Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Natalia Tcherniak

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Natalia Tcherniak (she/her). Natalia Tcherniak is a cyanotype artist, alternative photographer, sketch artist, and has referred to herself as “cyanotypical.”

A photo of the artist, Natalia Tcherniak. Canadian artist, cyanotype artist. Mental health through art. 
Talks about mental health for art.

Natalia is a visual artist, theatre set designer, alternative photography printmaker, and occasional burlesque performer. She is also a licensed architect, working on mixed-use and healthcare projects across Canada.

Natalia did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

What first drew you to art?

I grew up in a fairly artistic family, but because it was comprised mostly of architects, visual art has always been regarded as a “side” to architecture. Not until my last years of high school did I fully separate art into its own discipline, and not until my early 30s did I choose to pursue it as a second career.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Since I work in many disciplines, I don’t have a word to describe my style. A piece’s style is dictated by the media that I use – cyanotype is one, architecture is another, painting is a third, and that is different from what I do in my sketchbooks. It changes to adapt to the medium and the intent.

Natalia Tcherniak, Snakarchitecture.

How do you decide where to start when you sit with a piece?

Almost all my creative process starts in a sketchbook. Whenever I have an idea, I write it down, draw it out, in whatever form it takes. As it starts to develop, it informs me of what shape it is going to take – whether it’s going to be a cyanotype print, a painting, a mixed media collage, or an installation. I look at the sketch and decide what the most important part is that I need to translate into “a final piece,” and I start there. For example, a long piece in the making was “Self-Section,” where I was investigating what my soul would look like if it was a wall construction assembly. I started by developing a language for it, and eventually, it became a cyanotype.

Sketch work.

Mental health and the arts.

But often it just remains a sketch in a sketchbook, because it has already said everything it needs to say.

Cyanotype. Blueprint. Blueprint Jam. Mental health for art. Architecture informed art.

Are other parts of your life reflected in your creative work?

Inevitably a lot of my work is influenced by architecture, which is what I have been trained in. In a way, my artistic practice started as a form of rebellion against the architectural practice: something that is not bound by the same rules as my professional life.

How does mental and emotional space play out in your work?

I often do art therapeutically. Whenever I am in an emotionally challenging situation or a poor mental health phase, I turn to my sketchbook and try to put pain down on paper. I live inside my head, creating headlands and mindscapes.

Why cyanotype? How does this technique work? What draws you to it?

Cyanotype was invented as a way of reproducing technical drawings, and has evolved since then into a vast practice of alternative process photography. The technique, for me, consists of two major aspects – application of the medium (the sensitizing solution) and overlaying the negatives for exposure. This combination I see as painting with photography. It provides a platform for so many layers of intent and communication: the brushstrokes look like something violently exploded, while the reproduced image of a map is so strict and orthogonal. I feel like the cyanotype process has a large volume of potential.

Cyanotype. Blueprint. Blueprint Jam. Mental health for art. Architecture informed art.

What draws you to multi-media cyanotype?

One of my main themes in art (and in life) is the idea of existing “in the multiple realms,” trying to get a thing, a concept, a piece, to work on more than one level, serve more than one purpose. And since the cyanotype process already has that inherent quality of being versatile, I am curious to stretch its boundaries further. That’s why I experiment with different substrates, negatives, etc. – to see “what else can it do.”

What other mediums have you worked with and do you enjoy?

Ink wash, acrylic paint, watercolour, and stamping.

Natalia Tcherniak, Japan street. Watercolor.

I really love the BioGraph on your About page. Can you tell us more about that? What does it help you express? I would love to know more about what cyanotypical means to you. ?

Text reads:
We are not alone; we are not in a vacuum. We exist in a network of relationships, visible and invisible,conscious and unconscious. We connect directly and indirectly to other people, things, concepts, events,places, and everything around us. If lines were drawn to represent all the connections, they would comprise a pattern so dense, it would be solid, a Connective Tissue. Overarching theme in my work is a search for orientation. I explore methods of defining position within a Connective Tissue, creating new frames of references, mapping new readings, adding layers to the tissue. I strive for multiple readings as I explore my own psychological construction assembly and the dystopian urban environment I call home.
Circular image that graphs out Natalia's relationship with burlesque, art, architecture, and theatre. BioGraph concept created by the artist.

BioGraph came from the idea of making a biography in graphic form. I like mapping and diagramming, so this was an exploration of how to visually represent many aspects of my life in time and place – how to map out my existence. Also, admittedly, in the end, it looked like a bacterium under a microscope, and now “bio” has a very different meaning.

Cyanotypical is a play on the words “cyanotype” and “typical,” as in “typical detail” or “typical [construction] note.” In the architectural world, typical is something that is very common, ubiquitous, and easily applied to multiple things, the opposite of “unique.” While cyanotypes in general and the cyanotypes that I make are unique and atypical, they are also commonplace for me, so I chose to use this oxymoron.

Anything you’d want to add or answer about mental health that I didn’t ask?

I think what is not being talked about enough in the artistic community, or in general in the world, is how inconsistent the creative process can be and how much of a struggle it can be just to keep it up. I am sure we all go through periods of artistic blocks and creative droughts, but what I am still having a hard time coming to terms with is that it can last years. And during those “lost years,” the biggest challenge is not to give up, and to fight self-doubt and self-deprecation, to have faith that despite not creating all the time, you are still an artist.

You can see more of Natalia’s work on her Instagram @nattchbob or in the second issue of The Shallot. It is the cover piece!

The Shallot Volume 1, Number 2. Natalia's art is on the front cover. 

Cyanotype on wood.

The Journal advocates for mental health through the arts. The power of art for mental health.

More work visible on the website – BlueprintJam!

Artist Spotlight Artwork Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Erin Smith Glenn

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Erin Smith Glenn (she/her). Erin is open about her mental health and how it impacts her work. Black history also greatly influences Erin – she illustrates its power in vivid colors.

A photo of the artist, Erin Smith Glenn (Erin M Smith), with The HAIRitage of Nina Simone. Art and mental health. The importance of black mental health and black history. In Black history month and beyond. Simone was neurodivergent and likely bipolar. 

Erin was published in The Shallot.
Photo of the artist with The HAIRitage of Nina Simone.

Erin Smith Glenn is an associate professor of art, advisor of the Visual Arts Club, former vice president of the board for the Dayton Society of Artists, and proud alum of Central State University, Ohio’s only public HBCU (historically black college or university). She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Cincinnati with a concentration in 2D drawing and painting, working in a variety of media and mixed media. Erin has exhibited works in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Vermont, Texas, Virginia and Illinois, respectfully, including numerous solo exhibitions.

Recently, she was awarded Best in Show for her 4’x8’ painting in the “New Woman” art exhibit hosted collaboratively by the Pendleton Arts Center and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Cincinnati OH. Upon completion of the new CCAC building, a gallery in honor of Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938) will be housed within the new CCAC. As a feature included in the Best in Show prize package, Erin as the inaugural exhibiting artist in this venue and has been invited to spend 3 months creating new work in Cincinnati’s only home established by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Elizabeth Nourse gallery will be dedicated primarily to women artists and is due to open early 2024.

Among Erin’s lifelong pursuits is to continually practice her artwork and overall creative experiences, vowing never to stop “growing as an artist and individual,” while always striving to instill this concept in her students and her three children, as she does within herself. The award stated above has already begun to provide students with opportunities to engross themselves in the art scene. Erin proudly stands on the shoulders of many while she strives to be that same catalyst for others.

Follow the gravitational pull within you that leads to a life of consistent growth and development through the pursuant act of creative imagination. 

Erin Smith Glenn

What first drew you to art?

I have always been an artist. My first “masterpiece” was when I colored over the family portrait at the age of 3. 🙂 I soon realized that reproductions of this kind would not be suitable for a lifelong career, so I started drawing FROM the portraits instead of ON them. My first portrait sales were at the age of 11, and soon, I became addicted to this new lifestyle. But it began with many hours in the basement drawing from family photos, especially baby photos.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Realism with an emphasis on color theory, alternate use of the color palette, and a touch of fantasy.

What topics inspire you?

Black culture and every aspect of it, especially parenthood, joy, politics, and, more recently, mental health awareness in the Black community, which is only recently gaining traction in society.

The HAIRitage of Nina Simone by Erin Smith Glenn. Art and mental health. The importance of black mental health and black history. In Black history month and beyond. Simone was neurodivergent and likely bipolar. Neurodivergence needs to be recognized.
Erin Smith Glenn, The HAIRitage of Nina Simone. Acrylic paints by Royal Talens of North America. 2022.

What was the impetus behind The HAIRitage of Nina Simone?

I LOVE Nina Simone. My favorite quote by her is, “I’ll tell you what freedom is: no fear.” Because of her unwavering tenacity in speaking for and speaking up for Black people, I know I have a duty, a responsibility, as Simone says, to document the times. “For what is an artist if they do not document the times they are in?” I have now completed 2 of many pieces that will be part of the “FREE NINA SIMONE” series, for when her mental health suffered near the end of her life, lawyers manipulated her into signing over her fortune. Her family, to this day, does not receive royalties. I plan to protest this through my artwork until a change has been made.

HAIRitage is an intentional play on words that contains a world of meaning. What conversations does the piece spark?

Wow, so many conversations are rooted in the power of HAIRitage. In the past (15+ years ago), this was my way of reconnecting with my own hair and cultural roots, as it was rough for me growing up in conservative Ohio. This was my early protest against the injustices that loom within many communities concerning the perspectives, microaggressions, and misinterpretations often associated with Black hair. More recently, I have focused on celebrating short hairstyles and no hair, child-to-adult hair ritual ceremonies, adornment culture, and even the mental health associated with not knowing or even understanding one’s own attributes due to the deaf ears and blind eyes of the often critical mindset within American society.

What influenced your choice of colors? They really bring the pieces to life, and they stand out.

I typically work from black and white images, which often means removing saturation altogether from images before working from them. I love the idea of using colors to evoke more than just mood but also energy. Nina was a very dynamic figure, and so I wanted to create a piece (unlike the other piece I created of her in B&W) that felt like her energy from songs, lyrics, and influence was flowing from the artwork to the viewer. In a way, I also wanted to make her relevant to the current generations by showcasing her in a lively way, ultimately begging the question: “Who is/was Nina Simone?”

Golden Time of Day by Erin Smith Glenn. Mixed media - acrylic paint, acrylic yarn. Yarn art.
Erin Smith Glenn, Golden Time of Day. Acrylic paint and yarn, mixed media. 2022.

Applied with careful strategy and super glue. 😉

Vivid color is also true of the second piece we discuss today – Golden Time of Day. Did color speak to you for this piece?

Color was purely at the heart of this piece. I used this time as an image in color because I wanted to capture the various colors in the model’s lovely espresso-toned skin. Surrounding it with a sun-like halo against the “sunset violet” adds a nice contrast and makes her stand out against both the “sunrise” and the “sunset.” The Sunrise, in this case, represents the mindset that arises from the Sunset, the low, deep depression. 

The piece is mixed media. What inspired you to incorporate colored yarn? 

The yarn represents the tangling, the very unraveling of the mind as we go through life’s challenges. The facing upward in the painting portion of the work represents the “golden time” where the lyrics of the song by Frankie Beverly & Maze: “When you feel in your heart all the love you’re looking for…don’t it feel okay? There’s a time of the day when the sun’s going down…that’s the golden time of day.” I feel that whether we are rising for the day or falling to sleep, any time should be the golden time of day, especially mentally and spiritually.

You mentioned that Golden Time of Day is a mental health awareness piece – did that influence your inspiration?

As I faced the end of another academic year of teaching and some of life’s challenges surrounding being a divorced single mother of three with a demanding career, I suffered a nervous breakdown. Upon my healing journey, and with much support, good advice, healthcare and by taking back my power, I used that energy to curate “The Inaugural Women’s Mental Health & Trauma Art Exhibit.” This was the first time I displayed this piece in public, and it is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever created. I plan to do more this summer, once I have the time and space to plan out another one that hits on this level.

How does mental health play into your artistic style?

I want to normalize mental health worldwide. Mental health and the awareness of it in both my hair-themed work and in my artistic lifestyle is a must; everyone deals with mental health much like we all eat, breathe, and live. So, yes, mental health is embedded in my work whether I realize it or not, whether I like it or not, and whether I try or not. After suffering much trauma throughout my life, I know that mental health awareness is part of my life’s mission and purpose, and that is very liberating for my family and me.

Do you have any takeaways you want the reader to have?

Trust your gut when it comes to creativity and life in general, but know when to fall back and take sound advice and counsel. You’ll thank yourself in the long run. And speaking of yourself in the long run, your latter self is looking at you now. Don’t disappoint them, so do what you gotta do, love; work on you for the sake of no one else but YOU. 

Anything I missed asking that you would like to share?

Just an announcement. 🙂 I have a solo exhibit coming up called “HAIRitage: A Cultural Journey & Experience.” The exhibit opens at the Dayton Society of Artists on March 3rd, with an artist talk on March 11th and the grand closing reception on March 31st, my birthday! You can find more details on Facebook or at the Eventbrite link.

Erin Smith Glenn, The HAIRitage of Lauryn Hill. Colored pencil. 2018.

As we close in on the end of February, Erin gives us a perfect chance to celebrate Black history, mental health, and the incomparable Nina Simone. These pieces have power.

Erin brings the HAIRitage to life in living color. You can see more of Erin’s work on her Instagram @thescarvinartist in the first edition of The Shallot and available for purchase on her Etsy shop.

Thanks for sharing, Erin!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Ifasina Clear

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Ifasina Clear (they/them). Ifasina is a performing artist and dancer, introducing us to the rich history of African dance, among other things.

A picture of the interviewee, Ifasina Clear. They are a dancer and performing artist with soul, heart, and movement and the center of their being.
Photo credit: Debrena McEwen

In their words:

“My given name is TaMeicka Lashelle Clear. I have come to love this name as it says a lot about the time frame that I grew up in (early 80s) and displays my southern, Black roots in a way that really shows the color and creativity of Black people during that time. I believe that Black American English is real, valid, and a whole language. TaMeicka Lashelle is a proud badge of Black American English that I love to wear!

I received the name Ifasina during ritual initiation into the African Traditional Practice of Ifa, in 2014. Ifasina translates loosely to ‘Ifa brings forth blessings with power and great force.’ It is a powerful name and a vibration I strive to walk in. Most people in my life know me as Ifasina at this point. My roots and history both from the name I was given at birth and given at rebirth are a large part of who I am.”

Ifasina did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their art:

on dance

What first drew your interest to dance?

When I was in 2nd grade, I joined a modern dance class taught by the most beautiful dark-skinned woman I had ever seen. She reminded me a little of Janet Hubert (original Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). She had us perform a piece at the Dallas Museum of Art and complimented me on my “natural turn out,” also known as being slew-footed. I thought she was so elegant, and more than that, I felt so alive while moving together with that troupe. Being in sync with the others and expressing my inner spirit in that way, felt like home. I took to dancing in any way I could from then on.

Photo credit: Debrena McEwen

What kind of dance do you do?

I am formally trained in modern and jazz dance. I am self-taught and informally trained in hip-hop, west African, afro-beat, and liturgical-style dance. I also use improv and interpretive dance styles in each area of dance that I engage in.

How do you prepare for shows?

For dance shows, I tend to listen to a song on repeat for weeks all day in the car while doing chores, any chance I get. I have to embody the song, know when the beat changes, anticipate certain notes and runs to be able to play with it so that when I want to improvise or put emphasis on the song, I can be ready while also using the moment with the audience and/or how the song makes me feel to really be present and IN the performance. I operate more like a minister than a choreographer as a dancer. Giving as much energy as I get and, at times, soliciting the audience for response to my calls. 

What’s your favorite part about dance? What empowers you?

I feel so empowered when I sit. When I do something to slow down and take care of my body while still keeping it in motion. When I make direct eye contact with someone while moving my body suggestively. When I make a loud sound with my hands or feet at just the right moment in a song. I feel like a note in the song, and it allows me almost to transcend my human form while also being more human than ever when I dance. The duality is delicious and one I wish for us all. 

The artist's Instagram is @get.embodied. They are a dancer, teacher, performing artist.
Photo credit: Ifasina Clear

on performing

What kind of performance do you do?

I am a performance artist, and for me, that means I will recite a poem theatrically, tell a story with passion and bravado, learn lines for a character, and embody them/perform them, usually for the purpose of being with complex ideas, and experiences of the human condition. I love to perform a piece and then do audience discussion after–to engage around social issues. To act out things the way they are, the way we wish they were, to dream the impossible, and to imagine a world that we all wanna live in. One that affirms fat people, and makes space for the humanity and sexuality of disabled people. A world that normalizes queer and trans folks, and deals with death, loss, and change head-on and wholeheartedly. I don’t know what to call this kind of performance, but it’s the kind I do. Sometimes it’s funny, and other times it’s painful and gripping. 

Are there performances or characters you remember fondly or are especially proud of?

Two come to mind. I played a character called “Dewey The Announcer,” and he was the announcer on a racist talk show called “Ask a Black Girl.” I’ve always heard people talk about how fun it is to be the villain. It really is!

In that same show, I played a character in a different vignette called Donique. This was a genderless/genderqueer kid in a story about the return of The Ancient peoples that left Black people on earth in hopes that we would survive. I channeled one of my favorite actresses Regina King, who is doing the voice of the two kids that star in the animated series The Boondocks. Donique was literally the best protagonist I’ve ever been able to play. I still think of what it felt like to get into that character and how much I wished to be like Donique more in my life – bold, honest, direct, committed to their people, and brave. 

What’s your favorite part about performance?

Performing with a cast. I get to use what I have experienced, coupled with what is around me. You must be present. You can’t just recite words when you are performing with others. It’s an adventure of its own kind to become the character and to really live in the story you are creating with the other cast members. 

What led you towards improv and comedy? What do you find most challenging and most rewarding?

These tools can really teach. People walk away with reflections, questions, and even changed perspectives. They get help with imagining something different, and laughter helps grant the levity required to really change hearts and minds. It is one of my greatest social justice tools.

Photo credit: Debrena McEwen

Anything inspiring or exciting that you’re working on right now?

Mostly, I am trying to write small books on different things that I care about. Things that seem complex, like managing grief and protecting young Black kids from molestation. I wanna write “manuals” for life that speak in plain and relatable language. That give people ideas and options for some of the hardest things to imagine having to navigate. I hope to act again soon, but I’m not rushing it. I’m writing right now, and as an artist I’m okay with any medium that speaks to me. 

What a lovely interview – savory words and “crunchy phrasing” (“duality is delicious”), as an old music teacher of mine used to say. With such a flow of words and body, Ifasina is a natural performer.

You can see, hear, and learn more from Ifasina on their website or at their upcoming show on 3.26.2023 – Virtual Ancestral Upliftment Showcase EventBrite and Link coming soon. Head to their Instagram @get.embodied to get details and tickets.

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Bailey Constas

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Bailey Constas (she/her).

Trigger warning: This piece discusses sexual assault.

Bailey uses recycled materials and found materials to bring her works to life.

A black and white photo of the artist, Bailey Constas, wearing statement earrings. The artist works with watercolor, clay, and recycled-media. 

She uses art to heal herself and address mental health - art for mental health.

In Bailey’s words:

“I’m watercolor and recycled-media artist, Bailey Constas. I’m using art to heal myself, the land, and to build safe spaces. I make largescale watercolors with intricate ink linework, ethically forage and process my own clay, and build humane + ecological designs out of recycled waste/material.

Community recycling, composting, gardening, dreams for sustainable Earthship architecture—I aspire to develop safe, beautiful community scapes.”

Bailey was also recently featured in the New York Times (!!) for a eco-focused project using Fresh Direct bags.

Bailey did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

What first led you to art?

I’ve always been an artist, but my medium has always changed. I was a serious ballet dancer for most of my life, but after hip surgery at 15, I found fashion design and construction. Later on, I discovered photography and writing. But after a traumatic sexual assault when I lived in New York City, it was watercolor that allowed me to express my emotions in ways that words could not. 

I could pull apart the different mental struggles I faced through visual art. The painting would ease my anxiety and depression, and the ink tracing would comfort my constant OCD and ADD brain. I’ve found that allowing myself to use elements from nature by foraging for pigments and clay has connected me to the earth in a way I only felt as a child.

 *OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder

Aino, a piece by Bailey Constas with ink and watercolor.

Mental health and the arts. Art for mental health. Art heals. Representative of southwest art.
Bailey Constas, Aino. Watercolor on paper. 2019.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’d say my work falls into abstract expressionism more than landscape. My art means to reveal our inner worlds and express the natural patterns happening around us in an emotional and untethered way.

Colorful watercolor of a woman and a shark by Bailey Constas. Art for mental health - mental health and the arts.
Bailey Constas, i married a shark. Watercolor on paper. 2021.

What are your favorite materials and mediums with which to work?

I absolutely love water and clay, especially how they interact with each other. Water always wants to elude and erode, and I’ve found this lack of control on my part is extremely therapeutic. Gravity is also a powerful medium in my work, as I trace the drying patterns of the water with ink. The way gravity pulls the pigments to the paper, mixes the colors, and suspends them in time. That’s why I trace them with ink–to bring our attention to the small miracles happening under our noses all the time.

Clay art. Finding mental health through the arts. By Bailey Constas. Support mental health, survival of sexual assault, living with PTSD.
Bailey Constas, clay settles. Clay on paper. 2021.

You mention you use recycled media. What kind of materials have you worked with recently?

Paper waste, cardboard, Fresh Direct bags! I’ll take paper and cardboard and turn them into paper pulp. I’ll then add cement and create papercrete sculptures. I’ll also just take that paper waste and develop my own paper. I’ll put that paper to use by creating journals out of Fresh Direct bags (or those plastic reusable grocery store bags). The idea behind those is to create reusable journals with 100% waste. That way, there’s no guilt involved when I need to spew my thoughts out.

Pastel watercolor. Mental health for the arts.
Bailey Constas, spirits of light. Watercolor and ink on paper. 2015.

You have an attractive eye for color – do you approach color in a particular way or more freeform?

Thank you! I owe my color inspiration to the Southwest. Growing up in Colorado and loving New Mexico—I’m constantly striving to replicate the patterns and colors of sunsets, geologic formations, and the land. I’ve also started foraging and making my own paint. In some ways, this makes it easier for me to find those perfect colors, but it adds many more steps to painting a piece! I find myself always adding steps to create a more pure piece of work. I also think this has to do with my OCD and PTSD—obsessively collecting colors but also feeling immense shame and guilt when I throw things away. 

You process your own clay!! What is that like?

Hard and messy work! On hikes and in the backyards of my family, I’ll look for clay-rich soil—the type of dirt that is colored so beautifully you want to eat it. I’ll then go through several steps of adding water and filtering any debris or extra water out of the clay. After a few days, I’ll knead the clay and begin hand-building! I prefer to fire my pieces in a wood-burning fire just like our ancestors have done for thousands of years.

You also pursue photography. What is your favorite part about it? What kind of topics inspire you?

I am a journalist at heart (it’s what I got my degree in), and much like my obsession with collecting colors and pigments, I love collecting and documenting moments. I’ve found that I perceive the world around me much differently than others. When I found the confidence to allow myself to believe this was a good thing, I found it much easier to look for those unique angles and throw myself on the ground to get that shot. Sacred geometry in nature is endlessly inspiring to me. I think that’s why I find beauty in a perfectly mirrored sunset in a car window, the erosion lines on a sand dune, or the texture of a leaf. Small things other people might take for granted, and I love highlighting those things. 

Other things on my mind: 

More recently, I’ve realized I make the best work when I’m happy, full of wonder, and awe. When I was younger, I believed that being “sick” or “tortured” made me more exciting and a better artist, but it was only when I started looking deeper inside myself and going to therapy that I found the most inspiration. Getting better and getting help is never something to be ashamed of. 

Icon of the artist, Bailey Constas. Created by the artist. Colorful art.

The Layered Onion supports artists with mental health challenges.

Help can be hard to ask for, but it is something we all need. We’re here for you in this community.

Want to see and hear more from Bailey? Check out her website here. Want to bring one home?  Check out here or here. A spot of color really cheers me up.

Artist Spotlight Home Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Savannah Calhoun

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. Their works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. In this post, we are featuring Savannah Calhoun (she/they).

Savannah uses different mediums and structures to play with photographs and infuse them with new context.

Photo of the artist, Savannah Calhoun. Her art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Savannah Calhoun is an image-based artist residing in Cedar Rapids, IA, and from Indianapolis, IN. Her work playfully addresses image culture given the circumstances of the internet from a queer and feminist perspective. She received a BFA in Photography from Herron School of Art and Design in 2019 and an MFA from the University of Missouri in 2022. She currently teaches photography at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Savannah did a Q&A with The Layered Onion (TLO), talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say my style could be described as colorful and eccentric, but heavily borrows from cyber-based aesthetics as well as still life.

With what mediums do you work?

I work with photography, installation, new media, and digital collage.

You recently had a show called “cyber fantasy.” How did you get the idea for the show?

A photo of Savannah's gallery show - cyber fantasy. Plays with digital and electronics. Explores art and the internet.

Art for mental health/art and mental health.

Before this work, I was making still lifes and self portraits. I found ways to kind of cross those concepts over within this work by including objects, arms, and hands. It started mostly because I was visiting the University’s surplus warehouse where they place everything that they don’t use anymore/have replaced, etc. I found tons of old tech there and started photographing it, thinking about how the obsolescence of technology resembles Vanitas still life.

Photo from the installation in Iowa. Iowa artist. Overlapped images. Video and multimedia art. AI voice and AI vocals.

The show features some interesting layered works – super neat. What inspired you to use more of the walls in that way?

I got the opportunity to see Everywhere there is splendor” by Farah al-Qasimi at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and see her artist talk. I was really stuck by something she said about the connections of the color pink between the mural photos and the framed photos that were superimposed on them, and how it was bodily, thus inherently, tied to identity. This then made me consider the connections of materiality and source material to photography, which led to those layered works.  

I also saw your video, Glitch, on Instagram – do you often work with videos? What led you to video? How did you generate the AI voice? 

I work with video and new media pretty frequently! I started making video art when I was an undergraduate because I enrolled in a video course. From there, I just really grew to love it as a second medium to work with. I generated the AI voice using an online text to speech generator, with the text from Glitch Feminism pasted in, and recorded the speaking with a microphone.

I’m drawn to this piece (below) where you mention “thinking about cameras as they relate to the body” and your inspiration for the future. What an interesting concept! What direction are you thinking about going in?

I think in Cyber Fantasy and the work I’ve made since, I have wanted to address photography itself. That includes all of the working parts of a photograph – the camera, the digital tools used in post production, etc. The working title of my current project is Portals & Hauntologies. I consider this piece a part of it, and in that work I’m thinking about transmission to the internet as well as nostalgia.

Photography. A camera and digital tools. Mental health through the arts. Work with Photoshop.
Savannah Calhoun, Camera Eye. Digital Collage, 2022.

You also teach – what kind of topics do you cover? Is it inspiring to work with students?

I teach Design and Photography courses. I really love teaching and working with students, it’s a pleasure to share what I love with others.

Any advice for fellow artists looking to get started with this type of art?

Allow yourself to spend some time in photoshop really just playing and being curious. 

The blend of future with past aesthetics and the play on size draws you into Savannah’s work – I’m excited to see where she goes from here.  Savannah’s work is also on display in TLO’s shows! You can see more of Savannah’s work on her website or her Instagram @sav.calhoun. Thanks, Savannah!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Sia Spark

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post, we are featuring Sia Spark (she/her).

Sia is a freelance illustrator and digital artist based in Perth, Western Australia.

Combining elements from nature with vibrant colours and whimsical characters and settings, Sia crafts illustrations with a unique, accessible, and light-hearted feel.

Sia loves working with bright, evocative colours and friendly shapes to create illustrations in between fantasy and reality, layering in natural textures to give her work depth. Her work aspires to help highlight the joy and wonder of our world around us.

Sia did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

What first drew you to art?

I’ve loved drawing since I could first hold a pencil! One of my most fond childhood memories is sitting outside in nature at my parents’ rural property with my Dad and drawing the scenery – usually landscapes and animals. Landscapes and animals are still among my favourite subjects. I went on to study art and art history in high school… Funnily enough, this kind of killed my enjoyment of art for a while. My teenage stubbornness didn’t respond well to that, and I felt like that study had taken all the pleasure out of art and instead set a lot of rules and parameters that I didn’t agree with, so I lost interest in pursuing art for a good few years. In my 20s, a former career in marketing led me into graphic design, and I matured to understand how to follow a client’s brief, whilst still making my mark on a project. That led me back to finding joy in creating art again. Now in my 30s, a little older and (hopefully) a little wiser, I consider myself quite adept at following a brief whilst still pursuing a creative approach, and that’s one of my favourite elements of illustration.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Fluid, fun, and vibrant. I love incorporating real-world textures into digital illustration, and fusing a sense of the fantastical with reality. 

What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?

I work primarily digitally, but occasionally I’ll also work in watercolours, gouache, and charcoal. I like mediums that can be fluid and expressive.

Your art is whimsical and inspiring – where do you draw inspiration from?

Mostly nature! The natural world is endlessly inspiring to me, and I think that flora and fauna are so beautiful and unique in all their variations – and far more interesting than most things man-made, in my opinion! I love illustrating the natural world for children to encourage them to find beauty in their surroundings and develop a deep respect for all creatures great and small. 

You illustrate children’s books – how did you get involved in the industry?

At the start of my working life, I worked in mental health and marketing. Whilst I don’t regret my time in those industries, it absolutely led me to burnout and after becoming chronically ill, I took an extended break from work and started illustrating much more frequently for pleasure. I was mostly illustrating nature, portraits of animals and whimsical, fairy tale-esque scenes, and it was during that time that I realised that I was garnering infinitely more joy from illustrating than I ever was over the past decade of my previous jobs. I felt hesitant about pursuing illustration as a profession (my fear of change is very real!) but with plenty of encouragement from my wonderful partner, I made the jump and here we are! 

Illustration is truly a great fit for me and my needs – it allows me to work on a range of different projects and be adaptable in my style, allows me to put my creative mark on a project and also allows me to manage my varying energy needs whilst working from home. Children’s books are my favourite because there are endless ways to express subtlety and nuance of a story… Adding hidden details here and there that are a joy for children to discover is one of the best bits! Children’s book characters can be so expressive and whimsical and unique, and that makes illustration super fun.

Mr. Paws, in the fluff

This year, I’ve had the pleasure of writing and illustrating my own children’s book, “Whose Cat Is That?” It’s a fun adventure through a whimsical town called Fishbottom, where the town is turned upside down by the curious case of a missing cat, Mr. Paws. As the characters knock door to door throughout the town, children mark off characteristics of the cats from their list and get to play detective, before finally discovering the true owner of Mr. Paws. The story also introduces children to various pronouns and encourages inclusivity, diversity, and respect. 

What is/are your favorite subject(s) to illustrate?

I’ll always enjoy anything related to nature, animals and scenery. I take a lot of pleasure in drawing rich, intricate, natural-world scenes that are filled with expressive and unique characters. 

Sia’s art gives a sense of child-like wonder, not just for children but also for us adults. The message of hope inspires and the colors enchant. You can see more of Sia’s work on her website!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Rya Wu

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Rya Wu (she/her). Before we delve into the art, a little more about Rya in her own words:

“Hiya! I’m Rya. Thank you for taking the time to check out my art. Whatever you’re experiencing in response right now – any feelings, sensations, memories, questions – it’s all welcome here. In fact, that’s what lies at the heart of my work – those innermost happenings. Something about largely invisible experiences made visible and tangible has the power to at times shift something deep within – and to me, that’s magic. So that’s what I’m after, really, is listening to my guides and playing with colors, textures, rhythms, and forms to give those internal experiences a visual voice. Through my art, I hope to bring solace and celebration to those who are searching.”

Rya did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’m very much an intuitive creator. With a background in psychology, I think a lot about healing and self reclamation. For me, art is a safe place to process trauma, offering it up as a bridge to my experience. It is hard to talk about with people and strangers. When it is art, it feels more approachable. I want viewers to experience something spiritual in the work, experience something for themselves. Perhaps emotional.

Rya Wu, 夢 Mèng (dream). Charcoal, graphite, acrylic, spray paint, ink, and oil. 2022.

What draws you to art?

Self-expression is so important in my personal journey. I love watching other people do the same and share their truths – hell yeah. Community engagement is a big part of it as well – I want my work to be engaging. Art is so powerful – it can save lives and battle with anxiety and depression. Artists spend a lot of time with themselves. It is hard not to do self-work and reflection in the process.

When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be an artist. At 13 I had a vision of opening a community center focused on developing skills. I could see graffiti, painting on the walls, alternative classes that we don’t learn in school. An environment that fosters creativity.

I came from a family of Asian American immigrants and it didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to pursue and study art. Right now I’m just finding my way back to art. I just got here and I don’t plan on leaving. 

What kind of art and mediums do you work with?

I will always paint but I don’t really identify as a painter. Paintings are like studies for sculpture to me. Third rendition of life from form.

I work with mixed media painting – charcoal, pastels, house paint, acrylic, graphite, spray paint, and more. 

I have training as a silversmith and with sculpture. For my sculpture, I use found materials, fabric, and textiles. I upcycle materials and scour thrift stores. I’m fond of hardware materials like chicken wire, garden netting, and screen mesh. I also use glass elements that I make myself at a local glass shop using torch work. Gestation has some glass chains that I made (see photo below). 

I am really enjoying working with glass & sculpture – I want to expand to a really large size and scale. Public art. I want to do more with interactive and installation art – to keep pushing towards the edge and go bigger.

What’s your current favorite medium to work with and why?

I don’t want to be restricted to one medium as I get bored easily. Right now, I like wire as a “less-friendly” material. It’s not solid, sort of woven – and I can play with translucency. That play with the light is also why I’m drawn towards using glass.

Does your inspiration vary between different mediums?

Not necessarily between mediums.

I’m very inspired by urban life. I love the industrial areas of cities. Peeling paint, rusted parts. I’m obsessed with construction sites. Their repetition and materials. I like to introduce juxtaposition in my work of softer materials like tulle and also lighter colors like pinks and beiges with construction-type materials. 

I’m also inspired by relationships, personal growth, and community – stories of overcoming a situation or odds. I’m a child of immigrant experiences which also has influenced my work.

Left: Rya Wu, Dreaming Together. Woven wire, flagging tape, and permanent ink. 2022.
Right: Rya Wu, Gestation. Woven wire, upcycled fabric, cotton rope, found materials, wire mesh, screen mesh, borosilicate glass, nylon cord, ink, and spray paint.  2022.

You recently had your first sculptural gallery show. Tell us about the show. What was your favorite part?

The fact that it happened is amazing! I can’t pick one favorite thing. That I made it happen – with lots of help – but made it happen.

The title of the show was Birthing a Dream. My name, Rya, means dream. It was a process of birthing my true self. I came from a family where it felt like my life was written out for me and this was a chance to reclaim my identity. A chance to dare to take up space, after coming from a culture where we are told to be small in every way – physically, etc.

Another favorite moment was seeing people that look like me in the space and watching them looking at and relating to my art. A community between people. There is something beautiful in the interaction. 

One of my pieces has the Chinese character for “dream.” I like that there is another layer there to engage with for people who understand Chinese. There is a lot in that piece that people are drawn to – it reflects the Asian American experience.

I got a lot of young BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) artists coming to me to ask questions. They brought curiosity and hope. It was a beautiful part of the experience – being an example of giving yourself permission to choose this path and giving others the opportunity or hope to do the same. Asian women and artists are underrepresented and I want to see more of us out there.

Overall, the show was a fantastic experience. I loved the chance to have suspended pieces with movement. It was definitely a large undertaking and I learned a lot from curating it. I would like to do more of it!

You can see more of Rya’s work on her website and Instagram @rya.wu. Go check it out!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Melissa Smith Kennedy

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Melissa Smith Kennedy (she).

Melissa Smith Kennedy is a self-taught mixed-media collage artist based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has always enjoyed art, but decided to pursue it in earnest in just the past few years. Melissa copes day to day with autism and PTSD, and finds making collages helps to keep her balanced.

Melissa did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

What first drew you to art?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in art. One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading book after book to me while I studied the illustrations. Textures were particularly fascinating—how could marks on paper look so much like kitten fluff or tree bark or bear fur that I could almost feel them? That was magic, and I wanted to know how that type of magic was made. 

I’ve always liked creating. Over the years I’ve dabbled in practically every kind of art or craft there is. I’ve drawn, painted, learned to dye and spin my own yarn, sculpted clay, made paper, learned needlework and printmaking. I think collage is my favorite because of its simplicity—just paper and glue, readily available materials, but there’s so much those simple tools can do. 

Melissa Smith Kennedy, Lesson One. Vintage papers, dictionary and magazine on mixed-media paper. 2022.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Playful, often with a dark undercurrent. I like freeing images and shapes from their given context and letting them interact with each other in new ways. Sometimes they have surprising things to say to each other. Sometimes they make me laugh. 

Composition and fitting pieces together is an important part of your work. How do you decide what goes where? Are you always collecting fragments as inspiration?

I am blessed/cursed with an overly analytical brain—I like to know everything about everything, facts and data and how things work and why. I love reading and research and theorizing, taking things apart to see how they work. But sometimes that leaves me spiraling with a lot of noise in my head. Too much of that leads to depression. Working at art, working with my hands and focusing on images rather than words quiets that side of my head, reminds me how to play and tune in to emotions. I have to turn off that analytical brain when I’m working on a collage, otherwise I get hung up on trying to make the work mean something, or worrying about the composition, or if the colors are okay … I get tangled up in details. When I just let go, stop thinking in words and just open myself up to image and color and pattern, I feel like I’m following where inspiration leads instead of controlling it myself. I really love the feeling of that state of flow. 

I have an enormous stash of pages torn from magazines, patterned paper, bits of ephemera, and so on. I’m always on the lookout for anything that might be used in a future collage, and I’m not above dumpster diving for old wallpaper samples. I also have far more old photographs than any one person needs, bought in an unfortunate eBay spree during a hypomanic episode. Since then, I’ve limited myself almost exclusively to materials I can get for free. People are usually thrilled to donate their old magazines for artistic purposes. 

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Everywhere and nowhere. Honestly I feel like I’m just along for the ride when I create collages. I flip through papers and images I’ve already cut out, put them next to each other, shift them around, and notice patterns and feelings. I try to keep it instinctive because when that analytical side kicks in, it stomps all over creativity and tries to impose meaning onto the page instead of letting it develop organically. I have a terrible time trying to create when given a prompt; it just doesn’t work for me that way. 

You have an interesting eye for color. Do you approach a piece with a certain color in mind or let the pieces speak to you or a combination of both?

This is going to sound strange, but sometimes I use a color for its sound. That’s how it seems to me, that sometimes I need to put a loud triangle or a humming circle into the piece. I don’t have true synesthesia, but that’s the best metaphor I can think of. I let the piece tell me what it needs.

Melissa Smith Kennedy, Miss Alternate Universe. Mixed-media substrate, magazine images. 2022.

You often utilize human shapes and combine them with abstract colors or patterns. For example, a human-spaced cutout filled with a cosmos pattern over a photo. What inspires you about human shapes?

I find I keep including portals and frames in my work, and the human shapes are both. I like playing with those ideas. Portals, of course, are doorways to somewhere else, and frames are a way of focusing the viewer’s attention and privileging what is in the frame. When we take the human out of the image, what’s left behind? Who are we, beyond our bodies, our faces in these spaces? Or what else is there in the space when the human, the former focus leaves—what pulls our focus then? What happens if the individual slips out of the frame, or breaks it? What is the frame? I like the questions. 

One of my favorite poems, “Keeping Things Whole” by Mark Strand, begins: 

“In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.”

I love that contradiction: I am what I am not. I’m trying to explore that in some of these collages. 

Thanks for sharing your magic with us, Melissa! You can see more of Melissa’s work on her Instagram @paper_loves_glue.

Artist Spotlight

Writer Spotlight: Maggie Bowyer

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Maggie Bowyer (they/them/theirs).

Maggie is a poet, cat parent, and the author of various poetry collections including Ungodly (2022) and When I Bleed (2021). They are an essayist with a focus on Endometriosis, chronic pain, and trauma. They have been featured in Bourgeon Magazine, Capsule Stories, Plainsongs Poetry Magazine, The Abbey Review, Troublemaker Firestarter, Wishbone Words, and more. They were the Editor-in-Chief of The Lariat Newspaper, a quarter-finalist in Brave New Voices 2016, and a Marilyn Miller Poet Laureate. More of their work is on Instagram @maggie.writes.

Maggie did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their work:

What led you to writing?

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I have always loved reading. At first, I was drawn to journalism and essays, but eventually, with the help of some amazing mentors, I found my voice in poetry.

What inspires you most about writing?

Writing is a way to articulate things I can’t describe in the moment. It’s a way to take those dark moments – the moments of overwhelming physical or mental pain – and make sense of them. I can share my words with loved ones and they might understand better; I can share with someone going through something similar and they might feel seen. Seeing other people and their truth is the most magical part of writing, and of my life. 

You write in a variety of ways – including poetry collections. What are your favorite topics to cover?

I write what some have described as “winter poetry.” I tend to write on darker topics – my favorites being chronic pain and trauma. I want the people who feel invisible burdens to feel a lot lighter. While the topics I cover are dark, I try my best to leave room for hope, healing, the disabled joy, finding love amidst it all, the journey, all of it.

What projects are you most proud of?

I want to say my next project, but it’s not even finished yet! If I had to pick one of my current projects, I would definitely have to say WHEN I BLEED: POEMS ABOUT ENDOMETRIOSIS. People have held that book so close and I am honored by the love it has received. I never thought people all across the world would read one of my books. I was even asked to be a part of an exhibition in Whales where words from WHEN I BLEED were put next to fantastic photographs. I was truly in awe. 

What’s the most difficult part about writing for you?

Writing daily is so exhausting, but one of the best things writers can do. I sometimes run out of inspiration or write throw-away poems and half the time I want to give up. But it’s so important to write daily. 

I want to draw attention to your free medical admin templates for communicating with the health system for any folks who need them. Can you talk more about the idea behind it and any feedback you’ve received?

I am so happy you asked! Thank you! I always find that, as a complex patient, it helps to do the leg work for your doctor. I love the body map because it’s been the most effective tool I have used in getting diagnosed and receiving care. I color it in with different colors for different types of pain. The longer sheet is really nice to keep track of meds, new symptoms, updates, and more! It’s one of the most popular things on my website and I am so glad people find them useful!

Any stories you’d want to share with the community?

This is not so much a story, but more an urging. When I first went to college, I stopped writing because I was “too busy.” As my pain and symptoms kept increasing, I didn’t know how to share it with anyone, especially with all the medical trauma I already had experienced. The only way I knew how to share was by writing in the middle of my flares. I spent dissociative days trying to describe the haze. I lied on the bathroom floor sobbing from the pain and wrote some of my favorite poems. I went back to the doctor and fought for my care, using all the strength I had used to write. Then, in 2020, I published my first book. Now? I am almost done with my fourth. If you’re looking for a sign to start writing, or start writing again, or publishing your work, this is it. Please share your story. You never know who needs to hear your story.

What a powerful line! We all have a story to tell or a picture to be seen – you never know who needs to hear your story. You can check out more of Maggie’s work on their website or Instagram @maggie.writes.

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Jocelyn Leo

Note: Be advised there is potential triggering imagery in this piece.

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Jocelyn (Joce) Leo (they/she).

Joce is a multi-media artist and survivor navigating being human. Joce works a lot with self portraiture as well as collages. They often combine visual and textual art to better tell a story and elevate their pieces. Due to the personal and serious nature of the concepts covered, Joce lists all of their work under a content warning.

Joce did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

i tend to make work with whatever media or style that i enjoy working with at that moment in time, and this changes a lot. i tend to always come back to intertwining photo, sculpture, collage, and text-based media together in my work, and i enjoy working with negative space, black-and-white or muted color schemes, short bursts of text, self-portraiture, and body-focused art. for me, the theme and subject matter tends to inform the style that i employ. i want my work to be hard to view at times, but i also want to balance that with care and compassion for who is viewing my work. 

How do you approach your photographic pieces?

photography meets me where i’m at. most of my photographic pieces have been shot on days that i’m having a hard time. focusing on composing an image (specifically self-portraiture) allows me to express myself with my body in a way that is not through utilizing my eating disorder. i am often thinking about how to talk about pain and suffering through body-focused self-portraiture because my eating disorder serves that same purpose. in terms of how i logistically take photos, i shoot against a blank wall so that i have space to project words and other elements (because this has lately been an important tool for me), and i set up a tripod. i also tend to think about how to compose a self-portrait that is less about ME, and more about the theme of the work. my hope is that my photographic pieces are less to do with me and more to do with shared experience, a way of entering into an experience that i share with many, many other people. 

Jocelyn Leo, Systemic Girl. Digital photography with analog collage elements. 2022.

What is it like working with models for your art? Do you act as a director? 

much of my work lately has been self-portraiture, so i tend to direct myself. this can be really awkward to know how to position my body, almost at times more awkward than it is to work with models. working with models is something that i absolutely love! i don’t necessarily act as a director because i tend to like to photograph people when they are engaging with themselves in a natural way. sometimes, i’ll give people a general direction like, “can you look at the camera?” or “turn your body X way.” i think a part of what i enjoy about working with other people in photos is letting people find their own comfortability and authenticity in front of the camera and allowing them to know that they have autonomy. there are also so many times that i want to photograph people in my life but don’t know how to broach it because i worry people will change how they present when a camera is pulled out! 

How does inspiration usually strike you?

injustice is where much of the inspiration for my work stems from. absolute rage towards the systems that are supposed to help us (and don’t), absolute sadness for our inner children and teenagers who were never heard or believed or listened to, absolute terror towards what our society is headed towards, and absolute frustration that there are so many people who engage in some level of being complicit with a greater harmful system despite having good intentions (including, in the past, myself). inspiration comes from my need to enter the advocacy scene while also knowing that i don’t want to fall into the category of “inspiration porn,” because my artwork (and no one’s artwork) is more important when a person is “fully healed” (if there is such a thing). inspiration also strikes me when i spend time with the people that i love. the genuine, loving platonic intimacy that i witness on a daily basis with my friends, classmates, mentors, clients, and even sometimes strangers inspires me to create art because they remind me that making art is a powerful tool against losing our gentleness. 

You combine textual with visual art. How do you determine if a certain piece needs text?

i actually see my visual art and textual art as very separate while i’m creating them, but then when i create an image, i see the overlaps in themes in my poetry and textual work. then, i choose to combine them through projection or through editing software. i tend to add text where i think the image does not tell enough of the story and needs to be more “literal.” i tend to be very literal in my artwork in an attempt to not shy away from difficult conversations — we do enough of that as humans. text is very important in most of my visual art! 

You also work with light and projection. How do you determine appropriate lighting?

lately, i’ve been very interested in how to capture shadow with lighting. using a projector has been perfect in terms of allowing me to incorporate text or another image into one image, but also to create dramatic shadows. finding the proper sources for lighting is something i struggle with and something that i’m still learning about!

Jocelyn Leo, untitled. Digital photography. 2022.

With your collages, how do you determine mediums and the composition of what you put where?

what i enjoy most about making collages is their physical tactility; the actual act of cutting out photography found objects, magazines, poetry, etc. and gluing it to a surface. i don’t usually pre-plan my collages in terms of mediums or compositions. throughout my days, i will find objects, found materials, magazines, etc and save them for future collages. i will also print my photography, poetry, drawings, scanned objects, images of sculpture work, etc and save those. i like to not think too much when i place bits and pieces down. sometimes, i’ll choose to not even glue everything down and just place elements directly on a scanner. i like that i can move elements around and create an entirely different composition out of the same elements and artwork. 

Thanks for sharing, Joce! If you would like to see more of Joce’s work, you can reach out to them – @lynlightstheirway – on Instagram.