In this interview with jewelry designer, Tammy Swier (of Volerra fame), we discuss:
- How she’s never really identified with the label ‘intuitive’, and what she considers herself to be instead
- What alignment feels like to Tammy in her body (which literally made me weep with joy, her words were so gorgeous!)
- Covering the basics: how decent sleep and proper nutrition are required before you can hope to develop your intuition more
- Looking forward to burnout?! How Tammy honors the cycles of her creativity.
Please note that this interview has been transcribed and is offered in written format below.
Unfortunately, the audio kept cutting out while we were recording this conversation, meaning that Tammy needed to keep repeating herself (and I kept having to say, ‘Sorry, I missed that last part…’) What’s more, Tammy sounded super duper quiet compared to me for some reason, so all in all, a transcript seemed like the best way to go!
You can access the abridged transcript in an eye-friendly PDF format here. Otherwise, you can scroll down to read the full transcript (minus any mentions of the phone cutting out) below.
Dana: Hi, Tammy, thanks so much for being here today. I’m really excited to chat with you about intuition and creativity, and I really appreciate you offering your perspective and being able to share your experiences.
Tammy: I’m so excited to be a part of this!
Dana: Awesome. I wanted to start off by asking the question that is kind of the most obvious question for a series that’s called You Are Intuitive, but do you consider yourself to be an intuitive person?
Dana: You sound unsure.
Tammy: I’m thinking about it. I’m not sure if I refer to it as intuition so much as my conscience and trusting my gut. It’s just a very natural thing that I’ve never had to label.
Dana: I’m so glad you brought that up, because I think for a lot of people, it doesn’t feel aligned or right to claim the title ‘intuitive’, but it might feel more natural and more obvious to be like, “Yeah, I follow my conscience, or I follow my heart, or I trust my gut or I listen to what my body is saying”. I’m glad you brought that up, and just because you don’t necessarily call yourself intuitive, it doesn’t mean you aren’t, haha.
Tammy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dana: Do you feel that you’ve always had a connection to your gut and your conscience? Has it been throughout your life that you’ve been able to follow your conscience?
Tammy: When I was very young, I was hospitalized. Stomach ulcers. And they were stress related. I think I was nine.
I had anxiety problems when I was really young, and it developed from there. When I was a teenager, I had clinical depression. My hormones and my body were always sending me a million signals, and I could always feel it in my gut when I wasn’t feeling right. As a child, when I did have those ulcers, that’s how I explained it, was that I felt like something was wrong. Not really pain, but I could just sense it. And then when I had depression when I was a teenager, it was the same thing. I knew something wasn’t right, and I had to speak up and I had to say.
So that’s when I first started really listening to my body. I really had to pay attention to what I was thinking. I think that started cultivating me listening to my body.
Dana: What does that look like for you? How do you, in practical, tangible terms, listen to your body?
Tammy: There’s a sinking feeling in my gut, in the bottom of my stomach, when something doesn’t feel right. I think it got even more profound after I had kids, because… I think people can be quite passive with what they don’t agree with, and then as soon as you have kids, you need to stick up for yourself a little bit more. I started listening to that icky feeling in my stomach when I felt something wasn’t right, and I just started verbalizing it.
Dana: Do you find that your body speaks to you more strongly when things are not in alignment, when they’re icky, or do you also get feelings of, “Ah, this is really good, or this feels amazing.” Or are the sinking feelings more noticeable?
Tammy: They’re two totally different feelings. I think for me, I’ve always felt very shy. I’ve kind of let people control me a little bit, or boss me around. I just go with what other people say, so that icky gut feeling is kind of a reminder to me to not be like that anymore. And then the positive one is a totally different feeling in itself, and that is more of a creative, really living force. It’s more like my soul is completely outside of my body and I just follow it. It’s a pull. A really light and nice pull, and you just go with that positivity, so they’re two completely different feelings.
Dana: That is probably the most beautiful description I’ve ever heard of what alignment feels like! It’s almost bringing me to tears. I’m glad this isn’t video right now, actually, because the idea of your soul being on the outside of your body and you following that, that is just dripping with beauty and … Such beautiful energy hearing that! Thank you so much for sharing that description.
Tammy: You’re welcome!
Dana: I want to ask you about … Because obviously, you’re a creative person, and for those people who don’t know what you do, first of all, can you just explain what your jobs are, or what you create?
Tammy: Sure. For my day job, I’m a creative director for different brands, so I take what they’re passionate about and I make it my own passion. I create art. I create graphic design. I do photography. Basically everything for their whole brand, and I make healing gemstone jewelry that’s mostly really calming energies, and that’s my second job. Both of these I do from home. I’m a stay at home mom.
Dana: I can attest to the calming properties. Even just looking at your Instagram feed for your jewelry line, just the palate and the imagery and your words and obviously your pieces all have that beautiful calming energy embedded into every pixel and every word. The whole layout of it is beautifully, beautifully curated.
Do you feel that there is a connection between your creativity and your intuition, or following your gut? Do you feel that being creative is almost an intuitive process for you?
Tammy: I guess I never really thought of it that way, but I’ve been creative all my life. What I’m doing now is really just a grownup version of what I was doing as a kid. It’s the same. When I’m sitting on my bed making a necklace now, I can think back to 15 years ago when I was doing exactly the same thing. Walking through the woods, collecting different things that I find. I still do exactly the same things. I’m just like a grownup version of me, what I’ve always done, so it’s pretty effortless, when I’m doing creative stuff. I guess it’s that positive pull again. I just do whatever I feel, and that’s it. It’s very simple.
Dana: That’s actually really refreshing to hear, too. I know a lot of the people that I work with really want to be intuitive but for whatever reason don’t feel that they are or that they ever can be or that they’ll be intuitive enough. But to hear your experience, that it’s just already there, “I’ve always been this way. I just be who I am and it’s not this hard process of needing to become”. That’s so refreshing! And maybe… rather than starting from the belief that “I have to find this part of myself” or “I have to uncover this or become this”, just starting from the idea or belief that it’s already there– that’s so helpful. Thank you!
Tammy: I think overthinking can cloud intuition. I think it can cloud creativity as well. When you think too much, you’re not following your intuition. You’re in your head instead of in your soul.
Dana: Yes. Speaking as someone who was chronically overanalyzing everything since I came out of the womb, I can get really up in my head. Is that something you’ve ever struggled with, too, or are you pretty much someone who can go with the flow?
Tammy: No, I can get up in my head, too, especially if I’m having a creative rut. I tend to burn out. I’ll go really, really hard with work, with creativity, I’ll go really hard, and I’ll do a lot all at once. I know I’m gonna burn out, but I kind of like my burn out time. I kind of use that as a few weeks to relax. I like going high and low.
So when I’m in one of those lows after working really hard, yet I still have work that needs to be done from my clients, that’s when I can get into that overthinking, because my body doesn’t really want to create, it wants to rest. I’ll think and think and think and brainstorm, and that really just blocks it even more! I get more of a resistance to it.
Dana: I love that you’re bringing up this idea of seasons—energetic seasons or creative seasons. I think there’s pressure to always be ‘on’ and to always be going, and there’s not as much attention paid or priority given to have that time and space to decompress. But it sounds like, at least from your experience, having that downtime is actually what allows you to have the up times. You can’t have one without the other. Would that be a correct assumption for you?
Tammy: Yeah, and I always know when I’m doing a lot. These past few weeks, I’ve created a new jewelry collection for the fall. I’ve done four photo shoots. I’ve also relaunched. Every single day, lots and lots of work, and it’s been a lot of fun, but I know in about a week I’m gonna crash, and then I’m gonna have so much time to relax, because I’m getting so much done now!
I’m looking forward to that time. I know that I’m not gonna feel blocked. I know that it’ll come back. It always comes back.
Dana: Yeah. It sounds almost like you plan for a crash?
Tammy: I’ve just been doing this for nine years, so I know the cycle now. I used to be like, “Oh no, I’ve burned myself out!”, and it would be a month and still I wouldn’t get back to work. I’d be overthinking it, wondering, “When am I gonna be able to work again? Why do I feel like this?” It’s happened enough times now that I welcome it, and I use up as much creativity in myself beforehand. I go with it, and I enjoy it, and then I rest. That’s what works best for me, so I don’t think about it anymore.
Dana: Which is a blessing, because it’s almost like there’s a fear of never being creative again otherwise. Like there’s a limited supply of inspiration, and if you burn out or pull back that you’ll always be in a ‘winter’, and that you’ll never again know summer after that. Knowing yourself, Tammy, and knowing your own cycles, it sounds like you can actually enjoy the downtime and the crash a little bit more, knowing that it’s not permanent, that you will cycle back into your spring and into your summer.
Did you work as a creative director and then decide to launch your jewelry line on the side, or have you always done both of those things at the same time?
Tammy: No, I was a graphic designer for seven years before I launched my jewelry, and then I launched my jewelry, and then I became a creative director. The graphic design wasn’t fun for me anymore. I was getting a lot of clients that I didn’t connect with. First they were like construction property websites, let’s say. Not giving me a lot of creative freedom, and not something that I’m passionate about. I was getting a lot of clients like that and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Then the creative director job came up for a bigger branch and for full time, so I wouldn’t have to take any more of those other jobs that were making me unhappy. That enabled me to do my jewelry more seriously, because now I only had one client instead of 80 clients, so it’s been like this for seven months so far and it’s been wonderful.
Dana: How did you know to start a jewelry line, then? Did you get inspiration or did you get a feeling—how did that idea come to you?
Tammy: I’ve been making jewelry for myself for a while, and then instead of making just one piece, every time I made myself something, I decided to start making two pieces every time. Then the supplies could start paying for themselves and I could have this huge personal jewelry collection that was going to be paid for (because I could start selling it to other people)! That was the first funny idea.
Even before I started doing that, I was posting pictures of different pieces I’d made and people would comment on them and ask if they were for sale. I started playing the idea of starting an online store, and because I was already a graphic designer and a website developer, I think I made my website in two days and put a few things up. That was that! It was fate.
Dana: That’s awesome! Your whole story is so natural and organic. It seems you’ve always been able to go with the flow of things and to follow the ideas and follow your heart, which is such a contrast to my own life in many ways! I’m always trying to figure things out in advance or trying to strategize and plan. Just hearing your story, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, things can be another way… Ahhh…”
Tammy, do you have specific rituals or practices that you do to connect with your intuition or to connect with your conscience?
Tammy: Well, I was an only child and my parents adopted me, so they were quite a bit older than all my friends’ parents were by 10 or 20 years. They definitely never played with me. We lived on an island. For the first 12 years, there was no electricity or shops or cars or anything like that, so basically I was left to myself in nature all the time. I’d go in the woods and I was just in my head at all times. That led to creating and listening to myself, because there wasn’t anyone else to talk to. It was always like that. I didn’t have brothers or sisters or anyone to play with, so I was just always in my head.
I’m actually probably the worst for meditation. I absolutely don’t do it and I know I should. I think that it would help slow me down when I need to. And I know it’s really good for you, but I can’t do it!
Dana: Which is fine. I think there’s this idea that meditation has to look a certain way or take a certain amount of time, but from the sounds of it, even you going into nature and finding your twigs and shed antlers, that sounds very meditative to me!
Tammy: I think I’ve never understood what meditating is. I probably do it all the time, but when I actually try and do it, it’s the most bizarre thing! But if I’m swimming in the lake and I’m just doing the back float, that feels so ethereal and beautiful. Nobody’s ever called that meditation before, so I have no clue. I just know it feels good, so I do it.
Dana: I’m glad that this is coming up, too, because there’s certain expectations and beliefs around what counts as meditation, just like there is around what counts as intuition. I think what you’re doing totally counts as meditation, though, ’cause it’s getting you out of your thoughts. It’s getting you into the present moment and into feeling your body. That, to me, sounds very much like the definition of meditation, but you’re not necessarily sitting on a cushion in lotus position or chanting mantras or whatever. Lighting a candle. But being in the forest and being in the water sounds very much like meditation to me.
Would you say, then, that when connecting to your creativity, the practices you do are going outside, getting into nature, and having a swim? Is that where you feel really connected to yourself and connected to your creativity?
Tammy: No, actually. I think I do those things more as a break from my creativity. When I’m creative, it’s like a whirlwind! I could literally run. It’s so fast, creativity for me, it comes to me so quickly, and then when we get out in nature, it’s more like rest from that fast pace. It really slows it down to a calm place. It’s very separate from work and from creativity.
Dana: Huh! And so for you to tap into creativity or to cultivate creativity, do you have to do anything, or does it just come in?
Tammy: No. It just comes in. It’s actually easier for me to be creative than to just sit. Even when I’m sitting and eating dinner, I’m always thinking of stuff that I could be creating, so when we get into nature, I’m really trying to shut all of that down.
Dana: That is really interesting. I find that so fascinating, ’cause it flips my own expectations of how to tap in upside down. I always imagine cultivating space and inner calm and getting centered, but for you it sounds like it’s almost the opposite approach. You don’t have to really cultivate it at all. It just comes through.
Tammy: Yeah. I cultivate calm because the creativity is almost like when you have caffeine. I don’t know. I don’t have caffeine, ’cause I have anxiety, but I’m just a very energized person. I get very, very, very energized when I’m in a creative state. But I like to be calm, so that’s what I do. I make sure that I have some calm time, ’cause I can’t be with that creative energy all the time. It’s draining.
Dana: Interesting! So this is going to cycle back into what we were talking about earlier. How has your creativity or intuition changed since having children? Have you noticed a difference in your creativity or in your intuition since having kids?
Tammy: Well, my creativity … I have lots of it, but I can’t use it as much because I have to be doing other things now. Because of having kids. Let’s say if I got them babysat for a whole day, I could get a lot done in a short amount of time because I have all this buildup of ideas. But it hasn’t really changed—I just haven’t been able to create as much because of the time. My intuition has improved, though.
Dana: In which way, do you think?
Tammy: Perhaps it hasn’t improved, but I’ve needed to listen to it better, and I act on it more now than I did before. I think when you have kids and you have a certain way you want to raise them, you need to be able to speak up so that everyone’s on the same page.
Dana: And also there’s more at stake now than just you, right? Some things that maybe you tolerated before or didn’t speak up about before when it was just you are no longer acceptable—like you can’t sweep it under the rug or ignore things when you also have children to be responsible for.
Tammy: Just setting an example for them to follow, too. Getting them to see how they feel and teaching them to never ignore how they’re feeling. They can sense when something’s off, and if they can see when something’s off for me but I’m not doing anything about it, that’s not showing them a very good example.
Dana: Do you actively or consciously teach your kids about intuition, then, and listening to their gut? Is that something that you make explicit to them, or do you mostly try to model that for them without necessarily giving words to it or labeling it?
Tammy: With creativity, I was never ‘taught’. I was given a lot of space. I was also given a lot of tools. My dad worked in an art gallery and my mom wasn’t artistic herself, but she was always supportive when I was being artistic. My dad provided me with a lot of tools to create, but neither of them taught me, so I kind of do the same thing with my kids. I give them the tools. I’ll give them paints and crayons and craft supplies and Lego and Play-Doh and anything they can make things out of … scissors and glue … and then I just back off and let them do their own thing.
With intuition … We don’t call it intuition, it’s just what they feel like. It started with when they are feeling sick—just listening to their body. Even potty training my youngest, it was all about listening to your body. “What does your body say?” Listen to that. If something feels good, do that, and if it feels bad, don’t. It’s listening to your conscience. If your brain is saying that this is the wrong thing to do, you should listen to it. Just examples like that.
Dana: For sure, and I think that’s so important! With earlier generations, it wasn’t as talked about or modeled that it was okay to listen to your feelings, but now I feel that there’s this new wave where people are more emotionally literate and energetically literate. We’re waking up to the idea that not only is it okay to listen to your body, but it’s also necessary that you know how to do that, right?
Tammy: Yeah. On a few occasions growing up, I think my dad would have a lot to drink and we’d sit out and watch the stars, so he’d get some pretty funny heart to hearts out like that. But they’re older, so they didn’t really talk about their feelings. They were taught not to, so it really took getting liquored up to come out of their shells and be vulnerable like that. Those were a few interesting nights in my life, when they were different from how they usually were!
My mom, now that she’s older—she’s 68 now—she’s saying, “You have to do what you love. You can do anything if you set your heart to it.” She’s much more like that, now that she’s been through her life and she’s seen how things turn out. She’s more open to that stuff now, which is really interesting.
Dana: Yes! And for your kids—how old are they?
Tammy: Four and eight.
Dana: Four and eight. I think it’s wonderful that you’re modeling how to listen to your body and how to trust your feelings for your kids.
Tammy: With our kids, too, a lot of it is sleep and nutrition. They’ll say that I didn’t get enough sleep last night and that’s why I’m crabby, haha. They’ll understand if they’re in a bad mood, too, and they’ll know why. Like if they eat junk food for two days, they’ll know that they’re being brats and they’ll know why, which is really fun for me, ’cause then I don’t have to tell them. The other day, my son was crying and he was like, “I just had a really bad sleep. I’m sorry for being so mean to you.”
Dana: That’s super cute.
Tammy: He could identify it. He knew the problem. With them, just listening to their bodies, they know when they need to drink more water and they know when they need to have more fruits and vegetables. They’re aware of their moods, which I love. It’s as important as intuition, I think—just being aware of yourself.
Dana: That’s awesome to have that self-awareness from such a young age and to be able to say, “I didn’t get a good sleep, therefore I’m cranky.” Or “I didn’t drink enough water today and therefore I’m not having the best day.” That awareness, especially at such a young age, is absolutely incredible! I’m impressed.
It brings up an interesting point, that if you don’t have those foundations covered, if you’re not getting a good sleep, or if you’re not eating foods that agree with your body, then it’s harder to be intuitive because you don’t have those foundational boxes checked off.
Tammy: Yeah, I wasn’t depressed. I kind of felt like I had the ‘Alberta winter blues’, like a lack of vitamin D. That’s what I thought was going on for me before, ’cause I wasn’t sad, but I was very low energy for a while. I wasn’t motivated, and it felt different than the creative burnout. I’d become a light sleeper ever since I had my kids. I no longer got my REM sleep. I was like a watch dog. I could hear every little sound in the house all night long, so I wasn’t actually sleeping. I was more like I just had my eyes closed all night.
I didn’t realize that I wasn’t getting proper sleep until I got my nutritionist. I was telling her all my problems, and I asked her, “Do I just need a vitamin D supplement?” And she’s like, “I think you just need sleep. Real sleep.” And I was like, “Oh, I thought I’d been sleeping!” She put me on melatonin for two months just to get me back on a sleep pattern. And that fixed all my problems. Just a good night sleep, ’cause I wasn’t sleeping before but didn’t realize that I wasn’t really sleeping.
I thought it was good enough before, but there’s all kinds of different sleeping. You need to be getting a particular one or it doesn’t really count. Sleeping properly fixed my creative rut, or what I thought was a creative rut, and my mood. I was a lot happier, so that was a big change last year.
Dana: Well, thank you so much, Tammy, for being here and for sharing your experiences and your perspective. Your perspective was really refreshing for me! Thank you so much for having the generosity of spirit to contribute to this conversation. I really appreciate it.
Tammy: Thank you for asking me to do this!
Tammy Swier is a graphic designer and the creative genius behind Volerra, a conscious jewelry line made by hand in Alberta, Canada. Tammy creates calming jewelry for women and kids using stones, sacred botanicals, and pieces found in nature. More than just jewelry, though, Tammy aims for her pieces to embody a way of life—a continual longing for peace and a stress free existence.
Tammy describes her brand philosophy as “A way back to the wisdom we didn’t know we had as children, when messy hair and dirty feet weren’t things we needed to fix, they were a result of our adventuring. Muddy boots and our mom’s discarded costume jewelry didn’t clash, they made us feel beautiful and tough. Wildflowers weren’t weeds, they were bouquets. We weren’t naive, we were pure. With no weight on our shoulders and no limits on our dreams. Let Volerra bring you back to that time.” Aaahhh…