by Kit Porter
Kit: I have always been a collector + creator. Perhaps that stemmed from the “go outside and play” nature of my childhood. Roaming freely up and down the alley behind my house, finding things people were getting rid of, and making new things. I remember doing a self-imposed art project with a friend where we quite literally collected unusual items from trash piles around my neighborhood and glued them to styrofoam heads to create assemblage of sculptures.
Additionally, my arts teachers from elementary through high school were instrumental in my decision to pursue art seriously. Heading into university, there was no area other than fine art even on my radar. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Sewanee: The University of the South in 2005. I went on to work in a variety of sectors of the arts world locally and abroad, and somehow painting became something I did on the side. Working in the intricately webbed world of artists, galleries, museums, curators and collectors, I lacked the confidence that my work had a place there too. I don’t remember a light bulb specifically going off, but I do remember deciding to put my art first. Since then I have not looked back, and it is part of my every day.
by Kit Porter
"I began to question why I was incorporating these pieces of debris back into the landscape from which they had just been removed."
What has stuck with me consistently since my childhood is that art has always been a completely immersive experience for me. From my childhood art projects to my work as a professional artist today, I am aware that from concept through creation to completion, I am all consumed. And that is most certainly the reason I have consistently come back to art over and over again. Some of us are born with a need to create; I create paintings exploring the beauty and destruction of the coastal environment. I have lived by the coast for most of my life. It brings me peace, tranquility, and inspiration. I have been interpreting the coastal landscape for quite some time, but about a year ago, my work took a significant shift to my current body of work.
After relocating to Houston, I started working on a series of aerial landscape paintings of the Gulf coast. I have always enjoyed working with mixed media, so I went to the beach to collect materials for my work. My intention was to use a bit of sand, maybe some scraps of rope, wood, and textures I associated with the coastal environment. However, upon arriving to the beach, I found a beach simply littered. As I poked my way through the debris, searching for the perfect texture to add into my paintings, I could not help but turn my artistic search into a full-blown beach clean-up. Filling buckets with plastic bottles, grocery bags, straws, cigarettes, and innumerable fragments of plastic, I left feeling frustrated, discouraged, and quite frankly, disgusted. The majority of what I collected went into the recycling bin, much of it had to be thrown in the trash, but there were some fragments that held the textural quality I was looking for. I cleaned them and brought them into my studio, where I incorporated them into my landscape paintings.
As the weeks passed, I made some lovely landscapes utilizing some of the debris. They evoked both the beauty and destruction of the coastal landscape. However, upon each return to the studio, I began to question why I was incorporating these pieces of debris back into the landscape from which they had just been removed. I did not want to paint littered landscapes, and I did not want to simply paint landscapes. The process of removing marine debris had become so instrumental to my work, but I wasn’t sure how to translate it artistically.
Then, the shift occurred.
collected debris incorporated into works of art
"It is estimated that between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of un-recycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean each year."
One day, during a cleanup, I found what looked like a piece of a broken record. There was something about this single item that intrigued me and caused an immediate shift in my mindset. I had been focusing on thinking about the future of these items, whether they could be reused in my art, or recycled. However, the questions this record brought to mind were about its past. Where did it come from? To whom did it belong? Was it intentionally thrown out? Did someone lose it? And perhaps most curious of all: what was it when it was still whole? As these questions ran through my head, I realized how much conceptual weight was in each of the items I was collecting. Each had a story; each had a past I would never fully know.
It is estimated that between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of un-recycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean each year. And estimates for how long plastic endures range from 450 years to forever. A recent article in National Geographic quotes Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist: “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” I am a visual artist and so my work serves as my voice offering significance to the broken, lost, discarded and forgotten fragments I have found, both physical and conceptual.
And so the process of collecting debris became instrumental in my work.
Kit's studio space
"I hope my paintings will serve as a reminder to be grateful of what we have, mindful of how we treat it, and aware of what we will leave behind in ALL areas of our lives."
My process begins with removing environmentally destructive debris from the coast by conducting regular beach clean-ups. Sometimes I do it with large groups of volunteers, sometimes with family, and sometimes on my own. During each clean-up, I put fragments aside to take back to the studio. As I sort and thoughtfully compose the fragments into unique arrangements, I focus on the simplified shapes, colors, and arrangements, devoid of landscape.
I render each fragment composition in paint on a simple white background, devoid of landscape. By shifting the focus from the debris in the context of the coastal environment to the simplified shape, color, and arrangement, each fragment becomes further removed from its origin and able to take on new meaning.
The fragments in my paintings represent our possessions, our memories, what is significant one moment and forgotten the next. They represent what we wanted, what we received, what we possessed, what we loved, what we used, what we discarded, what we broke, what we lost, and what we forgot. They are what is left over, all that remains.
In addition to offering a statement about how we choose to treat the environment, I hope my paintings will serve as a reminder to be grateful of what we have, mindful of how we treat it, and aware of what we will leave behind in all areas of our lives.
"some of them have stayed" by Kit Porter
I currently donate a portion of my sales to support marine conservation. I hope in the future I will have the opportunity to work with an environmental organization or company on a much larger scale. I would love for my art to be used to increase awareness and support for marine conservation, which would provide a much larger impact than I am currently able to provide with my sales alone. If anyone wants to collaborate, please let me know!
Brittany Chaffee is an author based in Minneapolis, MN. Her first book of poetry Wild Morning was published by Wise Ink. She is a regular contributor for Wit & Delight, covering topics ranging from lifestyle to health and wellness. Her newest book series Borderline, which will be released later this year, is a collection of essays about "memory, time, change, and wonder." Here, Brittany shares a glimpse into her world and discusses her fascination with capturing her surroundings through words.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming book series Borderline!
Brittany: Borderline came to me on a walk. I live right next to the Mississippi River, and I spend a lot of time in the summer biking through the woods along its riverbank. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time in some woods near my home, imagining stories, creatures, and adventures. I'm fascinated by the vortex of time and memory, such as objects that remind me of resurfaced emotions and the past. And the forest by the Mississippi in my adult life took me directly into the memories of my childhood. The word "borderline" struck me as the symbolic "line in the sand" moment you can pass when seasons change, when certain sensory moments carry you back through moments in time. We are always straddling the past and the present, and it's so raw and beautiful to me that we can go back and forth between the two so painfully and joyously. That is what Borderline is about, how we pass through time and its seasons, whatever we carry with us along the way.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process is inspired by nature and small details. In 1927 Virginia Woolf wrote about a practice she called “street haunting.” Essentially, she defined this process as an act of observing her surroundings while walking and creating “a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.” She described a creative process I love best, which is wandering through the world and watching it. If I take a moment to be quiet and listen and observe, I'm at my best. I read somewhere once that writing helps us to be curious and precise about our own lives. So, I also like to think of my creative process as to best understand myself.
"Newborns have more bones.
What do you hope others will take away from your work?
I'm a very emotional person, so I always feel accomplished when others connect to the sensual parts of my work. I love details and sensory descriptions, the things that bring out vulnerable emotions through writing and moments people can relate to. When I read books, I often underline words on the pages. I always read with a pen to mark spots I love within, sentences I feel like I'm discovering for the first time, even though someone else already wrote them. I hope others keep a pen nearby with my work and read it slowly, waiting for a moment they can relate to and carry home.
Who or what inspires you creatively?
My mother. Tiny objects. Home movies. Old movies, their dialogue, their color palettes. Movie scores. The color descriptions on antique ash trays and vases. Trees. Stories from my grandmother. Flaws.
"Babies howl and scream for what they want or need, but they do not cry.
Who are some authors you look up to?
Currently, Brit Bennett, Durga Chew-Bose, Cheryl Strayed, Stephanie Danler, J. Ryan Stradal. My go-to favorites are Joan Didion, Marguerite Duras, Ann Patchett, Maggie Nelson, and Annie Dillard. I hope I'm not forgetting any! Authors are sacred to me.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. Read like hell. Write. Write like hell. Write an entire essay with no adjectives or adverbs. Write while looking in the mirror and don't use the word "I." Try somatic poetry. Write about what hurts. Tell the truth.
Q: Share with us a little bit about your background.
Nana: I am from Colombia. I think I started drawing since I could first hold a pencil. Drawing and writing became my go-to whenever I wanted to express my feelings. And I always felt the responsibility of communicating with that ability, to help my community to be heard. I think my identity has always shaped my work. I can't actually separate who I am from what I do. Constant topics in my pieces are being a woman, having divorced parents, being alternative, and now identifying myself as a Colombian and a Latina immigrant.
I actually did my major in communication design back in my country, but I always felt more driven towards art and drawing. It took me a while to decide to go in that direction because I wanted something more secure as a career, but in the end, I found a way to do what I love. I earned a full scholarship to study fine arts in Altos de Chavón in the Dominican Republic, and a year after that I earned another one to go to Parsons, The New School of Design in New York, where I studied Illustration.
How would you describe your work?
I can describe myself as an illustrator. Nevertheless, I think illustration is more of a particular line of doing work, although the general concept is more related to commercial production. I do comics, fanzines, and graphic novels as a way to share my stories. But I also have paintings and standalone pieces that I present in exhibitions and art galleries. Sometimes I show them with embedded QR codes, so people can actually get more access to my process, even the music that I listened to. On the other hand, I also like to make some wearables from time to time, like t-shirts and stickers, so people can actually wear the things they identify with.
Where do you draw inspiration from in your graphic novels?
I base most of my projects on personal experiences, but I also tend to listen to people in my surroundings and their way of living. I think I grab inspiration from everywhere, especially pop culture. I love music and I am always linking my favorite songs and lyrics to moments and scenes. I also love the narrative in certain movies and books. Sometimes I even pick color palettes from my favorite movies. And, of course, I read tons of graphic novels and comics. I particularly love the work of Craig Thompson and Brett Parson.
What is your process like writing the stories and creating the illustrations?
Part of the time I write everything first and then I start looking at what scenes or actions can be represented graphically and which ones should stay in text. Although, sometimes, I just imagine one image and no words. I have to draw it just like I have it in my head. So I jump back and forth with both types of process.
What motivates or moves you to create?
I think what motivates me is to get all my feelings out. It is a good way to do a personal analysis of certain things in your life. But I also really like to see how I am not the only one feeling those things; people identify themselves with my stories. Being a voice and representing others always move me.
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I have different projects going on. The principal one is a graphic novel called "Luna." It's kind of my alter ego story about a Colombian girl who arrives in New York with a scholarship to become a writer. It's kind of an excuse to talk about immigration, feminism, and my culture as a Colombian, topics that I felt grew more into me since I arrived in the USA.
Regarding my recent exhibitions, I am presenting a series called "Incertidumbre" ("Uncertainty"), where I explore the constant sensation of “in‐betweeness” as a foreigner, even in my own country. I use elements of nature such as water and thick vegetation to recreate the sensation of depth, darkness, and the unknown as the representation of an uncertain future. But these elements also depict my common surroundings since I come from a tropical country, showing how I miss my land and at the same time how, somehow, still immersed in the memory of it.
What do you hope to do in the future?
In the future I hope to publish more books like these novels, do more exhibitions, and keep communicating these ideas as I do now. I think teaching how to do this could also be in the plan, so anyone who is interested can be the voice of their own community.
Nazrinka Musayeva is a multidisciplinary artist based in Baku, Azerbaijan. She often recycles non-traditional materials to create larger-than-life installations both in public and private spaces. Here, Nazrinka discusses her passion for creating something out of nothing and why her unorthodox practice is so important to her.
Q: How did art first enter your life?
Nazrinka: I have always been fond of art since childhood; my sister and I would spend our time painting or making gifts for our loved ones. As a supporter of our then hobbies, our mom put us in a drawing group. We were there for a month, and then when our work was not selected for exhibitions, we became upset and abandoned the group altogether. Since then, we haven't visited an art studio, but the craving for art remained. I wove bracelets, sewed soft toys and apparel for dolls, and then one day, my parents decided that art should become my direction in life, especially since I was not particularly good at school. All subjects, except Russian, literature, and drawing, were difficult for me, but from the first time I painted for other people, nothing else seemed to interest me.
After graduating from school, I entered the Academy of Arts in decorative and applied arts. There, I met many artistic styles and discovered different types of tapestry weaving. At the same time, I was engaged in modeling, graphics, and design. I tried out many of my own strengths in the arts, tested my capabilities, and was driven by my addiction to art. At one point, I even left fine arts and became fascinated by photography. I shot everything and learned about photography through reading and the internet. However, after a year of photography, my interest in it cooled down. I realized that it was not for me. Now, I don't even take a camera around with me, and if I need to take a photo of something, I just use the camera on my phone.
When did you stat using non-traditional materials in your work?
The first experience for me was during the preparation of an exhibition by YARAT. The theme of the exhibition called for me to show the connection of contemporary art with the past. My work took the form of a giant binocular that was made up of 400 smaller binoculars. Through the function of approximation-distance, the piece allowed you to both look at the past and into the future. It was my first acquaintance with metal. I didn’t really understand what wire rod was, nor what welding was. However, the result was definitely worth it.
Video art was no less interesting for me. I love animals and decided to show the attitude of people towards them. The work turned out to be psychedelic. The video consisted of a child, a successful person with a girl, and a poacher. They were spinning to specific music on three chairs and in the background was a cage with a little bear cub, which I filmed at the zoo. By the way, I really do not like zoos nor circuses, and when I go there, I experience stress and only come to my senses after a very long time. In all these works, the theme is somehow addressed to animals, because I am very concerned about their fate when in the hands of people.
How did plastic bags start appearing in your works?
In my country, an international project called “From Waste to Art” was somehow conducted, which made it necessary to create work from garbage and showcase it in exhibitions. I decided to turn to street art, as this is the closest thing to me. I used ordinary plastic bags as a material. I collected them all from acquaintances, relatives, and friends; sometimes I had to look for packages in the right colors on the streets. I created a job that I called "Second-Art." Plastic bags are materials that harm a lot of animals, and the idea for this particular kind of art was born out of this thought. The result was unexpected even for me, because for the first time, I used such unexpected yet simple materials. I used only bags, glue, and a stapler.
What are your plans for the near future?
I dream of a personal exhibition and am already persistently preparing for it. In addition to the old works, I am going to make new paintings made of packages. I'm very superstitious so I won't go into too many details, but I will say this: If everything works out, then you might see my exhibition next Spring.
Thanks for sharing, Nazrinka! We appreciate your commitment to your craft! ◆
You can find more of Nazrinka's work on her Tumblr.
Shayla Glover is a fine arts photographer who focuses on themes of abstraction and manipulation. She will be exhibiting some of her work later this year at Millepiani Gallery in Rome. Here, Shayla discusses the creative process behind some of her most meaningful photography series.
Worlds Within Worlds
I used this project to look at the landscape around us in a new and unusual way. Within my work, I like to create new ways of seeing the world around us so this project encompasses this. The spherical shapes represent this idea of there being unusual and other worlds within our own, just by adjusting our views.
Mum & Me
I shot this series on a medium format camera, which was the first time I had taken one out to a location. So this was a process of me learning as I went. The series itself looks at the relationship between my mum and myself, and how it has changed or stayed the same since she had recently just moved to a new town. It also became more about the relationship between photographer and model/sitter because, as I said, I had never shot with medium format on location before.
I started this project when I moved to Lymington in Hampshire, England after graduating this past July. Although my mum has lived here for almost three years now, it is still a relatively new place for me. I wanted to start a project that looks at the history (the old) and bring them into today (the new). My style of photography is abstraction and giving the subjects I photograph a "new" lease of life and to be looked at in a different way.
In this series, I am looking at the relationship between my grandparents and myself. My nan loves the garden and flowers so I thought using flowers would be a good starting point. Flowers also have meaning behind them so I thought I could relate these back to my relationships. This project came about during a time when my grandad got diagnosed with leukemia. [This project] felt like the best way to deal with the emotions I was going through. Unfortunately, my grandad passed away before I finished this series of work.
Jessica Moritz is a French-Israeli artist based in Tel Aviv. Her talents span various mediums, including painting, printing, graffiti, and sculpture, to name a few. She has been awarded the 2006 LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE Young Artists' Award and the 2008 TAKASAGO Prize. Here, Moritz dives into her creative process, highlighting what went into two women-inspired series, "Liberty Girls" and "The Other Women."
In my work, I explore the status of women through the ages and different eras, as well as their representation and relationships with all people. I use images in ads or iconic illustrations in history. I use patterns to connect visual images with characters, placing them in the same spaces. With painting, I like to explore ideas of relationships, representation, and colors. I try to suggest different perspectives and reactions to the world in which we know so well. To me, images tell stories in the same way people or patterns do. Pattern is used as a reflection of images and drawing, as if each silhouette or portrait could be the same value as others. We identify bodies as part of our common knowledge, and often times, human intimacy is removed from that. Pattern is a disguise to cover up or illuminate some other parts [of our bodies], and subsequently, pattern can use lines in other ways. Lately, I've been researching and playing around more with colors and lights. I try to use less to show more.
This series was one of the projects I did while I was in residency at Con Artist Collective in New York. I usually worked on 3 to 5 projects at the same time. As I was working on big paintings and small drawings, as well as processing different artistic mediums and the New York vibe, I started to feel that [the human] flesh was being taken for granted, relationships among people were becoming sterile, and colors around me looked faded. Today, people can easily have relationships with others without any [substantial] connections with them, and bodies have lost the speciality in their quality.
Around the same time as when I made these discoveries, I met a guy who was completely disconnected from this world. He had no color, no smell, and he was out of time. At least, that ’s what I thought at first, but of course, I was wrong. He wanted to close off all connections to this world but not with me. We got closer. As much as he let me see his world, I had to read between the lines. Everyday, I was discovering new layers, so many shadows, and so much color, all at the same time. I decided to use these feelings in my work.
Line drawings are, from a distance, what we usually have between each other. The "liberty pattern" is old-fashioned, very used, and common. You can find it on tea packaging, book covers, and also on boxes of tampons. I felt it was the right amount of universal knowledge that I could use. With the bodies I depicted, I had to research sex images that dated back since the existence of photography. Body representation has existed for so many centuries, but the pictures we have and the culture around sex are all different. My process consisted of watching porn and looking at vintage pictures of eroticism. It's so crazy the progression of nudity through time and the different uses of framing and scaling of images through the ages.
I didn’t realize that many people around me would feel uncomfortable or excited about this kind of art and process. To me, it was just a reflection of what was happening in my life and in my art. Patterns are like avatars of feelings and sensations, of intersecting light. Layers of colors stand in as memory, and bodies can be seen as abstractions and interactions among others. I intentionally shattered some lines in my work and drew new borders. This series is a representation of how I see, live, and connect with people.
"The Other Women"
This series is about some stories I had heard and read. Like everyone else, I am connected to the world through social media, talking with friends, and even taking public transportation. Some days I feel like reading a crappy vintage novel or listening to rotten gossip. I started these art pieces without knowing it would become a series. I was trying to picture them in the moment. I used vintage ads, photographs, and magazines to get this particular kind of framing in the images. As usual, I worked with layers of plain colors, drawing, and pattern; this is my "trinity" when it comes to art. Little by little, the series started growing. I have so many stories written about my drawings. Each story has some writing, sometimes a poem, that tells a little bit more about the piece.
After writing about and drawing these pieces, a thought dawned on me. Most of the women in these pictures I found looked insecure and lacking of self confidence. This is why I try to see them in just one moment, but I also try to make these women as colorful as they appear to me. A moment in your life cannot define you. Neither can a single line.
Thanks, Jessica! You've given us new perspective on our surroundings! ◆
Meg Banfield is a collage artist based in Franklin, TN. Here she discusses how her background in art history has shaped her understanding of the world and how she approaches creating new works of art.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your experience with art and art history.
Meg: I come from a family who have always been interested in the arts, and ever since I was a child, I have always been inspired by the historic and artistic side of life. I spent most of my days reading world mythology and about the history of the world. With each culture that I encountered, I was able to interpret its surroundings through different artistic techniques. Going to museums played a huge role for me as a kid; I always find these venerable institutions to be both exhilarating and also helpful in expanding my artistic knowledge. I didn’t really think much abut having a career in art until I started college, where, by happy chance, I took an "Intro to Western Art" class for my first fall semester. From the moment the lecture began, I immediately knew what I wanted to do with my future. Before I knew it, I graduated college with a bachelor's degree in art history. Having my major in art history has definitely been a blessing when it comes to creating my artwork. Being able to study the various artistic movements and to fully understand the historic events occurring alongside them have allowed me to gain a richer appreciation for art in general.
How would you describe your creative work?
I would describe my art as one part surrealist, one part fantastic, and one part mythical. What I try to do is to both create new meanings for different pieces, while breathing new life into age-old artistic tropes, making them appear to be more whimsical than they appear to be.
Who or what inspires you?
Various art movements have inspired my work. I find inspiration in the surrealist, symbolist, decadent, and mannerist movements. I’ve also been intrigued with the mystical and spooky side of life, and I don’t mind showing that part of myself within my work.
What other things do you like to do when you're feeling creative?
Another activity that I dabbled with as a child (and that I still keep up with) is creative writing. I find it to be another outlet for releasing my creative juices. I’ve also gotten into the adult coloring niche. I find that picking out the colors to use for each individual item to be quite soothing.
What's next for you, and what do you hope to do in the foreseeable future?
I have hopes for applying to graduate school to get my master's in art history with an emphasis on curatorial studies. My wish is to either one day be a professor of art history or to become a curator at a prestigious museum. I also have goals in selling more of my artwork, as well as submitting my writings to different literary magazines.
Thanks for chatting with us, Meg! This insight brings new and exciting meaning to your work! ◆
Megan Olivia Ebel is not only a Houston-based mixed media artist, she is also a mother and an arts educator. Here she discusses how she manages these different roles, how her experiences have shaped her art for the better, and how she finds time for her own personal growth.
Q: First, tell us a little bit about your work.
Megan: I am a mixed media, autobiographical artist. Just as some people write their thoughts in a diary, I make a visual product documenting my day-to-day experiences. I see my work as an outlet to process and compartmentalize all of my emotions, so it’s heavily thematic and very often reliant on storytelling via symbols. I grapple with my role as a single mother, as an educator, as a daughter, a victim of sexual assault, a woman, etc. I work with a large range of mediums, but currently am in a love affair with crochet, glitter, and gold leaf in no particular order.
You're the mother to an adorable three-year old. How has your work been affected or inspired by motherhood and vice versa?
At this point, I’m confident to say I would not be an artist if I wasn’t a mother. I found out I was having Lorin in my senior year of college, and it was the catalyst and theme of my thesis body of work, and now, even years later, my art and motherhood remain intertwined. I look back on work that I made previous to becoming a mom and it feels empty. It even felt empty to create. Now, it feels like a catharsis when I make art, and the product feels filled to the brim with purpose and direction and intention. This is not to say that motherhood has completed me. That’s far from the truth. Instead, it is the most challenging role I have ever played, and thanks to that challenge, it is a narrative on which to base my work. I make art to know myself, deal with trauma head on, learn to communicate, seek resilience, process pain, celebrate; my art is a therapy session and a half, but without synergy between my motherhood and my art, I couldn’t go through all those things with the same power and self-awareness.
Could you share with us your experiences in the Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM)?
I was introduced to ARIM by one of my professors at my alma mater, Sewanee: The University of the South. She had recently become a mother, Lorin was a one year old, and I was having a pity party about how, since Lorin’s birth, I hadn’t made any work. She immediately brought up the residency. The residency requires you to make a list of needs and goals and action items, and I think, for me, just putting those things on paper made them so much more important to achieve. The role of “mom” is a person that is constantly expected to do things for others, and the role of “artist” often calls for us to be selfish and hole up in a studio. Until I made peace with those things living in harmony, it was a dichotomy. Now the crux of my work focuses on that dichotomy. ARIM has encouraged me to turn challenge into art.
And on top of being a mother, you're also an arts teacher. What are some of the challenges you face in that role? And what are the gifts?
I think, and this is certainly more of a systemic challenge than a personal one, arts education should have higher funding and should be revered with much more respect than it is now. It’s incredible how art is seen as nonessential in our school system. In truth, when schools provide a robust and inclusive arts curriculum to their students, it bears great fruit! Art class builds divergent thinkers, and encourages problem solving and resilience. It is the cornerstone of literally every culture on earth, and not a single “core” course, such as STEM classes, could exist without it. It is certainly not 50 minutes of coloring pages. It is 50 minutes of learning the most important things about our existence in the world. Obviously, I’m a little biased, and most certainly passionate about what I teach, but I wish more people knew of and believed in the importance of exposing children to art. As far as the gifts of teaching art? Well, I could write for days and days about that! It is the best job (even on the days that people say your class is easy to teach). I get to share what I’m passionate about with little hungry minds! How cool is that?!
You spend much of your time caring for others and fostering their growth. How do you make time for yourself to recharge?
This is something I have considered amending my ARIM manifesto for, because recharging is just as important as making artwork. I am a caretaker 24/7, and it is so exhausting at times. To recharge, I need to go outside. It never has to be for a long time (although, I will very gladly chill in a hammock all day), and it doesn’t even need to be nice weather. I just find it very meditative to hear leaves swishing on the trees, take a breath of fresh air, and be under a huge, open sky.
And finally, what advice would you give to young artists today?
Do the damn thing! No matter who you are, where you come from, what you have or don’t have, you better be creating!
Thanks for chatting with us, Megan! Your work both on the page and IRL inspire us! ◆
Poet Cassidy Richison's words are soaked with references to " nature, meditation, consciousness, and life." Here she discusses her creative process, what writing means to her, and what she hopes for future storytellers and changemakers.
Q: How would you describe your style of writing?
Cassidy: I would describe my style of writing as a combination of intuitive expression and prose. "Journey poetry" as written bi-products of my journey through life. The reason why I love writing and why I fell in love with writing is because I feel it's like a journey through my own conscious and subconscious mind; it's a conversation I would have with myself as a means of translating my humanness. I don't care for fancy [writing] or mouths full of convoluted language. I just want to write, to express what I am experiencing that I've had a hard time vocalizing.
As such, I connect the most with free verse and prose poetry. I went to school and absorbed so much information from all these amazing authors, poets, and speakers. Yet I also felt that it was extremely important for me to stay true to my own voice in what I write, instead of bending my message to match those who are seen as success stories. Writing isn’t about being like the authors I studied but documenting my relationship with life itself, as a breathing, connected, electric microcosm of the universe.
Are there any interesting/surprising stories behind some of your pieces?
All of my creations have background stories and moments that inspired them into being. "12:12 New Moon Writings" was written when I was moving after graduating from DePauw University. At that time, I had moved around three different states and landed for a while in Bloomington, Indiana. I remember sitting in Rainbow Bakery, staring at an old Ms. Pac-Man machine, snow on the tiny tree in front of the window. I was considering leaving Bloomington even though I had only been there for a month.
The opening line of "12:12 New Moon Writings" is “There is bound to be a storm soon.” I had fallen into my own cyclical nature and repetition of habits. The storm represented a recurring feeling that would show up in times of transition. Usually, it popped up when I felt eager about what I wanted to experience next, and in that excitement, I forgot to appreciate where I was and savor the beauty of the present moment. I had the tendency to focus on exploring the multidimensionality of life that I forgot to ever “land” where I actually was in reality and feel gratitude for how far I have come. I knew in my heart I needed to practice patience and learn to enjoy the pace of my own process. So, I made a choice to slow down, to finish some projects I started and to breathe through the madness and magic of it all. Those weren’t easy times for me: air mattress, angry dog, and a lot of crying in my car outside of Bloomingfoods. Those were also some of the most beautiful times, too, as I was finding my balance in what seemed to be a teetering world.
What is your creative process like? Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from life itself and personal experiences. My truest love is the very fact that I am alive. Connecting with the natural world around me makes me feel alive. Nature has always acted as a mirror for me, showing me greater versions of myself that coexist with the the natural laws of nature. That’s probably why I use a lot of elements from the earth as subjects and anchors for some of my creations. I have always been fond of words and how we choose to use them. I personally feel they carry the power to create worlds when weaved consciously and mindfully; they feel the life behind their sounds and the magic in their shapes. I see and use language in order to bring more life into our world. To bring more color, more exploration, and more truth.
Aside from writing, how else do you express yourself creatively?
I use music, yoga, and dance to express myself creatively. Also, when I really look at it, I use communication [as creativity], as well. I converse with plants, animals, and people; it’s all a matter of paying attention and feeling. We know the language of many species. We just have to remember that some languages have evolved beyond words.
And finally, if you could produce any piece of work with no limitations, what would it be and why?
A new education system and community. I'd want to create an education system that encourages gifted children to shine their unique light in this world. I want an education system that isn’t afraid to explore human consciousness and human potential, one that feels inclusive and inspiring. I want this because I feel like the education system I was a part of wasn't designed to teach me how to be myself. It felt like it was designed to teach me how to be accepted by my society and system, to be just enough to “get by.” By being this way, I could never feel aligned nor fulfilled. It left me in debt and disconnected. I had to take matters into my own hands in order to start living a life more in line with my true talents and my true nature.
I feel that kids who have been gifted with heightened sensitivity and an inclination to heal the planet should also have a place to learn, grow, and create. Kids should be able to really explore their own inner nature and inner workings. I look back and think about what it would have been like to have mentors for the things I was actually interested in, and I know it could have prevented a lot of sorrow if I had a stronger sense of community.
The community would be a place where we truly see each other as co-creators. It would be a place where there is integrity in the food we make, the art we make, the conversations we share, the music we play. I would build an eco-house and building for like-minded souls and spirits to co-exist; this isn't an “I want to be separate from the world” kind of place. It’s just a place where there is peace, truth, joy, love, connection, and vibrancy. I want this place because I can see its potential and possibility. I know from experience that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions create the world we live in. The first step in creating a new world is believing in one. When this places comes into existence, it will impact our planet in a positive way.
Thanks for chatting with us, Cassidy! We feel inspired hearing and learning from you. ◆
You can find more of Cassidy's work on her website.
When multidisciplinary artist Mary Morrison isn't at Disney World setting up a new installation at 3AM, you can catch her either writing or designing in her very little spare time. She took a break from her busy schedule to talk to us about her creative process and what it takes to bring the magic of Disney to life.
Q: How would you describe your creative process?
Mary: My creative process varies wildly from project to project, depending on a lot of things like budget, scale, who I'm working with, etc. What has worked best for me in the past is following my creative whims as quickly as I can before the self doubt sets in. It's a little harried, but because I don't have that much time for personal projects, I try to say "yes" to them with what little free time I have. I try to get others involved in the process, too, when my idea feels half-baked and still needs a lot of work to become fully formed. I am motivated more when I involve others, so I can't back out of a project so easily.
You've worked on a number of live productions, from theatre in college and now at Disney. How would you say art on the stage compares to other art forms?
Live production has an energy that I haven't found in any other art form. A play isn't finished at the final dress rehearsal, its only complete when an audience sees it. The performers feed off the crowd's energy, and that relationship creates something totally unique. Each show, no matter how many times it is performed, is an individual work within itself. So, unlike other art forms, the artists don't have complete control over their work; they share that control with the observers.
Are there interesting or surprising stories behind some of your work?
The story that sticks out to me the most is from the installation of "Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular" at Disney World in the summer of 2016. Because the parks are open seven days a week, any new work has to be completed during late nights; I was basically nocturnal that whole summer. To top it all off, it was a really terrible summer in central Florida. Within one week in June, a child was eaten by an alligator at a Disney hotel, Youtube and Voice star Christina Grimmie was shot in Orlando, and of course, the then largest mass shooting in U.S. history happened at Pulse. I would drive home as the sun was rising, sobbing the entire way home. I remember hugging the friends I feared I would never see again, feeling so lucky that they were still alive. I remember waking up in the afternoon and having to call my family to let them know I was okay.
Yet the good memories also stick out. No one believes me when I tell them that around 3AM, the entire park at Disney smells like cookies. I would be exhausted, fighting tree limbs, as I tried to hang string lights in them, and then all of a sudden, the world would feel so much better because it was "cookie time." Other good memories include taking a 65-foot boom lift as far up as it could possibly go to catch the first glimpse of the sun rise with my lift partner. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted by that install, but I am also so incredibly proud of the final product.
Any upcoming projects you're especially excited about?
Unfortunately, I can't talk publicly about any of the Disney projects I'm involved in currently. Personally, I'm trying to get back into creating for myself first. I feel like I'm still rebounding from college, when I was overstretched, creating on someone else's schedule. Now, if I want to write, I write. If I want to draw, I draw. It's nice to rediscover the joy of creating, instead of the anxieties that come with academics.
And we have to ask, if you could produce any piece of creative work without any limitations, what would it be and why?
I would love to write a play, then design scenic and lighting for its production. I love creative writing because I get to create my own little world, but theatrical design requires the tangible realization of that world. I would create the play's world from scratch by both writing and designing it. It would be like playing God.
That sounds epic, Mary! We would love to see that production one day. ◆
You can find more of Mary's work on her website.
Los Angeles-based multimedia artist and writer Nicolette Daskalakis bares her heart and humor in her newest collection of poetry, Portrait of Your Ex Assembling Furniture, available for pre-order before its release on September 24. The book promises to echo the woes and wonders of "anyone who's ever ran into their ex, fallen in love at the grocery store, or gone on a few too many first dates." While we eagerly await its release, we chatted with Nicolette about her writing, how she balances making visual art with poetry, and what she's learned along her journey through creating.
Q: First, share a little bit about your background.
Nicolette: Since my mother was a collage and sculpture artist, I grew up in an environment that encouraged creativity in any artistic medium. I fell in love with photography, poetry, fashion, music…anything that allowed me to express myself in a visual or auditory way. I did my undergraduate studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where I received a BA in Film & TV production and a minor in Intermedia Arts. For me, film felt like the perfect way to combine every art form I loved into one.
After graduating, I worked as a freelance production designer and did a lot of my own writing and short films on the side. I ended up working for BuzzFeed, creating short beauty, style, and craft videos, and eventually built up a large enough portfolio to transition into directing and shooting digital content as a freelancer. Working as a freelancer has granted me more control over my schedule and allowed me to pursue both poetry and film simultaneously. I’m working on something every single day. Honestly, the only difference is whether or not someone’s paying me for it.
Looking at your portfolio, you've dabbled in quite a bit of everything, from photography to production design to creative writing. What do you think threads all your work together?
I’m of the mindset that the idea comes first and the medium comes second. Sometimes the best way to express an idea is through poetry, other times it’s photography or music. I love the freedom and excitement of not containing myself to a single art form. Regardless of the tools I’m using, I often find myself exploring themes of intimacy, sexuality/gender, and societal expectations, often through a lens of magical realism or humor.
As I’ve grown as an artist, it’s been fascinating to discover commonalities and patterns when working in different genres. For example, where I choose to break up a line of poetry and where I choose to have silence in a film have become one in the same to me. It’s as if they are the same words, just translated into another language.
Portrait of Your Ex Assembling Furniture is your third book of poetry (the other two are entitled because you're now banging a French girl and All The Boys I Never Kissed). How do you feel you've grown as a writer?
Looking back at my first and second book is like reading a diary from that point of my life (except it’s public and unalterable... yikes!). I wrote the first book alone in my bedroom, without a wide knowledge of poetic form, structure, or tools. As I began writing this latest book, I took it upon myself to really explore and study poetry from a more “academic” standpoint. I felt like I had established the aesthetic and tone of the series with the first book, but I also had a lot of room to grow as a writer. As I started reading the works of both historical and contemporary poets, I began to gain a toolkit of sorts. It opened up so many more doors for play and experimentation with how I could make my work more rich and layered.
Your writings feel very raw and honest. Do you ever feel vulnerable releasing them into the world?
Surprisingly, no. My books are probably 75% truth and 25% fiction. For me, that 25% leaves so much room for not only creative license but also the confidence to write about more vulnerable emotions. I always try to write as if no one else will see it, because I think the best art comes from not filtering yourself. I hope people read these poems and find parts of themselves they were afraid to share, that they realize those parts are valid and real.
We gotta ask, have your exes read any of your poems about them... what is that like?
Poets tend to kiss and tell. I try to do it in a disassembled way so that only someone who has seen the full piece can recognize it from its parts. I’ve never blatantly told anyone, “This poem is about you," but I’ve had people read them and realize it. At the launch for my second book, my partner at the time came up to me and said, “I learned a lot about myself tonight.” I think that sums up what most people say, that they saw a certain moment or experience through a different lens, through my lens. Jury’s still out on the third book though, so we’ll see if I have any exes at my door wielding pitchforks...
Finally, what are some lessons you've learned in your journey through art and creating?
Those are very meaningful lessons, Nicolette. We'll have to try out all your creative advice! ◆
"My style of work is dynamic, focusing on voices of those who are often unheard [in society]," said Onyinye Zennia, a Nigerian artist who uses a string method to construct her powerful pieces. "The interplay of different colorful strokes of thread on nails is used to reveal fading culture and political issues." She discusses those themes in some of her most thought-provoking artworks...
1. Bleeding Rose
"Bleeding Rose is a figurative image showing two powerful hands of a man and woman squeezing life out of a fetus. For me, this portrays the abuse of human life in all forms and the frustrations and helplessness of situations experienced by most Nigerian/African children."
2. Behind Closed Doors
"This artwork emphasizes that aspect in our life that is open only to ourselves, which may be offensive when shared publicly. It portrays where we are completely and who we are without pretense, as we cover to uncover."
3. Tears of the People
"Each time I hear of an attack or abduction, I begin to imagine the endless tears that has run down the eyes of thousands of mothers, enough to complete a river flow. With this work, I have tried to visually capture, measure, and collect those tears. I still wonder if they will ever stop."
4. Mutilated Beauty
"This one exposes that part of our life that is covered or hidden because of fear of rejection. Generally, women are considered the epitome of beauty. In this work, [the woman's] face is partly covered, signifying the abuse of beauty in nature and human life. When [women] are afraid of abuse, they in turn cover their real identity or withdraw, but there's always a revelation in concealment."
5. Stuck in Vow
"She's stuck in the vows of her marriage; her expectations are smashed and left with nothing but worries of life. What she's pursuing is a lost cause; it is deep and disturbed thinking."
6. Child Brides
"They're too young to marry. In Africa today, some girls are abandoned by their families in the name of early marriage, and their education is denied. Educating girls is a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world."
7. Rhythm of Love
"This one emphasizes the beauty of love, depicting dance and rhythm of the couple over the pain that love [may bring]."
When asked what she feels is the place of artistic expression in society, Zennia explained, "Art remains the only way through which I share my thoughts and ideas. My works are always laden with emotions and aesthetics." And we're especially moved by your work. Thank you for sharing, Onyinye. ◆
Follow Onyinye on Instagram @zennia_art to see more of her work.
As an illustrator and character designer, Katherine Budak often re-imagines pop culture classics and troupes into her own punchy, original work. Here we dissect some of her boldest pieces, getting into the heart of who she is as an artist and storyteller...
Q: Let's first talk about your style of art. How would you describe it?
A: I would describe it as vibrant, narrative-driven characters with a slightly graphic sensibility. My inspirations often include comic books, 1960s aesthetic, Eastern European folklore, Ghibli films, and female youth.
Q: Some of your work involves re-imagining pop culture characters. How do you go through that process of envisioning icons in a new way?
A: For me, redesigning characters involves taking their most recognized characteristics and imagining how they could be reinterpreted in a new context. I think specifically about character development and how the environments and relationships of [the characters'] new world might lead them to develop the traits we're all familiar with.
For example, in my teen Batman series, I took an iconic character like Poison Ivy and thought about what she might have been like before she was a femme fatale and how that version of her would fit into a high school setting. I found the idea of "a wallflower personality type coming into her own" very interesting. I imagined her learning how to embrace the things that make her different, like growing from [someone who is] insecure to empowered and how the emotions that define the character could be reflected in the design. You have to understand a character's core motivations and inner world before you begin to design their physical appearance. Ask yourself what they desire, what they fear, and how they would react differently from other characters in certain situations. How can you translate that using shape language, color, posing, and expression?
Q: You created a children's book in college called Runaway Girl. Can you tell us about this book and how you got the inspiration to write and illustrate the story?
A: Runaway Girl revolves around a loyal dog's search for his lost owner. The owner is a girl who runs away from home to seek adventure in the nearby woods. I based this story on the many fantasies I had as a child of exploring a vast, primordial woodland that was nothing like the urban metropolis of Los Angeles where I grew up. The dialogue between the dog and the woodland creatures was inspired by the Russian storybooks my mother read to me as a child, and the setting was inspired by the forest near her hometown in Belarus.
Q: And your graduation project involved a conceptualization of The Sound of Music as animation. How did you dive into that process?
A: My process began with researching and compiling reference image boards of the actors, the period attire, props, Austrian environment, and character design inspirations (thank god for Pinterest!). I came up with a story chart after that, listing the major moments or beats of the film. Then came the ideation phase of playing with the characters and sketching out emotional scenes, expressions, poses, and different versions of the characters. Next, I chose the sketches that seemed to work the best and refined them and cleaned them up. Then, I placed the characters side by side in a line-up, at first in monochrome and then in color. Eventually, I realized my first pass [could be improved], and utilizing notes from a mentor, I redesigned the main cast and background characters into their current state.
Q: You've also interned at FriendsWithYou, another arts collective based in Los Angeles. What was that like?
A: Interning at FriendsWithYou over the summer has been a fun experience filled with challenges and growth. It's a relatively small studio helmed by two passionate artists who have been collaborating together for years. They do quite a few different things but are known primarily for their large-scale installation art and animated Netflix series True and the Rainbow Kingdom. I've learned an array of new skills on the job and gained a lot of insight into the variety of avenues artists can take with their work.
We hope to hear more about your craft and journey in the future, Katherine! It was great learning from you! ◆
You can find more of Katherine's work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @kate_budak.
As a trained jewelry designer and maker, interdisciplinary artist Marit van Heumen plays with conventional ideas behind "the human body, objects, and the spaces surrounding us." And yet her jewelry is anything but conventional...
Q. How would you describe your art?
A: In my art practice, I focus on exploring the relationship among the human body, objects, and the spaces surrounding them. I am interested in the automatic interpretations we make with objects. We try to give them meaning by using the knowledge we have or have been taught. This also happens when seeing an unknown object. The importance of function fascinates me. Especially in jewelry and fashion design, there is an ongoing conversation about functionality. When a piece of jewelry loses its function, is it still jewelry? Does it become art or an object? And what does this do for the identity of the product and the manner in which we perceive it? Within my work, I take a step back from what we experience as conventional, and I question [these conventions]. I want to challenge the relationship among the human body, product, and space by making changes in our interaction with objects and spaces and by making changes in their placement and proportion.
Q: What inspired you to explore these ideas in your work?
A: Before studying at the jewelry department of the Art Academy in Maastricht (The Netherlands), I studied spatial design. Although the perspective of the human body in [spatial study] is different, the body plays a significant role in both [the jewelry and spatial] disciplines, as well as in other design disciplines. I have always been interested by how the human body connects to functional products, objects, and spaces intuitively. Because these objects and spaces are made for the human body, there is already a strong connection among them. Within my work, I like to use these automatic assumptions and automatic behaviors [and gear them] toward objects and spaces to create different stories.
"When I was working on my graduation project, The human body is a cliché, I was making so many sketches and three-dimensional tests, and combining them with interesting materials, but nothing seemed good enough. After struggling a lot, I had one very productive morning, and I came up with most of the ideas that ended up being the final objects in the collection. It was one of those moments when suddenly everything fell in place."
Q: When you're stuck creatively, how do you get your brain going again?
A: When this happens, it is mostly because I want to squeeze an idea out of me so badly. And, of course, that never works. For me, the best thing to do in these cases is to not get pressured by deadlines and by wanting to get the best end result. When I am stuck creatively and sometimes lost in a project, it is good to take a step back, ask for feedback, and re-evaluate. I experiment and have fun with materials, read articles, go out for a walk in the city, and watch the people on the streets.
Q: If you could collaborate with any artist (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
A: I would love to collaborate with architects like Belgian architect Vincent van Duysen. I think it would be very interesting to make jewelry for specific architectural spaces and a great challenge to make ‘architectural jewelry’ that complements Van Duysen’s clean and thoughtful designs.
Q: And finally, what's next for you?
A: I am currently working on a project in which wearable jewelry is linked to jewelry or objects in architectural spaces. In my opinion, jewelry doesn’t have to be limited to the human body. I think, in a subtle manner, jewelry can do the same for an architectural space as it does for the human body. In a few months, this collection will be exhibited and will also be up for sale. And wearable pieces with my design aesthetic can be purchased then.
We can't wait, Marit! Thanks for speaking with us! ◆
You can find more of Marit's work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @maritvanheumen.
We asked "paintoonist" Serena Corson about her artistic style, her role models, and why it's important to express feminist themes in her work.
Q: Let's first talk the basics. How would you describe your art?
A: I would describe myself as an experimental paintoonist (painter-cartoonist). My art--which ranges from big oil paintings, to photography, to comics--usually comments on society and relationships. I explore how humans interact and connect with one another. I usually try to put a funny or light twist to darker subjects.
Q: Your pieces feel somewhat like a feminist surrealist dream. Could you talk a little bit more about the themes and visual imagery you're working with?
A: I like to be as raw and honest with my art as I can, so I take painful personal experiences or certain moods/vibes and combine them with learned philosophy and my knowledge of current social issues to create my pieces. Being a woman who has experienced a lot of blatant misogyny, feminist themes are inevitable to show. I also try to include themes of spirituality and the sublime into my work. I know that’s a lot; I’m still finding my way and letting the Chaos guide me.
"For Woman Smoking in Moonlight, I actually tried doing realistic colors at first and realized halfway through that [the colors] were very far from that. So, I just went with it. Bright color schemes always find their way into my work."
Q: We read that the matriarchs in your family are your creative inspirations. What connects you to them?
A: My grandmother died when I was about three years old. She was a teacher, opera singer, harp player, published poet, and artist. I recently read postcards she had sent to me from Paris when I was two years-old, talking to me like I was an adult. I still read through her old art journals whenever I can. I feel so connected to her, and I know she’s living on through me in a way. My single mother is the strongest person I have ever met. Her career was in music, and I believe her passion for music translated to my passion for visual art.
Q: Any exciting projects on the horizon you can tell us about?
A: I am interning for a woman named Liz Canner, who is making a documentary about violence on campus and how that correlates to Greek life (fraternities and sororities). I go to Florida State University, where Greek life is a really big deal. I think I might want to take advantage of being in the center of such a massive and sometimes destructive social system. I might try to paint about it or even do some performance art. ◆
You can find more of Serena's work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @serenaviolaart.