We had the good fortune of connecting with Christine Bayles Kortsch, PhD and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christine, what’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
For those of us who like to forge our own path and are drawn to creative careers, I think there’s always a balance between risk, hard work, and adaptability. Risk because you have to be willing to take that leap, practice that new skill, fail at something then try again or choose another way, face criticism without losing faith. Hard work because without it, you won’t grow. I do believe there can be a sense of ease in the midst of effort, but that doesn’t mean that if something is hard, you should give up. It might be inconvenient but the truth is that it takes time, dedication, and humility to develop your craft and nurture your creativity. There are no shortcuts to true growth and maturity. Adaptability because life is always changing. You move to follow a partner, you have babies, a loved one dies, you get an exciting offer, a pandemic hits, you hurt someone and need to make amends. To life a creative life, you have to be both flexible and brave. You have to allow yourself to experience whatever is actually happening without numbing out or ignoring painful truths. You also have to look for the tiny windows near every slammed door. Artists talk about this a lot but I really do believe that there is magic in transforming our pain or fear into something beautiful or startling, something that helps others see the world in a new light. To thrive in a creative career you also need that spark of intuition, of deep inner knowing. It’s that feeling deep in your gut that lets you know when you’re onto something, even if no one else around you gets it. Life will never be perfect. There will always be change, problems, and loss all mixed up with the joy and success. You can learn to ride those waves if you have support and community, even just one person in your life who loves and supports you unconditionally. You can also learn how to tolerate the unknown by being gentle with your own dreams, your precious heart. When you have inner resources, you can be scared to death but still say, OK, even though this is hard, I trust I’m on the right path today. You tell yourself: I trust that if and when I need to make changes, I’ll have the support and wisdom I need to handle whatever comes my way with grace and integrity. It also helps not to take yourself too seriously. Remember to laugh at yourself! Never forget that you are more than what you do or how much you accomplish. How you love is what truly matters. So your love for life, truth, beauty, a certain place, a person? Let that love fuel your creative process. As Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a mom, writer, photographer, literature and writing teacher, plant stylist, self-taught designer, Airbnb host, and avid cook/baker. More than anything, I’m a creative and intuitive person who values authentic human connection and ongoing inquiry and growth. I have a PhD in English Literature with a specialty in Victorian Literature from the University of Delaware, and I’ve taught multi-cultural literature and writing for almost fifteen years. My most recent book is Tiny Dino Worlds: Create Your Own Prehistoric Habitats (Roost Books, 2020). I wrote, styled, photographed, and designed the projects for that book together with paleontologists Dr. Karen Chin and Justin Tweet. The wildly talented fine art photographer Kristin Hatgi Sink shot the cover and the chapter openers. Tiny Dino Worlds was born from years of hands-on creativity with my two wonderful children. I publish personal essays and I’m working on a novel. A few years ago, I started Ink & Stem, which combined succulent and terrarium design with contemplative writing. I taught workshops and facilitated retreats at the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Makerie, Kathy Davis Studios, and other places around the nation. My succulent designs have been featured in The Denver Post and Copper Door Coffee at the Botanic Gardens. Most recently, my husband Daniel Kortsch and I collaborated with my brother-in-law Jon-Marc Kortsch and our sister-in-law Laura Engelman. Together we gutted, designed, and remodeled a run-down cabin in Twin Lakes. A true labor of love! Alpenglow Cabin is available for rent on Airbnb. We feel so lucky that our design has been featured in Dwell, Apartment Therapy, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, etc. I manage the cabin, as well as publicity, photography, and special collaborations like adventure elopements, brand photo shoots, and tiny nature-based retreats (coming soon!). It is an absolute joy to share our cabin with others, giving them a place to connect with the wilderness and simple beauty. Since then, Daniel and I have taken our design experience and together with Jim Copeland of Copeland Craftworks, we designed and completed a remodel of the 1920s kitchen and dining room of our small Denver bungalow. This bright and airy space is where I now do my food and still life photography as well as my writing. We’re currently dreaming up more design & remodel projects. Stay tuned! As my career has changed and evolved over the years, the through line has been twofold: my dedication to my husband and two amazing children, and my desire to make the world kinder and more beautiful through creativity and empathy. I truly believe that imagination makes our world kinder and more just. When we inhabit stories from the perspectives of people from other cultures and other times, we take an imaginative leap. We laugh and cry, honing empathy and the capacity to connect with people who are different from us. Whether we take those imaginative leaps through reading, art, travel, learning another language, music, making something with our hands, or open-hearted conversation with people who are different from us, that mental and emotional flexibility makes us better human beings. No matter what I’m doing, I want to be someone who is always curious and always learning from others. There is so much beauty and goodness to explore and create together!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ooh, we’d definitely head to the Botanic Gardens–my happy place any time of year. First we’d stop for coffee at Copper Door Coffee. Their new location by the Gardens is so beautiful and I feel so lucky I got to do a custom succulent installation at their community table. We’d wander the gardens, then head over to Safta for lunch and mountain views. The puffy pita and silky-smooth hummus and crisp pickled veggies: I’m drooling just thinking about it! We’d poke around The Source and check out the local vendors in the Market Hall, especially Beet & Yarrow and Reunion Bread. These shops aren’t near each other but we’d have to visit some of my favorite spots in Denver: Vert Beauty (Highlands Square) for beautiful green makeup and skincare, Fancy Tiger (Baker) for gorgeous fabric and yarn, Sweet Cooie’s (Congress Park) for ice cream in the prettiest robin’s egg blue ice cream parlor, La Fillette (Hilltop) for amazing almond croissants, Hop Alley (Five Points) for amazing Chinese food, and Rosenberg’s Deli (Five Points) for the best bagels. Also we’d have to grab breakfast at Stowaway in RiNo (best breakfast in Denver and they have real black tea for the tea lovers like me), wander around looking at the street murals, and pick up an afternoon cortado at Crema. We’d take a day trip to Boulder, hike the Flatirons (you can’t not show them off), and head to some of my faves: Two Hands Paperie (best stationery and paper goods anywhere!), Dushanbe Tea House (the architecture and tea are so special), the Boulder Farmer’s Market for veggie heaven, and Wonder for fresh-pressed juices in glass bottles (it’s Boulder, so you go with it). I love the city but I’m a nature girl at heart, so we’d definitely be taking a trip to the mountains. I’m not going to give away my secrets but we’d head to a sweet Sound of Music BLM camping spot and I’d show my guests how to camp in style. We’d hike in glory all day, then come back, build a fire, and stargaze while drinking mint juleps and eating smoked chicken with garlic roasted tomatoes over grilled sourdough bread. Ahhh.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband Daniel Kortsch. My inspiration, my co-pilot, the one who doesn’t just tell me I can do hard things but is there helping me do them. My mom, who always always always believes in me and who sees the good in everyone.