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Always Growing: An Interview with Artist Tina Short

inspiration interview Feb 02, 2022

Listen instead on The Extraordinary Life podcast

I’m always amazed by the resiliency and wonder inside of us, and by the wide variety of extraordinary lives we can choose to live. My friend Tina Short has all of those things and more. Like all of us, she has come up against big obstacles in her life, yet she’s committed to moving forward and continually growing. I had the opportunity to interview her recently for my podcast, where we talked about following your passion, breaking negative parenting cycles, and the power of community. 

CO: Tina, tell us a little about yourself. 

TS: I’m an artist, live in Santa Cruz, and have twin sons who are nearly sixteen. I’m an avid mountain biker and gardener, and I love to spend time outside. Basically, I’m just trying to grow up alongside my kids and do the profession that I love. 

CO: How did you become an artist? 

TS: This is going to sound really trite, but I think I was born as an artist with an artist’s heart. The way I see the world, my whole life has been lived through a Technicolor lens and everything is a story. I always felt like I had something different to say, and saw the world differently than a lot of my friends growing up. 

My parents divorced when I was about five or six, and I remember sitting down with a pen and paper, and feeling like that was my calming place. I could lose myself yet find myself at the same time; I’d get calm and create something unique. Looking back now, I know that I was creating mandalas, but at the time I’d just start in the center and build out and get lost in it for hours. 

Then in high school, I connected with a bunch of other art nerds. We never left the art room, and that’s where I had the privilege of being taught by Katie. She’s a local legend at Santa Cruz High, and she took about seven of us under her wing. She really nurtured us, and most of us are still artists to this day. We were just kids then, but we’re still connected, and Katie was a big part of that. It was fortuitous to meet her at such a young age, and I just glommed onto art because of her encouragement. 

Of course, after high school I thought I had to “grow up” and do something different. I had a natural curiosity for the body, physiology, and anatomy, so I thought “well, I’ll become a physical therapist.” I started taking classes at the local junior college, and I was doing okay because it was interesting. But when things started to get into physics and chemistry, and if you miss one tiny proton the whole equation is wrong… I realized that I was functioning, but this is not where my heart is. Humans are amazing and phenomenally made out of all these tiny particles, but this isn’t where I’m meant to be. 

Then I had to take an art class to meet some course prerequisites, and I was lucky enough to get another amazing artist as a teacher. She’s also a professional artist, named Jane Gregarious. She was so funny and yet so no-nonsense in her approach to design and color. I was infected immediately! It was the same type of curiosity about how the body works, but more. I was in my flow zone, like “if I put this color with this one, this happens. When I put this design next to this type of design, this happens.” It’s like alchemy happens. So while I was still taking the anatomy classes, I realized that I felt more in the art world and connected with it again.

At the same time, I also had a job as a waitress. One day, a co-worker walked up and said “I’m going to book a show for you. You’re a really great artist.” I tried to protest because I’d never shown my work, but she simply said “Too late. It’s done.” And that was it! I had my first show when I was about twenty-four years old, and almost everything sold. 

So that was the beginning of it all. I was in awe that people would want to take something that I created and put it on their wall and live with it. I realized that I could actually make money making art. The path opened up, and I just walked onto it. 

CO: So was there a point where you made a definitive choice to leave the idea of being a physical therapist behind, and dive full-on into your art? 

TS: Definitely. I was signing up for shows and being asked to create more, and I realized that it was going to take a certain amount of time. If I wanted to be an artist, I had to let go of the physical therapist dream and be disciplined about this one. I kept a job so that I wasn’t dependent on my partner at the time, as we were young and didn’t have a ton of money. But he was always so supportive of me and my art. 

CO: Going back to what you said about not wanting to do that first show, and then realizing that people wanted to buy your art, and also what you just said about being disciplined… That takes confidence! I did a podcast about finding inner confidence last week, and I’d love to hear how you have gained confidence as an artist and what tools you use when it dips. 

TS: Confidence is an ongoing issue for me! And I don’t know why, because if I really stepped back and outlined my life, I’d see that I’ve created a high-quality life. I have to give my mom a lot of credit for pushing through my fears though, because she gave me a book when I was about eighteen. It’s called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Everyone should read it.

The premise is that we’re all afraid of failing, looking like a fool, not being taken seriously or respected, etc. But if we get frozen in that fear then we can’t express our gifts. The things we’re really here to do as people can’t be shared because they’re tucked away in the basement while we criticize ourselves. That book along with my mom’s and partner’s confidence in me as an artist gave me the platform to just say “I’ll try.”

That mindset switched on my curiosity to say “I’ll try and see what happens” to a lot more, like to that first art show. Or entering my art to get into Open Studios, a local event here in Santa Cruz. I began to get accepted, and I kept saying yes. My curiosity led me there, and then I felt like I had to do the work. And when you do the work, your natural confidence kicks in. 

First I let go of my fear. Then I let my curiosity lead me into the studio. And then I did the work. Yes, there are definitely times when I don’t feel strong or confident, but now I have that foundation to know that it’s okay. I can take a few days off and then get back to it when I’m ready. 

CO: Do you have a specific routine with your discipline or getting down to work? 

TS: Haha! I call it floppy discipline. I get up, have a coffee, get the kids out the door if they’re with me that week. Then because I can’t focus with a lot of clutter, I’ll tidy the house a bit. Then because my studio is really cold, I’ll go in and turn on the pellet stove and turn on the twinkle lights to get the energy going. By the time it warms up and I’ve had my second coffee, it’s usually about 10 am. So it takes me that long to get going! 

I usually work for about four hours then take a break. I might go for a mountain bike ride, hose off, then get back into the studio other days. At my peak times though when I’m really into it, I’ll go back to the studio in the evening. So I am disciplined but it’s kind of loosey-goosey. I treat it as a job, and even on the days I’m not feeling it I put my butt on the chair and see what comes up. 

CO: I read a book called The War of Art, by a writer named Steven Pressfield. He says you have to act like a professional, even if you’re an artist. My husband is a musician, and says the same. You don’t wait for the inspiration to hit you; you put your butt in the chair and it shows up or it doesn’t, but at least you’re in the chair. 

TS: Yes! And it usually does show up. It just starts to tingle and it comes through. I have to really listen to myself, and it’s been a cool way to develop an inner relationship with that artist part of myself. Like, what am I here to say? And it’s not what I have to say as much as sharing what we’re collectively going through as people. What are we all experiencing? What can I create that would make sense to someone living in this crazy world? 

I want to create work that touches on the vulnerable and bittersweet elements of being human, because it’s not easy. Living every day in and out with a pandemic, failed marriages, friends that pass, and kids that get sick. There’s a lot of strife and trauma in our lives. But there’s also so much beauty, grace, and wisdom that comes from having all these hard experiences in our lives. How do we collectively feel things together? So when I’m gathering up my emotions and feelings for what I want to create, that’s where it’s coming from. 

I consider myself a folk artist because I'm trying to tell the stories of my community and of myself within a community. So when I'm sitting down to make something, that's where my discipline and inspiration come from, and those pieces are the ones that people gravitate to. That's the evidence for me as an artist; when I feel and create that thing, we all feel that thing. 

CO: That’s interesting that you say that. Another friend of mine is an artist, and she posted a picture of some pieces that she was going to be showing at Open Studios this past fall. There was one piece that brought out so much emotion in me, and I went the next morning to see it. I had to buy it. I left it there for several weekends, and when I went to get it she said that she could have sold it so many more times. It was clearly something that resonated with people. It has to do with the fires that happened in the mountains that year, and it still brings up so much emotion in me that it’s in my closet. It’s not ready to come out yet. 

TS: There was a collective trauma that happened with the fires and the fear around it. But that’s just one part. What really happened was that we got to see the community come together, and see the power of that. There is a beautiful bloom that happens outside of the collective trauma and the bonding around it. 

CO: Shifting gears here, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give to your younger self or someone just starting out? 

TS: I had a mentor in my early twenties, and she told me to “paint what you know, and paint big.” That’s the best advice I could give. Don’t go and paint what everyone else is doing, or what’s popular, or spend time looking at other people’s work. Tap into the inner voice that’s asking you to express something and let it guide you. 

I’d also say to just play. I can take life too seriously but I can play in my studio, and let things go and flow the way they should instead of forcing them. That’s been really helpful for me. 

CO: Switching to the mom part of your life, how do you balance that? Many of my readers and clients are moms, and even if they aren’t, they’re all trying to balance their work, being a mom, their relationship, etc. What tips do you have for them? 

TS: I do have to balance my passions like art and exercise with parenting and the fact that life is always changing. There will always be issues to deal with. Right now, I have teenage sons that are pushing back a lot more, and therapy has helped me realize that I don’t need to control them in their lives as much anymore. That freed up a lot of time for me to take time out to mountain bike with friends or walk the dog. I kind of think that balance just happens by the circumstances of my life.

I also think that part of my role as a mom is to show them that doing something you love is possible, so I’m fiercely protective of doing my work. I show them that sometimes, you need to scrap it out and work until 10 pm. Another thing I’m giving to them is showing them a woman can be successful at doing something she loves and be supported by her partner. My current partner supports me tremendously in my artwork, and so was my sons’ father. When someone supports you like that, you accept it and take it to the next level. I want them to see that I’m not just sitting around waiting for things to happen, but that I consistently work hard at it.

Going back to the idea that balance comes from circumstances, our lives recently became more complicated. My partner and I decided it was better to live apart. He lives on his own with his children, and I live with mine. The break in the household was really painful upfront, but now I can be more focused on my kids and myself. It took a while to see the gift in it and the teaching moment for my kids. They get to see that life throws you curveballs, but it will resolve itself and come back together again. There’s a homeostasis to life that I can see now that I’m fifty-three.

CO: I totally get that. In my group we answer a lot of prompts and questions, and many women are surprised that they aren’t the only ones who feel a certain way or who have gone through similar things. I try to show my daughter that when they are younger, women can be ultra-competitive, but that if we come together as women and share and are vulnerable, we realize that we can get further together. 

TS: Exactly. Knowing that you aren’t alone and that we’re connected. We have to let down that smokescreen of perfection because it’s not true. I now understand and love the power of women coming together. We can be competitive on our bikes or whatever, but we don’t need to be that way in our hearts. 

CO: I watched the cyclocross world cup the other day, and it was super close between the two leaders. In the interview after the race, they’re talking and laughing with each other. They’re great friends and even shared a hotel room the night before. Only one could win, yet they ended with a hug. 

TS: It’s such an amazing feeling to give it 110% like they did in their race, and then reconnect on a basic level after. I’ve found that the more intensely we open ourselves up to those moments of extreme, whether in sport or connecting with people, the more rewarding it is. It’s never less rewarding to be vulnerable and wide open. As we get older, we know that, but when you’re young it seems so risky. I enjoy not having to protect myself as much now. 

CO: Last question! What’s one thing I didn’t ask you that you wish I had? And what’s your answer? 

TS: I think I’d like to answer the question, “Why were you so hard on yourself as a child?”

My answer would be that I was raised by parents who were insecure and had a lot of baggage, and then they got together and had kids, and they still were unsure. So I think a lot of those insecurities ended up in my DNA. 

Now that I know I don’t need to be so hard on myself, I want to break the cycle of family patterns and not be too hard on my kids. It’s how do I not do the things we used to do out of habit, that our parents did out of habit, and so on. How do we become more authentically like ourselves with this knowledge? How do I let my kids become more authentically themselves and support them in that? It’s the full circle of parenting, as I remember how I felt when I had my parents’ insecurities put on me. 

I wonder what my kids would say when they grow up. How was their experience being parented by me? It’s taken a lot to shake off the critical way I was raised, and I do see myself doing it to my kids sometimes. It’s my goal right now to become free from all those patterns that don’t serve me anymore. 

It’s so crazy how tightly they hold on to you, but I don’t want to carry it forward to my kids. The personal work that I’m doing a lot of is not allowing myself to use it as an excuse. Just because I was raised that way, well, I now know different. What am I going to do with that? 

CO: I think for a lot of us, it’s a life’s work to unpack it. 

TS: Yes, and it’s accepting it with a lot of joy. I’ve been listening to the book Bringing Home the Dharma, and there are just some points where I end up in tears. It’s made me realize that part of my life's work is to be respectful and kind to my kids, instead of how I was raised which was very authoritarian. I rebelled in an extreme way, and while I hope my kids will push back against me, I hope they don’t have to go through what I did. 

It has a wonderful message about letting go of past mechanisms and finding joy and connections with people in life. The hard stuff is there, and we’ll get through it. I have so many friends going through big life stuff right now, but I went through mine about ten years ago. I lost my sister, my first child, went through a divorce, and I’m still here. And while I’ll never know fully what my friends are going through, I’ve walked that path and have a totally different well of empathy that I didn’t have before. I can sit with them, listen to them, and help them get through. It’s like a weird backwards gift to have, but don’t think I’d give it back. It’s part of the web that ties us all together. 

CO: I know you need to get out to your studio, so I want to thank you for joining me today. I’m thrilled that your son has joined the mountain bike team, and even more excited to see you’re joining as a coach. It’s nice to reconnect with my athletic friends because we go through so many iterations as moms.

TS: It’s so hard to imagine our sons are young men now. Here we go, next phase!

Talking with Tina was so inspiring. She’s proof that we can (and should!) make space for our passions in our lives. What I love most though, is her dedication to creating a life that works for her, and her pursuit of growth and happiness within it.   

You can find Tina on Instagram at @artygirl324 or on her website

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