2021 for me has been a year of transition, change, and work. In this year, I started teaching adult and youth art classes for local organizations, I took on freelance design work and hustled to build connections with local and national organizations I found myself aligned with. Really, in 2021, I took on the artistic project of being the independent artist I set out to become last year. I have been really fortunate to be able to focus on this work; this project of being allowed me to connect with my creative and collaborative goals and communities in new ways, for which I am ever so grateful.
I’m looking back now at the year through the art I’ve made, to check in with how I have grown as an artist in 2021.
Colored Pencils, Acrylics & Classes
I did A LOT of teaching this year, which has been so incredible and an invaluable way for me to grow as an artist. I can’t say more without first thanking all of my students for taking my classes and learning with me. When I get down to the obvious question: did my art improve this year? I have to say, yes, it absolutely did. My technical skill, expression and composition all improved dramatically in 2021, perhaps more than within any other year, EVER. That is completely due to the constant practice I had with my teaching schedule.
To prepare for my classes, I explored different subjects, techniques with media and paid closer attention to my practice, all of which reinforces what I’ve long suspected: the best way to learn is to teach.
I started working with colored pencils a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I was teaching colored pencils class that I really dug into why this medium is so special and what can be achieved with it. My color theory and line work have exploded, and these days I’m achieving rich dimensions in my illustrations that I wasn’t seeing last year.
Teaching a watercolor and acrylics class also challenged me to revisit media that I knew I liked, but had forgotten that I loved. Working on a lotus with my class inspired the lotuses I’ve started painting using different lighting and background techniques.
Themes: Ladies & Plants
I’ve always had themes in art that I’m compelled to create. Women and fantasy elements (fairies, dragons, mermaids) are my typical favorite subjects. As I pulled together the montage for this year, I generally knew the pieces I wanted to use, specifically the lotuses and #PlantPerson illustrations that I really loved creating. This year, my sense of why I’m drawn to fantasy themes really clarified for me. As a child (and definitely still as an adult) I loved reading fairy tales and watching Disney movies. Something that I struggled with, though, was [not] seeing myself in those stories, and feeling like I wasn’t sure I could belong in them, which was totally heartbreaking. The #PlantPerson series (ongoing) is a way for me to create the narratives and images I wanted to see as a child, combined with a fascination with plants.
Plants are quite fantastical already; if you think about it, they eat light and live within a space time that is both the same and wholly different from our own! They’re really the magical spirits/ fairies from fantasy, except real and if I’m careful and attentive, I can keep them in my home and admire them anytime I want!
In my latest illustration, I Paint Sparkles (2021) I feature two of my own houseplants – my own Strobilanthes dyerianus and my partner’s Dracaena trifasciata. I’m also building on a theme that I started last year, one I call “dark haired girl with a black bird” and also “horned woman with black cat”, which was the first illustration I finished this year.
This lastest illustration, I Paint Sparkles, was cognitively difficult for me, as I used colored pencils to create the bird, cat and girl, I found myself exaggerating features and getting really dark. I felt self-concious about my art being “not pretty”. So much of the fantasy art I like to look at is a continuation of the images I loved as a child: airy, svelte, and fair. I still love those images, but I end up back in the same struggle I experienced as a child: where’s the earthy, dark and rounded characters? Where’s me? I almost abandonned this painting a few times, wanting to turn away from it and try again to make something more gentle and fairy-like. But as I worked on this piece, I started reading and doing a lot of research about Frida Kahlo (for a super exciting upcoming project!). Kahlo’s work is of course powerful and beautiful. It’s moving and it doesn’t look anything like the images I struggled with as a child and now. I still want to find a way to bring these two aesthetics together, with tension, but also in a sort of discordant harmony.
Something to work on in the next year.
Looking Back to Look Forward
This is only my second year creating a retrospective of the year through art (see 2020s’s Art v. Artist here), and it’s already really fascinating to see how things change and what stays the same. I sure do love black birds, cats and fantasy elements, but branching out (LOL!) into plant illustration is a wonderful new addition. I’m ending 2021 in a much different attitude than I was in at the end of 2020. I’m much more optimistic about what’s ahead: new projects, new residencies, new trips planned. In 2022, I’m launching a whole new endeavor with my arts business that I’m excited to share with folks soon. For those subscribed to my Patreon, you’ll be getting an advanced look at what I’ve been working on in the next few weeks. Plus, I’m thrilled to start administrating the Corvallis Arts Walk and be closely involved with my local arts community!
Thanks so much for everyone who has supported my creative adventures so far, and for checking out the artwork and sharing yours!
Cheers to a happy new year in 2022!