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.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Snow Queen

On Monday I traveled to MICA where I will be teaching the course Studio Remix, to create an adaptation of "The Snow Queen," by Hans Christian Andersen. It was an incredible and serendipitous moment when I got the call from Jose Villarrubia (thanks to a referral from my great friend Yuko Shimizu) to head the class along with David Drake, fabulous theater director and actor.
So many names.
My apologies, but it helps to frame the story.
Together we are working with our students to construct a version of Andersen's fairytale that is rooted in present day with some fantastical elements.
To stop and think silently to myself about it makes the project seem quite daunting, but as we concretize each step along the way, the anxiety that comes with tackling such an impressive assignment begins to wan.
This is such a relevant project not just in way of the meaning that we've chosen to derive from the story as being one of the protagonists' coming of age, but also that the illustration work that we are doing is being placed within a different forum. As the landscape of illustration continues to change, new opportunities are beginning to surface. It's exciting to be a part of this, for the students to witness and experience the breadth and new functionality of their work and collaboration.
I'm keeping the details vague, as the project has not yet been fleshed out entirely, however there might be options which favour a more multi-media approach when using their work.
I understand that animation and projections, and sounds effects and sculptures have existed for years, but I think that in a traditional Illustration learning environment those uses and applications have been held at a distance; not on purpose, but rather because there was no immediate need to combine disciplines. When the world is rich and there are so many choices, it's easy to create so much separation and so much categorical division because there is a demand for everything. But when the economy shrinks and the pool gets smaller, or perhaps alters its form -- what then?
No, I'm not suggesting that Illustrators become Jacks and Janes of all trades, but if we're to use this analogy maybe cultivating a relationship with that playful part of ourselves could give rise to innovation.
I'm hoping that these students will see and become inspired by the new role that their work will play, and align illustration in general with video and animation, with sculpture and fine art, and with graphic design and performance.
How exciting.
You can track the development of our production on
(Yeah, that's right, I wrote tumblr... I feel like I'm sleeping with my lover's cousin).