GUEST 4 | The Art of Improv with Laura Yurs


Laura Yurs

on The Art of Improv

Our guest this week is Laura Yurs an Indianapolis based photographer who’s love of wandering, witnessing and searching is evident in the beautifully poetic moments she captures as she photographs the environment of our everydays. Her works are a vision of the simple connections to be made with each other as the city streets are navigated.

   Crosswalk   Laura Yurs

Crosswalk Laura Yurs

What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’? 

Working improvisationally to me, means being fluid and adapting as you create.  Being able to adapt to the impulses you feel as you the changes in your adapt to the thoughts and feelings that arise.

 Have you always worked improvisationally?  

I suppose so...I've never really considered it.  With street photography, it's almost entirely improvisational because it's entirely made up of what I see or what/who walks into the frame.  With portrait photography, I still feel it's improvisational.  You can have the perfect setup for portrait work, but the individual or family that your working with brings their own spirit, personality, etc into the frame.  It could be something that happened on the way to the shoot and/or it could be something that they reveal as you're in that vulnerable space together.  ...the light is always shifting and sometimes what you have planned changes entirely because the light is better elsewhere.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there? 

I work improvisationally, consciously, and intentionally!  With photography, I often begin intentionally.  I might travel to a certain location.  I might go at a specific time of day because I have an idea.  I'm conscious and observant in the space...maybe looking for someone with a cool hat...maybe looking for a couple...someone on a bike...etc.  Once I get to the location, I might find that the light is better a block away.  OR I might run into something more interesting on my way there.  I was once driving around downtown Indy when I came across of clown car.....with clowns piling out of it!!  BEST EVER.  I mostly try to be in the moment and look for the light.  I know that sounds so cheesy, but it's truly how it works for me.  Look for good light....look for good architecture....wait.  OR go into a crowd and really notice people.  I fall in love with humanity a little each time I'm out with my camera.  Bus stops are FABULOUS places to watch people.  Everyone is coming and going...stories everywhere.  And for more formal events, it's really still mostly the same.  You can be shooting a wedding and lose yourself in the crowd.  Or with a family photo shoot.... 

   Muse   Laura Yurs

Muse Laura Yurs

How often do you work with improvisation?  

I'd say I primarily work with improvisation.  The only time it doesn't feel improvisational is when I'm making head shots.  It's not something I do very often and it's mostly pretty clear cut and defined.  

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up? terms of tricks for getting unstuck....I usually try one of a few things: switch up cameras, switch up lenses, try a new roll of film (switch to color from bw or vice versa), look at other photographer's work that I admire, maybe take a course.  OR put the camera down and walk away....  this used to scare me.  Now I see it as my head and heart needing something else....took me awhile to embrace it.  Maybe that something else is reading or music or oil pastels or sewing or ????  Go immerse yourself in whatever is calling your attention.  Sometimes you just need to refill your soul elsewhere.  I always, always come back to the camera.  Always.  

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it? 

Truthfully, everywhere.  I watch the light...again, I know that sounds cheesy, but I do.  And that inspires me to shoot all kinds of things.  Also, I'm really inspired by people in relation to spaces, particularly architecture.  I'm always struck by how a building can make you FEEL and if you wait patiently....a person will walk into that space and you just feel your heart skip.  So, a lot of times I go to a city...downtown....and I walk and watch.  I look for light and good lines...and I wait.  

   Through the Looking Glass   Laura Yurs

Through the Looking Glass Laura Yurs

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally.  Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?  

Well, mostly I just think it's really important to be aware.  Be observant and pay attention to what MOVES attention to what attracts your eye and your heart.  ...and then act on it before you stop to think.  I took a Masterclass with Joel Meyerowitz recently and it was one of the best experiences I've had!  Stop thinking...just shoot what thrills you! could say....Stop thinking just CREATE what thrills you!  Your portfolio will change over time...I think it's important to give ourselves that freedom.  

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’  

What if we could silence the fear and the critical voice inside!

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?  

I'm reading The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.  I'm reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.K. Konigsburg & A Fall for Friendship by Megan Atwood with my kids.  I'm back in a John Coltrane mood on Pandora after a hearty round of Taylor Swift with my daughter.  I'm in the middle of a personal growth, identity, & style class with Stasia's Style School. just turned me onto The Jealous Curator, but I also enjoy Making Light.  And I just bought a ton of film to take to NYC in a few weeks....  I've been away from the camera for a bit and I feel it calling me.  

Thank you Laura for sharing your work and your thoughts on improv, I am uplifted by these moments that inspire you and thankful to know more about where they come from. Your can learn more about Laura and her work on her website and here as a featured artist on Viewfinders and check out her out on Instagram.

If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.

GUEST 3 | The Art of Improv with Twyla Exner


Twyla Exner

on The Art of Improv

Our Second guest, Twyla Exner is a Canadian artist and educator inspired by the wonders of nature and the idea of electronic technologies gone awry.  She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the University of Regina and a Master of Fine Arts degree in studio arts from Concordia University (Montreal).  Her artworks have been exhibited across Canada from Annapolis Royal, NS to Campbell River, BC to Dawson City, YT.  She is passionate about sharing in the creative process with individuals of all ages and backgrounds and has designed and facilitated lectures, workshops, lesson plans and interactive art making experiences for schools, community centers, post-secondary institutions, galleries and festivals across Canada.   She creates colorful organic wire sculptures, drawings, and is currently exploring molding and casting.  Her work exudes her love of nature and her fascination and conflicted feelings toward technology and its rapidly increasing role is our lives.  Here are her thoughts on improvisation and how it as a process impacts her art.

   Things 2 & 3: Friends   Twyla Exner

Things 2 & 3: Friends Twyla Exner

What does working improvisationally mean to you? How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?

For me, working improvisationally means to begin making without a set plan or preconceived idea in place: starting to work, responding to what appears and continuing that process until a work is complete.    

Have you always worked improvisationally?

I have always doodled which follows the improvisational process for me.  But I have not always worked improvisationally within in my art practice.  As an art student, I was concerned with creating as “perfect” of works that I could, which for me meant planning, drafts, and gridding off drawings.  As I’ve become less concerned with making “perfect” representational works, I am more inclined to work improvisationally.   

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally? If so, how do you begin? If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

When I started working improvisationally, it was not a conscious or intentional process. I was just exploring mediums and learning about making.  I had a great Professor in ceramics who encouraged us to respond to whatever might be happening with the clay.  I will never forget the day I dropped a pot I was so proud of on the floor.  I was upset but he just came along and picked it up, and said “but look how it captured gravity”!  The process of making ceramics has so many points where something can go wrong.  You could make the perfect piece and then bump it while it’s still wet.  You could accidentally take off a little too much clay while altering it.  It could crack or warp in the drying or firing process.  Someone else’s glaze could splatter all over yours.  Especially in a group studio full of students, there are so many opportunities for hiccups along the way.  At the time that I took ceramics, I was a planner but I loved clay.  Accepting mistakes and responding to changes was a difficult process but I believe it made me a more resilient artist and gave me a different approach to making.  As an artist who now also works as an art instructor, the improvisational mind set is important and valuable in all my activities.

   Thing 1   Twyla Exner

Thing 1 Twyla Exner

How often do you work with improvisation?

It depends on the project that I’m working on and the materials I’m working with.  I have the most fun while working improvisationally but the planner still lives inside of me.  I work improvisationally on my wire works.  I tend to plan and more carefully draft my drawings but the improvisation does creep in here and there.  Currently, I’m working on molding and casting barnacles that are then placed onto used television satellite dishes.  Molding and casting does not allow for much improvisation, but the placement of the barnacles gives a little more freedom.   

Please share a bit about your process. Do you have methods to getting started? Do you have tricks to getting unstuck? Do you have motivators to finishing up?

I almost always have some wire works on the go as all I need are my fingers and a pair of needle nose pliers.  They fit into my life at any time, I can work on them while I’m watching TV, visiting with friends or travelling by car, similar to how knitters or crocheters are always working on something. For example, I will work on making a lot of tubes or knobs when I am tired or distracted or if I feel stuck because I know I can use them and it is a productive use of that time.  That provides a stock pile of parts that are ready to go and I can begin to work improvisationally to combine the parts and build onto them to create a sculpture.  I don’t have any special method of starting: I just get to work and see where things go.  I usually start with one of my stock piled knobs and build around it, adding more knobs or tubes or decorative elements as I go.  Often, I will create 4 or 5 separate sections of a sculpture in the same colour scheme and then puzzle those sections together into a sculpture.  Sometimes the sections puzzle together perfectly and sometimes I must build a section of a specific size or shape to close the piece off.  Deadlines are my most powerful motivator, but if I am close to finishing a piece I am usually excited to complete it and start on a new one.

Where do you find inspiration? How do you use it?

I’m inspired by the wonders of nature and the idea of electronic technologies gone awry.  I gather inspiration from books and digital images that capture everything from micro photography of cells to images captured by satellites.  Images of ocean life, fungi, plants and seed pods are some of my favourites.  I am fortunate to live on the edge of a forest in Northern BC, so walks in the forest and incredible creatures such as moths and toads also form my inspirations.  I have a collection of digital images of space occupying and Earth-bound satellites.  I also have amassed e-waste technologies such as circuit boards, CDs, wires, telephones and other discarded treasures.  These inspirations arrive in my work as material or imaged based inspiration.  In some of my creations, the influences are obvious while many of the wire works reference natural forms, patterns, colour combinations, attachment and grow patterns while appearing to be abstract.  I also love science fiction books and TV shows and those narratives play easily into my works.  

   Thing 5: Albino   Twyla Exner

Thing 5: Albino Twyla Exner

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally. Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

I make art with kids and so I say “there are no mistakes in art, only opportunities for us to exercise our creativity” at least three times a week.  It’s a good reminder that when things do not go as planned or there’s a drip on the paper or skills are still in development that there are still endless and wonderful possible outcomes.  Those outcomes may lead you down a path you never may have come across through careful planning.  My advice to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally is to experiment with a new medium.  You will likely be free of the expectations you have of your “comfort” medium when you try something new.  Another great way is to collaborate with another person.  Play the “exquisite corpse” or pass a drawing or sculpture back and forth with an artist who works with a completely different approach than you.  It’s fun and may force you outside your comfort zone.

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

What if you could free your creative creature without imposing any rules or obligations.

What are you reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

I enjoy reading science fiction, art theory, graphic novels and kids’ books.  I’ve just finished reading: Thinking Through Craft by Glenn Adamson which considers conceptual and historical inquiry on artworks classified as “craft”, One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry that examines 100 of the artists’ demons through comics, and The Adventures ofBeekle by Dan Santant that encourages us to place our destiny in our own hands.  I love watching cooking shows (I’m a terrible cook) and recently enjoyed Zumbo’s Just Desserts.  With every episode part of me wishes I had become a cake sculptor.  Depending on my mood, while I’m working I will listen to CBC Radio 2, music (a mix from the 60s-today) or podcasts.  Currently my favourite podcasts are Art for Your Ear by the Jealous Curator that features interviews with artists, Art Made Easy with Patty Palmer which is an art education podcast (motivation and art material info for educators can also be useful for artists) and TedTalks Art.     

Thank you Twyla!  It has been a pleasure learning more about you, your work and your improv process.  I too believe there are no mistakes in art, only opportunities. . . I look forward to looking into some of you inspirational obsessions as well, I am always looking for new podcasts and Art Made Easy sounds very interesting!  I hope to get up close and personal with one of your 'things' someday soon.  You can learn more about Twyla on her website and catch a glimpse of her day to day on Instragram.

If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.

GUEST 2 | The Art of Improv with Peggy Breidenbach

IMG_7056_edited 2.jpg

Peggy Breidenbach

on The Art of Improv

Our guest this week is an Indianapolis based ceramic artist and educator Peggy Breidenbach. Her ceramic work beautifully reflects her personal universal observations about life, change, growth and the fragile beauty of now. She is influenced by forms found in nature and by nature as metaphor.

   Oneness   Peggy Breidenbach

Oneness Peggy Breidenbach

What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the 'Art of Improv'?

 A few years back – after reading Tina Fey’s book, Bossy Pants, I became very interested in Improv.  I took 2, eight-week workshops in it.  This was completely out of my comfort zone and truly terrifying at first.  But it was also super liberating.  Improv is about saying “yes” to the situation your improv partners are presenting you with and then adding onto it with your own “and”.  There’s no time for thinking.  It’s about trusting your own instincts and trusting your fellow improv partners as well.  It’s a great skill to develop. 

 Working improvisationally for me means trying to approach the clay with few preconceived notions.  If I can allow myself some time to simply play with the clay, I usually end up with something pleasing and new.  It means following my instincts. 

 I also find that when I have limited inputs (time, material, tool constraints) I will make do with what’s around me.  For example, we have a cabin we frequently go to for weekends.    Sometimes I’ll bring some clay and a few tools and make simple pinch pots while sitting outside.  Often though I forget the clay and find myself creating with what’s there.  Sticks, rocks and other stuff.  One day while cutting back wisteria at the cabin, I found myself with all these long, beautiful, green vines.   I started to weave very primitive baskets with them.  This lead me down a road of making ceramic pieces that mirrored these basket forms.

Have you always worked improvisationally?

I have not always worked improvisationally, but it is mostly my approach now.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

 Yes, I will often make what I call “blanks”… sometimes these are small, closed forms that I will paddle/pinch/cajole into a shape and/or add some other surface elements to.  I LOVE these closed forms, as they possess volume and dimension and are completely contained… like little pods or buds or eggs.  They hold so much potential… What will be born by them?

 Other “blanks” I work with are clay canvases that I make (usually squares) and push together and build upon.  These become wall pieces that can be mounted in various configurations.

   Fragments   Peggy Breidenbach

Fragments Peggy Breidenbach

How often do you work improvisationally?

I would say 90% of the time I’m working this way.  Sometimes you just can’t.  Recently, as you know, I took an idea I’d been toying with and, with your encouragement, ran with it.  The idea was to make ceramic fortune cookies and fill them with inspirational quotes - small gifts of wisdom, truth & joy - to give out at our art center’s annual faculty show.  This involved making hundreds of clay fortune cookies.  While repetitive and meditative, there wasn’t much improvisation involved.  I did however use improv to construct a small wire loop needed to hold the cookies while dipping them into a colored slip. I felt good about that.

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up?

Just doing something is usually enough for me.  I recognize when I’m avoiding the studio… or other life stuff gets in the way of me getting there.  The urge to create builds up inside me and I know I have to go do something, anything, to get things going and have progress.  Pushing the material around is often enough for me to know what needs to happen next.  Listening to my instincts, what’s pleasing, and getting lost in the process.  It moves me along to the next steps… how shall I finish?  Should I glaze or burnish?  Where is this going?

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it?

All over… often from forms I see and love around me, like stones, or seeds, flowers, tree bark, fungus.  I’ve collected all sorts of these things all my life and I think what’s happened is that I just sort-of absorbed it all by touching and looking at things. 

I also find great inspiration from the work of other artists.  These include Georgia O’Keefe, Richard Serra, Hans Coper, Isamo Naguchi, Alice Ballard, Chris Gustin, Christine Nofchissey McHorse and Florian Baudrexel.  I try to pay attention to what really moves me about their work – their lines, their sensibilities and incorporate those into my own.

One day a few years back I found I was weary of making smooth, undulating, sensuous forms.  I had been looking at works by Florian Baudrexel.  I literally got out a 2x4 and starting whacking away at the closed form.  I loved the results.  For a period, I challenged myself to work on the edge… nothing soft.

I also find that whatever I’m going through in life, always finds its way into my pieces… aging, loss, control, fragility, etc… it all comes out in the clay.

   Glow   Peggy Breidenbach

Glow Peggy Breidenbach

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally?  Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

My advice would be to pay attention to what you love and give yourself the time and space to just play with your material.  It will all come out in the process.

Also, try to surround yourself with smart and supportive artist friends, I consider you in this group, Jen.  I can be so hard on myself and these friends have helped me out of some slumps. 

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if…. ?’

… all my ideas were magic!  

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

I find journaling and reading poetry helps me know myself and understand my place in the world.  Some poets I love…  Mary Oliver, Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins, Faith Shearin, Louise Glück and Marie Howe.

Thank you Peggy for sharing your work and your ideas on the improv process. I love that you took an actual improv acting class and pushed yourself out of your comfort zone in this way! Your appreciation of nature, play and the now is evident in the form and beauty of your work. I am so lucky to say you are one of my smart and supportive artist friends! I thank you for that.

You must check out Peggy’s most recent project Food for Thoughts and follow the way it spreads small gifts of wisdom, truth & joy! You also can learn more about Peggy, and see some recent work on her website and follow along as she inspires and shares more about her process on Instagram.

If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.

Guest 1 | The Art of Improv with Patricia Ryan Madson


Patricia ryan madson

on The Art of Improv

Having been inspired by the book Improv Wisdom:  Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, I reached out to the author Patricia Ryan Madson and I am honored that she agreed to share some thoughts on improv with me.  Patricia is an author and an award winning professor Emerita from Stanford University, she heads the undergraduate acting division and is responsible for the development of the improvisation program.  There she founded the Creativity Initiative, an interdisciplinary alliance of faculty  who share the belief that creativity can be taught.  She has given workshops all over the world.  Her corporate clients include the likes of Google, Gap, YMCA, and Adobe Systems just to name a few.  She says she is happiest when she is improvising in the classroom or painting watercolor au plein air.  Thank you Patricia for participating and being the very first guest of The Art of Improv.


What does the ‘Art of Improv’ mean to you?

It’s interesting that you use this phrase.  I’ve never really thought of “improv” as an art.  I experience improv as a way, a process, (and if you want to get philosophical) a Tao. It is the operating system I use to accomplish things.  Improv contains the tools I use to approach life as well as the making of art. Although not all of my art is improvised.  Some of it is highly structured and planned.

If you were rewriting your book with visual artists in mind specifically, would you change or add anything?

I don’t think so.

If you were me, interviewing visual artists about their improv practice or process, what would you want to know?  What questions would you ask?

I might ask:  “How do you improvise? (if at all) 

Or “Are you afraid of improvising?”  (most people are)



You mention a bit about it in your book about how you starting painting and using improv, can you describe your process(es) of using improvisation when you paint now?

These days my preferred art form is a Japanese postcard type “painting”.  It’s not really correct to call it “art” but it uses image and line to create a message that is put on a postcard and mailed to a friend.  I just published an article for the ToDo Institute in Vermont, for their Journal of Thirty Thousand Days, Summer 2018 issue.   In it I explain that when you do an Etegami you are mainly thinking of what you want to say to your recipient . . . more of a greeting card sense.  It does contain, however, some art-like visual image, the more simple or clumsy, the better.  Actually thinking of these as “art” is likely to be an impediment.  (Art is such a loaded word.  ;-) 

Perhaps another example of improvisation is the way my small monoprints are created.  They are in themselves a kind of improvisation, in that after applying the paint to the plexiglass and pressing it onto the card what happens is itself an improvisation.  I have no control really over how the paint splashes. I can mess with it afterward, but the process itself is a very loose technique.

See my YouTube video for this:

I think many of the maxims of improv apply to artists as well:

1. Let go of control over the outcome.

2.  Start anywhere

3. Pay attention

4. Accept what is going on and add to it

5. Make mistakes (or allow mistakes to happen) and then capitalize on them.

6. Be average.  (Give up trying to do “great art”   . . . just DO It.

7. Enjoy the ride

A possible big issue with ART . . . is that I’m guessing most artist have some idea first of what they want to create, and then set about executing that idea as best they can.

With improv it is fundamental that you DON’T have any idea of where you are going until the journey begins. Once underway, the “artist” starts to shape and color whatever is going on in a pleasing way.


How would you finish the question ‘What if. . . ?’?

“What if you already have what you need?”

What are you reading, listening to, or watching?  What is currently inspiring you?


Netflix series:  “Anne with an E”  - one of the singularly most beautiful series I’ve seen.

Thank you Patricia for sharing some of your watercolor work and for your insight into The Art of Improv.  I think we all do have what we need and it is just a matter of believing it to be true, no? I also wonder if as artists we do have to have an idea of where we are going when we start? I think this is why improv is so appealing to me. I loved your book and recommend it to everyone!  To learn more about Patricia and her book, visit Improv Wisdom and see more of her watercolor work on Flickr.

If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.