How an artist residency in Mexico moved me to tears (in a good way)

Hola!

Writing here from the beautiful mountainous town of Oaxaca after weeks of traveling through Mexico. It's been months since I've been back home and yet I can't figure out where the time went. I'm slowly but surely finding my groove here and learning more each day.

Traveling will do that to you. Art residencies will also do this.

My artist residency in Puebla lasted for 5 weeks and was honestly one of the most enriching experiences I've had as an artist in a while. It was my very first artist residency and I see why artists to do them. Not only did I have space and freedom to create lots of new work, but I was also challenged on an intellectual level that I haven't felt since college.

We were given weekly reading assignments that was the equivalent of college Sociology, Archaeology, and World History. Our readings were anything but light, and addressed head-on the topics of colonialism, oppression, representation of women and people of color in art, all the way up to genocide and even a new one that I learned: epistemicide (which is the killing of systems of knowledge). My days were like a mix of painting, eating drinking affogatos, and reading Audre Lorde essays. Yea, it was intense. I cried a lot, and the director of the program told me this was normal. That I should be unravelled. And you want to know the question he asked me that made the tears come streaming down: What are you passionate about?

What are you passionate about?

Years ago, I wanted to be a lawyer and defend the rights of marginalized people. I was and still am deeply disturbed by injustice. Today I am not a lawyer or an activist of any kind so clearly I get to cop out as an artist right? Well, no. 

This residency challenged me on such a profound level because it demonstrated so clearly that art is one of the most powerful tools of communication. That beyond the pretty images, beyond the beauty, I exercise a very real level of power every time I pick up my paint brush. Artists have the ability to make people feel but even more so we have the ability to make people think. Even in the most abstract ways of creation. And even more so, the residency reminded me that many of the works in museums (and out) helped define culture, the way we view women, the way we view the poor, the way we view Europe, the way we view Africa, and on and on. My goodness, I'm telling you, it was very moving.

Over the course of 5 weeks I was called to tap deeper into my calling and respond. It's a lifelong process of course. I know that in many ways I am just scratching the surface but somehow creating painting after painting gets me closer each day to that place of true mastery, vulnerability, and authenticity. 

After weeks of intense work and reflection, I took a week break with a group of women on a lovely retreat in San Miguel de Allende. It was a nice change of pace not only bonding with like-minded souls and lots of jacuzzi chats under the moonlight, but to switch to my other hat, getting clearer on my goals for Amira Rahim Art.

  We stayed in a gorgeous mansion for the week, hosted by Desha Peacock of Sweet Spot Style.

We stayed in a gorgeous mansion for the week, hosted by Desha Peacock of Sweet Spot Style.

I am so fortunate to be able to send art all over the world, no matter where I'm living. I am able to send prints at a moments notice for art collectors on a budget, or mail one of my originals to clients as North as Canada and as far as Dubai. Now I feel like it is time to step into bigger shoes and build more of a community with other color lovers like myself. In other words, holding space.

There's something magical about when artists and creatives come together and I would love to host workshops more regularly to share the wealth of art. I have already tried my hand at this in Abu Dhabi when I lived there and online in my PassionColorJoy community. So I will be gearing up for more things like this in 2018.

In the meantime, I just found a new studio space right in the heart of Oaxaca and I'm ready to get busy! The best part is, they are interested in me teaching some art workshops here as well. Anyone up for a little Mexican painting getaway? Stay tuned...

 In a few weeks, these walls will look completely different.

In a few weeks, these walls will look completely different.

So this long update is just to say that I am incredibly grateful to be deep into the heart of this artist thang. I hope you are (re)committing to your passions too whatever they are. You don't need to travel to do it. But you may need to cry some crummy tears and swing in a hammock after. :P

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:

I also wanted to note that the price of my prints are going up soon. Today only, grab them at the old rate while you can. It's not a sale price, but the price of my prints is about to go up due to increases in my costs to produce them. If you've been eyeing a certain print, such as this one, now is your chance to get it before the price increases. 

"All of Your Angels" Fine Art Print available still with 2016 pricing starting at $45.

 

Let's keep in touch! Sign up for my mailing list for new studio updates and special offers. 

Stay inspired.

Are You An Optimist?

That's a serious question.

I've been thinking about this lately. I don't think I've ever shared this publicly, but I used to be a very negative person. I was always seeing the glass half empty, always the "realist." But a few years ago, I faced one of my most difficult challenges in life yet, and on top of that I was away from my support system in a foreign country. If I stayed depressed and hopeless, I don't know where I would be today. So, I adopted this sink or swim mentality and went head-first into fulfilling my dream of being a full-time artist. What did I have to lose?

You know what's remarkable about when you have nothing to lose? You have everything to gain. I let go of being a perfectionist and realistic painter, and started creating high-vibe, uplifting abstract art to lift my own mood. I painted day in and day out using the most high-frequency colors I could find. And not only did it impact my personal levels of happiness, but art turned me into an optimist. Go figure.

I know this month may feel rough. Heck, 2016 put most of us through the ringer. You've lost the person closest to you. You moved homes and switched jobs. You've seen yourself grow in ways that you weren't even aware of. And you've seen your weakest points and realize how much personal work you have to do going forward.

Maybe you've just been consumed by the news and genuinely sad for the world. I spent a solid day a few weeks ago just crying in bed. Tear stained pillow and sheets is not a good look on a Tuesday. Trust me.

And then I got up. Because I had a painting that a new collector purchased from me all the way in Malaysia and I knew she was waiting for it.

(Above) A new figurative piece on my easel this month

I started to paint a bit. I started to share again. Because I don't "want" to be an optimist, I have to be. I must operate from a place of hope and faith even when I'm afraid. We all do.

As I sat on the floor painting last night, I felt truly blessed. I know that no matter what, I can choose to surround myself with beauty and hope each day. I can create something beautiful out of nothing. And I can connect with people all over the world because of art.

As you head into the week, I won't flood your inbox with Black Friday demands to buy NOW, now, now! Haha. If you have any questions how to collect an original piece of mine, I know you can ask me.

What's lighting me up lately? I'm putting together a gift guide this week to show all of the new art, accessories, and calendars that I'm so proud to share this year. You can expect that email probably in the next few days. I'm also preparing for my very first online painting course to help inspire others to create and share their gifts with the world in 2017.

And on Monday, I will be doing a big pop-up shop over on Instagram. There will be lots of new paintings and other things to shop for right from your cell phone. So come join me then.

Thank you all for being apart of this journey with me! I couldn't do this without YOUR support, so I am so fortunate for your presence. What's lighting you up lately?

Onward,

Amira

 

Bali, Italy, and Giving Birth to A New Collection

Summer summer,

I write you with a full heart and an empty stomach from my mom's home in New Jersey. We're in the last few days of Ramadan, and I've been really enjoying the month. I wanted to take a moment in the midst of my creative madness to write you and share a bit of background on what's been inspiring me lately.

A few months ago, I took a trip to Bali, Indonesia. It was one of those places on my bucket list, so when a friend asked me to travel with her, I jumped at the thought. I started the trip wide-eyed and open for everything in store. I didn't know however, for better or for worst, that the trip would be a defining moment in our friendship. We decided to go our separate ways after the first 24 hours together. 

  Trying to shake the monkey off my back :P

Trying to shake the monkey off my back :P

You know how they say, you don't know someone until you live with them or travel with them? That ringed true. And there I was in the middle of Bali, alone, slightly scared, but relieved. I was going to have the trip I was meant to have and I was determined to not waste another minute. I believe there's a revival of the soul that takes place when you travel. And sometimes, the best way to really immerse yourself and truly experience it all, is by traveling alone.

Here's the thing, when I travel, I like to take the unbeaten path. Wander. Meet the locals. And be a bit more low-key than I would on home turf. Bali was the perfect place for me to find myself again. Its colorful markets, and even more colorful people made me swell with love for life again. I cried several times in the back seat of my driver's van. Just overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of this place.

And then I moved back home. And was greeted by oak trees larger than buildings, hills and mountains, sun that hugs you in the breeze, New York City skyline in the distance. Home.

But just for a few weeks. Because after that, I went to Italy for a workshop and was once again moved by the exuberance of getting lost only to find yourself again. 

I'm not telling you to brag or pretend to have this glamorous life, I promise. A trip to a neighboring town can be every bit as meaningful globe-trotting (and less scary, too). But I wanted you to know what it means to me and how the recent weeks have affected my spirit.

  First trip the art store back home...damage was done.

First trip the art store back home...damage was done.

Once I came back home, I went straight to the art store to find the pigments and materials to match the colors I saw in Bali and Italy. It looks like bright fluorescents, tropical fruit, seas of green, rich skies and sparkling seas. Here's a peek at the work I've been making thus far. Some of them are stripes of patterns and lines. Others are layered with rich passes of Sennelier oil pastels, requiring me to spray them with fixative on my mom's back porch.

It's bold. It's colorful. It's summer, and I want you to have it. 

I'm planning to put these beauties out into the world some time in July. I don't know an exact date because I've been really taking my time with these. Fine tuning some corners, editing, and exploring. I don't want it to end. But when it does, they will be in my shop, and I'm thinking of including some little treasures with the purchase of each original painting. They are recycled glass beads made by a lovely family that I met in Bali. Some contain the mala prayer bead and colorful tassel, others are more minimal but beautiful in color. Which one is your favorite?

 These?

These?

  Or theseeee?

Or theseeee?

Update  7/15/16: New works are now released in the shop

The Truth About Inspiration

Inspiration is overrated.

I know, I know... I'm an artist, right? I'm not supposed to say that.

I get asked from time to time: "What inspired this piece?" and I'm supposed to come up with a great intellectual explanation. I've attended workshops and art seminars on storytelling, and artists are rightfully advised to sell our work always with "the story" behind it. Be it fact or fiction, we must relay some sequence of events, preferably starting with obscurity to sudden clarity, as if that can somehow give rhyme or reason to a finished painting.

Can I be completely honest with you? I'm not really fond of the question. Not because I lack inspiration, but because my art practice is not a linear one. I paint in cycles. Often working on several canvases at once. Some end up in the proverbial trash bin, and others make it to the other side. And guess what? I have no idea which pieces will be the successful ones.

So, I'm just going to call B-S on the whole inspiration thing, and here's why:

And that inspiration, man, when you find it, you'll know. It's like love. And just like love, if there's anyone out there trying to give you a roadmap or formula, know that they're drinking their own Kool-Aid or straight up just making this stuff up. I reject the notion of a singular idea leading to a singular painting. That some genius idea grabs hold of us and doesn't let us rest until we execute it to completion, and then we are out of work until the next big idea strikes. 

Perhaps Chuck Close says it best:

So in the spirit of showing up and getting to work, I wanted to leave with 5 ways to consistently cultivate your creativity so that you'll be equipped the next time you find yourself slipping into artist block.

1. In the process

Cultivate your creativity in your process. Painting is one big playground. Give yourself permission to get out of your own way, relinquish control, and just go for it. I'll be the first to admit, painting a lot of times is just experimentation. When I'm painting, my subconscious chatter probably sounds like: "I wonder what would happen if I place this color here, or scratch out this layer, or add in this texture?"

So many times, I am just so inspired by the process itself. I'll have a song stuck in my head, or a line repeating from a book I'm reading, or I'll be in the flow and random memories will just pop up into my consciousness. And then, BOOM! There's the title for my next piece. There's the feeling I'll want to convey, or the end result starts to form and I'll know what to edit out and what to take up a notch. I guess what I'm trying to say is, painting is fun. And I don't have to have a reason to do it every time. Sometimes, just being with my paints on a white surface, a good cup of coffee, on a sunny studio floor is all the inspiration necessary.

2. In the hope

Cultivate your creativity in your hopes and dreams. In speaking of inspiration, another misconception is that the way a painting looks is how the artist was feeling at the time. Gosh, wouldn't that be convenient? If, happy paintings came from happy people. I deliberately use happy colors in my work and people often assume, "Oh you're so happy to create work like that." This couldn't be more further from the truth.

I've created some of my cheerful happiest paintings when I was depressed. Not always, but the two do not depend on each other. And what a relief it is to know that my work doesn't have to depend on my emotional state. I can tell you that if it did, my body of work would be all over the place because that is the human experience. We're not consistent. But I believe our deepest, core desires are. We all want to feel joy. We all want to be connected to the world around us. We all want to be loved. And so we can let that define our work, continuously and always about: love, connection, humanity. You don't have to paint what you feel, but you can use the process of painting to be a healing one, and arrive at a piece of art that will lift your spirits by the time your finished. And that, in my opinion, is the most empowering thing about being an artist.

3. In the rest

  Taking refuge in Bali. April 2016.

Taking refuge in Bali. April 2016.

Cultivate your creativity in the rest. It seems counterintuitive, but pulling back and allowing yourself to live outside of the studio is very important. Go out. Travel. Spend time with family. Spend time with yourself. Watch a season of something ridiculous. Chill. It may not give light to a new idea, and that's okay. You might run into Stephen Colbert at your local Whole Foods instead. I've learned that creativity is a muscle, and while challenges like painting 30 in 30 days and showing up regularly can definitely build your endurance, you can overwork it. Rest from being so damn inspired. Rest from art. And searching. And feeling so fricking much. Because, man, are we a sensitive bunch.

4. Through your previous work

Cultivate your creativity through your previous work. This is super key. In fact, this should probably have been #1, but here we are. As an aspiring artist, in the beginning you're trying to find your style and your voice. And naturally, so much of that is looking externally. But a key turning point in your art practice begins the moment when you start to look inwardly. Truly inward. Your work starts to speak to each other. Especially if you're painting on multiple canvases at once (highly recommend), one painting informs the next. This is when you're truly independent as an artist. And the freedom that you feel in that moment, even if just for a day, is one of the best feelings in the world. You're feverish with ideas. And you can't paint fast enough because you're just so into your own journey. You don't have time to second-guess yourself. You're too busy painting your heart out.

5. Via your peers

This is a controversial, one. But yes, cultivate your creativity via your peers. I love Austin Kleon's book "Steal Like an Artist". I highly recommend you read it, but in the meantime, allow me to digress for a bit. 

My background is in Sociology. Fun fact, as an undergrad, I completed an honors thesis (literature review, data collection, worked on it for 3 years, and all that, y'all). I thought I wanted to get a Ph.D. and I still indeed love social research. But anyway, much of my training still affects how I think today. One idea that sticks is this concept of a "unique contribution". Every thesis candidate and research student knows this. Essentially, it's the idea of synthesizing all of the existing work out there, weeding through the noise, and deciding what's missing. What can be remixed or reworked for the greater good.

And so for that reason, I recommend looking at other art, especially in the beginning and look to not only what catches your eye, but the gaps, and what you think you could do better. That's where you can find your place. And that's how you steal like an artist.

This was a very long blog post. But I guess the simple message is this: If you're like me, you're probably still learning and enjoying every minute of it. You don't have time for lofty ideas about art. You've got nothing to prove but the work itself. Let the art stand on its own. And if people connect with it, it will be instant. And if not, that's fine. You'll move on to something else that lights you up inside. Because that's the thing, when it's real, you don't need an explanation.  You feel it. That's inspiration. That's the je ne sais quoi, and no one owns it. Not even me.

What are your thoughts on inspiration and how do you cultivate creativity in your day to day life? Share more tips below! 

 

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"Wabi Sabi Love" - The Backstory of an Abstract Painting

 "Wabi Sabi Love", 16x20" acrylic, ink, oil pastel on canvas board,  Available

"Wabi Sabi Love", 16x20" acrylic, ink, oil pastel on canvas board, Available

So this is Day 8 of my 30 paintings in 30 days challenge but really, it's been weeks in the making. I started this piece right before I went on vacation in November and I'm happy that it came together in a way that I wanted. 

It evolved into a vibrant piece with lots of negative space. The teal drips of enamel paint were some of the last and final touches. A few days before I finished it, I knew what it should be called. The title emerged and I immediately decided to add black ink into my work, a rare move for me. I don't use black often, and certainly not in such a definitive manner as ink strokes.

I first heard the term "Wabi Sabi Love" when I was listening to an interview with Arielle Ford on love and marriage. Arielle married the term "wabi sabi" which is the Japanese tradition of restoring and honoring the worn and used, with the idea of self-love and love in marriage.