KRYSTAL FESTERLY - ARTIST & WRITER.

In an attempt to create a sense of control in her life, Krystal started a garden. Her garden quickly taught her lesson after lesson—mainly how to let go, be patient, surrender to the things she cannot control, and to enjoy life as it comes, the ups and the downs. In this interview, she talked to us about how she shares her garden with people in the form of art hoping that each piece she creates will provide the joy and comfort she finds in them.


Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in a tiny town, and there was nothing, but it was a pretty fun childhood because we had a treehouse [chuckles]. Fast forward, I always said I would never have kids or get married. I went to art school in San Francisco for photography and traveled the world. I was in love with that type of life, you know, meeting new people and understanding that this place in America is not how everybody else lives in other places, especially where my family is from. I ended up getting married and having three kids [chuckles]. I didn’t know anybody who had kids since all my friends were world travelers and none of them had kids, so I decided to start a parenting magazine because I didn’t know what I was doing [chuckles]. I was like, “Let me interview all the moms and get all the tips,” [chuckles]. I ended up meeting moms from all over the world and talking about adoption, their own children, fertility, and every other aspect of parenting. Probably about a few months in, I realized that the real thing that was missing from parenting was connection. Everybody was asking the same questions or wondering the same things, but I realized that we were all isolated, and I wasn’t the only one that didn’t know what to do.

"I think what is lacking in this country is connection; people feel so isolated because they aren’t talking to one another. Everything is on the surface."

After launching the magazine, I started hosting dinners. I would have about 30 women come to a table—I used to cook for these dinners too [chuckles]. Later on, I started catering because I was getting too many people. The first dinner was at a park, and then some of the women started volunteering to use their backyards, and sometimes I would do it in venues. It was fun. I would lead an intentional conversation around the table. I would start with my own struggle, whatever I was struggling with at the time, and then I would ask the same question to every woman around the table. These conversations brought everybody together because it made them realize that no matter the color of their skin, or demographic, we had so much in common. There was always one person at the table who had the same story as somebody else which was really cool to have people relate. I did that for five years, and that also allowed me to travel which I was so excited for. I didn’t think that I would be able to travel that much with kids, but I did. I traveled all around the United States and hosted dinners. 

I think what is lacking in this country is connection; people feel so isolated because they aren’t talking to one another. Everything is on the surface. I can’t stand small talk [chuckles]. I like cutting past the small talks, getting to the root of things, being a human, and really connecting on that level, so I made it a job [chuckles]. I stopped the magazine about a year ago because printing was really expensive. I started feeling like I needed more art in my life. My kids were getting older, and I started feeling like they didn’t really need me as much. They started going to school, so I had more time. I wanted to go back to my roots which is art. I never really thought that I could be an artist, you know, my mom is a doctor, and my dad is an engineer. I felt like I was expected to go that route, which I did for a while. I worked in a hospital for 12 years, but it was just draining [chuckles]. 

"I wanted to teach my kids that hard things can happen in life, but you don’t give up. You have to pick yourself up, and make a decision on how you want to live your life."

I started a garden when I had my third child, and I had no green thumb [chuckles]. I killed everything. I couldn’t even keep a houseplant alive. When I gave birth to my last kid, I almost died. I lost part of my uterus, and my fallopian tube had ruptured. I was in a lot of pain, and I just shut down. I lost all that connection with everybody, which was the complete opposite of what I would normally do. I was really depressed, and I felt like I couldn’t control my pain, my life, or anything and I remember standing in my backyard and saying, “I am going to make this backyard beautiful. At least I can control this.” I wrapped my baby on my back and I literally started digging and dumping dirt [chuckles]. I started from the bottom and ended up creating an entire garden and growing my own vegetables. I ended up getting chickens and turned into a crazy garden lady [chuckles]. It was so therapeutic for me, and it really brought me back to the basics. I started writing again, and it helped me be a little bit more present with myself. 


When my husband got sick—he was born with an AVM. He started having seizures, and we knew it was going to rupture by 35 years old. It’s a very rare condition, one percent of the population has it, but his was so large, he was the one percent of the one percent. Usually, you could get surgery and take it out, but he can’t because his is so big. It goes from the front of his head to the back. It affects him a lot. He has tons of seizures, and we were trying to find a doctor who would take it out before he had an aneurysm, but none would touch it. This time last year he was in the hospital, and he had a couple of aneurysms. That was a very long 33 days. Thankfully he is home now, but he hasn’t been the same since then. I am his caretaker. The only thing that kept me grounded during that time was my garden. I would come home, mow my yard, take care of the garden, and go back to the hospital. I remember his dad saying, “Forget the yard. Don’t worry about it,” and I was like, “No, I can’t. This is so much more than just a yard to me.” 

I wanted to teach my kids that hard things can happen in life, but you don’t give up. You have to pick yourself up, and make a decision on how you want to live your life. I realized I wasn’t finding joy in the magazine anymore. It was a lot of work, and I couldn’t travel anymore because I was taking care of my husband. I poured my writing into my garden, and I just merged everything. People were telling me, “Don’t get rid of your magazine. You’ve built this for forever,” but deep down, I always wanted to be an artist. I always told myself that I couldn’t, you know, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, but seeing my husband get so ill made me realize that I can’t live my life for anybody else but myself. If I am not happy, what is the point? I wasn’t being true to myself, and that feeling changed everything. I started learning how to make jewelry, and I did it all from scratch. It was the hardest lesson in my entire life that I hope no one goes through, but I am thankful because I think I am finally who I am meant to be. I am truly happy with what I do, and I am able to support my whole family which is incredible. 


You used to work in the medical field and then decided to go on a different path. What drove that decision?


I used to work in radiology. The place I worked at was run by benefactors. A little girl came in, she was seven years old. Her parents didn’t speak any English, and she had a ruptured appendix, so we were going to do an ultrasound to see if it was ruptured or not. The benefactor arrived and asked us to bump her, so we had to tell them to wait. We ended up losing that patient. I remember thinking to myself, “This system is broken. I’m not helping people the way I want to because I have these restraints put on me.” There were just certain things that I couldn’t deal with, it was just too much. After we lost that patient, I was like, “I am done. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to have real connections with people and be able to help them the way I want to.” I decided medicine wasn’t for me anymore and I literally packed everything I owned in a U-Haul, drove, moved from Costa Mesa, Southern California to San Francisco, and never looked back.


What motivates your art? What's the purpose behind it?

My garden motivates my art, that’s for sure. I always say that I learn so many lessons from my garden, and the big one is that nothing lasts [chuckles]. The reason I started it is because I wanted control, and that was such a lesson because you can’t control a garden, the weather, and all of these other things, so it was mostly a lesson of letting go. I started pressing flowers because I wanted to preserve their beauty when they were blooming. I would always get so sad when they were gone, and of course, they change when you press them but they’re still a reminder of that lesson that I learned, that you can’t hold on to anything, everything has its time. I do jewelry, bookmarks, coasters, and anything that I feel I can do.


Your art is amazing, and it reflects who you are. Talk about the importance of staying authentic to yourself in everything you do.

I believe you should stay authentic to yourself because you are you, especially in this world full of social media where everybody is posting what they are doing. For example, I am writing a book and I see people who are my age who have already written two books, and then you start comparing yourself and get depressed. If you keep focused on yourself and building yourself up, I think you are happier that way. Staying authentic to yourself keeps you grounded and keeps you growing. 


Talk about the "Gather the Village" magazine and its purpose.

Gather the Village was simply that, it was all these people from all over the world who were asking for a village, and so I would come and host these dinners, and hopefully help them build their village. What is really neat is that I still get emails from people who have been friends now for seven or eight years and they met at one of my dinners. It’s just neat that you can be a little tiny spark in somebody else’s life and open it up for them. Kindness is not hard. If we did that more, life would be so much easier [chuckles].


What would you say to someone who feels lost and doesn't know what their mission in life is?

"What do you do when no one is looking? What brings you the most joy? I think that is the answer."

If you told me that I would have a garden, I’d have kids, I’d be married, and making jewelry, bookmarks or that I would be an artist, I would have laughed at you [chuckles]. I think being quiet and looking at what you do when you have nothing else to do is probably what your mission in life is. What do you do when no one is looking? What brings you the most joy? I think that is the answer, and maybe it will take you five years, but once you find it, you have to dive in and not be afraid to mess up. I have so many mistakes that I have made within my art and it is just a learning experience.

For any questions or inquiries, contact Krystal at:

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