Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Note: From September 4th - 22nd I have been in residence at the Rensing Center, a wonderful place in rural Pickens, South Carolina. This is a duplicate of the blog post I wrote for the Rensing Center blog today. To read and see more from other creatives who have been in residence at the Rensing Center or to find out what a creative retreat can feel like (just reading about it is inspiring!), visit Rensing's blog here. Also, I mention the other artist residency, ArtLab, that I attended in June in this post, and I do plan on writing a post about it soon. 

The view from my patio at the Rensing Apartment.

Today is my last full day at the Rensing Center. I leave tomorrow morning for Richmond, Virginia - an eight-hour drive to the city for a slow driver like me. For the last few days, I've been moving through the hours slowly, my mind already in the future, my heart trying to let go of this place so I can be ready to move on. My heart is sad.

Within a few hours of arriving at Rensing in early September, I knew this was a good and right place for me. I felt comfortable enough to allow myself to wander through the first week – taking naps, playing the piano in the library, painting the shed for my work-study hours, and working intermittently, while my energy started to gather. I napped a lot throughout the first week and a half, and realized that my body and spirit needed the rest after a busy summer. Ellen was supportive of this, encouraging me to feel less fretful about my lack of productivity.

Me, after I painted the shed! Photograph courtesy of Hannah Lee Jones.

Even though my ego wanted me to produce, I knew that something deeper was forming within me. Originally for this residency, I meant to work on carving linocuts to accompany some fairy tales and fables I had written over the past several years. I had planned to edit and polish the writing before I arrived so I could work on the artwork while I was here. But after taking a couple of writing classes earlier in the year, I realized that my writing still needs a lot of work and practice. I was not going to polish the stories before coming to Rensing.

Gathered gifts.

Instead, I came to this nearly three-week residency with a number of projects in mind: I wanted to finish the lengthy zine I'd started in June at my previous and first-ever artist residency, called ArtLab, at Mountain Lake Biological Station, take an online class to work on a picture book manuscript, start some short comics, and spend a little time on certain aspects of my art business – prepping digital files, photographing and listing products in my online shop, and carving some linocuts to sell at upcoming craft shows. And perhaps create a zine about Rensing as well. I was overwhelmed before I arrived at the residency.

Adorable young goats at Chad and Jon's farm.

Affectionate mamas.

I ended up working on a little bit of everything, except for making comics and carving linocuts. In fact, I mostly wrote during this residency, something I felt a bit self-conscious about because I have much less experience with words than with images. I outlined and wrote a draft of my experiences at my previous ArtLab residency, worked on a picture book manuscript, and took notes on daily happenings at Rensing. I learned what it feels like to write everyday, to write as a practice. And without planning to, I wrote poems in my notebook. Poems about what I saw and felt and dreamt: the goats, the wild persimmons, the piano, the dead rabbit that Bob the cat left for me in the bathroom on my first night here, the strangely similar dreams Hannah and I shared on the same night.

Some unfinished spreads from my forthcoming Rensing zine. 

As I realized that the writing and illustrations for my ArtLab zine required more time than the Rensing residency would allow, I switched gears and focused on making a zine about Rensing instead - a zine of the moment, one that I could finish in time for the Richmond Zine Fest where I am tabling next weekend. I told myself I'd keep it simple. Use the words I had already begun to write. So I did. It's going more slowly than I had hoped, as everything does, but I've decided I will finish it by next week no matter what, even if that means leaving out a few pages I had previously planned. I want this zine to be spontaneous and impressionistic. And I want it to be finished. One thing the two residencies from this year have taught me: in the ebb and flow of the creative life, it's best to catch the comet and not let go until it burns out. I work by obsession, and if I don't have proper time to indulge in the obsession, it's hard to put myself back into the mindset I had before. With my horrible memory, past experiences turn into a milky haze of pure feeling, with no detail or knowledge of where things begin or end. That's why the zines are so important to me. They help me to capture a place on the page. They anchor me to the ephemeral and prompt me to look deeper. 

Hannah and her horse-love, Rocky, from down the road.

Rocky eats an apple while I laugh.

During these final days at Rensing, I find myself counting out each of the last things I'll do here: this is the last time I'll visit the horse down the road, the last time I'll wash this cutting board and oil it, the last time I'll scrub the cast iron skillet. I can't let myself forget to bring home the sheet music from my high school piano lessons that my dad mailed to me from Rochester, NY. I don't have a piano in Richmond. Tonight will probably be the last time I play on it and sing, sing as loud as I want with no one hearing me. I need to make sure I feed the goats persimmons one last time before I leave.

From left to right: Ellen, Hannah, Ron, and Evelyn. 
Ron made the delicious Meyer Lemon Meringue pie they're all eating!

I will miss this place and I will miss the people: Evelyn, with her pure white hair and clear voice, coming by on her golf cart to feed Bob, Ellen with her ruler-straight posture, warm eyes, and wise words, Hannah Lee Jones, my fellow resident, with her eloquent poetry, diligent work ethic, and healing conversations, who has been a kindred spirit through our time here and will be lucky enough to stay through October to watch the foliage brighten. Neighbors Ron, Jon, Chad, Eric, and everyone else who stopped by the property to talk or work or share dinner with us. The goats, the cows, the swallowtails on the patio, Bob the cat. I have deeply felt the role of community during my stay here: why it's good and necessary to share knowledge, resources, talents, friendship.

Full Moon night.

Though I have a few things to show from my stay here, and more to come when I finish my zine, what I mostly benefited from here was the magic, the poetry of this place. Not magic in a vacuum apart from worldly problems and concerns. But magic that reminds you there is more than what we can see in the physical world. There is waiting and right timing, connection, acceptance, the ebb and flow of energies, coincidence. And benevolence: that's what true artists impart to each other. The benevolence of respecting and giving (to ourselves and to each other) the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual space we each need to function as creative individuals, as humans.

I know I needn't feel so sad. This place feels like home to me, and home is a place that will always welcome you back.

Aijung Kim, resident artist in September 2016

Bob, the best company to have while you're working.

You can purchase the zine I created of my experience at Rensing HERE

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Old Year Reflections

Last year was a funny kind of year for me, a good year in many ways but different than I had envisioned it. It was the first year in my life I achieved my dream of making a living by selling my art and teaching. It will take me a little longer to be more comfortable financially, but I count myself pretty lucky for making it through the year without having to get another part-time job, which I did consider several times (I even applied for a job but didn't get it - thank goodness!) Not that there is anything wrong with having a part-time job, but as the year progressed I realized that I can now make more money doing what truly interests me than working other jobs. This has never been true for me before in my life, so I am very happy about that!

Looking back, I see 2015 as a year of "sinking in." The year started off very slowly for me. I went into heavy hibernation mode in the beginning of the year. I ate a lot of grits with cheese and watched a lot of movies. The winter was harsh in Richmond and throughout the United States. I wanted to be more productive with my art, but I felt so unmotivated. I felt guilty and frustrated because now that I had more time than ever to work on my art, I wasn't taking advantage of it in the way I thought I should. Periodically I took art classes in handlettering, mixed-media, screenprinting, and ceramics to help me get into the flow of making stuff again. While I enjoyed the classes, doing so many different things made me feel a bit disjointed. I never had a steady flow of creativity, it was always in fits and starts.

Sgraffito bowls I made in my ceramics class.

Through the year I thought about children's book illustration, listened to Let's Get Busy podcasts (now called All the Wonders) for inspiration, and tried to define my style by doing many experiments but didn't hit on a "solution." In October I attended my regional Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators conference. After receiving a portfolio critique from a creative director, I was shaken up. I wanted him to tell me I was ready to illustrate children's books, even though the hodge-podge of illustration in my portfolio said otherwise. Looking back, he gave me some helpful suggestions that I will definitely use, but I decided I will not attend another conference or get a professional critique until I have done some major work on my visual storytelling abilities. I need to put the emphasis on learning and practice rather than results and praise. I will be ready when I am ready. Through the conference, I met and joined a small critique group with a couple of illustrators who live in my area, so now I have a great support system to keep me motivated!

In my fine art world, while I had periods of intense art productivity, I mostly floated through the year. 2014 was intense with starting my notecard wholesale business, but in 2015 I just didn't have the energy to push myself. I got sick four times during the year, which is unusual for me. My body kept sending me the message that it didn't want to be pushed hard at all, in fact it wanted to be nurtured. My hands and body were stiff all the time and I didn't know why. I worried that I was getting some kind of precursor to arthritis in my hands. My body gets a little more cranky in the winter, but usually when warm weather hits I am fine. I tried to do more yoga, but the stiffness persisted even through the warm months. Then, for my birthday in June, my aunt sent me the best gift ever: a set of Zumba dance fitness dvds.

And so I discovered DANCE. I'm not kidding when I say that it changed my life. 
As this was my first year being a full-time artist, at first I didn't notice how little I was moving around. I have never felt very graceful or coordinated (and I'm extremely shy about dancing in public), but doing Zumba makes me laugh, shake, and feel alive. It's a great reprieve from sitting all day working on art, and I come back from dancing feeling happy and ready to work again. It made me appreciate movement and the many ways the body can express itself. With the addition of drinking fresh ginger tea (which has lots of antioxidants and health benefits), my body felt so much better. I also started bicycling again.

One thing I did do a lot of last year was travel. 

In May I went to New York City to walk the National Stationery Show with my parents and aunt (who own a fabulous gift shop in Rochester, NY called Archimage). As I wrote about in previous posts, starting in 2014 I worked to wholesale my notecards to shops around the country. While I had some success with it, I was very small-potatoes. It was exciting but ultimately exhausting contacting store owners and trying to get sales, to the point that I felt burnt out and wasn't sure if I wanted to run my card business anymore. I didn't know whether I should try to grow or scale back, and it weighed heavily on my mind for many months. My family suggested that I walk the Stationery Show with them to see what the card industry is all about. 

That's my dad, mom, and aunt in the far left.

After walking the show, I observed that while there were some excellent stand-out booths and the cards were of great quality, many looked very similar to me. The art on my cards was much more unique in comparison to most of what I saw, which surprised me. I decided that I don't want to do what everyone else is doing just to make more sales. I want to do what I enjoy and what works for me. I am happy being small-time and niche, and I don't want to get too big because it will take over everything else that I enjoy doing. So it turned out that I am doing just fine after all!

I traveled for a lot of craft shows/vacations last year, including Buffalo and Rochester, NY; Trenton, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Louisville, KY; and Raleigh, NC; as well as doing a lot of shows locally in Richmond. A few of those shows really sucked for me in terms of sales, which caused me to re-think how many out-of-state shows I want to do in the future. But I beat my all-time sales record three times last year! And the funny thing is that I only made four new prints to sell.

Visiting the glorious mosaics of Isaiah Zagar at Magic Gardens in Philadelphia.

I was able to visit my family in Rochester, NY twice. I usually only visit my family around Christmas. They own a gift store, so holidays are exhausting for them and I am also burnt out from holiday sales. It was wonderful to visit them in August when things are less stressful for everyone and we had more time to hang out.

At beautiful Watkins Glen in upstate NY with my family.

The merry-go-round at Charlotte Beach. Such amazingly-painted creatures!

In late October I traveled to Mexico City to visit my best friend and witness Dia de los Muertos, a holiday that celebrates and honors family and friends who have passed away. It was an awesome trip, and I plan to make a zine about it. I saw so much and it gave me perspective on another culture and myself in unique ways that I am grateful for.

Just one of the many ofrendas, or altars, created by Mexican citizens to honor their deceased loved ones.

In spite of not doing a ton of artwork, I did manage to do a few commissions and donations for others:

I, along with several other local artists,  painted bicycle frames to raise money for the Richmond Cycling Corps and Art 180. It was fun working on a 3-dimensional object. The words on the bike are a poem I wrote called "Ode to Oregon Hill," and they wrap around the bike on both sides.

I created a beer label for Hardywood Brewery. The ale was created and brewed by Justin Anderson. I enjoyed collaborating with Justin and graphic designer DeeDee Hamad to create label imagery that fit the taste and feel of the ale.

A painting I created for a calendar for my parents store, Archimage. Every year they give out a free calendar to their customers and this is the first year they had one custom-designed! I chose the theme of monkeys because 2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar year. I worked really hard on the painting -going to the zoo and watching videos to draw monkeys, and doing color tests and sketches before even starting the final. 

And I did manage to make a new zine!

So to wrap it all up, when I say that 2015 was all about "sinking in," this is what I mean:
- resting and rejuvenating from the previous year
- learning how to balance myself emotionally and physically as a full-time artist
- learning what my working rhythms are and how to time things
- analyzing my previous accomplishments and building on that infrastructure
- learning how to be happy just doing "enough"

My anxiety level dropped from the previous year and I was able to feel hopeful for myself and not quite as worried as usual (though my normal worried is generally extreme). I let go of many projects I had planned and I made very little new artwork, yet I was still able to support myself. The only downside is that now my head is so crammed full of ideas from last year that I am going crazy wanting to express myself!

I can't say for sure what 2016 will bring, but I know that my energy is different than it was this same time last year. I feel more confident about living as a working artist. I am making a conscious decision not to travel as much this year so I can root myself in creating new work and have a less disruptive schedule. But I will leave a little room for adventures. I mostly want to get the ideas out of my head and into the real world through zines, prints, children's illustration, writing, and whatever comes up. I plan to launch myself into my artwork and follow my bliss, so the word for this year is: EXCITEMENT!

Dear Readers, can you sum up the theme of your last year in a word or two, or a phrase? What do you think 2016 will mean for you?