You may have noticed over the course of my episode we count down to the night of my gallery show!

I could see people begin filtering into the gallery while I was getting hair and makeup done. I was so thrilled I could barely keep still as my makeup artist added violet rhinestones to the edges of my cat-eye (a must for any art night!). I finished my gallery look with my favorite Chanel red lipstain for good measure – it always makes me feel daring – and I marched up to the film crew to begin!

During this portion of filming I had to explain to my gallery audience what my work was, how I made it, and why. When I walked into the crowd that had gathered to see my work the thought occurred to me that I had not planned out what I was going to say. This was going to be done live and in real time! But I love talking about my work. I love sharing it. And if the Air Force has taught me anything… it is that you can’t go wrong when you speak from experience. So, I dove right into explaining the three focus areas within my creative practice.

Focus Area #1 Mental Health

Once I was in front of my audience and had introduced myself, I looked at the work we had on display, and knew immediately where to start: at the beginning. 

In 2015 I began selling commissions of my work. 

By 2018 I began exploring more of what I wanted to paint. I explained to my audience how my approach to my art became more serious and focused on mental health to help me navigate my experiences from the Air Force Academy, being deployed, moving to new duty stations, and navigating the daily stressors of life (not to mention eventually a pandemic).

The first area of my art practice to solidify was my work within the focus area of mental health. It is work heavily focused on externalizing what I am feeling. I paint without a plan, without direction, and with spontaneity. This work explores the wide variety of emotions I experience in part through self-portraiture or by painting expressions. This area of my practice examines difficult emotions like anxiety and experiences like depression, but it goes beyond that. Painting within this focus area is a process to stay in dialogue with my inner self, reflecting on experiences of all kinds – including ones of joy. These works are explorations of my inner world and enable me to process and understand what my experiences mean to me.

The two works I had on display for Artisan Air from within this category of my creative practice are “This is What Depression Feels Like” and “This is What Anxiety Feels Like.” I think many of us can relate to what it feels like to go through seasons of depression or to navigate life stressors that induce anxiety. In or out of the military. “This is What Anxiety Feels Like” has been featured in a military mental health art show as well as shared by Air Force Public Affairs. In my blog post Mental Health: A Major MilestoneI go in depth about how these works were milestones in my creative practice.

My most recent collection released within this focus area is Expressions, currently on display at The Peace Gallery in Maine through October of 2023. The Expressions collection was not included in my episode of Artisan Air, but you can read more about it in my post The Expressions Collection on my blog! 

Focus Area No.2: Literacy

The second area of my creative practice is storytelling, and I had the opportunity at my gallery show to share all the original paintings from my debut children’s picture book The Krewe of Barkus and Meoux. The book was released by Pelican Publishing in time for me to have copies of the books on display alongside prints made from the illustrations. I was thrilled to see gallery guests pouring over the artwork and rhymes!

My favorite Mardi Gras parade is The Krewe of Barkus and Meoux, and my book was inspired by the pet parades in Shreveport and New Orleans. The pet parades are absurd in the best way, with bespoke and over-the-top costumes for pets and their people alike. I remember watching in awe as an entire family and their Chihuahuas – dressed as luchadores with wrestling mat float for the pups – marched by. Next to pass by was a prissy powder white Pomeranian. She stood proudly in her pink poodle skirt as her parade float – a tiny 1950s Cadillac convertible – rolled along. 

My book journey took four years and began in 2019. All 2019 I worked on writing the story. In 2020 I learned how to illustrate picture books and created the original artwork for the story. By 2021 I had a book dummy and began pitching my book to agents, publishers, and editors. Each month brought with it new rejections, but I kept at it until I pitched to Pelican Publishing who immediately wanted it. Pelican was the perfect home for my story, and by late 2022 I had my book in hand!

Literacy gives us the agency to navigate and understand our inner and outer world. It enables us to bridge gaps in understanding and knowledge that span a lifetime. I suspect my highest creative work may be my picture books, because they combine my love of writing and art and elevate both within the craft of storytelling. 

Focus Area No.3: Conservation

In my episode I declare that I “want to save the coral” because “I love it” and indeed I do. Conservation is the third area of my creative practice to solidify over the years, and it took quite a while because it marries my love of scuba diving with my love of art. These are two areas of my life which required a lot of practice and technical expertise to advance enough and combine. I must be honest and admit I have no idea at the moment exactly how I am going to contribute to “saving the coral,” but I figure making my art is the first step to doing so. I sometimes wonder if it is harder for people to care about something they cannot see. So, if through my art I can bring the beauty of the aquatic world to the surface then maybe I will have done some small part to help efforts in conservation.

The BIG REVEAL in my gallery show during my episode was the painting “Stags and Squids at 1,000 Steps.” This work captured the moment my whole process of making art underwater clicked. I was underwater, sitting on a nice sandy spot surrounded by pumpkin orange Staghorn coral, watching Blue Chromis dart about when out of nowhere… a herd of reef squid went by! 

They were iridescent, like rainbows flashing past. I quickly tried to sketch what I saw one solitary squid pause, I paused… and I swear – for a suspended moment – that squid looked at me in my soul!

You can see all of my latest work at my viewing galleries, order prints of some of my favorite works, or view a private gallery of my most recent collection, “Expressions”, with Proudly She Served at the Peace Gallery.

You can also watch my episode of Air Force Artisans by downloading The AF Live app.