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Woman at Work: Painter Heidi Clarke

Artist Heidi Clarke didn't just model during our recent photo shoot. She also painted a completely unique, Dovetail-inspired work of art! Afterward, we sat down to explore how taking stock of her life, getting sober and participating in a crazy art show helped Heidi dive headfirst into becoming a full-time artist.

So you’re a pastry chef and artist?

I was a pastry chef.

Are you doing art full-time now?

I threw caution to the wind and quit my jobs because I wasn’t living my realness.

What helped you make that change?

The food industry just wasn’t serving me anymore. In my 20s it was great: the energy, the drunkenness, the camaraderie, the speed. I’m 40 in a few months, so I started taking inventory of what was important: my kids and my passion for art. How did that play into how I was spending my time? It didn’t. That wasn’t okay with me anymore. I had a negative run-in with an executive chef, which was the vehicle to get me to quit. I quit that day, after it happened, because I didn’t want to participate anymore.

I wanted to see what was going to happen. That was November 2017. Last year, I worked for six months and I felt like that was cool. I didn’t touch my savings at all. This year, I’ve touched savings a little bit here and there but I’ve consistently sold artwork and gotten it up in some public spaces.

I understand it’s a slow process. I’m not going to be where I want to be in six months. The journey is the most important. There are things that are happening in life that really need the focus of a mom and a coherent brain. My sobriety and my time with my kids at this time in my life is not a coincidence.

Talk to me about sobriety. What brought that on and how has that affected you so far?

Sobriety came along through the suggestion of someone else and some events in my life. I didn’t have a rock bottom like stealing or anything like that. I just realized that my nine lives were up years ago. I knew that I was running out chances of something really traumatic happening, whether it was to me or somebody else. I couldn’t deal with that.

I hadn’t been sober since I was a kid, you know. It has served me and helped me to become everything that I am right now. I’m this awesome, rad human and I love myself. I didn’t before when I was inundated with poisons. That’s what I refer to it as: they’re poison for me. I can be around people who drink, I can go to shows, I can go to bars, although I don’t choose to. There’s no reason to anymore.

Because I have a clear head, it really opens me up on the inside and in my heart to paint what I want to paint, to give myself room to make something that I love, to come back to my kids when I’ve made a mistake and say ‘I’m sorry,’ instead of stewing. I really just do push the negative out in a way that I wasn’t able to do when I was drinking. I believe that my successes and awesome attitude are completely because I’m sober.

It’s really not for everyone. It’s hard to be a 40-year-old single woman and not drink, because anyone you meet wants to meet up for drinks at happy hour. That has given me a lot of alone time, which I didn’t know I needed but I did, and so now, I’m the coolest mofo I hang out with, girl.

You mentioned you hadn’t been sober since you were a child. Do you think there’s a connection now with your inner child, where you’re examining that and returning to that space?

Yeah, it’s a neat marker in my life. When I’m feeling the most free, like right now when we were doing that photo shoot, it’s how I paint, but it’s not how I paint. Again, I give myself room to fail, to find other ways and means.

Ultimately, you find your niche in those times, when you’re not doing something grandiose or anything like that. The best way that I could describe it is being childlike and… Not giving a rat’s tushie.

You had kept your art a secret for a long time, right?

Not really a secret. Everyone knew I was an artist, but I didn’t try to actively promote it. I make sure that people can get my art. I don’t charge people a lot of money and other artists think that’s a silly way to go about it, but I’d rather somebody else have my art than me.

What’s the thing that you told yourself to get your art in the open?

There’s a street artist named David Choe, who’s widely known for his mural work and eccentric way of life. Last year, he had an art show in Los Angeles and he was accepting applications. It didn’t cost anything but you had to apply and wait for secret phone calls… I went through this rigorous process and had my final interview with the ‘Choe-ites.’ The guy who interviewed me called himself Minnesota Choe.

There are no photos allowed at the Choe show, but Heidi managed to capture notes she took on a paper bag during her interview with Minnesota Choe.

At the end of it, he said, 'so what I’m hearing is you’re afraid to show your art. You’re not taking the right steps. If you want to attend the show, you have to have an art show and you have to record it on social media. Your other to do is to ask ten of your closest friends, 'Who is Heidi Clarke?' and get adjectives that are going to fuel your passion to create the work for your show."

For three days, I was just in the most amazing happy place, with wonderful tears of joy, because my people said so many amazing things about me that I never said about myself.

So I had my art show and the next day, the Choeites saw it online. They called and said, “Welcome to the David Choe Show.”

I flew out to LA, stayed in Crenshaw at a hostel, was totally by myself. I had never been to LA by myself, and I go to this art show and it was great… Since then, I’ve kept in contact with people from my group. They’ve bought artwork from me. We’re close, we’re tight, and people from the Choe Show still connect. It was a massive spiritual thing and we get to share our thoughts and feelings on what went down. None of us have ever fully articulated it to anyone that wasn’t there, because it’s all too much.

It’s not quantifiable.

It’s not at all… Yeah, you definitely choose your audience with something like that. I’ve never totally verbalized it. I told David Cho, the best way I can honor the experience is to paint pictures of what happened there, put them in a book and give it to myself.

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