Tara Gillespie, 39, is an artist by trade and by heart. For as long as she can remember, she’s been finding creative new ways to express herself, from film to writing to collage, and now—abstract art.
While creativity has always been a strong theme in her life, it wasn’t always clear this would be her direction. Her journey took her through film school, a master’s degree in creative writing and publishing and a teaching career. But, just like for so many others, when the pandemic hit, Gillespie’s routine was turned upside down. No longer teaching, she was at home with her daughter, navigating the e-learning landscape and growing restless.
Gillespie’s studio, Dream Topography, is a testament to the expression, resilience and mindfulness that came out of that period.
“I started doing art again as an art therapy to get out of my brain,” Gillespie says. “When COVID hit, I wasn’t teaching anymore—I was painting more and more as a therapy. I was doing this for a year and a half before I even showed anybody what I was doing.”
Gillespie made her debut as a professional artist on Facebook, and the feedback she received was overwhelmingly supportive.
“I realized I could actually make more money pursuing my art than if I went back to teaching. Even [when I was] teaching full time at two schools, I wasn’t making enough to support my daughter and [me],” Gillespie says.
This motivated her to go all in. She moved back into the home she grew up in and invested what money she had saved up into securing her warehouse studio in Timonium.
And while she may not be at the head of the classroom anymore, Gillespie is still a teacher at heart. She shares her skills and passion through workshop classes, where people can learn the art of acrylic and resin pours.
Gillespie’s unique style of fluid art evolved from where she started, mixing acrylics to include resin, sculpture elements and even some less-than-conventional ingredients. She keeps track of all her unique combinations in a well-loved journal, complete with diagrams, measurements and notes.
The recipe she uses for her classes is the one she uses to make pieces she calls “mini galaxies.” These pieces are comparatively small and feature colors and textures layered to look like expansive nova-like scenes you’d hope to see through a high-powered telescope.
Scenes of space, seafoam and rippling color take on new meanings and feelings for each
person who looks at them. Gillespie’s manifestation series makes that aspect of abstract art the star of the show. Each manifestation piece is easy to get lost in and comes with a manifestation card on the back to serve as a personal reminder of what that piece means to you. For one person, a painting might represent a storm, a raging chaos they’re overcoming. Another person could look at the same piece and see an ocean of endless possibilities, seeing the painting as a reminder that their own journey could have a million outcomes.
Gillespie says the manifestations are “art pieces that are more than just beautiful to look at because they are reminding us of our goals, dreams and what we’re working on within ourselves.”
Mindfulness has always been an integral part in Gillespie’s work. Her art started as a form of therapy, and that aspect hasn’t changed. She draws inspiration from her hobbies in nerd culture, fairy culture, literature and mythology. Gillespie also practices mindfulness by journaling and writing.
“That’s my way of seeing myself and being mindful of what I am working on,” she says.
The mindfulness movement encourages a focus on the present and acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and sensations. Practicing mindfulness is thought to help people relax, achieve a greater enthusiasm for life and improve self-esteem, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Gillespie’s own journey of self-discovery and mindfulness is far from over.
While galaxies and manifestation pieces are her bread and butter, Gillespie is exploring larger pieces like “Mystic,” which debuted at Fairy Con this past year.
Gillespie’s work is available now, at American Craft Made, a flagship marketplace event in Baltimore from national nonprofit American Craft Council now in its 46th year. Find her work alongside more than 150 ACC-endorsed artists across the country.
The market is active from March 3 to March 5 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the Baltimore Convention Center at 1 West Pratt St. Gillespie’s works and commissions are also available on her website at dreamtopography.com.