Yan Palmer On Her Artistic Journey, Photography + Finding Beauty In The Nuances of Life

Trying to describe Yan Palmer is tricky. I’ve never met her in real life, but she’s one of those enigmatic people that you feel like you’re connected with just based on following along with her work and life on social media. Free spirited sounds too cliché. Yan embodies a lot of what we love here at Glitter Guide—that life driven by creative energy and fueled by art. Yan is one of those people who can do anything. Her full-time job is a photographer and a mother, but she has her hands in so many other different creative mediums that you can’t put her in a box or slap a label on her. I hope you’ll be inspired by Yan’s story. Let’s get started.

Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Sure. I think the best way for anyone to talk about who they are is to say, “I am.” I also think saying that makes me sound a little pretentious and inaccessible, but I include it to demonstrate that at the core of what I “do,” is this fidelity to how to “be.” I am an artist, a photographer, a mother, a writer, a teacher, a podcaster, a teacher and a forever student. With so many roles, how to find the through thread? In presence and essence. In the great, unravelling “I am.”

How did you end up finding your way to a career in photography?

The poet Mary Oliver has this great concept: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” I think I’ve always had a way of paying attention to things other people miss. I walk around with this sense of wonder—this strange, stunned feeling of “are you seeing THIS?” As if I could make people see what I saw—the nuances, the dust in the light, the beauty of a sad face—we’d all be in love with everything. Additionally, the creative process was maybe my first love. Since I was a kid, nobody was more fascinating than an artist. I thought, “Ah, yes. My people.” Problem was, even though I was OK, I wasn’t particularly gifted at any of the artistic mediums I tried on—until photography. Photography synthesized my ability to witness, love and study the human experience from an intimate vantage point. When you have a camera in your hand, you have a lot of permission to get up close and ask hard questions most people try to avoid or get embarrassed about.

“As if I could make people see what I saw—the nuances, the dust in the light, the beauty of a sad face—we’d all be in love with everything.”

Are there any projects in particular that you are particularly proud of?

Proud is a funny word, isn’t it? It’s not necessarily one I would use to describe my work. I would lean toward grateful. Grateful for what may be a seeming impossibility to so many that is making my way through the world by following where my soul calls me. I suppose I am really proud of my courage for continually taking that risk to do so with so much grit and consistency. I’ve taken a lot of hits. I’ve made so many mistakes and be equal parts afraid and excited nearly the whole time. So that moment after failure or defeat, where you stand back up again and choose to stay soft and hopeful against the odds—I am proud of that place in me and my experience.

What inspires your creative energy?

What doesn’t?! I’ve got a hot and heavy connection to paradox. I’m inspired by two truths existing that seem to contradict each other and create a tension that compels people. Poetry lives in that tension—the mystery and the solution hide there side by side. Laughter and tears. Push and pull. Love and hate. Light and shadow. I just learned the Japanese word komorebi—it’s untranslatable into English, but refers to the interplay of light and leaves where sunlight shines through trees. I read that and think, “Are you kidding me?” I’ve been waiting my whole life for that word. I’ve taken a million videos of that particular dance of forces. So I suppose I’m inspired by what happened in the moment I found the word komorebi—that we can devote ourselves to what moves us. We let our intuition lead us to that devotion and we follow it a little bit blind until the synchronous moment it comes full circle. When you feel your sudden belonging as you discover you’re not alone in your crazed devotion, there is another person, maybe even an entire culture like the Japanese, who have given form to what it is that moves you.

What values do you hope your kids take away from your creative pursuits?

I so hope they learn to let themselves love what they love without shame and apology so it can lead them to where they need to go. I hope they don’t take their natural talents for granted. That they understand talent is nothing without dedication, hard work, humility and boldness. If I can teach them to laugh at themselves for their mistakes, I think the rest will follow.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It starts the night before when I set my alarm for a time that is at least an hour earlier than the time I know I will get up—4 a.m., 5 a.m., but most often out of bed by 7. But not until I meditate in a laying down sort of nap style. I then try to read something that reminds me about the nature of truth. Usually poetry. Recently, Rumi or a chapter from the wild woman bible, Women Who Run with the Wolves. I need to touch presence, mystery and beauty first thing. Then I need to touch my toes. I try to move my body a bit and do a little freewriting until my kids are up. I kiss their faces and they tell me I’m too loud. I make breakfast for them and usually mess it up because I’m a terrible cook. I try to get us all to either look or go outside—at the sky or a tree—anything other than our own virtual and separate realities. Throughout, I probably attempt to resist and fail at that attempt—to check my social media. Mornings are my favorite time of day.

“I’ve got a hot and heavy connection to paradox. I’m inspired by two truths existing that seem to contradict each other and create a tension that compels people. Poetry lives in that tension—the mystery and the solution hide there side by side. Laughter and tears. Push and pull. Love and hate. Light and shadow.”

Do you have any routines or rituals to start or end the day?

So many, including the meditation I mentioned. I try to walk out my door and up the mountain just outside of it on most days. I am privileged to live in an incredibly beautiful place. I try to honor that privilege as well as serve my own creative reserves with immersing myself in the elements as regularly as I can. Lately, the days have been so fast and slippery. I keep telling myself I need to end the day with a journal, but I usually read or get too sleepy and give up. With my kids, we read and do “lay bys” before bed. That’s when they each get 10 minutes or so of solid cuddle time with mama.

What is your approach to style?

I am constantly asking myself what I want to feel. The bass note of that answer is almost always freedom. In that way, style can’t be something that is forced, but becomes more fluid. Then I can add to that bass note of freedom. Do I want to feel quiet today? Strong? Abstract? Strange? Soft? Funny? Joyful? Style is a blend between allowing what emerges from us intuitively when we surrender and/or act from impulse and being absolutely decisive and intentional. I think we get a little too attached to style in the ego sense of the word and allow it to be a box that steals us away from our ever-evolving tastes. We try too hard to prove our style. If we can trust that doing what makes us feel good will allow the essence of our style to seep through all of the cracks, we find our way to something lasting and true.

If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your days, what would it be?

I fantasize about wearing giant, oversized, colorful, absurd articles of clothing with my scrawny arms, legs and tiny head poking out as sheer comedy. But other times I want to feel held by nostalgia—a vintage camisole and one really good and old worn pair of jeans.

What does self-care look like for you?

Eesh. Self-care is so basic. Getting good sleep. Eating foods that are good for my body. Drinking water. Listening to music that brings possibility, and dancing. Moving slowly through my days and dropping into real time. Reading the work of great minds. Time in nature. Time with my children. Self-care to me is a simple life.

Must-have beauty products in your stash?

I don’t really use beauty products. I use these little eyebrow thingys to sort of keep my upper lip clear. Lol. I don’t wear makeup, but I love to use True Botanicals to care for my skin. And I love perfume. I want to smell myself wherever I go so I can be happy even in hard situations.

If you had a day completely free from responsibility, how would you spend it?

Reading. Laying in the sun. Hopefully someone or something there making me laugh in the most surprising ways. Getting lost outside in a place I’ve never been and saying to my intuition: “OK, you’re running the show. Take us to what matters. Take us to what we need.” I’ve had a few days like this and you’d never believe them.

Dream travel destination?

Everywhere. In this quarantine, I miss the ocean and the Oregon coast most. My best friend and I are discussing a Scotland, Ireland trip.

What are your all-time favorite, must-read books?

East of Eden. The Little Prince. A Wrinkle in Time. Anything John O’Donohue has ever written. Or Jeanette Winterson. There are too many.

Yan’s favorite books:


Currently listening to?

A lot of old sad cowboy songs. Also anything by Big Thief, and the “Saint Cloud” album by Waxahatchee.

Can you tell us about The Love Love Love podcast?

Sure. I first want to say how I was onto podcasts so many years before most people even knew the word podcast. I used to bring them up in conversation and no one knew what I was talking about (look at my ego trying to claim that…haha). So naturally, I always wanted to have my own. For years, wherever I went, all I wanted to know was people’s love stories. It was the only story I cared about for a long time (not so much in the last three years of being single). I had so many conversations about the different ways people loved and lived together—I always wished I’d recorded them. Then I finally set time aside to do just that. I started by interviewing my ex-husband about why our marriage didn’t work. That was an interview so intense and intimate I got a rash after that lasted for months and changed my life. After a solid season full of incredible people, and a few more episodes, I was in a period of grief after the ending of my last relationship that made it really hard for me to keep the project going. So I think it’s done for now, but it seemed to be pretty important to a lot of people.

Anything exciting on the horizon you can share with us?

Art books, poetry books and memoir books, and a place (digital forum) called “yan land,” where people come together to practice the fine art of living and coming home to themselves.

Favorite quote?

“Laughter is the virus that infects us with humanity.” —Luis Alberto Urrea

Connect with Yan | @yanpalmer | website

Join Yan’s “Naked Marketing” 6-Month Guided Program and her NOW, NOW 28-Day Course.

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Author: Samantha Welker

Samantha Welker is the business manager at Glitter Guide. She has an Master's in Corporate Finance & Sustainability from Harvard Business School but prefers working in the creative industry. She also hosts a weekly business podcast for creative women called Pretty Okay Podcast. She loves spending time with her husband and her son, Rocky, in sunny San Diego. Follow along on Instagram