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The Creativity Midwife, Susie Stonefield Miller

Susie Stonefield Miller is an intuitive creativity coach and an expressive artist who is passionate about the healing power of creativity. Susie’s own experience with the power of art journaling lead her on a path to help others make that journey to self and healing.

Susie, your Instagram name is fantastic. The ‘creativity midwife’ is a perfect choice for what you do!

Thank you! I’m so glad you get it!

Long before I decided to work with the heart through creativity, I had a dream of being a doula and lactation specialist. I was a birth coach for my sister and several close friends, and the birth process was something full of awe for me. Along my life path I decided to guide people in intuitive art making. Ultimately, I realized that the work I was doing was still aligned with a birth process. I saw that I was assisting my clients in the birth of their inner artists, their creative voices, a part of their souls that was often shuttered away or shut down. So, the term “creativity midwife” feels like it speaks to how I facilitate this work for my clients.

Susie Stonefield Miller

What set you on the path to do this work?

I first found art journaling myself when I needed an outlet—that wasn’t talk therapy—for my anxiety and obsessive worrying. I was immediately hooked. Process-oriented art, in other words, art you make for the process not the product, is such a different experience than what I was used to having been a fine arts major in college. Intuitive, process-oriented art is not about pretty or the finished product, it’s about getting your feelings onto the page. There is so much catharsis in that practice. A few years after becoming an avid art journaler I had an opening in my life to teach it to others. A friend had begged me to teach her how to do it, so I started a class, which led me to teach more classes, which led me to renting a space full-time and building a business. Unfold Your Creative Spirit Studio was born! (It’s since closed down due to the pandemic and Unfold Studio is now exclusively online).

At some point I looked back on the paths of my life and realized that everything I’d done led me to this place. My entire adult life I was an artist, circle builder, teacher and curriculum developer, and heart-tender. So, it wasn’t a dream that came true but an organic unfolding that led me to my calling.

Susie Stonefield Miller

You are helping people connect to their creative core and express emotions in ways that they had not thought would be possible. Sometimes they even experience release in the sharing of that emotion either to themselves or others. Would you describe what that process entails and the journey you lead your private clients and workshop participants on?

I think that there are four keys to connecting with that creative core as you call it:

1. Trusting the process.

2. Letting go of expectations.

3. Making room for our intuition.

4. Having fun!

Trusting the process means that we trust that there is an unfolding, an awakening, and a journey that needs to be engaged in. This work is not just boom boom boom, finished artwork, you’re done. No, this is something that can be hard, can be messy, can be delightfully satisfying. But when it gets hard and messy and we get uncomfortable it’s important not to abandon ship. When we don’t know where we’re going it’s important to trust that we will make it through, even if in the end we still don’t know where we are, and that’s ok. Even if it’s not clear to us at the end of a session, that’s ok. Sometimes the insights come later. We need a little distance, a little time, for it to feel less precious. Maybe we need to be less in the work to understand what it is trying to tell us. As long as we trust the process, we can see that this is all part of the work, and we can stay with these feelings

Letting go of expectations means we let go of all the things we bring with us to the work: the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who we are not, about what this is supposed to be (a work of art) or not be (ugly), and our plans for the piece. Letting go of expectations means we continuously are putting down the thoughts that intrude and the limiting narratives that arise. We let go of these thoughts so that we can stay with the moment, with the paint on the page, and see where it takes us rather than continuously think about our plans: what we are trying to accomplish or create. Letting go of expectations, like trusting the process, is a practice, something we have to bring ourselves to over and over.

Our intuition is our deepest knowing, our true wisdom. Our intuitive voice has so much to say, but usually we are talking over it, afraid to let go of our control of the situation. Making room for our intuition means that we get quiet and listen. We make space for the voice within to speak. We stop directing the process and let ourselves be led by that heart voice. Sometimes that feels like: “I don’t have any idea why I’m painting the page green” or “I just felt pulled to these images of sharks, but I don’t know what they represent yet.” Sometimes it feels like following breadcrumbs in the forest. Sometimes it feels like an impulse or inner knowing. The more we get quiet and let go of control during the process, the more space our intuition has to speak up and guide us.

Having fun means exactly that: Have. Fun. Playing is how we take risks, learn, explore, and expand. As adults we just don’t play enough. We don’t allow ourselves time to do something for the joy of it, for the experience of it. We are so determined that every minute of our lives has some productive outcome or it is not valuable (this is a message ingrained in our culture from white supremacy and capitalism). So, enjoying the process without measuring the value of the time and materials spent is a way to upend this destructive societal and cultural narrative.

The connection with our emotions comes when we get out of our own way enough to be fully in the process, our hands covered in paint, the table and paper splattered. It sometimes takes a big, deep breath and a dive deep into our shadows, the dark places in our souls, to create what is true for us, but once we have done that, we can feel that it is a place that is so important to go to. And we long to go in again and again.

I work with my people online either in a group class, Creative Life Raft: Art Journaling Through Troubling Times, or in private one-on-one coaching sessions.

In CLR, we gather together, check in to establish a personal connection and then I offer an invitation, also called a prompt, about a topic for the session. I like to say I’m giving them a shovel which they can use to start digging deep into the fertile soil of their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Then I lead a grounding meditation and set everyone free to explore all of that with art supplies. We come together about an hour and a half later to share our work, witnessing each other’s stories and insights into the process.

In creativity coaching sessions we talk about whatever is up for the client, I give them an invitation, or prompt, to take into their process. I lead a grounding meditation and then the client dives into the work. While they work, I sit and witness (observe without judgment or a running internal narrative) their process. I record the session for them to watch later, an inspiring experience. At the end we look at their work and share insights. It’s an incredibly impactful process to be witnessed. I’m so honored to be present for these sessions.

Susie Stonefield Miller

How does the creative process heal?

I suppose I’d like to back up a little and say that so many people feel that they are not creative. Maybe when they were little someone was critical of their art or told them that they couldn’t carry a tune. Maybe someone else in the family got to wear the “artistic” crown. Maybe it’s been a long time since they were creative, and they are nervous to try again. Anyways, so many people are shamed and wounded by this kind of thinking and story. But every person is creative. Being creative and being an “artist” may be different things but being creative is human. We don’t need to be an “artist” to own and exercise our creative spirits.

When we can use the creative process for deep and honest self-expression we feel the release, the catharsis, the transformation that comes with that. Intuitive, process-not-product-oriented art making is a full body experience.

It takes an amount of courage to allow ourselves space for creative expression. “I’m not creative” is just a false narrative that we wear as protection, like a shield that keeps us from feeling scared and vulnerable when we actually want to expose our hearts. Yet, our soul longs for creativity. Our wordless heart yearns to express itself in images and colors and textures, in scribbles and drips and scratches on the page. It’s incredibly important that we do the work to let go of the shame and negative thinking around whether we’re creative or not in order to make room for our creativity to bloom.

When we can use the creative process for deep and honest self-expression we feel the release, the catharsis, the transformation that comes with that. Intuitive, process-not-product-oriented art making is a full body experience. We let go of what I call the “directive, controlling brain” in favor of something deeper and more kinesthetic and spiritual. We learn how to trust the process and allow things to get messy. And through all of that emerges our truth, the things we’ve held onto that need releasing, our stories that are full of joy and pain, our fears.

When we can do that, we feel the healing that comes from that release. It’s immediately apparent, immediately a sense of relief. And it calls you back over and over because nothing else feels just like that.

Susie Stonefield Miller

What are the prime benefits of art journaling and what exactly is it?

Art journaling is one way to engage in the expressive arts. Art journaling is using a sketchbook and mixed media art supplies to make art. Art journaling is also a combination of imagery, words, colors, texture, and pattern and—at least if you do it with me—art journaling is not about the finished product, but about the process. The power of the art journal to me is that it is in a book that you can close and put up on the shelf when you’re done. There’s never an artifice of it being a painting on a canvas that needs to match your sofa or that’s going to be hung on the wall. The power of the art journal is that it is private, like a diary, and is only for you unless you choose to share it with others. That difference is really freedom to fully express oneself.

The Inner Critic is always hovering around our consciousness, keeping us concerned with our outcome, the final painting or song or story, how it will be received and understood by others. The focus is on “How will this be when it’s done?” and “Is it worthy of being considered art?” or “Am I worthy of being considered an artist?”

The expressive arts—and there are many modalities of expressive arts including sound, movement, verbal, visual, etc.—is important because it’s about exploring the human condition without concern for the finished product through personal, raw expression. (Also, expressive arts is not art therapy though it’s often confused with that.)

Let me talk about what I mean by “the finished product.”

Artists create works of art. Usually, there’s some focus on the final outcome with that whether it’s to be displayed or sold or consumed in some way by others. As soon as an artist begins to work on a “work of art” the Inner Critic shows up with a message (or two or three), loud and clear: “This better be good!” or “You can do better than this!” or “You call yourself an artist?” The Inner Critic is always hovering around our consciousness, keeping us concerned with our outcome, the final painting or song or story, how it will be received and understood by others. The focus is on “How will this be when it’s done?” and “Is it worthy of being considered art?” or “Am I worthy of being considered an artist?”

With expressive arts we are concerned not with the end result but what happens from the moment we begin the work until the moment we feel complete. Within that is a full story with so many chapters of emotions and thoughts and experiences. Within that is a facet of one’s self-portrait. Looking at a finished art journal page or other expressive arts “product” is clearly not the whole story and not the end goal. It might be beautiful. It might be brutal. The expressive arts is a way to explore our experience creatively without a narrative or narrator, without a planned outcome. We don’t need to worry about whether or not we understand what we have done because we are in the moment, in the process. And we surely don’t need to worry about if anyone else understands what we have done. It’s such a personal and ultimately private process.

What topics are frequently encountered in your classes and private sessions?

In my Creative Life Raft classes, we have spent time on themes of longing, transitions, loss, anxiety, connection and isolation, and finding the light in the dark, etc. as well as political topics such as the pandemic, the rise of fascism, white supremacy, the patriarchy, and more. The topics that arise in that program are largely supportive of this idea: How do we use creativity to survive tumultuous and troubling times?

Private sessions are somewhat different in that each client has their own individual focus that arises and is explored in our time together, such as grief, feeling creatively blocked, family stories we are trying to shed, life turmoil and change, self-worth, and vulnerability.

Would you describe how your session participants experience the classes and any notable experiences that your participants have had in past classes?

Creative Life Raft participants have expressed over and over that the program has been a lifeline for them throughout the pandemic. First of all, feeling connected to an ongoing community during a time of isolation is grounding and satisfying. Second, being witnessed by a non-judgmental, open-hearted community is a powerfully meaningful experience. It’s a way of being held, seen, and known. Joining a compassionate circle to make space for creativity where you trust that the space is sacred and there will be no “artistic critique” is essential. I’ve been told “Your classes saved my life” and “This is better than two years of therapy!”

The truth is this isn’t about talent or skill or being an artist. This is about using art supplies as the language for expressing from our hearts and souls. What I want for my clients is to get out of their heads, into their hearts and onto the page.

In my private sessions, clients talk about the depth they are able to go to with me one on one. The rich conversations that arise at the beginnings of our sessions feed into the invitations I then offer them. I hold space in a particular way during these sessions, practicing what author Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen calls “generous listening.” Then, as they work, I sit in stillness and witness their process. It’s the birthing space, an intimate and holy space, in some ways. When in our lives are we held that way, witnessed in a birthing process? Not often. The feedback I get from my private clients is that the work is transformative for them. The insights they have into their truths are unexpected and liberating. The feeling at the end of a session is of being lighter, clearer, and more open. One client told me after her very first session that she felt like it was the first time she’d exhaled in two years.

What do you say to people who don’t believe that they are artists or talented in any way and find the topic of art journaling intimidating?

The truth is this isn’t about talent or skill or being an artist. This is about using art supplies as the language for expressing from our hearts and souls. What I want for my clients is to get out of their heads, into their hearts and onto the page.

Where can our readers find out more about your workshops or creativity coaching sessions?

My website and Instagram are the best places to find me.

Also, I’d love to offer your readers a special discount which can be applied to workshops, their first private session with me, any of my ebooks, or online self-directed courses. MOONFLOWER10 will give them a 10% discount.


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