finally, what does a “fulfilling life” mean to you?
My only goal in life is to become self-realized. I would love to make a good living just being myself, and I’m open to how that all pans out. I want to have the time, energy and resources to give myself what I need and desire. I don’t need a ton of money or material things. I feel fulfilled when I can have a little bit of beauty, love, truth, creativity, nature, freedom and travel. I feel like I have fulfilled my purpose when I can encourage or inspire someone to do the things they secretly long to do.