Creative Freedom with Shyama Golden


What is creative freedom – and when do you feel it most? Shyama Golden is an artist and designer who has found a range of ways to express her artistry. As a daughter to scientist immigrants, her parents encouraged her to pursue something practical. But after ten years of taking that route, Shyama felt the time was right to let her artsy side shine.

Shyama shares when she has felt the most and least creative freedom on her journey to becoming a sustainable artist – from her work in graphic and interactive design, to her paintings of families living inside of dinosaurs and a giant Sasquatch made of cats. This episode will get you wondering what phase of creative freedom you're in, and whether it’s time for a change.

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Highlighted Excerpt

Shyama: After a few years [of freelance work] I realized that, yes, I am working for myself, but it’s not really that different from working for a company because the projects I’m working on are still someone else’s projects. It’s just that I can decide what clients I want to work for.

But eventually I realized I was kind of back at the same point, and that’s when I knew I needed to take some time off to do that personal work, even if it meant that no money was coming in for a little while.

Majo: Oh, so you took like, a sabbatical.

Shyama: Yeah, basically.

Majo: Wow.

Shyama: I had to force myself to do it, because otherwise, there's always going to be more clients, always someone else who needs a logo or a website... and sometimes you just have to say no.

Majo: Did you get to a turning point, like a fatigue point?

Shyama: Completely. I was working a lot at that point, not taking any vacations... I probably didn't do any traveling for five years, and on top of that I wasn't doing personal work that much. So I just needed to do something that felt like it was for me.

Majo: I'm really curious about aha moments: Did this realization creep up on you? Or did you literally have a breakdown, like a breaking point. Paint a picture for me.

Shyama: I wasn't the happiest person, I was pretty stressed out from working so much. And I just remembered back to when I was younger – what would make me happy as a kid was making paintings. I felt a real need to go back to that, to what I loved doing with my free time as a kid.

Majo: So now you're on sabbatical. Are you doing art shows? Are you exhibiting? What's happening?

Shyama: During that time I had a friend who knew somebody who worked at a coffee shop in Austin. We happened to be there when they mentioned that an artist had dropped out of this art show they were having. So my friend recommended me, and I was like, Yeah, I should do this– it will force me to get my work in front of people. Because before then, I hadn't really gotten it out there at all.

So I agreed to it, but I didn't actually have any work done. Like, at all. But I had a deadline that I needed to meet, so I got to work on some paintings. It forced me to do it, and I think that was the only way to get over all of my self-doubt and all those negative thoughts about my work not being good enough. Because I didn't have a choice. I had to get it done.

Majo: So let me get this straight, you said yes to the opportunity to exhibit your art even though you hadn't created the art yet?

Shyama: Yep [giggling], pretty much.

Majo: So having that commitment and deadline forced you to quiet your inner critic and just make art.

Shyama: Exactly.

Show Notes:

  • Shyama as a little girl: an introverted, only child who liked trying new and “weird” things. [2:56]
  • On her immigrant parents, college years, and how the nature of her first job affected her creative freedom. [7:12]
  • How rejection and getting laid off turned out to be a blessing in disguise. [13:18]
  • From full-time work, to freelance work, to a sabbatical focused on making her own art. [17:28]
  • How a chance opportunity to participate in an art exhibit helped quiet her inner critic and revealed the positive power of deadlines. [21:58]
  • Deciding to move to SF for new challenges and opportunities, and the regret she felt initially. [27:09]
  • Shyama’s insights on sustaining herself as well as having mentors and patrons. [35:14]
  • The internal shifts Shyama has made to protect her creativity, plus her progress on Catsquatch. [40:38]

Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).


Check out Shyama's work on her website


by Lucia Lilikoi

Episode Sponsor:

Adobe Creative Residency


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