Tamara Spence’s strong inner critic has been a force through her life spurring her on to find ways to silence it. She is a successful multi-media artist in Vancouver Canada. This art form is a very process-driven experience that suits her well. She thrives on variety and this medium allows her to explore her emotions in physical and tactile ways.
Tamara began with black and white ink drawings, too intimidated to put color on the page. That inner critic battle stoked her progression as an artist. She added soft watercolors, then more colorful acrylics, and finally texture as Tamara learned to accept her creativity and allow her bold spirit to speak.
Tamara shares her journey to becoming supportive of herself and her needs.
(Note the following is paraphrased for length and flow)
How did you get started painting?
I’ve always been creative. My father was a professor of sculpting and an accomplished sculptor. He had a workshop at home and a studio. I would play there after school, and I enjoyed that.
I took art classes through high school but I’m also very athletic and sports-driven with a passion for volleyball. That was my major in university. I played varsity but I was struggling with what to study. My mom suggested Sciences or Sports Science, so I went into nursing and then met my husband.
Just before my dad died, in 1999 I decided to go back and do a year of Fine Arts where my father taught. It was the right place for me but the wrong time. I was overcome with grief.
So, I went back to nursing, we had two children, and life kept rolling on. I was working in ER, ICU, and the Cardiac areas until I injured my back at work, and I was advised not to work anymore. I was struggling with grief, depression, and battling with the system on retraining. It was a difficult time.
I was creating but I couldn’t admit to being an artist. because that inner critic convinced me I wasn’t good enough. As time went on and on and on, I kept getting sadder and sadder.
Finally, I decided to try hypnosis. I went to a therapist, a wonderful woman named Liz Lange. I had a few treatments with her. When I was under hypnosis, I would spend it crying. I was even questioning the value, but things were starting to happen. I now understand I was letting go of a lot of grief.
How did art change your direction?
Soon after hypnosis, I was moved to draw as I mentioned earlier. That inner critic would tell me I was not good enough. It’s not good enough. or that’s not right. So, I would erase things and move on but then I noticed I was more willing to just let the creativity happen. If I made a line, it wouldn’t immediately look wrong to me. Just little things like that.
I was posting some of my art on social media where a former coworker, Ellen Bradley-Cheung saw them. She had used art to help herself and she invited me to join ROAM Gallery which is when I met Jen.
That was my first show, I think it was three drawings. After that, it became easier to create, to push through the voice of that inner critic telling me I wasn’t good enough, to believe in myself.
I began realizing that variety, moving from thing to thing, was what I need to be happy, and we all need to be happy.
What process do you use to begin to create a piece?
I think it comes with a decision about the day. I’m going to do this painting and sometimes it gets underway, so I keep going. I call it my flow state. I can equate it to being an athlete. There’s a feeling you get when you’re playing a sport or you’re doing your art, where you are lost in the moment. There isn’t a lot of thinking going on. You’re just moving and It’s almost like you’ve left your body for a while. You’re just lost in the moment.
What I have come to realize is my inner critic was really interrupting that flow state and as I learned to manage that, I could hit that sweet spot more often.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
That’s a great question because sometimes I think I stopped before I’ve done enough and sometimes, I’ve done too much and I don’t like what I’ve done anymore. And then there are other times. I look at other paintings that I’ve done and think why didn’t I keep going? It’s an inner feeling that I think it’s time to stop. I think I’m going to ruin this if I keep going.
Sometimes there is a definitive end because of the process. For example, if I am putting on colored pieces I am done when they are all on or I have run out of room.
Is there a key piece of wisdom that you’d like to share?
Believe in yourself. As an artist, I feared being the failure my inner critic kept harping about. Don’t worry.
Failure is going to lead to learning.
Figure out what makes you happy. Some people have it easier than others as far as knowing what that is or what they want when they’re younger. My husband is a police officer, and he knew that, but his route was long and convoluted. His bucket is filled with helping and being there for people. There are many job prospects that provide that opportunity.
I think for creatives it is harder to figure that out, especially if you’re lacking motivation or a belief that you can do it perhaps listening to that inner critic. I sidestepped it all for a while, but eventually, it starts slapping you in the face.
What is a key piece of learning that has helped you?
Consult with professionals. I have a counselor who’s been great about teaching or pushing me very gently to do things for myself. I have learned if I’m not happy then everybody else is miserable. If I’m happy then things will go more smoothly. In order to be happy, I need to accept myself and accept what I want to do, contrary to the inner critic.
As I mentioned, after my back injury I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. That inner critic was very present. I felt suicidal and I knew I needed help. I was put on antidepressants. Medication certainly helps. If you need medications, take them. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stay on them forever. Some people do and that’s ok, but some people don’t. I had been on them before, like when I suffered from postpartum depression.
Get counseling through whatever means is available. The first counselor was through my work employee assistance program. I had a loss of hearing and my counselor set me up with the deaf and well-being program in Vancouver. That’s for people who were born or have a loss of hearing. I took a CBT course with a counselor and a psychiatrist through the Deaf Well Being Program through Vancouver Coastal.
I didn’t go for a while and started to struggle again. Now my counselor helps me with staying true to myself without belittling or making everyone else the priority.
It’s been a very important part of my recovery and my growth. I’m always going to be changing and I’m always going to need support. However, my toolbox for helping myself is getting bigger.
I have come to realize I am not happy if I don’t make art. I am most satisfied when I am in a flow state which means creating or playing sports. The most rewarding aspect of my journey is understanding how to allow myself to do that.
Getting To Know Tamara
What has been a barrier that you have overcome?
Time management is one of my biggest obstacles. I tend to rank other chores and people’s needs above my need to create. I find it hard to make myself a priority and create boundaries around what I need.
Putting myself first is a constant battle. I now know that the secret to success is that I must keep creating but there’s this constant pull between what else is in my life and what else needs to be done.
What is something surprising about you that most people don’t know?
A surprising fact about me is that I am the lead volleyball coach in the hybrid volleyball/basketball academy at Saint Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School. I have been coaching volleyball since 1998 thanks to my husband.
If you could meet anyone for lunch, who would it be?
If I could meet anyone for lunch it would be my father. He died in 1999 from cancer. We have a lot to catch up on.
What was the best advice you ever received?
My father told me that when I met the right person you will know. What the heck does that mean!! Well, when I met my husband “I KNEW”. Twenty-one years and two boys later he is still my best friend.
What do you need to make more room in your life for?
I need to make room for connecting with my friends. With COVID, I have had to reach out and initiate contact, you can’t wait for someone to come to you.
Also, I would love to learn how to do bronze or resin casting and windsurfing.
Buy Tamara’s art at ROAM Gallery
Read more in our series Women In Art
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