Tagged: women in the arts

Schoolin’ Life: Gisele Jobateh

In the final installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator Gisele Jobateh.

Gisele Jobateh

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
Being a queer person of colour society left me feeling generally negative about myself. Add on to that a bunch of body image issues and it was a rough couple of decades for me. My skills were usually questioned or downplayed, as well as my intelligence. Thankfully, I did get to meet some people who helped me through these stigmas: high school teachers and the few long lasting friends that made sure I knew I was valued.

What was your first job like?
It was fast-paced and tiring. I worked as a camp assistant for local art summer camps for children. But this summer job did teach me patience, to an extent, as well as being around minds that engaged with things with complete earnestness and interest (if you could keep their attention on the task at hand, of course).

In what ways did your friendships change?
Over time, I stopped making friendships based on social survival and instead on actual common interests. The amount of abusive friends I had diminished greatly when I started to recognize my worth and dropped anyone who tried to diminish it in my eyes through “playful” bullying and name calling, especially of the racial kind.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I learned that I don’t like cis men, and that I am decidedly gay. Also, that I would rather be alone than with someone who I didn’t like out of some sort of romantic necessity.

How did your relationships with your family change?
I’ve become a little more open to understanding them and recognizing that they have their own private lives. As I grew up, I saw them more as individuals who are learning and growing themselves, instead of as a unit that I was also a part of. I am still close to my family, but there’s also a comfortable distance between us.

How do you feel society viewed you?
Generally negatively, considering the demographics I am a part of. I feel you can gauge your place in society based on how grating you find advertisements, and I’m pretty much the mirror image of the kind of customers most corporations want to appeal to, especially since I no longer desire to change myself to fit that image.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think I’ve become calmer. I still have bad days where I get anxious, but it’s no longer to the point that I’m incapacitated by it. I also like to think I’ve matured emotionally.

How did you change intellectually?
I’ve shifted away from book smarts and more towards people smarts. I’ve gotten better at interacting with people socially, sometimes even volunteering to meet new people and even do public speaking. In the past, I’d much rather be the person doing the behind the scenes work, mainly research, or nothing at all, just watching and learning.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
In many ways. I feel more self-confident, as much as the world around me tries to bring me down. I’ve gotten out of the habit of asking for permission to seek out my ambitions and happiness.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
As much as my inner confidence has grown, my confidence with the outer world has diminished. I feel slightly more jaded than I did when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I still have some hope for the future, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the people in power got their power by cheating, and they will keep it with more cheating. It’s frustrating to think about.

Who was your biggest influence and why?
There wasn’t just one influence on my life or my drive towards success. My mom is a big one, of course. I’ve known her all my life, and although we’ve had a couple of rough patches, I still see her as an inspiration.

My former Media Studies teacher from back in high school, who taught me the foundations of critical thinking, was also a big influence. Her classroom was always open and she let me hang out in it during lunch because I preferred quiet, secluded places to eat. She leant me a lot of books and even gave me a couple, believing in my intelligence. I would return most of them thoroughly read and we would have short book club meetings about them.

And then there was my high school English teacher, who was a black woman and helped me connect better with one half of my race. She taught me about the past and present civil rights movements, and although I didn’t understand the importance of these lessons at the time, looking back she gave me a very important foundation upon which I am now building myself up.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I often tweet about my regret of going to university at all and wasting all that money on tuition, considering that I’ve been developing a skill that can be self taught and is my main source of income. But even though I feel silly for sinking 30K and 5 years of my life into two degrees, I can’t fully regret it, considering it is what has made me the person I am today. I like what I had become.

Schoolin’ Life: Ariel Ries

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet animator Ariel Ries.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a 21-year-old animation student by day, creator of the webcomic “Witchy” by night. I’m from Australia but I’m into my second year of living and studying in Denmark at the moment. In all likelihood, I’ll be living here for another two years.  I draw a lot, watch cartoons a lot, and cook a lot.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

My 9 year (number of years until I’m 30) plan at the moment is: finish school, get a storyboarding job in LA, live there for somewhere between 2-5 years, either build a big enough audience that I can just make comics and live off my patreon, or be well known enough that I can get a steady stream of freelance and move back to my hometown, Melbourne, Australia (while working on comics on the side!). Hopefully it’ll work out.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Most of my personality crisis happened in my late teens. I was a mixed, white/Southeast Asian confused about my sexuality and how I should label myself in a whole bunch of ways. I had an athletic, bulky body, brown skin, and a big chin, and the only Asian women I ever saw in media were wispy, pale-skinned east asians. many people told me I wasn’t “Asian enough” but my appearance prevented me from ever feeling “white enough” or “feminine enough,” too. Learning about intersectional feminism has helped me so much. Learning about the social constructs of gender has helped me shed doubt about myself and learn to be proud of every part of myself, be it queer, Asian, masculine, or feminine.

I’m thankful that I never had to have this same problems with my career goals. I’ve been interested in art since I was 8 and my parents supported me wholeheartedly in my ambitions. I’m friends with a lot of people with very healthy views about art, authenticity, and the toxic opinions about artists held by people both inside and outside the animation industry.

What was your first job like?

My first long-ish term job was at an art supply chain store, and it was like working for Big Brother. The head office would send in people disguised as shoppers to spy on us, we had to up-sell everything, and we went through about 1 manager every 6 weeks because the bosses blamed the company’s performance on the workers, rather than, say, bad business decisions. We had to stalk everyone in the shop and ask if they needed any help constantly. It was definitely aggravating for the customers, but it was part of the business’s employee protocol. I hated a lot of it, but at least it taught me how to talk to strangers!

What was your first apartment like?

I’m still living in my first apartment and hearing horror stories from other people makes me feel blessed about the roommates I share it with. Rural(ish) Denmark is a great place to have a first apartment because you have easy access to cute furniture and all the apartments are super charming.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Well, I uprooted my entire life in Australia to study in Denmark, so that’s a pretty big one. I do occasionally feel homesick, and I do miss my friends and family a lot, but my friends here are cool too and I consider myself a pretty well adapted expat. the fact that everyone here speaks perfect English makes living here a lot easier.

If all goes to plan too, I’ll be living in LA in a few years. I visited LA earlier this year and I’m not gonna lie, I don’t love it, but I have good friends there and at least you can actually get good Asian food, which is almost non-existent in Denmark.

In what ways did your friendships change?

It’s very hard maintaining long distance friendships, especially when you have at least 10 friends that you wish you could keep in contact with. The time zone in Denmark is almost the reverse of Melbourne time, so I can only Skype people on the weekends, and there’s only about 5 hours in which I can call people! It blows. That’s not to say all my friends have forgotten about me, when I was back home in the summer everything with my best friends clicked perfectly back into place, so I’m lucky that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could be there for my friends though.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Since I’ve moved out, it’s a lot easier to deal with my mother. She’s super dependent on me and my sister for self-worth, and I think having both of us out of the house will help her to find fulfillment and self-worth elsewhere. so, less of a relationship change, more of a dynamic change. I think me and my dad’s relationship  has improved actually. I probably talk to him more now that i set aside an hour a week to talk to him and mum. he’s worked 9-6 my whole life so I didn’t see much of him when I was back home. hopefully our relationships will continue to head along this path!

As for my sister, I think we’ll just miss each other. we get along super well but we’re both busy people and that’s hard when you’re 30 hours apart.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

i don’t know how much my worldview will change in the next decade. When you’re a world builder, you naturally learn a lot about economics, people, and the structure of societies. I take a vested interest in social justice and the progression of humanity. I’m cautiously optimistic about our ability to overcome the climate crisis, the cannibalistic nature of capitalism as we know it, and the bigotry of the privileged. I only hope that in time I will become more optimistic, not pessimistic.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Thankfully, I haven’t arrived at this point yet, but I just assume it will be something job related.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I can’t say he’ll remain my biggest influence, but we had a teacher last year named Mike Nguyen. I’ve always valued being sincere in my work, and when he lectured us on the importance of authenticity when creating something, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. He told us that as long as our art is honest, it will resonate with others. Hearing an industry veteran say something like that helped me believe there was a place for someone with sensibilities like mine.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I mean, I’m still kind of hoping that one day a talking animal is going to give me a magic wand and tell me I’m a magical girl, but I’ve seen enough anime to know how that can go wrong.

Dame of the Day: Atena Farghadani

Atena Farghadani

Today’s Dame of the Day is Atena Farghadani (January 29, 1987-). This artist and political activist always combined illustration with critique, but one of her cartoonist offended the Iranian government and landed her in jail for three months. After her release, she posted a video explaining the cruel treatment she received in the Iranian prison system. In January 2015, Farghadani was arrested again and sentenced to roughly 12 years in prison. While Amnesty International took up her case, the Iranian government continues to charge her with further infractions.

Schoolin’ Life: Crystal Skillman

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we catch up with playwright and screenwriter Crystal Skillman.

crystal skillman

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

You know, as an artist I just thought I’d create the work and it would get done. But I also didn’t really know if I was a good artist. I thought I did, but in the 20s, you just have no confidence, you know? I mean, it’s hard enough to figure out how to make dinner on your own (I ate beans and rice for a loonnnngg time). So I’m not sure what kind of expectations I could form. I had a lot of surprises – I had no idea that the business side of being an artist would be that difficult. I’m a playwright (though I first studied photography at Parsons School of Design). It was hard to factor in just how much networking plays in all the decisions made in getting a “greenlight”. As well, the amount of sheer momentum it takes for anything to “lift” or “live on”. That said, if I met the 20-something me right after I came out of a time machine and was like – “Man, years from now you’ll get three great NY Times reviews – and have an awesome fan base – there’s an audience that wants to see your work and who think you’re a great writer!” I would have looked that time traveler me (and I assume I’d have a fabulous helmet) and have thought I was nuts.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I’m an only child raised by a kooky set of parents from upstate NY who filled me with relentless humor and confidence. Which I needed … as I was a “geek” from when I was really young, I was pretty much made fun of until I went to college. So I learned very quickly at a young age that it was up to me to change society, and that much of society wasn’t geared to “do the right thing”. A good example is that I was made fun of on the bus in middle school. I returned home and said we have to find a solution – that wasn’t right and I wasn’t going back to school on those conditions. My mom, bless her heart, drove me to school each day. As I got older, I tried to demonstrate more as a leader by standing up for what I thought was right. Society is constructed around the idea that money is the most important thing – as artists we need money, but understand that isn’t true. I also knew that I had to stick to my guns of pursuing what I was passionate about, in order to actually make money from what I want to do. Most of society doesn’t understand that concept I’ve found! The harder part has been finding ways to make peace with reality (society). When to fight and when to be like – okay you want me to fill out this dumb form? I’ll just do that and move on. I finally have all the right forms of ID. That’s the best I can do for society…

What was your first job like?

OMG! Oh lord. This is the Way Back Machine here… I do believe it was the Just a A Buck store in the Poughkeepsie Gallery mall. I was terrible at math, so that was a job I could actually do.

What was your first apartment like?

It was a dream and the first with the love of my life, Fred Van Lente. It was in South Park Slope and had a red living room, a 50s looking kitchen, and I wrote in a little back room. We had a non-working brick fireplace. We got to fill it with crazy little things that made us happy and we had two kitties. Then a few years later, it became roach infested and a DJ moved below us who loved crystal meth so it later became Operation: Flee. Dreams only last for a moment; then you move on to the next dream!

Did you experience any big life changes?

The same as anyone else – the discovery of love, dreams coming true and being smashed and rebuilt, watching your parents grow older … learning that you can actually dress yourself to look good.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I have lots of creative friendships, as I’m always working with different teams on plays. I put my energy into those artistic friendships. I got a little traumatized by so many friends wanting “hang out” time or asking me to help them move all the time. I’m not great at hanging out. I like goals and fun! Also I like being there for important moments in people’s lives, but I’m not the friend-mover material. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings that I might not be into the same things they were. Now I feel like I’m friends with other driven, fun folk and we can return to some of those more deeper friendships. I’m kinda excited about that lately.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I actually got the chance to write about this! In the upcoming book with incredible comic book creators and writers. It’s called The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

How did your relationships with your family change?

As I got older, my parents who were awesome to me but not so nice to each other, finally found happiness again, bizarrely after my dad had a brain aneurysm. I think in that case, tragedy brought them together. They grew closer as a unit and lovey dovey.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I think this is a dangerous question. I think the goal of life is to not have this question in your head. One must keep focused on that work at hand and not think so much about others perception of you – then you do things for the wrong reasons.  

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m still a happy, bizarre, funny, blubbering mess! Depends on the day and who I meet. I used to wish I was a robot. I hated having emotions. But as I grow older I’m able to ask WHY am I feeling this way and break it down. I know I’m really sensitive and that truly no one MEANS to hurt you. I try to take this into account when I feel hurt and just look at what I can do.

How did you change intellectually?

I don’t make as many assumptions. I’m more open and try to listen more. That makes my work better and as well makes me able to understand so much more … Listening is hard work!

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I feel pretty true to who I am actually. I hope I’m a little less defensive. I also realized that I was pretty in my 20s, and I now feel confident now about my looks.  I also used to feel that I could never be athletic and now I run.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I learned that forgiveness is the hardest thing for people. And I’m happy that I’m a really big forgiver. I’m a mistake maker myself and I get it. People need kindness and to be heard. That is the greatest gift you can give. Good plays, theater, and art does that when the audience can see themselves in the work. But maybe really getting that everyone needs to be forgiven?

What was the most embarrassing moment?

SO MANY! I’ll pick the most amusing. In the 90s, I had to go for a job interview to be that pesky girl that would knock on your door and get you to support the environment. This was one summer when I was back from college. I got off in downtown Poughkeepsie, and while walking trying to find the address, looking up at the building numbers, I realized I was sinking. I had stepped into wet cement. The workers were all laughing at me. I had to come back onto the sidewalk and get hosed off. I went to the interview with DRIPPING WET SHOES. There was a PUDDLE behind me as I walked. I wondered if I should say anything. I thought, “Fuck it. I’m not saying anything.” They didn’t say anything either! I got the job.  When I realized that the job would drop you off in isolated neighborhoods by yourself for hours at a time and I almost got bitten by a dog, I decided that was not the job for me. I’m also still, happily so, a bit of a hypochondriac.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

A theater that had commissioned me seemed to be moving me along to production. Or at least in my naïve eyes. But, the point is, I felt lied to. Like really betrayed. Much time and work had gone into rewrites, etc. When I realized they weren’t going to do the play I saw two roads open up: one where I was going to keep going and find a way to enjoy life at the same time (or try) and one was pretty dark – like real anger in my heart. Bitterness. And those dark thoughts of – well what if I wasn’t here? What if I end it and let go of this journey? A few years later, a friend of mine passed away. He was young. As we laid him in the ground, I promised him I’d never think those dark thoughts again. The gift of life was so clear to me. That experience and other ones like it have done for me is reaffirm that I know that I can make it. We all can. Keep running at your own pace. Basically I learned that you might not have the answer or solution right then and there, but it will come. Have faith in yourself and your work and others will too. People talk about big breaks and such, but I think of it in terms of things in this world that you can and can’t control. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. SHOW them who you are.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My husband! Fred Van Lente. He’s my favorite writer in the whole world. And during our writing times while I’m writing away downstairs, he’s writing away upstairs!

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

For my generation, it was 9/11, particularly as a New Yorker. It changed me, not only because I was here and it affected people I knew, but because I had never seen a tragedy used for evil as the way Bush used this incident. I had never seen to that extent, in our country, that level of manipulation, and the despair at how the country went with it. Until then people operating on a mass level from fear I had read about, but not felt I was in the middle of. I saw that was literally the greatest thing to be afraid of – that kind of mob mentality.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I think this question is dangerous too, but a really interesting one. I think no one should truly regret, as the one thing they might have changed – you can’t know if it would help due to the variables around it. I wish I was a little less snotty about work that I thought was shitty (like movies, art) when I was younger. I wish I understood that takes just as much time to make those things and fail as it does to succeed. I know how hard it is to be an artist now, so I have that respect. But then again, I think the 20s is all about having the right to be snotty. I think you deserve to be a fuck up in your 20s.

Schoolin’ Life: Fiona Smyth

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator/painter/cartoonist Fiona Smyth.

fiona smyth at 24 and now

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a feminist artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, illustration, and cartooning. I’m into zine collecting, comics, and snacking! I teach illustration and cartooning at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m the illustrator in collaboration with writer and sex educator Cory Silverberg for the picture book What Makes A Baby and the newly released follow-up Sex Is A Funny Word from Seven Stories Press. My first graphic novel, The Never Weres, was published by Annick Press in 2011.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I graduated art school in 1986 but I was already exhibiting my paintings the year before. My expectations were to spread my work internationally and live off my art. I managed to establish myself as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in Toronto and get a bit of a reputation beyond Canada.  Sometimes there were day jobs and there was a brief stint on welfare.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was inspired by what was happening in New York City’s Lower East Side’s art scene- fast creators and ever present artists like Keith Haring. Toronto was a real boys’ club in art and comics. I knew as a woman artist (in Toronto and beyond) I was an exception and so was the content of my work/what I had to say. I was creating sexy, in your face, colourful work. I was driven to show my work often, and also outside the gallery system through posters, murals, clothing, and zines.

What was your first job like?

My very first job ever was when I was 15 at a deli/café named Sweet Gallery but later in my twenties my day job was working the candy counter and ticket sales at a repertory cinema. I was doing illustration commissions, painting clothes and murals, and making comics during the day. I worked with Reactor Art & Design for illustration, Vortex Comics, and Weller-Potovsky Gallery in Toronto.

What was your first apartment like?

I lived in the basement of a student rented house. There were at least 4 other roomies. I had a studio at the time that was shared with 3 other artists. At some point I decided to get a cat, which the roomies were not psyched about.

Did you experience any big life changes?

My family moved to Nova Scotia and I was on my own for the first time in Toronto. It was a much bigger adjustment than I realized- freedom but also dealing with emotional issues.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I knew a lot of people but had a handful of close friends. I got into a bad habit of finding “surrogate parent” friends, or troubled and depressed folks like myself. There were many bad decisions in relation to friends, living situations, and partying during those days.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

There weren’t romantic ones until I met my partner (of now 23 years) when I was 28.  Before Craig Daniels entered my life, it was drug addicts, alcoholics, and genuine jerks- territory that was familiar.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Distance and time helped me build healthier boundaries and self-esteem (plus the stability and support of my relationship with Craig, and therapy).

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a woman artist society tends to judge your work in relation to what you look like in a way that doesn’t happen to male artists. When I was younger, folks were often surprised by my demeanour in relation to the sexy, violent, outrageous content of my work and they also made assumptions because I was a punk rocker. I find now as an older artist, folks are surprised I don’t look like a punk rocker. I can’t win!

Also you can be pigeonholed as a particular kind of artist- for example for years I’d have art directors say something like: “We love your work but we don’t want erect penises or flaming vaginas in this kids’ illustration” –well, duh!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

At the time I was making bad decisions and acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later. I’ve gained understanding and empathy for my younger self since then.

How did you change intellectually?

When I first made a name for myself as an artist I was afraid of the F word. I would call myself a humanist. That didn’t last long, I am a feminist artist and fiercer about that stance the older I get. Personal experience and feminism opened my eyes.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I discovered my art acted like an alter ego and that was an okay way to deal with being in the world.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My worldview was becoming more and more fatalistic, especially with the occurrence of family illness.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Apart from not calling myself a feminist for a time? Being 15 minutes late for a friend’s wedding for which I was the “best man”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

There was a chance I might have gone to NYC as part of a studio residency. For many years an established artist teacher/mentor of mine would bemoan the fact I hadn’t gone but in retrospect I often think of it as missing a bullet not an opportunity. I needed the stability and slowness of Toronto to discover my healthiest self and my visual voice. I think I would have been burnt out on drugs and the fast pace of NYC, I don’t think my 20’s self would’ve survived.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Punk rock and hip hop DIY culture (this was pre-Riot Grrrl and Queercore) which taught me to be wary of the establishment, not give a fuck, and promote and disseminate my work outside the gallery system. Keith Haring showed the way in creating populist iconic work fast and effectively, and including social justice themes. He taught me the personal is political, and can be accessible and universal.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989: I remember hearing the news, being in denial thinking they were murdered because they were engineering students- and having the nauseating realization they were murdered because they were women.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I wish I’d done more comics- I pursued art more fervently but comics travel in the world better.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I had some adventures in Detroit- showing art, and visiting with Craig and his band, The Leather Uppers. The grit and rawness of this dystopic American city was juxtaposed with an amazing music scene (The Gories). This culture was at its most punk and resilient, grounded by broken glass and burning cars.

Schoolin’ Life: Vanessa Uhlig

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know filmmaker and graduate student Vanessa Uhlig.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a 30 year-old film production graduate student at University of Texas at Austin. It’s my first year of graduate school so I am still adjusting to an intensive program of writing, shooting, and editing my own work and that of my other classmates. I’ve been watching a lot of films in my free time and have been revisiting one of my favorite genres, heist/crime thrillers, and have recently started learning jiu jitsu. This is also the first time I’ve been living back in the US in about four years, and it feels great to be getting to know the great city of Austin for the first time while being able to relax back in my home culture.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Adventure. Around the time I graduated from undergrad at 22, I could feel my legs needing to stretch and get moving. After my first day at my first job out of college – an office job at a Bay Area solar start-up – I came home and cried. I was afraid that this was where I’d end up in life and there weren’t any more adventures to be had. I made a conscious decision over the next year to do whatever was in my power to fight against that kind of lifestyle and explore as much as I possibly could in the world while I was young. And for the most part I was successful at that; I spent the rest of my 20s living in foreign environments, learning new skills and languages, and eventually finding my calling as an artist.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I come from a lower-middle class family. I was lucky to have the support of my parents creatively, but I always knew that out of college I needed to be able to support myself with a full-time job. My family didn’t necessarily disparage art, but they did remind me to have an income and look for ways to monetize whatever I was interested in pursuing.

What was your first job like?

I can’t remember which of these I held first, but when I was 15 and 16 I had a few jobs: serving coffee at Starbucks, working the insurance desk at an autobody repair shop, and working the retail counter at a local perfume shop. I also did a lot of babysitting. It was exciting to have a job and a paycheck as a young person, and even though the jobs pretty much sucked, I still felt beholden to them with a strong sense of responsibility. I had to wake up at 3 am to open Starbucks at 4 am most days that I worked there, and it was rough, but there was something magic about being the first person that some customers would talk to each day and about starting the day that early in the morning. I think I also gained more of an appreciation for school since being at work was so much less interesting.

What was your first apartment like?

I shared an apartment with a girlfriend after college in Oakland, California. We both had boyfriends and all four of us had gone to the same college so we were all friends. We cooked a lot and drank a lot of wine, and there was always music or NPR on in the background. Strangely, a neighbor gave us a huge flatscreen TV, and much to my roommate’s dismay, my boyfriend and I watched a lot of Lost. It was my first time living in a more urban neighborhood, which was exciting – I could walk a block to the coffee shop or grocery store, and people came by campaigning for various political issues. One night, a girl was canvassing and I invited her inside. We ended up talking for an hour at my dinner table, just because I was so excited to meet someone this way.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Of course. I moved around a lot in my 20s – every few years at least. I felt like I had to reinvent myself each time, just to adapt to the new situation – I went from a small town in the Sacramento Valley to Oakland, then to Bangkok, Thailand for a year, then San Francisco for a few years, and finally a few years in a rural town in Guatemala. Each place had its own unique flavor and drew out a different kind of inspiration in me. And each time I think I recognized that I don’t really change much in the end, for better or for worse – wherever you go, there you are. By the time I hit 30, I could finally embrace that, which gave me the freedom to move back to the US for good and create the kind of life I want right here at home.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I think the general trend is/was from friendships that deal a lot with personal vulnerabilities to friendships that are grounded in love and respect. I’m fortunate to have maintained strong friendships over the past ten years. Even though we’re all busy and all living in different places, I consider these friendships one of the greatest gifts and accomplishments of my adult life. I try to stick to gratitude and respect to guide me in friendships rather than getting caught up in little daily annoyances or gripes. The little stuff goes away, and at the end of the day I’m still amazed and honored to have such great friends.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Let it go! Relationships are WEIRD and how they manage to stay alive can sometimes be an amazing mystery. It takes so much love and trust to be with someone else – give them the benefit of the doubt and move on. I have learned this, but I still make this mistake and have to relearn it about once a week.

How did your relationships with your family change?

My relationship with my mother evolved to be completely different in my 20s than it had when I was younger. I don’t feel like we have ever had as strong a relationship as we do now that I’m older. I think she and I are very similar and used to butt heads a lot, but now that we’re both older and have fewer opportunities to be in each other’s daily lives, we tend to let the smaller stuff go. We can laugh about each other’s neuroses more.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s definitely had ups and downs as I’ve moved between areas of very extreme wealth and very extreme poverty, “progressive” versus “traditional” cultures, etc. I think at this point I have an appreciation for the many different cultural textures that I’ve been exposed to, but I feel also more urgency to equalize the playing field. There used to be a novelty for me in the “developing world” – things like real people collecting your bus fare or making homemade ice cream on a three-wheeled cart in the afternoons on the city street, to sell for ten cents. More direct, pedestrian-oriented lifestyles. I still see the charm in that but I see also the way that technology and globalization is causing unbearable economic disparity and making it hard for people to have enough to eat, which is so much more important than how picturesque a culture is on a postcard or in a few months’ travel journal entries. Unfortunately, it seems the more I learn the more I feel like an outsider in other cultures, or the more aware of those disparities I become.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I regret having ever doubted myself. I do it every day, as we all do, but it’s a waste. There really just isn’t enough time in life to wrestle with your own doubt. If you’re thinking about something, just do it. Don’t overthink it.

Schoolin’ Life: Mildred Louis

In today’s Schoolin’ Life column, we catch up with illustrator and sequential artist Mildred Louis.

Mildred Louis

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I was fully expecting to have my whole game together! I think growing up there was this idea that once you’re 20, you’re an official adult, and being an adult meant that everything was going to fall into place. Definitely didn’t work out that way though, hahaha.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think I had a lot of skewed expectations of myself growing up. It took a whole lot of effort and work to rework how I saw myself and to detach the weird expectations I had being a WoC growing up in this society.

What was your first job like?

I worked at a bakery in a slightly well off part of the city. It was okay. In terms of first jobs, it was about as predictable as you can get. Getting by on tips with below minimum wage pay, a lot of intense people who want their coffee a very specific way and/or their cakes made immediately even though they put in the order last minute. It was… a learning experience for sure, hahaha.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was at college and I didn’t even have a door for my bedroom! It was a complete stereotypical experience with three other roommates in a two-bedroom (and one office) apartment. We eventually became one of the party apartments on campus which was pretty cool and made for a lot of entertaining memories.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I feel like the answer to this question is kind of complicated. I did in some ways but not like as if there were any major moments that suddenly happened to trigger these changes. It was more like a number of things happening, me learning from them and subsequently growing and changing from them.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Being at the end of my 20s,my friendships have changed a lot. I used to be friends with a lot of people who just kind of fed off of my insecurities. I spent a lot of time trying to feel accepted by people that I ended up letting myself become attached to, people who, at the end of the day, really weren’t that good for me. On a brighter note, I have some of the absolute best friendships I could have ever imagined now in my life, so that was a major plus side!

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I learned to definitely not settle, hahahah! I thought I had incredibly high expectations for a very long time and dated some people who weren’t quite up to par. When you’re in college, there’s a lot of expectation and pressure to date and hook up with people, so you end up rolling into whatever to keep up with people around you.

How did your relationships with your family change?

We talk a whole lot more now than we used to. I think now that everyone’s grown up and doing their own thing, it’s easier for us to connect since we have a greater sense of independence.

How do you feel society viewed you?

In a lot of ways I felt invisible. It always seemed like there were a lot of attempts at erasing myself or my identities because I wasn’t packaged in the way that society was saying I should.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’ve become significantly more secure in myself! I feel less like I need to go looking for someone to help fill a hole in me or to help reinforce how I feel.

How did you change intellectually?

I became a lot more aware of the things going on around me and even more aware of just how much I do not know.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

It became more secure and defined. I feel more like I’m me instead of being someone that I think a lot of people around me thought I was or expected me to be.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s become in a lot of ways more cynical but also weirdly stubbornly optimistic. Being so connected into the internet means that it’s hard to not be aware of the things going on not just in your own country but internationally as well. It’s hard not to feel like things are getting worse and worse because of it, but I think in a lot of ways, it’s caused me to feel very steadfast in holding on to hope that things can get better.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hahaha… I’ve had a lot of those but I’m not sure if I’m over them enough to share!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I don’t know if I had one singular experience was the biggest disappointment. But I think overall, they just taught me how to avoid being in those situations again

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I didn’t discover her until my slightly mid 20s but ever since then and to this day, it’s probably Janelle Monae. I just really admire how true to herself and her vision she is, as well as how incredibly aware of what kind of impact she can have on her surroundings she is. It’s something that I really hope to embody as I develop my career further.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I think there’s been a lot of moments that have happened. It’s like the world is finally at this point where we can’t actively sit and deny a lot of the travesties that are happening. The internet has made it hard to ignore and there’s active dialogue happening to hopefully try and change the current state of things.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently? You know, I was a person full of so much regret for so much of my life but I’ve finally gotten to this point where I’ve accepted the things that have happened and, in some really weird way, am grateful that I went through them. I don’t know how things could have been any different but I do know that what I went through got me to where I am today.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

Oh boy… I feel like there are a lot of things that have defined the last decade. I mean, the decade has had events spanning from the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement to the Curiosity landing. This decade has been full of incredibly impactful events that I’m not sure you could boil it down to one single story.

Dame of the Day: Thuraya Al-Baqsami

Thuraya Al-Baqsami

Today’s Dame of the Day is Thuraya Al-Baqsami (1952-). As a student, Al-Baqsami studied art in Egypt and obtained a master’s degree in Graphic Design in Russia before returning home to Kuwait. Her work is part of private and public collections worldwide and received praised from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; the UN commissioned her for a sculpture project that traveled around the world. She also received awards for her short story collection, Cellar Candles, and her children’s book, The Recollection of small Kuwaiti Fatuma.

Schoolin’ Life: Maelle Doliveux

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet and get to know illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer Maëlle Doliveux.

MD_headshot-bw_150225-web

 

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m ¾ of the way to 27. So I’m sure that next 3-4 years will be another host of interesting life revelations. But so far in my life, I’ve gone by the name Maëlle Doliveux, and I’m a French and Swiss illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer living and working in New York City. I spend my days making things, all kinds of things, for different people. I’ve worked for Newsweek, The New York Times, Sesame Street, Motorola, UCB and others. Almost every day I walk my little dog to and from my studio space in Greenpoint in an old rope factory.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself for the decade? In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I should start this by saying that I’m still in my 20’s! My expectations were definitely far too high. I think I read somewhere that anyone ‘successful’ already created some kind of ‘masterpiece’, or at least was well known before the age of 24. And I read that Craig Thompson (one of my comics heroes) published Good-bye, Chunky Rice by age 24. I had this notion that unless I got a comic book published by the time I was 24, I would never make it in the industry. In the end I didn’t get a comic book contract, but I did get published by the New York Times, which meant a lot, and of course I’ve also come to realize that people’s trajectories take different amounts of time, and giving yourself no-pressure space to be creative is vital for the actual creation of ‘masterpieces’. Nobody sets off to create a masterpiece and then accomplishes that.  And obviously, being ‘successful’ is not necessarily being published, and definitely not being famous.

I thank my parents and my international school teachers for never having imposed expectations on me about who I was as a person or my career – I always felt like I could be anything and do anything I set my mind to, if it’s what I truly wanted and I worked long and hard enough at it. This is an extremely privileged way of looking at the world, and I’ve been very fortunate that it has worked out for me. I think I’ve been insanely lucky that I haven’t been confronted with sexism more in my life (apart from catcalling New Yorkers).

In terms of romantic relationships, I had very false and dumb thoughts about how they worked, and about what kind of woman was considered attractive. I assumed independence and wit intimidated men, so I deduced that nobody was really interested in me for a long time. Also, I think that we are told there are these ‘rules’ to dating, when in reality, all relationships are different, whether friendship or romantic interest.

What was your first job like?

First ever ‘real’ job was as an architectural assistant in a small architecture firm in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’d just graduated from Part I of my British architecture degree and had to do a minimum of six months as an apprentice. It was the first time that I realized that most of architecture in practice was not at all what it was like academically. The amount of time spent on concept and design is probably less than 10%, with most of the time being spent on technical detailing, administration, negotiating with a client and the contractors, researching materials and so on. The people I worked with were very friendly, and these things are important, but I personally found it all excruciating after 6 months. It made me want to try something other than architecture. In a big way, having a job that I disliked so much is still a big motivator for me as a freelance artist. When there are moments of doing something I’m not completely enjoying, I always think “well, at least it’s still better than sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day drawing technical details of suspended ceilings”.

What was your first apartment like?

The first apartment where I lived alone was a tiny little apartment in Lausanne. The kitchen was a small sink and a foot of counter space and two burners, and I could practically brush my teeth, shower and cook all at the same time. Sadly, someone broke in during the time I was away over Christmas, and stole the only few precious things I had, including some family jewelry my grandmother had left me, and my mother’s beautiful coat, which she had bought with her first ever paycheck as a young woman. Bizarrely enough they also stole my dishwashing liquid. I was pretty sad and worried about the whole thing, so I moved back in with my brother soon after.

Did you experience any big life changes?

A career change and a big recent (ongoing) romantic relationship. After this experience in Lausanne, I wanted to take a year to figure some things out, and thought that taking some improv classes and studying ‘illustration’ in New York sounded really fun. I had no idea what illustration was. But my feeling was that I’d do that for a year and then figure out my ‘real life’. Of course this very quickly became my ‘real life’, because I was having a lot of fun.

I realized illustration was exactly what I loved the most in architecture – concepts, visual problem solving, storytelling, drawing, sculpting/model-making, working with your hands, making something beautiful. I did several wonderful internships with some great mentors who encouraged me to switch into the Masters program at SVA, which was a really great move for me. After that I knew this was the right career path. I also got a dog in my early twenties! It was definitely a way to commit to illustration, because I didn’t want to have a dog and work in an office and get a dog-walker all the time. I didn’t think that was fair to a dog. But I knew that if I worked as a freelancer I could be with my dog all day, and she would give me a better rhythm to the day.  

In what ways did your friendships change?

Since I was a kid I’ve moved around quite a bit, so I’m now somewhat sadly used to the ebb and flow of friendships. But I know that with true friends, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend apart – when you see each other again it’s like you saw each other only yesterday. I hope to be better at spotting those friendships now, as opposed to the fleeting ones. But I’ve never really been into having a mass of friends- I like selective friendships that know me well and bring me joy and energy.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I came to see my parents as people, and to love them just as much, but as people, not just as all-knowing, all-powerful superhumans. Kind of like the first time you see a high-school teacher outside of school.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a stereotypical French artist girl, with a dog and ukulele and an artist’s space in Brooklyn— wait a second, that IS what I am. Am I a stereotype?

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m much more confident and less intimidated than I used to be. I remember that making a professional phone call or email when I got my first job as an architectural assistant was absolutely frightening. I kept on thinking I wasn’t doing things right, or faking it. When I interned with some incredible illustrators, and they admitted the same feeling to me, I realized that that sensation never goes away, for anyone in any field.  And also that everyone was their 20’s at one point, and didn’t know things and was learning. It would be insane to get angry or upset with someone for something they weren’t aware of. When I started seeing other people as also ‘faking it till they make it’, that made me much more confident in myself.

How did you change intellectually?

My tastes have broadened, and I hope to be more open-minded now than I was, particularly in terms of visual art. I think I’m more able to recognize and analyze what I like and why I like it, and also to be understanding and admiring of art that I like, but isn’t necessarily to my sensibility.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I think my identity is more defined now than at the beginning of my 20’s, probably because I’m very passionate about my career, and present myself to others as ‘an illustrator’. I think wandering and figuring things out and being open to things and not defining yourself is an important part of your early 20’s. (And one should stay open to new things later in life too!)

Though my career doesn’t define me entirely, I think working as a creative person merges your personal and your professional life a lot.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

Having grown up with a very international education, I think I’ve always been aware of how countries’ boundaries are non-existent, and how interconnected we are. Also how we as human beings are essentially the same at our core, and that culture is all the different ways that humanity can become specific. I don’t think my worldview has changed in that sense, but I hope that I’m more informed and more interested than I was as a teenager. I listen to the news on the radio now and try to keep in touch more.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hmmmm… I feel like I’m a fairly hard person to embarrass. I’ll usually try to spin it to make it funny, or embrace the embarrassment. That was my high school survival tactic that’s stuck around. Last year I created a 13ft long dragon costume and performed as that dragons’ talking anus and threw a whole store-bought fish and multiple chocolate and rice pudding cups out of said anus. That didn’t embarrass me in the slightest. I’m only embarrassed when I don’t stand completely behind the work I’ve done.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

When I came to New York to study illustration I also chose SVA because it offered cartooning classes, which I was very curious about, but knew that a full-on cartooning degree would frighten my parents. I’d grown up with comics and in my university years had discovered American indie comics, which completely opened up what I thought the medium could do.

So I took a cartooning class, and loved it, but immediately tried to be like the artists I admired, and to make an opus that would “stand the tests of time”. It was ridiculous and entirely unfeasible. Anyways, I started working on this huge graphic novel when I’d barely had three little short stories penciled, and outlined this very intense noir/sci-fi dramatic epic. Very kindly, the wonderful, talented and extremely generous Tom Hart sat down with me to look it over, and about halfway through the conversation asked me, “Have you read Osamu Tezuka’s Road to Kirihito?” I replied that I hadn’t, and he suggested I read through it. When I did I realized that Tezuka, the legendary master of long-form comic storytelling, had basically created a version of my story that far exceeded and surpassed anything I wrote or could have written.

I realized his was successful because he was passionate and knowledgeable on his subject matter, while mine was juvenile and only half-studied because I felt like it was what I was ‘supposed’ to do, rather than what I was actually interested in doing. This was a pretty discouraging event, which made me falsely think that I wasn’t cut out for comics for a while. Only later on, when some grad school friends recommended me for some short-form comics projects, did I pick it up again. And by then I was far more confident with what I was interested in and the kind of art I wanted to make, so the work reflected that and was far more successful when I wasn’t inhibited by what I thought ‘good’ comics were, or wasn’t trying to cram in everything into one story.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Sam Weber, Brian Cronin and Richard McGuire have been three huge influences. I interned and worked with Sam and Richard, and Brian was my thesis advisor for my final MFA project. Not only do I admire their work, but they are also exemplary in their professionalism, and really showed me how to be successful as an illustrator. I interned with Sam and his studio mate Chris Silas Neal for over a year, and they showed me everything including how to file taxes. This sounds simplistic, but I had absolutely no idea how to do anything like that, and they were true examples for me to know that it was possible to make a living and work full time in this field.

Brian and Richard helped me be more comfortable with my voice, and I’ve always admired the breadth of their work in terms of style and form. They never limit themselves because they think ‘this isn’t illustration’ – they will make the work they feel is interesting to them, in the medium they enjoy at that moment, and then find the right place for it. As someone with a wide range of curiosities and who gets bored fairly quickly, it was a godsend to see that this was also a way to make a career.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Probably Facebook? Not sure it’s a ‘moment’, but it probably will be seen as one in the future. For all its’ glory and awfulness.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

It sounds cocky but I don’t really believe in regrets. I think if I were presented with the same set of opportunities I would always make the same choices. And I believe that ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as ‘successes’. Maybe even more important because they provide opportunity for learning and changing.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I very recently and very briefly met Amy Poehler, who complimented me on my work. I’d just done several posters for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre annual improv comedy marathon, and as a founding member of UCB, Amy attends almost every year. At the end of the weekend, I was walking home from the wrap-party, when I bumped into the artistic director of the theatre, who quickly turned around and introduced me to both Amy and Matt Walsh. I was very flustered, and giggly and excited, and tried not to make a fool of myself.  
To me it sums up this decade well: work hard, do things that interest you (improv comedy) without overthinking it, make friends, interesting projects will come along from all of that, and if all goes well you will make some people happy. And maybe that makes you happy. Which is an ego trip that I probably have to address… still not sure how healthy this is mentally. But right now, making art makes me very happy.

 

Dame of the Day: Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson

Today’s Dame of the Day is Tove Jansson (August 9, 1914 – June 27, 2001). This author, illustrator, and cartoonist started writing stories at the age of 14. After World War II, Jansson developed Moomin, a classic book series celebrated across Sweden and around the world. Jansson received the Hans Christian Anderson Award for the series and her characters have their own museum.