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Charcoal & Grit City: My Tacoma Inspired Art

It's surreal — the feeling of officially being a published artist. As someone who is entirely self-taught, I still pinch myself, realizing I make art professionally. I’m sure in an alternate universe somewhere, maybe I'm doing some crazy computer science stuff, but instead, I’m making art and I'm proud of it. My latest collaboration with Grit City Magazine is no different and marked a pivotal moment for me, both creatively and emotionally.

Let me provide context on Grit City Magazine. They thrive on the belief that Tacoma has incredible stories to tell both through print and online media. Although I’m originally from California (don’t tell the locals), my bond with Tacoma runs deep enough to consider myself a local. I’ve contributed to the magazine here and there, like when I illustrated a Dungeons & Dragons inspired piece for the Hard Copy 19 edition. But for their 20th issue, they posed a daring challenge – to be their featured artist.

The prompt: “Make it about Tacoma.”

Here's the twist. At that point, I was grappling with a prolonged artist's block and a constant sense of inadequacy most likely fueled by constantly comparing myself to other artists. The imposter syndrome was overwhelming and only intensified by the fear that my art would somehow ruin magazine. Moreover, the year leading to this artist block had a lot of challenges, including the loss of another dear friend and many heartbreaks.

But when I reflected on the prompt, I realized I had a treasure trove of Tacoma memories – a city I simultaneously loved and resented. Somehow, every time I leave for Europe I end up back here, and this last time was no exception. I was away for nearly 3 years but ended up back in Tacoma once again.

The prompt presented an opportunity to encapsulate these emotions that surfaced—pain, grief, heartbreak, loneliness, grittiness, and yet resilience—in a single piece. The emotions poured out onto the page through charcoal, which beautifully captures both the messiness and vibrance of life. I created “Grit City Groupie,” a Tacoma woman covered in tattoos, slightly fed up with life but still pushing through—a sentiment I think we can all relate to. Each tattoo represents a facet of Tacoma, from the iconic Tacoma Dome portrayed as a her nipple to the Ruston Way skating strip depicted through the fish on her belly. The ribcage tattoo is of Mount Rainier, my favorite, among others. However, the best thing about her tattoos is that they are all actual local people. I believe this really brings her to life.

What brings me the greatest pride in this piece is her expression – not one of happiness but of resilience. Her character embodies the complexity of my relationship with Tacoma and even with life. I wanted to carry over this sentiment in the poem that I attached with this piece that I believe sums everything up nicely.

In Hard Copy 20, GCM writer Randall Owens captured my style eloquently in his article titled, “Painting Through the Darkness." He wrote, “you realize what gets you is the eyes of the characters she creates...the eyes always hold the story.”

This quote was not just rewarding; it was validating.

Breaking through the artist's block was a turning point. Randall’s words helped me see my art in a new light and the support of the GCM team helped me power through my creative rut. Ultimately, I learned that authenticity in creation is paramount. As long as it comes from the soul, it’s okay. A sentiment reaffirmed at Grit City Mag's 20th issue launch party. It was such a joy to witness people not only engaging with me and my art but also being so accepting of my story.

Copies of Hard Copy 20 are now on Grit City Mag's site to order so you can have a piece of my art! As a special treat, you can use code LEXI10 to save 10% until the 31st of December. Please give them all the support that you can; the people of Grit City Magazine are amazing, and I could not have celebrated this moment without their support.

You can also check out Grit City Magazine on their Instagram!

In the end, I hope this experience will mark a new era in my career, one where I can create unapologetically and with self-sabotage. Because like many other artist who are self-taught like and even Tacoma itself, there are more stories left to tell.

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