Recentering - Staying True to Myself while Pursuing Art

“Fall and Spring” by Monica Tie

“Fall and Spring” by Monica Tie


This week is a recentering week.

Let me explain. For March, I had two amazing opportunities. One was a commission, and the other an opportunity to show artwork in a small show with longterm exposure as decor in rental units to be followed after the show. The commission went wonderfully, I got paid, the client loved their pieces. The art show at NoBro Clubhouse also went amazingly well, I sold three pieces there. It’s always been my dream to pursue art and produce work that was good enough for people to enjoy and in a somewhat egotistical way, to force my aesthetics onto others. Why then, did I face these successes with dread?

I struggle with wanting to please others.

I knew with success came outside expectations. Success started feeling like chains. I must create more work with a blue color palette because that’s what most people want. I need to replace the three pieces that sold in a timely manner, but two of them were half of a set, so I actually have to create four pieces for two sets. As a minority, it’s even easier to get caught up in this feeling because simply existing can be offensive and living is constantly adjusting to the expectations of others. Speak authoritatively so people don’t mistake you for a meek Asian woman. Don’t talk about your heritage, because people don’t go to your Instagram to be cultured. Don’t show your Asian face in case it discourages people who wanted you to be a white woman.

I started wondering, “How do I make sure I stay true to myself throughout these wins?”, “How do I not sacrifice parts of myself?”…

“How do I recenter?”

I came across this article for some advice because Jimmy Chin posted it, and I love his work and he’s an Asian photographer.

Here are some points that stuck with me and my reflections on this past month:

"The mastery mindset involves shifting your focus from achieving any one goal itself to executing on the process that gives you the best chance of more general improvement over time."

By achieving my goal of producing sellable work, where did I improve that can be applied over time?

  1. Learning how to “finish” work. One part of art is the actual creating, and the less glamorous part is finishing it so the piece lasts (by applying UV resistant varnish, or photographing it for prints because the artwork itself is too fragile) Another part is framing. When pieces are framed, there’s a finality to it and the frame gives the work some space to breathe. Certain ends of the market (people who want art as decor) prefer not thinking about any of the above, and therefore it’s good to develop skills in this area if I want to hit that market. As I approach people who have their own tastes, there’s a higher chance they’ll want to frame it themselves.

  2. Cataloguing. This takes a decent portion of time. As much as 2 hours or more per piece for good quality photos, writing in dimensions, dates, notes on signature placement, determining price, storing. Also not glamorous but so worth it in the sense that you can easily go through your past work, make connections to current work, etc.

  3. Photographing the work. Coming up with a style I liked took quite a bit of time, and I can imagine I’ll continue iterating on it.

  4. I am adaptable. Both opportunities this time around pushed me outside of my normal comfort zone in terms of color palette. I really like muted colors, and the commissions were in red and black, and then blue and green. Lessons to be learned, adapt less and focus on what I want to present.

  5. Producing a series is more fulfilling that I realized. I thought producing the same style would get repetitive and boring, but there’s a lot to play with textures and sizes and practice.

You don’t define yourself by any single moment in time; you define yourself by an entire body of work in service of ongoing growth and development.

Have I improved since December. Yes.

How do I know? Because when I look at my old work, I think “omg, why?" But also, while producing my ‘ugly’ work, I learned valuable lessons in techniques and what styles, compositions I liked for my work. This is also when I made the most mess ups, like mixing resin incorrectly, and how to recover from it.

Lessons I learned about myself:

  1. I will not create ‘space/galaxy’ work. There’s so much of this online, people can find this elsewhere.

  2. I will not create flowers. There’s so much of this online, people can find this elsewhere.

  3. I love soft and airy colors. I don’t like colors that are too bright. There’s a calmness to them like with plants, when’s the last time you saw a plant that was actually “green” like what you see in a color wheel? Never. Also when have you seen water that is actually blue? Never. I consider the standard colors as kind of fluorescent and harsh. Colors are a reflection of culture. I will therefore define my own.

  4. I love white space, this is my happy place

  5. I also love dark and moody, this is warmth

  6. Communicate my meaning. Empathizing with where other people are and bridging that gap is a valuable skill. Don’t sacrifice myself to bridge that gap.

Small steps taken consistently over a long period of time lead to big gains. Walking your path with others—community support—helps you navigate the ups and downs and keeps you moving forward. 

I for sure wouldn’t have made it here without the encouragement and support of my studio mates at Blue Cone. These opportunities have all come from there and it is my pleasure to give back. I’ve also learned from my software engineering days, that it’s more important to finish lots of things than to aim for perfection at the start.

Looking forward

What I want to work on more:

  1. Produce work that is closer to being unashamedly me

  2. Make strides towards acknowledging my logical side

  3. Make strides towards acknowledging my background

  4. Set aside time to work on art that is important to me, rather than doing it in spare time

Interested in collaborating? Contact me
Want to browse my work? See my portfolio

Monica Tie