Artist of the Month: February 2023
Can you tell us a little about your artistic background and journeys specifically in Calgary?
Joey: Having only been in Canada for 2 years and 5 months, I am still discovering myself here and language can still be a large barrier. Coming from China, I initially felt very confused here, in terms of how to go about continuing my career, having no resources and not knowing anyone here yet. I was so hungry to immerse myself into the culture here, not just the general culture but the arts ecosystem where I belong. Every day I would keep checking social media for any kind of a way in. So when I found information about ICAI as I was inquiring for ways to apply myself and my skills here, I realized there are doors and opportunities that can be open for me.
I felt very lucky that people took a chance on me and believed in me. Having the chance to be accepted into the local arts area was very helpful for me to establish roots in my new journey. It was so important for me to get a start somewhere and to feel accepted, as it can be daunting gaining acceptance coming from a very different country.
I am an illustrator first and foremost. Back in my home country, I have worked with a publishing house drawing illustrations for them as well as creating web assets for other companies. I have a lot of different types of clients who require different styles of work, depending on the project. Different companies run different businesses, thus requesting a variety of requirements in different industry fields, so I always have to adjust. They need the deliverables for novels or at times children’s books, which I’m doing a lot of. The publishing house for the children's books would need different illustrations for novels, so that keeps me very busy. Lately I’ve been even doing illustrations for a game company. It’s different to what I’m used to, however it's been very exciting to have a go at it and explore new formats.
What challenges have you identified as artists new to Canada, specifically in Calgary?
Joey: Calgary can be very challenging because it’s a totally different culture. I am still figuring out the local culture here and doing my best to be more familiar with it.I only know so few things to get me by and there is still so much out there for me to find out and further grow. It's very difficult going from having a pool of various clients back in my home country and starting fresh, back at square one. At first I felt like I had absolutely nothing.
Having a start somewhere to continue my career is vitally important for my well being here. I would love to create financial stability to support my life and my family creating art full time. My biggest goal right now is to grow my clients and get more projects to gradually build my career here. Fortunately I have ICAI to support me now. Sometimes when I think things aren’t going well and losing hope, it really helps to know ICAI is there for me to provide support and community. At times even small events like artist talks I am so grateful for. When I get discouraged from how difficult transitions may be, these events give me a purpose to go out, leave the house and see art. It fills my soul to meet like minded people and be surrounded by ideas and creative thinking. So much of the artist's life is about community. Having my work be accessible and creating a consistent rhythm with my work here is what I am working on now. I need to have more exposure on social media and have more exhibitions, showcase my art on different platforms; online and in-person, building the pool for potential clients.
Are there any specific points of inspiration relating to your art practice that inspires you to create?
Joey: In my heart, I truly feel that the art process requires input and output, a push and pull between the work coming out and the feedback being received. There is a need for sharing and exchange in order for art to exist. It’s about sharing emotion and what we are hearing, what we’re looking for. It’s so important to get feedback from your audience. The insight an artist gets from the conversation of receiving input goes a long way, especially in a new place. And so I learn, so I continue to move forward and then there is something to output and give back. It's the beauty and the impact of the exchange. The challenge is the time that my work requires to create. I often get very ambitious with a lot of work, making feedback so important, especially as a freelancer because you have no one watching over you all the time.
I’d love to create a balance between my artistic journey and day to day life. Having my art support it all is key. I find humility in balancing different jobs to survive here; some are in the arts field and some aren’t - and that is all right because at the same time, I’m still learning what Canada is about and that’s a good thing. Everything I am encountering is adding to my new story here while getting more familiar with a new place.
At first when I arrived here, I couldn’t ignore the beautiful scenery and the very kind people. Definitely don’t take this for granted. Feeling welcomed and being in awe of the landscape made me feel like I made the right decision coming here and seeing myself thriving here. It could be even little moments, such as; I remember walking on the street one day when we first arrived here and strangers would just say hello to me! That’s not something I was used to but I think it’s a very good thing. It’s a little thing but it’s moments like these that warms my heart. My daughter witnessed these beautiful moments as well when- when she would be seeking help and people that don’t even know her would have the empathy and compassion to take time out of their day and lend a helping hand. I think that’s very great and creates a sense of community at times when we feel so alone. That meant the world to me while adjusting as newcomers. It can be so intimidating moving to a new place and building a new life from the ground up. Having support is so so important.
These moments of course really touched me as a newcomer but are also so inspiring as an artist. Drawing out these touching moments and sharing the bigger picture, thinking that if it touched me, it will touch others and I want to create a sense of wholeness, spreading kindness. I am so grateful to be here witnessing kindness on a regular basis.
Are there any individuals you dream of working with? Can you share your aspirations for future projects?
Joey: I need to keep producing more work and focus on creating new work. My process may be long and tedious but working bit by bit, the pieces eventually come together. It’s about having a strong work ethic. An idea I had was to share my process on social media as a day to drive engagement. Maybe some clients will see that my work aligns with what they have been looking for and I hope they like it. That is my biggest focus right now on what I’d like to do: create more and more connections, get my work and myself out there as much as I can.
Having more exhibitions for my new work would also be wonderful of course (and a good way for people to meet me). I have a lot of old work that I need to go through. (maybe if a gallery space could pick parts of them). I’d love to connect to more curators and see what kind of work they’re looking for, what is suitable for that exhibition in that space in more detail - communicate more. My portfolio carries a lot of different work with many different styles, which depend on the concept. It’s the selection process that can be intimidating.
I found IAMP to be very helpful. I’d have to say the biggest takeaways from the mentorship program was learning how to increase my reach of audience here. My mentor (Bunny) is a very experienced artist here in Calgary and I am so grateful to have had his mentorship. He taught me the importance of social media, how to use Youtube, (so more people can know about me) and so much more, including how an artist can sell their work in order to support life. Bunny is very busy and very passionate about art and his art practice, carrying a lot of experience and that's what you want in a mentor.
Since your arrival in Canada 2 years ago, what are the proud moments you would like to share with the people of Calgary?
Joey: Even though I have a lot of experience from back home, I have to appreciate the milestones I’ve had so far in Calgary. Since coming here, some of my biggest achievements that I’m really happy about is having the Arts Commons exhibition. Having the Arts Commons exhibition was a great learning experience because I got to meet a lot of different artists and had the opportunity to showcase my work to a large audience. I am only a newcomer so it was a huge and pleasant surprise how quickly it all happened to have all these opportunities! I met and learned about a lot of very talented local artists. I got to show my work to others and was surprised by how many people actually liked my work here and was a step to feeling accepted here - that I can make it here.
And so, I think that the arts is some kind of a language that is a global language. It's universal. Many people are here from many different countries with their own backgrounds and it may seem at first that there will be a disconnect. The most beautiful thing art has the power to do is connect all of us with images that touch us. I feel very proud and appreciative of my experience in the exhibition. It’s a step by step process but I am really looking forward to all the next steps and to having many more exhibiting opportunities. I hope that I can make it happen very soon and keep up the momentum, continuing to create and putting it out there - staying dedicated and keep moving forward. I am so grateful to have ICAI’s support in my creative artistic journey!
Share anything you are currently working on
Joey: Currently I am working on three books that I cooperate with a Chinese publishing house on. It is a series of three pop up books on Chinese Asian poetry. I’ve drawn almost 300 illustrations for them! So far they are sketches that I am refining but they will stay black and white so the reader who buys the book can fill in the colour themselves. I enjoy how it will take a life of its own in someone else’s hands and the process becomes more engaging and interactive. It’s not yet finished but it’s really coming along. It’s a lot of work and I am drawing for long periods of time but I do really enjoy the process too and maybe sometimes I enjoy it a little bit too much.
What are you looking forward to in the next few months?
Joey: I’d love to create more work about Canada because I really enjoy the Canadian landscape. I’d like to focus on drawing a lot more new content here, possibly more commonplace things. I am still so astonished by the beauty of the gorgeous mountains here and the regional landscape in general, I don’t think I could get tired of it. Even when I’m just driving around and take a moment to look up and take in the views, I just think the skies here are one of a kind. The seasons here are so diverse and it’s inspiring me to draw more and capture it all. I feel very lucky in that sense, to be able to translate the everyday moments onto paper. Recording these seemingly mundane moments and then expanding them into art.
I very much enjoy capturing the moments that touch me. It’s my little ongoing project. Capturing these moments and creating art around them in a new environment has become a tool for me to connect with the new land. That’s what my life and art practice is all about; being in tune with my surroundings, making way for connections, connecting the little moments. I record them and maybe that builds a path and creates a better sense about how I feel about Calgary. Sharing this with other people would be a great way to grow here (the point of being an artist). As I am a newcomer, (the feelings I have are personal to my experience here) I have a very fresh set of eyes on how I see Canada and Calgary. It’s very different to the place I come from but I really do appreciate these differences as well - that’s beautiful.
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