Series Completion & Lessons

I finished my series of 200 marker portraits in March. I’ve imagined the end of this project many times. It turns out this series is incomparable to any previous work I’ve done. When a play ends the production disappears, and the experience is all that remains after strike when the stage is laid bare before cast and crew. With this series, there’s no retirement of the work created: it remains as visible as ever. Then there’s the fact that I’m still completing commissions in this style, so in some ways it feels like “finishing” didn’t actually change anything. I always find it hard to know when to stop when drawing. When I drew number 200, a portrait of my mother, the mystery of when to stop felt almost impossible. I kept thinking “is this it?”.

I was unsure if commissions would keep coming in, when I reached 200 portraits and raised my prices. I thought perhaps I’d move on to a new medium, with an occasional marker portrait here or there. However, business has only increased. I have two exhibits running right now: one at Studio Morey (Oakland) and the other at Flying Goat Cafe (Healdsburg). I feel my childhood dreams growing up very fast. I’m stunned that I am being sought out and paid to do Art. What an incredible dream, and how incredibly fortunate that I have the resources and tools to make it come to fruition.

That being said, these successes have not been without their lessons. I’ve been learning some hard but important lessons about being an artist and protecting your work. The following are two stories that illustrate them and what I’m taking away from them.

Lessons

Story A (Lil B):Trust Your Instincts (And Never Send Un-Watermarked Images)

I was commissioned by the brilliant author and teacher Holly Hardy, to do a portrait of Lil B (Bay Area rap artist) for the cover of an issue of BCC voice (Berkeley City Colleges Magazine) which my work was to be featured in (issue here). Lil B, known as the base god, is a well known artist in the Bay Area with a decent following. Lil B was difficult to work and communicate with and rescheduled our shoot multiple times, sometimes within the hour. Because his portrait was already a rush job, this was very stressful. Others working on his feature had a similar experience. I wanted to call it off, but was advised to stay engaged with this great opportunity.

2. Never send un-watermarked images

We finally met at a starbucks about 40 minutes from my house. He was a half hour late, but relatively relatable in person. While I photographed Lil B, we talked about his career and I asked for some advice as someone just beginning to make a living in art. He said to just keep doing what I’m doing and sometimes you “have to do these collaborations”.

unnamed-11.jpg

I told him that if he liked the work I would love it if he posted it when it was drawn, but to make sure to link to me. He agreed saying I didn’t even need to say it and “he knows all about how it is”. I spent the next three days (including my birthday) perfecting Lil B’s cover portrait, also completing two secondary more stylized drawings, as I knew there might be high exposure, should he choose to post my work. When I sent him the images he responded very positively and expressed interest in buying the work.  

unnamed.png

unnamed-1.png

He also requested un-watermarked versions.

unnamed-2.png

Since we had an explicit conversation about the importance of exposure and social media crediting, I sent him the images. Two weeks later, I discovered all three of my drawings had been posted to Lil B’s instagram and twitter buried under a feed of pictures of his private messages with women.

unnamed-3.png

He had not linked to me, or credited me in any way, nor had he responded to any of the comments requesting information about the artist. Instead, he tagged himself and captioned the un-watermarked drawings “collect the photo and save”, distributing my work to thousands of people.

unnamed-4.png

unnamed-5.png

unnamed-6.png

unnamed-7.png

unnamed-8.png

  1. Know your rights as an artist

I was upset, but thought it could have been an honest mistake and texted Lil B letting him know I needed to be credited, but received no response. I went through and responded to all the people asking who the artist was saying that Lil B had posted these images without credit, violating our verbal agreement and my rights and hopefully Lil B would remedy the situation without legal involvement. Multimedia artist Willow Germs immediately researched my Creative Commons license and a bunch of the other legalities of social media. The creator of my Etsy store, Yael McCue (@YancyQ) who has a business providing artists with affordable tech support, sent me a list of IP (intellectual property) lawyers and rallied allies via social media to hold Lil B accountable and comment on the uncredited posts. Other friends also spoke out

unnamed-12.jpg

After giving Lil B a weekend to respond, I spoke to Don Morey, whose gallery, Studio Morey, has kept an ongoing exhibit of my work for the past 6 months. Don is basically an Art Law textbook and he informed me of a lot of rights that I didn’t know I had.

My request was for Lil B to delete the initial post and simply repost the images with appropriate credit. Horrified, Holly Hardy who commissioned the initial portrait, offered to reach out and help negotiate. Her communication with Lil B was disturbing. I’ve never seen someone with a true “god complex” but now can see how sick someone can be with this disorder. It became very clear that Lil B has routinely posted other people’s professional photography, but never credits the artist. In his world there is only him, and the fact that he could help an artist at no cost to himself is no incentive. It gives him a funny persona but when you see that that’s who he is, it’s sad. It’s as if he could not grasp another artist’s experience even put in simple terms like: It’s the same copyright issue as someone posting your music without your name on it. Instead of posting them with credit he deleted the posts, though Hardy explained to him that deleting them doesn’t fix the issue as the digital image has already been distributed.

For another week, I anxiously planned to sue Lil B. Then I decided I needed to disengage. Some folks really are not worth interacting with. A lawsuit would be taking energy from what I really want to do: art. The only lesson that stood to be learned from pursuing that course was one for Lil B. I learned my lessons from the experience. So why would I invest in his? I felt the angry energy bashing around inside me making it hard to focus. Instead of investing in that, I accept that I need to be better at educating subjects about their rights and mine (and have every subject sign a clear contract), and I’m asking my community to hold Lil B accountable and not to support his work.

Story B (Always roll up your windows, lock all doors and unload your equipment)

I use my camera and three lenses frequently and often keep them with me in my car. Last week this equipment was stolen from my trunk in the night, while it was parked outside of my house. The great news is that I’ve been on top of uploading my commission shoots, so all of my paid work was on my computer. The last shoot that was on the camera was of my partner, Ryan. It feels so invasive to think of a stranger looking at his face. The canon t2i and wide lens are the most expensive things I own. I paid for them myself with many long hours of waiting tables, and they have completely changed my life. They were my first investment in my artistic work. The other two lenses were my last two years of birthday presents from my step dad, Dan and my mom. Beyond what this equipment represents sentimentally, I use them constantly. My portraiture series is completely dependent on them.

I’ve put up fliers around the neighborhood, but I know that I’m probably going to need to let go of those materials and that data. All I can say is that it’s going to be alright and I will figure this out. The last time my car was robbed, the thief smashed my car window and took an ipod that was visible. That’s when I learned never to leave anything, even a small thing visible. I had resented myself for locking the door on that night because I then had to replace the window. On the night my photography equipment was stolen, my passenger window was cracked and one of the doors was unlocked, so now I’ve learned two new lessons: Always roll up your windows and lock all doors even if you are parked at your house. Always unload your equipment, even if it’s in the trunk, not visible. The lessons are expensive ones, but now I know and can grieve these precious tools and move forward. It may just be time for new investments in new tools.

My painting partner, Napoleon, says: When you start to have something good, that’s when people steal from you. Unfortunately, that’s been true in this case. Fortunately, the things that ultimately matter can’t be stolen. No one can take my ability to innovate, adapt, create, and rebuild.

Cover Photo by Robert Schulz
Advertisements

Portrait 150

My work is about honesty. This series is done only in marker- like a blunt word that gets blended and rubbed out as soon as it is said. It’s been a challenge to tackle such an immovable medium. In the past couple months I keep replaying a memory of when I was around 8 and drew an undiplomatic picture of my uncle featuring a scar on his forehead. He praised me and kept the drawing. Sometimes I quite like what I draw but it surprises me when people are pleased by it.

I’ve finished 150 of 200 portraits! As the fall began, I struggled to deconstruct, then reconstruct my goals. Im starting to get commissions. My show on the 14th of November at Studio Morey will be my third exhibit in the last 6 months. I am overwhelmed by the quickness that all of this exposure is happening, but also feel incredibly excited. This month I met someone who had seen my work and knew me by reputation before the introduction. When I went to hand her my card she already had picked one up at a different exhibit! I’ve pretty much cut my time in half per portrait (2 hours rather then 4/5), but the amount of work left is truly enormous. On my days off I sometimes draw 8-12 hours. 5 drawings is pretty much my limit. I’m having breakthroughs of style. When an image isn’t working, I move on. When Ive realized the initial shape was wrong, I start over. I’ve been working to figure out better ways to represent subjects that are POC. I continue to use color experimentally. I’ve started working with overexposure as if the camera is boring into people and revealing the most shadowed parts of their faces. I’ve also been practicing drawing multiple images from the same sequence- more like animation.

chin study

Chin Study, August 2015

The subject of the series is the emotional vulnerability, and often discomfort, that happens when you document people. I shoot continuously until the person is unable to pose and a confrontation occurs between subject and documentation. When I depict this confrontation, as a viewer, the subject confronts themselves. Sometimes you have to photograph a long time. Sometimes its there the first shot. Sometimes it just dosnt happen. The shoots that disturb me are with those who are unable to turn off their camera performance. This indicates either a person has been taught not to feel violated, or perhaps worse a person has been taught to ignore feeling violated. Sometimes I depict this trauma, but I do not seek to take it from subjects who it belongs to. I do not seek to violate. I do not need to. Continuous documentation is enough to learn whats true.

Restlessness with markers

Ive been working in marker since I left to travel in Europe last fall. That makes it almost a year. Habit became series, and I set some goals for myself to help keep me accountable since I’m learning this all for myself. I feel the real world wide and open underneath me, I don’t have school to shelter me from how close artists constantly are to the drop. This is why my goals are important. They are all thats holding me up to myself. Theres not enough space to cut corners if I want to learn seriously. Im not educating myself because school wouldnt be nice. But the reality is that I can’t afford it. I can’t afford the anxiety of massive and debilitating debt for the rest of my life. It feels like going through an academic program for the things I love would most likely make them infeasible to do post-program. Fucking art. Teaching myself will be harder in some regards, but luckily I’m experienced at working independently. Often I learn more that way. Still, I’m invested in finding specific classes. Id like to take some at BAVC (Bay Area Video Coalition) this year. Ive been a member for a year and I’ve gone to events but never managed to take a class. Im using the money from this marker series on materials and classes. I feel good about building my own path. Im finally finding community and education resources in the Bay and beginning to learn the things that fascinate me.

I feel myself being motivated to move on to other projects, but i haven’t completed my goal (200 marker portraits). I wanted to finish by the end of the summer but Im at 115 of 200 so I have 85 left and at 4 hours each…you do the math (340 hours, 15 days left in August- 15 days x 24 hours =360 so 20 hours left to sleep, work, eat and be alive). Im either going to have to draw faster or sleep .3 hours per day. A number of people suggest I change the goal to less drawings. Maybe 150. But I’m still learning from markers. I want it to be easy to do this style, so that when I get commissions I don’t feel anxiety over production. Will doing 200 make it easy? I really don’t know. Probably not. But I think having kept myself accountable for past goals, will make keeping myself accountable in the future easier. The main issue is that I feel less motivated to finish this marker series then I do to do other projects. Its important to be able to finish projects. Its important to be able to work on a project when it gets hard and work it out. Its important to be able to listen to yourself while you finish/work out projects. In addition to drawing technique, these are the things I’m working on. So if I don’t finish this series by the arbitrary time goal I set, its ok. It was an estimation, those are adjustable. But I still need to prioritize this project foremost until its complete. Right now I’m using a desire to paint as motivation to finish this series of drawings.

The Builder

build a city

build it up carefully with all the materials

invest long-term

start from foundation

city floods without warning

a moment of cruelty, a moment of loneliness

tears wash away the makeup so meticulously applied

the love so carefully placed to dam the haters

let it go

be cleansed

lay in the ruin of passing chaos defenses destroyed

the strength is in the builders

the community in rebuilding

52

A couple months ago I sat down with my career coach (Rebekah Renne) and jotted down some imaginary dream goals I didnt even know I had: 200 little drawings and 10 large ones, and a show in Oakland or San Francisco exhibiting them (by the end of August 2015)11165123_882272488482557_5771345698614282177_o

For the next month, my work will be at a hip cafe in Nob Hill called Another Cafe. In November, it will be exhibited at Studio Morey, a Gallery in Oakland, California. I’ve shifted my life to draw 30 hours a week and laid the foundation of a fanbase on facebook, instagram, worpress, twitter and tumblr. 100 drawings span not only my travels but the weeks before I left and my return.

Tomorrow I install my first solo exhibit “52”, a selection of 52 marker drawings. Working 35+ hours a week for the past month, I’ve begged, borrowed, stolen, invested in materials and equipment and networked, enlisting the help of countless family, friends and strangers. Now its time to let go of the thousands of tiny details that have been the matter of my time and focus. I am so grateful and excited! And nervous. Not just for the vulnerability from my work being seen, but also to shift gears. The completion of a project always brings feelings. Mine, as I prepare today, are a mixture of groundedness, anxiety and pride. To go from not even speaking these goals to fulfilling them in the matter of a couple months feels surreal, and wonderful.

Fanbase Mania

Suddenly a strange currency I’ve only semi-aknoledged has come into focus. A “Web Presence”. Accounts filled with likes, comments, shares, followers…fanbase mania is upon us people. You don’t need these things to be an artist, but now you need them if you want to approach say, a gallery or audition and have your work taken seriously. In performance a fan base is free advertising for them, so there is a massive benefit to hiring someone with an audience. In visual art it shows that the world at large is interested in your work and again, that you can draw a crowd.

Although Ive been working more hours then you could imagine to build this “crowd”, I feel conflicted. True I live for the 2 or 3 confined hours I get to be on stage, but offstage I spend my introverted time hiding from the crowd. Of all the things I want to draw, a 24 hour crowd is not one. Honestly I feel completely overstimulated by such constant interaction. But I will admit to one thing. It is affirming. To sit with my work alone in my own criticism or satisfaction is completely different then sharing it. When I get a notifications of affirmation it creates pressure sure, but it also motivates me and makes me feel supported. Its like a little bird “hey tati, I like your work” reminding me that other people value what I’m doing. In moments of doubt, I get how that support could be an amazing resource for an artist. I’ll let you know how it plays out for this one.