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Contemporary Conversations

Regional Artist Feature: Ellen Rutt

UICA is in the process of curating a number of public murals throughout the city. Our Exit Space Project is a dynamic experiment investigating the ideas, images and conversation being conveyed by contemporary artists working within the public space.

Our most recent Exit Space Project mural was completed in June of 2017 by Detroit artist, Ellen Rutt with support from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. We sat down with the artist to learn more about what motivates her.
Photography by Justine Montigny.

Ellen Rutt is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer living and working in Detroit, MI. Rutt makes bold, mixed-media paintings and murals and is interested in the visual and tactile nature of our existence - how we as as humans interact with the shapes, colors, textures that surround us everyday.  Rutt's work is a call for inclusivity and a celebration of diversity and uses playful forms as a vehicle for authenticity while using humor to help soften communication around cultural and political belief systems.

How would you describe your work?

Visually intense, layered, shape orgies.

How did you start your career as a muralist?

When I moved to Detroit, I was surrounded by all sorts of graffiti, murals and incredible hand-painted signage. It’s pretty contagious so I just started telling everyone that I wanted to paint walls. And eventually someone let me. It looked like total shit but then I practiced, and eventually got much better. I still have a long way to go though.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

Several years ago, I was really struggling with anxiety. I serendipitously stumbled upon an opportunity to participate in a year long “spiritual quest” of sorts, that culminated in spending 10 days camping alone in the woods off the grid and sober. It wasn’t what I expected, I didn’t have crazy visions or anything, but I got to explore the question, “Who are you when there is no one else around?” When the space is empty, you have complete freedom to do or be whatever or whoever you want. You can scream and cry and laugh and sing and yell shit and crawl on the ground like a slug or run as fast as you can, the options for “how to be” are actually limitless. Remembering that the world goes both infinitely inward, and infinitely outward really changed the way I wanted to live my life, and by extension, my art practice.

Do you have a piece of work that stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

Each piece or project is like giving birth and I could never love one of my metaphorical “children” more than the others because I learn so much from each one. But I had so much fun painting this underpass mural, completing first solo show, and this light-up mural felt like a big step forward in my practice.  I’ve been making some textiles recently and plan to open up a little webshop and possibly sell some stuff at the UICA...

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I’m about to paint a mural in France will be my first project abroad! I’m excited and terrified because it’s 6 stories tall! But I’ve been practicing my french and now I can say “Je ne parle pas français.” I’m also doing another light-up mural/installation with my studio-mate Patrick Ethen as part of the Facebook Artist In Residence program, and then my favorite festival, Murals in the Market (Detroit’s mural festival), takes place the September. Other than that, I’m just trying to push my work further - always looking to find ways of being more vulnerable, more honest and more mischievous.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

So, imagine that on your first day of work your boss was like, “Could you please paint a realistic  hand for me?” And you (assuming you are not in a creative field) were like “Oh shit, Ok. Wait. I really don’t have any experience with that. Ok. I’ll try my best.”

That is sort of what it’s like when creatives try their “hand” at running their own business. Most of us don’t have any formal business training and are learning as we go. So for those who are not in creative fields, hi! Let’s work collaboratively! You teach us about contracts and organization and we’ll teach you how to tap into your inner freak :) It’s fun and mutually beneficial, I promise.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

Im passionate about committing fully to this lifetime, learning as much as I can from many different people,  and exploring the vast paradoxes of being a person. Also dancing. If I weren’t making paintings I would devote my time to trying to be a back-up dancer for Tunde Olaniran.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Choose empathy. Drink more water. Seriously. Everyone go drink a full glass of water right now!

Looking for more?

Find Ellen Rutt's mural on the retaining Wall of I-196 Exit Ramp (North Division Street, Grand Rapids, MI). Learn more about Ellen Rutt here.

Local Artist Feature: Sofía Ramirez Hernandez

Sofía Ramirez Hernandez shares her non-negotiable daily drawing practice on social media platforms in hopes of inspiring others to open up or feel less alone. Practicing since the age of two, Sofía painted, drew, and wrote her way to Grand Rapids, where she received a BFA in Drawing, Printmaking, and Painting from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. We chatted with the artist to learn more about what makes her so prolific, what inspires her, and what's on the horizon.

Sofía is best known for her shameless, witty candor and borderline unhealthy attraction to endurance. Today she uses uses the leadership and organizational skills picked up as a club co-president, an artist in residence, after school teacher, and bartender to be the best art instructing, camp counseling, illustration freelancing, triathlon racing, chicanx movement studying, cheeseburger aficionado she can be.

How would you describe your work?

Accessible. Tongue in cheek. Honest. Gritty. Confessional. Smart. Silly.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

The complexity and pain of immigrating to an anglo suburb in Michigan from Mexico City as a young girl of color, for sure. This pain has forced me to question everything, from politics to social interactions, from accessibility in the fine art world to my own place in the world and my local community. I now celebrate my background, my culture, my being different here.

Do you have a piece of work that stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

My project #SofiaDrawsEveryDay as a whole has been incredibly humbling and yet makes me want to scream, “I HAVE DRAWN OVER 1300 DRAWINGS DAILY!” at the top of a mountain every other day. The intention wasn't to develop a sense of commitment nor discipline, but I am definitely a better person today because of it. When viewers on social media or in galleries say things like, “Me too,” I am grateful that I pushed through the fear of exposing my most private experiences and thoughts. I believe that showing vulnerability inspires others to open up, making society a more honest, direct, understanding, forgiving, and embracing (my one true goal).

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

The first year of #SofiaDrawsEveryDay was displayed at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts last summer, but this fall’s ArtPrize Nine will bring Grand Rapids a billboard sized grid of 1,096 drawings of radical and confessional poetry, selfies, and straight up comedy. I can’t say much more than that and that you can follow my process on Instagram under the handle @SofiaDrawsEveryDay.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

Freelance is hard. More often than not, the artist in front of you is their own everything. Please be kind to us, and pay us accordingly when you ask us to rework something multiple times. We love what we do, but it is hard work, just like every other job.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

Destroy capitalism! No, but really. Just because you don't have the cold, hard cash to pay a visual artist doesn't mean that you should not have art you love and want! Trade your skills and time. In exchange for artwork that required my expertise, time, and materials, I would love a haircut, a mountain bike, Tupperware filled with meals, or clothes that fit me well. Everyone loves to feel valued; in a community we need to show each other that we can rely on one another and that our 9-5's don't determine our worth.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

Questioning 'The Man' at every turn, running for extended periods of time, dissecting movies and shows in bed by myself, comedy, searching for the perfect burger, my blood and chosen family, honest and direct communication, and Googling the big life questions.

What's the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Inspiration is overrated. There is nothing riskier than pretending you don't care, and feel all the feels.

Do not wait for a grand idea to get to work, you must create art you are bored with, dislike, or outright hate in order to get to make something you are proud of. Show passion, geek out over other artists, get excited, speak against injustice. Hiding our interests only prevents a spectator from feeling understood. It's okay to feel disappointed, angry, lazy, sad, proud, excited. Work through artist-block by accepting feelings of defeat and dread, feel it and move on. Repression of your natural self makes for impenetrable art and is bad for your health. 

Looking for more? Learn more about Sofía Ramirez Hernandez here.

Local Artist Feature: Eana Agopian

Eana Agopian, a recent graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, is currently exhibiting her work at UICA. Agopian is UICA's 2016 Fresh Pick award winner. The designation is given annually to a member of KCAD’s graduating class who shows a high level of talent and potential. We interviewed the artist to learn more about her work, inspiration, and the West Michigan art scene.

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Give us a short bio.

I’m from Kalamazoo. 
Just kidding, I was born in Tennessee on the largest commune in the US, but I was raised in Kalamazoo. I studied fine art photography at Western Michigan University, and then I worked on a bunch of fun art collaborations in the area, and traveled as much as I could. In 2013 I moved to Grand Rapids to study printmaking in Kendall’s MFA program. I have an amazing cat named Frida who likes to watch me make art. 

How would you describe your work?

Ephemeral celestial botanical psychedelic collage. 

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

Constantly admiring the beauty of the world as if looking through the eyes of a child. I am in awe of every tiny thing I see. I’m sure folks find it charming and annoying in equal measure to walk down the street with me. I stop a lot and comment on birds and bugs and leaves like an excited four year old. I’ve also read 2 different Frida Kahlo biographies, and visited her home and studio, her work is so raw and honest – a big influence for me.

Do you have a piece of work that stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

In 2012 I made a collage of two mirrored figures of myself, - one large, and the other small, with their hands clasped around a globe, as if they were from the past and future, and I, as the maker, was in the present. Creating that piece made me decide to apply to graduate school. I realized I still had so much more to learn. 

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I recently applied to ArtPrize for the first time, hoping to make a large-scale collage using a botched origami flower I made from a piece of black paper. It’s sitting in a trash bag right now waiting for me. It's and idea I’ve had for a few years now, and I’m excited to start work on it. I’m also trying to embrace the sales-end of things, and I am working on selling more prints and things online – something I’ve resisted for many years, but now it’s time.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

Understand that artists are powerful beings, capable of imaging and creating a better world. If you hire us we will bring our magic to your endeavors and we will all succeed. I honestly don’t really think of myself as a member of the creative workforce, I have never profited from my artwork, and I can’t seem to find any jobs where being an artist even matters. However, I do feel creative types bring a lot to the table in any field, we have unique ways of seeing the world, like the mutants from X-men, or wizards like Harry Potter.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

Hire us! Buy art! Don’t associate the word “artist” with “failure”, in fact – it’s likely we’re a step ahead of the game since we’re highly ambitious, innovative, and rarely compromise our principles, which seems like good qualities to have in an employee. Again – don’t be afraid of the weirdness – buy the weird art! Embrace what makes you unique and interesting. I find this to be a very segregated, homogenous city, which I think breeds stagnation and a very insular feeling. As an outsider from a much more diverse, inclusive, and creative town, people were shocked that I would move to Grand Rapids to pursue art. In many ways they were right-on. I would love to change that, but I think people in power here either choose to ignore that whole notion, or fear it. Either way, more awareness and inclusion of “other-ness” would do this town a world of good in all sectors.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

Food. The alchemy of food and art are closely related in my mind. I love the freedom it allows for experimentation, and eating it keeps you alive! What could be better? Travel excites me, I love exploring new places and people watching.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Go ahead and make your weird art - don’t be scared of it or what other people will think. Figure out the weirdest, most unique thing about yourself put that into your work, its honest and fearless, and that is powerful. Besides, nobody wants to look at your boring art. 

Looking for more?

Find more of Eana Agopian's artwork here.
Fresh Pick: Eana Agopian is on view Apr 8 – Aug 6, 2017 at UICA.

Interlace is now on view at UICA

Interlace is now on view at UICA

CreativeMornings Feature

CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community of Grand Rapids and West Michigan, and part of a larger global network of 170 chapters, started in 2008 by Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka @swissmiss). 

CreativeMorning events are once a month—usually the third or fourth Friday—and feature a different creative person based on the chosen theme. We interviewed the Grand Rapids' chapter host, Molly Singleterry to learn more.

 

How long has the Grand Rapids chapter been running?

We are celebrating our third birthday in June! Julia Jamieson Swenson started the chapter in June 2014, on the theme “Minimal,” with Nikolai Czumaj-Bront at Haworth. Our celebration this year is on Friday, June 23rd at UICA. We’re featuring Tyler Way from [HAS HEART] on the theme “Survival.”

Who can attend?

Anyone! Truly. The CreativeMornings manifesto (which all chapters are guided by) states “Everyone is creative. Everyone is welcome.” We care deeply about making anyone who is interested arrive feeling welcomed, and leave feeling inspired and wanting to return.

What speakers have been on the CreativeMornings stage?

We’ve had so many fantastic speakers in the three years we’ve been running. Highlights have been: Carson Davis Brown on “Shock” showcasing his unique, guerrilla-style photography in big box stores; illustrator Lucy Engelman in the beautiful Downtown Market greenhouse on “Time”; MOMA-artist and designer James Victore from NYC on “Revolution”; entrepreneur Ryan Vaughn from Varsity News Network on “Risk”; activist Carlene Pinto from Brooklyn on “Broken”; Mayor Rosalynn Bliss on “Transparency” in the month before the 2016 presidential election; Dana Doll, founder of Treetops Collective interviewed Shadia Mbabazi, a refugee from Rwanda and board member at Treetops (soon after President Trump’s illegal immigration ban) on “Moments”; and breast cancer survivor Tammy Myers on “Taboo”.

Has there been an event that has stood out in your mind as a perfect example of what CreativeMornings is all about or proves what Creative Mornings can accomplish?

Mayor Bliss’ event comes to mind. We were so excited when her office said yes so quickly. Soon after, we were able to secure a really beautiful venue: Kendall College of Art and Design’s old federal building, on the second floor, where it once was the City’s old courthouse! We had an excellent food spread, thanks to the generosity of KCAD; Adrian Butler had a killer ladypower playlist; and the energy of the room was an intense awareness of the upcoming presidential election. Mayor Bliss was dynamic, friendly, and very open (dare I say “transparent”) about what she wanted to do for the City, and get our community involved.

What kind of impact does an event like CreativeMornings have on the Grand Rapids community?

I like to think that our events are something that many different creative groups around the community look forward to every month. We’re not just designer-focused or artist-focused or tech-focused. We try to find a diverse group of speakers to bring in communities we might not yet know. They’re a fun way to get to see friends in these industries, meet new people and very casually network, if that’s your thing. And more importantly, they’re a quick dose of inspiration for your Friday morning. Impactfully, we create a space for inspiration, creativity, dialogue, connections, and fun.

Tell us about your Birthday Celebration!

We’re so excited to turn 3! We’ll be at UICA in the fourth floor gallery, with mingling on the terrace. UICA is our anchor venue sponsor, which means we have events twice a year, which is so rad. We love UICA for many reasons, most of all the people we get to work with and the new art installations we get to check out. It’s a win-win for our community, because we can also fit more people into this space. We’re really looking forward to collaborating with some wonderful people, including Adrian Butler, our awesome DJ each month; Katie Huber, from Kenley Event Design, who will be creating a beautiful floral installation; Ferris Coffee, for some killer coffee and drinks; and a wide variety of vendors for great food. Tyler Way will be speaking on the theme “Survival.” He’s the co-founder and creative director of [HAS HEART], an organization that unites U.S. Veterans with artists with the mission to tell their story. He is also the lead footwear designer for SEBAGO (Wolverine Worldwide, Inc.) and has created personal artwork for athletes and celebrity figures including LeBron James, Phil Knight, and others. He’ll be leaving on a 50-state road trip for 18 months with his soon-to-be wife the week after our event, so we’re excited to send him off in style.

What are some of the ways that West Michigan can better support the design community?

Personally, some of my favorite events are those nitty-gritty group discussions. Like, “what’s your freelance rate?” or “how do I make a contract?” I think it’s integral to weave those events in with the inspirational events that showcase awesome people in our community (like ours do). We need to feel inspired as any sort of “creatives,” as well as get down to the details. And I also think it’s important to expand our reach and our understanding of what a “creative” is. Are you always inspired by just looking at a similar designer’s work? Sometimes. But not always. We’re inspired by everyone’s story, artwork around us, good music, a great joke, etc. It’s not just singularly focused.

How can folks stay up-to-date about forthcoming events? How can the community connect with CreativeMornings?

The best thing to do would be to sign up for the newsletter. We promise fun, infrequent communications. We’re also very active on Twitter: @GrandRapids_CM and Instagram: @creativemorningsGR, as well as our Facebook page: @creativemorningsGR. You can email me at grandrapids@creativemornings.com, too.

Is there anything else you want the community to know about CreativeMornings or the Design Community?

We truly are honored to be part of a community who cares deeply, acknowledges the diversity and includes many, generously donate their time and skills to help others and make things better … Let’s keep creating events where people feel included, acknowledged, and respected. That’s how we can keep our community growing, moving forward, and creating wonderful things.

Looking for more?
Learn more about CreativeMornings here.
Photography by Tina Rae Photo & Leigh Ann Cobb Photography

Local Artist Feature: Esan Sommersell

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For Esan Sommersell, making is living. In a world where it's become increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, Sommersell's paintings remind us that what we see, hear, touch, and taste cannot be separated from what we feel. 

With bold forms and surreal color palettes taken from the landscape of lucid dreams, his work is an affirmation of humankind's innate desire to create, to mold, to touch the raw nerve of experience and discover for ourselves what it means to be alive. 

How would you describe your work?

I would describe my work as "practice" or "trial and error". I'm creating to both understand why I create and also to explore my boundless capabilities. We all have gifts. We all can accomplish anything. 

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

My relationship with God and what I have learned from that unconditional love has had a huge impact. Learning to love and how to share that love is very necessary. Also, I learn from everything around me -- from the wide variety of colorful people I meet, to the way the wind blows. I don't really have a singular influence; there are many things that motivate me. 

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

The painting of my first series titled Motivation would have to be the piece that stands out to me. Battling with artist block, depression, and daily struggles as a man of color (amongst other struggles in life) I came across an entrepreneur via social media and was immensely inspired. This woman was very talented and seemed to assertively tackle all of her goals and dreams on a regular basis with magazine premieres, modeling gigs, a graphic design practice, etc. She motivated me to get up and go! I painted her as a symbol -- of lifting off into my galaxy of creation. 

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I am currently working on a few things, actually. As far as painting, I'll be moving into a new series and will be working with oils rather than acrylics and maybe even a mixture of the two with additional mediums. I'm launching a clothing line soon and lastly, I am in the planning stages of creating a short film series to reach black youth around the world. There's much more on the horizon, but that's all I can say for now. 

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

I would like outsiders to both respect and make a conscious effort to learn about artists, art itself, and the idea of art. So much goes into creating art and the world depends on art. Art is beyond a hobby or mere passion. Art is "life" and without art, a vast majority of things would never have come to existence. I digress. 

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

That is a good-looking question and I have tons of ideas! I will just say that Grand Rapids is moving in the right direction, but more organizations, programs, and most importantly, actual facilities dedicated to art would give the entire city a proper boost.
(So anyone looking for a brilliant man with ideas look no further! I am the man for the job!)

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I absolutely love making music! I go under the name Pluto Monday. You can find my music by searching that name on iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Aside from that, I'm really into movies. I am a film fanatic. I fill my spare time with consistent reading, writing, and studying art and other things I have yet to learn. 

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What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Art is not created for the masses. The artist creates for himself. He only chooses to allow the masses to see It.
— Unknown

That saying has stuck with me longer than I can remember. I feel as though it has been fused within my soul. We often live our lives for the sake of others; the same applies to the relationship between the artist and the world. I believe it is best to make the line clear so that you may create from a place of pure, free flowing thought. Otherwise, you may be limiting yourself by catering to the world rather than yourself. Create for yourself and keep it genuine. 

Looking for more? You can find more about the artist here. Visit Sommersell's website here.

Local Artist Feature: Vanessa Autumn

Vanessa Autumn is a self-taught, visual artist and naturalist. She enjoys long walks on the beach (actually), getting lost in the woods, traveling and being immersed in new places, and a life revolving around food (growing it, foraging it, cooking it, eating it, sharing it).

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How would you describe your work?

My work is quiet, curious, thoughtful, feminine, and soft.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

I’ve been a pretty consistent listener to the podcast On Being for the past few years. I’ve had my mind and heart blown wide open by some of the conversations they’ve created. It has definitely changed the way I’m navigating this life I’m living.

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

I've just started exploring the medium of drawing and painting around year ago and fell in love with it instantly. One of the first large watercolor pieces I finished last summer really hit a sweet spot in my heart. It felt great to be proud of a piece of work that came from a completely new and unexplored area of creative expression for me.

Often as artists, we take on the role of the harshest critic of our own work, so to have a proud and empowering moment of finishing a piece in a new medium that I taught myself, really encouraged me to continue making new work and exploring new territory where failure and success are both an inevitable outcome.

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I am making plans for my first publication— a small illustrated foraging handbook for identifying wild food that grows natively in the midwest. It’s going to be a pretty big project, and  I have a lot to learn on my own, and that’s all very exciting for me.

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What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

Speaking from the perspective of a someone working more independently, there are so many hats to wear as an artist. Especially when you are starting out and don’t have it in your means to pay someone to do your marketing, your bookkeeping, your project managing. Finding a balance in making sure you are on top of all the other responsibilities of being an artist, and also giving your art the attention it needs is an ongoing effort for me.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

In Grand Rapids, a lot of people seem to be "ga-ga" about art for two weeks when ArtPrize takes over downtown, and then forget about it for the other 50 weeks of the year. But there’s an incredible amount of art happening all year round in the city. There is always an opportunity to make your holiday shopping, your weekly date night, your kitchen remodel, etc. a way to support the creative class.

There’s an ongoing joke among a lot of creatives who I know -  that as artists we all understand from experience the importance in investing in the arts, so we are all just passing the same $20 bill around to each other trying to support our fellow creatives. I’d love to see support and encouragement of the creative class grow as the city grows more and more every day.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

Pretty simply, the outdoors. Living in the city, I start to feel a little stir crazy if it’s been a week and I haven’t made time to spend time in the woods or take a trip to Lake Michigan. I have learned so much about how to navigate this life I’m living by paying attention to nature. Nothing clears my head better than spending a quiet hour outside paying attention to the trees or the water or the plants around me.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Don’t wait for permission, don’t wait until you know what you’re doing to start, don’t wait for someone to tell you yes. Just do it. (I remind myself of this almost daily.)

Looking for more? You can find more about the artist here.

Vanessa DeCouto's recent exhibition at MadCap Coffee

Vanessa DeCouto's recent exhibition at MadCap Coffee

Local Artist Feature: Ashley Trieu

Ashley Trieu is the founder of Iconoclasp, a handmade women’s apparel shop based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We interviewed the artist to learn more about her fashion-forward projects.

Outside of fashion she is interested in psychology, music, and retro-gaming.  In her spare time she enjoys reading missed connections and karaoke.

How would you describe your work?

I would describe my work as eclectic but inspired by the past.  I love vintage fashion and although I don’t intend to, many of my designs end up having a hint of a past era.  I try not to limit myself by boxing in my designs or fitting into one aesthetic so it’s a little difficult to define.  Many of my designs are pieces that I wished to have for myself that I was not able to find so my work is very much modeled after my own personal style.  I work primarily with knit fabrics that allow for comfort and ease without forfeiting style.  For the most part my pieces are classic with a twist, I love working with either neutral solids or loud prints.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

That they require a lot of hard work, determination, and dedication.  One of the biggest misconceptions I come across is that this is avoidance of getting a “real job” or some guise for laziness.  This cannot be further from the truth.  I work around the clock and devote primarily all of my waking hours to building my business and skillset.  I am a one woman shop and do my own photography, website building, customer service, social media content, and sewing single handedly and there is very rarely any real time off.  I know that this is a very common story for those in the arts but it is still so commonly misunderstood.

Without a doubt my family.  I have always been motivated by my parents’ and grandparents’ coming to America story and admired their strength and resilience in adjusting to life in a new country.  It has inspired me to work hard not only for myself but as homage to those who made it possible for me.  Through family I was also immersed in Vietnamese culture which is something so valuable and dear to me, it has always given me a strong sense of identity and pride and I cannot imagine myself without it.  It's had a huge impact on my way of thinking, the way I interact, and what is valuable to me.

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

I can’t say that I have a specific work that stands out to me.  I have designs that I am proud of but I still feel like I am capable of more and am always pushing myself to grow and create.  I can say that I really love my work yet am never 100% satisfied.  This feeling does not bother me at all because I feel it inspires me to continue challenging myself.  I actually have this feeling with all of my creative pursuits, not just fashion design.

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I plan on designing as much as possible this year.  Last year was largely devoted to filling orders and creating content to grow my social media presence.  This year I want to push my creativity to the max and fill my shop with pieces that I really love.  I think my sewing skills have really grown in the past few years and I finally feel ready to create pieces that have been lingering in my head but I haven’t attempted to execute yet.  I also plan to collaborate with my boyfriend and release some short fashion films that will give life and movement to my pieces.  Since my shops are all online, I want to be more creative in how customers interact with my designs.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

That they require a lot of hard work, determination, and dedication.  One of the biggest misconceptions I come across is that this is avoidance of getting a “real job” or some guise for laziness.  This cannot be further from the truth.  I work around the clock and devote primarily all of my waking hours to building my business and skillset.  I am a one woman shop and do my own photography, website building, customer service, social media content, and sewing single handedly and there is very rarely any real time off.  I know that this is a very common story for those in the arts but it is still so commonly misunderstood.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

Make purchases from local creatives, spread the word about their work, give constructive criticisms that will contribute to growth, and attend or invest in events intended to showcase local artists.  I have gone to workshops by Avenue for the Arts and UICA that are geared toward bringing artists together to share information and I have found them to be really helpful, I think more events like would be great for Grand Rapids creatives. 

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I love the field of psychology.  When I started my shop I was graduate school bound with goals of teaching and conducting research in social psychology.  This is still a huge passion of mine that I intend to pursue at some point, but I saw the potential in my shop and decided to see how far I can develop it first.  My specific areas of interest are implicit bias, terror management theory, and research on Asian American populations.  I would love to develop programs for Vietnamese youth to provide social support and other resources.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Stay true to yourself and value your work. 

Looking for more? You can find more about the artist here.