Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten Minutes Left. Where is Ryan Seacrest?
I think this may be the first new year in (17) years that I've spent at home, not actually alone -- Rita, who's my dog ,is here, but she's sleeping, deciding not to chime in the new year with me and my glasses of Veuve and Moet. Yes, I softened to the idea of curling into my space tonight alone - movies, cupcakes, vegetarian dinner, semi-dried up Christmas tree as my cohorts to see this year out, but I feel really good about it. Yeah, there are parties tonight, gatherings, fun times to be had, but for some reason I don't feel like partaking at all.
2010 was a strange year.
It was a rebound from 2009, which was one of my toughest years yet. I understand on an intellectual level, the notion of business cycles -- recessions and recoveries; however, I haven't been working long enough to have actually experienced business cycles (note the plural).
In recent years, I have begun to wean myself off of the idea of resolutely choosing to decide that I will be "more of this" and "less of that" in the near year. The idea of resolutions are silly to me. Rewording "it" to "New Year's Intentions" seem more palpable, but still, intentions are oftentimes just left as unresolved hopes. That said, I will still move forward trying to become a better person (which doesn't mean becoming more accommodating; in my case less apologetic - I've been endowed with a double whammie: I'm Chinese and Canadian:
Thank you.
Sorry again.
But becoming a better person means that I'm trying to have a better gauge; an honest gauge about what those things in life are that make me most joyous. Oftentimes, they are experiences instead of "things".
Just now, my mind suddenly drifted to an episode of Strangers with Candy (Warren Sutton, "I love your work" ... Steven Colbert... "I love you even more"... Amy Sedaris, I love that you love pizza even though that you might not. Still you're badass funny. I draw for the illiterate and those who can't read...)
I'm digressing.
But back to my point, 2011 is the beginning of "me pulling me closer to me."
Think Steven Colbert breaking up with Paul Donello in Strangers With Candy.
I'm pulling myself closer to me.
On my playlist are the rappers and songstresses from the eighties and nineties.
Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, Jay Z, Amil, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah -- yes, I said Queen Latifah -- Xscape, TLC and Mariah.
As for movies, I'm on a hot tip right now -- I'm movie crazy (see Black Swan by the way, although I met a guy at a party 2 weeks ago that suggested that I watch a precursor of it). Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink (... Oh Ducky...), 16 Candles.
Books. I'm reading Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" and "Seven Days in the Art World" by Sarah Thorton... although I'm out to purchase "For Esme - With Love and Squalor" by JD Salinger because I'm working with a dancer right now who was named after the character of this book (kowtows into the earth to Ryan for the hookup).
As for imagemaking. I have some thoughts of what to do in 2011. As I wrote in a previous post already, I have had a body of work circulating in my head for about 3 years now - now, it's time to put it into motion, and give it life.
Okay there are about 13 minutes left until the new year begins.
Props to us all for moving through 2010.
And as always good fortune for 2011.
Stay true.
Stay honest.
Be good.
And move forward.
Be in touch again in a few days.
All the best to you and yours.
Love is cool.
Happy New Year everyone.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I haven't got much to write about today, except that I wanted to post up new work. Really, I should be updating my website, but it's faster to place images onto my blog instead. The past several weeks have been a bit loco work-wise, but I'm thankful for it. It's tough to understand one's own limits sometimes, and how it would be best to balance work and personal life. Actually, I've begun to include my personal list of things to do on my "to-do" list. I think it's easy for freelancers especially, to forget that there are so many things in life to do in addition to work. It's hard for us not to get caught up in the race to grow our careers and to capture all of those trappings that could be associated with it.
But maybe that's only me.
I try to pull back from the fever of work once in a while, to not get swallowed up by the daily routines, of the chore of clocking in and out.

It can eat away at a person, allowing him or herself to forget what it means to be here.
What does it mean to be here?
She asked me last week what it means to be here.
I nearly forgot about it until a few days ago.
Friday night, when I was here, alone at home while he was working.
I've told him that I missed him when he works late.
But that's what I need to do in the meantime, he says.

I finished my deadlines for today.
Actually, that's somewhat of a lie.
I could be working on another assignment, but I have been working on commercial projects all weekend.
I think I need to work on some personal pieces.
I'm in a group show in January in the Lower Eastside at Krause Gallery. The show is being curated by the boys at Spank.
Spank you very much.
Will send you more details very soon.
In the meantime, I'm working on some sculptural pieces informed by an automatic drawing exercise that I've done in my studio. I'm having a seriously fun time, but I'd lie to you if I said that I couldn't feel the spit from the demons that are whispering into my ears.
Why are you doing this?
It's been done before.
You suck.
You're not a sculptor.
Take a break.
There's a pizza shop down the street.
Take a break.
not yet.
not until I've remained in this uncomfortable place for a while longer.
I tell my students to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Now, I have to do the same.

* The illustrations above are for Car and Driver, Bloomberg Business Week, Plansponsor, Runner's World, Playboy, and ESPN.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I was just looking at some photos of Cadaques, Spain and it seems so distant. I remember that it was hot, and the sand was rocky. The city from across the bay was white even at night, and I remember swimming and looking into the blackness in front, below, and above me and not seeing any stars, but only a yellow circle that rested within this blackness like the core of some fairytale egg. I just did a quick search of Cadaques online, and the photos that came up didn't align with the memories that I have of that place.
But then I think of the dinner that I had the night before I left, with Ana and Gonzalo, their son, and his friend, at a table underneath the tree that sat in the front yard of their house. On a branch hung a lamp that along with the moon became the only light at dinner. And I don't recall the dinner itself, not the food, the taste, nor the drinks, but rather it was the moments afterward that have burned into my blood, becoming memories that I oftentimes go to when I yearn for some distance in this life. I remember the darkness, the smiles and the singing. I remember Ana's guitar, the flourishes of her Spanish finger picking against the strings, and her voice floating above and beneath the nighttime air. I remember Gonzalo staring at her, his face softened by the moon and her song. He fell in love with her a thousand times over that night.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I've begun to work on some new personal work again.
I'm thrilled.
As I have mentioned many times over in the past, pursuing personal projects are paramount to my studio practice; it has always been that way, however it's only recently that I actually began to take some inventory of my process -- that is, those steps to grow my work, my technique, and my creative vision. My commercial work is steady now, and it feels good, granted it's not that every commissioned project that I do fulfills me wholly, but it does my wallet, and so I realize that in order to pursue those other projects of mine that I want to lift off of the ground, it's necessary to fund them somehow.
I have had a new body of work floating around in my head for the past 2 years, but for several reasons I have not been able to, nor have chosen to elaborate on them. I still waver at the notion of trying something new. I strain at trying to render transparencies at just the right opacity, and to select colours which are the proper temperature. But most of all, I try to follow those instructions, the criticism that I pass along to my students about their own work, that they should not be so precious about their work if they want to become better artists.
I wrecked my piece today, and it was incredibly difficult for me to do, but I did.
I wrecked my piece today.
It was incredibly difficult to do.
But I did it.
On purpose.
I spent about a day and a half working on this piece, but near the end of it, I just had to try something to see if it would work.
I used both water based and oil based media in one composition, which is not unheard of; however, it made the piece look jarring in some areas. It's difficult to tell in the image at the top (the white sections are done in enamel, and the rest of the picture is in water colour and ink) because the camera adds a kind of filter that helps to flatten and unify everything, but I'm really not happy with it.
Still it's not entirely a failure.
My time and effort spent was not in vain because I did learn something.
I needed to get my ideas onto the page somehow, and even though I may have skipped a few steps in planning, it was necessary for me to start immediately otherwise I think that I would have froze and lost the momentum to work on this piece.
I spend so much time planning my commercial pieces that when it comes to my personal work, I often have the reflex to create them automatically, without any rehearsal or rough draft. It feels good to do it this way.
And isn't that the primary reason why I chose to draw in the first place?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I woke up around 6am this morning.
I didn't mean to. It just happened.

Daylight savings, having been only a couple of days ago, throws me off every year. It takes me a while to adjust.

I feel a bit hungover, and tired.

This week is Illustration Week.

The American Illustration party is tomorrow.

The Society of Illustrators are holding their annual judging.

And a lot of illustrators are coming in from outside of the city...from out of state... and from out of the country.

I always look forward to this time of year because I get to see friends who I seldom see because they live so far away.

Funny that I would post myself singing and playing the guitar today.
Makes no sense.
But does it have to?
Don't be alarmed there is no chance that I'll be segueing out of illustration to pursue music.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I feel myself arriving to a place that is between the end and the beginning. Although I have been here before many times, there is still a strangeness because it is not a part of anything else. It is not held together on either sides nor does it lean against the experiences of other things. This week will be my last teaching day at MICA. My art director role to which I had been initially assigned soon transformed into project manager, production assistant, gopher, instructor, and student, all at once. I would be lying if I said that I was nothing short of exhausted because I was -- I still am. And I swear that I have even bled over the past 7 weeks because of this.
But it has entirely been worth it.
When exhaustion and uncertainty couple, they can wield a terrible sword making it seem easier to kowtow into the earth, than to lift one's attention to the sky. My education has taught me the pragmatism of image making; how to convey a message that has an immediate read without being trite or cliche, while keeping the aesthetics of it intact, and paramount. Having done illustration for about 10 years now, I have come to understand the way in which to approach it that makes me relatively certain what the outcome will be. Yes, there is still some degree of mystery when I draw a picture, personal or commercial, however I don't tend to fumble around so much within my process as I did early on in my career.
I came into this experience not knowing how I would approach this task of teaching a class that I knew very little about, about how I would make use of class time efficiently, and about how I would make it worthwhile for everyone who would be involved. When I teach a class, I try to bring my current studio practice into the room, my successes and the challenges that I've faced, my psychology, my questions, and my curiosities, in addition to the formal knowledge of image making. The honesty of experience becomes the thread that extends from myself to each of my students that hopefully gives rise to questions, which I may or may not have the answers to, but most importantly it's the dialogue that I am happiest about.
I am very aware that I can be sentimental, and that even though I am coming to an end of my teaching stint at MICA, I will still be working behind-the-scenes in my studio on finishing off some class related work for this production. Still, it feels as though my part of contribution to the production has come to an end. And with that, I say thank you to all of the students who gave their own sweat, and breath, and heart, and brain, and blood to this process. Your journey is still not over; there are still several weeks left, but I am confident that it will be an enriching experience. Here's to my "in-between" and to your "continuation." Bravo to all of us. And see you again in December.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I know... I know... more Snow Queen stuff...
Sorry, but I can't help it - I'm having fun.
That' s me, me, me, me, and the fabulous artist Aya Kakeda, who came to speak about her artwork, after which she workshopped a demo on stenciling to my MICA class two weeks ago.
Thank you Aya! It was so much fun!

It's been quite a week -- hectic to say the least.
I spent today working on developing more chorus costumes for my class on Monday.
Remind you of anything?
Yes, Thierry Mugler of course.
Handle bars on torso.
I remember when I was about 12 years old, George Michael's "Too Funky" video came out, which featured some of Thierry Mugler's fashion designs (and a much younger Tyra Banks, who was growing her super stardom at the time).
In any event, I'm much too tired to write. I have been exhausted as I think I've expressed in a few entries already for a good 7 weeks.
I'm spent.
But before I exit, I wanted to point out the photos below were taken today. I spent some time trying to work out the kinks on how my class could create some of the chorus costumes relatively fast and easily. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't realized what a mess it would turn out to be. Still, I had a super good time trying to figure it all out. Better do it in the privacy of my own studio, instead of fumbling around and wasting valuable class time.
"There's the way to do it, and then there's the right way to do it."
Am I correct Mr. Gonzalez?

One more thing -- note the rat? poop in the second photo.
It was definitely a playful day.

* By the way, I'm not certain whose images these are of the skull, bird and snake. I gathered them up when someone left them after class. Anyone?... anyone?... anyone?...

Monday, October 18, 2010

I've been trying to upload new illustrations over the past several weeks, but I haven't been able to do so for three reasons. First, the illustrations that I've been working on are not allowed to be posted until after the publication for whom I've done the work, has published them. Second, I've assigned almost all of the time that I would have spent on personal work towards my teaching position at MICA; the work that I'm doing there has extended into my current studio practice here in New York, which is not a bad thing, only that it was very unexpected. Still, I am confident that this production of The Snow Queen will be fantastic, which means spending the extra time (and money) will be well worth it (and might I add that I have grown very fond of my class, and I'm feeling a bit sad that my time there will be up in 2 weeks). And lastly, it is out of my own accord, to not post a handful of the work that I've done over the past several months onto my website. You can ask any illustrator who has been in the field for several years that what you see on our websites represent only a fraction of the work that we do. When I first started illustrating I was working on about 100 illustration jobs per year; now that number has fallen to about 70 projects for various reasons, but mostly because I have chosen to allocate my time differently compared to when I first started working professionally. So to assume that every piece that is done must be shown in one's portfolio is unrealistic, not to mention that sometimes these illustrations are not the strongest representations of us as artists. It happens in other professions as well, think Meryl Streep in She-Devil.

Create a portfolio of the kind of work that you want to get more of, not of work that you will think will get you more work.
Did I get this statement from you, Yuko?
For the most part, clients can tell whether or not you've enjoyed working on the pieces in your portfolio. It's impossible to think that anyone who has to live off of their illustration work can love every single piece that they do.
We do it for the love, or for the money.
Or sometimes both.

I keep in mind that as much as I love to draw, I also am not one of those illustrators who have the luxury of picking and choosing each project that comes his way. Of course there are some parameters which inform whether or not I will take work, such as timing and budget for example, but I primarily treat my illustration like a business and take on work in order to financially sustain my creative practice. Sill, there must be some sort of pay-off; something that makes it worthwhile for me to take on the project.
Having said that, I've been working so much. Probably spending a good 70 hours per week, over the past 7 weeks, either working in my studio, or traveling and teaching at MICA and at SVA. It's been tough, and I've found that I've drained nearly the entire oregano oil bottle into my morning cups of water (it's my elixir against the possibility of getting sick - I take it when I'm feeling worn out); however, it's been necessary.
But this wasn't what my post was originally about.
I found this in my hard drive.
They're Chinese characters that I transcribed while watching some (chinese) karaoke videos on Youtube. I did this one Friday or Saturday night, while I was taking a break from work. No, I can't read or write chinese, and if you look at the "Fortune" cover that is at the top of this post, those chinese characters on the bottom right corner, were written by my father, who faxed it to me from Toronto (it's my name). Yes, I do think it's lame to be raised by parents who are multilingual -- who speak 4 languages combined: 2 dialects of Chinese, Portuguese, and English, and for me to not be. I only speak one language fluently -- guess which one?
I have always enjoyed learning new languages. I'd say that I have a 5 year old's level of speaking Cantonese and French (I'm Canadian remember? and so it's mandatory for us to learn French in elementary school). Therefore, I have decided that those languages will be my learning focus moving forward.

I just bought a "how-to-speak-cantonese" audiobook, which I just listened to a moment ago.

I'm kicking some serious ass.
I can say now,
"Excuse Miss. Do you speak Cantonese?"
"Do you speak English?"
"Yes, I speak English."
"Are you American?"

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I was just about to go to bed when I found this post on Youtube from Dan (Savage) and Terry. It's a post from his "It Gets Better" project in which individuals from around the world share their personal stories (to young people who are struggling and closeted about their sexuality) that hope exists past the torment and the bullying that they are experiencing in school.

Those words still sting when I hear them, whether they are addressed to me or to someone else; however, I have learned how to handle and then discard them over time. When I was in elementary and high school, I was cut much deeper by those words, and the idea that life would get better was oftentimes very difficult to envision.
It's strange to be in a position where you're not sure why your speech, the way that you move - who you are - makes people upset. When you are told constantly by adults and the media , the government, people who you know, and those who you don't that who you are is not like everyone else, that who you are is abnormal, that who you are means that you have diminished rights and freedoms to live then it makes you believe that who you are, is alone. There was no support system available at home, or in school to help me deal with the harassment, but somehow I was able to endure and lift myself out of that place. My choice was to conform so that I would become invisible. I dressed like my abusers, walked like them, and spoke like them; safety for me was to blend in. And for over five years I did that, living in shame and in secret until I graduated from high school. It got better once I left my neighbourhood that I was raised in, once I started art college downtown, and once I began to see myself reflected in a community that was very similar to who I was. It helped me understand my worth, and that I wasn't alone.

I've been recently asked to participate in a comic book anthology along with about twenty other artists. It's still in its early stages of development, which means that I'm certain that I cannot divulge any information about it whatsoever, except that I've considered my contribution will stem from my experiences of coming to terms with my sexuality. At first, I decided that I would approach it in a more humourous way, but now after giving it some thought, and viewing some of the aforementioned posts on Youtube, I realized that part of the reason why I chose to "keep it light" was for the sake of others; because I thought that it would be more commercially palatable, and make people feel less uncomfortable. There is always this fear that if I use some personal stories from my life to inform my commercial work that it will inhibit the critic within me from doing his job properly in such a way that the overall design of that piece might become clouded by those feelings. It can be a tricky thing, but I believe that I've maintained enough distance from that period of my life to recount my story in a way that can blend both my personal and critical voice.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I woke up this morning thinking about the notion of starting from the very beginning.
Do - Re - Mi.
The work that I'm doing with my students at MICA is new for everyone, and this newness doesn't just come in the form of trying to translate our illustrations into various applications for the stage, but also that we have to worry about money; or rather not having much of it to begin with. As a result we're forced to use inexpensive and sometimes found materials to construct the visual components of our production. This is encouraging us to think outside of the box.
Which is probably a good thing.
When I was young, I used to construct toys out of all of sorts of things: paper, egg cartons, tape, peanuts, yogurt containers; it was fun. Being oblivious of what the outcome would be was the exciting part because it took some savvy and flexing of my brain to understand through physical manipulation what the qualities and potential of these materials were and could be. It was a wonderful time to sit and spend hours cutting and sewing and painting and gluing parts together into some kind of form that would allude to a robot, tank or a pair of slippers. This notion of newness, of trying something for the first time is becoming prevalent within the kind of work that I'm doing alongside my commercial work.
I've been asked recently if I am still illustrating, not by one, or two people, but by a few. These questions made me nervous because I wasn't certain where these ideas stemmed from. So, naturally I began to wonder about this.
I had a conversation with some students once about the idea of community. This arose from their own feelings about not having received certain things from their own school community; that it was too much of this or too little of that. My response was for them to seek out a new one , but to keep in mind the idea that they don't have to give up their current community. I suggested for them to contact those individuals who inspired them, who would act as willing mentors in a non-formal way, to seek out those places that carried the kind of buzz that they were looking for. To dialogue with others, and to share their news about those things that they find interesting.
This idea of roots and wings; of planting roots into a place firmly enough to support the venturing out towards growth in other areas of one's life and profession is very intriguing to me. Embracing new beginnings, of starting from the very beginning, suggests to me that those new interests of mine, which are rooted in commercial art but overtly exist outside of my own illustration practice, have become a necessary part and function of my career. These interests appease the different facets of myself; however, they are not mutually exclusive, but help to nurture, nourish and generate my overall creativity.
I have thought many times about the question of what kind of illustrator I want to be. I have even posed this question to my students. For me, the kind of illustrator I want to be is one whose work consists of projects that are both commercial and personal, which transcend one discipline, and can be expressed in many different ways.
* the images at the top of the page are of workshop costume samples from the production of The Snow Queen, which will be performed in December through MICA's Illustration department.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I arrived to the train station about an hour early this morning. I made the mistake of thinking that my train to New York left at 8:35am as opposed to fifteen minutes past that. The train station is surprisingly relaxing in the morning. There is a buzz of voices underneath repetitive robotic announcements,
Attention please
Attention please
We Apologize for any inconvenience
Use caution before stepping onto the train

I'm trying desperately to eavesdrop on the couple who are sitting a few feet away from me. I do this in order to help spawn new story ideas and possibly include some of it as believable dialogue. The two of them are dressed in suits; she looks like him, and him like her. I'm trying to decipher the chatter but really can't make out anyone's words. Everyone looks like a Sesame Street character.
"I'm sorry, but I did call her," he says. The businessman stands in front of the train station door with his brow furrowed staring at a spot that is nowhere on the floor.
Attention please
He shoves one hand into his pocket, and leans slightly over to one side. He folds his other arm across his chest and tucks his hand into his arm pit.
"She did...she called me and said she didn't see Jaime."
He pauses for a moment.
"She called -- I spoke to her... She said that she had a game. She said that you'd go pick her up."
He hangs up the phone.

When I went to Spain years ago I took the train from Paris to Hendaye which is on the French-Spanish border, with Saint Sebastian on the Spanish side. I went to Paris first because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, although I was much more excited about my next stop afterwards at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. This was an important trip for me because it was the first time that I truly traveled on my own with no one else but my map and the kindness and company of strangers guiding me along the way. I felt like Gerda in The Snow Queen, but not in Hans Christian Andersen's version, but rather Kelly Link's adaptation, where Gerda searches for her stolen love, walking barefooted and bleeding, being told by those characters she meets throughout her quest that she needs to let Kai go.
My trip throughout Europe lasted for four weeks wherein which I traveled by train from Paris to Bilbao, to Madrid, then to Lisbon, back to Madrid, to Barcelona, into Florence, and finally to Rome. It's strange that after several years, these train rides have collided into one another becoming one entire ride in my mind.
The notion of train stations as a concept, or metaphor for moving from one stage of life into the next did not exist for me back then. Train stations were places that were rooted in function and pragmatism, people go there to get from points A to B. They don't go there to wander or sit, or to wonder. The time that I spent at these stations again seemed very much like a blur to me now, the edges are all fuzzy, and there is a film of time that's grown onto of this memory glass that I look through.
I can still make out the shapes behind it.
I met her in a hostel in Madrid. It was a scum of a place, and incredibly inexpensive; only a few euros per night. It was filled with students mostly in their twenties from all over the world. There was a small seating area in a room next to the foyer and a largish white kitchen stained yellow from over-use. The bathrooms smelled sour, and I couldn't tell if the tiled floor at the base of the toilet was water or piss. She was from Milan and he was from Ireland. I thought they were a couple until she asked me where I was going one night and I said to her that I was headed to any gay bar or club that I could find.
"Why didn't you invite anyone?" she asked.
"Why would I?" I said, "Who would want to come?"
"I do."
"Why? Are you a lesbian?"
For the next few of days this woman (whose name I have forgotten) and I spent the rest of our time together in Madrid. She was pretty with a slim and angular face, golden skin with light brown hair, streaked with blonde. She was a physical therapist, but her love was photography. She told me that Milan was terribly hot during the summer and that on the weekends Italians were not permitted to drive around the city because the pollution added to the summer heat. We traipsed around the city, and to Retiro park that was a short walk from the hostel. I had gone there only a few days ago and had sketched for a bit, and then slept for a bit, and then sketched for a bit more, and then went rowing after that. The park had a large pond in the center of it where you can rent a boat and row around in circles. I admit that I was incredibly lonely during that time. I was Gerda looking for Kai, meeting strangers along the way; I was uncomfortable and curious about this unfamiliar place of in-between. Although I no longer have any clear memories of what exactly we spoke about, or the details of our time spent together, I know that there was no need for it to transcend past that moment.
I remember the ending as clearly as the beginning, it's the middle that is out of focus. She and I walked back to Retiro park the morning that she was to leave for Milan. We sat on a bench for a short while. There was nothing special about that day - it was ordinary and hot, and there were people in the park. I had my sketchbook opened it up to a page that I had drawn of the park a few days prior. She looked at the drawing and made some comment. I remember that her words about my drawing were kind. She wrote down her email address and afterwards we talked for a bit. I'm not sure what we said, but maybe it was something about us keeping in touch.
I think both of knew that would not happen.
We sat for a short while longer, and then she said she had to head back to the hostel to retrieve her bags.
We hugged

and then she got up and walked away.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I awoke just before 7:00am, and arrived at my studio near 8:00am with my breakfast in hand: a pear, an apple, and a large cup of coffee. Part of the reason why I got up so early was that I had to pee, and when I woke up to do so, I found that I couldn't get back to sleep. Nonetheless, I got my 7 hours (of sleep) in. I stayed home last night, which seems to be the trend of late, watching a National Geographic documentary about stress. I have been incredibly stressed recently, but the intention of my post is not to write about that. I chose to mention it because I, in fact, fell asleep about 10 minutes into the program and then woke up again about an hour later. How funny that a program about stress actually alleviated some of my own.
I admire people who have the endurance to work an endless number of hours, to commit most of their lives to work, and to perform it all in such a collected way; maybe there is sweat, perhaps tears, and yes, even a bit of blood, but I don't envy them at all - at least not anymore.
When I moved to New York over five years ago, the primary purpose was to grow my career; and I use the word
primary instead of sole intention because my secondary catalyst was that I was running away from a relationship that ended in Toronto.
When I arrived here it was everything I dreamed that it would be. I lived in Hell's Kitchen then, and I remember waking up many times as early as I did this morning, and walking down Ninth Avenue, slicing through the heat and stink of the Port Authority, and glimpsing into the rituals of the men who prepared and pushed their food carts along invisible trails to whichever locations they were destined to go to that morning, on the way to my studio.
And it was good.
As the months passed, I supported my work with other work related lunches, industry events, shop talk, and all the stuff related to illustration.
And it was good.
And I traveled to the studio almost every day, and devoted most of my time to my commercial assignments; on weekdays and on weekends at the studio, morning until night, and sometimes brought work home.
And still, it was good.
But as I continued to focus my line of sight only on one industry, never venturing outside of it, I began to feel overwhelmed and anxious. I had invested everything into my work, from my second year of art college onwards. I had followed the rules laid for out for me and my classmates, and had done everything that I thought that I was supposed to do in order to reach those marks in my career that I had set for myself. And although it still felt good, the emotional return that I received from it began to diminish. That's not to suggest that I stopped enjoying what I was doing i.e. illustration, nor should it imply that I wanted to distance myself from the illustration community, either. All that happened was that my goals began to shift, and I came to question the kind of illustrator who I wanted to be.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm going to keep this entry short.
It's been an incredibly busy week -- weeks -- and so, I'm tired.
I'm busily back to work
Thank gawd.
Although, it's not quite back to normal.
The reason why is that now it feels more like a game of catch-up that I'm playing. And not just me, but it seems to be the word-on-the-street for some of us; that we're taking on as many projects as possible to make-up for our weak earnings in 2009. I picked up three more jobs this week, one of which is due Sunday, and another one Monday, on top of other deadlines that I have on-the-go and my classes at MICA and SVA.
I have to confess that I had a mini-meltdown a few days ago, but didn't even realize that it was happening until someone called me out on it. He said that I sounded overwhelmed, but at the moment I didn't think that I was. However a few minutes later, I felt a flood of anxiety, exhaustion, and guilt hit me all at once.
What a strange sensation.
In any event, today was a very good day. I got tons of work done, and still managed to go to my friends art opening in Williamsburg (props to Katherine Streeter's new work; you should check it out at 457 Grand Street, at Keap, near the BQE).
"Friday night ain't a damn thing funny..." is right; lyrics by Big Daddy Kane, whose videos kept me company tonight along with Bel Biv Devoe, Maestro Fresh Wes, Special Ed, and Janet, Miss Jackson if you're Nasty.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I already posted today's entry onto The Snow Queen blog on tumblr.
Here it is again.
"The project is going very well (with changes along the way). The weeks are flying by, and I'm having a blast seeing the various components of the production take shape and coalesce. Yes, we've chosen parts to keep in the production, and discarded others, but so far, I feel as though this has been a true collaboration, and I venture to admit that it might also be one of the closest educational experiences of mine that has aligned with the real world. Those last minute changes and seemingly endless revisions that are going on in our class right now mimics the process within the illustration industry. The process that sometimes I undergo with my own client-based work. For better, or for worse, ideas grow into better ideas via collaboration, but sometimes the good ones get cut and thrown onto the floor for whatever reason.
This happens, but as long as we remember that it's our work that is being critiqued and revised, not us as individuals, then it will help us to restore some distance from our work so that we can improve upon them later on.
We've all got egos, we wouldn't be artists, designers, or illustrators if we didn't have them; however, at the same time, those moments occur when we have to check our egos at the door in order to push ourselves further into places within our own artistic practice that make our work "better."
Conceptually better.
Aesthetically better.
Technically better.
When I use that word, "better" it's in reference to how close our work comes to resolving those creative obstacles/problems/issues of ours in the most appropriate and aesthetically intriguing ways. It takes time, it takes effort, but this can only happen if we're open to discussing our work at hand. In any event, we're still trying to make this production as tight and as impressive as possible, but still remain within time and budgetary restrictions. Thanks so much for everyone's enthusiasm and flexibility. We're not even halfway through the semester, but so far, I believe we're maintaining good momentum within our process. If you haven't already done so, check out the previous post, marked Sep 28, on tumblr, it's an assemblage of your work with your classmates.
I think it's très cool.
Think Y-3; Yohji Yamamoto for Adidas; they work well separately, but together they're even more bad-ass.
* The image at the top of the page is our own MICA Studio Remix in-class collab!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Janet Jackson's song, "Again," from the movie Poetic Justice, circa 1993, which I have not seen by the way, relaxes me. I bought it (yet again) from iTunes and listened to it on my walk to the studio this morning. The song warped me back in time for a short moment.
4 minutes and I was 18 again.
1993 was near the end of my high school years; that period of my life that I hated. Yes, I had friends, good friends who have still remained a very strong part of my life, but there were also those bullies who made me miserable. I've wondered about those of the latter bunch, that if it weren't for them, would I have been so driven to get the *bleep* out of the city that I grew up in?
In 1993 when Tupac was still alive and Janet had a six-pack and braids, I was dreaming myself away from Scarborough.
Gawd how I hated that place.

Today I woke up.
Walked to the studio.
Responded to emails.
Worked on 2 rough sketches.
Had a phone meeting.
Worked on 1 final illustration.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I got back into town this morning, but spent most, if not all of my ride transcribing the notes from yesterday's class at MICA. Teaching this class is not only exciting, and exhausting but incredibly challenging as well because I have never had to assemble anyone other than myself to create a unified body of work. I don't feel only like an art director, but also like a project manager because. Like I said, this is such a fascinating experience because there are so many different facets of the production to coalesce. But more than anything we really don't know how The Snow Queen production is going to end up looking like.
I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a tinge of anxiety within me.
But I am no stranger to that feeling, and so, I expect it to surface especially when I try new things. This place of in-between that I talk and write so much about, well, I'm in it again. I think spending some time in there really helps to build character and separates me from my super ego because it's my super ego that tells me oftentimes that I should not do something because it is too challenging and therefore will make me sad, frustrated, or hurt. I can say that so far, I have felt only one of these feelings (frustration) but conversely the amount of positive feelings that I'm getting in return far outweighs that frustration.
I have also managed to quell this anxiety because I have such a slammin' group of students who are incredibly articulate, talented, charismatic and hard working, a fantastic director (who makes me feel like I'm in grad school studying theatre design even though I have never been to grad school), a brilliant producer who comes up with genius ideas even when he's been worked into the ground himself, and an extremely pragmatic and efficient theatre manager.
Wait, that sounded like I was just awarded an Oscar or Grammy.
Did I ever confess that I used to want to be a back-up dancer for Janet Jackson or some rnb group in the 80s like Bel Biv Devoe?


My day consisted of, as I started to explain, transcribing and simplifying my notes from the class' discussion about the production last night, and then to try to organize it in a way that could inspire new assignments, and how to make use of class time, and enlist the help of others to construct some of the parts for the production (I'm talking sets and costumes).
When I arrived at my studio, I immediately began to respond to emails, and then started to work on rough sketches that I have due for two tomorrow. I picked up three freelance gigs last Friday (which made me a bit nervous because I still have not settled into my new schedule of teaching at two schools, advising a graduate student, teaching one class online, working on my freelance illustration assignments and trying to watch the new season of Dexter at the bar down the street from where I live... ha!)
Again, I sound as though I'm complaining, but I'm not I'm describing some of my daily routines.
So in the midst of working on these rough sketches for clients, I was persuaded somehow to begin laying out some of the visuals from the Snow Queen production (you can see it at only because I started to feel slightly overwhelmed about the possibility of not being able to create a sense of visual consistency amongst the images that I was receiving from my students.
The thing with me is that I have a tendency to think too much. That if my thoughts are not transcribed onto paper, then they continue to waft and curl around inside of my head. So I knew at that point that I had to appease this obsession of mine and so I pulled up some of the visuals that I had of my students work, which were beautifully done, by the way, and started to piece them together randomly to create pleasing and unified compositions. Honestly, I got lost in this process for a while, and then after posting it online, got back to my freelance work.
Now, I'm going to work for a bit more, and then head to SVA to check out the MFA Illustration students' book project exhibition. I'm excited to see the gorgeous work on display.
* The illustration at the top of the page was done for Reader's Digest; it's a piece about memory loss.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I just got back from teaching not so long ago.
I don't want to mislead you, I didn't work right up until 11pm - I grabbed some dinner afterwards.
It was an incredibly exhausting, but wonderful class. David Drake who is my co-instructor at MICA and Director for The Snow Queen production was present today to help flesh out the direction of the production. The way the course is split up is that I will act as Art Director for the first half of the semester, while David will arrive mid-way to the end to finish up the visuals and begin the staging of the production. It was such good timing because we need all the time that we can get to resolve the visuals and make them cohesive within the production. Very difficult to accomplish since there are about 15 students in my class ranging from Sophomore, Junior, and Senior, all of whom have different points of view; however, I'm incredibly confident that it can be done.
Class discussion today was again very productive, much of the class seemed driven and enthusiastic to participate. I find that typically class revolves around critiques which are lead by the instructor and seldom inspires dialogue amongst the students whose work is not being analyzed - this is something that I have never really enjoyed, as both a student and as an instructor. Although I see the value in listening to and engaging in the critique of someone else's work, I also understand how it can quickly become mundane, and yes, I admit, uninteresting. But today's class did not feel that way at all to me.
Perhaps part of it has to do with the fact that this experience is equally new for me, as it might be for most of the students, and even though I understand how similar the process of creating the visuals for a theatre production can be aligned to the process of illustration, there is still a great amount of knowledge to be learned. I wrote about change in the previous entry, and I probably will do so again in future entries. Change in this case means challenge for me, to position myself humbly within a new situation and truly become open to new ways of approaching image making. As much as I can see the similarities between theatre design and illustration, the translation from the latter to the former does not happen as quickly as I would like for it to. Still, I conceive that I've tried enough new things that lay outside of my discipline to know that nobody was ever born an expert, and that it's the trying-and-failing, and trying-and-questioning, and trying-and-trying that will lead to a person success. Passion, persistence, sincerity and humility might not ensure me a gold medal within my profession, but it does make my heart feel good.

* The image at the top of the page is done by Alexa and Danielle, two of my students from MICA; the images were two illustrations for The Snow Queen production that I pieced together, and adjusted in Photoshop to create a digital collaboration.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

After watching about 5 episodes of Lost, Season 3 yesterday evening I realized at around 9:30pm that I had another set of sketches that would be due on Monday. Gasp! This meant that I wasn't able to head out last night, as I intended. In any event, I've been pretty beat up from the schedule that I've been keeping as of late.
I've begun teaching at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) on Mondays, which means that I have to commute to Baltimore Monday mornings, teach a 5-6 hour class, and then head back to New York on Tuesday to get back to my freelance work. I'm not the only one, however, Frank Stockton, bad-ass illustrator is doing the same, although he teaches a 12 hour day. That said, he is several years younger than me, so it must be those young genes that keep him vivacious.
Has anyone ever called you vivacious, Frank?

Today I woke up at around 7am because my dog was barking to tell me that she went pee in the bathroom, and therefore wanted her snack. I tried to ignore her, but then decided to wake up. I figured that if I got some work done earlier, then I could free up the rest of my day, and then maybe finish up the last bit of my work in the evening. Sundays are the days when my boyfriend and I hang out since both of us work so much; it's necessary to keep my personal life intact instead of pouring every part of my soul into my art because I've learned that those good feelings associated with achievement and recognition that I receive from my career, as important as they are, can be fleeting. That's not to say that I take them for granted; my career is incredibly important, but equally, it can become really lonely when all I have is my career to keep me company. I should know, I've tried it, and I don't like. Still, it continues to be an incredible to challenge to balance my personal and professional lives.
After leaving my apartment, I made my way to a cafe a few blocks away where I decided to have my breakfast and respond to some interview questions for a book for which I'll be contributing. I had almost forgotten about that as well. This has been happening quite often - my forgetfulness. I don't want to attribute it to middle-age memory loss, or the embryonic stages of early alzheimer's (knock... knock... knock...on wood) but I think it has more to do with the fact, that I've had more-to-do in addition to my freelance illustration work. I said to my intern the other day that I'm finding that I have so much paperwork and other peripheral things to do in addition to actually drawing. I spend the first couple of hours in the morning, sifting through emails, writing people back, invoicing, booking keeping, doing office administrative tasks that when I'm done with those things I have to take a few minutes to exhale and then start the next component of my day. This of course doesn't happen everyday, but it happens often enough that I come to expect it to occur.
As a result, I've started to keep lists like the one that is posted at the top of this entry. It's my action list, and it's taken from a book that I'm currently reading called, "Making Ideas Happen" by Scott Belsky, founder of Behance - the design Think-tank in New York. My friend who works there gave me a copy, which I began to read immediately.
Through anecdotes and case studies Scott presents ways in which creative types can learn to organize their lives, via maintaining and prioritizing their to-do lists, in order to grow their businesses. Yes, I wrote life not career, because it includes one's personal and business lives; it's the marriage of these two things that quantifies the idea of fulfillment. It's been tough to try to keep this list up from day-to-day, and I've missed a few days here and there, but so far doing so has prevented me from getting too distracted working on things outside of what must be done in the present.

So when I arrived into the studio I responded to some emails, critiqued a student's sketch from the class that I teach at SVA (School of Visual Arts) and then I began to work on my rough sketchs, which I'll aim to finish this afternoon/evening, and then put on the finishing touches to my illustrations for Runner's World, after which I'll complete my aforementioned interview, and then go over my notes for Monday's class.
Thank goodness for that list.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I embrace change, but at the same time change for me has sometimes taken the form of completely letting go those objects and people and relationships that I have cultivated and nurtured in the past. It's not a good thing, I admit, and I've been working very diligently to address this flaw in me, which is why although my gut tells me to delete this Blogger account and to begin again, fresh, using Tumblr, which I confess is much more beautifully designed, I've chosen otherwise and will resume my Blogger posts. My ambivalence about my past allows me to keep a thread that trails backwards into nostalgia, and sometimes I wonder if I do this because I like romantic things. Nostalgia for me is romantic, not the kind of romance that exists between lovers, but the kind of feeling that you get when you revisit a place that you've forgotten, and then see meaning and stories within the most mundane objects or locations; the sensation is fleeting as it rocks your heart slightly, but I love it all the same. I think this is what Ben Shahn labeled as blood memories in his book, The Shape of Conent; those memories that are born out of one's own experiences which bind to one's core, to his/her blood, which grown into and become an intrinsic part of oneself. These are the memories that I associate with nostalgia, however large or small, they are like a series of coming-of-ages that occur throughout my life, many times over wherein which I gain little bits knowledge to help express more of who I am, as I move into the future.
I have decided that I would like to track my daily routines over the course of year, but I'm puzzled about what to write. I wonder if it will be boring because let's face it, it probably will - there are very few people who get to experience interesting things within their lives on a daily basis - but I wonder if something unknown to me will surface throughout this process through my not-knowing. Either way, I will try nonetheless and if phases it out, then so be it, but if I can keep it up for 365 days, then maybe I will take something away from it that is profound, interesting, curious, intriguing?
I've been at the studio since about 8:30am, and awake since 7:00am. For these last few months, I've been waking up quite early; I love to begin my day this way - I'm not so much of a night person, and do my best work during the day, once it hits about 5pm, I can feel my body slow down. I've spoken to people who don't really understand the level of exhaustion that I can feel when I'm working because all they see is that I am doing something that I truly love, which is drawing. However, the energy that goes into conceiving images and the process of splitting oneself into two parts, the artist/creator and the critic, oftentimes tires me out. This is not a sob story, just a description of the way that I feel sometimes while I am working - that it is indeed work.

I do little experiments on my own, for my sake, like I am doing now, as I write this in order to provide some variation within my day, so that I am not obsessively focused on that drawing in front of me. Part of my fear of doing so, of being so precious with all of my illustration work is that I will measure it alongside other work within the industry, those of my peers - my friends, the recognition it may or may not receive, and how much of it is linked to my ego and level of confidence in what I do.
Fortunately the more that I lose myself in my work, the more that I become mesmerized by my process, those demons that take me to that creative wilderness and whisper shitty things into my ear become measly musings that float around inside my head while I work between the sessions of Wham and TLC and 80s and 90s hip hop and rnb that I listen on Pandora radio.
My early mornings have become the ritual of my day that I relish now because it is quiet and allows for me to sit on my own. For years I have fallen into (the mistake) of believing that because I work so hard, that I should party equally the same. But I realize now, that I cannot manage that way of living anymore. My weekend mornings used to start off with me sleeping-in, with work beginning in the late morning or early afternoon. But over the past several weeks I have been mindful to get about 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and as a result have woken up early (sans hangover) to gain about a 4 hour head start than what I used to have. And it's wonderful to walk to my studio, through the projects, past the pretzel factory where the night workers have ended their shifts and are finally heading home in the morning, and up into the deli where the coffee is freshly brewed and the fruit newly stacked on the racks; and when it's hot during the summer, to see the fire hydrants leak water, forming pools within the concrete gulleys, where the curb meets the street, turn into a spot where 15 to 20 pigeons bathe themselves in the heat.

So here are the events that transpired today after arriving at the studio:
  • I ate breakfast, which consisted of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, and a large coffee.
  • I did an online critique of a student's sketch who was absent in one of my classes, and
  • I wrote (I am writing) this entry.
Once I post this entry, I plan to work on a commissioned illustration piece that is due on Monday, which I already began yesterday, and will hopefully be able to finish that tonight, after which I will begin another commissioned piece either tonight or tomorrow (it's due on Monday, as well).
Welcome to the first post of my daily routines.

* The illustration at the top of the page was done for The Atlantic Monthly magazine.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I was asked by a publisher to contribute some images to a book that will be coming out devoted to illustrated portraits. I have never been very good at rendering the likenesses of characters -- I can do it, but it takes me quite a while to get it just right. I understand that it takes practice, and that much of it has to do with strict observation and being able to translate it properly onto the page; even the slightest tweak to a person's proportion in his/her face can set it off incorrectly. I am amazed even moreso by those artists who can exaggerate the features of a person's face because when I do it, it just looks awful.
But this is not what my post is about.
The images above (2 of them actually) were a couple of illustrations that I did a few years ago; the top image is of The Beatles, beneath that is Beyonce, and the third is (chef) Anthony Myint. All of these images had already been published but looking back at them again, I decided to revise them slightly; there were things about the originals that were bothering me. That happens sometimes, for whatever reason, the deadline is too tight and I take the job, or I have too many assignments going at once, or I'm sick, or unmotivated but still have to work, and sometimes it means that I have to compromise my vision in order to create a drawing that is still publishable. I am constantly reminded of how much time factors into what we (illustrators) do on a regular basis. It's not just how well we can draw, or paint, or collage, but we also have to be able to do it within a short amount of time.
I never thought that I would do this, to pull up past work and then re-work it. This is the first time that I've done it, and in the case of the portrait of Anthony Myint, I even sent the revised illustration to the art director, with a note asking if he could re-post the illustration on the website for which it was drawn.
I'm only as good as my last piece.
My artistic journey includes improving upon what I've done in the past figuratively, even it it means exploring new disciplines, or brushing up on techniques that I've let go of in the past.
I continue to work on exercises within my studio concurrently with my professional work. These are only exercises in hopes of improving my technique, my concept ability, and introducing new colour schemes into my work. That said, it's also incredibly fun to do. To know that whatever content I choose to render and create can appear in whatever type of shape or form that I desire. Something that I did the other day was copy a photo of a person that I found in an old Vogue magazine; I painted it using tempera on watercolour paper. The reason why I chose to use an existing photograph is because it took the pressure off having to conceive of what to draw. Using the photo easily facilitated my want to just shove paint around on a piece of paper; this piece was not about concept, and it was not for anyone else except for myself. Oddly enough, I decided to use a grid system to translate the image from the photo onto my paper (can you believe that I had never tried this method before? and it works!) and then I fleshed out the lights and darks using graphite (as a make-shift grisaille technique) before going over it with a clear gesso and then paint. The red is done with Alizarin Crimson, some of which was mixed with Yellow Ochre; the darker part of the shadowy areas was Alizarin Crimson mixed with Prussian Blue, and sometimes with Burnt Umber, and the background is an Emerald Green. How strange it felt to actually be aware of the colours that I was putting down on the page. As a digital illustrator, I take for granted that I can move the sliders back and forth and then play around with transparencies if I choose to, and even undo some (aesthetic) decisions that I make while drawing. I swear that at one point I saw my left index finger and thumb nudge and rock a little bit, searching for the Ctrl + z keys.