I’m so excited to start a new column on the blog! ‘A Creative Home’ aims at exploring the facets of living a creative lifestyle. One thing that I’ve been interested in for a while now is how creative folks live and work. Whenever I visit anyone’s house, you can call me super-fascinated (or maybe a little nosey haha!) but I always ask if I can have a personalised home tour. And everyone thankfully loves to oblige! (phew!) One particularly interesting thing I’ve noticed is that people who have any sort of creative outlet always seem to have memorable homes. Homes with character, personalities so distinct and reflective of the owners. Creative people come in so many forms and their homes vary so widely- from over cluttered, absolutely beaming with memories to glaring, minimal spaces that also have so much character. Homes give you an intimate peek at a person’s process, a person’s very lifestyle- how do they live and work?
So I decided to take this interest of mine a step further by starting this column. If you’re like me and enjoy long stories along plenty of photographs, you’re probably going to like this too. For today’s ‘A creative home’ feature, we have Jen Sweeney sharing her wonderful and picturesque home! Read on….
A Creative Home..With Calligrapher Jen Sweeney
Let’s break the ice by starting with a good ol’ Rapid Fire round to know Jen a bit better:
What are your creative hobbies? Besides calligraphy, I’m slowly learning to paint (watercolor) and I like making greeting cards too.
What’s your favourite color? Book? Movie? Flower? Yellow. Book- “Wednesdays were pretty normal” by Michael Kelley, or, anything by Max Lucado or Jodi Picoult, and the Bible.
Movie? Anything with Sandra Bullock (especially, The Blind Side). I also love Four Christmases and UP. Flower? Sunflowers and Roses
If you were to write a book about yourself, what would you name it and why? Wow, a tough question but, I’d go with “Grateful Smiles” – I have such overwhelming feelings of gratefulness & gratitude in my life that truly blow me away sometimes, and well, that just makes me smile. Life’s not perfect but I’m so grateful for every sweet piece of it!
What does your name mean? Everyone calls me Jen but officially it’s Jennifer- which means “the fair one” or “white enchantress.” I had no idea what my name meant so I had to look it up! Who knew!!
Which is heavier- a ton of feathers or a ton of steel? Ahhh a trick question! A ton is a ton no matter what the object is.
Three words to describe yourself? Caring, Happy, and Kind.
When you were a child, what was your answer to the question: what do you want to be when you grow up? I knew since 8th grade I wanted to be a nurse. Always thought I wanted to be a surgical nurse, but once I was in college and had my Pediatric rotation, there was no turning back. Those little rugrats stole my heart! I’m now a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.
And now..let’s hear about her home! Take it away, Jen!
Welcome to our cozy home in the woods in Southeast Indiana! We built this home in 2003 and have been here for the past 13 years. Our 2 girls were in 3rd and 5th grade when we moved in and now, our oldest is married to a wonderful young man, and our youngest will be graduating college in May 2017. Needless to say, we’ve been blessed with some amazing family memories and, as life goes, have also had some heartache over health issues and losses of loved ones. Our home is one of 8 on our road, all of which sit on heavily wooded lots. Our front and back view is nothing but trees. Sounds like we are off the grid, but, we are only 1 mile from the highway and 35 minutes from Cincinnati, where I work. So, it really is the best of both worlds.
When I started this Calligraphy & Art Journey, it was during the time our oldest was away at college. So, what’s a responsible mom to do? Convert her room to an Art Studio, of course! As you see, I left the purple walls there and I could not resist setting up shop in front of those 2 windows with that gorgeous view. And my sweet husband saw how important this journey was to me, and as usual, surprised me one Christmas with that beautiful desk that he sanded and stained himself. He’s a keeper, for so many reasons!
The dining room/great room is always where the smiles, hugs, and laughter occur, so those are extremely important rooms to me. The dining room table is of particular value. Not because of the table itself, but because of our Family dinners. Time around the table with our 2 girls have made for the absolute best memories. We place such a high value on family dinner time and to this day, we still belly giggle about all the conversations that took place there. And believe me, nothing was “off the table” when we talked and shared about our days and our lives. We have so much fun picking on each other too, and this was always such a loving, safe spot where our relationships blossomed. To this day, our girls, without fail, still get up from the table and one or both of them will say, “Thanks for dinner.” And I know they don’t just mean the food.
(Jen’s dad painted this! So lovely!)
The outside view of our home and the tree-lined road is important to me because of the safety and security it represents as well as the peace and serenity it brings. Nothing better than coming home to the ones you love the most! And, if you look closely, the paintings on the walls are from my sweet Dad. He’s in his 90’s now, but, all his life, he’s been an artist, a perpetual student, and a lover of life. He’s always told me “Jen, never stop learning” and he lives that motto daily. It’s hard for him to get out anymore, but he still paints almost every day, scans the internet to visit his favorite art galleries, learns new painting techniques, and he still enters his work in local art shows. So awesome.
You may be wondering why in the world would I include a picture of my bike. Oh, friends, let me tell you, there have been plenty of days spent on that bike that have sparked creative inspiration as my husband and I are flying up and down the back roads & hills of Indiana, clipped into our bikes, sweatin’ like crazy, and doing some serious Cardio. I’ve had some of my best ideas while on that bike! If you’re a cyclist, you get me. That bike is kind of like my 3rd child. Crazy, I know. But, honestly it is one of the coolest things my husband and I share together.
What makes your home a creative one?
I’d have to say it’s the warmth, laughter and love found inside our home. I truly feel blessed to be supported and encouraged by my family while I’m on this creative journey. I would not or could not do it without them by my side.
What aspect of your home leaves you inspired most (and least)?
Just sitting in my studio with my music playing (usually Christian artists like Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, or Lauren Daigle) and the stillness of the house really lends itself to inspiration. And yeahhh for having Fridays off work! This is usually my full day of fun in the studio. Other times, I steal an hour or two, here and there. The ideas just flow when my heart and soul are centered on gratitude and my faith. I always say, any day I can put pen to paper is a good day, no matter the outcome. I need to be careful though because there is so much I still want to learn and I tend to get overwhelmed with trying several new things at once. Focus Jen, focus!
As for the least inspirational part of my home, it would have to be my clothes closet. A serious downer. Good grief, I admit, I do not do a great job of keeping my clothes or shoes tidy. It’s clean and in order, but, chaotic order, as I like to say. I do a much better job cleaning my house than my closet. My hubby’s side of the closet is 100% better than mine. I guess when my husband brings home a shoe rack and sets up my shoes for me, that says something. Truth is, I hate to shop for clothes and shoes. It’s just not my thing. Would rather spend money on art supplies, cool bike gadgets, or food.
How would you describe your home style?
I’ve never really had a particular style but, maybe just traditional with a bit of a shabby-chic accents here and there. Is that a thing? My dream would be to go on Fixer Upper and let Joanna Gaines work her magic. I love her style and everything she does. So, if you’re reading this Joanna, please call me.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far regarding your home?
When we built our home, to save money, we opted to wipe and wash down all the dry wall, move all the excess dry wall out of the house, painted the interior (every last bit of the interior), and stained all the trim and all the doors, at least twice. Biggest headache EVER! Good grief, with 2 small kids and both of us working full time, we were exhausted and overwhelmed for at least a month or two. It’s all a blur and I was delirious so, it could have been longer but I will never do that again. Seriously Joanna, please call.
Something your house is full of?
It sounds cheesy, but our home is filled with laughter, joy, and love. Yes, we’ve certainly had some struggles and setbacks, but, learning to choose joy and trust in our Savior in all circumstances has truly taught us to value the important things in life. And as you know, those important things, aren’t things. Any house can be transformed into a home simply by the people who live there and by the hope, love, joy, happiness, and grief that is shared between them.
If your house had to be named, what would you call it?
Team Sweeney. I’ve called our family this over the years, in many situations, so it’s a no brainer that this is what I’d call our home.
What do you think is your favorite aspect in your house?
The kitchen and dining room table. Lots of love happening in those rooms and around that table. And I love a home filled with fresh flowers and candles (Vanilla, Cinnamon, or Fall Harvest). One of my favorite things to hear is when my girls come in and say “Ahhh, this smells like home.”
Biggest DIY you’ve ever attempted?
My husband added on our back deck when we first moved in and, true to my nature, I started setting out potted plants and flowers before it was even close to being finished. Literally, he’s nailing down boards and I’m watering plants. He gets me. He let me do my thing while he did his. But, not to worry, I did help him set the posts in cement and stain the deck, so, really, I didn’t make him do everything.
How many times do you think of changing up the décor and arrangements?
Every time I watch Fixer Upper. But then I decide we should probably be responsible adults and pay for college first. I do change things up here and there to keep it fresh, but, overall, it’s been the same for several years, and I’m good with that.
Do you think your creativity is linked to the way you live?
Absolutely! Who we are, what we do, what we value, and the sights, sounds, aromas of our home truly do inspire my creativity.
Something that you love about your house and wouldn’t change it for the world?
I love that we have been the only home owners of this house. But it’s truly not the house itself that is so dear, it’s the 4 of us, then the 5 of us (counting our son in-law) and our family and friends whom have laughed here, cried here, hugged here, celebrated here, grieved here, shared thousands of meals here, saw dreams become reality here, and made memories here that truly matter. This home, the Team Sweeney home, will forever be etched in our hearts and soul as a place of love, laughter, security, and faithfulness. And that, I would never change for the world.
MENTOR MOTIVATION! 😎▶️ Let's hear it from a talented mentor who shall be sharing more about her lettering journey and giving you tips and tricks of the trade! Take it away, Jen! • Hi everyone! Jen here from @jensweeney4 and I’m delighted to be with you over the next few days to share some Copperplate/Engrosser’s script videos and a few tips & insights along the way. This quote reminds me to place less value on things, and greater value on people who make our moments so incredibly special. The painting here is NOT mine, it’s my Dad’s. Sure, the painting is a thing, but its value is priceless. Many of his paintings adorn the walls in our home. All are one of a kind, 100% original, with many special moments attached to them.I’ve learned to really savor his work with fresh eyes. Oh, and my Dad is 92 and still paints almost every day. Goals! For the past 2 ½ years, my creative spirit has been reignited with Calligraphy. I find such peace and joy with it and I truly feel the need to letter something every day. You know that feeling, right? My sweet spot right now is Copperplate/Engrosser’s script. I love the delicate hairlines contrasting with the deep shades. Stay tuned for more Copperplate, a little watercolor, and a fun craft in my upcoming videos! Would love to chat with you and I look forward to sharing our imperfect, but blessed, lettering journeys together. And please know that all myvideos are attempted multiple times before I post them! Never ever have I been able to do a video in 1 take. Fun Fact – I’ve been on mission trips to Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico. Beautiful countries, beautiful people….beautiful moments. Tools: My Dad’s watercolor painting Tom Norton Walnut Ink mixed with a bit of his Darkening Medium. This gives it an even richer, more velvety tone. 55 degree slant line sheet is under my Rhodia paper (very important for consistent calligraphy) Leonardt Principal EF nib / Yokepen oblique holder. Videospeed 5x / Videoshop app. • Join in the fun! 🎉 Use the tags : ▶️ #SimpleAlphabets ! ▶️#SS_Quotes • Ask any art/lettering questions you may have below ⏬ #copperplate #pointedpen #engrossersscript
MENTOR MOTIVATION! 😎▶️ Let's hear it from a talented mentor who shall be sharing more about her lettering journey and giving you tips and tricks of the trade! Take it away, Jen! • Hi everyone! Jen here from @jensweeney4. . Ever felt like giving up because things aren’t moving fast enough, you just can’t “get it”, everyone else seems to be making progress, or, you’re just plain weary? Yep, me too. But remember this, the expert had a beginning too. Friends, I encourage you to press on, keep practicing, and find joy in your journey. . I am definitely not an expert, nor do I really aspire to be one, but I love to thinkof just how far I’ve come since I started, when I didn’t even know what a nib was! Here’s the thing…you started. You have a beginning. That’s so awesome! Now, let’s keep it going, have fun, and allow growth to happen. Work for it but don’t force it. That just ends in heartburn and nobody needs that! . Like many of you, I work full time and have other responsibilities &interests, so my practice sessions are limited. I love early morning, so at 5:30am, I practice in my studio for 30min before I go to work. But I confess…I may practice for 10 minutes, get bored, and then work on another calligraphy piece. I’m preaching to the choir here when I say pay attention to your drills. You’ll see results fairly quickly if you practice with intention. A hard lesson I am still learning. Tip: Remember to change your nib. Cut the apron strings and let ‘em go! I get so frustrated with my script sometimes, but then I back up and look at why I’m frustrated. I usually see weaker hairlines, get the dreaded ink blob, or my nib keeps catching on the upstrokes. Take your nib and when you run it gently up and flush with your fingertip, if the tines catch (poke & skip) on your skin, then, it’s time to say good riddance. If it’s still smooth, you should be ok. Maybe try a different pen angle. And don’t be afraid to try different nibs. It takes time and practice to figure them out. Other favorites for me are: Gillott 303, Hunt 101, Esterbrook 356, and Zebra G and the Nikko G. • 🎉tags : ▶️ #SimpleAlphabets ! ▶️#SS_Quotes • #copperplate #pointedpen #engrossersscript
MENTOR MOTIVATION! 😎▶️ Hi everyone! Jen here from @jensweeney4. . Short & simple quote today with a peek into how I use some of my Calligraphy. Making cards! So much fun to send a handmade, encouraging card to someone. Tip: Not learning the correct rules of the script, at the get-go, was by far my biggest mistake. Don’t we all just want to write pretty words? But, by neglecting the rules, my letterforms clearly suffered. I encourage you to learn the basic strokes of your chosen script. Study, practice, and appreciate them. THEN develop your own style and flair. The foundational strokes are a must. And to be honest, I really don’t like the look of some of the letterforms of strict Engrosser’s script, so, it’s a struggle for me to stick to all the rules sometimes. And that’s ok too. Final thoughts: When I started this journey, I wanted to know it all. I still want to learn Spencerian, brush calligraphy, watercolors, try every kind of ink, flourish like the pros, learn digitizing, editing, and so much more. But then I just get overwhelmed. And then I see all the beautiful posts on IG of everything I want to do and I get caught in the comparison trap. But, as you know, comparing is impairing. When we compare, we just end up feeling defeated, doubtful, and discouraged. I’m right there with you friends. It happens to everyone. But toss that negativity aside and I challenge you (and myself) to relax and remember why you started this journey in the first place… for the love of it? For joy? Peace? Fun? Therapy? Or a little bit of it all. Cling to that reason, celebrate your progress, and other people’s progress, along the way. If you don’t enjoy what you do, don’t bother. Walk away for a few days or weeks then come back to it. If you want. It’s ok. It will be there when you return. We all need rest to rejuvenate our hearts, mind, body, and soul. Well friends, I’ve greatly enjoyed my week with you and I am grateful to Aaria for this opportunity! To all you sweet people, I thank you for who you are and what you do. Your work is inspiring, your words are encouraging, and your efforts are appreciated. You do not go unnoticed. I am so grateful to be walking alongside you!
Thanks for sharing, Jen!
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Connect with Jen on her instagram @jensweeney4