Roots

Bijin (wip)

Today I’m working on a little commission craving for a friend’s Mother’s Day gift. Last month I did a design called Bijin, meaning “Beautiful Woman/Person” in Japanese. My friend saw it online and thought it would be perfect as a gift for her mother. So I’m spending the evening doing a graphite transfer of the drawing to the linoblock in preparation for carving. While doing so I’ve been watching the Ip Man trilogy. If you’re not familiar with Ip Man, than I’ll just mention one name…Bruce Lee. He was Bruce Lee’s teacher.

Anyhoo, since my childhood I’ve been deeply influenced by East Asian philosophy and aesthetics by way of movies, my mother and her second husband. My mother was an Army brat when she was coming up and spent time in Japan and Korea. So while I was growing up, our cozy little trailer was decorated with keepsakes from her travels. Her second husband was deeply into martial arts and through him I was introduced to meditation and an assortment of Eastern philosophies, most notable Daoism/Taoism by way of “Tao Of Jeet Kune Do” by Bruce Lee, which he had me read. I can’t say that I was any good at meditation back then. More than anything I ended up falling asleep. Nor was I good at the “drop & rolls”, holding kicks and throwing stars that he tried to teach me either. Most of the philosophy was enigmatic, so that was lost on me too but a seed was planted in me that didn’t begin to grow shoots until my late teens when I took an interest in Taijiquan. By that time I had left my comforts of frontier living in Alaska and moved to Michigan to live with my father, to a predominantly African American environment and a predominantly Christian atmosphere of ideology. My Eastern leanings more or less went into “the closet”, springing out every now and then only to be met with side eyed glances or just ignored. I did on two occasions run into individuals claiming I was practicing a form of devil worship. All I have to say to that is that I haven’t sprouted horns or felt compelled to sacrifice any cats or children yet, so I think I’m doing okay. But despite going to church and  getting baptized at 23, my heart was still in the East. For years I struggled to impose a system of beliefs and worldview up my spirit that just wasn’t conducive to my way of being. Eventually I quit. I left the church and the religion after the passing of my paternal grandmother, who was the catalyst for my joining in the first place. Since then I’ve studied many spiritual paths and religions, picking up a little bit of this and that, here and there but the one thing that has always remained constant is me having a copy of the Daodejing, the book that forms the basis for the philosophy of Daoism. I don’t say that I’m a Daoist partly because most of the time people don’t know what it is and I don’t feel like having to explain. But also because there’s a thought among Daoists here in the West that a real Daoist never calls herself a Daoist…so if asked I just say I’m a Buddhist. 😋 It’s a nice cover and most people at least know what a Buddhist is. Plus I can recite the Four Noble Truths, I know about the Eightfold Path and the precepts. So I got my bases covered if I get quizzed. Now don’t get me wrong, those years in the church haven’t gone to waste either. I can still quote scripture like it ain’t nothing and relate to my fellow Christians with ease. The beauty of Daoist philosophy is its ease to blend with other philosophies like Buddhism and Christianity and it’s lack of demand for strict loyalty to its own. But my heart lies in the Daodejing which forms the philosophical basis for my approach to life. 

The West has come a long way in it’s acceptance of foreign ideologies. I’m glad to see that more people are comfortable and open to Eastern philosophies, especially with Buddhism. And I’m glad to see that more Black people aren’t as apprehensive to things like meditation, Eastern aesthetics and concepts like “enlightenment”. A lot of these aesthetics and concepts seep in to my work, my thoughts and my ideas. When you see this, it’s not me attempting to be exotic,  different or even trendy, it’s simply a quiet manifestation of my inner reality of being American, of being Black and being something other than Christian spiritually. (Btw, I don’t walk around in a saffron robe or where a wushu outfit like Leroy from The Last Dragon, my head isn’t shaved and I do eat meat, just in case you’re wondering.)

So as I sit here working on this carving while watching Ip Man 3 (the one with Mike Tyson in it), I feel home again, back to those Sunday afternoons with my mother in the kitchen making homemade bread and me getting my weekly dose of Chinese philosophy watching David Carradine (my he rest in peace) in Kung Fu. For me, that’s getting back to my roots. 🙏😊

Sacred space.

The Universe Isn’t Punishing You…

…when things fall through. But often times that’s what I immediately feel. When I step back, way back, in order to get some clarity, I realize it’s no direct fault of my own but at first, it’s easy to start beating up on myself. As an artist these internal beatings have a lot to do with getting buyers for my work and doing commissions. I’ll go into a tizzy and start wondering what did I do wrong when things don’t work out? Maybe my work isn’t good enough. Maybe I didn’t speak the right words. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough. Maybe I’m not thinking positively enough or vibrating at the right frequency enough. These thoughts get me all in a knot of anxiety and confusion that sometimes I end up spending way too much time search my personal library for the correct formula to get myself right with the universe than I do in crafting my art. The truth is, which I often have to remind myself of, there are things that will always be out of my hands. I only have control over my own thoughts and actions.

As an artist you are going to run into people who will commission you to do work and then change their minds. You are going to run into people who you will do freelance work for who won’t pay you. You are going to run into people who will get your hopes up and go through all the motions of acting like they are going to buy some of your work but won’t follow through. You may run into a lot of people like this or just a few but none the less you will run into them. This is just the way it is. It doesn’t matter how prayed up you are, how positively you think, how long you sit in mediation, how many candles you light or how many incantations you speak. You will encounter such individuals along the road to your success. Don’t let them trip you up and doubt your aspirations. Keep moving forward because no one is going to care about your dreams, your goals or your craft as much as you or take it as seriously as much as you. So don’t build the worth of your dream upon the words and actions of others. Keep believing in yourself and your vision. Devote yourself to it by all means. As you keep going more opportunities will come. You will meet more people who will actually buy your work, follow through with that commission or give you that amazing gig.  All of the let downs are just a part of the journey or as a former love once said to me “You gotta go through the shit to get to the sugar.”.
Your main focus and responsible is creating the best possible work that you can create according to your vision and putting it out there into the world as much as possible. The rest is out of your hands.

The Dance We Do

Stumbled across an unopened bottle of India ink, two brand new sketchbooks and a package of unused pens, hidden away at the bottom of my bookshelf. Slightly dusty, they lie in wait for enthusiasm to take over me and break them in. I’ve long forgotten what I bought them for but I suspect that they were obtained during one of my “dances of avoidance”. That’s what I call it whenever I feel anxious about creating art but instead of pulling out the drawing paper and pens that I already have at my disposal, I go to the art supply store and buy new stuff or read some inspirational literature on art. It’s a wonderful trick I play on myself. Instead of putting my energy into actually creating art, I do anything that gives me the impression that I’ve done something art related so that I can at least feel like I’m being an artist. I tell myself “I need the inspiration.” or “I need the supplies.” but really I just need to draw. Not that supplies and inspiration aren’t needed but the funny thing about inspiration is that it often comes  when you’re doing your thing not when you’re sitting around waiting on it. 

So it’s a peculiar game of procrastination, illusion and avoidance I play, a game that sometimes I can get stuck in until I remember something I once read about writers. There are two kinds of writers, the first kind reads books on writing, takes writing classes, does writing exercises, goes to writing seminars, collects books of their favorite authors and takes every chance to go to their book signings and that’s the extent of it. The second kind just sits down and writes. The first writer is actually more caught up in being a “writer” than actually writing. This is the illusion. Anybody can say that they’re a writer and do all of the things that can give a person the appearance of being a writer but the real proof is in the work and the working. This too can be applied to artists. It is to this that I am reminded to sit down and focus on creating art rather than doing things that give me the feeling that I’m being an artist. One’s passion for creating art needs to be stronger than one’s romanticized ideas of being an artist. 🙏😌

Little Things

“​It’s the little, inconsequential things that we do that truly make our lives interesting. They’re like subtle, delicate details painted in the corners of life’s canvas of existence.” ~ Q.

Life Is To Live

As an artist sometimes I have these moments where people approach me as if there’s something mystical about my ability to draw or the fact that it’s my passion. These moments tend to happen with people who are not artists or have yet to discover anything that they are interested in enough to make a living from, which is the thing now, you know, “Find Your Passion”.  Truth is drawing is one of the many things that I can do. It just so happened to be the thing I enjoyed doing the most to stick with it. Actually there are many other avenues I could have taken in life. I could have ran track or played soccer. I could have become a writer or a photographer. I could have become a psychologist, botanist or architect. Or I could have become a nun or buddhist priest. All of these things I did or had a strong interest in at one point in my life. I never knew with any amount of certainty that I would end up being an artist. I just knew that drawing was something I enjoyed doing. Matter of fact I had stopped for many years and it wasn’t until being laid off from my job and needing something to maintain my sanity that I started drawing again in 2010. So frankly, there’s nothing mystical about how this came to be. I could have very well have gone off to do something else in my life and nobody would have been none the wiser. Nobody would have been saying “It’s a shame Q. missed her calling.”

So in this climate of “find your passion” and “know your purpose”, I hate to see people get all stressed out over what they’re suppose to be doing in life. I have had friends lament about not knowing their purpose or not knowing what their talents are and it pains me to see their frustration, so here’s my two cents that I’m throwing in the pot.

The overall purpose to life is to live. That’s it. Now how you live is up to you but as long as you are living, you’ve got that covered. No individual has one specific preordained purpose to their life. It would be a tragic lot if we did. Imagine believing that you are destine to be a trapeze artist in the circus and you end up breaking your leg, unable to ever get back out  on the trapeze. Now what? Will you just sit around and spend the rest of your life pining away over what could have been? Unfortunately some people do. I understand we often invest a great deal into a particular idea we have about our lives and can become pretty broken if something gets in the way of that. I know I would be deeply saddened if I couldn’t draw any more. But the human spirit and mind are very adaptable. We can learn new things and find new joys, we just have to allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities. It would be a miserable existence to be locked down from birth to one purpose in life when life itself is a never ending constant of change. 

Talents are not magical powers given to some and not to others. They’re simply capabilities that we can either develop or leave undeveloped based upon your personal level of interest. Like I said before, the human spirit and mind are adaptable. You can learn anything that you are deeply devoted to learning. Finding your talent isn’t a matter of knowing like some kind of premonition, it’s a matter of doing. It’s in the process of learning and doing that you discover what you are passionate about, not before. So try things. Learn things. Do things and see what you enjoy. Once you discover what it is that you enjoy doing then see if you can find a way to make a living from it, if you are so inclined. But it’s not mandatory though. I know there’s a lot of talk going around that give the impression that doing something you love for a living is the best way to live. It is…if you’re willing to deal with the ups and downs. Having to pay your bills from your passion can be stressful at times and you also run the risk of actually losing your love for your passion when you have the added pressure of having to make a living. If you can find a way to manage the stress and pressure, then it’s well worth it. But if you have a comfortable job or source of income that takes care of your basic needs and you don’t really feel compelled to turn a “passion” or “talent” into the source of your livelihood, then don’t. Just because others do doesn’t mean you have to. Live your life in a way that best suits your physical and emotional well being. In the end, at least you’ll have an interesting hobby you can talk about at dinner parties. 😊