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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Portrait of a Bedouin: Behind A Commission

Hi!! Hope you're well. These last few weeks have been somewhat of a storm for me, but I'm embracing the rain. April showers bring May flowers right? I've had some amazing opportunities come up and I'm scrambling to get it all done. More details on that in a future post. But for now, I wanted to share with you something I've been doing on the side as well.

A lovely client contacted me in March right before my vacation with a desire to commission an original painting from me. She liked my style of work and we agreed to meet in person to discuss her vision. Many commissions begin with a photograph or an idea. This client had come across an old photograph of a Bedouin lady as shown below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.02.45 PM

The photograph really spoke to her. It just so turns out that I, too, have been collecting vintage photographs of the "Old UAE", particularly of the women. The photos are usually black and white, the women's faces are always covered in a traditional burka mask revealing only their eyes. It amazes me how emotional I get when I look at these images. To many foreigners, these photos show the mysterious, elusive nature of the Islamic world with veiled women being the main subject. But for me, these photos seem to take me back in time to a people that worked very hard and in the harshest conditions.

Women carrying water jugs on their heads, men fishing and diving for pearls, camels being transported and cared for, bedouin merchants in the city souks. These pictures are nothing short of a "Night at the Museum" movie for me without all of the animation.

smiling eyes bedouin_amira rahim_2

Anyway, it is my task and artist to take these black and white photos and reinvent them with color and modern elements. To breathe life into a time that now ceases to exist. It is magical.

smiling eyes bedouin_amira rahim_1
This is
This is

For this commission, I worked on a fairly large canvas 24x36". I worked primarily with acrylics, but I knew I was going to work in some gold leafing as well. This mixed media component adds texture and a reflective quality that could not be achieved with paint alone. The title "Smiling Eyes" comes from my client herself and I think it's very fitting.

Here is my rendition of the portrait. I emailed progress photos as the painting progressed so I could make any adjustments to the work. Thankfully, after a few emails of updates and feedback,  I'm happy to say my client is pleased and told me "it's perfect!". This painting will be set for pick up this week.

smiling eyes bedouin_amira rahim_4
smiling eyes bedouin_amira rahim_5

For more on my commission process and to book an original work of art, read here.

Sand, Safari and Bedouins

Hey you! It's been a sandy weekend. Abu Dhabi has seen one of the most intense sandstorms ever and left much of us indoors for the past few days. We almost cancelled our safari booking, but decided to just bear the brunt of the storm and hope for the best.  Fortunately, I was able take advantage of one of my last few days in Abu Dhabi before vacation and enjoy a traditional desert safari. In a few more weeks it will be too hot to bear! The camels, dunes, and blanket of stars at night made for an unforgettable experience. Here are some of the photos from yesterday.

The timing couldn't have been better. I am diving deeper and deeper into my collection of figurative abstract women and I managed to complete a set of Bedu women on canvas.

"Bedu 1" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
"Bedu 1" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
"Bedu 2" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
"Bedu 2" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD

I am happy to say they have already gone to a swift and trusty collector of mine (thank you, if you're reading!). I will be doing more with this motif in the future. I love the monochrome scheme for this theme, and I think it lends to the nostalgic quality of these figures that move me so much. I may also explore them in red.

If you have any feedback or more ideas, feel free to share in the comments below!

30 in 30: Day 21 Hand-painted iPad Cover

Hand painted iPad Cover, not for sale Hey hey! Back. It's January 21st right? haha, I'm so behind. I've been painting around the clock, but I'm learning that with the Daily Painting series, more jobs come up. You get commissions. You get busy. And so, I am just going to pretend it's the 21st because I am trying really hard to keep up!

This weekend, I got to visit some of my first sold paintings here at a collector's home in Abu Dhabi. She was kind enough to invite me over and see all of the art in her home. I'm pleased to say, she has well over 10 pieces of my work, ranging from watercolors, camels, and landscapes. One of the perks of selling/buying local is that you can keep in touch!

Well, in between my other work, I decided to just paint my iPad cover. I use it so much in the studio and I hate to admit, it was getting pretty "artsy" with paint accidentally being placed on the cover. The cover itself was on a nice, textured material and was teal colored. I applied my acrylics directly over it and just had fun with it. I inadvertently painted something very similar to my original "Dancing in the Rain" painting, which coincidentally sold the same day!

After I painted it, I signed it and sealed it with a sprayed varnish to keep it protected from the elements. Now I can take a piece of my art with me wherever I go!

Fun and functional. :)

P.S. My initial photo is blurry, so here's a little more from my iPhone.

The cover, with its matching painting :)

amira rahim_ipad cover painting

A Day in the Life: My Perfect Day

I've been thinking a lot about purpose and the direction I want to go in for the years ahead. One good exercise to try, is to write down your perfect day. Apparently, by visualizing what a perfect day would look like, you can tap into how to organize your life. After all, a life is but a series of days right? And since artists are a pretty unique set of people (we're kind of ADD, we don't like too much organization, or we do, we can be verrrrry introverted, making art and thinking about it can make us pretty neurotic), I decided to discover what my own day looks like.

Here it goes:

6 am. I'm a pretty early riser (When did that happen? I don't know.) But I usually wake up pretty early and do some spiritual exercises, breathe for a bit, and then grab some water or tea and head to work ->>>> STUDIO.

I love color. Stepping into my studio feels like I'm receiving a big color hug!
I love color. Stepping into my studio feels like I'm receiving a big color hug!

My studio is the other bedroom in the flat, so I have no commute. Beats my 2 hour commutes to and for NYC every day for my last job!

I like to paint very early in the morning. The light is just right. My energy is usually at its highest. And, so is my ability to take risks. I also find that working in the morning relives me of any anxiety in the day. It's like, whatever else happened that day, at least I got to paint. This also helps me manage my time as an artist because when I wake up, painting is usually the first thing on my mind. I can't wait to paint!

It gets messy. But, that's part of my process. I don't like to paint in the lines!
It gets messy. But, that's part of my process. I don't like to paint in the lines!

7 am. After some time in the studio, I take a break and usually prepare breakfast. 

8 am. After breakfast and a shower, I'm usually back in the studio. And this is where the real painting time begins. I put on some of my favorite podcasts (usually Artists Helping Artists and lately, The Abundant Artist Podcast) or some music and just zone out. My work, at its core, is about love, happiness, and our journeys to find it. So, I try to keep myself pretty happy and energized when I'm making my art. This means lots of dance breaks, warm tea close by, and a soothing incense or essential oil burning in the background.

1pm. By now, I'm probably too hungry to ignore. I love food! So if I'm not having lunch at home, I usually will try and meet a friend for lunch in Abu Dhabi. The nice thing about living here is the abundance of cafes and restaurants, as well as many women who also work from home or are housewives (gosh, I hate that word).

2 pm. After lunch, I'm usually at my laptop. I love connecting with people. Sharing. And social media. Fortunately, it goes hand in hand with my business, since most people find my art online. I spend time updating my website, taking photos of any new work, and sharing them via my social media platforms. I'm not that much of a blogger (did you notice? ha), but I do try and keep up with a post or two every once in a while.

I try to keep some plants or flowers in my home. It really adds life to the otherwise desert  terrain surrounding us.
I try to keep some plants or flowers in my home. It really adds life to the otherwise desert terrain surrounding us.

4 pm. What? 2 hours on Pinterest?! I then usually have some errands to run. Mailing any orders out, getting my prints, meeting new customers, working with my framer, are just some of the business tasks I deal with in a day. I frequently have people visit my studio, and since it's in my home, I try to be flexible with the time for this.

6pm. Dinner time. 

"Jumuah" is a 12x12" piece on canvas that I started yesterday morning.
"Jumuah" is a 12x12" piece on canvas that I started yesterday morning.

8 pm. I'm back to thinking about my art. If I can manage, I'll go back in the studio and pull together some work I started earlier. Or, I will post any new updates on Facebook, manage my Etsy shop, or just read an informative article or resource.

10 pm. Zzzz.

That's pretty much it. Obviously it doesn't always run that smoothly. Life comes up. Some days I spend more time on the computer and managing my business when a lot of orders or deadlines on commissions come up. But overall, my days are pretty much like the above. Not a whole lot of socializing, but I love it when I get to make time for friends. I also want to make more time for exercise in the future.

I guess from the above, I learned that at this stage of my life, art making is really the priority. I'm not too worried about getting into galleries, being famous, or anything like that. Nothing wrong with that though.  I'm just in a pretty intimate space in my practice and I'm lucky enough to have a market for the type of art I like to create.

I suppose in a few years, my days may look a lot differently. I'll probably spend more time on the marketing and sales side of my business as oppose to the creative output. I may be more social in the future, and offer classes and fun workshops with other artists. I would love to inspire others to create art and follow their bliss. For now, most of my connections are generated online and that's okay.

What would your perfect day look like?