I’m thrilled to bring you the next in my growing list of Live Your Best Life conversations with inspiring women, this time it’s artist and teacher Tara Leaver. The women I talk to here don’t have perfect lives, they don’t have it all figured out, just as none of us do. Each day they’re doing what they can to be the best version of themselves, and inspire others along the way. Here’s my chat with Tara…
Welcome, Tara, can you tell us about yourself, your life and how you reached where you are today?
I was probably always going to be an artist of some sort. It was a big part of my life and identity up to my early twenties, until depression took over and, as is so often the way, my creativity was one of the first casualties. For a long time my energy was focused on survival until, after a particularly epic breakdown, I moved from London in 2008, where I grew up, to the coast and started again. A combination of things helped me heal – partly the move away from a very unhealthy lifestyle, partly finding a mentor and learning to work with energy through Tai Chi and Reiki, and partly the recovery of my art.
Initially I was just making anything art or craft related that I could get my hands on. I discovered online courses and dived in with gusto! They allowed me the space and solitude I needed to heal, while focusing on my creativity, and offering a type of genuine connection to other creatives I hadn’t known was possible. Over the years I not only integrated art as a fundamental part of my life, but I also developed my skills, and learned a lot about process and what others were experiencing too. I noticed there was a great deal of frustration finding what was uniquely your own in a sea of inspiration and influence.
Despite a history of teaching (children, though!), I never imagined I’d offer my own courses. In fact when someone suggested it to me I flat out denied it as an option. But then my curiosity got the better of me; I realised I knew things that could help people not only recover their art after a long hiatus, but also reveal and develop their own unique self-expression through art. Now I offer several courses on different topics, but all focusing on process and freedom of self-expression.
What inspirational quotes or mantras hold significance for you?
One of my favourite quotes is ‘Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures’, by Lovelle Drachman. I have a passion for travel as well as art, and I find it covers both perfectly, and really anything in life, down to day-to-day experiences. Adventures don’t have to be epic and grand! There are all sorts of tiny daily adventures you can have if you keep your eyes and heart open. Curiosity is such a gift, and a tool. It’s what keeps us creating and allows us to keep going even when things feel hard. Curiosity opens doors, or reveals them. It’s forgiving and freeing. It’s a reminder that everything carries more beneath the surface than we realise at first glance. I love how this quote helps me stay open to life.
That’s a new quote to me, I love it! Thank you for sharing it. So, when life’s getting on top of you, how do you recognise that?
I get irritable! It starts with little irritations – I’ll find myself swearing at other drivers when I’m in the car, or feeling antsy and trapped waiting in a queue, or overwhelmed when I think about all the things that need doing, as if they have actual physical weight. If I don’t pay attention or take action, it expands into feelings of stress, anxiety and sometimes panic, like there’s nowhere to go and nothing that will ease it. I don’t get depressed any more, but I do experience anxiety still at times.
What do you find helps you get back to how you want to feel?
Usually the best thing I’ve found is to step away from everything for a bit. It doesn’t have to be drastic – just walking away from the things I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing, to remind me I have autonomy in my life and choices. Going to stand by the shoreline really helps – I imagine the sea taking away all the icky feelings wave by wave. It feels like being cleaned out on the inside. It makes me think of that phrase, ‘If I don’t go within, I go without.’ Often it takes less going within than I think to rebalance and ‘come back’.
What plans, hopes and dreams do you have for the future?
Well, they definitely include making art and living by the sea! Those are my non-negotiables. I’ve learned not to try to dictate what that will look like. I’d like to keep creating courses that help people express who they really are in a medium they love; I’d like to keep developing my own art and sell more of it; and my current ‘big plan’ is to find a way to move to Cornwall. It’s five counties away from my loved ones but the heart wants what it wants! And there’s always a way for things to work out. I’m employing the Lovelle Drachman quote to keep me focused and open to possibility.
Finally, Tara, tell us what living your best life means to you…
Such a great question! I wonder how different the world would be if we all asked ourselves this more often. For me it means being free. I had an epiphany about that in 2016 – it’s a huge, layered topic and looks different for everyone, but to me, freedom is about knowing and fully accepting who you are (even when it doesn’t line up with your own, others’, or society’s expectation). It’s about freedom on the outside and freedom on the inside. Being able to make choices rooted in clarity and connection, that align with who you are and how you can best express yourself in the world. It’s that counterintuitive thing of being ‘selfish’ in order to be able to give in a way that has genuine value.
Tara is an artist, online art teacher and creative encourager. She works from her attic studio by the sea on the south coast of England, making her own art, and teaching online courses focused on helping others uncover and develop their unique artistic self-expression. She writes weekly blog posts about different aspects of the artist experience, and can most commonly be found sharing her work and behind the scenes of her artist life on Instagram as @taraleaver. You can also find her on her website taraleaver.com and on Facebook.