The Joy of Collaboration
by Patty Van Dyke
October 16, 2023
Patty at Front of Room with Water Color Paintings

Like many of us, I experienced several losses at the beginning of Covid which made the isolation especially hard to deal with.

Professionally, I was a Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Art Therapist in private practice for over 20 years. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. It took several years to finish school and launch my business, which I loved, as I extricated myself from an abusive marriage and then raised four children on my own. Then the joy of a remarriage to a good and stable man.

I had also taught watercolor classes through a variety of venues–– preschool, retreat centers, Road Scholar.

Then my dear husband died. Grief lasts longer and goes deeper than we like to admit. I was exhausted and felt flattened. I was now retired and had also quit teaching but I continued to paint in watercolors, shifting my focus from exhibiting and selling to just painting whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Patty with her book Eight Essentials to Conscious Creative LivingBut over time I realized that creative activity was not enough. I have been a painter all my life since the gift of a roll of paper for my fifth birthday. Now, as an adult, I had a group of friends I painted, critiqued and exhibited my work with.

Then came Covid.

As we all started to quarantine, my focus shifted to more personal work. I always considered my creative pursuits as solitary ventures, which they usually were. As a busy, working mother I treasured the time to explore watercolors and my imagination privately. Watercolors are magical, they have a life of their own, and the curiosity to explore them never left. But I was operating in a vacuum.

And then two wonderful opportunities came along that brought a lot of joy back into my life. My older brother, Alan Kiphut, invited me to illustrate the children’s book he wrote – Natalia and the Monarch Rangers. I illustrated it with watercolor and collage. The book is about a group of children and their efforts to save one of the migratory habitats of the Monarch butterflies.

The collaboration was so satisfying with the endless sharing, dreaming, dialogue and critiques over Zoom, phone calls and emails. We finished it just in time for our grandchildren for Christmas that year. It has since been edited, again, and is now available on Amazon. This was a wonderful way to stay connected with my brother who lives in Portland, Oregon, and I live in Ojai, California.

Suzanne and Patty sitting outside on a log holding their book

Suzanne and Patty with Their Book

And then my dear friend Suzanne Shaffer and I resurrected and rewrote a book we had begun several years before. The original book was Eight Keys to Conscious Creative Retirement.

Suzanne and I had worked together for many years as we built our private practices in Ventura as Art Therapists before we both experienced personal trauma. Life had been looking rosy with retirement ahead when, suddenly, our husbands died within a year of each other. Different causes, but shocking whenever it happens, expected or not. So, we put the first book away.

Suzanne had been out of the area for almost 20 years and was just returning to Ventura County when we decided to rewrite the book. Our grown kids had given us lots of feedback about the book during Covid. We realized that the book was for anyone going through unexpected transitions and changes, not just people approaching retirement.

Our new book, Eight Essential Keys to Conscious Creative Living, provided an opportunity to share all that we had learned in the ensuing years.

One of the main things we all learned through Covid is how little control we have over so much of our lives. And yet we are all creative and need to take the time to reevaluate, see where we are now, and make plans to move forward to maintain rewarding, satisfying lives. Our book addresses hearing that niggling call to action, contemplating where and who you are now, understanding creativity, celebrating along the way, relearning communication skills (which dried up for many of us during the pandemic isolation), finding balance with ongoing change, choices and challenges, and evaluating community and our place in it, and commitment.

We had a wonderful time working together again and this book is also now available on Amazon. We each wrote, edited, passed back and forth our ideas and reflected on the work. Our book contains questions and exercises at the end of each chapter to keep the reader involved and the work personal. It’s a book for a lifetime, as different chapters may be attractive and useful at different points in life.

These collaborations were a real shift in focus for me. I learned how incredibly satisfying it is to participate in these collaborative projects –– body, mind and soul. The depth of sharing, and the fun in doing so, brought a true sense of joy back into my life. We all want to feel seen – and working in this way is different than side by side, more interactive and revealing.

At 76, I’ve learned the joy of creative collaboration can come in many forms. Some people cook together, adapting the recipes as they go, some quilt, some write and perform music. We’ve been discovering so many ways to exchange meaningful aspects of our lives with our community.

Patty with granddaughter carving pumpkin

Grandma Patty

I have lived in beautiful Ojai, CA, for 50 years. I was in private practice as an MFT and Registered Art Therapist for 25 years- we all know more than we have words for! I have also enjoyed teaching watercolor for Road Scholars, retreat centers, and in my own studio.,

Eight Essential Keys to Conscious Creative Living
Natalia and the Monarch Rangers

1 Comment

  1. Judie Beckett

    This is, absolutely, wonderful. It expresses what each of us has gone through, not in the same ways, but the surprises, good and bad, that come with living. It shows a life being lived, fully, joyfully, looking forward while acknowledging and feeling the boulders that hit in the past.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *