Art,  Interviews

Interview with Sumi Ink and Honey Watercolor Artist Ms. Muse

Ms. Muse is a San Francisco artist who works in the unique mediums of Japanese Sumi ink and honey-based watercolor. She uses these mediums to paint “unapologetically girly” women who are “both attractive and thought-provoking”, using a “style reminiscent of twenty-first century French comic book illustration” and inspired by Modern Impressionism to “capture the free spirit and rainbow palette of San Francisco”. This interview shares more about her magical work with the female form.

When did you become an artist?

Art is something that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I had notebooks filled with drawings of different faces.

When did you start showing your work?

I began both showing and selling when I was still in high school. In fact, I won the 2004 Senior Artist of the Year Award in high school.

sumi ink art by Ms. Muse

You use unique materials like Sumi ink.

Can you tell us more about that choice?

I like to use honey-based watercolor by the brand Sinnelier. Honey preserves the pigment so that it stays vibrant, and it has a nice smooth texture that blends well. If I’m painting in black and white I use sumi ink. It’s completely different from acrylic inks. It is similar to watercolor in that after it dries you can rewet it and use it again. The pigment stretches and it dries like charcoal.

Is the main difference between the two mediums that one is in color?

The honey-based watercolor is for color paintings. If I use color, I use A LOT of color, so my watercolors are extremely bright. Sumi ink is difficult to shade so those pieces tend to be more high contrast.

How does San Francisco inspire your work?

Well, of course, the scenery of San Francisco is so beautiful that is conducive to creativity. But also I really feel like I can be myself here. I paint anything that I want to paint and never worry about what other people will think of it.

How does that compare to where you come from?

I grew up in a very dull, oppressive area of the country. I came to San Francisco from Oklahoma for the first time when I was 17. At that time, I attended the 2003 Summer Art Experience at the Academy of Art University. The spectacle that is San Francisco left a huge impression on me; I was immediately in love with the city. I came back when I graduated from high school and have lived here off and on as an artist for about 13 years.

So you still love it?

Yes. I love almost everything about this place: the architecture, the history, the counterculture, the fashion, the freedom … There is nowhere in the world that I would rather live.

Stellar art by Ms. Muse

What is your favorite gallery in San Francisco?

I love First Amendment Gallery (1 a.m. Gallery). They show local street artists.

How has your own experience been with exhibiting your work?

Galleries have featured my work in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville, and London. So far I’m always surprised at the number of people that actually like it. Ha! Seriously, though, I’m always humbled by people’s response. I’m a bit shy when it comes to showing my paintings so it is nice to have such a positive reaction.

Have you had any negative response to your work as an artist?

On occasions where I have heard negative things said about my work, it always seemed to be centered on it being “too girly,” which I take to mean too feminine. Too pink. I decided a couple of years ago that it is perfectly okay to paint women without painting them for the male gaze; that I can make feminine artwork FOR women. I accepted that as a result, my artwork might not appeal to men (which is half of the market) but the funny thing is that once I decided that I didn’t care whether or not men liked my work, I actually acquired a larger male following! I have even had men get my “girly” paintings tattooed on them; here’s an example.

Awesome. Do you have any tattoos yourself?

I have two: song lyrics from a Tool song, and a colorful watercolor portrait of my dead cat Opey. RIP Opey. 

Do you have any pets now?

I have a duck. His name is Bernie Quackers.

What do you hope people take away from viewing your art?

A: I just hope to make art that people enjoy looking at, either because it reminds them of something pleasant or because they find it beautiful.

woman in art drawing by ms. muse

Would you say your art intersects with feminism?

I think my art has a way of appreciating women without objectifying them. I don’t like to paint or draw typical “sexy” poses because they seem submissive. My work is also very sex-positive and period-positive. I’ve done collections that explored the full experience of having a vagina; in other words: sex, masturbation, and birth. So often birth is hidden and thought of as shocking and disturbing. I wanted to show it as part of the whole picture, and something that was beautiful. Feminism, at least my generation’s version of it, is very sex-positive. We are changing the way women are supposed to feel about their bodies. You can see it in advertising campaigns like H&M or Dove. Women are changing what is classified as taboo or “disturbing.”

Who are the women in your pieces?

Sometimes they are celebrities, sometimes friends, sometimes strangers. Sometimes I have completely made them up.

What social / global issues are currently of most importance to you?

As of lately the Black Lives Matter movement has been most important to me. I have done paintings to raise money for different groups and I helped the family of Victor White create graphics for T-shirts and posters. Most of the art that I create for that is personal though. I don’t show it to many other people.

I’m also planning to get involved in efforts to combat whatever this new racist, sexist administration intends on throwing at us.

Who are some of artists / people that inspire you?

My friend Lux has always been my biggest inspiration and somewhat of a muse to me. Artists who inspire me include Junko Mizuno, Fafi, Herakut, Faith47, EGR, and Alberto Ruiz, who I’m happy to say has become a good friend of mine.

What are some of the things that you love doing beyond art-making?

I’m busy being a mom and working full-time. I like to take my won on adventures around the Bay Area. We go hiking a lot and we like to go for walks and look at the old Victorian houses in our neighborhood. I do my painting at night. I don’t have a TV so I spend a lot of time reading non-fiction and sometimes writing.

This article was originally published in 2017 by Fempotential.

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