Friday, April 21, 2017

Girl, Reconstructed: Crafting a Creative Business as a Special Needs Mom

Hello friends! I am so excited to announce that I finally published my book!  It's titled, Girl Reconstructed: Crafting a Creative Business as a Special Needs Mom

This book is basically a detailed way of answering the question I received time and time again; how do you manage to create items and run a shop with two kids on the spectrum? Girl, Reconstructed: Crafting a Creative Business as a Special-Needs Mom offers encouragement and inspiration particularly to crafty special-needs moms (it would actually help anyone) who might want to turn their creative passion into profits. I pour out my heart and soul in strategies, quotes, ideas, and resources to help you along your journey. But most important of all, I use myself as an example to show you that if I can do it, you can too! 
You can order the e-book or paperback here. I will be posting excerpts from the book here so stay tuned!  

Thank you for all of your support throughout these years of my building, Nelesc Designs. I paused the business for a little bit to write the book but I will be back soon!

Enjoy your day! 

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Being the Noun

Photo: Nellie Escalante

In a blog post I wrote back in October titled, On Having a Second Art Language, I talked about the freedom in being the verb, in simply doing our art. I wrote, “ and that’s the beauty of having a second art language, it allows you to remain the verb without the pressure of being the noun. It allows you to just SING, instead of being the Singer. Today, however, I’d like to chat a little bit about being the noun.

Being the noun is important when we find it difficult to get to the verb, to get to the doing. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of who we are. Being the noun motivates us to do and sometimes we have to tell ourselves who we are so we can get unstuck. Here’s an example:  “Come on, move your butt, you are an artist, make some art!” Or “you are a poet” or “a writer, now write!”

There are times, when I’m discouraged or in a funk, when I have to tell myself, “stop it, you are a child of God, you will be fine, He’s got this, you were fearfully and wonderfully made.” Because, yes, He (God) created you (verb) but He is also the creator, (noun), and knowing that this is his job title, Creator, gives me comfort, peace, joy, and assurance.

The other day, my friend and I were sharing and encouraging each other. At the end of our conversation, she didn’t say, “thank you for encouraging me, instead, she said “Nellie, you are such an encourager.” It immediately clicked, “ahh, the noun.” I do love to encourage others and route people on, and to be called the noun, it was just different when I heard it that way, “encourager.” It simply solidified this identity in me.

So friends, go ahead and label yourselves! I know this is not encouraged in our society but there are times when we just need to tell ourselves who we are, whether it be Artist, Writer, Dancer, Scientist, whatever it is. We need to remind ourselves, especially when we are feeling discouraged. There is no arguing with your identity and once you have that down, you can quickly get to the fun part, the doing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Do Something You've Never Done Before

Years back I ran into a friend who is a poet. I asked her, "so how's your poetry going?" what have you written lately?”  She said "I haven't been writing, everybody's writing poetry these days, you see it all over Facebook and Instagram, I really have nothing new to add."

This got me thinking. Sometimes we have ideas but we tell ourselves, “nah, this one has been done before”, or “so and so is doing or talking about the same thing.”

What we don’t understand is that we have to say that same thing through our own voice, we have to make the thing in our own way, through our own experience, that’s what makes it unique and different. This very thing that I am saying has indeed been said before. I am just saying it again, in my own way.  

Listen friends, some of us are so concerned with creating something so original that it paralyzes us and we end up not producing anything at all! I’ve been there with my sewing, with my writing, and even with my visual art making. I want to create the next big, innovative thing and it’s overwhelming, stopping me in my tracks, and I end up not making anything at all. 

But I venture to say that the fact that YOU are doing it makes it original and unique. Everybody is sewing and refashioning these days too, but I am making stuff out of my own uniqueness and personal context, the next artist is doing the same thing. In my two years of teaching the NYC Craft Entrepreneurship course I have been asked, “there are so many jewelry makers on Etsy, why would anyone else join those large numbers and expect to sell? Because there is enough room for everyone. Because people care about your story. Because you are making something from your own hands, YOUR hands, no one else can do that, or take that away from you. No one else can be you.

So, please, share your gift. Don’t hold back. If it’s something that has been done or said before, it has not been said or done by you…yet. Do what you have never done before, that's what makes it good, unique authentic work!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sometimes You Have to Play a Long Time to Play Like Yourself -Miles Davis

What does that mean? So in that long time of playing, who are we playing like, if not like ourselves? The answer is, we are playing like other people.

“Wait, what? I am no faker and I don’t copy anyone! I’m an innovator, I do original sh*t! “(excuse the language). That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I first heard this quote. And the same sentiments also arose when reading Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. In it he says,

“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.”

That's when I learned that great artists copy, that's how they get better and make it their own. 

Recently, I needed to apply this lesson, when it came to my museum practice. For the last two years I have been rebuilding my museum education career after taking a seven-year break to care for my kids and start my creative business. It's been a slow process and I have to admit that it took me a while to find my groove again. I wasn’t confident in my teaching at the beginning. The museum education field had changed so much in the seven years that I was away, and I realized that the way I used to give tours was not the way they were facilitated now. 

I knew the remedy right away, though. I needed to watch and learn. So I observed a lot of other museum educators give their tours, and, yes, I  sometimes copied their techniques because they worked! Little by little I started developing my own style, my own teaching personality and I began to facilitate like myself. It doesn't mean that I stop learning or that I stop observing other people, it just means that I'm more secure in who I am as a museum educator and as a teaching artist because I followed and copied for a long time.

Where are you in your art journey? Are you teaching/playing/working like yourself yet? How did you get there? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Finding Your Voice as an Artist

A year ago, during the exhibition Salon Style at the Studio Museum in Harlem, I was facilitating a tour and I stopped to talk about artist Chakaia Booker and her work, Repugnant Repunzel, 1995, made from rubber tires, metal, and wood.

Chakaia Booker, Repugnant Rapunzel (Let down your hair), 1995. Collection The Studio Museum in Harlem
Although made from various materials, the first thing you notice about this work, is the black rubbery substance. The kids didn’t realize, though, that this black tar material was actually reconstructed tires. When I revealed this information, they were like, “wait WHAT?” Yup! Chakaia Booker found her medium!

Booker, who grew up in New Jersey,  started out creating wearable art. She came from a family of sewers;  her grandmother,  aunt, and sister sewed for themselves and for other people. After graduating with a degree in sociology, Booker became a ceramist, securing various internships in New York City. This then lead to large-scale textile sculptures. 

Soon after, Booker began to work with discarded materials found at construction sites guiding her towards the use of car tires in the early 1990s upon moving to New York. During this time, car fires were rampant in the city allowing her access to the left over tires. She says of her process, 
"When I began to understand how to utilize this material [tires] then I began to think of it as a surface treatment for the work, the tire itself was like an icon, in terms of upward mobility, expansion, and also play, because there were always tires in the playground and everywhere we go.  A lot of times, most people, when they come up to the sculptures and see the material, don't really understand what they're looking at. They like the flow, they like the energy that comes from the pieces themselves."
Chakaia Booker is a great example of someone who explored various media finally landing on one that gave her a  strong, powerful artistic voice. This is how it happens with many artists, it takes time and it’s about process.

Sometimes you think you found your medium, and then this changes. Mediums can be for a time and ultimately lead you to your next great work. I thought I finally found my medium in oil painting.  Before then, I mostly drew, constructed collages, and painted with acrylic paint in Junior High School art class. 

Poster about drunk driving created for a contest with acrylic paint. 

It was in LaGuardia HS of Music and Art, however, that I discovered oil painting! I loved it; the smoothness of the medium, the richness of the colors, the texture and smell of the paint itself. I even loved that we had to use turpentine in order to soften and re-work this thick pasty substance. That chemical smell from the turpentine made me feel like an alchemist mixing elements in her lab that absolutely needed to be ventilated. It added a seriousness to my art. I felt like a worker operating on very important projects, projects that just happened to be paintings.

In the early 90s, I moved into my own studio apartment and showcased my work as if it were a gallery! 

But when the kids came along, this all changed. Oil paint was too toxic to use around them, especially with the turpentine, so I gave it up for sewing. I then combined this with screen printing which also has the potential to be toxic until I discovered a safer way to print.

Sometimes finding your medium, takes you trying different media. As I mentioned before, I tried various media (just like Chakaia Booker) and continue to dabble in collage art, but I find my most joy in sewing.  Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, says, 
“pay attention to how you are feeling and keep your compass set for joy.”
Where do you find your joy? Sewing is something I do consistently, without striving, it just happens and guess what, it gives me so much joy! I find myself thinking about constructions and patterns even while away from my sewing machine. Yeah, I know, it’s not as sexy as painting, on the high/low art chart it probably is pretty low, but it’s mine and sewing comes with something that painting does not, a legacy. Sewing connects me to my mom and generations of seamstresses before her.

Sewing also allows me to call myself an Artist, a fabric artist.  I used to struggle with that term. I have now come to realize that part of feeling worthy of the artist title lies in the consistent use of one's medium. I have made this sewing art a practice because I love it so much and do it consistently. Artists say something through their materials and they say it constantly. In the years I have been sewing, I have nurtured a passion for reconstruction/refashioning, that gives me a voice and makes me come alive! 

Some of you might say, "okay, that’s nice for you but I am not creative." I hear this all the time, “you are so creative, I wasn’t blessed that way”. I venture to see hog wash!  You just haven't found your medium! That material which allows you to express what you want to say. I fell in love with reconstruction and for me fabric was the only way to share this idea of reuse and redemption. It's my lens. Now you need to find yours.

Maybe you’re struggling to find your medium. So how does one go about finding one’s medium? Here are some suggestions:

1) You dabble, you explore various materials like I did, like Booker did, until one strikes a chord. You continuously ask yourself, what draws me?

2) You go to workshops. If something does strike a chord, attend a workshop to get better at your medium, this builds consistency in your art practice.

3) You go to museums and galleries. I work in museums and this consistently fuels my curiosity about new media to try or new avenues to explore concerning my own fabric medium.

4) You ask your artist friends, other creatives who have struggled with this very question. The artist community is invaluable.

5) You research your own art legacy. How do other family members express themselves? You might not know that your ancestors, were painters, weavers, or sculptors. That might give you a clue. I didn’t tap into my sewing legacy until I went to college. That’s when I started asking my mom questions about sewing and she revealed this legacy in my life. I guess I was bound to eventually sew! 

Have you found your voice as an artist through your medium? Are you at the exploring stage? I look forward to hearing your process!