Moving to Mexico! Artist Residency & More

Happy 2017!

It's been a crazy year, no? I hope you're well wherever you're reading this, and sending you lots of light. 


I wanted to officially announce my upcoming plans for Amira Rahim Art. This show's going on the road and I wanted you to hear it from me first! A month ago, I shared in a video that I was waiting to hear back from an exciting opportunity: I applied for an artist residency in Puebla, Mexico on a whim and sort of unexpectedly. Well, out of nearly 300 applicants, I was accepted into the program! 

I will be doing a 5-week long study in the vibrant, culturally-rich city of Puebla, Mexico and I am so excited. The program, Arquetopia, was founded by internationally-acclaimed Mexican artist, Francisco Guevera. The program will start on January 23rd and will go into the first week of March. 

I will be painting and soaking up as much as I can in this town. Hopefully make new friends, and embrace this new chapter of my life. In August, I turned 28 years old and took a hard look at my life and what I wanted going forward. I had to let going of a lot but I believe it is necessary to make space for what's truly meant for me. It's been rough. But necessary. Scary. Liberating. Truthfully, I'm still a little frazzled. I don't know how I'm doing it, but I am. I'm stepping into bigger shoes, and tapping into more of who I am each day. And right now, that includes being in Mexico, close enough to my family if I get a little homesick, yet in a new country, starting anew.  

I invite you to the journey. 

I have decided to close my shop on January 12th. This will allow me to get all orders out in time and put the rest of my belongings in a safe place while I am away. There are some wonderful originals remaining that would make great gifts for the new year. Anything that does not sell by January 12th will be packed up with me and a few suitcases as travel companions for south of the border.

That's all for now! Here are some important dates to recap:

---> Last day to buy an original painting: January 12th <---

Shop officially closes January 16th - January 23 (I will be in Playa del Carmen)

Artist Residency in Puebla, Mexico: January 23rd - February 27th

San Miguel de Allende March 2-7th 


For a special treat, use the code: MEXICO to get free US shipping on anything that you order this week! See what's in stock at today.



P.S. If you've been to Mexico, and can offer any tips and suggestions, please leave in the comment section below. Thanks!

Inspiration, Doing Something You Hate, and Falling in Love Again.

The first time I was asked to paint an abstract painting, I hated it.

It was an autumn day during my second fall semester at Pitt, exactly 10 years ago. I was taking a Painting 101 course to go towards my Studio Arts minor and the class was largely assessment-based. It would be my first time using oil paints, and while I loved painting the glass bottles, still-lifes of fruit, and my favorite--people--I hated abstract painting. 

Everything about the concept of painting abstractly annoyed me. Whyyyyy would anyone take a look at all the beauty on earth and distort it? Why not capture it as precisely as you can? That's what I used to think. Lucky for me, our professor only expected us to complete one abstract assignment and graciously graded us according to our efforts, not our finished product. I managed to get an A in that class but my abstract painting almost got in the way of that.

The instructor told us to go out and find some inspiration, bring back some elements from nature for us to abstract. Naturally, on a fall day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I grabbed some beautifully colored leaves and proceeded to make a terrible painting. So terrible that I don't even have a picture to show you. I quickly put the painting and that assignment aside and out of my memory. "Dear God, never let me have to do that again" I thought.

10 years later, I eat my words because it's the only type of paintings I want to create these days. Maybe I wasn't developed enough yet as an artist. I was 18. A baby by many standards. And surely, even though I had been drawing and painting since childhood, I didn't have a true vision for the type of work that I wanted to add to the world.

The other day, halfway through painting these two pieces, I realized that with time, the same subject, the same process can lead to so much inspiration. We just need time to be able to see it. The leaves of October in New Jersey make my soul sing. My heart melts each time I step outside and see the trees seemingly dipped in yellow and orange. I've taken many walks through the nearby trails in my neighborhood to gather my thoughts and find peace in this busy life. This is what came out of those days in the woods...

"Female Energy" oil pastel, spray paint, acrylic on 30x30" canvas

These two pieces can be considered prototypes for future work. I love the texture and flair in each of them. I didn't even realize that they match until today when I photographed them. And both of them hold some secrets because it was the very first time I introduced spray paint into my fine art practice. I hope to convert them into patterns for textiles. I can even see them both on a lovely scarf. But it all started with a few leaves. It all started with looking again.

I share these paintings with you today and invite you to look again at the familiar. You just might get inspired.

"Autumn for Lovers" spray paint, acrylic on 30x30" canvas


Amira xx

P.S. Would you be interested in taking a workshop with me? If so, please click here and leave your details so you'll be the first to know about upcoming classes. 

How to Commission a Painting: Case Study with Jill & Brad

Today on the blog, I want to share a peek into the journey of commissioning a custom painting, particularly, what that process is like for both the collector and me, the artist. In addition to working on original paintings to stock my shop throughout the year, I take on special projects for clients and collectors who are looking for something more tailored. Just like your favorite item of clothing, when something is made especially for you, you can never tire of it. 

I love working on commissioned paintings because it's so much more intimate and dynamic. Earlier this year, couple Jill and Brad contacted me after finding my work online and decided to create something unique. They are newlyweds from Canada turned expats in UAE, and so that's how our paths crossed.

Jill and Brad decided to skip the wedding registry and commemorate their union with a custom piece of art instead. Pretty cool, right? You can imagine the honor to receive such a request, their first time commissioning a painting, and their first piece of art together as a couple. Now the only question was, what do we create together?

Fogo Island, Canada [ source ]

Fogo Island, Canada [source]

Jill shared a photo album of their wedding ceremony at Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, to use as inspiration and we decided on a palette of Prussian blue, teal, turquoise and purple greys. I loved the palette we agreed upon and was excited to use this set of inspiration for a new painting.

I sourced a few photos from Pinterest and shared them with Jill. Here were the pieces that meshed well with her and Brad's vision. These served mostly as a guide for the piece since it would be very blue overall.

After we emailed back and forth and Jill and Brad deliberated on several of my painting styles, they decided on a size and style, similar to two of my previous paintings. And with that, I got started. 

For the 40x48" canvas, I began with the first layer swooshing dark blues and Paynes grey. I also worked in some ink and experimented with alcohol as a medium. I documented my process throughout and shared it with Jill and Brad to keep them up to speed. 

After they approved of the initial stages and the first layer dried, I began to dive deeper into the composition. This is the most crucial part of the painting and where trust is really needed. Because of the nature of abstracts, it's not an exact science. I have a method to my madness if you will, and fortunately my clients trust me to do what I do best, paint intuitively.  A composition starts to form almost organically and it is my job to listen and pay attention to any patterns emerging. I feel more like a conductor than an engineer when I'm painting, just allowing the colors to play together and keeping them harmonious.

When I paused here and shared the progress, Jill and Brad expressed that they loved the jagged turquoise line cutting through the white space in the upper right corner. Can you see it? I loved it too and was happy they agreed to keep it. It would serve as an anchor for me to hold on to while I wrestle with the rest of the composition. .At this stage of the painting, I buckle down and try and bring it together cohesively. While paying attention to texture and form, I started to glaze some areas to add more depth to the painting and brighten up the perspective. 

After a few more talks and thinking, I finished up the piece incorporating more frosty grey blues and pops of purple and teal. All in all, the piece took about 2 months to complete. Typically it takes me several weeks to work through ideas and allow the piece to form without the pressure of a fast deadline.

I love how fluid and organic this piece feels. It reminded me of an agate crystal for its waxy and translucent ribbons of color. We couldn't decide on how to hang the piece since it looked nice upside down as well. I signed it in a discreet manner on the front of the piece to allow for flexibility in hanging. When the painting is hung upside down it had a completely different feeling, and I wanted them to be able to enjoy it in many ways for years to come.

I love how fluid and organic this piece feels. It reminded me of an agate crystal for its waxy and translucent ribbons of color. We couldn't decide on how to hang the piece since it looked nice upside down as well. I signed it in a discreet manner on the front of the piece to allow for flexibility in hanging. When the painting is hung upside down it had a completely different feeling, and I wanted them to be able to enjoy it in many ways for years to come.

They titled it "Icy Shores of Fogo" and I think that suits the piece perfectly.

They titled it "Icy Shores of Fogo" and I think that suits the piece perfectly.

It was a great painting experience from my side, but I figure it's best to let the clients speak for themselves. Here's what Jill had to say:

"My husband and I reached out to Amira to commission a piece of art that would commemorate a very special time in our lives. We were initially drawn to her work because of the vibrant colours she uses. They're fresh and modern, and every time you look at those colours and how they work together, it puts you in a better mood. And that's exactly what she created for us.

Our commissioned piece is beautiful. It brightens our living space and makes me happy every time I see it. And the process of working with Amira was wonderful. She gave us a lot of opportunities to provide feedback, she kept us informed and updated during the creation process, and she continuously put us a ease by taking time to answer any questions we had. We couldn't have asked for a better experience, and we'd definitely recommend her to others."

I'm very happy that my work was well-received. It truly is a collaborative experience and yet Jill and Brad gave me enough creative freedom to create a work of art for them without being too confined. It's unique and just for them, and will continue to remind them of the beautiful Fogo Island and their wedding experience.  I wish them well on their journey ahead!

Here's Jill &amp; Brad's painting hanging, framed in their home.

Here's Jill & Brad's painting hanging, framed in their home.

Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed this detailed blog post. The commission process is really that straightforward. To learn more, visit my page on commissions here. 

Enjoy these last few photos of the Fogo Island.

If you could commission a painting, what would you chose? An abstract, one of my camels, or something figurative? 

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?



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!