Imperial Beach, California / United States
We are excited to have interviewed Michelle Lubin, who is an incredibly talented visual artist, writer and mother. Michelle believes that art is therapeutical as it helped her to overcome several difficult stages in her life. She lives and creates in California. Michelle is also one of the artists featured in our online exhibit "When You Fall Asleep".
Michelle, you received your Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art from Montclair State University and decided to take the leap to be a full-time artist in 2010, after working in management and social media. Can you tell us a little more about yourself (brief bio/history/backstory/journey into art)?
Art is truly a part of my DNA. My father was an artist and all around Jack of All trades; painting landscapes in oil and murals in our home and elementary school; drawing portraits of my sisters and me on the fly; taking on commissioned projects here and there; building end tables/fixing/painting around the house (as the only man in a house of 5 women there was always something to fix); every year creating a huge walkthrough layout for his Lionell Model trains; he was a musician teaching drums to one sister while serenading us on weekend mornings on his baby grand piano; he taught himself and us Karate (earning a third-degree Black Belt and became a sensei); there was nothing he couldn't do and he did all as a partially blind man (he had a degenerative eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa); and I was his little helper. With a childhood like that, it was impossible for creativity to not be a part of my life. I loved creating my own books and stories, writing novel cards to family and friends and started writing in journals. When I hit my early teen years, I began struggling with insomnia and nightmares but found comfort in my father's empathy and understanding, listening intently to his lessons on the importance of quiet and meditation.
When my father passed away, art was forever engrained within me, solidifying my pull to the third eye, he taught me so much about. Unfortunately thereafter, sleep got harder, puberty took over, and I felt my first glimpses of depression and anxiety. It took seeing a few different therapists have one take notice of the giant pad of toned paper I was holding, arriving from my figure drawing, college class. With the encouragement of that therapist and a college professor, I finished my last semester with a solo exhibition full of writings and sketches of nightmares as mixed media on canvas and paper, sculptures and installation pieces. Having that experience peaked my interest in the art life.
Though I received my degree in Fine Art, I settled on a safer job route afraid of all the "struggling" I would endure if I chose a career in the arts, I had heard so much about. Because I can't not create, I tried to incorporate my art skills into whatever job I had at the time and on the side dabbled with different commission projects ranging from murals to photography, tattoo designs, and lots of mixed media.
Wood as a canvas came during another low. It was a day I needed to create. The journal wasn't enough. I was out of paper. Looking around the apartment I was living in at the time I found a stack of scrap wood in the garage. I scratched at it with everything I had; writing on it with crayons and markers, painting my intense dreams with acrylic, mixing and collaging it with magazine cutouts. I was "journaling out loud". Though I was afraid of what others would think of the dark art I was creating, I couldn't hold it in anymore. I'm grateful to those friends that embraced my work, comforted my fears and encouraged me to share it. After releasing that chaos, I fell in love with the simplicity of pencil and physicality in building each wood panel, finding my voice and style in self-portraiture. I sold almost that entire series at my 2nd art exhibit, purchasing a last-minute booth at the Contemporary Art Fair at the Javits Center in Manhattan. And that's when my art career began. I now feel this path was inevitable, just took me several detours to get here.
You are the recipient of RAW's 2013 Visual Artist of the Year and the 2020 Business of Art Scholarship, awarded and mentored by The Studio Door, San Diego Visual Art Network (SDVAN) and Mission Fed's Little Italy ArtWalk. That is very exciting! Tell us all about it and how it affected your art practice!
Unfortunately, I received the scholarship at the onset of this pandemic which definitely altered the effectiveness of it. But like the "art career" it's what you put in. After some sulking, adjusting to life in the time of corona, I decided to use my art to help in a safe way.
In April, I began to donate a large percentage of any sales to a local charity assisting with homelessness and housing insecurities. Since then, I've had back to back sales and commissioned projects. For me, the mentorship with The Studio Door's Patric Stilman has been a true gift. I applied for this scholarship with this being my main goal. At this point in my career, I was seeking out guidance and mentoring to help me create the path I want. As a mother to an active 5-year-old, it has been a huge help in keeping my career and artist identity a priority while lacking the time to create within this new normal.
You also love movement and highlight its importance by teaching the Artists' Stretch workshop where you focus on the importance of balancing our mental and physical well being. Can you describe what the workshop is about and how it helps you with your creative process?
Moga, the Artists’ Stretch, combines three different forms of therapeutic outlets: internal dialogue, movement/meditation, and journaling/self-portraiture. Simply put, it’s a way to find yourself amidst the noise in your head and tightness in your body, utilizing creativity.
Before I start my days in the studio, I do a version of Moga stretches, sometimes even dancing; fuel my body with a light snack; and then some freewriting/journaling before I settle into whichever piece I’m currently working on. This process helps to release mental blocks and muscle tension, providing a clear head and a burst of energy to create with. It’s my go-to routine, sometimes following an art session and almost always before I go to bed at night.
You have been self-publishing creative non-fiction books since 2010. What are these books about? What inspired you to write?
As I mentioned above, I’ve been writing and creating short stories and books since I was a kid. Creative non-fiction books have always drawn me in; finding entertainment, validation and comfort reading the true-life experiences and voices of others. I’m continuously inspired and motivated by the vulnerability, as you can probably tell by my fine art. Writing is another extension of that. I believe writing about our own lives shows us humility, connecting with all walks of life and comforts feelings of loneliness.
Most of my books are scanned pages of my journal entries mixed in with images of completed art and the words that inspire me. Like some of the writers that have inspired me (Sabrina Ward Harrison, Dan Eldon), I feel a personal connection to handwritten words. I love the idea of books being handwritten, a little chaotic and work on art in itself, mimicking life.
In addition to your regular works, you have also created several murals. How is the process different for you?
To me, painting murals is a full-body experience to experiment and push my limits with color, size, and scale. Since I work mostly with minimal colors, getting to paint vibrant scenes and styles helps to break up my series. I’ve had the opportunity to paint a mural in my beach town for the past 3 years and love the idea that my daughter can walk around town and say, “my mommy did that”. My first one in town was inspired by her love of all things nature and innocence. I hope to paint more in the future and branch out into different neighborhoods.
You have a beautiful daughter. How did you feel about motherhood in the past and how do you feel about it now? Do you involve her in your creative process?
The truth is, I was never one to babysit and didn’t daydream of being a mom. I specifically remember reading the letter I wrote to myself as a 7th grader during my senior year breakfast. I wanted to live alone with a cat and dog, be a cartoonist and play Women’s Baseball in California. Well, I got the CA thing right and artist somewhat right. While I loved being pregnant, I had all these visions of the natural way I would birth and raise a child, and as life crudely teaches us sometimes, things don’t always go the way you plan. Though she came out screaming but healthy, I struggled to forgive myself for being unable to breastfeed, suffering postpartum depression triggering an onset of physical challenges during her early years, which after multiple ER visits, doctor switches and opinions, led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and a slew of other invisible diseases. Though I think having children and motherhood should not be taken so lightly, it has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the way a child sees the world. She has lit a fire under my a**, I mean, career, giving me a much wider sense of purpose to why I create and what I want to give to the world. She gets my art, even though she’s five. It blows my mind, makes my heart swell the way she sees me. She inspires me to use more color and just play. She may have been a late walker, but this one picked up her first crayon with purpose and hasn’t stopped. I involve her often, sometimes creating side by side and love the smile on her face when I tell her she can use mommy’s good tools. Creating together is our quiet time. Half the time I spend watching her laser focus as she fills in details. But my favorite is when she has a story while drawing, reciting with each stroke her next move. I don’t care if she doesn’t go into the arts. My only hope is that she knows art will always be there for her.
Your work is very expressive, full of emotions. What is the message behind your art?
For me, the importance lies in the process. Tediously freehand drawing on an organic surface proves to be incredibly cathartic. Through crosshatching and filling in the wood grains is how I let go, a therapeutic outlet that helps me balance the head, the heart and everything in between. While I’m always trying to achieve a specific emotion, I’m not a perfectionist and don’t harp on it being exactly what I wanted, with gestures and composition sometimes changing midway. With my current series, each piece is a title of a song from bands played on Sirius Octane/Turbo/Lithium channels. The finished product is my thank you to the musicians that held my hand through that emotion.
What does your art do for you?
Art is how I breathe. I can’t not create in some way. If I’m not drawing, I’m writing or painting with my daughter, reading about art, supporting other artists, brainstorming, building, crafting home projects. It’s a healthy outlet, always there. It connects me to the community and inspires me to do more. We are all touched by art, we just have to keep that third eye open.
What are your plans for the future (career, parenting etc.)?
The world has brought much challenge and change. It’s difficult to have an exact plan these days. But I have little goals. As I wrap up this series, I’m working on illustrating a children’s book for an author in my native state and working on the beginning stages of my next self-publication based on the series I’m currently finishing up. My plans are to keep these hands busy with creative challenges and give it back to the community of artists and supporters that have so graciously helped me over the years. Most importantly, I will continue to utilize art to help me be a better mom, wife, artist and human.
What advice do you have for fellow art mums?
Experiment, get messy, look inward, then reach out to other artists. Ask questions, but trust your own intuition. Take breaks, walk away from your art ... for a while. You’ll always find your way back to the easel. Motherhood is a chapter in our lives where we must be present. Being an artist has been a part of who we are before being a mom, if we nurture it and find time for it even just a little, you’ll never stray too far. During the early years, I’d just say keep a little notebook nearby. The ideas come in waves, always be ready ;).