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." 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dreaming of Hawaii

For the past three years I've worked with Pacific Basin Communication's publication "Hawaiian Home and Remodeling." Each year I illustrate various ways we can cut back on our carbon footprint, and save energy. This year, I collaborated with the Art Director, Mike Janowsky, to come up with a fun way to present a "Green Hawaii." Oh, and I included a couple of photos of me taking surf lessons the first time I was in Hawaii, several years back. How confident I looked on that surf board when it was on the sand! The photo that follows says otherwise.
Trust me... that wave felt like it was 20 feet high!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Illustrators In and Out

I've been putzing around this morning since 7:00am.
I'm really not sure what I've been doing for the past 2 hours except for eating toast, drinking coffee, and trying to figure out how to edit some things on Facebook without unintentionally deleting parts that I want to keep. 
I promise not to write about how tired I am...
but I am.
Only about 3 or 4 weeks of Continuing Ed classes, and then I'm done!
As I wrote before, I've hit my limit, and have spread myself way too thin this semester. I think moving forward, I can only take 1 night class per week. Towards the Fall, I'm not sure if I'll even be able to take any night classes because I'm picking up another course at SVA, which I'll be teaching with Yuko Shimizu, who is a great friend, and genius teacher. I'm super stoked, as I hope our students will be too. 
It's a Portfolio Class for 4th Year students, and so I'm guessing the level of focus and intention that the students will have in this core class will be much different than in an elective course. Having said that, I teach a dream class, right now. I have only 9 students, the smallest that I've ever had before, and each week, I'm impressed by the quality, and amount of work that they pin to the walls. As much as the marks describe tones, and shapes, it oftentimes evinces the level of work and their emotional and thought process.  For me teaching has become a give-and-take, a dialogue between teacher and student; to stand in front of the class as an instructor and only spit out information comes with the territory sometimes, but it's those moments of exchange, when one idea spoken, inspires another idea by someone else, which inspires conversation amongst the group, gets me excited. 
In my blog, I write a lot about process, and about my own studio practice, so when I teach I bring those things that presently matter to me, to the classroom. The questions that I have, the successes that I experience, and the challenges that I face all informs the content of my class. I have to confess that despite the title of the course that I teach now, "Fashion Illustration," it  is probably viewed by many as being far from that (in fact,  it's more like a principles of illustrations class  through fashion-inspired assignments).
Yes, I can help support the artist who wants to create pictures that are decorative, and sit comfortably within the fashion genre because I do believe that if a picture is beautiful, then it is beautiful. The aesthetics become the content, regardless of whether the subject matter holds, or conveys any kind of large idea. Still, there is room for large ideas in my class, for personal expression, and most importantly point-of-view, that latter of which I believe is not always easy to achieve as a student. Illustration is understanding one's creative intention. It's about communication and business, and it's also about art; to manage these things successfully can feel onerous at times because for me, when I'm focused on the art-side of illustration for example, I have to remind myself about its business application. Not to sound flippant, but the communicative parts of it can sometimes be the last thing on my mind. 
When I freely draw, and when I make things, it's the best feeling, but I know that in order to continue to be able to do this, there needs to be a balance within my art practice of those aforementioned things. My creative process can't be too much of only one thing, and too little about another. It's about knowing when I can be overly creative and experimental with my work, and when I need to scale back, and become more commercial. One is not better than the other in my eyes; both describe my practice and my work.
This is the illustrator who I am.
So when I teach, this is where I come from.

The photographs above are pages from a recently published book called "Illustrators In and Out, What Moves Them and How They Move Art" by Youjia Nie. I was asked to write part of the Foreward of this book, which I've rewritten below. It's an essay entitled, "Why I Draw," inspired by Joan Didion's essay "Why I Write."
Sometimes when I'm sitting in class and listening to my Fiction Writing Professor talk about the process of writing, my mind begins to drift; not in a way that I fail to hear what he's saying, but I start to align his words alongside my craft of drawing and illustration. I have a terrible time with labels, assigning and boxing things neatly (or not -) into some kind of space and then calling it a name. You'll notice that I switch between the words, art, and craft, and illustration, and design, and drawing in many of my posts -- and when I do, I think it's because I'm starting to see them more and more each time as being extremely similar to one another in a sense that they share so many of the same traits. Although there are many people who I'm sure can clinically delineate the difference between each of these disciplines, including myself, ultimately, I'm beginning not to care so much any more.
When I was 13 years old, I clearly remember saying out loud that I wanted to draw for a living. Back then, I had no clue what I was talking about because I didn't know anyone who made money from their drawings. When we moved to Canada, my father worked in a factory and my mother did data entry at her first and only job for decades. Drawing was not practical in their eyes, and as a result I could not foresee that it would take care of me.
There were moments when I thought that I would give up on drawing. In third year art college, I almost dropped out of school even before the semester began. I wanted to, I needed to move out of my parents home, and so I thought that I would stay working full time at a clothing factory in a suburb of Toronto to save up enough money for rent. Had I done so, I have no clue where I would be now, fortunately for my sake I snapped out of this delusion of mine, and with the help of my brother and sister, stayed in art college for the remaining years, and then moved out shortly after. During this time, I probably drew more feircely than ever because I guessed at that moment, that I had no other choice. In a way, I cast all of my hopes and frustrations into this particular discipline wanting so badly for it to lift me out of the place that I was in.
I sometimes look at my drawings and wonder if are they good or if they are not. I understand that if the drawing has been commissioned by someone else, that there are reasons that make it successful; that in addition to the aesthetic component, that it needs to communicate an idea and have a concept, and satisfy a viewership. I know all of this, I believe it, and I teach this to my students: content is paramount. But when I distance myself from my work and really stare at it, surface and content together, the parts of it that are not so good begin to reveal themselves to me. I have always fantasized about being a great artist, like the ones whose books I keep on my shelf. They are the ones who are able to manage shape and line in such a way that makes me feel that they have exclusivity to use them. The ones who employ colour with such beautiful ease, as though they were the ones who gave birth to such colours. But I know that for many of them, or at least, I tell myself, that I believe not all of this came easily for any of them. Not any of this came quickly either.
I recently opened up Charley Harper's book, the one that was put together by Todd Oldham, and it makes me feel good because the pictures in it reminded me - it reminds me of why I draw. The photos of Harper's work span his entire lifetime, showing images of drawing as the content. The way in which he relates colour to one another is magical and the restraint that he holds in his brush when rendering the details of the figures and objects convinces me that there is a reason and place for every mark that he puts down. And even though he is one of these artists who I have come to revere, I am learning to appreciate the work that he is done as just that, work that he has done. I try to remind myself now of the importance of the act of drawing, drawing for drawing sake, not drawing for money sake, nor for the sake of fame, or for the sake of trying to be like someone else. These things grow less important to me.
And so I draw.
I draw because I enjoy simply moving the paint around on the page, and stylus on the tablet. I enjoy mixing colours and arranging them next to each other to create patterns. I enjoy making marks on the pages and allowing them to twist and turn into something figurative or abstract. I draw because I have things that I want to say that I might not be able to express through words, through actions. I draw because when I do, the world around me falls away. I draw because it makes me feel good.