Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Reminder

For the past several weeks, I've been working on refining some modified T shirts that I designed. I've been wanting, for a very long time, to venture into fashion - not as a career shift, but moreso to introduce this as another component to my studio practice. Many people have asked me in reference to my wanting to create cut & sew T shirts, why I don't purchase them from a manufacturer and then silkscreen my images onto them. It's a legitimate question, and one that I think comes up naturally in reference to me because I am an illustrator, whose strength is rooted in drawing. Sewing for me, is still very new; although I do love the process of it, I still have much to learn. And so, after answering out loud (and to myself) this question many times over, I realized that my choice has less to do with practicality at this point, and everything to do with realizing a dream. I've written these words before:  
I love the craft of making things. 
I care about my studio practice.
This is not to suggest that I would never source out part of my work; I would be stubborn not to do so, if ever the demand became too large for me to manage. To share, I currently have a sewer, and an assistant, as well as interns who have helped me tremendously throughout this process. But at this point, if I continue to receive help and source out more of my process, then I would want to keep the manufacturing within the US. So far, it's been good, and so far I've been able to afford to do so. But I admit that I am spending more than I am making. And in order to make these shirts, and in order to shift some of my time and attention over to creating these shirts, means that I have to give up other things. I've always believed that everything comes at a price, that when you ask for, and then receive something, then you must relinquish something else in return. To do otherwise, inspires greed and self absorption, two characteristics that I despise in people. The notion of give-and-take is something that I take very seriously; for me, nothing is free.

The past two weeks I have been working more than 90 hours per week. 
I write this, not because I am proud. It's only a statement to describe the effort that it's taken me to try to do all of the work. For me, the work was necessary, because choosing to do it any other way, would not have been possible, at least with my current resources and income.
Over the past 14 or so days, I had a kind of daily ritual: I would wake very early in the morning, between 4:15am to 5:00am; I would shower and get changed, and then walk the dogs to the studio. Rita, who is the older of the two dogs,  I would carry most of the time -- without trying to humanize her, I figure that it's probably too early for her to walk based on the fact that she just sits on the sidewalk when we get outside. In any event, my work days have been lasting between 12-16 hours everyday, including the weekends, such that I split my days up to accommodate both illustration and fashion related work.
It's a strange feeling to work so hard for something and then arrive at a place where you suddenly forget the reasons why you began in the first place. It's the repetition of tasks, and those moments when I spend alone in silence, making whatever it is I am making without any feedback from anyone that causes me to forget what my original intentions were for choosing to place so much time and effort in making these T shirts. 
And so, I find myself 
and listening, 
and watching 
for some sign to remind myself that all of my pursuits carry with it good intentions, and contain some value of worth.

* The T shirts above are from my line YEE YEE. My focus for the Fall are on Graphic Tees. They're currently on sale on

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Process Silkscreen 02: Creating Transparencies

Oooops. I made a mistake. No worries. I'll fix'em up.
Process Silkscreen 01: Creating the Transparencies.

I've been silkscreening a lot in my studio. Here's part of my process creating the transparencies. Again it's totally DIY-improvise. I'm still wonky. I'm still a newbie, but I'm finally starting to get results that I'm happy with. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
I'm reading Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit."
I've only just begun.
I read constantly, blips and blurbs from this book and that. Sometimes I take what I need from one source and then put it down. After which I pick up another book, and read bits and pieces from that. Sometimes I finish it.
Other times I don't.
I've taken the pressure off of my having to finish every book that I start perhaps because the work that I do on a daily basis is so deadline driven. As a commercial artist, I must finish everything that I start because if I don't, then it will begin to affect others who are involved in the process; the editors, the art directors, the clients, and the purchasers of whatever service or product my illustrations are connected to.
But this book, even though I've only just digitally swiped open, feels different.
A lot of what I've been doing in my studio recently has been related to the building of my skill and dexterity. The repetitiveness of my process feels new to me only because it is so new. I'm referring to the cutting and sewing and silkscreening that has been so prevalent in my practice since early this year. I think that having been immersed in Illustration since art college, it's  slowly eroded away the obvious challenging feelings that can accompany the building up of skill within a creative discipline until they become, as Twyla Tharp suggests, habits.
Her words have already begun to affect me in a way that a good conversation can with a friend, or mentor.
I think part of me is always in search of a mentor, but I find it more difficult as I get older, for whatever the reasons may be. Perhaps it's my inability in not knowing how to do so, being shy or fearful about it, or maybe through my own experiences I've concretized my own way of thinking, and so I've built up a resistance to suggestions that don't match my own -- some would call this stubbornness... I call this stubbornness.
Or maybe it's just a logical tendency to become this way after several years of working within the same creative discipline; as one gains more experience in whatever field he or she specializes, there is less of a tendency to ask others for help, and more movement towards sharing knowledge with those who have less experience.
The books that I read have oftentimes become the sources that I tap into whenever I need advice, direction, or solace. I'm particularly inspired by the experiences of others in fields which lay outside of my own. This is not meant to sound arrogant, but I do believe in the importance of having a holistic approach to one's art practice, and that means being open to the ways that others (who's professions are unlike mine) do things in order to grow a better understanding of new ways to work.
Because working in the same formulaic way, day-in and day-out can result in a kind of monotony that I assume would manifest itself in one's work. Although I have no proof of this, I can see the logic in this statement. Part of what I think is so fascinating about the creative arts, is the intuitive component of it. That even though one can plan and strategize exactly how to resolve a particular drawing or painting for example, there is still that component of improvisation, which I believe, lifts that work to a higher level. However, I think it's a mistake to assume that this quality of inspiration that shows up in one's work is somehow the product of genius, or "born of some transcendent inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute." (1) Rather it's the hard work that fuels the creativity; the exercises and the repetition that occurs within the artists' process that is the foundation. "If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge." (2)

1. Tharp, Twyla with Reiter, Mark. The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life: A Practical Guide. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003: 28.
2. Tharp, Twyla with Reiter, Mark. The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life: A Practical Guide. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003: 41-42.

* photo above from by Richard Avedon.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Love Takes Work

I've stopped believing in formulas for success. Whether they exist or not, I've become tired of looking for one that works. I think I gave up a long time ago. I rarely cut corners, and take the long route to get to places. And although I probably end up putting in more work than I should, I believe that the time that I spend in one spot, learning, and fixing, and making mistakes and recovering from them are some of the most valuable gifts that I've given to myself. It's not always fun, but there have been many rewarding moments. 
I believe in education.
I believe in networking.
I believe in preparation.
I believe in inspiration.
I believe in humility.
I believe in patience.
I believe in hard work.
Last night I was at a party with some friends. Yes, yes, although I don't go out as often as I used to, I did last night, and had a really great time seeing friends who I've not seen in so long, and having conversations that I didn't realize that I've been yearning to have because I've been working so much (for the most part) alone in my studio. I've been in this industry for eleven years, and  throughout this time, I've gained much experience, most of it being useful; having reinforced and challenged some views and values in both my personal and professional lives. Some of the things that I used to believe in, I no longer do. And some of the goals that I had set for myself have fallen away, and have tarnished in their level of importance. But at the same time, I've learned that parts of myself have, over the years, become more solidified, and unchanged, although I have added to this list some new things that I've begun to care more about.
The Illustrator who I am today is not like the one from seven years ago before I moved to New York. And I think part of it is from the interactions and experiences that I've had living in this city;  the friends that I've made, the projects that I've worked on, and even the neighbourhood that I've chosen to live in have all somehow left their impressions on me, which have in turn, affected the choices that I make nowadays.
I spoke with several friends last night about the personal projects that they are working on alongside their careers. Some have chosen to do both full day job, and self-initated projects on nights and weekends. While others have left their professions and have immersed themselves entirely in whatever project to which they've assigned themselves. And I wonder if much of my fascination with listening to their stories has everything to do with the fact that I am in a similar position now, within my own career. Although I'm not giving anything up per se, I am, and have for what feels like, a long time, been seeking out ways to expand my creativity and to lift my art and business to the next level. The obscurity of this phrase matches the obscurity of how I will exactly do this. 
Because frankly, I don't know.
I'm doing a lot of reading and researching, I'm sharing what I'm doing with others, and listening to them talk about what they're doing, I'm watching a lot of documentaries and I confess reality shows too, because I'm anything if not a sucker for the rise of the underdog. 
But there are so many moments when I'm confused and unsure about the direction that I should go in, and if it's even worth it.

If you've been reading my entries, you'll know that this is an ongoing theme of mine. I never said that i had answers, and I know that I'm redundant (ask any of my students), and I'm very open about the realities of my experience via my own profession, at times to a self-deprecating level, but I have a narcissistic side as well - I think he needs to be there to balance the critical side of me. There is an artist and critic inside of every Illustrator; the conversation that happens between these two bodies helps us make creative decisions. Sometimes though, I wonder if there's also an analyst inside of me as well because I could sure use the advise.

Over the weekend, I spoke at an "3x3's Nuts & Bolts" Illustration Conference, sharing whatever information that I had experientially about beginning one's Illustration career; really, it was more storytelling and wondering out loud than a didactic approach on how to look for work. My illustrations, and my lectures are an extension of myself and so there needs to be an authenticity of experience; I have to enjoy whatever art I'm making,  and in reference to my talks, enjoy whatever it is I'm speaking about. It needs to represent where I'm at presently within my studio practice, and where I'm psychologically and emotionally as well, otherwise I'll get bored.  
At the end of it, someone asked me how early I wake up to do all of the things that I do.
My answer was, "6:00 am."
Of, course this is not a militant ritual of mine, but I realized that over the past year, without exaggeration, I have been waking up very early because if I don't, then I wouldn't be able to accomplish all of the things that I've set out to do. This of course means letting go of other things in my life. However, as extreme as it sounds, it's not really that way. Making the decision to incorporate a second component to my studio practice of creating personal work has really helped me become more productive and efficient because I realize that if I'm not organized, then I won't be able to grow my career in the way that I would like.

The friends of mine who I spoke with last night, talked about their projects, their intentions and creative vision, the amount of time, money and work that they've spent towards them... their stories inspired me in a huge way. And I need to be inspired right now because it gives me comfort and encouragement to continue with the personal projects that I'm doing alongside my commercial work. There isn't often validation while I'm working on self-iniated projects, there isn't  always an audience either. Instead, what I do think that there is, is a lot of is uncertainty... and this uncertainty can be so loud sometimes, Uncertainty can make me defensive and tired, and plant the idea in my head to quit. Taking my career to the next level means being uncomfortable -- it requires a ton of work, but it also requires research, analysis, strategy and risk. These are not the most romantic words, I admit, but who said love was easy. Love takes work.

*The illustration above was for SooJin Buzelli at Plansponsor, "Finding The Best Provider."

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Sometimes as I'm walking to the studio very early in the morning I shut my eyes when I reach a part of the neighbourhood that's quiet and nobody's around. I just walk with my eyes closed. 
When the sun is rising, and the air thick with heat, I close my eyes and just walk for a few steps.
I did it this morning. 
I'm not sure why, but it's something that I did.
This morning
I passed the old asian woman who collects bottles from the trashcans near my studio. I see her every morning around the same time. She wheels a cart that's filled with bags of empty bottles, and I wonder how early in the morning she awoke just to begin her day's work. The past few times that I saw her, I knew that she saw me. Our eyes locked, and I could feel some pressure in my throat; they were words that wanted to come out,
"Jo san."
That's good morning in Cantonese. 
The problem is that I don't even know if she's even Chinese. And if she is, does she even speak Cantonese? Maybe she speaks Mandarin, or Toisan. But the words "Jo san" I believe might be quite universal within Chinese dialects. 
The old woman reminds me of my grandmother who passed away when I was in high school. We were very close, and she helped raise me along with my aunt since I was about 3 or 4 years old. It's not that my parents weren't around, they were there - except that they had to work, both of them. 
My aunt came to live with us one day, and then my grandmother arrived soon after that. She was getting old and so my father being the eldest chose to take care of her.  It's typically what happens in Chinese households, the oldest son or daughter cares for their aging parents. Still, shortly after her arrival, it seemed more like my grandmother took care of me.


I don't recall the day, or month when she passed away, but I do remember the moment that it happened. She was already in the hospital having suffered a stroke before that. She couldn't speak, and was partially paralyzed. I got a call from my father one afternoon telling me that she died. 

My grandmother and I spent a lot of time together, and at a very young age, I had the privilege to witness at close range, the aging process. She arrived to Canada being able to stand and walk with a cane. But slowly, over the years her body began to break down because of arthritis, and so she needed the support of a wall, or desk, or railing to help brace her while she moved. Eventually her body became so old that she spent most of her time in her bedroom, and because of her extreme immobility my father filled her room with everything she might need to keep her comfortable. A rice cooker, cookies and snacks, bread, hot water, tea, a television, papers and pencils, and magazines.  To pass the time, my grandmother and I played boardgames, where she sat and rolled the dice and then watched me move both her and my figurine across the board. We played Bingo, where I was both the announcer and the players, filling my card and hers with plastic chips. Sometimes we watched exercise programs on television and my grandmother would raise and lower her arms in the air over and over again, and also kick her feet in and out, while in sitting position. At lunch time, when I was in elementary school, I would go home to see her. I would walk upstairs to her bedroom and sit on her bedside and eat. She usually sat in her armchair next to a broken Singer sewing machine that we used as a table. We also taught her how to write her name and some numbers in English,
Chen Yut Sun
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
I combed my grandmother's hair sometimes, and clipped her nails; each time tracing my fingers along the crooked bones of her hands and feet.  

As her body began to break down even more in her old age, my father needed help caring for her, and so as a family, we pitched in. She could no longer go to the bathroom on her own, and so my father taught us how to change her diaper. I understand how strange it is for a teenager to change the diaper of their grandparent, but for me, and the rest of my family, it was very natural. At night time, one of us would go into her room and tuck her in. She would say in Toisan, lucky words and sentences.

"Grandmother loves you very much. Good luck. Good luck. Good luck. I wish you lots of good fortune. Good night."


The old woman is hunched over slightly, her layers of clothing spotted with dirt from her morning ritual. She wears a small hat, I expect to protect her from the sun, but moreso I believe it's to keep her grey hair away from her face because the hat has no brim. I can see that the lines around her eyes and mouth are deep, and her nose is very slight. From a distance they are two tiny dots near the center of her face. 
She approaches the corner of the street at the same moment that I do.
We stare at each other for a few seconds, and then I feel shy and look away. I continue to walk about half a block down the street and then I turn back to see her from behind still lifting bottles out of the trash can and placing them into her cart. 

* The illustration on the top right was done for The Atlantic magazine.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Love Is Cool

I began my sewing journey about 8 months ago, more or less. Prior to that, I'd been trying to teach myself how to sew, but soon became frustrated by the technical component of it. Still, I enjoyed the process of sewing so much that it became clearer that I'd probably benefit from taking some introductory classes to speed up the process.
And so I did... FIT, Fashion Institute of Technology (by the way, props to Linda, Lyla, and Marie... you all are incredible Professors).
... which lead me to take a Draping class, and Pattern-making class. I confess: I failed the latter. Yes, yes, I failed for excessive absences, but for the record, I wasn't playing hookie... I just spread myself too thin that's all, and I wasn't able to keep up. So I had to let something go: Pattern-making. Unfortunately, I had to suffer the consequences, and found myself biting down on an F-grade; and concurrent to all of this, I sought out an internship position with a fashion designer in Manhattan. Admittedly, I was exhausted -- it was so much work, but something that I chose to take on because I had the interest in wanting to learn much more about this discipline. Things rapidly became clearer in terms of how much of this new discipline (Fashion Design) I wanted to incorporate into my Illustration practice, and which parts of it I would allow to fall away. 
It has been a dream of mine to work within the fashion industry in some capacity. When I was ten years old, I'd swoon over a Canadian TV program called "Fashion Television". Afterwards, I would grab my pencil crayons and begin to sketch onto paper whatever designs I could think of.  As a ten year old, although experientially I lacked the knowledge that comes with life through age that typically informs an artist's work, it was the energy, and the playfulness about my process that I respected in my younger self. When I drew pictures of models in clothing, I had no one telling me if they were good or bad, if they were, or weren't relevant; joy existed purely in the craft of drawing.
A few days ago I completed some outfits which were shot by the photographer Ken Pao. It's in preparation for a modified Tshirt project that I'm working on (although now it may include, peripherally, some custom/bespoke fashion pieces... I really don't know yet). I have to be careful how I word this because it's easy to perceive that I'm trying to transition out of one profession into another, but I have to adamantly share that I am not leaving Illustration to pursue a career in Fashion. Rather, what I'm doing is trying to stay as true as I can to the artist part of me who wants to creatively express himself. For those who don't know me very well, this has been an ongoing theme of mine. I've been labelled on very rare occasions as a Jack-Of-All-Trades (although now that I know how to use a drill, and strum a simple tune on a guitar, I'd prefer the term Renaissance Man -- just kidding). I have feelings of ambivalence towards labels because people have tried to assign them onto me for years... as I have admittedly branded onto myself as well -- at times, to a fault.
The word gay and faggot come to mind (which I still hear every summer even in New York City. It must be the String-Bean tanks I wear...) Having said that, I've chosen to use the label of Artist and Illustrator when describing who I am on a professional level. I think these two carry with it meaning that most accurately aligns with what I do because there is flexibility within these labels' content. 
The project's process originally began as my illustrations silkscreened onto Tshirts that I purchased from a manufacturer; however, with some time, and much thought, as well as  conversations with others, and myself, it moved into a direction that challenged my initial way of approaching this project. Soon the questions of how and  why I wanted to do this started to surface. 
For whatever reasons... insecurity, fear, uncertainty, lack of motivation?... lock many of my ideas within the safety of my sketchbook. I understand that not all these ideas are strong enough to be lifted to a place where they can stand alone and hold the attention of a viewer, but I believe that too many ideas are left on the drafting table unresolved for those aforementioned reasons. It's too easy to give-up, to let my ideas steep in my brain as merely a concept; it's too easy to talk myself into believing that because I'm not certain about the life span, or life plan of this Tshirt project that it's not worth pursuing. What's more difficult is honouring my creative voice, and allowing him to speak even if the words that spew out don't fit into a category of conversation that I've been participating in for most of my career. 
My "Love Is Cool" series is still not flushed out entirely, but it will be; sooner or later, I'm not sure. There have been many "I don't knows" within this process. I contacted Ken, the photographer, several months ago to schedule a date to shoot this project, but then pushed the date back later and later. Six months after our initial correspondence I felt I needed to commit and work towards finishing the garments for the shoot. I wasn't absolutely ready, but then again I'm never sure if I ever am truly ready. Sometimes I think it's about taking the risk and acknowledging the consequences, for better or worse. That comes with the territory of being an Artist. You make something and put out there for people to love, or hate, or feel indifferent towards. I've chosen to put it out there, and have made a statement. I'm not certain about the kinds of dialogue or conversation that this project will inspire, if any, but I do feel as if I've created some kind of movement with it. Now the business questions are arising: how do I create these shirts in larger numbers especially because this is entirely self-funded, and made by myself, my assistant and my interns? How do I grade the patterns so that they can fit various sizes? Where can I affordably buy bolts of fabric for smallish runs? Can I do this alongside my Illustration career? 

* Photographer: Ken Pao; Shoes: Rickard Guy; Makeup: Nanae Itoi; Models": Mikee and Keiko.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Navigating Through Uncertainty

Over the past several weeks I've been working on a new project. It stemmed out of a long time interest of mine, which is sewing, but I had never given myself the permission to pursue learning "it" until a few months ago, when I enrolled in some introductory sewing classes at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). It's been an incredible learning experience, and a challenging one as well, trying to manage life, work, and coping with a wavering level of confidence in acquiring a new skill. The last one is probably the most trying of all -- managing confidence; learning to accept the hard work that is involved within the creative process, and understanding that it's filled with moments of hesitation. 
I've begun to talk out loud when I work, especially when I encounter those moments in my process when I doubt the direction that I'm moving in; for some reason, my words when spoken aloud seems to untangle my senses, and lead me out of confusion. I'm learning as I go, and I'm paying attention to the steps that I'm taking, but more than anything, I'm allowing myself to fail, and finding the strength to recover as quickly as I can from the mistakes that I make. It can be exhausting - I've been working 12 to 14 hour days for weeks on end.  Do I have a social life? No, not really. But it's something that I'm willing to compromise in the meantime in order to manifest my vision. It's a bit narcissistic sounding, I know, but it's not meant to be. I'm most happiest when I'm making things, and despite the uncertainty that comes with the process of not knowing, it's this risk, the chance that the next step I take could be the surprising creative resolve that I'm seeking. My former creative writing professor used an analogy of writing as compared to driving in darkness with high-beams to light the way; you can only see a few feet in front of you, but you know that as you continue on this road, it will lead you home. I keep those words close to me whenever I'm working on some creative project that gives rise to my fear and insecurity - it's a reminder to me that the creative process as convoluted and cloudy as it can be sometimes, can result in something wonderful if I stay on course, and navigate through the uncertainty.

* "Navigating Through Uncertainty," for SooJin Buzelli at Plansponsor Magazine Europe, Summer 2012.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Odoyo x Marcos Chin iPhone Cases!

I'm happy to share my iPhone case collaboration with Odoyo. These photos were taken from "Computex," a computer exhibition in Asia. More news about a formal launch date to happen in the coming weeks. Thank you Odoyo

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tshirts for SPANK

Hi everyone! I wanted to share a collaboration that I did with my friends at Spank. Spank hosts some of the hottest art parties that I've been to thus far because it's multi-disciplinary; marrying music with art. Some events have included runway battles, spoken word performances, poetry, sculptural installations, and of course fun music. The boys at Spank have managed to capture the spirit of what I imagine the New York club scene to have been in the 80s. That's why I'm always super excited whenever I'm asked by Spank to participate in any artful collaboration. Above are some photos of the Tshirt I created for Spank - it's a limited edition of 100, 2 colours, on a light grey Tshirt, price is $20. Here's the link to the SPANK STORE where you can purchase it, if you'd like. Happy Summer!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Here Comes GOLD!
I love gold, and wanted to share with you how I print gold onto a white surface while still retaining its metallic quality.
Process: Silkscreen

It's been a learning process trying to figure out how to incorporate silkscreening into my studio practice. It's still super rocky, but things are beginning to shift in a positive direction. I'm still far away from doing large runs, but I'm coming close to figuring out how to keep the quality of the image close to what I envision in my head. Here's a sound-bite of some of what I did today. Just playing around and having fun. I feel like a kid again! Oh, and sorry about the audio, I probably should've turned down the radio.
From The Shelf

Here are some of the inspirational references I go to when I'm working. I don't refer to them all of the time, but these particular books give some insight into where the content of my work originates from, both superficial and conceptual, exterior and interior. Of course, commercially I can't always apply these influences onto the pictures that I draw each time; however, I'd like to believe that sometimes parts of these influences do inform the way that I think while I am creating my work. 
Right now, I'm starting to build an interest in Keith Haring's work. I've been in love with his art for several years now, and admittedly have fantasized numerous times about what it would've been like living and working as an artist in New York thirty years ago, but I understand this fantasy is really rooted in my own ignorance - things always seem rosier through the looking-glass.  Over the past year, I've devoted more time reading about Haring's process, particularly about the work he did before the subversive subway chalk drawings that became the climax of his career, which were his videos, collages, text based, and semiotic work. 
Haring's art is so visual, his patterns seemingly random, and his pictures so happy; this was the initial attraction for me, the superficial quality of his drawings and paintings. But after having read a little bit about his history, I learned that he was much more aware of the relationships between the shapes of black and white that patterned his work. He analyzed the effects of the patterns that he made, how they were perceived as a whole and also how small sections of it related to each other. This evaluative process is so fascinating to me because it inspires me with a new way of seeing, and a new way of making art. 

*From top to bottom: Keith Haring (mug, left); Gilbert and George (mug, right); Hans Silvester, "Natural Fashion, Tribal Decoration from Africa"; Jamel Shabazz, "A Time Before Crack," (80's fashion, when I used to swoon over New Edition and Bel Biv Devoe); Keith Haring's Journals published by Penguin, Yayoi Kusama (she's having an exhibition at the Whitney Museum on June 13th); Shiaparelli & Prada, Impossible Conversations; Ballets Russes, The Art of Costume; Art of Armor, Samurai Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Process: Inspiration
I went to the Keith Haring exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum this weekend, and then to a party afterwards called Xanadude hosted by some friends of mine: Sean Be, and DJ Will Automagic from SPANK
I had to. 
Not out of obligation, but because I had to take a break this weekend. 
Keith Haring's artwork, and the boys of SPANK's art-music parties inspire me in a huge way. I've been isolating myself from the world for quite some time now. I don't go out much, and spend most of my time in the studio making things: commercial and personal work. 
Yes, the reason is because I absolutely love what I do, but there is also another obsessive quality about my behaviour that urges for me to keep on working.
Keep on movin' 
Don't stop,
yes --
sometimes I do have to 
I stop when I'm creatively exhausted and need time to focus and come-back-to-centre, so to speak. Inspiration for me is like food; I can feel when it's used up. And so, when this occurs I start to roam around: in my neighborhood, into manhattan; into galleries and exhibitions, I start to read books, and watch documentaries; I listen to other people's stories and talk to friends and acquaintances - should the proper moments arise - about art, illustration and design related stuff. I know this reads as very linear, but it's not meant to, the experiences unfold as they do -- I just try to put myself within a situation where I can possibly experience something new. Or, I try to keep my eyes and ears open in an effort to take in as much information as I can. I write things down a lot during this time, asking myself questions as it pertains to my work, my goals, and my (creative and professional) beliefs.  
I've been asked many times in interviews who and what inspires me. 
The answer:
Other people's stories. 
Yes, of course, I'm interested in art and design and illustration, and a whole slew of other things, but it's really other people's creative processes, and the choices that they make within their own artistic practice that move me the most. 

* The animated gif above is me standing in front of a mural by Keith Haring; the one below is of me standing below some inflatable sculptures by artist Jeffrey Ralston. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Process: Patterns

Here are some videos that I recorded early in the morning yesterday. I've been creatively stumped trying to resolve some issues that I have pertaining to some Tshirts that I'm designing. I know, I know.... Tshirts? I wrote about this before, why even attempt to even do something that's so ubiquitous, completely overdone, especially when the financial return is so slim and the process of constructing the shirts has become much more complicated than it probably needs to be? 
Because I enjoy it, and because the stuff that I'm making, I would like to wear. 
It sounds somewhat ego driven, but I do this a lot - examine things that I want to do creatively and move forward with it. It doesn't always result in an outcome that I'm entirely happy with, and it doesn't always inspire approval or acceptance from industry figure-heads, but my doing this is more of a visceral behaviour that I undergo in my studio practice in order to fulfill that part of me that clearly hasn't been fully expressed within one particular discipline. In any event, I won't write too much because you can listen to my ramblings in the videos above. One thing to note, however is that the bit about Milton Glaser's process is not accurate, really what I should've said plainly is that his documentary inspired me to give myself permission to move away from my computer and start using my hands to physically generate new compositions. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cool It Now... You Got To Slow It Down.
What do you do when you're forced to a halt in your creative process? When you can no longer see or even decide what the next step will be?
I left the studio early last night after having gone round after round trying to create a dress that just wouldn't fit my assistant properly. Again, I'm a sewing and pattern-making newbie with only a few months under my belt, and so I don't usually see in advance, if I'm steering towards common mistakes that someone who has been formally educated in this craft would avoid. But I'm okay with this because it's fun to learn as I go, and despite those moments when I can feel the demons tonguing the inside of my ear teasing me to quit, I try not to, but instead, stop for a moment and then revisit what I've done later with new eyes. 
Last night however, I had to be urged into it by my assistant who told me that when she encounters creative block, that she puts her brush down, and takes a break. 
I know this is something that many artists do, I do this myself, but when I'm swept away by the motions that come with trying to resolve a creative issue, I move into a place of obsession, and stay there for longer than I probably should. 
I'm realizing that not everything needs to be done in a day. 
However, I think being a commercial artist has trained me to believe that it does.
I have a very good gauge of how long it takes for me to execute an illustration, which is important to know because respecting time, and understanding how something so organic can all of sudden morph into something so concrete can be the difference between professional longevity and career suicide. The work that I do as an Illustrator is only one link in a chain of many who come together to create a final product; the editors, the creative directors, the art and design directors, the producers, the advertisers, and the account managers are only some of a long list of those who are involved in the creation and distribution of an illustration.  
It can be challenging then, for me to relinquish this need to move forward so quickly, too quickly, in the midst of creative block. Sometimes when I'm too close to something, it's tough to see  clearly.
When I arrived to the studio early this morning, I took a moment to quietly organize what needed to be done, and reminded myself of  how much I can do today.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art and Commerce

More studio shots, I know. 
I spend much of my time in here. I'm working through some things, preparing for a photo shoot mostly, for the release of some modified Tshirts that I'm making. But of course, I tend to stray from my focus -- well, perhaps stray is not the proper descriptor for what I'm doing because it carries with it, a negative connotation. In addition to the Tshirts, I'm also making a dress for my assistant who will model it for the shoot. It won't be sold, but I thought it would be a fun challenge to lift my skills, and inspire more possibility within the fashion component of my studio practice. 
In my work, I move between art and commerce regularly. Sometimes this movement, this relationship between the two are evident in the work that I do. For example the artistry is present in the craft of making it, and the commercial side is signified through the intention of why I created the image in the first place, ie. to sell. But sometimes I move entirely out of this space and into one that is more insular and hidden from the outside world. I don't do this on purpose, it's just the nature of how I work. And so, my work becomes entirely about making art; it doesn't address an audience, nor is the intention of it commerce-related, rather it's driven by my own ideas, feelings, and wants. 
It's tricky to use the word art sometimes because it's loaded with so much meaning depending on the individual. Some associate art with the world of high end auction houses, and the galleries in Chelsea. The types of discourses present transcend the artist's studio and dialogue with the past, and present... and even future - socially and politically - commenting and critiquing the world that we live in; communicating these oftentimes loaded and complex issues and re-presenting them in a way that participates in this conversation. Or, other times the meaning of the work is about the integrity of the material itself, and how it is used to express the artist's vision. The word can stir about some intimidation, be used to elevate or diminish: high art, or low art; it can be perceived as being so cerebral and so esoteric that it includes only a fractional number of individuals within its circle. 
For a long time, I've been challenged by the latter notion of the elitism about art, but have somehow managed to soften my feelings towards it, and have chosen to include my personal  definition of art as being more inclusive of the diverse ways of expressing one's creativity. I found that by doing so, it has allowed me to continue moving forward, instead of constantly slowing down (and sometimes stopping) to seek acknowledgement from others to know that whatever I'm making has some sort of validity. 
It's tough because even though I love what I do, there is still of part of me that wants the recognition. And it's sometimes easy to let this yearning for acknowledgement drive my craft... my art. But I think this is the nature of the beast, and despite my ambivalence towards someone else's reception (or obliviousness) to whatever it is that I present, I choose to do so because at the end of the day, a public platform for my work is what I desire; work that reaches people. 
There are so many moments in my studio practice that I keep too close to myself, remaining too much in my own world, and not revealing, or sharing with others, what I've made. I tell myself that I'm okay to continue creating without an audience. But while this is happening, it's as though I'm filling a bucket with the work that I am producing, until it begins to overflow. At this stage is when I begin to share my work with others in a way that lifts it outside of the safety of my studio.  This is the commerce side of my art. The business side of it. Although I've tried to keep my self-initiated projects as just that: personal work, it's come to a point where this personal work takes on a life of its own, wanting to exist on more of a public platform.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In My Toolbox
Here's a shot of my desk... although I work digitally, several years ago I started to actually paint on my prints and then rescan them into my computer where I alter them via Photoshop. I don't always use this method because not every piece that I do lends itself to the process, and I don't always have the time to do so, but when I do, I break out my tools. The paper that I use to print my work onto before painting on them is just a plain ol' "Hammermill" inkjet paper... I've using no-name photocopy paper in the past for this part of my process, but found that the actual print is too grainy, so when I scan it back into my computer, the quality of the image becomes diminished. I have to share that I've been using these colours since art college: yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, raw and burnt umber, prussian blue, cobalt turquoise (light), black, and white. The paints are watercolour and gouache - brands "Windsor Newton," and "Holbein." I also have  a set of "Dr PH Martin's" inks that I fell in love with when I was in high school and did a short internship at an animation studio in downtown toronto when I was about 18 or 19 years old. The animators who worked there introduced me to this brand of inks, and I haven't looked back since. For the line work I use a "0" brush; the one shown is a "Windsor Newton Sceptre Gold II" Sable Brush Synthetic (hair). Typically, I'm not so precious with my brushes, unlike some artists who are very specific about the brushes they use. As I very seldom employ painted components within my work, my purpose in finding the proper brush is to look for any fine liner with hairs that won't splay out too much after a few uses. The "Windsor Newton" brand I found has been pretty reliable and easy to find in stores.  To clean my brushes I use water and "B & J The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver." New York Central on 3rd avenue near E11 Street is for me, the best art supply shop that I've been too thus far. Yeah, there are other good ones, but this particular store feels right for me. Okay, back to work!

* In the second photo above is a mouse pad by artist Gary Taxali, and you can see part of my illustration in progress for SooJin Buzelli at Plansponsor Magazine.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Draping Class
On my way into Manhattan over the weekend, I thought about how strange it felt to be finished with something. Teaching ended a couple of weeks ago, and today was the last day of my continuing education course in "Draping" at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I began this course knowing very little about clothing construction and was very much intimidated at the beginning stages of the course. But as I moved along, slowly - very slowly - unfamiliar information began to sink into my brain that  hardened into fresh skills, which then turned into new memories that stayed in my muscles to enable me to cut, and press, and manipulate fabric pieces in such a way to give it three-dimensional form.
Neck to neck
Centre-front to centre-front
Waist to waist
Apex to apex
Hip to hip
Draping class taught us how to create bodices, skirts, and dresses by draping fabric onto a body form (mannequin). The repetition of our movements of placing and then removing fabric onto the body-form; the sequence of marking and pinning the fabric at specific points; the repetition of words spoken to oneself aloud, all finally resolved into a procedure that eventually felt very natural. 
For months I've been waiting for that moment when my process would begin to feel intuitive; when I could understand where to cut the fabric, where to mark it, and how to position it. As I've been illustrating professionally for just over ten years now, I've forgotten what it feels like to have to follow directions from start to finish within my creative process. When I draw for clients, there is a kind of predictability; it needs to exist because it allows me to gauge how long it will take for me to create a drawing from start to finish. In commercial art, where deadlines are pressing, there is seldom enough room or time to be fumbling around on a drawing only for it to result in a not-so-good result. That's not to say that I understand, nor am I able to predict exactly how my final illustrations will look like; however, I will admit for the most part that I do. Those moments in my illustration process where "happy accidents" occur, still exist, but it's contained within a small fraction of my process. The type of illustrations that I do don't lend themselves very well to an expressionistic way of working. My drawings are tight, and my process is very much methodical insofar as my having a definitive start, middle and end point.  If I had to, I could probably reproduce my existing work, and although it would not be 100% accurate, I would come pretty close. Having to refer to notes, or to stop and pause for a long moment about what my next step will be when I'm drawing commercially, doesn't happen very often, and so when I'm called to do this in class, each week, at every single moment to guide me through the various stages of design and construction, it felt strange. 
But over time, I used my notes less and less, and began to hear myself whisper in tandem with the teacher's voice in my head,
Neck to Neck
Centre-front to centre-front
Waist to Waist
Apex to Apex
Hip to Hip
... these were words that my Professor repeatedly spoke in a steady voice to the class instructing us where to pin the fabric on the parts of the body form throughout the draping process. 
There was something so very ritualistic, therapeutic, and meditative about all of this. Every Saturday morning for 7 to 8 hours,  my classmates and I made something from nothing; like alchemists turning stone into silver; we turned pieces of muslin into dresses. We seldom took breaks, and ate quickly during our lunches so that we could get back to our work as quickly as possible, measuring and marking, cutting and pinning our fabric onto our dress-forms,
Neck to neck
Centre-front to centre-front
Waist to waist
Apex to apex
Hip to hip

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Here Comes The Son
I had an emotional fart.
It happens.
Sometimes when you hold it in so tightly, your butt cheeks begin to quiver, and it just slips out.

I called my mom last night, just to say "hi", but really, the subtext was,
"Hi, I'm calling to complain... so don't judge me, and just listen... and then let's round it off with an everything's-going-to-be-fine-son... I'm proud of you. You can do it. I love you."

At 37 years old, I still call my mother when I'm frustrated, weak and confused.
I never considered myself a mama's boy -- maybe when I was a kid... but only until I was about 16 years old when I decided I needed to be more independent.
How cliche.
Let the teenage angst begin.

I said to mother last night that nobody helps me.
Like I said, I had an emotional fart.
It slipped out.
Of course, what I said is not true. 
I've gotten a great deal of help; much support from family and friends and colleagues and teachers, but I was referring specifically to money. 

It takes a lot to run a business, not only the energy to persist and to move forward, but financially it costs money. I've flirted with the idea of not having a studio, I've thought about ways I could cut my expenses. I understand all of this, but I've chosen to not 
Cut back.
I wonder sometimes if I'm being irresponsible, but then I think about the marks that I've set for myself and what's needed to achieve those goals. Of course, I'm being mindful of my expenses, and can afford to pay the bills in front of me, but it always feels very difficult when I have to spend to grow my business. 
This circular movement of money that comes in, goes right back out. 
My business keeps my art going.
I can't believe that I'm talking like this now.
I never used to.
Before it was only about drawing and painting and making things, and although I still
and Paint
and Make Things
I think about how sucky it would be if one day I'd no longer be able to
and Paint
and Make Things.

My mother, like many good mothers, recognizes an emotional fart when she hears one, and she stays put until it diffuses into thin air. 
I don't know if the intention of my post was talk about money, flatulence, or my mother, but I'd like for it to be the latter of the three since she's a pretty cool person. 
It's a bit early for Mother's Day, but nonetheless, here's a post about her that I wrote a year ago.

When I was young I would stare into the mirror at myself and imagine what I would look like when I grew up. I was a chubby kid with a black bowl cut and soft effeminate features. My ear lobes were fleshy and hung down away from the sides of my face, like pieces of gum stuck to the edge of a desk.
“It was lucky,” my aunt would say.
My ear lobes were a sign of luck.
I looked at the roundness of my face and judged it against the faces of the actors who I saw on television who had light skin with slim and chiseled features, deep set eyes shielded beneath a prominent brow; their rectangular faces framed by soft wavy brown hair. I tugged at certain parts of my face, and sucked in other areas to try to find these qualities within myself.
"Not so lucky at all," I thought.
My lips were too pink, my cheeks too portly, my eyes too bulging and creased at the corners. I looked down at my belly which stuck out past the waistline of my pants, and then I pulled  my shoulders back and stretched the fabric up over this soft hump of mine.
Sometimes very early in the mornings, while the rest of the world was still asleep, I would climb up the stairs to meet my mother outside of the bathroom. It was barely 5:30am, the time when she would awake to get ready for work. She stood with her back to me, arms in the air, flicking her wrists about her head, teasing and scraping down and then up against the locks of her black hair that grew fuller and softer with each wrist snap. I don’t remember exactly what we spoke about, except that I was curious and mesmerized by her actions.

My mother is a simple woman. To some this may sound insulting - who would want to be described as simple? To be simple means being obvious, plain, and boring. There is so much complexity within the world that we live in; so many choices and options available to advise the ways for us to live, the foods we eat, the way that we look, and the opinions we should have. We can become thin if we believe that we’re too thick and we can look strong, and even feel stronger, if we’re too skinny and weak.
We can become anyone.
So how could anyone be described as simple?
And how dare I use this word to describe somebody, especially my mother?

I grew up in a very modest home, with modest parents, who raised modest children. When we moved to Canada all we had was each other, the help of our extended family who sponsored us to live there, and the clothing on our back and whatever money we were permitted to carry away with us. My entire family was born in Mozambique, Africa: my parents, myself, and my older brother and sister. We left in the mid 1970s because the country was on the brink of civil war. For centuries, Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, but in 1976 the country gained back its independence. News spread via word of mouth that the government was subverted, which inspired a mass exodus of individuals who moved to Portugal and other parts of the world, and civil war ensued until the 90's. My family was one of the fortunate ones who were able to leave the country traveling to Lisbon, and then to Toronto through the sponsorship of my aunt and uncle. But this was all at a cost. My parents’ banks accounts were frozen, their home terrorized by the police, and so whatever they could take out of the country with them, they could carry in their hands within a limited number of suitcases, and on their backs.

In photos, my mother wears thick-framed Nana Muskouri glasses to match her dark hair, cut short, which tapers towards a fine and delicate neck. She dresses in a sixties style American bandstand shift that falls so softly against her, accentuating the slimness of her shoulders, and the length and leanness of her body in a self-effacing way. Sometimes she is standing in front of a wall of flowers, and other times in a random city setting, with suggestions of a building behind her, or off to the side. I imagine it’s my father who is taking the photos of her. There’s a kind of care about how the picture is delicately composed as if it’s been taken by someone who loves her dearly, who wants to show the rest of the world how beautiful she is.  There is no indication of impending war; there are no signs of trouble. These photos lay bare a playful side of my parents’ youth. My mother doesn’t talk much about her past very much. For as long as I have known her she has never remembered out loud, nor has she fondly dreamt to us about any past moments in her life when memories can blur softly into the next, and then the next, and then the next again.

I would sometimes crawl into the bathroom near my mother’s feet and sit beside the box of coloured pencils and blushes and lipsticks that rested on the edge of the open cupboard underneath the sink, where she kept her makeup. I examined each one, attentive to their opalescent brilliance mottled against each other on the floor and insides of this box like romantic graffiti; the coloured pencil tips mixing together to create new colours and new qualities about them.  Sometimes I sharpened these pencils, and studied the iridescent shavings that curled out from the sharpener’s blade and into my hands leaving entrails of colours along the edges of my fingers. My mother carefully lined her eyes with these pencils and I gazed, and wondered about whether it hurt her to do this or not.

This lasted for about forty-five minutes or so, and in my mind, it was mother putting on her lipstick that marked the end of this ritual. She stood like a movie star bathed in Edward Hopper lighting, her hair brushed into soft curls that kissed the tops of her shoulders, her cheeks slightly blushed, wearing an almost sheer grey blouse marked with pretty floral shapes of colour, tapered and tucked neatly into a narrow navy skirt, which grazed just above her knees.  She left the house every morning going to a job that required her to enter numbers into a computer repeatedly; a task that sounded deadening to me, and I wonder if it was the same to her as well. My mother did this for over forty years, and I’m curious now, about whether her morning transformation ritual was actually a glimpse into her thoughts, or even a means to take her, if only for a few minutes, out of a world of expected modesty and into a place of fantasy. 

*The illustration above was for Delta Sky Magazine, entitled, "Here Comes The Son."