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Track Light Interview #12 : Caring Wong (China)

Caring Wong Artwork "Leave Me Alone"

“Leave Me Alone”

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery from their various places around the globe.

Today, I talk with Chinese-born/Paris-based illustrator & architect Caring Wong.

Canton Connections

John: Hey Caring! You know… you’re the only “Caring” that I know. Who gave you that name?

Caring: My parents, haha. It’s the same pronunciation of my name in Chinese (Cantonese).

John: And what’s the meaning?

Caring: It means “novelty”!

John: Okay, Ms. Novelty. Where’s your hometown and how did you end up in Paris? If your name is Cantonese, then you’ve given me a good clue.

Caring: I grew up in Guangzhou and went to Paris to continue my study of architecture after university.

“Backlight”

John: I don’t remember if I told you or not… but I lived for a few years in Guangzhou. It’s where I learned to design and manufacture the first DrawBag. I used to go to Sanyuanli market and look for sample materials all the time, or reference bags for inspiration.

Caring: I grew up in Panyu, in the south of Guangzhou. And the university where I studied architecture is in Tianhe.

“The Girls Dorm”

Artistic Influences

John: Ah, Tianhe. We laowai (foreigners) know it well. So what are your first memories of art?

Caring: I’ve been addicted to watching and drawing cartoons since I was a child. I love all types of Japanese anime and Disney animation. They had a great influence on my growth as an artist.

John: This sounds familiar. I was into anime as well growing up, and collected tons of comic books. Which cartoons or anime specifically influenced you?

Caring: I remember watching Cinderella and all the films of Studio Ghibli countless times. 

“Houses on the Stopping Train”

John: And did you watch the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) cartoons growing up?

Caring: Yes. Do you know the film “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” that came out in 2015?

John: Yes, I do.

Caring: It’s my favorite version for the moment!

John: Just the other day a Chinese friend told me about the new Ne Zha animated film. Sadly, it’s not subtitled in English here. I didn’t even know this character or story, but grew more interested the more I read about him.

So are Hiyao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films some of your biggest influences?

Caring: Yes. I was attracted to the setting and the story of Ghibli films when I first watched Totoro. To paint a scene full of dreams like that became my hobby at the time.

John: You know, I think it can be challenging to present worlds that inspire our dreams and imagination these days. The danger is in appearing escapist or falsely sentimental. But I think your work definitely has a quality of sincere beauty and wonder to it. 

Caring: Oh, and Monet is also a great influence. In Paris, I’ve been given so many more opportunities to get in touch with art than ever before. The exhibitions, the museums, and my journeys through Europe have helped me find more inspiration.

John: What was it about Monet in particular that has inspired you?

Caring: His colors!

John: Okay, duh. And what do you do when you aren’t studying or making art?

Architecture

Caring: In addition to being a freelance illustrator, in fact, another part of my life is with architecture.

“Flower Shop on the Water”
“Rainy Day in Amegakure”

John: Yeah, you know… many of your images remind me of scenes from Hong Kong or Guangzhou. They have these tight spaces packed with life and detail.

How much are you doing architecture these days? And who are your favorite architects?

Caring: Actually architecture is my full-time day job. And I have too many favorite architects to mention… like Calatrava, Barragan, SANNA, Alvar Aalto, Bofill, Terunobu Fujimori… so many.

“Back Home”

John: I need to mention in closing that I really loved the DrawBag you hand-painted!

John: Thanks so much for chatting a bit today. In Cantonese, we say (拜拜) baai-baai!

Following Up!

You can find more of Caring’s work on Instagram and DeviantArt, and buy her work here.

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Track Light Interview #11—> Natsuki Otani (Japan)

“Land of the Rising Zine” cover art by Natsuki Otani from the charity zine for the Japan tsunami appeal by Illustration Rally blog.

 

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Japanese born/Sweden-based illustrator Natsuki Otani.

– – – – ->

Journey to the West

 

John: Kon’nichiwa and Hej! Let’s start with your growing up in Japan and eventually ending up in Sweden.

Natsuki: Sure. I was born in Tokyo and was living with my parents and brother when I was very young. Unfortunately my father passed away when I was fourteen and I guess that event shaped me to be a bit more independent than other girls my age.

When I was twenty-one, I enrolled in Norwich University of the Arts (in England) to study graphic design, and that’s where I met my husband. He’s a game designer, and people in the games industry seem to work everywhere in Europe. So the same happened with him. After getting married in England we moved to Portugal, Germany, and then finally Sweden because of his work. And all during that time, I was freelancing as an artist.

 

“Ryo” collaboration with La Mode Outré.

 

John: When did you begin drawing?

Natsuki: No one in my family was the artsy type, so I’m not sure where my interest in art came from! But I remember drawing some anime characters for friends when I was a kindergartner, and getting some nice praise! That definitely encouraged me to like drawing more.

Most of the prefectures in Japan have some high schools that focus solely on music or art courses. So when I was in my teens, I decided to go to an art high school in Tokyo. My first formal art training would have actually been in preparation for this school’s entrance exam. It involved pencil drawing and still life watercolor painting.

In my art high school we studied all kinds of art, including sculpture, oil painting, and traditional Japanese painting. I originally intended to go to a Japanese art university upon graduation, so again I focused hard on drawing for several years. I would need to pass yet another entrance exam for university! It was common back then for Japanese art student wannabes to spend years training before they actually got into an art uni. But at that point I had had enough of it, so I decided to study in England instead.

By the way, I really liked the first year of the graphic design course at Norwich back then. It allowed students to experience graphic design, editorial design, photography, animation, and illustration before choosing one to continue further in our second and third years.

 

Natsuki’s hand-painted Classic DrawBag.

Style & Influences

 

John: Your work interweaves floral patterns, figures, and animals using a dreamy mix of vibrant, yet muted colors. How did those technical elements come about for you?

Natsuki: I think I always try to create something that can exist only in a piece of artwork. I try to draw visions that I can’t see in the real world but I wish I could see.

John: And you seem to combine elements of the real with the surreal… or beauty with the sinister. What’s the motivation for these sharp contrasts?

Natsuki: The contrast is intended to give viewers something that is familiar amidst the unrecognizable. I think familiarity is very important for illustration and design. That isn’t always the case for fine art. But for design I always like to embed something “real” no matter how surreal my drawings can appear.

 

“My Sweet Boy” illustration for Saji Magazine.

 

“Secret” illustration for the group exhibition, ‘Stephen Chan and Friends Presents’.

 

John: What other artists have influenced you in your journey?

Natsuki: There are countless artistic influences over time, but I try to avoid looking at others’ drawing when searching for inspiration. Instead, I look to things like the photography of Wolfgang Tillmans, the films of Quentin Tarantino, or the music of Perfume Genius. They give me so many ideas without limiting my thinking about how to express myself.

John: Several generations of westerners were impacted growing up with Nintendo, Akira, and Studio Ghibli films. Can you comment on the fertility of these unique Japanese creators and innovators?

 

Akira promotional image
Cover of 1988’s animated film Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

 

Natsuki: I think Japanese creators are quite fortunate. They have an accepting environment in which to enjoy anime, manga, or even computer games without being discriminated against. They’re also able to use these subcultures to express their artistic creativity.

Playing Nintendo never categorized me as a geek girl. Hiyao Miyazaki’s films were on TV regularly. And Takashi Murakami started collaborating with luxury fashion brands, causing his anime/manga influenced art to enter the mainstream just like Andy Warhol. It’s all quite in sync with the overall culture, rather than against it.

Engineering a Lunchbox

 

John: You and I began brainstorming months ago about a print for the LunchKraft lunchbox. We talked back and forth through various ideas, and you sketched about a dozen possible designs over three rounds of development. The final design will be released in early September 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

John: Ultimately, you settled on one that incorporated a fantastical taiyaki fish bearing a boy and a girl aloft. How did you navigate through that process of development?

 

 

 

Natsuki: Originally you and I had discussed creating a design with a theme like “girl power”. But this then shifted to a more inclusive design for both boys and girls.

John. Yeah. I liked the idea of encouraging boys and girls to really partner together in adventures to make the world a more beautiful place.

Natsuki: Right. But I still wanted to draw something to say that girls can be leaders or heroes in a subtle way. It’s great to have a story that has a clear strong female character such as Wonder Woman but I think it’s also nice to see a more natural representation of girls in leadership roles. Hopefully in time this will simply become the norm.

So I simply drew the girl in the front of their taiyaki airship, to show that she is the one who leads this food adventure they are on! It’s a really simple bit of visual language, but I’d prefer to leave the space for people to read or think about what the design could mean.

I also knew you liked the idea of something a bit like Howl’s Moving Castle so that was one of the visual inspirations. My idea was to draw something to encourage children (and adults) to enjoy lunch or any mealtime, so I drew the boy and the girl in this taiyaki airship as explorers and… evangelists of food in some way to represent that.

Getting Off-Topic

 

John: You know, my interest in portraying boys and girls this way comes in part out of a sense that the sexes don’t seem to get along very well these days. The expectations on one another have grown more and more unrealistic, while the satisfaction in what is delivered has diminished. Things like social media, pop music, Hollywood, and mass media advertising could be blamed for this. But I think these are just the outward expressions of something that has gone wrong inwardly.

A few years ago, I read an article where a number of Japanese young men were expressing great anticipation for better AI and sex-bots. They hoped new advances would produce female companions indistinguishable from their human counterparts (except for being more compliant). This feel a part of movement in recent decades away from flesh-and-blood relationship through on-demand internet pornography, virtual reality, and simulation in things like Gatebox’s “virtual girlfriend” Azuma Hikari. 

 

John: And I know this is not just an issue in Japan, with its decline in romantic relationships and birthrates. We seem to be wrestling at this moment with a tension between the virtual (or imagined) and the real. The former entices us with the promise of engineered perfection to replace the challenges and natural “shortcomings” of our everyday experience.

Our minds have always been able to imagine a more perfect partner when engaged in a dualistic kind of overthinking. But now technology is poised to realize those imaginings through physical forms. But I think that will only lead to more disappointment in the end, rather than satisfaction. I believe that deep satisfaction in life comes from letting go completely of expectations and enjoying the journey, rather than trying to guarantee outcomes we imagine will bring us pleasure.

In short… adventures are what make life meaningful and satisfying! And adventures must have significantly difficult challenges along the way.

Attempting to Define One’s Culture

 

Getting back on track, haha… you’ve travelled to, lived in, and interacted with a number of other cultures. How much do you feel a part of, or not of, Japanese culture?

Natsuki: It may be that I didn’t know how to appreciate my cultural background in my artwork until I started living overseas. For some time I avoiding drawing things that were overtly Japanese in my work unless I was specifically asked to include them. This was because I felt I was taking advantage of something I hadn’t earned myself.

However, now I think Japanese culture is a part of me whether I intend it to be or not. And that culture is something to both cherish as well as experiment with. My artwork is ultimately more an expression of myself than of my country or nationality. But I wouldn’t have learnt this without traveling outside of my own country.

John: And how does that specifically play out in your work?

Natsuki: That’s such a hard question, and I honestly don’t know if it has changed anything in terms of my visual style. It’s definitely influenced my way of thinking and seeing things, though. I think only viewers of my artwork could comment on this, and it would all depend on their personal perspectives of me.

People often find something they would call “Japanese” in my work even though I’ve had no intention of doing this. I left Japan thirteen years ago and rarely speak Japanese these days. It seems to me that my real life journey is lost in translation. But it’s fine to me when this kind of interpretation happens. I like people to interpret my work in their own ways.

 

“Zashiki Warashi” illustration.

 

John: As creative people, do you and your husband want to get all kinds of fantastic art  into your daughter’s life? So she can say she did have an “artsy” family?

Natsuki: Of course we do, but we also want her to experience everything else! As a kid I used to learn about and enjoy Math, English, calligraphy, piano, tennis, kendo, and softball outside of regular school time… some of them I was pretty bad at, but it was still awesome to get to experience so many different things. I’d actually be more than happy if she ends up being sporty instead of artsy!

John: Do you think having a daughter will affect the substance of your art-making in any way?

Natsuki: It’s only been two months since my daughter arrived in our life so it’s a little hard to say what impact she has made to my creativity. I think I’m purely focused on making sure she’s alright at the moment! I never thought about my work being seen by my own children before her, obviously. I’m guessing I’ll be more conscious about creating work that she can be proud of or inspired by.

The design for LunchKraft is the first job I’ve finished since her birth, and I have some wishes for her future within that. I do want her to be a strong girl who can stand on her own two legs, lead her own life, and be able to enjoy and appreciate what she eats. To my husband and me, cooking and sharing a meal together is very important. I believe it’s a celebration of our life so I really can’t wait for her to join us and start using her lunchbox!

Following Up!

 

You can find (and buy) more of Natsuki’s work by checking out her Portfolio,Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Track Light Interview #10—> Mario Jin (Italy)

Wall mural by Mario Jin in Milan

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Italian graffiti artist and illustrator Mario de Stefani aka Mario Jin.

– – – – ->

 

John: So where did the name Mario “Jin” come from?

Mario: When I started to do graffiti as a kid in Milan everyone had a tag. So I decided to start with Jin, like the character from the PlayStation game Tekken.

Mario Jin graffito tag on wall
A bit more than a throwie.

Mario: But later I discovered a different meaning for this word: jin, jinn, jinie.

John: You’re sounding like David Bowie there.

Mario: Haha. I mean the djinn or genie. A demon or spirit… like a soul. For me, the meaning was like another way to be myself. Another form in which to express myself.

John: And where did you grow up and do that early tagging?

Mario: I was born in Milan and grew up in the southwestern suburbs there. Now I’m living right here in the city as a senior designer for my firm. It’s my home for now. But I’ve been feeling the need to travel and find and live in new places, too. In the future I don’t know where I will call home.

Wall mural painting of Indian by Mario Jin
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin in Milan, Italy.

John: if you could paint a wall anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Mario: Anywhere! Really. Anywhere.

John: Who do you collaborate with in Milan?

Mario: In Milan there are a lot of great artists I regularly work with. Most of the time it’s Foskia, Yems, Prosa, Daste, Trust, Plinio, Zelig, Draks, Close, Tawa e Dada, Poms, Mr. Pollo, and the 10G crew. We just paint walls together for fun.

Wall mural painting by Mario Jin and Tosk
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin and Tosk in Milan, Italy.

John: And how did you get started painting?

Mario: My aunt was a painter and teacher of art. When I was in her home as a kid I would get alot of inspiration. I was also influenced by manga and hentai growing up. And I started with graffiti in the streets in 1998.

I first started by copying the heroes and protagonists of manga or hentai and cartoons that I read or saw on TV. Some of my favorites were Lupin the Third, Kenshirō from Fist of the North Star, and others from The X-Men and Dragon Ball Z. I remember drawing them everyday on my desk at school. 

Later I started to redraw my friends and brothers in an anime style. And when I discovered graffiti, it opened a new world of inspiration, colors, and ways of expressing myself.

Wall mural painting by Mario Jin
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin in Canarias, Spain.

John: And being Italian, have you been influenced by any of the greats from the past?

Mario: A lot influenced me. I don’t have any specific preferences, but for sure I remember moments like the first time I saw Caravaggio’s paintings or one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

John: What are you communicating through your work? Are you?

Mario: Sometimes I work in freestyle simply as pure expression. Other times I think about the sick world in which we live and how I would like to change it. Or maybe that’s just a way I take refuge from it.

John: What do you mean by the world being “sick”?

Mario: I’m talking about a world full of pollution causing global climate change. I’m talking about bad vibes like hate and racism. I feel many people are thinking only for themselves these days.

LunchKraft lunchbox print designed by Mario Jin
LunchKraft Lunchbox screen printed design by Mario Jin.

John: Yes, I remember our first conversation about your design for the LunchKraft lunchbox. I asked you to just come up with something you felt strongly about and would want to communicate even through the canvas of a lunchbox.

Mario: I was thinking about our overuse of natural resources at the time, while also the respect for nature that people can and do have.

John: So the gas-masked figure is trying to protect that fragile bit of nature under the domed glass.

Mario: Yes.

John: I also asked you about drawing that LunchKraft lunchbox into the design itself, because I have some of the same concerns about our use of resources in a consumer culture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m helping or harming by manufacturing anything at this stage in history. I’m hoping to change a certain consciousness about fashion in small ways, but I still wonder.

Mario Jin's Classic DrawBag
A Classic DrawBag hand-painted by Mario Jin.

John: Currently, we don’t really play up the eco-friendly elements of the bags much in marketing. We focus on the art. But maybe we should. It’s been more of an attempted baseline rather than a marketing angle, and in some ways using it to market would feel deceptive to me.

Anyway, yeah… I’m trying to figure these things out.

Changing topics… you and I were talking recently about Playdead’s video game Limbo as well as their (somewhat) more recent release Inside. I brought it up because you had devoted a wall to the former. What is it about these games that have inspired you to reinterpret them in your work?

Wall mural of Limbo video game by Mario Jin
Wall mural painting by Mario Jin inspired by the video game Limbo.

Mario: Yes, I really like these games. The world and characters are so simple yet wonderful at the same time. But the gameplay and the stories are the best things about them. You have to think about how to overcome puzzles all the way up to the end. And the stories are speaking into the darkness of the world that the characters are entering.

I like how their stories inspire my imagination… and not in a way just meant to get you to buy the next episode. They really made me think. I did a piece of work based on Limbo. I think I’ll do another one about Inside also.

John: Cool. You can check out more of Mario’s work on Instagram and his official website.

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Track Light Interview #9—> Maria Uve (Spain)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Spanish illustrator and photographer María Uve.

– – – – ->

 

John: Hi Maria! I was excited when you first contacted me through Instagram about collaborating on a DrawBag.

María: John! Sorry for the delay in finishing everything.

John: No, no, you weren’t late. Everything is in it’s right time. I’m just happy to have connected with you.

John: I’ve recently made more contact with artists in Spain as there is quite a wealth of talent there. Elena Pancorbo had just finished an original design on a DrawBag before you and I first spoke, and Jesuso Ortiz was also a collaborator early on.  What is the artistic community like where you are in Vigo?

María: Well… the truth is that I live in a part of my country with a very small artistic community. The larger groups of artists in Spain are really in the capital, but thanks to online social networks I have met artists of many nationalities and that has enriched me a lot.

John: The idea of community is continually being redefined in terms of its borders through technology, isn’t it?

María: Yes, and I think we should really support one other instead of competing because if our related community wins… really, we all win.

John: Where did you get your training as an artist and with what different media do you work?

María: I studied illustration, photography, and graphic design at EASD Antonio Faílde (School of Art & Design) in Ourense, Spain and have spent the past year and a half dedicating myself professionally to my profession– illustrating book covers, being exhibited in galleries, publishing my own book, and collaborating with various magazines.

John: Your style is quite recognizable. Were there other artists whose work influenced you in your own development of this style?

María: I think we are all influenced by everything. By other artists for their music, by the cinema, etc… I could not tell you specific names, though, because I try to escape the similarities. 

John: I’ve been really inspired by a handful of female artists who I’ve discovered this past year primarily through Instagram… #zipcy and #littlethunder being two others beside yourself.

Illustration by #zipcy.

Illustration by #littlethunder

 

Illustration by #maria_uve_

You are all quite different in expression, but seem to be similar in that your artwork embraces love, sexuality, the body, and emotional intimacy in ways that are neither prudish nor porn. Your work celebrates a genuine and nuanced eroticism that I think has otherwise been cheapened over time by happy endings to romantic comedies, free streaming porn, and the convenience store of online dating. Truly falling in love with oneself or others is not something we click to purchase, but must engage in with our whole being to experience both its heights and depths. But that’s my perspective, of course, haha. What is it that you are doing when you create your artwork? What are you communicating through it?

María: Obviously, artists expose themselves to having a free interpretation on the part of the receiver and that is inevitable. But yes… I am communicating precisely that which you just expressed: the importance of feeling good about oneself, experiencing love in healthy ways, de-objectifying the body as only a sexual object, making relationship a natural part of our conversation, respecting all kinds of people and all types of relationships, and breaking conventions and traditional values.

Illustration by #maria_uve_

John: There are quite a few symbols and motifs you return to in your work, including what I assume to be the red thread of fate from Chinese folklore, creeping yellow vines, tiny phrases in blue on the body, the serpent, skeletons, and various images of the galaxy.

Can you share a bit about your wider perspective on life and why we are here? Where we are going? And how that is reflected in your current stage of art making?

Illustration by #maria_uve_

María: Well, I wish I knew why we are here! I guess my perspective is as simple as finding happiness and satisfaction within myself, without hurting anyone or anything else.

John: Fair enough. I think a lot of young artists would be very jealous of the 300K followers you currently have on Instagram. How did you gather that global following? Did it take long for people to find your work on Instagram?

María: I think there are no jealous artists. We are all non-conformists. Perhaps we can get too focused on how things are going with others, but I always encourage artists to support one another and help share one another’s work with the world. I think everyone deserves to have the same possibilities for success.

And the truth is that I do not know how all my followers came about… but it was fast. In just over a year I suddenly went from having 150 “friends” to 300,000.

John: There can be fine line between genuine expression of oneself and finding a strong following in that… and then monetizing that expression into a product for sale which loses its original intent. How have you kept your artistic journey genuine and connected to its source?

María: I didn’t monetize my work until recently, when my first book was published. I always have some prints available for sale in case someone wanted them but I never advertised until now, because it has been important to grow my work first.

John: And how many new pieces of work do you make… say, per week?

María: One or two.

John: Tell me more about the book Nosotros which you recently published.

 

María: It’s about self-improvement after failed relationships. At the moment I do not have a version in English… only in Spanish. Everything in time, though.

John: What else fills your life besides from art making?

María: I love animals and nature in general… music, movies, reading, and traveling. Too many things and only one life!

John: You can see more of Maria’s illustration or photography via Instagram or Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or purchase her work here. Her recently published book Nosotros is also available in Spanish. Updates when available in English!

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Track Light Interview #8—> Zharia Shinn (New York, USA)

 Photo Credit: Katie McLoughlin

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with American illustrator, animator, and artist Zharia Shinn.

– – – – ->

 

John: Your paper and fabric work is stunning! 

I want to ask first about the design you created on your DrawBag, because it was linked to the AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn that occurred this past summer. Can you tell us a bit about that event and your design?

Zharia: The AfroPunk Festival is, “an annual arts festival that includes live music, film, fashion, and art produced by black artists,” originating in Brooklyn, New York. At the heart of this incredible gathering is a celebration of difference, acceptance, blackness, and empowerment. I have always been an admirer of the movement and festival over the years, so finally getting a chance to attend this summer ’18 was incredible to say the least. 

I am in awe of the fashion and creativity that is made in preparation for AfroPunk, which ultimately inspired my bag. The patterns, colors, and lines all speak to my take on the colorfulness and vast array of personality that oozes from the punks, outcasts, rejects, geeks, freaks, and everyone in between whom this movement fosters. My style is very shape-based and involves collaging materials from multiple sources that ultimately become one design. An abstracted face with my initials “Z.S.” camouflaged in the background creates the overall design with the phrase “The Future Is Afro And Punk” below. The incorporation of hand sewn thread is a new addition to my style that I wanted to experiment with. I am happy with the outcome and I hope to experiment in this way again in the future. 

John: Where did you grow up and what were your first experiences of art?

Zharia: My childhood and early stages of my life were mostly rooted in parts of Florida, and California.

Art has always been with me since I can remember. I was constantly drawing on something. A piece of paper and a pencil was all I needed and I would still be where you left me, drawing for hours on end. My mother loves to recount a day when I was little where I came up to her when she was working and told her, “Mommy, I am an artist.” She said she knew then and there, I was telling her who I am and that has never changed. 

A lot of my art experiences were at pubic school and art institutions during the summer at the Academy of Art University. My craft didn’t become more than a passion until high school, when I made the decision to apply to art school. The way that I currently work and collage did not come into fruition until the later years of my undergrad at Rhode Island School of Design, with the support of my instructors and peers. 

John: You’ve been an art instructor as well yourself, yes? What has that been like? Do you think of that as a natural outgrowth of being an artist?

Zharia: My instructor experience has been very informal and I’m realizing over the years that I think this type of education is what I enjoy the most so far. From the role of an art camp counselor to collage workshop instructor, I have learned much more about not only being an educator but a student. It is a role that truly takes someone who wants to leave a situation better than they left it. Someone that wants change, both in their classroom and in themselves. Education will do that to you, and I look forward to immersing myself in more educational roles down the line. 

Attending RISD and other art institutions has shown me that not only are there countless ways to receive education and knowledge, but to educate, you first need to understand your audience. Just like an artist should try and understand who their art is touching, so should an educator understand their student and how to better reach them. 

John: Earlier this year you had an exhibition in Vienna. How did that come about and what was the experience like?

Fabric Lineage: Marta’s Empathy (Edition 4/4) by Zharia Shinn

Fabric Lineage: Marta’s Empathy (Edition 4/4) by Zharia Shinn

Zharia: I honestly do not know where to start with answering this question. I could go on and on about Vienna but I will try to keep it short. 

In the months leading to graduation, I was approached by the Canadian illustrator Peter Diamond based in Vienna to be a part of a group exhibition of 16 illustrators called “Go West!”. The goal of the show was to bring American illustration to Vienna in hopes to create a larger conversation surrounding the importance and integrity of this tool of communication. Furthermore, showcasing the many facets, and varied visual culture coming out of the states was a piece of the puzzle as well. Another illustrator and myself were the only artists straight out of school so having pieces in a line up of story tellers who are renowned and highly qualified was intimidating, to say the least. But remembering that my work stood with theirs was one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive being so new to illustration myself. I appreciate what Peter Diamond saw in my work and I plan to have others see it too. 

My works from the series “Fabric Lineage” were included in the show, accompanied by fabric swatches used to create the series in 2016. In addition, I had the privilege to be able to help with press of the show, give a small speech at the opening, and create and instruct a collage workshop hosted at Designaustria. 

Designaustia, housed inside of the MuseumQuartier, made a lot of this possible and having the chance to be in such an incredibly creative place such as Vienna, Austria is something I will never forget. This trip was also my first time being outside of the county so I look forward to expanding my horizons and making more memories outside of the states. 

John: There is one clear element you share with a number of the artists you have referenced as influences (such as Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas) which is a strong use of pattern in portraiture. What does pattern mean to you in the context of portraiture?

Zharia: Pattern is one of the many tools I use in my abstracted portraits to get my message across. As I experiment with it over the years, I’ve leaned that it can be useful in distorting what the eye sees and redirecting a focus. Every pattern tends to have the same level of “importance’ and works on the same plane field in pieces of mine. I like to use it as an alternative to color and a way to break up the surface to bring life and tactility to the flatness created in my portraits. In more symbolic terms, pattern is also a chance for me to abstract the way we see something so familiar to us, such as the human face. 

Awards of Excellence by Zharia Shinn

John: Euan Uglow is also an artist you’ve mentioned as an influence. On the surface his work seems quite different, but I get a sense that both his use of color and the very constrained, intentional backgrounds or contexts of his nude portraits may have been a point of contact. Am I way off?

Zharia: Euan Uglow is a loose influence of mine because of my introduction to him during my foundation lessons of oil painting at RISD. I admire the way he breaks up the human body in geometric shapes of colors and its slight gradients. In the same vein, I have found ways to abstract the human face in my own way with organic shapes. His use of restrained color is also phenomenal and I am inspired to experiment with how I use color in expressive ways too. 

John: One of your works I really love is Fabric Lineage. Can you tell me more about the women depicted as well as your choice of fabric to create the piece?

Zharia: It all started with my liberal arts course, “Black Female Body”, taught by Bolaji Campbell I took a few years ago. One of our lectures focused on the history of quilting and the fascinating role African-American women had in it’s sustain- ability and life long craftsmanship. Traditionally sold and created for white households, slave quilters rarely had the opportunity to create personal quilts for themselves. They collected scraps of fabric and materials that were discard- ed and sewed elaborate designs for personal use and necessity.

I was in awe of these accounts of history I never knew before and began personal research and exploration into this art form. This birthed my interest in collaging portraits of the women in my family out of found materials and discarded fabrics a few years back. Each portrait was a collection of designs, colors, and textures I deemed suitable in describing each member; Big Mama (great grandmother), Mom, Laura (cousin), Marta (step-mother). Created in that order, Marta was the last of the Fabric Lineage Series, where I grew comfortable in this experimental approach.

Elevating black women through materials seen as mundane and unattractive spurred a conversation that was new and engaging to me. The importance of this notion is one of admiration, awareness, and acknowledgment. Admiration of the role these women have had in my life, showing me what strength truly looks like. Awareness of black history and what my people are capable of, even through the worst possible circumstances. Acknowledgment of the hardships my ancestors and black people today go through, trying to heal piece by piece. Tackling such a dark past is never easy but creating this therapeutic series pushed me to reach deeper into subject matter that I am very passionate about.

The Fabric Lineage was the beginning of a major change in my artistic style, voice and reason “why?”

John: How essential is color to your work? Could you survive if you were forced into blue or grey period of your own?

Zharia: The erratic use of color is a distinctive quality to my expression and ultimate style of collage. Although my work is anything but, I really admire minimalism and works that are limited and restrained. Creating pieces that are emotional with color, and yet disciplined in how they come together is something I am very interested in. The use of color is admittedly unpredictable, but there is a method to my madness. 

from Electric Soul (Kendrick Lamar “LOVE” Tribute) by Zharia Shinn (Digital)

John: Afrofuturism may be something a lot of readers aren’t aware of, although they probably know Tribe, Kendrick Lamar, and the recent Black Panther filmWhat has been your interest in and connection to it?

Zharia: Afrofuturism is a “philosophy of science…and history that explores the developing intersection of African culture and technology.” The major aspects of this movement celebrate and explore black culture, African roots, technology, and innovation. Names that come to mind when I think of this movement are Sun Ra, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, and Octavia E. Butler. My fascination with Afrofutursim started a few years back in a course I took during college about the relationship between racism and location. Ever since, I have grown interest in consuming media that investigates empowering philosophies such as these. 

John: How do you think stereotypes can be used (rather than denied) in conversation about our differences? Is it a constructive tool, or one to dismantle? Or maybe both?

Zharia: Stereotypes, positive or negative, will always be a narrow view that do not show the whole picture of a group. They are dangerous tools that people constantly face and subconsciously or consciously try to counteract, and at times, feed into. I believe it’s important to acknowledge stereotypes, understand how they undermine a said group, find ways to subvert them in conversations, and ultimately empower, not disfranchise. A simple way to start is to do personal research, ask questions, and listen. Gaining personal knowledge of a group that you are referring to or in conversation with will always foster understanding, which can help disrupt violence from ignorance. 

John: If you had to state it in one sentence, why are you an artist?

Zharia: I am an artist because this is my soul purpose on this Earth, and God gave me this gift for reasons bigger than myself. 

John: Part of the larger woven pattern of the universe…

You can connect with Zharia through her official website as well as Instagram.

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How to Patent a New Product

In the early stages of coming up with the idea of the DrawBag, I needed to learn about the US patent process. This included initial research into prior patents and then the drafting of both a provisional application to patent and a later design patent.

Although having read alot of useful information available online, I ultimately decided to pay for consultation as it would my first time to draft and submit a patent application. To find a suitable consultant, I used the freelancer website Upwork and eventually settled on the very generous and professional Brad Muise, Ph.d.

As part of a series of blog interviews with individuals who helped me learn and launch the DrawBag in 2017, I recently messaged back and forth with Brad to talk about patents and the process we went through during the summer of 2017.


John: Hey Brad. So how long have you been freelancing on Upwork, and what services do you provide?

Brad: I have been freelancing on Upwork for several years now. I enjoy it very much. I work with inventors like yourself everyday and assist them through the innovation trail.  I do everything from concept sketches, 3D computer modeling, prototype development, 3D printing, CNC machining, patents, sell sheets and more.

John: What’s your experience been like using Upwork?

Brad: Upwork has been great. At first I thought it was not viable, but over time the work started to grow and as my rating improved the work become more available and more exciting. It seems to be the future of work so I feel very fortunate to be on the platform now.

John: So you helped me in the very early stages of the DrawBag, before I’d done a first manufacturing run or even fully revised the design. I think I had a first prototype done back then. What did you think of my design when I approached you?

Brad: Your skill set tends to be above most of my clients who have no patent experience. You seem to be very artistic and captured your idea well because you can draw. Plus you were very focused in how you perceived your idea. Which was also a great idea by the way.

John: Thanks! I remember you being super-supportive during those early days as I was still figuring it all out. Like me in  those early days, there may be others who are confused about the differences between a design, utility, and provisional application to patent. Can you explain those briefly?

Brad: There are a lot of perceptions surrounding patents. The simple story is that the utility patent protects functions and the design patent protects the external shape. Provisional patents are not exactly protection, rather they are a place holder for the utility patent. Once the utility is approved it gets backdated to the provisional. Its my understanding that no one goes to do battle in court with provisional, but having the ‘patent pending’ status it provides can intimidate copy cats until the utility is completed.

John: What was the most interest patent you worked on?

Brad: I am not allowed to discuss my patents but the most interesting ones tend to involve drones and internet of things. There is a great deal going on in these arenas. It’s always interesting to gain insights into the future and working with inventors is kind of like a crystal ball.

John: Still speaking generally, what about some really odd ones you’ve come across?

Brad: Military inventions are difficult to get through the patent office. Not sure why this is, but Im sure there are more stringent issues related to these that we may not even be aware of.

John: Although you aren’t a patent lawyer, you have a lot of experience researching and writing patents. How did that happen, and what advice would you give to a small startup who needs to consider the patent process but doesn’t have a lot of money to put into a patent lawyer for research or writing?

Brad: Anyone can write and submit a patent. The USPTO states it directly on their website. For simple inventions I always encourage my clients to submit the documents themselves. The provisional patents are much simpler than the utility patents and writing a summary of the invention according to the rules setup by the USPTO should be within everyone’s reach. If the invention is very complex and someone is seeking a utility patent, its best to have someone with experience involved. The lexicon of the utility patent can be very confusing and the claims language can be down right weird. But its all written in a very defensive manner so it tends to break all the rules of grammar and sentence structure you learned in school.

John: Yeah, I remember that when I read one of your first drafts of a patent for me. I was like, “Does this guy even know how to write?? This sounds bonkers in several places.” I guess Grammarly can’t really be applied to patent writing at this stage.

Let’s talk about patent figures (drawings). How good of an artist does one need to be to submit these? Would you recommend a small startup pay for a patent artist to do these?

Patent Drawing For The 1906 Wright Brothers Flying Machine.

Brad: The figures do need to be clear. The USPTO will reject any figures with shading and colors so it is good to find someone with CAD engineering experience. I was a CAD operator when I was young so I’m fortunate to be able to write well and generate good figures.

John: As I learned more about the patent process, as well as protection of patents, I realized it may not always be in one’s best interest to patent a design. Countering potential infringement is not necessarily easy, and what specifically is protected by a patent is also up for interpretation by the USPTO and according to how the patent is written. Do you have any “rules of thumb” about how to determine if a patent is right for a product or not?

Brad: This is a very good question. Not everything needs a patent. Certainly conducting a search of prior patents is the least you should do before you jump into an invention so as not to step on anyone’s toes. The patent office does not protect anyone per se, it’s merely a library of sorts – protection is your attorney’s job. So if you see another patent with your idea and are looking for a battle, then you need to have deep pockets. Patentability is about risk – there is always overlap between patents, and how much overlap you find acceptable with your invention can only be answered by you as the inventor. It’s always about risk.

John: If there’s someone looking to patent an idea and they would like to get in touch with you for support, what’s the best way?

Brad: They can contact me on Upwork here.

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Track Light Interview #7—> Derek Brown (South Africa)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with South African mixed media artist and illustrator Derek Brown.

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John: So, Derek, where did you grow up and where do you now call home?

Derek: I grew up and still live in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

John: Tell us a bit about that.

Derek: Jozi is wonderful. You have to be on your toes but it’s a beautiful place with awesome people and even better weather. Growing up here has been amazing and continues to teach me about who I am as a person in relation to our dynamic culture.

Graffiti in particular has taken a big step up in its quality in Johannesburg. There’s so much talent out on the streets and I’m honored to be a part of this really special thing being cultivated down here even if it’s only a small part for the moment.

Graffiti by Derek Brown.

John: From your Instagram account, it looks you do a bit of motocross, yeah? South Africa has a history of some top riders, including DH mountain bikers, which I really dig.

Derek: I agree, South Africa knows how to produce a classy champion or two. My brother Barry and I grew up riding and racing bikes and still try get out as much as possible. I’m more into the mountain biking and jumpers these days and having crazy fun thanks to the foundations motocross gave me.

Sasolburg Saturday, photo montage taken by Derek Brown.

Tabletop tail-whip in Johannesburg; photo taken by Derek Brown.

Unfortunately, my free time is limited because I’ve recently taken a fantastic tangent in my career, moving away from multimedia and graphic design into 3D industrial design alongside my brother in our company, Tim Mabel Design. I’m also doing original art projects and commissions as much as I can between the day-to-day work. 

Balance in life is key I believe… I refuse to have my time filled only with work. Physical activities like motocross and mountain bike riding (and hiking and building on hillsides for trails and jumps), boxing and more recently, carpentry and metal work all help me have fun, release stress and think differently allowing me to express myself in new and different ways.

John: Do you travel much for work or leisure? Any favorite places in the world?

Derek: I wish I could travel more for either. It’s a goal of mine to work overseas with my art. I can’t pick a favorite place in the world, but I will let you know when I find it. Holidays are proper luxuries these days but looking forward to one soon. Regardless of what I am doing though, I almost always have a pen and paper with me. Or my camera.

“This Time Last Year It Was Bad” doodle by Derek Brown.

John: I’m going to recommend Queenstown, New Zealand for some MTB and MX….

Derek: Sounds good. I also hear Canada has some super cool riding.

John: Absolutely. So your style is rather unique– it feels like a bit of biro and notebook scribbles plus street art. How has it developed over time? When did you get started?

Derek: I’ve had the odd notebook full of scribbles, so you got me there. My dad taught me to draw cartoons when I was really young and I haven’t put down a pen since. I studied multimedia design and also had the very fortunate luck to have an excellent art mentor for a number of years, too.

“Piece Of Escape” mixed media on paper.

“Snake Wrestling” acrylic and ink on paper.

John: Where do your inspirations come from?

Derek: My process of art-making is to have lots of fun and ultimately enjoy what I’m producing. Simply trying to do the best I can with what’s available at the time. Learning is a big part too. Everyday. About myself and the way I produce and channel my creativity. Unless I’m being paid or have a passion for a piece, I scrap or shelve work very quickly if the energy fades.

I have an amazing bunch of close people (family and mates) from whom I draw inspiration and direction. Most of them are successful creatives in their own right so we have similar mindsets and the ideas flow openly. I find strangers serve well for unexpected insights and then finally, opportunities to work with exciting new people like yourself on projects like the DrawBag has been so cool and really motivating.

 

“The Wiener Dog Confrontation” mixed media on upcycled cardboard.

Up-cycling and re-purposing are always a bonus… I’m a big fan of a waste-free world. I hate to ignore the potential to transform something most would considered as scrap or trash into a contemporary work. Creation is my aim, what it’s achieved with is negotiable.

John: Favorite artist?

Derek: Picking a favorite is difficult… I enjoy different things at different times. But Pablo Picasso would be one of my favorites. I dig his style. To me, his simple illustrations are beautifully unforced.

John: And who or what do you make art for?

Derek: In the past, I created art mostly for myself as it came very naturally to me. It was an organic practice… I was always drawing and thinking on concepts. Now, I have a more considered approach to making art for people and businesses who value the work I’m producing and are interested in the various applications that it can be executed on, in, or for. And then still for myself when I get the chance… I also love hitting up a dirty wall with some fresh cans or rollers or simply getting the camera out and shooting what’s in front of me.

John: Where did your design for your DrawBag come from? Is it something like a stream on consciousness or are there some intentional, hidden messages in there?

Derek: I had no idea how it was going to turn out when I started. The content defines itself as I work. There are definitely some deeper meanings to some of it… I drew this during a time when I was starting to find some balance in my life and focus on a new direction.

John: I think alot of artists work this way, at least from time to time. It can be difficult to trust that the work will in some ways become apparent without forcing or deciding early in the process, right? But that’s where alot of great ideas and work ultimately can come from. 

So, if anyone wants to connect with you, what’s the best way?

Derek: Feel free to hit me up on Instagram @derekbrownart or drop me an email: helloderekbrown@gmail.com

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Track Light Interview #6—> Sune Nesu (Mexico)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Mexican painter and street artist Antonio Emmanuel Hernández Torres (Sune Nesu).

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John: Hey, Sune. So, is “Sune Nesu” your real name? It sounds like a combination of the four letters E-N-S-U in two different ways.

Sune: Hi, friends! No, Sune Nesu is not my real name. It’s exactly what you say… a combination of letters in two different ways that I liked and that looked good in graffiti. I liked how it sounds. My real name is Antonio Emmanuel Hernández Torres. 

John: How many years have you been painting?

Sune: I’ve been painting since I was quite young. I first started doing graffiti and public murals in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I started doing it more seriously. It was then that I decided I wanted to devote myself fully to the world of art.

John: Where did you learn to paint? Did you receive any formal training at school or elsewhere?

Sune: I always say that I learned to paint in the hospital. I say this because at the age of eight I was suffering from chronic renal failure, and this caused me to stay for long periods in the hospital. The way I entertained myself at that time was painting. By the way, I currently have a kidney transplant that my father gave me and I have been healthy by the grace of God for sixteen years now. 

Regarding school instruction– I studied Visual Arts at the Artistic Initiation School #3 of the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), and I also took a number of free art workshops in my city.

A wall mural painted by Sune Nesu outside INBA.

John: Your work often seem to focus on animals, or combinations of different animals together, with wild colors and patterns. The DrawBag you painted is done in this style as well. How did you start painting in this way?

Sune: This style originated from my love for animals. Apart from painting, what I love most is learning more about animals. I love watching documentaries about them.

The idea of combination arose one day during a trip with my family to the state of Veracruz in Mexico. I found myself in a landscape with many trees and different types of animals. I remember that I was carrying my sketchbook with me, and I simply started to make my very first drawing that mixed together all the animals that I saw that day. From then on, my style was defined and I was able to continue creating more and more fantastic animals.

John: How does your Mexican culture or heritage influence your artwork?

Sune: My culture and Mexican heritage has helped me a lot in regard to my artwork developing. People who see my style of combining different creatures often say that these fantastic animals are alebrijes. 

The alebrijes are 100% Mexican handcrafts created by the artisan Pedro Linares López originally in 1936, and the alebrijes have been a great inspiration for my own art. The many legends and stories of my country have also had a strong influence on my art, as well as its different locations and landscapes.

Alebrijes from the Museum of African, Oceanic, and American Indian Art (MAAOA) in Marseille, France.

Artisan Pedro Linares López fashioning alebrijes.

Alebrijes at the Pochote Market in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

John: That’s interesting because Pedro Linares discovered the alebrijes when he was also very sick and began to have visions. Do you see any spiritual or mystical meaning behind your animals?

Sune: Yes, I know… this connection with Linares is very interesting and inspiring for me! The meaning that I would give to my fantastic animals is that we live in a world that I must fill with colors– these creations have made me strong in my difficult moments, and it is a gift that God has given me to use in order to paint the whole world.

John: Do you work with other artists in Mexico?

Sune: Yes, of course I have collaborated with other artists from Mexico. Although recently, I have been working mostly on my own.

John: What else do you do when you’re not painting… or learning more about animals?

Sune: Even though I spend most of my time creating art, I like to do different things, too. Maybe I’m kind of weird. I love reading comics, playing video games, going out with my family, and going out with my friends…

John: Well, that sounds pretty normal to me, haha. So how can people see more of your work or get in touch with you, Sune?

Sune: You can contact me through either Facebook or Instagram.

I’d like to thank you very much for allowing me to be part of the One World Artist Gallery and share a bit of my artistic life through this interview. I’d also like to send a message to people that if they are going through a difficult time in their life or believe that their dreams are unattainable– fight for those dreams and always trust in God. He will always have an answer for you.

Thank you very much.

John: Thank you, Sune!


(Alebrijes at the Pochote Market in the city of Oaxaca by N Saum is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

(MAAOA-Alebrijes by Rvalette is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

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Track Light Interview #5—> Sirock (Mexico)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Mexican street painter Angel Huerta Flores (Sirock).

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John: Hey, Angel! So first, tell us how you took the name “Sirock”.

Angel: Sirock was a nickname first created when I first started making graffiti six years ago. Over the years it’s evolved a bit.

 

John: Now, apart from your street painting, you’re actually a scientist, aren’t you?

Angel: Yes, I’m also an engineer in Biotechnology. I’m very passionate about science and technology and I like to read scientific articles about current events when I have free time.

John: So, how has your painting style developed since you really began with it in earnest six years ago?

Angel: At the beginning I leaned more towards graffiti since I was in an group of friends that were all graffiti artists, but little by little I learned more forms of expression. Out of that exploration came my interest in caricature and illustration.

A mural painted by Sirock at Balcones de Santa Anita, Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Mexico.

John: Do you remember the first wall you painted?

Angel: Yes, it was near my house. I made it in the morning before going to high school… it was just some graffiti using my name Sirock.

John: Did you get formal art training from school or somewhere else?

Angel: My art techniques are mostly self-taught. Sometimes I attended a workshop where I could learn approaches to to making murals, but for the most part I’ve just learned by doing.

a wall mural painted by Sirock in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

John: And which artists have influenced you the most in your own work?

Angel: There were several artists who inspired me to lean towards caricature during that time of development. Some of them were locals from Guadalajara (where I live), while others were national and international artists. Some of the most influential to me are Smithe from Mexico City, as well as GR170 from Spain and Bué The Warrior from Belgium.

Wall mural by GR170 “We are 99%” in Gdynia, Poland.

 

Wall mural by Bué the Warrior in Ghent, Belgium.

John: Yeah… I can see that connection stylistically especially in the last two. I think there’s something in that vintage/retro cartoon style from the 1950s that has a playful, joyous vibe to it in your work as well as theirs.

Do you think a more playful approach to drawing (such as cartoons and caricature) can sometimes communicate better than a very serious or realistic approach?

A wall mural painted by Sirock in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Mexico.

Angel: Yeah, I think that cartoons will always be a good way of communicating information to the public since they can be understood in an instant by anyone.

John: Recently you painted a wall mural in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, during the time of an election. Unfortunately it was painted over for a political ad. That was just a coincidence, right? Is any of your work political in nature?

A mural by Sirock is painted over by a political ad.

Angel: Yes, that was just a coincidence. There wasn’t enough space on the wall for both! My work rarely talks about politics. My work is more focused on joy, good times, and culture.

John: And what about sports… How do you feel Mexico did in this World Cup?

Angel: Well, I didn’t expect much from Mexico… we are better at other sports like basketball!

John: At least you made it to the cup this year! So, how can someone get in contact with you?

Angel: My official Facebook page is a good place to see my work and contact me.


(Bue The Warrior by Jurriaan Persyn is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

(Gdynia – mural “We Are 99%” by GR170 by Andrzej Otrębski is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Track Light Interview #4—> Jade Beale-Linklater (New Zealand)

sketching at the beach

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with Kiwi illustrator, designer, and educator Jade Beale-Linklater.

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John: Hey Jade! Congratulations to you and your husband on the birth of your son, Quinn. How are you managing being a mother and an artist these days?

Jade: Thank you! Funny you should ask. When I was pregnant I asked a friend whether I would be able to continue with my art once our baby came. I realize now that was a silly question!

Art-making has simply become stop-start, stop-start since giving birth. Most of it is done late at night when I should be preparing for Quinn’s wake-ups. And during the day, now that Quinn is moving, he likes to be a part of work himself… as the materials-eater, ha ha.

Jade & baby Quinn.

John: An unpaid assistant! Nice. So tell us about your life there in New Zealand.

Jade: Just to clarify… New Zealand is a separate country from Australia.

John: Ha.

Jade: And yes, we have TVs here. We don’t wear grass skirts. And yes… there are lots of sheep!

John: Okay, we got all that out of the way, ha ha. So you are from the North Island?

Jade: Yes. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Tokoroa, which is a town in the centre of the North Island. It’s close to the mountains, lakes, and beaches, and is known for forestry, farming, and a pulp & paper mill, coincidentally.

A view of Tokoroa from Colson Hill Lookout

So much talent comes from Tokoroa. In particular, a huge amount of professional sportsmen and women. And of course, awesome artists! But I now live in windy Wellington, as my husband is teaching at a Catholic boy’s school here. It’s a pretty cool place with a real artsy vibe.

John: Let’s talk about your art and design work. To me, your work is very intricate and ordered… and very calming. Is that at all reflective of your personality or temperament?

Jade: Yeah, I think I’m pretty cruisy and calm (sometimes perhaps too calm!) and that comes through in my work. I’m definitely not very organized, though. I do try to be neat, now with baby Quinn here. But my art doesn’t usually have an intended outcome.

 

John: So not organized in the sense of you knowing exactly what the finished design is going to be?

Jade: Yeah. I kinda just start, wing it, and hope for the best. Lots of happy accidents occur and I usually end up with a beautiful mess! At times I will regret a mark I’ve made, but it’s a challenge to try and fix it.

John: That’s why you gotta get an iPad.

 

Jade: As the patterns are so detailed, some pieces take me quite a long time. At times I’ve spent several hours to then just decide I can’t stand a piece and will put it away for months. But then I’ll pick it up again down the track and go from there. In a completely different head space, I’ll create something pretty cool… only several months later! I think this is pretty normal? Is it?

John: Sure! There’s no real definition for what’s normal. And when did you start drawing? Do you remember your earliest interests in it?

Jade: My mum told me that as a young kid I wasn’t so interested in reading, because I couldn’t really keep still. But when there was the option to draw, I would sit still for hours and doodle. As a teenager, I would sit on the phone for hours and doodle like this.

I remember really starting to love art at intermediate (middle school), when I was asked to be in Extension Art (which is an advanced class). The art room was my happy place at school and I realized that I was most relaxed there. I’ve never been naturally gifted, academically speaking, so I had to work really hard in all areas. But in Art class I could just go with the flow and not worry about getting it right or wrong.

John: What other artists have influenced you over time?

Jade: Growing up in New Zealand and in Tokoroa, which is such a multi cultural community, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of artists growing up. I especially loved Maori and Pacific artists and lots of my senior research and folio works were based on artists such as Robyn Kahukiwa (Maori), John Pule (Niuean), and Fatu Feu’u (Samoan). We have such incredible artists throughout New Zealand, and I was a big appropriator of their work.

“Savage Island Hiapo” by Niuean artist John Pule.

 

Woodcut in a series by Samoan artist Joshua Bashford.

John: Yeah, your work actually reminds me of Josh Bashford’s. He was a student of Fatu Feu’u, I believe.

Jade: There are some amazing Maori artists who visually represent Maori culture though their art. We’ve grown up visiting the Marae (meeting house) where traditional painted and carved symbols surround us. Ta Moko (traditional tattoo) is another beautiful representation of Maori tradition. Growing up, we often saw Maori symbols, particularly Kowhaiwhai (Maori patterning) which is how we learned about the different symbols.

Ta moko– traditional Maori tattoo.

Two examples are koru, which is a symbol of a fern frond, and hei matau, which is a fish hook. I bring symbols such as these into my own art, but with a contemporary twist.

Koru necklace.

 

Hei matau necklace.

 

John: You’re still managing to do some commissioned work these days when not mommy-ing and teaching?

Jade: Yes, I am. Thanks for the plug. Anyone can see my work and reach me on Facebook if interested.

John: You’ve been an educator for some time; that’s actually how we first met in China when I was teaching Drama and you were teaching Visual Art. What’s the value of art or creativity in education, do you think?

Jade: I believe it’s so important to give children the time to explore and create. Growing up in New Zealand, we were so blessed to have had opportunities at school to play and to think for ourselves. We were taught the basics of art, but we were given the freedom to follow our interests and just go for it. We were given a “skeleton” guide, and a variety of ideas, and support, and lots of discussion… but ultimately it was our choice to create our own unique art.

Teaching in China a few years ago, I really had to work hard to get the local Chinese high school students to think for themselves and to make the shift away from copying…  to get them to inquire and not to worry if they made “mistakes” because it’s all part of learning and a mistake can be a good thing.

When we moved from Guangzhou to Beijing, I was teaching Grades 3 and 4, and I absolutely loved it! There were no walls up, they were such sponges who were interested in everything I had to show them and really went all out to create the coolest art without any worry about what others were thinking.

How can we do this with teens and adults?