Posted on

Toni Morrison – Women Behaving Badly – Part 2

In the 1980s, Toni Morrison had been going through the recorded history of slavery and came across something that disturbed her. Ina  newspaper clipping about runaway slaves was the story of a woman who did the unthinkable. When it was clear that she would be captured, she killed her own child. She said that she would rather see the child dead than watch it grow up as a slave. This story had a profound effect on Morrison. Her obsession with this tale developed into the novel Beloved.

In Beloved, an escaped slave woman tries to kill herself and her two children rather than return to slavery. One child dies, but the woman and the other child survive. Years later, they are living free lives when the ghost of the dead baby comes to stay. She arrives in the form of a teenaged girl and it is some time before her true identity is discovered. Published in 1988, Beloved won Toni Morrison the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No African American woman had ever won a Pulitzer before.

In 1993, Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Again, she was the first African American Woman to win this prestigious award. At the podium, she said “I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world…. It was very important for young Black people to see a Black person [succeed]…. Seeing me up there might encourage them to write one of those books I’m desperate to read. And that made me happy.”

I have to agree with her there. The term role model exists to describe someone who can show us how to be in the world. These people serve as examples of the kind of person we can become. it is vitally important for children (and adults) to have examples they can relate to. When you relate to someone, you can imagine yourself becoming as great as they are, as famous as they are, as wealthy as they are. Growing up, I did not have any role models with whom I could relate. I did not have a famous Black female artist to look up to, so I cherry picked and cobbled together my own vision of who I wanted to become.

Women Behaving Badly exists for those women and girls who wish to relate to their role models. For them, I have reached back into time to find the Great Dames of the past. These women went off the beaten path so that we would follow in their footsteps.

 

Posted on

Toni Morrison – Women Behaving Badly – Part 1

You know what I love most about this series? I love delving into the lives of the women I get to paint. Many of them, I had heard of, but didn’t really know what they were famous for. Take Toni Morrison, for example. Growing up, I knew that she was  a famous African American Author. I knew her books were popular and I would often confuse her with Alice Walker (shameful, I know).

I had no idea, until working on Women Behaving Badly, that she was the first African American woman to not only win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but to win the Nobel Prize for Literature as well. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for her book Beloved, which was turned into a movie in 1998. I remember seeing the trailers on TV, but I was at boarding school at the time and wasn’t able to drive to the theatres.

Anyway, back to Toni Morrison. Her parents had moved to Ohio to escape the racism of the South in the 1920s. In school, she was one of very few Black kids and was the only child who could already read in the First Grade. This was because her parents understood the value of a good education and taught her to read early. I can relate. I was also an early reader and would spend my school days waiting for my classmates to catch up. Toni Morrison used her time differently. Fueled with ghost stories and tales of Southern Black inventors, she would weave narratives of her own, though it was years before she would call herself a writer.

After high school, Morrison attended Howard University. Her father had to work three jobs to afford her tuition so she took full advantage of her education. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in the classics. In 1953 became the first person in her family to graduate from university. She then went on to earn her Master’s in English Literature at Cornell University in 1958.

After all that schooling, Morrison went to work at Random House as a textbook editor. At the time, she was one of the very few female African American editors. Realizing how rare this was, she used her position of power to introduce young Black women writers who probably would not have been published otherwise. She also began work on her first novel, The Bluest Eye. This book about a young Black girl who imagined herself to have blue eyes and fair skin, was a commentary on the ways in which standards of beauty and personhood affected those who didn’t meet those standards.

What set The Bluest Eye apart from other stories at the time was the fact that it was told entirely from the African American perspective. Morrison made a point of not “translating” any of the language or story elements for a White audience. “Dostoevsky wrote for a Russian audience, but we’re able to read him” says Morrison. “If I’m specific and I don’t over explain, then anyone can overhear me.”

…to be continued…

Posted on

Putting the Story Back in History

When I was in school, I did not do well in history class. I mean, I did well enough to pass, but I didn’t get why we needed the course. It was all names and dates of people and places that seemed to have no relevance to my life. Now that I’m older, I see that we do a disservice to students when we make history boring. The fact is, history is full of STORIES. Everybody loves stories. If that weren’t true, there is no way the movie, television and gaming industries would be as big as they are today.

In recent years, I have learned more history in story form. I started out with historical fiction, stories of fake people set in real places, times and events. Those led me to look for stories of real people in history. Not only have these stories been interesting in their own right, they have finally become relevant. Learning the history of Women’s Suffrage has helped me appreciate my right to vote and to participate in political discourse. Those women fought long and hard (over 100 years) to have their voices heard. I owe it to them to take part.

Learning the history of the Civil Rights Movement makes me appreciate the fact that I am a full citizen in this country and am mostly treated as such. I was born well after the era of fire hoses and lynchings. It also reminds me not to accept injustice when it is directed at me or at others. History has taught me the vital role allies play in righting wrongs and in moving us toward progress and equality. Those who have inherent power should use it to help level the playing field for others. Those of us seeking that equality should accept help when it’s offered. Progress does not happen only by the efforts of the few, but by the efforts of the many.

In my series, Women Behaving Badly, I seek to answer three questions about each woman I depict: Who is She? What did She do? Why does She matter? To me, that last question is the most important and is what was missing from my history lessons all those years ago. Why should I care? Because it is all connected. It’s the butterfly effect. Seemingly small events and decisions from the past reverberating throughout the present and the future. Answering that question over and over again has given me new insight into the world around me. It has also made me more curious than ever before.

Posted on

A Response to Bigotry

There has been a lot of horribleness in the news lately. There have been shootings, bombs, vehicular homicides…. The amount of violence, especially in places long considered safe has been overwhelming. The thing that hits us the hardest, though, is the undercurrent of racism and bigotry that has risen to the surface.

Many people are shocked that not only do these ideas persist, but that they are so strongly held. They can’t understand how, in a world that is so connected that one group can so hate another that they would call for a shutdown of their rights. And indiscriminately cause their deaths. It is enraging to watch it all happen. And it is frightening to be a member of not one, but several of the groups being targeted.

I am a Black, queer woman who is part of a mixed race couple. This doesn’t feel like a safe climate for me and my wife. There are those around me, ready to take up arms, to do battle. They are on the front lines at protests. They send calls to action to the powers that be, beseeching them to do the right thing and pass legislation to combat what feels like the rising tide of hatred and bigotry. These are the warriors, and we need them.

Five years in the Marine Corps have taught me that I am no warrior. I am an artist, a creator. As such, direct confrontation doesn’t work for me. My medium is subversion. I want to make people think, to reconsider their positions. Tell a person they are wrong, and they get instantly defensive. Tell a person a story, and they cannot help but look for themselves in that story.

I started to tell the stories of women from all races, nationalities, and walks of life through my series Women Behaving Badly. I want people to see themselves in those stories, to consider how they may be like those women, and think differently about women in general. Originally, I aimed these stories and this art at women and girls. I wanted to inspire them to be more than they thought they could be. Now, I see that these pieces can become a vehicle to combat an ideology that puts people into a box with an incorrect label in order to stop them being their full selves.

To quote the Netflix series The Get Down, “when you know better/ then you gotta do better/ each one teach one/ come together”. Warriors, stay on the front lines, we need you there. But, if like me, you know you don’t fit in a the front, we still need your help. Spread art, spread knowledge, spread the stories that tell of our mutual humanity. Reach out with your heart.

Posted on

Focusing on Women Behaving Badly – 50% off Sale on Synesthesia

I have recently come to a decision about my business. I wish to concentrate on my series Women Behaving Badly. I have spent the last year working on various projects for clients, and while it has been rewarding, I fear it has taken me away from my true passion.

The Women Behaving Badly series has brought me to new levels with my art. The series has brought more meaning to my life than anything I’ve done so far. It has made me see how my art can touch people and inspire them to be and do better.

I realized that it has been almost a year since I’ve painted one of these amazing women. That realization did not feel good. So, I am getting back into it, doing more extensive research and experimenting with new techniques that will push the envelope of storytelling and visual appeal.

The challenge to my being able to do this is funding. I need to pay studio fees, buy supplies, and pay for prints of the paintings when I’m done. I know that not everyone can afford originals, so I provide posters and other reproductions so that anyone may enjoy and learn from my work. I have a Patreon account (kind of an ongoing Kickstarter) which I will flesh out with perks that pertain only to this series. However, what will help me most will be to sell some paintings.

If you have been with me these last few years, you will remember my series of famous musicians: Synesthesia. That series did a lot to build my audience, and honestly, my business. I took music I loved and artists I admire and painted them with all the joy their work has brought me. I honed my watercolor skills with those paintings, got comfortable painting in public, stepped up my marketing game…. Those paintings brought a lot to my life as an artist and as a businesswoman. Now it is time for me to let them go so that I am free to devote time and energy to Women Behaving Badly. My loss is your gain.

SALE

I will cut the price of my Synesthesia paintings by 50% to fund my new series. By buying one, you are allowing me to:

  1. Study and paint women who have been left out of the history books
  2. Create zines and compilation books telling their stories
  3. Reach out to schools with this series as a curriculum
  4. Print posters, postcards and other materials
  5. Make videos of my process and of me telling each woman’s story.

I feel as though I started something huge and now I have to give it time to grow. I love my clients and am grateful for the work we did together, but this series has been calling me and I have to go to it now. If you believe in it as much as I do, help me make it an ongoing reality. Buy one of my old paintings (you know which one you’ve had your eye on) or contribute via Patreon.

Thank you for being with me on this journey. Let’s do something amazing!

Posted on

Vote for me – Small Business Grant

Hi everyone,

I’ve been taking a break from blogging for a while. I am far more visual than I am wordy, so at times, I just focus on the images. There are some new ones I want to share with you, but first, I have something to tell you about. I recently applied for a small business grant.

FedEx is offering to award $25,000 to the small business with the most votes. With that kind of money, I could create some great new products for you guys. I have some ideas for my Women Behaving Badly series that would help women and girls everywhere learn more about their place in history. So many women have contributed to the building of this country and our way of life. We should know who they are.

To that end, I want to print posters, informative postcards, collectible card decks (like baseball cards with stats and all), basically beautiful educational tools. Ideally, some would be for sale while others will be distributed to school aged kids. I want to inspire our young people, especially our young girls to enter high power, high paying fields like STEM, politics, business… fields in which the feminine touch is in short supply.

I am asking for your help. Please vote for me so that I can make my plans a reality.

 

 

UPDATE: The ballots have been cast and unfortunately, I have not been chosen this time around. Thank you to everyone who took time to vote (and help me troubleshoot my buttons). I will let you all know about any future opportunities that arise.

 

Posted on

Battling Unconscious Biases with Art

I may have mentioned this before but I love listening to podcasts. My list seems to grow every month as more, interesting series come to my attention. I stared listening to Radio Lab a few years ago and it was like my gateway drug. Podcasts allow me to insert information into my brain while I am working and inspire me to apply new concepts to my art.

It was through podcasts that I learned of some of the women I painted or my Women Behaving Badly series. I heard their stories, learned of their deeds and asked myself, why have I never heard of these women before? So, I set myself to the task of using my art to teach others. I felt as though I had finally found my purpose.

Listening to Hidden Brian today, I heard an episode which added to my motivation. The topic of the episode was unconscious bias as it relates to women, particularly women in leadership roles. Women who have the “masculine” traits necessary to be seen as good leaders are often considered overbearing and unlikable. When women display the expected “feminine” traits of being caring and compassionate, they are assumed to be weak and incompetent. The podcast calls this the “double bind”. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

The end of the podcast suggests that if we are to get women out of this double bind situation, we need to change society’s perception of women. I have chosen to showcase women in history as my way of changing that perception. I highlight women leaders, inventors and healers of nations. Not only do they inspire me, our society needs to see them as contributors to who we are. We need to let go of our unconscious biases and see value in the feminine.

Check out this episode of Hidden Brain to learn more. And go to my Women Behaving Badly blog to learn more about the series.

Posted on

Teaching at Girls Inc.

New Year

Happy new year everybody! I know, it’s already been a month since the year started. I just been so busy working on projects, I’m only now finding time to gather my thoughts. I would love to show you what I’ve been working on but I want to make sure I respect the privacy of my clients.

Teaching at Girls Inc.

What I can share with you is something I’ve been waiting months to do. I have moved my Women Behaving Badly paintings to Girls Inc. of Denver, where they will hang until March 3rd. When I started this series I wanted to inspire young girls with the deeds of the women who have helped to shape our society. I wish I’d had these women as role models when I was young. Now the students of Girls Inc. can see these paintings every day and read about the lives of these amazing women.

Classes

In addition to showing my work in their halls, I’m also teaching three classes a week at Girls Inc. These classes are combination of history lesson and art lesson. I begin by walking through the halls with the girls, looking at the paintings and telling each woman story as I know it. Then we had back to the classroom to review and I find out which woman inspires each girl and why. I ask if there’s anyone else they find inspirational and take note of their responses.

The younger girls are given handouts of women they can research for their own paintings. The older girls get to do independent study of woman of their choosing . I asked him to tell me a story. By day 3, we take a break from academics to do art class. The first day is all about collage where I teach about technique as well as ways to think about color, shape and subject matter. The next day we do some acrylic painting with the same ideas in mind. These will be the key elements of their final project.

The last two classes are where we put it all together. Each girl is given an 18″ x 24″ wooden board to work on and is given the task of telling the story of the woman she is selected through image, word and color. I want them to work on wood so that they see it as a final piece, not just another throwaway school project. I wanted to feel special.

The Final Product

Over the course of eight weeks, I will have worked with second grade through fifth grade. The third-grade class is already finished and the fifth-graders are halfway through. At the end, we will hold an exhibition showing off the girls work to family and friends.

I am loving this opportunity to work with young girls and to hear from them what traits they admire most in the women they’re learning about. I love their openness, their enthusiasm and their spirit of exploration. I can’t wait to see what the next five weeks will bring.

Third grade collages
Third grade collages
Posted on

A Little Different – Burmese Food in Denver

Hey Everyone,

I have mentioned my wife Marin in a few of my posts now. I want to let you know a little about her and what she does.

My wife is brilliant. Just after graduating from college, she applied for and received the Fulbright Grant. If you don’t know about this, it is crazy hard to get, especially on the first try and especially for those who are not already Grad students. She used this grant to spend a year and a half in China researching their food culture. Did I mention she speaks fluent Mandarin? Did I mention she was brilliant?

When Marin came home, she started volunteering for this organization that works with refugees in Aurora. Through that organization, she met Zin Zin, a young Burmese women who is as passionate about cooking as Marin is about eating. They formed a partnership, teaching nutrition classes to other Burmese refugees who did not know what to do with the items at the food share. Not all vegetables are created equal.

Burmese Village

That partnership has turned into a deep friendship which has culminated in Marin’s efforts to help grant Zin Zin’s wish to open Denver’s first Burmese restaurant. Together, they are hosting a five course Burmese Dinner to raise funds for Zin Zin’s restaurant. Follow the link below to learn more and to get your seat at the table. I am one of the lucky few who gets to eat Zin Zin’s cooking regularly. As she builds her catering business and eventually gets her own space, you could be as lucky too.

Burmese Village, the fundraising dinner will be on

November 12th 6-9pm
at the Spring Institute
1373 Grant St

Posted on

New Venue for WBB – The Blair Caldwell Library

Good afternoon all! I am happy to report that Women Behaving Badly has found a new home (for the time being). Just yesterday, I took all the pieces over to the Blair Caldwell Library and hung them up in the third floor gallery.

Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library

This library is a fixture of the Five Points community. Not only does it have all the things one would expect to find in a library, it also has a conference room, a meeting room, a research section complete with original letters and documents, and a gallery. My work is on the third floor which houses the Western Legacies Museum and the Charles Cousins Gallery. (Hint: I’m in the gallery.) I have one new painting to showcase, so if you think you’ve already seen them, you haven’t.

Although my paintings are already hanging, I’m waiting until the 12th of November to do my opening. Mark your calendars and tell your friends!

Posted on

Career Panel with High Schoolers

Good Afternoon. I want to tell you real quick about a cool opportunity I have this afternoon. North High School’s after school program holds a weekly career panel in which they invite members of the community to talk to the kids about career paths they might not have considered before.

At 4 today, I get to go over there and talk to the students about what it’s like to be a professional artist. I am very excited about this, because there are a number of things I would have loved to know  when I was young enough to prepare myself. For example, I used to think I just had to be a good artist. In the past few years, I have learned a LOT about entrepreneurship. I WISH someone had told me about that when I was starting out.

I have had to learn about marketing, pricing my pieces, following up on leads, just to name a few things. Most of it has taken me out of my comfort zone and has been quite frustrating. I’m used to it now. Any student considering an art career, unless they are looking to break into a pre-existing industry, should know that being an artist means being an entrepreneur. It is hard work, but bit is also very rewarding.

I obviously have no photos of the event, so please enjoy my latest drawing for Inktober: Misty Knight.

Misty Knight
Misty Knight
Posted on

Goodbye Coffee at The Point

Good morning everyone! I hope you all had an amazing weekend. I know mine was relaxing. My wife had just returned from a father/daughter vacation in Mexico, so we spent the weekend catching up. It was glorious!

As the title of this post suggests, I will be taking my work down from Coffee at The Point today. As always, it has been a great run. I want to thank Ryan and Donovan Cobbins for providing such a great space. I want to also thank the staff of Coffee at The Point for always being friendly and helpful. They would rearrange the space for me for our discussion panels and consistently check in to make sure me and my guests were comfortable.

I also want to thank Judith Weaver for being a great friend and excellent curator. She is the one who first encouraged me to show my work at Coffee at The Point back in 2014 with my Synesthesia series. Judy urged me to push myself with both the quality and quantity of my paintings and to make sure that I had my marketing messages organized and ready to go. Every time I work with her, I improve.

At the end of this month, I am on to the next location: the Blair Caldwell Library. I would like to continue holding panel discussions, though at a much slower rate than this last round. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what topics I should cover? So far we’ve done Women in the Arts, Women in STEM, Women in Literature and Women in Politics. I am open to suggestions and looking for speakers.