On the Road with Artist Michelle McLendon

In this delightful interview, I chat with award-winning artist Michelle McLendon, the founder and creative force behind The Purple Onion Books. We talk about her compelling story, the inspirations behind her exquisite, hand-bound journals and stationery, and the inside scoop on working and traveling on the juried art show circuit. With candor, grace, and more than a little laughter, Michelle shares her thoughtful insights, experiences, and advice about being a working artist, and the imaginative ways she keeps the creative fire burning bright.

Click the <play> button above if you enjoy hearing captivating stories about following your creative dreams. Go on now. You’ve got this!

The Backstory

I first met the talented Michelle McLendon several years ago at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola, FL. (For context, GGAF is one of the most popular, juried art shows in the country.) My husband David and I were volunteering for the show that year, something we’ve done for the past three decades. While walking around the amazing show that first morning, I came upon the most beautiful sight. There in Michelle’s tent were some of the most remarkable, handcrafted journals and stationery I had ever seen. Some of her journals were bound in supple leathers, others in patterned fabrics. All included the loveliest papers. I was smitten. Throughout the three-day show, I visited Michelle’s tent several times. Each time, we talked more about her stunning work, and I studied the intricacies of each journal, ultimately choosing my favorite.

Year after year, Michelle was selected as an artist for GGAF—no mean feat given how competitive it is to get into the show. And year after year, we got to know each other better. Later, when I launched the podcast, Michelle McLendon was at the top of my list of creatives to interview. However, it took until Season 3 to gather the courage to invite her to be my guest. As if by magic, she said, “Yes!” I couldn’t be happier to share her wonderful story with you.

The Interview

In this thoughtful interview, Michelle talks about the health problems that caused her to leave her job, and the creative hobby that allowed her to work when she felt like it, then later as a full-time job. You’ll hear about her experience in her first prestigious art show and the way she sees that experience as her creative launch pad. You’ll also learn about her highest highs and lowest lows; what it’s like to be in a juried art show—even one that’s “disastrous”; and how her journey on the art show circuit has contributed to building her confidence as an artist.

You’ll love hearing her talk about the inspirations behind her work, the artist with whom she would most love to spend a weekend working, and the three things that most people don’t know about her—even those who do. You’ll learn how she overcomes creative blocks, and you’ll enjoy her thoughtful advice for anyone who would love to follow their artistic dreams. In short, you’re in for a treat, including a sneak preview of things to come in the next five years.

Fun Facts

  • Collects and tinkers with antique sewing machines until they work exactly like she wants. Her mom and paternal grandmother taught her all about sewing.
  • Collects fountain pens and inks because she uses her journals, too!
  • Knows an absurd amount about trees. Her maternal grandfather was a forest ranger, and that love of trees found her. It’s part of why she loves hiking and being in the woods.
  • Reads tarot. It’s a great tool for inner reflection.
  • At one point or another, has played the flute, tenor saxophone, piano, and cello.
  • Loves “Doctor Who” and horror movies, books, and short stories. (Horror is basically all she ever reads.)

Cool Links

Michelle’s Award-Winning Work: The Purple Onion Books
M’s Wonderful Instagram Page
Secret Escape: Fort Mountain in Chatsworth, GA
Happy Place: Florida Caverns State Park
Best Summer Sunsets: Indiana Dunes National Park
Favorite Fountain Pen Maker #1: Walltown Pens
Favorite Fountain Pen Maker #2: Franklin-Christoph

Quotes by Michelle

“That’s one of the main things you learn from artists: Listen to those people that have been doing it a long time.”

“When you find a show, really they’re presenting themselves to you. They present a resume to you to get you to apply …. [And] it’s kind of wild that they choose you off four, maybe five pictures.”

“You can find inspiration anywhere you look for it.”

“Really, you have to just do it. That was what I did. I just had to kind of jump in and hope it works out and be willing to change something if what you’re doing is not working …. You have to just jump and hope.”

Deb Gaut

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