The title of this post is a quote I heard long ago from the lips of Erykah Badu at the beginning of her single "Tyrone." Remember this? I'm not sure if she was the first to say it, but since then it's a statement that has been repeated by many, including Queen Bey, who said it in her HBO documentary, Life is But a Dream.
Having gone through art school, being an artist, working as a designer and now teaching design I have a hard time with that statement. I don't know if I believe it. Can one really be an artist and be sensitive about their work?
Creative expression is personal because it comes from a place of experience, emotion (perhaps), and maybe even devotion. In the creative pursuit failures and a-ha moments are in abundance — and money, well sometimes not so much. Months, but more-often, years can go into a project or achieving an artistic goal. In the end, it is that time, effort, and perseverance that makes it all come together. So your heart and soul does become attached, so yes it can get personal and yes the critiques can hurt, sting, and bruise. But isn't that supposed to come with the territory when you are opening up your vision to the world?
I remember my first year in foundation drawing at art school our professor (a famous artist in her own right, by the way, and shall remain nameless) would tell us to hang up our charcoal drawings on the wall and we would do so, reluctantly. After the walls were covered with our "masterpieces" we would all huddle in the center of the studio hoping our collective warmth would protect one another from what was to come. Our professor would go around the room pausing briefly in front of each drawing tearing down and dropping to the floor the ones she didn't feel was worth acknowledging. "If it looks like you spent 5 minutes drawing it then I have even less time to critique it." Boom. You could hear the artists of said drawings gasp for air, or slump into themselves. Meanwhile those who survived would still have hearts racing in preparation for the lengthy critique that would for sure be hard to sit through. She ALWAYS gave tough critiques. You learned a lot, but boy were they brutal.
Some might say she was harsh. In today's world of higher-ed I don't even know if we're allowed to do stuff like this (we should be), but this professor and the many professors that came after only prepared us for what was to come when we would enter the real world — when money is involved and people are thinking about making an investment in your work, and they have even less time to look through your portfolio.
Because I've been on that hurtful side of the stick numerous times, taking brutal critiques from potential employers and portfolio reviewers now is like being an Olympic gold swimmer in a 3 foot pool. I can handle it. (I think, ha!)
Not only do artists have to face the challenges of figuring out what to do with their talents, but they also have to wear armour for the harsh critics ready with bow and arrow responses. Artists have to constantly be ready to defend their work and be completely open to how others will perceive it, but also be able to separate their feelings as much as possible.
So can you enter this line of work and be sensitive? Especially in this day and age when EVERYONE is a critic? EVERYONE has a social media account somewhere and a soap box where they can say whatever they want?
I don't think so. If you decide you want to be an artist (insert writer, designer, performer, etc.) then get ready. It can be tough, but it's part of the job — like a mechanic getting dirty. It's necessary, and if nothing more it helps you grow.
At the end of the day they are just hurdles that are small in comparison to the gift you are sharing with the world.
Stay warm this winter with deliciously chunky handmade knits, like cowls, scarves and shawls (for men and women) from DC based brand DeNada. Founder, Virginia Blanca Arrisueño, pulls from her Peruvian heritage to design the pieces and then has them produced in Peru by skilled artisans. I purchased a beautiful chunky cowl a few weeks ago and can't stop wearing it!
I've always been a fan of vintage African travel posters designed in the 50's and 60's because of their simplicity; the beautiful flat colors and graphic shapes. So when I saw these versions of African travel posters inspired by vintage designs from Jazzberry Blue, I immediately added them to my favorites on Etsy.
The surface design brand, Moniquilla, has always been a favorite of mine with it's beautiful palettes and pattern mixes. I was more familiar with Moniquilla's paper products, like notebooks and stationery, but recently found these fun tie-dyed t-shirts and beautifully printed scarves. After digging a little deeper and found other clothing applications from the brand. I want to rock everything!
I love the work that I do. It is so great to see an idea in my mind and make it come to life with the tools I have at my fingertips. It's not easy work to make it happen, matter-of-fact it has taken me almost twenty years to develop these skills, and I have tons of experience and owe plenty of student loan money to prove it.
What absolutely sucks about this career path I've chosen is the lack of respect I experience regularly in regards to the use of the work I've created.
As an artist/designer I can tolerate having to constantly be on my toes to defend the validity of the work I do, but that doesn't bother me so much. I can talk anyone into the ground about why the arts and design disciplines are important. But what I absolutely can't tolerate is someone using or selling my work to promote their brand without permission.
In the last few years since I've launched I Love My Hair, I have written numerous cease and desist letters and have been emailed several links to people who have used The Only Regret illustration for t-shirts, logos, web site graphics, etc. without my knowledge let alone my permission. Which pisses me off. Why? Not because of money or damages, but because it's just absolutely wrong!
In some of these cases the owners of these brands have been duped and have paid money for something they genuinely thought was an original (at least I hope), therefore I cannot fault them. So it comes down to the "designer" who thinks it's ok to pull designs and use them as their own.
I can slightly see non-designers/artists doing this; some people just don't know or understand copyright-protected materials or that you just don't steal other people's work and claim it as your own. But fellow artists and designers? That is just unacceptable. This field is already tough and highly competitive. We know more than anyone how difficult it is to make it happen — must we shoot one another in the foot to get an extra buck?
With that said. Be careful. Whether you are hiring a designer or using images you've found you need to be absolutely sure it is an original. Do your own research, ask around, and make sure you're using a reputable source. Reach out to other clients of the designer you're working with; and make sure you totally understand the royalty use of any image source you use. Just because it's on the web doesn't mean it's free.
If you have any questions about using designs, illustration, or other imagery for your brand please feel free to email me. I'd be happy to share what I know. I believe the only way to stop this is for all of us to understand the laws and know that artists have rights, too.
My fellow comrades, have you experienced this? How did you handle it?
All I can say is wow. I am in awe of these beautiful illustrated characters Bel Andrade Lima created for this year's carnival in Recife (a city on the coast of Brazil). As a designer/illustrator I totally wish this was something I worked on!
See more of Bel's rich style on her online portfolio here.
I had a wonderful time selling at the Station North Arts Market this past Saturday. As I mentioned last week, it was my first time selling offline which is something I've been wanting to try. Interacting with the market-goers was a pleasure and I really loved meeting my fellow vendors who, like me, were all there excited to be selling at the first market in the Chicken Box gallery space. The response to my work was great so I'm definitely thinking about doing it again.
Is there something you'd like to try or experience before the year is over?
Recently, I was organizing my jewelry drawer and came across a beaded bracelet given to me by a friend, and keychain that was a gift from a family friend who is from Kenya. Along with a pair of seed bead earrings I realized these were things I love to wear but knew so little about. Knowing there was a lot of special craftsmanship at play here I wanted to dig a little deeper and see what I could find about the craft.
Beadwork is an art-form that can be found throughout Africa as well as many parts of the world. Zulu and Ndebele women are known for their detailed beadwork designs, but I have to say that I am particularly drawn to the beadwork of the Maasai peoples who live in Kenya.
The Maasai women create these elaborate pieces (anklets, earrings, necklaces, hair adornments, etc.) that are worn for celebrations like weddings and religious ceremonies. The beads were originally made of seeds or clay, then when the Europeans began trading in Kenya the glass beads became an option. Most recently plastic versions are used, while shells, leather, and metal continue with the original tradition of being used in designs.
The Build A Nest organization had this to say about the women using the act of beading as a time to socialize:
"Beadwork plays an important role in bringing Maasai women together, and provides a space to socialize and share creative ideas. Often, women will sit together between their daily tasks and create beaded jewelry."
I love wearing pieces or using items in my home that are hand-made and come from hands with history or story to tell. Supporting fair-trade organizations that sell authentic beaded items would be a great way to support this Maasai tradition..
If you can't make the trip or get your hands on the real thing, these beaded items below speak to that lovely elaborate and colorful style.
Print from Rifle Paper
I miss Rio.
As I mentioned before it wasn't the easiest trip — matter-of-fact I returned not really sure if I needed to go back (which in reality is too extreme and entirely impossible). But as the memories begin to blur into one big experience, and the difficulties of the trip become foggy, I've already started thinking about when I can start planning my next visit.
For now I have souvenirs, photos and conversations with my mom about the trip to hold me over until then. I've been thinking about dedicating a wall in my home to that part of my world. A gallery of maps, pictures, ephemera and objects from or about Rio. Like this cute print from Rifle Paper. When I saw it I knew it had to be a part of the collection.
Last Friday I had the wonderful honor of speaking on a panel about work/life balance. The panel included some folks I truly respect and admire: Kim and Kyle from Baltimore Print Studios, and Jennifer Cooper of Classic Play; and it was a great conversation moderated by Kara (from A Creative Reality). It's always great hearing and learning from other creatives about their experiences, and I walked away with a lot to think about.
Although I still have so much to learn about work/life balance I feel as though I am growing to have a better understanding of how to prioritize what's really important to me. Because I wanted to share what I've learned and because I am an educator who loves handouts, I created a little work/life balance worksheet for the event. It's a little exercise to get folks thinking about how they can prioritize and focus their energy.
One section asks to list three words that one wants to live by.
Several years back, one of my students was presenting his work to a group of design professionals and during that presentation one of the professional designers gave my student this great suggestion of designing with three words in mind. She said to the student that whenever she is developing an identity for a brand she asks the client to list three words that fully describes the attributes of that brand. Designing to those three words helps keep the designer focused and allows her to weed out concepts that do not fit. I loved it and have used that technique since then.
But it never occurred to me to apply that technique to my life. Not until a conversation I had with my friend Tanekeya Word some time ago.
sidenote: I have to say that Tanekeya is one of the most talented, beautiful, and brilliant people I know. She consistently blows me away with her depth of knowledge and insight, and her work is fascinating. Please check her out tanekeyaword.com, she's amazing!
So in that conversation we were talking about following our passion and making sure they align with out belief-systems and values. This is when Tanekeya posed to me that wonderful question: what are three words you live by? I didn't have an answer then, but when we got off the phone I pulled out a thesaurus and my idea book and filled pages with words and ideas that were important to me. I found them, and now if projects and opportunities do not fall in line with those words I don't do them. Simple as that.
What about you? Are there three words that inspire, focus, or guide you? You don't need to share them here, matter-of-fact I would keep them close to you. But you can say yes or no, or feel free to share other strategies that keep you grounded, balanced, and focused.
Big thank you to Kara and Jen for inviting me to speak on the panel and to Tanekeya for the inspiring question.
Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the BlackStar Film Festival to create a few promotional materials for the event. It was so great because I love their organization and was thrilled with the visual direction they were looking to pursue. When I was given the challenge to explore Afrofuturism and taking a look at Masai or Ndebele women as muses for the assignment I knew this project was definitely for me. Those two elements have been huge influences in my work already, so I immediately started looking for fresh imagery and began the sketching process. (If you follow Fly on Instagram then you've seen a few of the images I have used for reference.) It was such an amazing project and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity.
BlackStar Film Festival
August 1-4, 2013
In my world print is not dead. I will still hunt down, subscribe to, or buy a beautifully designed magazine or newsletter. My affection for the D/City newspaper is an example of my undying love for print. This printed piece created by Louis at 14th and designed by the world-renowned DC based creative firm Design Army is simply beautiful. The content focuses on the happenings on one of DC's popular 14th and U street corridors; all the style, eats, and fun going on at the fly intersection. Because I love the layout, the beautiful photography, and wonderfully designed info-graphics I'm always excited to grab one for my collection of ephemera. I even love the design of the D/City newspaper box (is that what they're called?).
Want to check it out for yourself? You can download the full paper here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
I can see Baltimore having a cool newspaper like this. What about your city, do you have a go to print publication that keeps you in the know? Or something that is so beautifully designed that you just have to have one?