It’s been quite a while since I’ve hosted an interview + a giveaway. This is a series in which I introduce you to very special people…individuals who work equally hard at their craft and at living an intentional life….individuals who share thoughts on creativity and discuss current work dear to her heart. Each individual who joins us also generously offers some sort of giveaway. It could be a handmade item, a spot in a workshop, a collection of stones or crystals…anything that’s connected to the feature artist’s work and life. Their gift to you is of their choosing. This series will, I hope, create space to explore what creativity looks like to different people; I hope it will also create space to spread a little love through the gifts of our guests.
One order of business before I introduce today’s guest: Last week was Gratitude Week, and I didn’t have a chance to tell you that registration is open for our holiday run of Just Five Things. At this typically busy time of year, we’ll be creating pockets of quiet to reflect, explore, dream…all within the framework of creative lists. The prompts will be intentional and quiet to support us as we move through the early weeks of December. Click here for details. xo
In the funny (and sometimes wonderful) way in which the internet works, I can’t remember exactly how I discovered the work of today’s guest, Lesley Austin. I think it was on Instagram that I first became aware of Lesley’s beautifully crafted planners (hers are the planners I use and love). Then we happened to meet in an online workshop, and the emails began from there. We live in the same state (Virginia) so, in this wide world, it feels like she’s a friendly neighbor. She’s lovely (as you’ll soon see) and I admire (so much) the way she weaves her creative vision into earth-friendly and mindful-living products and community. Some of you, no doubt, are familiar with her work already and I hope you’ll learn something new about her today. For those of you meeting Lesley for the first time, I feel sure you’ll love her as much as I do. Ready?!…
To start, please tell us about your creative work and business.
How to begin? I would trace the roots of my business to the creativity that flourished when I became a mother. All that we do to create a nurturing home and atmosphere for our children really deepened my “everyday”creativity. And it was in my mothering years that I discovered all of the beauty and wisdom in vintage books, which led to my first creation sent out into the world, a small homemaking journal called The Bower (1997)…which led to my paper goods business-Small Meadow Press (2003 to the present)…and then an online version of it all was born with Wisteria & Sunshine, my membership website, in 2012.
I love hearing what creativity means to other people. Will you share with us what creativity means to you?
I suppose to me it means bringing into being something from within me. It is weaving what is outside of me with what is inside of me…what I am drawn to make with the rice and vegetables in front of me on the counter, for instance…or how I cut the worn and unraveling damask table cloth into smaller pieces to cover the arms of a chair…or put together a bird from an antique children’s book, some candles from another and ivy leaves printed from an old eraser carving to make this year’s Christmas card. It is this everyday, womanly creativity that I love and that so fulfills me.
Do you have any rituals surrounding your creative work?
Nothing formal…tho’ my studio is peaceful and supportive and I keep my time there (except when the printers are going : ) pretty quiet. I do have business rituals with daily, weekly and seasonal ingredients and tasks. I’ve created papery “containers”and little systems and rhythms for these that are also peaceful and encouraging. I do take regular business retreats, sometimes away from home in a b&b, sometimes upstairs in my son’s old rooms, which have an intentional feel to them. And there is always a candle on my studio work table and music to hand when ritual calls to me.
I know the environment is very important to you (and I love this about you). Will you share how your passion for our Earth informs the paper goods you create and how it also informs the thoughtful way you move through your life?
I wish I could trace this thread, which you are right Michelle, is truly the heart of so much for me. It probably began with the reading of a book that inspired me to become a vegetarian more than forty years ago. That was when I began to understand how everything is connected, you know? So the first garden I planted in my little rented home in Williamsburg was organic, as was much of the food we sought out. And then we moved out to the countryside and my eyes were opened to so much…the conventional, chemical agriculture going on in the fields next door to ours, the mining for the kitty litter plant a few miles away and-especially-the logging all around our county (and beyond.) It was the logging that got me thinking about paper and made me seek out tree-free paper for The Bower and everything that I’ve made since.
My desire…actually, it is more than that, it is really a need for me…to have my life and work be as gentle on the earth as possible, led to the very satisfying working out of other-than-the-usual ways. Tree-free envelopes to hold notecard sets, for instance…vintage seam binding or thin, torn strips of fabric instead of ribbon made from petroleum…a cover for the planner I make made of tree-free card stock and organic fabric stitched together with organic thread. It is so, so satisfying to work these things out. And it helps those who buy them, as well, because they don’t have to wrestle with what to do with anything they receive from me, packaging included. It is all as earth-thoughtful as something can be made.
And once I started making these connections, it’s like a muscle being worked. Seeing the connections came more and more easily, so it was natural to shift much of the way I do things…the way I shop, the way I tend my home, the way I set a table or wash the laundry. It was the discovering of all of this that led to the idea of Wisteria & Sunshine. All of the writing and photographs and conversation there began as a way to share my discoveries about living more lightly upon the earth and have evolved into a quiet haven where the focus is living a more seasonal, intentional life with all of the tendrils of simplicity and domesticity that are at the heart of that sort of living.
Another project of yours is Wisteria& Sunshine. Would you like to share about the lovely community you tend there?
Well, I already began a few questions ago, didn’t I? : ) It is so dear to my heart, tho’, and also a wee bit challenging to describe, I will gladly add a few thoughts. More than anything else, I think of Wisteria & Sunshine as a place. Creating peaceful, beautiful places, whether it is a room, or a planner page, or my online rooms, is one of my gifts. And I feel honored to have created such a place for women to come whenever they need and want to find some gentle encouragement, or loveliness or restoration. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie Enchanted April, you’ll know where I found the name for W&S. And you will understand, as well, why I thought that a nourishing place where women could gather (themselves when they feel scattered and together when that is wanted) and then go back to their every-days…refreshed, came into being.
You have a new endeavor, Make Do and Mend the Earth. Will you share a brief description of that project, and maybe point readers in the direction of the new site you’ve created to support this work? What inspired you to create this site, separate from your personal website?
Occasionally, we read books together at Wisteria & Sunshine, and this summer Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. It’s a longtime favorite of mine, but this reading, I was struck by the chapters set in the war years. All that those at home had to adapt to and change during the rationing years suddenly struck me as the very things we need to change our ways with to turn the terrible tide of the climate crisis. Many of us are trying lots of approaches to better care for the earth, but they can be overwhelming, complex and confusing.
What they had to do during the war was “make do”…make the most of what we already have, want less, be much more resourceful. When you shift to that as your approach, many of the dilemmas about what sort of toothbrush to buy or how to eat become much more simple. I really appreciated this new awareness and thought others would. So as well as creating a “movement,” I created a website as the gathering place for others who were interested. And there is an Instagram profile, too. There will be much more in the new year once my busy season with my shop has settled down and my vision for it all becomes clearer. But I will soon share some posts about a Make Do and Mend the Earth Christmas, the idea of which is already helping me to bring a more restful attitude towards the holidays.
I so appreciate this chance to share about it all, Michelle. Thank you so much! xo Lesley
And now for some fun ones…
What did you eat for breakfast?
Sauteed red potatoes, and kale (from the garden) and scrambled eggs (from the grocery store, but pasture-raised. Our hens are too old to lay in the winter.) I would usually make pancakes or scones on a Sunday morning, but am in the midst of a short reset with my eating.
What colors do you like to wear?
I like muted colors (browns, sage green, slate blue, dull reds and purples) and I also like small patterns.
Are you currently reading a book? If so, what is it?
I usually have a novel and a non-fiction going. Just now I am reading The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge and We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer
What are some ways you like to relax?
Laying on the earth is very restorative to me, in the fields or the woods. I love to watch long series, usually British mysteries but currently The Gilmore Girls. Baths are a favorite and almost a daily thing, especially in our outdoor tub. Reading. A glass of organic wine. I am very, very good at relaxing and have to prod myself for all the rest of life.
What makes you smile?
Oh, so much! Witty books…the antics of the birds we have all around us, including our hens…the movement of the clouds and the swaying of the trees…my husband’s terrible puns.
If you close your eyes right now, what word comes to mind?
Wonder. Just before I closed my eyes, I glanced outside my studio doors and saw the wrens hopping on the woodpile and the far trees lit up by the setting sun…wondrous.
Didn’t I tell you she was lovely?!
And now for the giveaway. . .
Lesley is offering a three-month membership for her online community, Wisteria & Sunshine. Really?! Yes!!! You can read all about this gentle space right here.
To enter the giveaway, here’s what you need to do:
Leave a comment below. You can simply say hello, or maybe share thoughts on the ways you quietly tend to your life, perhaps to the ways you thoughtfully “make do”. Comments will close at midnight PST on Monday, November 18, 2018. The randomly-selected winner will be announced here in this post on Tuesday, November 19. Comments are now closed.
The randomly-selected winner is themothershour (an email is coming your way shortly!)
Thank you to everyone who stopped by and left such lovely and thoughtful comments. It was a delight for both Lesley and me to read everything you wrote.
Thank you, Lesley, for being here with us today.
Sending a little love to everyone, m
My name is Lesley and I love to create beauty and peace…in my home,
online rooms and the pages I design for my shop. I live in the countryside
of Virginia with my husband, six hens and all of the wild things in field
and forest and sky. Our sons have flown the nest and I am learning how
to send down roots into these more solitary, spacious, elderwoman