Can you make art while you're sad?

In my attempts to practice what I preach, I want to open up today about a very unpopular topic but something that has shaped my experiences and how I move through life greatly. I had a creative consultation with an artist today. And as usual, we started with her story, her "why". When she opened up about some pretty scary things and how it put life in perspective, causing her to follow her dream of becoming a full-time artist, I stopped and scribbled down some notes. I then told her that she needed to share this. That the level of detail was up to her, but the story was as interesting as the art itself and it needed to be told. It needs to be a part of narrative, and in the process, I realize I haven't really been up front about my own.

I told her that my ongoing struggles with low-level depression led me to commit to a regular art practice and that even though my art is happy and up-beat, it's really a response to my own self-work to not be sad, and to live in the present moment. As the words flew out of my mouth, I knew I had to rethink my own platform, and consider how my posts and "branding" for lack of a better word, could be a bit problematic.

I'd never want someone to go to my IG feed and assume that my life was perfect, or that I was having the time of my life all of the time (although many days I am jumping for joy at the fact that I get to live out my childhood dream of being an artist). It wouldn't make me feel good as I have a disdain for people putting me on any kind of pedestal. I don't like being the center of attention in public or social settings, and I still don't know how to take a compliment properly, although I've learned to be more gracious in the past few years. That confidence grew as I began to come into my own as an artist and boss, realizing the gift to touch lives with my creativity. 

But I still battle with my inner demons. Like my art, happiness is a daily practice. And depression is something I've learned to accept as just part of the way I was wired. It took a long time for me to accept or even acknowledge because I thought it was just my personality. At least it came with a dark sense of humor, right? In Abu Dhabi, I reached a real low after just 6 months as I found myself in a new country, no familial support, and facing very scary health prospects in my family life. I was terrified and not fun to be around. By the end of the year, I had to seek help. Adjust my outlook on a few things. And dive head first into the one thing I could control. My art.

The hard work paid off, and the clouds began to lift again. But then came the anxiety. In a land where everyone's trying to be the next big mogul, and anything's possible, living the Dubai/Abu Dhabi dream bought out my anxiety like nothing else. I would look out of my window, 30 stories high off the ground and stare into a 100-degree abyss of opportunity. I was startled with the idea of sitting still. Disgusted with the possibility of leaving this country without leaving my mark, without doing anything other than shopping--and in the UAE, shopping in the most breathtaking malls year after year can keep you quite busy. It wasn't enough. (Insert: I wasn't enough).

I was able to shake much of my depression off. I'd feel it coming and I'd do things to lift my spirits. Mostly create art, listen to podcasts, etc. But like an old friend, it was still waiting by the phone for that familiar conversation of loneliness, self-loathing, and pessimism. I soothed its wait with accomplishments. More art sales. More shows. More press. Pushing past new limits of health and balance. Anything to leave it in the dust. I even thought that so much of my anxiety was because of that dusty metropolis itself.

Moving back home seemed like the right solution.  And then the politics happened. And the horrifying news flashing across our screens happened. And the bigotry happened. One day my younger sister in her headscarf was stared and laughed at for the course of a family meal at a local restaurant. And it hurt me to the core. And then #BlackLivesMatter happened. I couldn't hear one more reminder that racism in America is still an issue in 2016. That the way I look causes people to fear me. Or my kin. It ripped me apart. And like a true loyal friend, Depression came to visit. Getting out of the bed felt pointless. Suddenly, I couldn't deal. So many external forces aggravated my already frantic state and we met again, instantly. My old friend. Hello, Depression. I thought I saw you around the corner and here we are again.

The difference is that now I can recognize a little more easily that I am not my emotions. I am not my fears and my anxieties. I am not my pain. 

We all have painful things in our lives that we must deal with. I don't think for a second that trading our lives with people we see online or on TV, or in our PTA meetings, or even in our families is the solution, because no one goes through life unscathed.

I know it took me forever to answer this question, but yes. You can make art while you're sad. While you're depressed. While you're hurting for the world. While you're exhausted with a difficult medical situation. While you're barely hanging for dear life. You can make art while you're sad. 

These days I'm taking active measures to live a more holistic life. Two weeks ago I deactivated my personal Facebook account (you can still find me on Instagram and my Facebook business page) and unplugged from my favorite social media platform, Snapchat. Mostly because I wanted to take back my personal space and refresh. I'm spending in time in nature, going on hikes; today I meditated in the gorgeous Verona Park. Family is a nice buffer because, well, let's be honest, they're crazy and keep me out of my own head. But, they also require more of my time which means that, even if I wanted to live like the workhorse that I was in UAE, I couldn't. Work-life balance is suddenly a thing again. There's more time in between the original art I list for sale. So I expanded my print collection while I get settled into a new studio here in the States. I will also be raising my prices in a few months to reflect the growth in my life and the value I see in what I do. 

We can make art when we're sad, but let's not. Seek the help that you need professionally, medically, spiritually, and safely. Don't suffer alone and indefinitely. But keep moving. Keep making anyway. I hope that we don't have to stay in that space, and I truly hope we all can find more joy and happiness in the world. 

I just had to come clean about my own struggles. Yes, to happy art anyway. 

Disclaimer: This is my personal blog documenting my own experiences. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Some helpful links I found: 

Living with High-Functioning Anxiety

17 Ways to Raise Your Vibrations

Therapy Vs. Life Coaching

 

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Be a Little Awkward.

When I was in high school, I had this really annoying habit. I would meet someone new, and within 5 seconds of the conversation, I would immediately gasp and ask, "So, where are YOU from?" wide-eyed. I had to know. You see, as a child, I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood in Newark, NJ. My teachers looked like me. My classmates look like me. My neighbors looked like me. 

All that changed when my mom succeeded in getting me placed into a magnet school, Science High, to alleviate any disparity in my primary education and prepare me for college. Suddenly, my experience was changed. I took the bus 40 minutes downtown, closer to Newark's historic Ironbound section where my high school was. I had teachers who were white, classmates who were first-generation Americans with parents from Brazil, Poland, Bangladesh, and Honduras, to name a few. I saw goth fashion for the first time. I heard Portuguese in the hallways, and although I didn't care for the 1 hour commute each way, school was interesting. And I was curious. I wanted to see more, hear more, live more.

I'm an adult now, so I don't stop and ask people where they're from (at least not right away, or not unless they ask me first because, let's face it, sometimes my headscarf can throw people :P). But the curiosity is still there. I still love to hear people's stories, to go beyond what my assumptions of who they appear to be at face value. And it's at a time like this, when we have so much healing to do, that I am reminded of the purpose of my art. Why I feel happy and excited on most days that I get to put my art into the world and into a stranger's home. It is because art allows us to reach out, stand up, and often times, stand with people who are different than we are.

I get it. I understand that it's hard to reach outside of your comfort zone, to talk to people who look differently then you do or have different backgrounds. But with art, we have SOME common ground. It's a way in for our patrons and collectors. And for artists, it's a way out. It's how we choose to show up in the world. It's a way for me to show up fully in the world as a person, with no labels, not as my religion, not as my skin color, not as my sexual orientation, not as my gender, not even as my politics, but as a human being, having a human experience, if only for a moment. I can focus on the doing. Not the being, and sometimes that's easier.

However hard it is for us to be different, or to be made to "feel" different, we can have the courage to make a difference, to make something, be it a statement or not.  And it's the making, the doing, that gives us some release, and puts us in "the flow" as they say, right? 

After mourning and grieving (and to be honest, I'm still not done) for the past few days, last night I sat thinking. I couldn't shake this gnawing feeling in my chest. That feeling of "what else can I do?" like so many others. I'm not at any rallies. I'm not one of the protestors. I'm not one of the police officers on the front lines. I'm here. I didn't want to share my work anymore or even put my latest collection up for sale. I thought, maybe art has no value if it's just to make you "feel good", that it wasn't a time to put something beautiful out into the world anymore. That art itself didn't matter.

I reached out to my community on Snapchat and various Facebook groups, a community which by the way, has been very vocal in the past 48 hours (Mark Zuckerberg himself even weighed in) in voicing their stance against the atrocities we've witness thus far. Even though many of them are not black. Even though it's uncomfortable. Even though it would be easy to keep going on with business as usual. And some of my artist friends have replied back with their thoughts, but there's very little answers.

The thing is, everything we are supposed to do as artists we are already supposed to do as human beings.  We mourn. We listen. We help our neighbor. We practice self-care. We communicate beauty. We be the light. But we do not sit quiet. We say something, at the very least. We do something. We make something. And hopefully we can make a difference.

I want to end this post with the wise words of an artist I admire, Jeanne Bessette, who told me today that "Art is enough." It put my heart and mind at ease and so I share it here with you.

Art is enough.

Thank you all for teaching me some lessons today and this week.  I've learned the power of standing up for causes I believe in, even if I'm not directly affected. I've learned what it means to be an ally. And I hope to be of service to others in the way many have been on this topic this week.  It's been a rough few days and we've got a long way to go. But I needed to acknowledge my creative community. Thank you for showing up wherever you are. Showing up on the hard stuff. 

Today, be a little awkward. Ask an annoying question. Have a hard conversation with someone in your circle. Step outside of your comfort zone and if you're learning in the process, you're doing more than most.

 

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Open House! April 20-22nd: What to Expect

Hey guys, I am back refreshed from a week in beautiful Bali. On my plane ride back to UAE, it hit me that I have exactly 2 weeks left in Abu Dhabi. Can I be completely honest with you? I'm a little scared. I have so many fears about the big move.

How will I adjust in the USA? Will I feel truly "at home"? What if no one in America buys my art? What if the buck stops here?

Indeed, so many people have asked me, "Are you sureeeee you want to move? Your art career is just starting to take off?" True, indeed.

But guys, if there's one thing I learned over these past few years is that, whenever you show up consistently and courageously as yourself doing what you love, the right people will find you. I have faith. I have anxieties, too, of course. But, this is chapter 2 (or 3, or 4, depending on how far you wanna go back). I'm still writing this story!

I will continue to mail work all over the world, and thanks to so many of you, we've mailed work to Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and more. I know we can rock out even further in the USA. But as a small farewell, I am hosting a 3-day Open House in my studio home on Reem Island. 

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I have so many original paintings from my archives. Everything from realistic oil paintings that I completed in my hotel apartment back in 2013, to my first time flirting with abstract art, up until my most recent work that you may have admired online, some of which the paint is drying as we speak. So, here's what you can expect!

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  1. THE WORKS WILL BE DISCOUNTED ON A SLIDING SCALE: Wednesday it will be an automatic 20% off. Thursday, we will have 35% off. And by Friday, if there are any remaining pieces, you can make me an offer, because hey, do you know how hard it will be for me to get 20 large scale abstract paintings to America? Prices will be displayed and in dirhams for your convenience.
  2. H'ORDERVES WILL BE SERVED: I'm pulling out my fancy pants this week. And, I don't do fancy often. I want you to be comfortable and satiated, not just visually but also tummily (is that a word?). So come for a small bite and the art, of course.
  3. CREDIT CARD, PAYPAL, AND CASH PAYMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED: I've got all ends covered. If you've got the big bucks on your card, you can sit down at my table and checkout right there. No hassle.
  4. YOU CAN WALK OUT THE DOOR WITH YOUR NEW MASTERPIECE: All of the works will be ready for you to take on that day (with the exception of 2 or 3 newer pieces). That's exciting and also super convenient. I will also have some information for my framer on hand so you can get that baby framed and jazzing up your walls in no time.
  5. THIS ISN'T GOODBYE, BUT SEE YOU LATER: I'll be back. If not in a few years to live again, then at least for some events and hopefully if I'm ever asked to exhibit my work in UAE I will happily oblige. So please come out and support. I'm not dying. Although it feels like it haha.

Be there or be square:

April 20, 21, & 22nd - 11am-5pm each day

Reem Island, Gate Towers, Tower 3

Flat #3009 (Visitor Parking Out Front)

050-622-1556

Favorite Moments of 2015

Hey lovelies!

This has been a crazy year in many good ways. From landing gallery representation and international stockists, to teaching art classes and having art exhibitions. It gets so hectic at times, going from gig to gig, and managing my little art business. And although I have so much in store for 2016 that I can't wait to share with you all, I wanted to take a moment just to recap this bumpy adventure! Here are some of my favorite times from this year...

 

SEEING MY HUMPHREY CAMEL GRACE THE COVER OF A REGIONAL MAGAZINE

 

PLAYING IN THE SAND DURING A WILD DESERT SAFARI

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GATHERING INSPIRATION IN MUSCAT, OMAN

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EXHIBITING MY ART FOR THE WANNA READ CHARITY AT A LOCAL MAJLIS

SEEING MY ART HEROES AT THE MOMA IN NYC

 

BEING FEATURED ON ABU DHABI TV FOR ART EXHIBITION AT THE HILTON

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BEING INTERVIEWED ON THE LEARNING CURVE PODCAST

 

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COLLABORATING WITH THE LOKA LOKA BRAND TO CREATE A BEAUTIFUL HANDBAG COLLECTION

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GETTING TO PAINT MY HEART OUT EVERYDAY AND SHARE IT WITH ALL OF YOU!

Thank you for helping me celebrate! Now your turn. What has been your happiest moments in 2015? Share in the comments below!

 

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Cutting out the Crap: Periscope, Redecorating, and Refreshing

How I've Been Decluttering My Home and My Brain

These last few weeks have been somewhat peculiar for me. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that I paint. And, I paint a lot. I share a lot of that, too.  And I'm blessed in that social media has been a crucial part in how I think I've been able to grow my art business and grow as an artist in such a short amount of time. I believe the magic happens in the work and doing lots of it and I'm happy to share my journey as I go along.

So these last few weeks, I've enjoyed a blissful break from my normal hands and hustle to spend more time on other matters. Like: 

  1. We launched our #ArtForSyria page for the month of October to raise money for Syrian refugee families. 
  2. Reviewing contracts and getting things in place to see my art in more corners of the world. Yay!
  3. Organizing all the bazillion painting files on my computer onto a very unsexy terabyte hard drive. Back, back, back back back it up!
  4. Major home redecorating. Some photos below :)
  5. And catching the sunrise occasionally with a warm cup of coffee in my hand and my love by my side.

It was a much needed pause, but like any creative, I'm starting to feel that itch in my hands, the anxiety in my steps, and a certain coyness about going to face my quiet studio after not being in the zone for far too long. I have a large abstract commission on my calendar, so that will keep me busy into the holiday season and push me to get back in the swing of things. But even more than a deadline is the feeling of knowing that I'm just not truly myself when I'm not creating.

I think too much. I spend time doing things that don't fuel me. I truly believe that I'm a better friend, a better partner, and a better person when I'm doing what I love on a regular basis. And so I am happy to cut out the crap, declutter my life and bring on the next series of paint flinging, stereo booming, pajama dancing sessions in the studio. 

Recently, I've been doing some work internally and also decided to let go of my oh-so-seductive love of Periscope. You may have heard of the latest app giving you the ability to broadcast live anywhere in the world with the tap of your smartphone. And yes, I have found tremendous value in the few short months that I've been on it. I hope I've provided value as well to the people kind enough to hang out with me. I've graced my face, my art, and my home more times than expected with the hopes of sharing and connecting with people that I may have otherwise wouldn't have been able to find.

Problem is, it's just not me. It's not who I am. I'm not a performer. I don't walk into a room of crowded people and feel a buzz. I feel a pit in my stomach and I start to look for a familiar face to connect with instantly. One of the benefits of taking time to work on yourself, as well as invest in the support you may need to help you do that (thank you, coaches out there), is that it provides you with the ability to listen to your small voice. The one that you can hear at 1am, when the curtains have been drawn, when you're friends to no one but your own thoughts. You can hear it then.

In a world of constant change and development, it's hard not to fall victim to the "shiny object syndrome". I know that for me, personally, I love social media because I love sharing and and I love connecting. It's one of the reasons why you can find me on Snapchat, Pinterest, Medium, Tumblr, you name it. But at the same time, I can control the level of intimacy and frequency of that connection as I see fit. And I can't tell you how relieved I felt when I deleted the app from my iPhone. I look forward to engaging in the workshops and small artist sessions I host occasionally here in Abu Dhabi, and in the meantime, I can focus on what's most important for me as an artist: the art. 

I hate the sense of overwhelm that can come up when you say yes to everything. Sometimes you do things without even realizing that you're subconsciously saying yes. Yesterday, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts "Being Boss" and on an episode with Paul Jarvis, he said how at first, he says no to everything. It seems like a bullish thing to do, but after listening to his explanation it was genius. When you're focused on your work and serving your rat people (aka tribe), most things that pop up are truly a distraction. By saying no initially, you get avoid spreading yourself to thin. 

Besides, how many coaches and savvy mavericks do I need to meet in a day? Everyone's got something to say, but what I've found is that I speak best with a brush in my hand and the canvas as my stage.

 

As promised, here are some photos of the new bits and pieces in my flat.

We simplified a lot in our living space. Cut out the big entertainment center for something more minimal and reflective of my personal style. (Trying to break in a new pair of Birks as well at home unsuccessfully)

We simplified a lot in our living space. Cut out the big entertainment center for something more minimal and reflective of my personal style. (Trying to break in a new pair of Birks as well at home unsuccessfully)

This pendant light captured me right away. I love the bamboo design and adds a bit of warmth to the home.

This pendant light captured me right away. I love the bamboo design and adds a bit of warmth to the home.

Having an official desk has been awesome! This is where I answer emails, engage, and brainstorm. 

Having an official desk has been awesome! This is where I answer emails, engage, and brainstorm. 

My favorite little splurge has been getting a console table. I can store my magazines neatly, it has a beautiful clean design, and provides a nice structure to a painting or large mirror, depending on the day.

My favorite little splurge has been getting a console table. I can store my magazines neatly, it has a beautiful clean design, and provides a nice structure to a painting or large mirror, depending on the day.

Short of fresh flowers, but I've been craving yellow so substituted with a bowl of fresh lemons. How do you add color to your home?

Short of fresh flowers, but I've been craving yellow so substituted with a bowl of fresh lemons. How do you add color to your home?

What have you been cutting out of your life to make the daily grind more dreamy?