In 2021 I collaborated with the athletic wear brand ICONI in the BONES x ICONI “My Body Is Art” campaign. This partnership aligned perfectly with my focus area of mental health. The collection encouraged collaboration over competition and body positivity, informed by my friendship with ICONI’s CEO Angel Johnson. We were previously stationed together, and though initially hostile to each another, we overcame dynamics of tokenism and scarcity and learned to work together not only as women in the armed forces but as women in business.
Working with ICONI was a phenomenal experience. ICONI stands for “I Can Overcome, Nothing is Impossible.” ICONI produces motivational activewear with a mission to “remind you of your own power, versatility and strength.”
I had wanted to collaborate with a brand for awhile, so when Angel (ICONI’s CEO) approached me and asked if I would produce art uniquely for ICONI, my answer was a resounding yes. Angel and I both believe in creating opportunity for others, and this provided us the platform to work together within the realm of fitness, wellness and mental health.
The Women Behind the Brand
My relationship with ICONI’s founder Angel precedes this art-fashion collaboration. I first met Angel when we were stationed together in Texas. We were both new Air Force Lieutenants at the time, and it would be polite for me to say we did NOT like one another. I am not sure how many other women feel this way, but Angel and I both felt pitted against one another… as if resources and opportunities were so scarce only one of us could succeed and rise. Looking back now I see how this is tokenism, and I am proud to say after butting heads a few times we developed a friendship which has lasted long past that assignment. We rejected a cultural mindset of scarcity then, and we continue to create opportunities for collaboration now, as is the case with the BONES X ICONI collection.
In highly competitive environments we can lose sight of the fact that opportunities for success can manifest in ways unrelated to a winner takes all ending. Many may be concerned with playing “the game” and competing for prescribed success. However, Angel and I set our sights on collaborating and creating opportunity, thereby defining success for ourselves along paths we invent as we go.
“My Body is Art” is the theme of the BONES X ICONI collaboration.
I chose this on one level because when you wear the clothing you are literally wearing my artwork. But on a different level, I wanted assert that each of us are living, breathing, evolving works of Art. 2020 gave me a lot of time to reflect on this. Our bodies carry us through life as we weather sickness and loss and grief. We are scarred in visible and invisible ways by our experiences. But our resiliency in processing and healing from our experiences, be they physical or emotional or mental, is directly tied to our relationship with our bodies. Not all negative experiences leave us broken. Some shape and mold us in ways we never thought possible into more whole selves than we ever could have imagined.
As we evolve and grow from the good and the bad we are faced with, in the end, we are our greatest work. Your body is Art. YOU, are Art.
I knew I wanted to assert each of us is Art, but I had to figure out how to visually represent this. You may easily guess a realistic style of painting would not have translated well onto fabric! So, I began to experiment with splatters, pouring paint, and layers. I shared various textures and images with Angel, seeking to capture what we were trying to convey.
Figuring out how to translate my art into a format for clothes was initially rough going. Pouring paint I had mixed with heavy body acrylic made beautiful simple lines, but it would not show up well on fabric. That draft painting was out. On the other hand, splatters and drops and scrapes of paint were fantastic to look at but posed the opposite problem-they were so busy they would not make for a good fabric pattern. Those drafts were no good either!
At this point I got very nervous, and my inner critic kicked into HIGH HEAR. What if Angel had made a mistake in asking me to help? What if I couldn’t deliver? I am the first artist she ever tried to collaborate with, what if I failed her? If I failed this, would this mean I wasn’t really capable of being a professional artist? My inner critic can be vicious. But she also holds an honest mirror up of my fears: failing a friend, failing myself, and not finding belonging as an artist.
Do The Work
How do you typically identify and face your limitations and fears?
For myself, the antidote to fear is action. I met my fears with self-compassion, and asked myself what gentle, small step could I take forward toward a solution. The answer was obvious: paint. So I did. I spread acrylic paint across canvas and paper and after several tubes of paint were empty, I had finally found a stripped down and honest style I was beyond happy with.
I decided to toss aside brushes and chose instead to use a palette knife! Did you know you could paint with knives!? I aggressively spread color around on canvas in a way that conveyed movement. I. Was. THRILLED. It felt right, the composition made sense to me visually, and the colors were FIRE.
When Angel and I discussed color palettes, we decided to go with two separate color combinations. The first was a very mod primary color palette of red, blue and yellow. The second was a wild combination of fluorescent orange, green, and pink. I layered these on canvases I pre-painted with black and white backgrounds, and Angel selected the black backgrounds specifically for the collection.
I am very meticulous, and it took me many iterations to get to the point where I felt assured the work felt right both in spontaneity and color. I wanted anyone wearing these colors to feel powerful and capable wherever they were, in the gym or even at home. Fitness is such a personal journey, I wanted anyone who wears the BONES X ICONI “My Body is Art” collection or who hangs the original paintings in their home to feel emboldened and empowered.
Behind the Scenes: Painting for Athletic Wear
One of the areas I would like to grow as an artist includes sharing my abstract works more openly. The thing about abstract art that pulls me in is how it doesn’t give you answers right away. When you look at a work of art which is all brush strokes and swirls, the eye doesn’t have a single spot to rest on the way it would with a painting of a portrait, still life, or landscape. I am intensely drawn to this kind of art. What is it trying to tell me? Why? Is it the color which conveys the meaning? The way the paint forms shapes or layers? Or is there a deeper intent only known to the artist? I could get lost in this internal world of questioning.
Have any of you ever heard of “action painting?” It was popularized in the mid century with big names like Jackson Pollock creating massive works of art with chaotic splatters and splashes. The point of these paintings was not only the final image on canvas, but rather the movement the artist made as they created the work. The paintings are movement made visible! When I was brainstorming what to do for ICONI (and iterating through draft paintings) I knew I wanted to channel that spontaneity of movement, because what could be more perfect than that for athletic wear!?
Instead of splashes and splatters, I opted for broad knife-strokes of paint done in quick succession over and over and over. Each layer would dry, and I would jump back in ready to shift the balance of the image ever so slightly. The result feels wonderfully resolved to me, a fluorescent dance of shapes popping then receding slightly at just the right moment. My movement brought alive.
Working with a Brand
Working with ICONI was an excellent experience. I think a part of that comes from the established relationship Angel and I had, and the trust we had established years ago as competitors-turned-collaborators and then friends. I consider her my “business bestie” (I think she coined the phrase lol) and as we have hustled over the past few years in our passions, I have grown so grateful to know her as an up-and-coming business woman. ICONI is inclusive, promotes diversity, and believes strongly in empowerment. These values are an extension of Angel, ICONI’s CEO, and are in alignment with what I also believe is important.
Each of us are living, breathing, evolving works of Art. I reflected on this a lot in 2020, how to appreciate the physical self more. Our bodies carry us through life as we weather sickness and loss and grief. They also carry us through joy, achievement, and love. Our bodies are the vessels of our journey here on this planet. And no matter what kind of body one may have or where you are on YOUR journey of health and fitness, you are one of your greatest works in life.
Your body is Art. YOU, are Art.