Acceptance: A self portrait journey

I’ve had the hardest time drawing myself, period. Therefore, I challenged myself to try and embarked on a self portrait journey.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable with my body and my self esteem. Burdened by anxiety and judgment, I became my own worst critic. I still am to this day.

Growing up as one of the few people of Asian descent in a predominantly White community, I longed for more Western features. I would wish that my hair and eye color would lighten and the shape of my eyes would widen. In addition to my outlier status, during my formative years, I was also overweight and taller than most which impacted my self confidence. Therefore, I chose to shun my Asian identity. I tried to act more White. The show “Fresh off the Boat” resonates so well with my upbringing. Check it out, it’s a great show.

I clearly remember this one instance in the first grade when I realized I was not like the others. A classmate of mine had asked me if I was Chinese or Japanese without any prompting. Sadly, they also pulled their eyelids taut to mimic small Asian eyes. I explained that I was Korean which lies between China and Japan. I’ve experienced bigoted followups from individuals after that ultimately racist question of “Where do you come from? No, where do you really come from?” with “Oh, are you from the North or the South?”. I’ve always been very aware of my “other” status. It is an awareness that I carry with me everyday.

I learned to present myself as “American”. When in a social situation with strangers, I learned to smile and speak first. I did this to stop the assumption that I didn’t speak English simply because I look different from the others in the room.

After many years of trying to seem more Western, I decided to embrace my Korean-American identity. I became obsessed with K-pop, dramas and Korean skincare. I started cooking foods that my mother would make for our family everyday. These were the feel good meals that I ended up craving after I moved across the country and away from my entire family and relatives.

As an adult, I reflect and see that the world has changed, but not very much. Something I look back at nostalgically are American Girl dolls. When I was a child, there was a limited group of dolls to choose from. All were White. My American Girl doll was Felicity. A spunky redhead from the Colonial period. She is now banished to the attic of my parent’s house, mainly from my fear of living dolls. That was a crazy segue, amirite? Then the first customizable American Girl dolls were released where you could make a doll that looked just like you. What an innovation! Honestly, if I had a role model that looked like me while I was growing up, I think I would have grown into a more secure woman. And that’s the truth.

Currently in 2019, the Korean wave is impacting trends worldwide. This is something I never would have dreamed to be true when I was younger. I am torn in many ways about the Korean wave and its impact. I am glad that there are people who look like me who are in demand and influencing others. On the other hand, I also feel like Korean culture is the hot new thing. Something exotic and somewhat treated as a spectacle.

Because of my struggles with my self identity and self worth, I decided to use self portraits as a stepping stone in my own self acceptance journey. As I look at my reflection in a mirror, as I review my face and body in photos, I learn to appreciate the “flaws” that I used to hate. My freckles and moles are now considered beauty marks. My mismatched eyelids (one has a double lid while the other is single) make my face more interesting. My large lips are deemed envy worthy and can only be given by God or a plastic surgeon. My eyes aren’t just dark brown, they have a brightness in them that illuminates sometimes. And my body whose weight has fluctuated so much through my 3 decades of life has taught me to appreciate that it is both strong and flexible, carrying me through this life and the years to come.

Mother of the Year, 11x14” mixed media piece

Within my work, I’ve learned to incorporate pieces of my background as clues for the viewer. I try to show authentic emotions, such as the feelings of despair during the struggles to conceive a child in “Mother of the Year” or propping myself up and presenting myself as a Korean queen in “RBF: Resting Bitch Face”. Although I do not descend from royalty, so far as I know, I can treat myself like I am, the Head Bitch in Charge.

I feel that my self portraits are therapeutic. As I take time and look at myself, I learn that my features have shaped my life experience. Something that solely belongs to me.

I chose to display my anxieties and joys on a canvas or a piece of paper. I can then look back at the finished piece and feel accomplishment. Once done, I then put the piece away, and that physical act of archiving my work is so freeing.

I believe this self portrait movement of mine will be a lifelong journey of acceptance. I wish to grow and reflect as I embark on more joys and heartaches. I hope you follow along with me on this enlightening journey. Namaste.

Glimpses of local art in the East Coast

Taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming... Quick recap of what I've been up to: I've been busy creating a piece for Copic to be revealed in October as well as preparing three of my pieces for an exhibit next month at University Art in Redwood City. On top of that I've been seriously adulting by starting the process of looking for our first home (note: we're not even at the part where we are looking at houses, just doing fun paperwork stuff). 

Without having to write a full on blog post, I just wanted to share some eye catching local art during my adventures back East, specifically in the Boston area and NYC. 

Understanding Copics and How to get started

Copic markers have quickly become one of my favorite materials to use. In this post, I will be focusing on the Copic Sketch line and will try to be as honest as possible.

So lets get started!

First of all, Copics are expensive. At an art store, an individual marker can retail around $7-$9 but you can find them way cheaper online for around $4.50 each. So consider them an investment. There are 358 colors available in the line which includes, 12 color families, four gray families, two shades of black and a blender marker (see Exhibit 1). I would suggest purchasing the 72 piece sets first to save money per marker. 

Exhibit 1: Copic Color Chart courtesy of Imagination International Inc.

Exhibit 2

The color families may seem like gibberish when you first glance at it but this is a life-saver (see Exhibit 2)! I printed out the blank chart and as I accumulated more and more markers I would shade their respective boxes. The colors on your computer screen may differ slightly from what you own so this way you know the true color. 

Exhibit 3: Blending example

Since Copics are alcohol based markers, this makes them blend beautifully but you can't expect any color combo to work . The most seamless gradient can be achieved by two methods. The first method is pretty straightforward. Let's use the color family or Broad Classification of 'B' as an example which consists of true blue colors (see Exhibit 3). The next identifier after the color family is the blending group (intermediate classification) and are considered the most ideal for blending together. Within that color family you can start coloring from light to dark which is shown by the third identifier, the specific value/brightness. The lower the number, the lighter it is.

The second way to have a beautiful gradient is by using the color's respective shades of gray. I would suggest using the warm grays for warm colors (red, yellow, etc.) and the cool grays for the cool colors (blue, purple, etc.) In my blending example, I matched B12 with shades of cool gray. Just using one color and only blending with grays in the same color family will make a huge difference!

While using Copics, you have to consider what you will be using them for. I've seen comic book artists, architects, interior designers and more using these materials. If you lean toward portraiture, I would get the shades that work well for skin tones along with some of the warm and cool gray tones. It wouldn't make sense to get colors like a neon pink if you were drawing a person right? 

As a personal preference, I rarely ever use the black shades or the blender marker. Instead of use black markers, I would rather use shades of gray to deepen the color I'm working with. I believe that this technique provides more depth and doesn't leave the drawing looking so flat. The blender marker can be used for some cool effects and some subtle clean up, but I'm not too keen on using it. Contrary to its name, I think that the blender just pushes around the alcohol in the markers and leaves a weird oily effect. But if you are interested in how to use the blender marker, there are plenty of other great resources out there! 

Essentially, you just need to play around. If you want to dip your toes in, get a blending trio pack sold by Copic and try some of the methods I shared. Remember that you only learn by doing. When I first started using Copics, I got very frustrated because I wasn't familiar with the medium. I kept on experimenting and made the material my own.

I hope you enjoyed this quickie intro to Copic Sketch markers. I plan on elaborating further with future blog posts. Have fun!

My first Open Studios experience!

My booth at the open studio.

The first three weekends of May are dedicated to the Silicon Valley Open Studios (SVOS) where artists open their doors and showcase their work for the public. I had to register way back in December in order to get in. The whole thing is very well done and organized in my opinion. Their website is well curated and even has dedicated bio pages for each artist. Physical catalogs are also printed out and distributed throughout the Bay Area. I had participated in the first weekend of May leaving me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

Another view of my booth.

Saying I learned some new things that weekend is an understatement. First off, the open studio was outside. I arrived to the site the day before with just my paintings and prints for sale. Unbeknownst to me, I would require so much more. Naively, I thought the location would be indoors and have spaces and hooks for me to hang items. Sadly I was wrong.

I first had to get a fold out canopy and a fold out table considering we were going to be outside. I also needed to figure out how to hang my paintings. After doing some quick google searches on displaying artwork for sale, I decided on what I needed to get. I made my homage to Home Depot with my dog Chewie as my companion. He sat in the carriage while I perused the store. The hardest thing to find was the canopy but thank god for the Internet telling me exactly which aisle to head to. 

Once I purchased my items I headed home to brainstorm how to hang my paintings. Since I was lacking prep time at this point, I found a tip from a fellow artist that you could use pants hangers to hang your work. As you can see in the photos, my layout is a little more informal (at the least) than my neighbor's. I call it the ghetto style but it worked. Basically we used the clippy ends of the hanger to clasp onto the wire on the back of the painting. Using the hook from the hanger, we placed the painting wherever we thought it would look nice. Voila! In the future I do intend on investing in some accessories for my canopy such as detachable walls and some sort of foundation to hang my paintings neatly. After setting up my paintings, I then laid out the rest of my work including my art marker drawings on the table for display.

The next thing I learned from that weekend was to bring layers. There were times during the weekend where I sat in my section feeling freezing cold. My fingertips would feel so numb as I tried to do some work or talk to potential customers. Since the open studio site was in a residential neighborhood rather than somewhere more commercial, traffic was on and off. So basically there was a lot of downtime. I busied myself with writing my latest blog post and then starting a sketch of the Castro Theater in SF. Fortunately for me, that kept me very preoccupied during slow times. 

Actually selling my work is a very difficult hurdle for me to overcome. As an introvert, it is very difficult for me to start a conversation with random people. Some people would be very excited about my work and others would just glance by and not say a thing. To each his own I guess. I also had to explain my art marker drawings and demonstrate using some of the materials. Some people would take my card and some wouldn't. I didn't fully expect to sell anything that weekend. I used it as a way to get my name out there and to befriend some fellow artists. I also noted to myself that I need to invest in square or some system to accept credit cards. But I would only consider that if I do this type of thing more often.

I think in the future, I would definitely have a better layout of my business cards and prints. I'm going to have to brainstorm on some cheap ways to display my products, maybe a trip to the local thrift store is in order! I also would have liked to have prices labelled next to my pieces but as I kind of scrounged this up last minute, that's just something to consider for next time. I think that if I was more prepared, I would have been more comfortable selling my work and myself. But there is a first for everything right? 

Overall I think it was a successful weekend for me. I had to overcome some of my insecurities and learned a new part of the business of being an artist!

Life update

So I’ve been a little MIA lately on the blog front. To be honest I didn’t have much to share as life sometimes goes. I’ve also missed painting for the past month due to lack of inspiration and also my body hates me. I suffered some pulled muscles in my back several weeks ago which has left me bedridden and hobbling around my apartment. Given the injury, it has given me time to reflect and inspiration came in a different form.

I thought about the great artist Frida Kahlo. She survived a terrible car crash while young and had to recuperate in bed for several months. Her parents provided her a special easel that she could use in bed. This gesture led to the creation of a master painter.

By no means am I comparing myself to Frida Kahlo but I figured if she could paint while in a full body cast then I can create some art too! Now painting was out of the question, so I instead focused on my drawings. I basically lay down on my couch surrounded by pillows and have my materials strewn around or even on me. It sure is a sight.

I figured if I’m forced to stay immobile, I might as well be productive. Imagine an artist not being able to do art. It basically would be like a caged animal pacing around.

Mama Han at the Japanese Tea Garden

I became inspired by my family and took old photographs and gave them new life in art marker form. I proceeded to create a series of family inspired drawings. I wanted to convey the innocence and familial love shown in the photos themselves. One of my favorites is a drawing of my mother kneeling by a koi pond at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. You don’t necessarily see her face but you can tell that she was enjoying herself.

This transition into art marker drawings has given me a different perspective. I strictly thought that I would be a painter but as I keep on getting more interest in my drawings, it opens up a new market for me. I don’t usually see anyone using this medium so I hope that I can get some of them in art galleries soon!

So that has been my life at the moment. I think the moral of the story is to never let anything stop you from doing what you love.