I was honoured recently to give an artist talk on the lichen fibre art piece I had made for the Creative Reactions show in May. The invitation was to speak at a staff lunch & learn session at the Collection Facility of the Museum of Nature in Gatineau and came from the botanist I had worked with as I created this artwork.

The invitation meant I'd be speaking to a group of 25-30 botanists, all experts in specialized fields and with so much more knowledge than me about lichens, even those who couldn't claim to be an authority on lichens. And that left me feeling somewhat intimidated at first.

Since I've had some experience with public speaking and with giving artist talks, I was confident I could deliver an interesting presentation to this group. It would take a bit of preparation however. 

We can look to structure and tips when writing a draft: ensure a strong start, give an outline of what you will talk about, provide evidence to support key ideas, pause after making important points, a wrap up to end, and so on. But none of these would establish my expertise as the artist.

The key - I realized and kept reminding myself - was that I am the expert about my process of creating this piece of fibre art. Me, not them. 

And that was what the group wanted to hear about - how I made each lichen and interpreted it through fibre, why I chose lichens for this piece of art, what I learned through this process, how the goals of art being a visual tool for science were met. I didn't have to be an expert on lichens - just had to have learned enough to reproduce them in a visual format. 

So if you're at all uncertain about giving a talk in public, remember that you are the expert. You, not them. And that the people in the room really are interested in what you have to say. 

That was certainly my experience with the group of botanists I spoke to. They asked lots of great questions, and later welcomed me with open arms to participate - with my art - at their annual Open House. And where I discovered I was able to actually answer quite a few general questions from the public about lichens. Who knew my expertise had grown so much!


"Music is full of longing and movement.  Painting should be the same." I read this quote in Hundred and Thousands: The Journals of...