Interview with Judy Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra (photo by Leo Reinfeld)

Judy, your life seems to epitomize the life of a creative. Do you make your living solely from your art or do you have a day job? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil? How do you balance it all?

I have an 8-5 day job with a commercial HVAC company. I coordinate monthly training classes for our 250 technicians located throughout eight states. My title is “Special Projects”, which means I report to our two VPs and the CFO, working on various projects as needed. I also oversee a small team of three men who maintain our national contracts. Fortunately, I have great bosses and the office is less than five miles from my home/studio, and wonderful benefits. It’s not a “punishing” job and does not require me to take it home.

I’ve always been a VERY early riser/early to bed, and tend to require little sleep. Often asleep by 9 p.m., I’m frequently wide awake before 2 a.m. and remain so until evening. Early morning has always been my favorite, most creative, time of day

I can’t always balance it all. Sometimes my focus is more on my music, other times, visual arts. I don’t watch much TV so most of my non-day job hours are spent either with my music or art. My husband travels frequently and I never had children (except the furry type) so my time is my own. As the Buddha said, “I can sleep when I’m dead”.

Lipstick Lover by Judy Leeson Polstra

Lipstick Lover by Judy Polstra

I see that you started your bejeweled mannequin series after the deaths of your mother and grandmother. As a self-taught artist, what was it that drew you to other mediums (cakes, furniture, painting, etc.) Do you have a favorite?

I get bored doing the same “type” of art. I find much of my inspiration at thrift stores, looking for nothing in particular. Often if something strikes me as particularly funny, odd, ugly, or beautiful (in other words, makes me react in SOME way), I’ll buy it. Sometimes I incorporate items quickly, other times not at all, and they will be donated again. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

I don’t have a favorite medium. Lately I’ve been working on “clothes”. Some could be wearable, others definitely not. All have a theme of the working against the “aging process”. I’m 49 and I’m inspired by the onslaught of infomercials telling women about everything that is “wrong” with them as they age. Grrr.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to the arts. How have your experienced flow in your work?

When I have an idea, I literally will not rest until it’s completed. Recent works are more inspired by the media and world events (i.e. women and the aging process as referenced above; the VA debacle and “corporations as people” as in a recent installation titled “The System”). Both of these projects have been extremely time intensive, but I cannot stop until they are completed.

Your work is full of whimsy and playfulness and fearlessness. What would you say to the person who always wanted to paint or play the piano but is bogged down by a full time job?

I have one of those full time jobs. I guess it all comes down to how badly you want to express yourself. I have had some nice sales over the years, but never enough for an income. The idea of a “starving artist” also never appealed to me.

I grew up with a sick Mother. From the time I was 7 years old, we were told she was going to die soon. (She died 32 years later.) I’ve always felt that there is never enough time, or soon I will run out of time. Growing up in an atmosphere of “imminent death” made me never take time for granted. I was carjacked at gunpoint four years ago. A relative was murdered inside his home within the same time-frame. We never know when our time here is going to end. We should not fear impermanence (hence, my “fearlessness” you mentioned) — but embrace it and CREATE. Don’t worry about the “results” or the “acclaim”. To me there is nothing sadder than to die and never have tried.

Tell us about your “Go Play Project”? Do you see any changes in your piano playing as you record each new piece? Has your study of jazz piano influenced your classical playing and your art? If so, how?

Cathy, YOU inspired the idea of “Go Play”— casual practice/performance sessions complete with mistakes, page turns, works in progress, etc. As fearless as I am in my visual art, I’m more fearful in my piano/keyboard playing. I studied classical music from the age of seven. I was never exposed to jazz or improve until the last 2 years. There was no “improv” in my classical studies. It was very serious, intense, and one was NEVER to make a mistake. With that pressure, I could barely play in front of anyone despite my advanced level of playing (Rachmaninoff preludes, Schumann, Prokofiev sonatas, Beethoven, etc.)

Studying jazz has helped me loosen all of my playing quite a bit and ENJOY it, rather than worry about the mistakes. At this point, I don’t imagine composing. Instead I love studying some of the GREAT piano jazz masters like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller. The chords are massive, the leaps are multi-octave, and the time and key signatures are all over the keyboard. It’s a blast! (My piano coach for the last 20 years is not happy with my change in musical passion. It’s nearly cost us our relationship as mentor/student and friends. While I’m sad about the loss, I’ve had to let it go…)

As for the mistakes, they are “as the artist intended” — whether in music or the visual arts.

What’s next for you? Tell us about any upcoming shows or projects.

Armor Against The Aging Process

Armor Against The Aging Process by Judy Polstra

Musically, this month, October, I’m playing at a local Museum who is hosting a Mad-hatter Tea Party, to raise funds for breast cancer. I’ll be playing primarily stride (Fats Waller), some rag-time, and some miscellaneous jazz.

Art wise, in October, I’m in two shows in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. I’m applying for a grant for next year, applying to an adjunct show for Art Basel, and another show in Naples for January. (You don’t know if you don’t apply! I keep my rejection letters. You can’t take it personally, and sometimes, you get some interesting (even funny!) comments).


Judy Polstra is a self-taught artist with a passion for piano. Visit her at judypolstra.com, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkdIn.

 If you (or someone you know) has made it a priority to incorporate creative play into daily life, I’d love to talk. Please contact me at catherine.shefski(at)gmail.com.

9 Reasons You Should Start A “Go Play Project”

1.  Your work will improve. When you make a commitment to do one thing every day (or every other day) it usually gets easier and easier. That’s not to say there will be those days when your amateur work will look or sound, well, a little too amateur, and you’ll want to chuck the whole project. But on the whole, by the end of the thirty days, six months or one year, you’ll probably feel more at ease with whatever it was you decided to put your effort into.

2.  You can make new friends. Tell the world you’re recording one piano piece every week and all of a sudden there are people all over Twitter and Soundcoud – composers, pianists, improvisors – all doing the same thing. Reach out to them. They’re happy to support you. The only person you’re in competition with is yourself.

3.  It saves you from time-sucking activities. Don’t you just hate it when you sit down to watch TV and the next thing you know hours have flown by – precious time that you’ll never get back? You might not remember what you watched, or you might have even fallen asleep. Start a project and, sure, you’ll see time fly, but at the end of the day you’ll have created something.

4. It might lead you down a different path. When I was recording my Go Play Project I started with the safe pieces. Short pieces I’d played before. Pieces I know everyone would enjoy. About eight months into the project I started seeking out pieces that spoke to me. Music I’d never been exposed to. This upped the challenge because not only did I have to learn the notes in one week, I had to immerse myself in the new style of an unfamiliar composer. In the end I moved away from my beloved Chopin, into the more mysterious world of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Janacek, and Medtner.

5.  It’s good for your health. When you’re so immersed in and concentrated on a project that time passes in an instant and all the background noise and chatter seems to disappear, you are said to be in a state of “flow.” Flow is likely to occur when your challenge is just slightly above your skill level. Flow leads to happiness and happiness leads to health. For an extra boost, add a higher purpose to the mix. And that higher purpose might simply be taking your project and sharing it with the world.

6.  You end up with a body of work. When you set a goal to complete 30 ink drawings for the month of InkTober, you will end up with a whole pile of drawings. You’ve made something! And no one can take that away from you. What you do with them is up to you. Post them to Tumblr or hide them in a drawer. Sell your work on Etsy. Or better yet, start another project!

7. You have a sense of urgency. Most of us have a tendency to procrastinate. And when the only person we have to answer to is ourselves, then it’s even harder to do those things we “should” do. It’s even harder to get to work on the things that may seem frivolous like those creative projects that always seem to get put on the back burner. By setting a deadline for ourselves and declaring it to the world, we quickly get down to work play!

8. There’s no room for perfectionism. When you set a goal to produce a large body of creative work in a short period of time, you don’t have time to linger over the details. Work this way and you avoid all the second-guessing that comes with perfectionism. There will be plenty of time when the project is done, to go back and work out all of the fine points.

9.  You come away with a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this is the best reason to start a “Go Play Project.” Nothing can beat that feeling when you stand back and take a look at what you created. Whether it’s a 50,000 words of a half-baked novel, or 52 home-made piano recordings, or 30 pencil sketches of the same hand.

 

It’s InkTober

I love that October is Inktober! 31 days. 31 ink drawings.

The rules are easy and and familiar to anyone who follows the Go Play Project.

INKtober rules:

1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).

2) Post it on tumblr (or Instagram, twitter, facebook, flickr, Pinterest or just pin it on your wall.)

3) Hashtag it with #inktober

4) Repeat (you can do it daily, like me, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.)

That’s it!

Jake Parker originally set up INKtober five years ago to give himself an excuse to draw every day. He held himself accountable by posting his drawings online while his online audience watched. Now everyone has an excuse to pull out their Micron Pens and draw. Don’t worry if you don’t get in a drawing every day. Jake says it’s the commitment that matters and if you commit to 3 times a week for the month, go for it. Set your intention and stick to it. And don’t forget to post your drawings online using the hashtag #inktober. Got it? Good. Now Go Play!

Monday Blog Round-up!

 

via Unsplash.com

via Unsplash.com

This is what “Go Play” is all about!

Out From Under The Burden

A heavy burden

This morning I listened to Greg Sandow’s 2010 Commencement Speech at the Eastman School of Music. He speaks about the future of classical music and how classical musicians can find new audiences, reach people their own age, and share their love of classical music and others people who don’t listen to classical music. I was struck when he said classical musicians must:

“Get rid of the heavy burden of ART.”

I’m not surprised that he and I are on the same wavelength once again. I agree that it’s time for classical musicians to stop thinking that classical music is somehow a higher art-form and we have to educate our audiences in order for them to “understand it.” There’s no reason to keep classical music on a pedestal. Why not just play, and let the music speak for itself?

When we let go of that burden and stop playing music we think we should be playing; stop thinking we aren’t ready or that a piece isn’t polished enough, or difficult enough, or is overplayed, or underplayed; stop waiting to read more performance notes, or listen to yet another interpretation of a piece, or to get another (expensive) coaching on a piece with this or that master teacher; stop relying on judges and juries for feedback about our music; and by all means stop thinking that our audience isn’t going to appreciate what we have to offer because they won’t understand it …then maybe we’ll find what it was that drew us to our instruments (and favorite composers) in the first place.

Maybe that’s when we’ll find that our enthusiasm is so infectious that we’re able to draw audiences to us (for example him and her) no matter if we choose to perform on stage in tuxes and gowns, in a restaurant in jeans and sneakers, in a private home for a house concert (or even by recording and uploading to YouTube and Soundcloud.).

And, by the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is also a path to finding the elusive feeling of musical spontaneity that keeps audiences coming to hear jazz and improv but is often missing in classical performances.

***Listen to Debussy’s Sarabande from Pour le Piano – Week #10 of the Go Play Project.