On Art & Heart / Jo Staker
Describe the scene before you right now.
I’m sitting at a small desk in our ‘formal’ lounge room. I’ve only recently set up a writing space down here. For years, my desk was in a corner of our upstairs bedroom, but my husband Dave has a chronic illness now, and he needs to sleep often during the day. The couches in this room belong to my mother-in-law who lived with us until late last year, when she went into residential aged care. The heavy wooden lamp with the jade silk lampshade was bought by my parents in Singapore fifty years ago. For my birthday a few years back, Dave had an electrician rewire it so it wouldn’t burn the house down.
Describe a moment from today that you want to remember.
Our chooks were beside themselves with excitement when I delivered some celery tops to them. They are easily pleased. I’m 46 years old, but I still feel the need to hold a freshly laid egg up to my cheek to feel its warmth. It’s probably a bit gross, but I do it every time.
What fills you with joy?
When all four of my kids are home for a meal at the same time. Swimming in the ocean. Eating soup in the sun. Cooking from a new recipe book. Rainbow-colour-coded bookshelves. My kindy SRE classes. Text messages from the library to tell me my reserves are in. Having deep conversations with people. Live music. Op-shopping. Ginkgo trees. IKEA.
What fills you with hope?
The knowledge that God is a far better parent to my kids than I’ll ever be. Knowing that ultimately they belong to Him. In his graciousness, he has let me birth them, love them, and mother them, but, whatever the future brings, they are loved and adored much more by their heavenly parent.
What makes your heart ache?
Geography. My extended family is spread far and wide.
Describe a piece of art that is precious to you.
A still life that hangs in the kitchen. It’s a blue vase of red flowers. One of my sons made it when he was in primary school. He doesn’t think it is anything special, but I do, and it makes me happy every morning when I turn on the coffee machine.
Are there any books about art that you have found helpful?
A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman. This is a book that links being made in The Creator’s image with our need to create, and that we can do that in a million little ways. One person’s art may be designing an intricate spreadsheet, while another’s may be an oil painting. There is also a chapter titled ‘Listen to Your Crazy Ideas’ that definitely speaks to me because I’m full of crazy ideas.
Can you name a few artists who inspire you?
Anyone who is brave enough to keep creating and making art, whatever their age or circumstances: My friend Tammy who has created the best reading corner in her classroom, because she wants her students to love reading. My friend Mandy who has a debilitating illness, but who just got herself a contract to write and illustrate a picture book. My mum who is studying creative writing in her seventies so she can write the books she knows the world needs. My friend Susanna who lives with daily pain and exhaustion but still prepares for Bible study each week, and bakes for us too. My daughter Sarah who once paper-collaged her entire bedroom! My friend Richard who works in IT but is learning how to restore cricket bats. My friend Paul who went on a ‘rock and roll band camp’ to New York City in his forties.
Is your art driven by heartache or hope or both?
Lately, I have written a number of stories that feature grandfathers. My kids lost both their grandfathers in the past few years, so maybe I’ve been subconsciously writing from heartache. I’m always aiming to write stories that might be just what a child (or even an adult) needs at the time, to not feel alone. When my father died early last year, I found myself drawn to reading both the Psalms and a lot of picture books. I found Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch and Michael Rosen’s Sad Book particularly comforting. They were the books I needed at the time. I also just like to write things that are funny and silly. I have a soon-to-be published story about a stinky fish-eating contest between two Vikings. I’m pretty sure there’s no heartache behind that one!
You can follow Jo on Instagram here. You can read the other posts in this series here. The photo of the octopus was taken at Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn, New South Wales. According to Jo, ‘it was super scary’.