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Back to the drawing board: Columnist Swift rediscovers love for art after career in writing

Tammy Swift creates a variety of art in her home studio in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 5
Detail of acrylic on a music sheet by Tammy Swift. David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 5
Alcohol ink art by Tammy Swift. David Samson / Forum News Service3 / 5
A display of art in Tammy Swift's home in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service4 / 5
Christmas cards hang in Tammy Swift's home studio. David Samson / Forum News Service5 / 5

WEST FARGO — In a beautiful townhome in West Fargo, the smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies tickles the nose and warmth radiates through the September evening chill.

After the typical Midwestern niceties in the foyer, Tammy Swift leads the way up the stairs into a brightly lit kitchen and living area. Art pieces adorn the walls, looking as if they came straight out of a magazine.

But they weren't. The triptych of alcohol ink art alongside framed sheets of newsprint complete with creatures of various species shouldn't work together in the same space, and yet they do. And they were all created by the homeowner, a virtuoso of words and communication now trying her hand at her first love: art.

"I loved drawing even before I could write," says Swift, a former reporter-turned-columnist. "There are pictures in my scrapbook where I drew my mom and dad and they had lots of detail. I mean, from an early age, I just saw things. I was pretty observant and I saw a lot of details."

Those details allowed her to find success as a writer for most of her life.

Beginning as an intern at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Swift worked her way through the ranks to become a clerk, a features reporter and, eventually, the columnist readers know today. Pausing briefly to pursue other communications fields, with brief stints at the Bismarck Tribune and North Dakota State University, Swift was never really able to leave the creative world, ultimately settling in as a communications specialist at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota while producing a column each week for the Sunday edition of The Forum.

Swift says she never really stopped doing art — she just shifted mediums.

"I got so busy with writing," she says. "I was just like, 'I am a reporter now,' so I put all my energy into that. I think the writing just consumed everything and I didn't think of myself as an artist anymore."

Artistic spark

While preparing to sell her home earlier this year, Swift got advice on how to stage living areas to make them more appealing to potential buyers. This included hiding valuables, maximizing outdoor spaces and minimizing "family touches."

To make her home perfectly ready to sell, Swift began creating artwork that would replace the family photos that often are displayed proudly on shelves or walls.

Pinterest was a source of inspiration, and Swift rediscovered her love of inks, pens, paints and oils. She even took the time to create a piece for her mother on a day dedicated to life's biggest cheerleaders: Mother's Day.

"My mom was a really big inspiration for me," Swift says. "She is a super creative person, and did so many different types of art when we were growing up. She was so talented."

The creativity of Swift's mother, an art teacher, helped spark the light in her life, she says.

"She was always teaching art and stuff. She had an art studio, and I was always around it," she says. "I think I soaked a lot of it up through osmosis, just like learning things about perspective and color."

Shifting her creativity from painting to words for most of her adult life, Swift didn't realize how much she missed art until it came time to sell her home.

"Writing is fun, but it is also work for me because it's how I make my living," she says. "(Painting) was just so much more relaxing, really, and I can just lose myself in it. It can be just hours later and I've been in my happy place just drawing."

Second act?

The days of staying in one job until retirement are long gone for many. Although she has remained in the same field — communications — for most of her life, Swift says this is a way for her to try new things and find a bit of success with it.

"I really enjoy it," she says. "I think it's cool for people to try new things. I'm 52 and I am just trying something totally new all over again. I am reinventing myself in a way, and I think you are never too old to do that. So I was like, 'What the heck, I'll go for it.'"

Diving in head-first can be terrifying, but with the right friends in her corner, catching a second wind could lead to new opportunities.

After seeing her artwork, longtime friend Noreen Thomas helped push Swift into a new venture: selling her artwork at The Red Silo, 12 Broadway N., in downtown Fargo.

"I would see her artwork on pumpkins, or she would do little sketches and I just kind of connected the dots with Red Silo," Thomas says. "I talked to the owner and called (Swift) on the phone right there and said 'Hey, we want to talk about this.'"

Noreen's connections helped give Swift the last push of confidence she needed to realize that she was an artist, not just a writer.

"Sometimes as a friend we need to be pushed off the high dive," Thomas says. "I am a firm believer that you should scare yourself every once in a while. We wait too long for some of the things we want to do.

"To see her take this leap, she has been pretty shy and reserved about (her art), boy, we should all be doing that," she adds.

Swift says she doesn't have regrets about the path she's chosen. In fact, she's excited about what lies ahead of her in the art world, and says the chance to return to her passion keeps the creativity flowing.

"I think the biggest thing is just be who you are," Swift says. "Just embrace it. It doesn't need to be what you think is proper; it can be whatever you love to do to express yourself."

Emma Vatnsdal

Emma Vatnsdal is a Features writer, focused on telling stories about people, places and all the interesting things that come along with it. She earned her degree in multimedia journalism from Minnesota State University Moorhead and joined the Forum Communications team in 2018. She grew up in the far north town of Roseau, Minn. and has a thick Minnesotan-Canadian accent. Follow her on Twitter @emmajeaniewenie.

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