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.