Interview with Peggy Dean

When you think botanical line drawing, you think Peggy Dean. But did you know she is also a urban sketching artist, a modern calligrapher and a watercolor artist? Above all that, she’s had several books published and teaches both online and in-person classes. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I discovered we share a passion: living a cruelty-free life. Let’s get to know more about the amazing woman behind The Pigeon Letters.

[Klik hier voor het interview in het Nederlands]

So far, most of the advice I have heard about finding your style and niche is to focus on one medium, or one style or one form of art. You seem to do it all. Can you tell me why you choose not to specialize? And do you think you need to approach this as a business strategy or is it best to follow your heart?

‘I love that you’re asking this question. I’ll be the first to say that folks are absolutely correct in saying that you’ll reach much further when you hone in on a particular style. That said, I create first and foremost for myself. It makes me happy, it lets me explore, and it keeps me disciplined. I have a hard time keeping my interests isolated and I’m a bit of a rule breaker and enjoy going against the flow. That said, I made it work for me to do a bit of everything that interests me.’

‘I think if someone wants to do art as a job and they’re career-driven, it’s best to find a style. If someone wants to explore and enjoy the process of continuous learning, they should make that work for them. At the end of the day, it’s obvious if our work came from a special place within us or if it was simply produced because the style was “trending”.’

How did you discover you like teaching and how did you end up becoming an award-winning instructor?
‘I knew I loved teaching when I was a fire dancer (poi). I had a lot of people inquire with me about it when I performed, so I decided that if people had the passion to want to learn, why not make that accessible to them? It’s no easy task to guide someone through a hand-eye coordination skill, but I was able to watch people, the way they’d think, the way they moved, how they digested information, and then I could introduce a new way to learn something and watch the lightbulb go off in their head. Omg, that moment is so rewarding!’

‘As far as becoming a top instructor, it’s actually a similar story. I started learning art because it interested me. People expressed interest, so I started sharing and explaining. I’m an over-sharer and I love sharing passion with likeminded people. Skillshare hosted a teaching challenge and I pulled the trigger, published my first class, and won the challenge. Shortly after, my classes landed me on The Today Show, TalentLMS’ Top 75 Classes for Entrepreneurs, and my classes are now licensed in several countries.’

You are a self taught artist. Have you ever felt unsecure about your art? If so, how have you overcome your self-doubts?
‘Heck yeah! Regularly. But at the end of the day, I’m exploring and learning ALWAYS. As long as I own that, I have nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re all exploring and that’s the beauty of it.’

Often people turn to other artists on Instagram or Pinterest for inspiration. What inspires you to create? And how do you make sure you make art that is true to you and not a copy of what you see other people create?
‘I actually don’t pay close attention to artists and I spend little time on social media. My inspiration is drawn from color palettes, nature and animals. When I do pick up interest from other artists, I like to identify what it is about the piece I’m most drawn to. Identifying small details that I’m drawn to help open my mind to trying new techniques in my own art.’

You launched the campaign Creativity Without Brutality to spread awareness about the use of animal products in art and to inform people of brands that are (animal) cruelty-free. Why is this so important to you?
‘Animals don’t have a voice. Many are gentle, helpless creatures who are relying on survival instincts and it’s our responsibility to respect their territory. People often think of “cruelty-free” in reference to fashion, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, etc. Those are very real issues and I encourage everyone to find alternatives, as there are so many effective ones! In the art world, however, there are a ton of products that either include animal ingredients or are tested on animals. Kolinsky sables are becoming extinct because of the fur trade, and most artists’ favorite paintbrushes contain kolinsky sable. Some art products are tested on animals, such as a roughed-up area of an animal’s skin to see how the chemicals react, or inside a rabbit’s pried-open eye (held that way for three days). To learn more about the collection process of animal ingredients in our art supplies, visit my full article.’

I was actually surprised by how hard it is to find out if a pen, paint or paper (or any other art supply) contains animal ingredients or is tested on animals. Also, a lot of manufacturers are afraid to label their products as vegan even though all the componants are. Do you have any thoughts on this matter?
‘I always recommend looking past packaging. The internet is a great resource and there are a lot of people who are passionate about this issue and have provided resources, such as my article that I mentioned before. To find this information, I have spent months researching a particular product and chatted with their company reps. If I still can’t find any information, I usually steer clear of the product. You have to pay attention; many companies will trick you with their wording on their animal testing policies.’

I recently stumbled upon the initiative There is Room for All of Us* on Instagram. I think it falls in the line of Community Over Competition, a hashtag that is quite popular in the lettering community and inspires all of us to be supportive instead of competitive. You are really supportive of beginners and other artists and very generous in sharing your knowledge. Have you always felt strongly about this or did this feeling come with the growth of your business and the confidence that you did not need te worry about competition?

‘I was very fortunate to work in high competitive fields from early on in my career, long before I was in the art world. Instead of feeling threatened, we came together and became allies, so if they won, I won and vice-versa. I got into the art world when I was personally struggling with my mental health. It was a safe place that I could release and it was a huge factor in how I was able to heal. For this reason, I want people to know exactly what you said — there is ROOM FOR THEM. There is room for everyone to create and they should feel empowered to do so if they feel that passion. Even if someone does something similarly to someone else, they still can’t do it exactly the same. No one can be “uniquely you”.’

What are you most proud of or what is the coolest thing that has happened? No shame.
‘Oh I have no shame, not ever. It’s a blessing and a curse, haha! Easily, easily, easily — the best thing that has happened in my career is watching other people blossom into artists and even teachers themselves. Seeing people today creating murals on the sides of buildings, publishing books, signing licensing deals, who I coached just a short year ago, gosh, it just fills me with so much joy.’

Do you have any plans for the future that you can share with us?
‘I’ve actually just recently slammed the brakes on my reach because I went so hard for the past two years. It’s hard because my brain is a bit of a machine, but right now I’m focusing more on creating for ME and enjoying the process, while spending more time with my family.’

Do you have any last words for us?
‘There is room for you.’ ❤

Pictures: Lauryn Kay Photography

*#theresroomforallofus is initiated by @laurenipsum_