Monday, March 24, 2014

An excerpt from my book, "Imperfect Things"

The following is an excerpt from my book, Imperfect Things: Artwork, 2010 - 2013. You can buy it on Blurb (hardcover, softcover, and iPad editions) and on Etsy (PDF version).

Studio 632F

In the summer of 2010, I had pursued my vision of getting my own art studio with such a relentless ambition that I didn't even tell my fiancé about it. I had hung my paintings just in time to have my first open studio on a muggy Friday the 13th, undaunted by any superstition. My family worked tirelessly to install my window air conditioner just in time to keep the studio cool for my new visitors. I had drawn a floor plan, but there wasn't enough time to move all my furniture in, so I decided to set up my sparsely furnished studio as though it were a gallery. I was determined not to let anything get in my way.

In the summer of 2010, I had embarked upon one of the most challenging ventures of my life. I had been dreaming of getting my own art studio since my creativity class in fall 2007 when I was in grad school at Governors State University. That summer, I had finally been able to make that dream a reality. I had wanted it more than anything. 

In the summer of 2010, I had also wanted to get married and become a homeowner. But there were too many outside factors involved, and those plans hadn't yet worked out. As a result, having a studio of my own became even more important to me. I had been elaborating on my vision for my studio for the past three years. I made sketches, then floor plans. Then I devised a color scheme: primary triads and rainbows. My accessories would be objects that were functional, simple in form, and all of a single color, mod, midcentury, industrial, and contemporary. Little by little, from Etsy and eBay, vintage sales and discount stores, I began to acquire them. I stored the accoutrements of my future art studio in boxes in my cramped studio apartment until I was finally able to move them into their rightful place.

In the summer of 2010, I still didn't have an easel. But that didn't matter much because I had decided that small was the new big, and started working on new pieces that were 8" x 10" and miniatures the size of index cards and business cards. I thought I would sell a lot of them since they were much less expensive than my larger works.

All I could see were unlimited opportunities to sell as much art as possible. I had just sold four large paintings, and the profits I made would pay for several months of studio rent in advance. Surely I would sell even more art once I had my studio set up. And once I got married, my husband's income would help offset my living expenses, so I wouldn't have to worry as much about paying for the studio while also repaying my student loans. In the summer of 2010, it seemed like my vision for my life was finally coming together.

But in the fall of 2010, everything fell apart. 


An excerpt from "The Doll Project" book

Here is an excerpt from The Doll Project, which is now available for sale on Blurb (softcover, hardcover, and iPad editions) and Etsy (PDF).


I have always been a Barbie girl. My fondest memories of my childhood in the 80's involve playing with my magnificent three-story Barbie townhouse with the yellow elevator. Between the ages of four and ten years old, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted for my birthday or for Christmas or Easter, my answer was the same: I wanted another Barbie. My numerous dolls, some contemporary, others the formerly beloved ’60s- or ’70s-era playthings of older cousins, became the cast of characters in my elaborate miniature dramas. They were whoever I wanted them to be, not just trapped in the roles predetermined by the little stories on the backs of the pink boxes they came in. I pretended that my Barbies were doctors, detectives, artists, rock stars, reporters, athletes, actresses, jewel thieves, teachers, social workers, and lawyers. They fell in love, got married, adopted smaller dolls like Strawberry Shortcake and the girls from Rose Petal Place, or teamed up with my little brother's larger action figures to fight crime. My desk became a Barbie hospital where a team of Barbie surgeons worked hard to reattach the heads and limbs of dolls that my cruel or careless playmates had broken and to cure the disease that afflicted the hollow-bodied generic Barbie clones, removing the loose pieces of plastic that rattled around inside them. My middle dresser drawers were Barbie apartments, and the rest of my bedroom was an imaginary Barbie town. 

Playing with my dolls was about so much more than fashion and putting together cute outfits. It was a window into adulthood, allowing me to envision what it would be like to have a career and a home of my own. I was never interested in playing with baby dolls because the stories I could tell with them were so limited. But the adventures I could imagine for my Barbie dolls seemed endless.

But as I got older, I felt betrayed by Barbie. Growing up wasn't nearly as glamorous or fun as she and Skipper had made it seem. They didn't have to worry about maxi pads or tampons, which came in hot pink packaging that reminded me of the dolls I used to love. I didn’t realize that the big, beautiful Barbie bustline I coveted and hoped to have someday was more than just something to fill out an elegant strapless gown, but also could be fraught with pain and malignancies and could attract lewd comments from boys and inappropriate attention from dirty old men. Their unblemished plastic faces would never get pimples. And Barbie’s and Skipper’s painted-on smiles did not belong on the faces of women who endured cramps or hormonal mood swings. Barbie’s beauty has always been a blessing and not a curse, her hyper-feminine physique an asset and not a liability. Barbie made puberty and womanhood seem so effortless, but after she betrayed me, I developed an aversion to all things pink. The last toys I played with were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures.

Years later, as a young adult, I revisited my old Barbie collection. I also began going to toy stores again, finding myself wandering through the pink fashion doll aisle I had once so despised. I began to buy new clothes for the old dolls I decided to display in my new apartment. Then, when I got engaged, I bought a few more dolls to dress in wedding gowns and tuxedos, planning to display them at my wedding or reception. 

As a young woman dealing with my own issues of body image, I began to look differently at Barbie dolls. I began to wonder whether my re-emerging interest in fashion dolls was a good or a bad thing. And the more I confronted my own disordered patterns of eating and exercise, the more I realized the extent to which societal pressure to conform to such stringent standards was the real issue I was facing. 

I began a radically unconventional process to overcome my issues, educating myself as much as I could with thought-provoking books and articles and finding an eclectic group of supporters online. But as I recovered, I was saddened to discover that there was another community online, one that would rather celebrate and encourage eating disorders than fight them.

A few years later, while in graduate school for painting, I took an art history class about Native American work. Learning about the Kachina dolls of the Hopi tribe and how they embody the highest ideals of their society made me wonder what our own modern-day Kachinas would look like. During this time I was also working for a nonprofit that provides mentoring for teenage girls. As I was proofreading the curriculum, a unit on media literacy caught my attention. This collision of ideas led to The Doll Project.

I first became familiar with doll photography as a genre through the work of Gina Gershon and her charming book of pictures of a saucer-eyed, large-headed 1970s fashion doll called Blythe. I also looked at the work of Laurie Simmons. I had on display in my apartment a miniature print of one of her photos, which adorned the collectible Kaleidoscope House dollhouse that she helped design. And I had already begun to follow Flickr groups in which fellow fashion doll collectors were posting their photos. All of these things informed the aesthetic of The Doll Project, as I studied the technical aspects of the photos and considered the approach I would take. I felt somewhat nervous about embarking upon this project because I had gotten such bad grades in the one photography class I took in college. Fortunately, I found digital photography much more forgiving than the 35-millimeter film I had worked with so many years before.

During my first year as an undergraduate at University of Chicago, I took a humanities course in which we had the option of creating collages instead of writing midterm and final papers about the texts we read. My collages gave me an outlet for my creativity, which I desperately needed since I was not yet enrolled in any art courses. They also helped me hone my skills in creating a visual language and symbolic vocabulary for complex concepts and ideas.

Venus Hottentot Montage
Venus Hottentot Montage  |  digital collage  |  1997

Traffic in Women Montage  |  digital collage  |  1997

Even then, the pieces that resonated with me the most were those that were concerned with the way women are portrayed. During my undergraduate film classes, I had heard about Todd Haynes's Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a docudrama using customized Barbie dolls to re-enact parts of Karen Carpenter's life and death from anorexia, which I eventually watched while working on this project.

When choosing the dolls I would use for these photographs, I wanted to make sure to include dolls that represented women and girls of various ages and different racial backgrounds. I also wanted to use dolls and accessories that were mass-produced, rather than making my own. The only exceptions are the "Please don't feed the models" and "I am beautiful" t-shirts, which were handmade by two doll clothing artisans who sell their work on Etsy. Only two of the dolls in the project have had their faces customized: the Latina Mia doll (because Mattel did not make a Latina Wee Three Friends doll) and the breast cancer survivor doll for the “You are beautiful, too!” poster. At the time of publication, despite numerous petitions, Mattel has yet to create any chemotherapy dolls, though interestingly enough, MGA, the company responsible for the Bratz dolls, has. 

In using commercially made toys for this project, I intend to evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia in viewers, inviting them to take a closer look. The Doll Project invites viewers to take a closer look at the world around them as well. My intention is not to tell anyone what to think, but to encourage people to think for themselves, question the images they may have taken for granted in fashion and beauty ads, and create their own more inclusive standards of beauty.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The "You are beautiful, too!" poster is now for sale on Society6

The You are beautiful, too! poster is now for sale on Society6. Get one for your daughter, your sister, your mother, or yourself. Because I wanted to share this important message with as many girls and women as possible, I have set the price for this poster much lower than all my other Doll Project prints. Prices start at just $15. And if you buy it this weekend, you will get a great deal: $5 off plus free shipping! The offer expires at midnight Pacific Time on March 9th. There is no coupon code to enter. All you need to do is click this link:

You can also get a tote bag or t-shirt with this image on it, and you will be able to buy other products with the You are beautiful, too! dolls on them very soon.

If you're new to The Doll Project and want to read more about it, start here:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

You are beautiful, too

You Are Beautiful, Too!

You Are Beautiful, Too!

You Are Beautiful, Too!

You Are Beautiful, Too!

You Are Beautiful, Too!

I wanted this last poster to look like a quilt, so I used 16 different patterned backgrounds. All are from items I had at home, skirts, scarves, scrapbooking paper, fabric samples, and even a binder I once used while in design school. In contrast to the stark white uniform background of the Fashion Victims poster, these colorful backgrounds symbolize the uniqueness and individuality of each of the dolls I used, and using so many of my treasured possessions as backdrops makes it very personal.

This poster is dedicated to all the girls and women in the world. I hope that everyone will see that I am not trying to condemn exercise or healthy eating, but to encourage them to seek a positive alternative to the pernicious notion of the female body as a never-ending improvement project and to replace self-doubt and self-sabotage with self-acceptance and self-respect.

When I was working on this poster, this song inevitably came to mind since I'm a 90's girl. Pardon their language, but it's just so fitting.

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