Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Collections: Pocket Mirrors

Although not one of my more extensive collections, the amount of pocket mirrors I have is a bit excessive given how little I use them. I never wear makeup (I'm actually super envious of people that can do their makeup, I'm just really bad at it). I like to think that I'm not particularly narcissistic. I don't even enjoy looking in the mirror. The true appeal of these mirrors, to me, is the back of them. They're laid out on my shelf as decorations. That's not to say that I shame self confidence, and that we shouldn't be proud to look in the mirror and appreciate our own beauty, but I feel like ignoring the artistry of mirrors is pretty one-sided (pun intended). 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

An Interview with Annya Marttinen

I've followed Annya Marttinen for years. From a distance, I've observed her artwork undergo nuanced changes, favoring earth tones as opposed to pastels, more digital work instead of strictly hand drawn, and uncomplicated structure prevails over extravagance in her later work. But none of these discrepancies have affected the way I view her work, because the ethos behind the illustrations have remained the same; if anything these alterations have made her work more closely match her ideology and have heightened the visceral response viewers have to it. Annya's drawings have always made me feel at home. They evoke in me a feeling of serenity but not in a paradigmatic way; she does not paint pastoral scenes or landscapes of equable lakes, still and unwavering ("natural" scenery that ironically in no way reflects the peaceful chaos of the real natural world). Rather, Annya's work reflects the tranquility of everyday life, which isn't flawless. The comfort her paintings offer is entirely because of their familiar elements. Whenever I look at her work, I feel an immediate sense of home. Her illustrations are, at once, both a form of escapism and a consoling depiction of reality. There's a magical component to them as well, but a magic that seems fitting, a fantasy that seems like it could be accomplished in actuality. Her work has a distinct hygge (a Danish concept of comfort and familiarity) ambiance and talking with her was a similar experience.

Where do you get your inspiration?

So many places. A lot of my vision comes from movie sound tracks and books (mostly of the fantasy genre). I'm obsessed with folklore and myths. I like to dream up ideas in the early morning just as I am falling asleep because I feel like I enter a more calm mind set where new images and ideas can flow through me instead of forcing them. Nature is a large inspiration to me as well of course. I love drawing new plants and animals and also inventing new ones that sort of fit within the rules of pre-existing ones.

Would you say that your personal style mirrors your artistic style?

I would like to think so! Personally, I feel like a considerable amount of making art compelling or appealing is just making style choices and a lot of those choices come from my every day life. Style choices are the biggest part of creating a piece of work so that an audience can see themselves in it.

What work are you most proud of?

For a while now, I have definitely been most proud of an illustration I did called "Floating Books." A lot of people have told me that they saw themselves in that illustration and it granted me a lot of new eyes on my work. I think I love it so much because it was the first piece I ever truly loved when I had just started working digitally. The mood and style of that painting guided me to other works that I loved just as much and towards works that I am still creating. I feel like that illustration also helped me launch my Etsy store and get serious about selling prints.

Who are your favorite artists?

Painting and illustration-wise I have a ton of love for Gary Bunt. His work captures little moments in ordinary life that I find comforting and familiar. I love when illustrators paint older characters and what it is to grow old because I am fascinated with time and how our bodies and minds react to it. Tove Marika Jansson is an absolute genius when it came to the Moomin characters so I absolutely adore her work as well. I also love the fantastical works of Amelie Flechais. Gyo Fujikawa is my biggest inspiration when it comes to children's books illustrations. Beatrix Potter is also endlessly fascinating to me and the first person I think of when I'm asked this question but I decided to mention her last to change things up.

I've noticed that your style has shifted a bit to be less pastel and pink and girly to be a little more earthy and cozy. I was just wondering if there was a reason for that slight change?

I was always going in between the two styles my entire life but I feel like I have grown up quite a lot after I turned 20 and living on my own has caused me to appreciate the coziness of home. Learning so much about health and the earth has happened since now I have to take care of myself as an adult and I feel like my work must reflect that. The short answer is I watch a lot less anime and spend most of my extra time going for walks, reading and homemaking so naturally my work reflects that shift in my life.

Some of Annya's earlier work

Your work feels very home-y and intimate. What are some things that make you feel at home?

I feel most at home when a familiar warm smell is in the air and my apartment is filled with my personal treasures. I'm very particular about everything being very clean and in-order so I feel very at home when everything is in its place. Baking is also something that makes the atmosphere of my space much more home-y. Of course my three rabbits make me feel the most at home that I can possibly be. They are all so sweet and loving I could not imagine a better feeling than knowing that they feel safe and happy with me at home!

What are your most prized possessions?

Right now I would say my most prized possessions are my vintage books, but more particularly my edition of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My white Kitchen Aid mixer is also a baking miracle for me and I don't know what I would do without it. My biggest prized possession though is my wooden illustration desk where I spend most of my time. It just has the perfect drawers and compartments for my art supplies and I have never seen a desk more perfect for my career and lifestyle. My postcards and bookmark strangely fit perfectly in little compartments inside the drawers as well. Another item I am quite fond of is my Moomin mug that my dear friend gave me as a Christmas gift all the way from Norway.

Is your work mostly based on things you've seen/experienced or do you make up your own scenery?

I would say that a lot of what I illustrate comes from my everyday life but I will admit to having a big imagination and I use it as much as I can in my drawings. It's a messy mix of both of them because I'm always drawing what I am recently experiencing or dreaming about being.

Do you think that your artistic style will go through any major changes in the future?

I hope so! Right now I really want my work to be more simple. I'm always trying to make my work look simple but still catch someone's eye and resonate with them or make them feel a little bit of magic. It's an ongoing process of trying to accomplish this and I am hoping to make big changes towards this in the future.

When you were starting out, was there ever something you wanted to illustrate but couldn't?

When I first started out I was using watercolors and I desperately wanted to paint backgrounds. I think I was only able to pull off a few of them until I started using gouache and then I was all about full scenes and backgrounds. Gouache gave me the ability to layer which made scene making so much easier and more pleasant to look at. If anyone is out there that does watercolor backgrounds they are absolute wizards to me!

You can purchase Annya's work here.

An Interview with Molly Soda

Amalia Soto, better known by the pseudonym Molly Soda, calls the internet her hometown. It's an apt description and she's a devout resident. The internet personality she's crafted provides not always flattering but oddly endearing commentary about the internet through digital performance art pieces and miscellaneous web ephemera. Molly Soda understands the pain of watching people tune out of your Instagram live stream, of the likes on that one selfie being considerably less than what you were expecting, of a carefully-curated digital life not extending to the gritty realities of everyday existence. She understands this because Molly Soda is this; she's an online presence and is confined to the realm of cyberspace. Amalia and Molly are inextricably linked, though, more than the typical art and artist relationship, more than the typical online persona vs. real character relationship. Molly Soda is specific and universal; she's a projection of Amalia, but also a projection, almost a caricature of the internet and its own insecurities and attitudes. She does not amplify the web's flaw's, rather, she expresses them in a personable way. Amalia takes this very cold, calculated, and sterile world of the web and humanizes it, makes it an extension of herself, which is the hallmark of her artistic style and why her work resonates with me. From the book she co-authored, Pics or It Didn't Happen (which is centered around social media censorship), to her exhibitions, each of Molly/Amalia's pieces are a tribute to, and an effort to revitalize the distinct humanity of the web.


What work are you most proud of?

I guess the work that I'm most proud of is usually stuff that I do despite thinking that people are going to be interested in it. I think that there's a lot of pressure to make work that people will talk about and will get you attention or make work that's in the vein of things that people have responded to positively before. I guess, for me, I'm most proud of things I make because I want to make them as opposed to making things that I think people want to see from me. In some ways I'm proud of things that take me a really long time or things that are well articulated, but I'm also proud of things that were weird experiments that turned out nicely or made me learn more about what I was interested in. I get bored of everything I do really easily and quickly, so I'm always changing things up. I don't know if I'm more proud of something because it's difficult or because I'm excited about it.

What do you think is the worst instance of censorship on social media?

I mean I think we sort of go into it knowing that we're going to be censored or that there's rules we have to abide by. At least with me, I'm not as shocked by it anymore. I think we all know what we're getting into when we use Instagram or Twitter or Facebook and this idea of community guidelines. I think that censorship that we see online in terms of policing people's bodies or people's speech is something that is mimicked in real life if you want to make those distinctions. It's still something that's present. I don't know if I'm super shocked by that. I think the worst instance of censorship that I've seen is actually really recent and is not directly via social media but in terms of what's happening with FOSTA-SESTA and all of these websites and things people in the sex worker community use in order to get work and in order to screen clients have been removed. Craiglist personals got taken down and Backpage which is a big place that people advertise has also been taken down. It's only going to get worse in harder for people like that and for all sorts of people in marginalized communities to be safe and do what they need to do. The internet is becoming increasingly smaller and this is just the first step. I'm also interested in what's going to happen with Net Neutrality and how that's going to affect the ways in which we communicate with each other and how we're going to operate safely and have equal access to things.

Why did you choose the moniker Molly Soda?

My real name is Amalia Soto, so it was sort of a play on that and I thought Molly Soda was cute. Molly Soda was something that was only ever supposed to exist online, so I thought it was a cute avatar name or username the same way that on MySpace you would have a play on your real name when MySpace was big and MySpace culture was really big and scene queens were really big, like Tila Tequila. So Molly Soda was kind of a play on that as well.

Do you consider your internet persona a part of yourself or is it more of a vehicle for commentary on internet culture?

I think it's definitely a part of myself. I think it's really hard to separate yourself from your online self and maybe moreso now as it's become more embedded into out daily lives. I think everyone is constantly looking at their phone, or has it around or has the option to plug in. It's bled together a lot more in recent years where before when I started out, even though everything I was saying online was based on my personal reality, it was still a curated and exaggerated version of it. And it still is now. I think we want to take everything we see online at face value so it becomes more real to us. I think authenticity and reality and the search for reality within our screens is becoming more important to people so that's where it bleeds in.


Do you think the onset of the internet has shaped youth culture for the worse or has it just taken problems that were already present to a new medium?

I think it's both. I'm really thankful that I grew up as the internet grew. I didn't have a self phone until I was fourteen, and that was when cellphones were becoming a thing. There was more separation. I would go home and be online all the time, but it wasn't as easy to be online all the time as it is now and I think having that time and those separations and having those walls built into the structure of your life may have made it easier for people to get outside of it. I feel like the older I'm getting the more sucked in I get and I wonder how I would've handled that as a teenager. Hanging out with friends while being on my phone, like I couldn't imagine doing that when I was like fourteen. But now I think that's a really normal thing. Like when you go out to eat, everyone put their phone on the table as if they're waiting for someone to text them. It's a strange thing. I have problems with the internet and the way we communicate with each other, but all of those things were already present in people, we were just given the tools that allow us to highlight that or expand on that. I don't know. I think that things are going to get more out of hand. It's a weird space in time to be right now. I think the internet is going to become more corporate or branded. I mean, it already is, but branded under the guise of being authentic. I wonder if people are going to get sick of that or if we'll just continue to live in that world. I don't really see it getting better, just more streamlined and subtle.

A lot of your work is based on preservation. Do you think that the internet is ephemeral, and if so why do you think saving pieces of the internet is so important?

I think it's my need to control things. I do think that the internet is always changing. I'll even look at a screenshot I took of YouTube a month ago and a screenshot I took today and even just the way that the YouTube comments look is different. The internet is always changing but it's like right under our noses. It's supposed to be this fluid thing so we never really notice what's different. We're never like "Oh, my scroll looks different" or acknowledge whatever it is that's casually happening as apps are updating and websites are rolling out changes. For me, I really like collecting and I'm kind of nerdy about certain things like that so I really pour over the details of every screenshot. As a teenager, the internet was really important to me and I'm fortunate to have saved a bunch, but the one thing I didn't save was how the interface looked or how websites look. I have the contents and my creations but the world that they lived in visually is equally as important to me. So now I'm really interested in trying to archive that as much as I can and having that as a reference. It finds itself a lot in my work. But I also really like the idea of letting something naturally die online. I like how information changes the longer it lives on a website and how it deteriorates and rots over time. But for me, I really need to save things. I don't know if I'm going to want things later even if I don't want it now. Like, I've considered deleting my Facebook and I was like I need to archive my entire Facebook before I delete it. Maybe I don't want it now but I might in ten years.

Do you think that your online persona will change at all? Is it ever stifling to be Molly Soda?

It's already changed a lot as I've gotten older. Even taking a selfie doesn't feel good the way it used to. I don't know if it's because I'm seeing myself differently or if I don't want to present the Molly Soda that I thought I once was. I feel like Molly Soda has gone through 2 or 3 rebirths at this point. I started going by Molly Soda when I was 19/20 and I'm 29 now, so naturally most people change as they get older.



I am by no means a photographer, and I would never insinuate that the photos I have taken are in any way, by any conventions, good. But freshmen year I bought a pink, vintage Polaroid Cool Cam 600 and there was something intensely gratifying about having an immediate print of a shot you just took. Obviously, the lines between preservation and the present are blurred in the age of iPhone photography, but with a Polaroid you have tangible evidence of this intersection. You can be holding a moment, an event, as it is happening. I think that's such a strange and addictive feeling.

Here is a selection of Polaroids that I have taken and that have been taken of me over the years. Even though most of these are recent, like I said the medium lends a sort of instant nostalgia to the work.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

An Interview with Bao Ngo

Bao Ngo's work is incredibly diverse (from glam neon lights to hazy motel shoots) but it is all unified by the uncanny ability to transport the viewer into visionary realms. Bao is ludicrously talented. It's evident that she's not a one-trick-pony. Her body of work is a library, and each photo in it is a genre unto itself. With every new project she introduces, I'm captivated. I was able to talk to Bao about her inspirations and upcoming projects, and I'm honestly still over-the-moon that she responded to me.

What work are you most proud of?
There are actually a couple other works I'm super proud of, none of which have been released. I apparently take forever to finish projects I deeply care about. Two of them are set to come out later this year (late summer/early fall maybe?) actually. We'll find out then!

What's the best piece of storytelling you've ever encountered?
Hospice by The Antlers is probably one of the best pieces of storytelling I've encountered; it's the first one that comes to mind. I draw a lot of inspiration from music, especially concept albums. My mother is a musician, and I was a musician before I became a visual artist as well. Hospice really tears me apart completely.

Who do you think the most creative person alive is?
This is such a difficult question to answer! Especially because I think creativity is mostly in our heads. I know that most of my most creative ideas never make it out of my head because they would be so difficult to execute realistically. Maybe someday if someone ever gives me a budget it'll happen.

Can you describe your favorite outfit?
Yes! It's definitely this one (on the right) worn by Agnetha Faltskog during ABBA's 1974 Eurovision performance.

Image via

What's the weirdest dream you've ever had?
Most of my dreams involve me stealing and crashing cars or helicopters. I don't drive either, so I guess all of them are pretty weird to me. This goes as far back as I can remember! I think these dreams are part of the reason why I was scared of driving and failed the test to get my license three times when I was in high school.

Who has been your favorite person to shoot?
I love almost everyone I shoot to death, but probably my favorite is Annika White-- she's a model, filmmaker, photographer, and stylist. She's amazing at everything she does. She's also my best friend. I don't have any other collaborators who understand me as much as she does.

What has been your favorite location to shoot at?
This is such a cliche answer but Iceland! Specifically Reykjadalur, this valley about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. It's a little hike but totally worth it. There's a river and it's full of fog and mist and bright green grass.

If you weren't a photographer, what would you be doing?
Before I wanted to be a photographer, I wanted to be a lawyer, which seems totally ridiculous now but I was so serious about it. When I was in high school, I even interned for a lawyer! I thought it was going to be my life.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop comparing yourself to others so much. Everyone is different and no one has the exact same path in life as another person, so comparing yourself to others is totally useless.

If you were to compare your entire body of work to a type of flower, what flower would it be and why?
I don't know anything about flowers, so I'm not sure if I could compare my entire body of work to one. I love bluebonnets though. They're a very nostalgic flower for me since they're the state flower of my home state, Texas. They are super special to me, since Texas inspires my work so much to this day.

Has their been an album or a song that has had a significant influence on your work?
Not on my entire body of work! But some of my individual photos were inspired by albums, depending on what I'm into at the time.

Has your style (in terms of photography) changed over time?
It has changed a lot. I think it's always evolving. Two years ago I opted to switch to digital from shooting film, and in the last year, I've been exploring darker themes and palettes. I used to want to be a fashion photographer but now I have very little interest in fashion. For a long time, I think my work was about femininity and now I'm not feeling work about femininity anymore. Lately I've been loving neutral colors as well, although I used to love really bold colors!

Photo credits: Bao Ngo
You can follow Bao on Instagram: @baohngo

An Interview with Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle is one of the people that made me want to start this blog. Scathingly Brilliant is still one of the most carefully-crafted blogs I've come across, and her style is something I've desperately tried to rekindle in my own life, a quest that has led me to buy numerous products from her shop. Although Kate's tastes might be niche, I am so thankful that she chooses to share them and makes products for like-minded people. Kate treats the internet the way she would want to be treated, and her good attitude is contagious. It's nearly impossible to browse her shop, blog, or Instagram page without smiling uncontrollably. As a longtime fan, it meant the world to be able to ask her a few question.

What work are you most proud of?
I'm especially proud of my Time Machine to the '90s kits. I am so smitten with the concept; I really enjoy putting them together, and I especially love when I hear back from people who opened up the kits and experienced the kind of nostalgia overload that I was hoping to achieve when I came up with the idea in the first place.

Who do you think is the most creative person alive?
That's so tough! Personally, I'm really inspired by someone like Mindy Kaling who's a modern renaissance woman -- she acts, directs, writes TV, writes books, produces content, and still has more than enough wit and energy left over to run an ace Instagram and Twitter. I feel like my own creativity can only stretch so far most days, so I'm in awe of people who seem to have extra to spare!

What's the best piece of storytelling you've ever encountered?
Off the top of my head, I'd have to say the movie Jules and Jim.

What's the hardest part about running your own business?
Definitely the hardest part is having erratic income. It can be very hard to maintain a positive attitude when I have a slow week (or month...or year...)

What's the most rewarding part?
As often as I've flirted with the idea of giving this all up in exchange for a steady paycheck, getting to work from home, set my own hours, and hang out with my cat all day is definitely the most rewarding part of running my own business. In fact, it's SO rewarding that after spending over a decade of struggling to make ends meet I still won't give it up for a more consistent income lol!

What are your favorite movies to take fashion inspiration from? What's your most cinematic outfit?
Definitely 1960s movies! Everything from simple, chic outfits in French dramas to outlandish, bright, embellished, over-the-top outfits in comedies. The 1960s is where I get almost all of my fashion inspiration from. I think my most cinematic outfit would be my New Year's outfit from 2017: http://scathingly-brilliant.blogspot.com/2017/01/happy-new-year.html

How do you come up with ideas for pins/patches/shirts?
Pretty much every item in my shop came from me wanting to own something that didn't already exist yet. It's probably not the best way to run a business, since sometimes I have very obscure interests lol! But it definitely makes things fun, and I genuinely love every single pin, patch, or t-shirt that I add to my shop because it came from a desire to own it myself.

What's your favorite cat-related piece of clothing you own?
I have so many favorites but I think this one from Joanie Clothing is my current favorite. I haven't worn it in an outfit post yet but I love the vintage cat print and the shirt dress style is so unusual for a novelty print like this. I love it!

You definitely spread positivity through your work. What's the best compliment anyone has ever given you?
Honestly, hearing that I spread positivity through my work is one of the best compliments I've ever received. Thank you!

What is something you regret not buying?
When I was in high school I saw a skirt with a Monet landscape all-over print in a Delia*s catalog, and I still regret that I didn't get it. I collect old Delia*s catalogs now and I'm still looking for the one that includes the skirt, just so I can see it again at least.

Photo credits - Kate Gabrielle

"You cannot beat death, but you can beat death in life, sometimes."

Hello everyone!
My last few weeks of high school have been very contemplative. It's not exactly the sorrowful occasion I expected it to be, but it's certainly not the sigh of relief I wanted it to be either. I guess I've come to the realization that the worst parts of high school probably extend beyond the metal fence of my campus and into the "real" world. 
Photos by Brielle Villanueva

The things I'm looking forward to are also the things that I'm dreading. On the one hand, I'm happy to be leaving tumultuous teenage life behind in favor of hopefully more stable, adult mindset, but I also think the dramatics and the ability to feel things so strongly was definitely a driving force for me creatively, and I'm worried that once I leave that head space my writing, creations, etc. will become diluted and bland.

But I think the conclusion I'm starting to reach -- I say starting because my thoughts remain perpetually out of my grasp, and in a sort of fog -- is that the way you live your life is a conscious decision. As you age, you can't be passive and expect things to happen without taking any action. I feel like that's really what coming-of-age is ultimately, taking your fate into your own hands. I think I used to be terrified of having control over my life, but now I find that responsibility to be exhilarating. I can't imagine living my life beholden to anyone but me. 

I also made a playlist that describes my general *~*schmood*~*