True Passion Allows Reinvention At Any Age
An Inspirational Influencer Series Interview with Beth Briggs.
Did you know that creativity is immensely healing? Beth Briggs is one of those creative treasures with one of the most expansive imaginations around. She’s an artist with a powerful story of determination. As a woman over 50, she now knows what she wants and she’s not letting anyone stop her. She’s on a mission to follow her passion and she’s lighting up the world with her creative talents. As a member of The Fierce 50, Beth will be the first to tell you that life brings with it a lot of ups and downs. She’s empowered herself through some major adversity and is now following her dreams. Her business has exploded with the launch of The Fierce 50 Campaign and her artistic talents have never been in higher demand. If you’ve seen those gorgeous sketch illustrations on Instagram, Beth will create a distinctive design that captures the essence of your style and personality. I’m delighted to introduce you to her today. Welcome, Beth!
CGO: Beth, you have quite an eye when it comes to fashion illustration. This passion started for you as a young girl. Take me back to your earlier days and what inspired you to begin sketching fashion illustrations?
BB:I have always loved beautiful, feminine, flowery things and even as a young girl I couldn’t wait to get my ears pierced and wear lip gloss! I was definitely a “girly girl” right from the start. My first love was really fashion design so I would illustrate my mom or my teacher or Cher (this was the 70’s, remember) in glamorous outfits. I would sit in front of the TV ready with sketchpad and markers in hand for the Sonny & Cher Show every week! I also taught myself to sew and, of course, made clothes for my Barbie dolls. I always knew that I would be a designer eventually!
After graduating from Wellesley College in 1986 with a degree in Studio Art/Art History I moved to New York City where I hoped to become a Fashion Illustrator. This was the age of MTV, fashion photography and all things digital, and no one was interested in traditional illustration anymore so my life continued in a totally different direction. My passion for illustration stayed mostly a hobby until 2014 when, upon turning 50, I began to share daily “Fashion Stories” (illustrated collages featuring fashionable characters) on Instagram . I knew it was now or never to pursue my life long dream!
CGO: I absolutely love what you’ve created! Your illustrations for the women of The Fierce 50 Campaign is one of my absolute favorites. You have been on quite a creative tear since turning 50. What does 50 mean to you?
BB: Thank you, Catherine, I loved creating the Fierce 50 illustrations. It feels like I got to know all of you ladies personally! Being 50 truly means “liberation” to me. I think we can tend to romanticize our younger years. There’s a saying going around now that “50 is the new 35” or words to that effect. When I was 35 I was a single mom to three young kids, the youngest of whom had just been diagnosed with Autism. I can tell you there was nothing fun about being 35 for me! As women building families or careers or both during our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, there is very little time for self care or creative pursuits. Turning 50 for me was a game changer as my kids were becoming more and more independent and I was able to take more personal and career risks.
CGO: It’s so true how life changing this age has become. Most women, by the time they have turned 50, have had to overcome many challenges throughout their lives. I know that you’re no exception. What have been your greatest challenges and what did you learn about yourself from going through those experiences?
BB: My greatest challenge by far has been navigating through the challenges of raising a child with significant special needs. I have to say there have been times I haven’t handled it well and I still struggle with this on a daily basis. I suffered from deep depression in those early years and fell into some destructive habits. I hit rock bottom about twelve years ago and made some radical changes to my lifestyle which included a daily regimen of vigorous exercise, clean eating and surrendering my life to God’s care. I made it a priority to take care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually and my entire life changed. My son is an adult now and is doing very well in a residential program that has been an absolute blessing and my daughters have become independent, strong women! What I have learned through this challenging journey is that God is faithful and that we can’t truly love others until we can care for and love ourselves.
CGO: Thank you for showing such beautiful vulnerability and courage. When women open their hearts, it gives permission to others to do the same. I read where you derive inspiration everywhere you go from seeing people and their pets on the street and the street life of New York City and Boston where you reside. What inspires you to sit down and create?
BB: I love street fashion … Absolutely love it! I really enjoy capturing everyday women of all ages and their unique styles, which in urban areas seems to always include pets! It’s fascinating to see how well dressed the dogs in New York are on any given day.
CGO: I can only imagine! When you were growing up, I’m sensing that 50 meant something very different from your current reality. What is your experience of being over 50 relative to what you thought it might be when you were growing up?
BB: I had very youthful and cool parents so I don’t think I thought of aging the way some people do! My dad was an architect and my parents loved to entertain. I definitely got my sense of style through them. My mom was a grandmother at 50 though and I am definitely not ready for that!
CGO: I don’t get that response very often. It sounds like you had some wonderful role models to keep you young at heart. I understand you are making some major changes in your life with transitioning from a full time job to an entrepreneur, in control of your destiny. What led to making that big leap and did you experience any doubt or fear in making that decision? If you did, what did you tell yourself that helped you to move through the fear?
BB: I can’t stress enough the importance of having a business plan — this will greatly help with your fear! As women in our fifties we must pay attention to finances. It’s probably one of the scariest issues out there but it’s so important. I think it’s really important to model responsible spending habits for our daughters who are bombarded with lovely, shiny things to charge up on credit cards on a daily basis. No one loves to shop more than I do but a little delayed gratification goes a long way!
I’m also a huge believer in vision boards, affirmations, “acting as if”, etc! Our daily practices and habits are what shape our destinies. Long before I was able to quit my day job, I was working toward the life I wanted. I would get up at 5 AM and work for three hours on my online business before going to work. Then, when hopping on the subway to travel downtown to the office where I worked as an Executive Assistant, I would tell myself I was really on my way to meet a client to discuss an illustration project! I would post on Instagram at lunch and then again on the subway ride home. I just decided to “act as if” I was a successful illustrator while remaining grateful that I had a job that was paying the bills in the meantime! I filled my orders on the weekends and had faith that in a matter of time I would be able to quit my day job. Then, in a stroke if divine intervention, I was laid off this past February. It took me all of three minutes to decide that now was the time to take the leap and pursue my creative interests full time. I’ll be relocating to Sarasota in May where I will continue to grow my online illustration service. I’m also expanding my collection to include larger mixed media abstract pieces inspired by my love for color, texture and textiles.
CGO: It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. How have the challenges in your life helped you to feel more confident and to go after the life of your dreams?
BB: By the time you reach 50, you’ve had enough life experience to understand that every situation, whether it be good or bad, eventually passes. Time is a great healer. Making the decision to move to New York from Boston two years ago to pursue my dream was scary. In order to live in Manhattan, I had to get rid of most of my possessions, and significantly downscale my life. I didn’t even bring a TV! But what I’ve gained in return is a newfound sense of freedom which has allowed me to focus on the things that are really important to me. Being able to take control of my life, especially my finances, has given me the confidence to pursue my creative endeavors. Now, as I get ready to make yet another move, I do so with much less fear. I also derive a huge sense of confidence from exercise and strength training, a major part of my daily routine. Strong body, strong mind!
CGO: You’re so right! There’s a universal issue where women over 50 aren’t currently valued by society. What has your experience been as a woman over 50?
BB: My belief is that you have to value yourself if you ever want to be valued by anyone else. I think it’s very important for women over 50 to conduct themselves with confidence and self respect. I’ve always told my daughters “You don’t want to be the girl who peaks in High School!” All kidding side, now is the best time in your life to take a risk and go after a dream.
CGO: Yes, it’s so important to be solid role models for our children and guide them to design lives of their own creation. If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?
BB: I want to teach. I would absolutely love to own a gallery/teaching studio on the beach — a creative space for retreats, classes and fundraising endeavors.
CGO: That sounds like a wonderful plan. I have found creativity to be extremely healing. What’s your personal experience of the creative process?
BB: There is no better form of meditation for me then when I am creating abstract paintings in my free time. Time and space simply melt away. I’m a perfectionist so it’s really therapeutic to have time to relax and play outside of client work. I surround myself with beautiful props like fresh flowers, vintage china, open windows and natural light. It is said that we are most like our creator when we are creating…..
CGO: That’s so true. What is your favorite medium to use when you’re creating your illustrations? Can you describe your unique process and the methods that you use?
BB: For my illustrations, I use a combination of watercolors, gouache, copic markers, and pencils. I use a reverse technique of laying down a lot of color first and then filling in details with pencils. I like to work on either hot press watercolor paper or high quality card stock, because I like a very smooth, white surface.
To create digital images and products, I scan my illustrations and then use photoshop — but I am completely self taught, and not an expert by any means! Lately I have really enjoyed creating downloadable watercolor clip art collections, and encourage people to use my art in their own print and digital projects. Although I love traditional techniques, and I am classically trained, I am well aware that the world is becoming increasingly digital. As women over 50, one of the ways we can stay relevant is to keep up with technology as much as possible. I absolutely love Instagram, and I regularly post finished works and projects in process. Instagram is an amazing platform for artists.
For my mixed media abstract paintings, I use acrylics and wax or oil pastels. These pieces are inspired by my love of color, textures and textiles. I layer washes of paint and then I use brushes and other tools to create areas of surface pattern. From there, I begin scraping away to reveal the layers underneath. Then, I rub my pastels over certain sections to add even more interest and texture. These are gorgeous, large pieces which look amazing displayed in groups!
CGO: They certainly are! If you could sketch anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
BB: Alas, that would be Princess Diana of Wales. When she got married in 1981, I was a junior in high school, taking a summer certificate course in Fashion Illustration at RISD. My final project for the course was to design and illustrate her entire wedding trousseau — I adored her. At the time, she was just a few years older than I was and this was well before she was known as a fashion icon. In fact, she wore a lot of Laura Ashley in those early days and was very preppy. She was so real, and yet so princess-like. I guess you could say she represents my ideal: a celebrity figure who’s also a humble influencer, with a distinct sense of style.
CGO: I couldn’t agree more. She was a powerful role model for women from all walks of life. Beth, thank you so much for sharing with us today. Clearly, you’re on a roll that’s onwards and upwards. What’s your ultimate vision as an entrepreneur?
BB: Thank you, Catherine! My vision is to build a profitable brand which would include licensing and teaching opportunities. I also enjoy live fashion sketching and painting at parties and events. Watching an artist work is truly entertaining!
CGO: From what I can see, I believe you’re well on your way. The women of The Fierce 50 couldn’t be more grateful to you.
You can find Catherine Grace O’Connell at CatherineGraceO.com. She is on Facebook, and Instagram and Twitter as @catherinegraceo. You can find out more about The Fierce 50 Campaign and how you can help us and join the Revolution by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.