- As another brown artist who has faced and continues to face oppression in my life and work, your work is so inspiring to me. You’ve mentioned that an internship at Center for the Study of Political Graphics introduced you to the work of Atelier Populaire and Emory Douglas at a pivotal moment of development. Who are your current influences and inspirations?
Thank you so much, Silas. It’s really wonderful to hear that my story has influenced other artists like yourself. What’s currently inspiring me is both nature itself and being part of a global climate justice movement to ensure a liveable planet for future generations. I am rebuilding my relationship with nature after growing up in a polluted concrete jungle that had very few trees. Getting to visit and enjoy beautiful spaces in nature is something that is shaping my art. For most of my lifetime I simply didn’t have the access to nature the way I do now. My garden has also been a tremendous source of inspiration. In my art, I’ve been working on a series about flowers and about all the different plants that I’ve been growing. The pandemic allowed me to delve into my garden and refine my skills for growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs – as well as attracting pollinators. I’m also tremendously inspired by indigenous leaders who are protecting our planet and blocking fossil fuel projects. Indigenous folks who are reminding us to decolonize our imaginations and heal our relationship to ALL that is alive. And finally, I’m inspired by the many BIPOC femmes who are teaching me how to heal and liberate my body. My art very much reflects healing, nature, and collective care at this moment.
- How did you start the process of transitioning to your own practice as a sustainable means to focus on?
When I first decided that I wanted to be a successful artist with a studio, I had to get clear on how to sell my art and how to tell my own story, because no one was going to tell my story the way I could. When I first started making art, the Internet had just been born and I taught myself how to code and built my first website. Since then, I’ve been leveraging the tools of technology to tell my story and to talk about my artistic practice.
One of the most important things to have a sustainable artistic practice is to fully own your story and to have as many strategies and platforms to tell your story, whether that’s a blog or your website or your social media. You will have more of an impact as an artist if you can also be in control of the story you tell. It’s also important to have your own autonomous space, such as your website, because the algorithms on social media fluctuate so often that it becomes hard to share our art and narratives. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and resources building my website because ultimately most of the world is going to interact with my art through a screen, therefore it’s important for me to talk about my art on my own terms
Another thing that was critical for me was to create art that was accessible to all kinds of buyers and collectors. I love being a printmaker because I can create prints that most working-class people can afford, and I can also create fine art. I can design garments, stickers, and posters. It was important for me to diversify the price point of my art so that my art could be enjoyed and purchased by more people.
It’s also critical to diversify the streams of income that you rely on as an artist. Today, my streams of income include speaking engagements, art commissions, art consulting, selling art, grants, and renting out a unit in my family home, which I now own. Art is not always predictable, and so one must create various streams of income so that you are able to stay afloat. Don’t put yourself at financial risk. I urge you to get educated about financial health and make wise decisions about money because we are living in hard economic times, and I think it’s important for people to make sure that they are covering their basic needs. The notion of the “starving artists” is dangerous to all of us and I instead prefer to be the “well prepared artist.”
- What are your opinions on the role of craft, technique or skill in the work of artists and designers?
I really love this question. First, I’m largely self-taught and. As much as I wanted to go to art school, I was not accepted. The people who made decisions in the late 90s about who got into art schools simply did not see the value of my work. So I had to take the route of being a self-learner. That meant finding mentors who could teach me their techniques, signing up to take classes, experimenting on my own, watching YouTube, and being creative about how I learned.
I think it’s critical that we learn ancient traditions of art form. For me, that has meant learning linoleum block printing, etching, screen printing, woodblock printing, sowing and even sculpture. I’ve learned from mentors who have already passed away and so I feel like I’m a knowledge keeper around these crafts. It’s rather urgent that we learn crafts from creatives who have mastered them and also creatives whose values are aligned with ours.
The second thing that I would add is that it’s critical to always be learning new techniques. I make it a point to learn new techniques every year. I set aside a little budget for myself to take classes in places like Anderson Ranch Center in Aspen or Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. When needed, I would ask for scholarship support and investigate what kinds of diversity initiatives they had for artists of color like me. Learning techniques from new teachers and masters of craft really expanded my toolkit. Today, I have a huge toolbox of artistic and design tools that includes graphic design, laser cutting, working with glass, large scale mural making.
A little known fact is that I was a designer for ten years running my own design firm. I learned Photoshop and Illustrator when it first launched on the computer in the 90s. I’m really glad I did because having digital tools has been game-changing for me. I was 15 years old when I got my first Mac and I started designing on it.
I was very computer centric in my artistic practice for about a decade, from 2000-2010. Until I realized that it was actually important for me to return to analog ways of thinking about color, form and composition. So I decided to spend another ten years learning analog traditions because I got tired of looking at a screen and sitting so much, this was not feeding my creativity. Today I work seamlessly between both digital and analog, most of the time I go back and forth with both appraoches. I think it’s so important for creative folks to use their hands and use materials they can feel with their hands as a first step. Then carry over your ideas to the digital space. We are increasingly in a digital lifestyle and our society spends a ton of time looking at laptop and phone screens. But we must be more embodied with our creative practice, and that means doing analog craft practices.
- Your work has so much power in the way you are vulnerable with personal material in your life, how do navigate that over time?
I really believe in the power of the story. Stories change people, and people change policies and systems. In order to connect with people on a human level, we have to share our stories. Storytelling is a part of my artistic practice. Colonization has taught us to stay silent and not speak our truths and that has ultimately not benefited us. On the contrary, it has disempowered us. Our stories and experiences are important. When I share my intimate truths, whether it’s sharing my abortion or sharing how I navigated the death of my father or sharing my healing after being in an abusive relationship – I believe that these stories can help others.
Not only do I have the gift of art, but I also have the gift of voice.We all do. Our voice is also a creative tool. When I use my voice together with my art, people get a more holistic understanding of why it is that I do the art that I do. I navigate my storytelling carefully because I’ve also faced harassment and I’ve had to take steps to protect myself. But overall, I’ve found that folks really resonate with my sharing, and that’s important to me. It’s especially important when young people or BIPOC femmes tell me that they’ve been empowered by my words. We have to remember that telling our stories inspires other people to tell their stories. Silence, stigma and shame ultimately work against our political power. Ultimately, when we don’t tell our stories, we are allowing for mostly white men to dominate with their stories.
- What suggestions or advice to you have for emerging designers who want to embed social justice into their practice?
I recommend that artists get connected to social movements that are working on the social and political causes that you care about. If climate justice is something you’re passionate about then you should be following BIPOC-led groups who are working on that issue. Sstay informed about what the different organizing strategies are and make art about those demands. For example, make art about ending our dependency on fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy. If you care about reproductive justice, then it’s important to make art that demands abortion for all and make art that’s inclusive of trans people. By understanding what social movements are working on, you will be better equipped to create and share your art with these social movements, and eventually get into relationships with them.The more that you make connections with people and people begin to see your art, the more you are putting yourself up on a path to collaboration.
I do believe everything starts with personal relationships and people getting to know each other. Show up for social and political events and attend activities that these organizations host and bring your art. Offer to help at poster-making parties or come with your own banners. Consider hosting your own art parties where you and your friends can design posters for a particular rally. The more that you take steps towards getting informed and building relationships with social movements, the more likely it will be that you will be able to have future collaborations. It doesn’t just happen unless you make it happen.