Creativity, Intentional Living & Slowing Down: An Interview with Artist Lydia Gatzow

Lydia Gatzow, oil painter, on creativity & intentional living

Today is all about creativity and intentional living.  

Okay, everyday around here is about those two things, but today especially.

A few weeks ago, our friends and farm yurt-dwellers Lydia and Charles moved out of the yurt and into a 1983 VW Vanagon.  

Lydia’s a talented oil painter, and for the past two years, she’s been painting the farm and the Worcester range.  

Her time spent painting here helped me validate my dream of hosting artist and writers retreats on the farm, and deepened my understanding of how creativity is essential to farming and growing a deep-rooted life.

Before they drove off, Lydia and I sat down for a conversation on painting, living slowly, and crafting and intentional life.

Whether you’re an artist, a farmer, or simply appreciate what blooms when you let yourself slow down, this interview is for you.

Click play below to listen to our conversation, or read the transcript (and check out some of Lydia’s paintings) below.


K: First, I just want to say I’ve really loved having you painting and being here on the farm.  You’re about to leave on an adventure, which we’ll talk about towards the end, but we’ll miss your presence on the farm.

L: Oh, that’s so sweet.  We’re going to miss you guys so much.  

K: You’ve been painting for a long time, and I’d love to know when you started painting, and what drew you to that medium.

L: I started painting in high school.  I started by taking a figure drawing class at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.  They had some summer sessions, and I started doing that and I was blown away by the human figure.  I loved to draw and paint the anatomy, and I loved feeling the connection to what I was looking at through different marks.

I started oil painting around that time.  I actually learned with oils — a lot of people start with watercolor or acrylic, but I had a friend and teacher in high school who did a lot of oil painting and that’s what I learned right away.

I liked how slow it was.  

I like the really long drying time it took because I could just return to the painting and add more marks and give it space and time and then come back and continue to sculpt whatever I was doing with the paint.

Oil painting of the Worcester Range by Lydia Gatzow

K: I don’t know very much about different types of painting, but to hear you say you liked how slow it is — that isn’t something we really celebrate anymore, that slowness.  

On the farm I’m always reminded to slow down while a crop is growing.  I think, well I can’t make it grow faster.  

L: Definitely.  There’s a lot of patience involved.  I also live at a slower pace, so with my painting, I can be like, “oh it’s waiting for me!”

And it feels like this very great relationship.  This building up of time and energy.

K: You’ve been painting here on the farm for the last two years.  Can you talk about your relationship with nature, what has drawn you more towards landscapes, and what’s drawn you to paint one specific place?  

You’ve been painting this same landscape for two years, but every painting is different.

L: That’s a great question.  I actually had an amazing epiphany with painting landscape during art school.  

I went to college for art, and I would visit my mom who lived in the Adirondack State Park, and it was really just painting the wilderness that made me feel like, wow this is so similar to painting a person, but so much more complex.

There’s so much more life and energy.  I felt like I could connect to the landscape in a really unique way.  

I could feel a lot of connection to the land and the elements and the forces within nature.   

Oil painting at Good Heart Farmstead by Lydia Gatzow
Oil painting at Good Heart Farmstead by Lydia Gatzow

When I came up to Good Heart Farmstead, the Worcester Range is such an iconic, scenic landscape view.  It’s breathtaking every day, but it’s also always changing— the light over the mountains, the different weather patterns, the humidity during the heat of summer, the sunrise and sunset — so it’s this point of departure where all the elements feel like they really intersect.  

The space, and the air, and the sense of water and earth.  It’s all feeling very present and there’s this sense from the Worcester Range that feels very wild in comparison to a lot of places in Vermont.

I always like to form a deep connection to the land, so I feel like I’ve made that here, and it’s been a continuing conversation with this particular view and I.

I could feel a lot of connection to the land and the elements and the forces within nature.   

K: I love putting it in that term, of it being a conversation.  We’ve had people ask if we ever get tired of the view, and I just say no — it changes all the time, it always looks different, and it really does feel like a conversation.

We were talking right before this about how people, art, and nature come together, and I’d love to hear how that all fuses into your life.  What pulls you to keep painting and keep showing up in the same spot to continue that conversation?

L: It’s so challenging because with art I feel like it’s so integrated into who I am, and it’s been something I’ve always gravitated towards.  I feel like our desire to express what’s around us and connect with other people is such a primal, inherent desire — or need, even.

That community between land, between yourself, and between other people — having that synergistic thing that is happening, where you’re looking at something where the land is telling you a story.  

There’s so much of the past in the geography of the landscape, in the soil, and then there’s people that are around that are creating changes, and there’s just this really interesting dynamic that happens when you create a piece of art that expresses something or mirrors something natural that other people can connect to or understand or relate to.

K: From sharing this land together for the last couple years, I can see that you and Charles have a very intentional lifestyle.  

It’s something that I can see you’ve taken a lot of time to craft, even in just the way you move throughout the days, the way you show up whether you’re doing art or weeding, that you have a particular intention about your days.  

I know that’s not always easy to keep — it’s not always easy to show up the way we want to show up.  For anyone who’s listening or who’s at a point where they’re like:

I know that I want my life to go in a certain direction, but I don’t know how to make it go there, or it feels really scary to go there —

Could you share some things that have helped you keep going on a path that you know is your purpose?

You talked about how you feel art is your purpose, and so how do you keep taking those steps?

L: Weeding is a really good metaphor for that.  I was just thinking about this the other day. Every time I devote more of myself to my work and deliver more hope and positivity, and the more I visualize and speak that intention, the more the Universe creates space for it and delivers the things I need to keep moving forward.

With weeding, a lot of creating a good intention is taking the things out of your life that don’t really serve you or that purpose.  

That’s been a really hard process for me.  I’ve had to consider a lot of relationships, my day to day lifestyle, what I consume or don’t consume.  

So I would definitely say that every aspect of how I live is very intentional, and it’s sort of like that emptiness from not doing certain things, or letting go of certain things, is what creates the space for my art to really thrive, and for my purpose to continue to be this light that guides me towards my goals.

I think since I’ve been doing art, I’ve had this intense need or desire to also work with nature or my environment at the same time.  They’re two things that really run in tandem with one another. My paintings are very informed by my perception of nature, and vice versa.

With weeding, a lot of creating a good intention is taking the things out of your life that don’t really serve you or that purpose.  

Oil painting at Good Heart Farmstead, by Lydia Gatzow

K: Going on that sense of taking intentional steps forward and saying, This is the path I want to go on — you and Charles are about to go on quite an adventure.  I know that has taken a lot of time to get ready for.

You’re moving into your van for the summer, and going on a road trip, and I’d love to know how that seed of an idea started, what your goals are for the trip, and how people can follow you around the country.

L: It’s a really loaded question because it’s been such a long time coming.  But this idea of building out a van and living in it, that’s a dream that Charles and I both had even before we met each other.  

It was a unique situation that I happened to invest in a VW bus, and that we had just started dating, and our futures were really open-ended.

It just came about in a natural way.  I had a van before this one, which was too rusted out — it had been a gift to me by my mom’s fiance who has a flooring company and would use that for jobs.  When that got rusted out, I looked for a cuter, more lifestyle van.

That got me more excited about the whole trip because it drives slower, requires more work and attention, and it really took a lot of patience to build up to the trip.

Creativity and Intentional Living
Lydia and Foxy the van

K: And you’re going to be incorporating painting within your trip as well?

L: Yeah, the whole idea is that I can just paint every day, and be inspired by a different landscape every morning that I wake up.  

We have a couple destinations in mind, like Yellowstone National Park, Crater Lake National Park, and some parts of Alaska, too.  Spaces that are really wild and have a lot of elemental activity happening. We’re really looking to be inspired from this trip, and give ourselves all the time and space that we need to focus on the things we love to do.

Charles does a lot of rock climbing, so he wanted a van to go and be a dirtbag out of, and climb every day.  I just wanted a van to travel around to painting festivals and paint different iconic National Park scenes.

So we’re fusing those dreams together.  He’s basically going to climb on things that I’ll be painting.  We’ll be doing our own things together.

K: You just started a website for your van travels.  What is that called?

L: It’s Foxy Nomads.  

K: Will you be posting things so people can follow where your trail is leading?

L: Yeah, so we have a regular blog that we’ll be posting on, and we also have our own pages.  Charles will have a photo blog of his rock climbing adventures. I have a page where I’ll be posting plein air painting photos.

If you don’t know, plein air is just like the French term for outdoors.  It was coined as an art movement back in the 1800s for French painters who were getting out of the studio to create studies of Nature to then bring back and use as reference points.

K: I’m super excited to live vicariously through you.  I don’t know if I’ve said this, but when I was in high school, I had a dream to live out of a VW bus, so it’s been really fun to watch it all come together.

L: I feel like a lot of people would love to do that, and I would just encourage anyone who can to go and do it.

Thank you so much.  We’re so grateful for you and Edge and Waylon.  It’s been some of the best years for us.

K: Well you’ll always have a space to come back to.  Hopefully we’ll see you in the fall or winter, whenever you make it back this way.

Creativity and Intentional Living
Edge, Me, Lydia, and Charles before they left in the van

Thank you so much for reading this good heart life interview.  I hope it’s planted a seed of creativity, and given you permission to slow down and grow the life that truly brings you alive.

You can follow Lydia and Charles, aka the Foxy Nomads, across the country on Instagram @foxynomads, their website foxynomads.net, and see Lydia’s paintings at lydiagatzow.com.

Oil painting, Creativity and Intentional Living
One of Lydia’s field studies early in their van adventure of Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan

Now I’d love to know, what was your biggest take-away from Lydia’s approach to painting and intentional living?

For me, it was the reminder of the beauty and elements we can converse with when we slow down.

I’m also curious: Have you ever packed everything up and set off wandering?  On the flip side, have you set seeds and grown in one place long enough to be part of the landscape’s conversation?

Let me know in the blog comments, and we can create our own conversation there.

If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for The Good Heart Life weekly letter, where I share more on organic growing from soil to soul that I don’t post anywhere else.  

Thanks again for reading, and until next time: plant seeds and keep growing.

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