AN INTERVIEW WITH ARIA BROOKS
“Have a good day but if you can’t, don’t go messin’ up someone else’s” – Tabitha Brown
Photo credits: 1) Nickelodeon 2 & 3) Byron Brown Photography
AN INTERVIEW WITH ARIA BROOKS
BTCF: As such a young writer, filmmaker, editor, singer, producer, and much more – how do you feel your creativity helps you deal with connecting to yourself and helps you grow in your daily life?
ARIA: As a creative, I use the arts to express my emotions and feelings. Acting allows me to release my emotions into a fictional character. While writing songs and scripts allow me to write my emotions and feelings down. It’s like therapy for me.
BTCF: It was so amazing to view your “Truly Me” music video – absolutely love it! How and why did you come up with this concept? What did the girls in it think about being a part of this?
ARIA: When I wrote the song, I knew I wanted the concept to symbolize the competition that society brings on based on your looks, just in a more literal way. The girls in the video are my friends and some of my mom’s former students, so it was really cool working and having fun with them.
BTCF: You recently created a video parody “Cabbage” where you not only tribute it to Tabitha Brown, and you rap! Can you tell us about how you came up with the concept and some more about it?
ARIA: I am a huge Tabitha Brown fan, so one day I was trying to master her dialect and commonly used phrases by her. Then later I got the idea to combine my love of parodies and my love of Tabitha Brown. I familiarized myself with the actual song first, then I started writing my version.
BTCF: Your YouTube series – “The Queen Chronicles”!! – What’s the scoop on this?
ARIA: I thought of the idea to make a series that illustrates certain parts of my journey as an actor and as a person. It will allow people to get to know me better!
BTCF: How would you describe your YouTube Channel?
ARIA: My YouTube channel is mainly content creation; parodies, mashups, covers, etc. It also includes moments of my life that I think will be interesting for the viewers.
BTCF: You are so hilarious on Nickelodeon’ show, “All That”. Do you have a favorite character that you portray or a favorite episode?
ARIA: My all-time favorite character of mine is my grandma character, Lorraine. She has appeared in two sketches so far and she is so relatable for me. I’m sure everyone has someone in their family like Lorraine.
BTCF: It seems like you are a super positive person and it’s not uncommon to see you in a shirt or sweatshirt with a positive vibe, but also one that speaks to you in some way. How important do you think it is for young people to own their self-awareness and create positive messages whenever then can? (Especially living is such a social media world)
ARIA: It is extremely important! With social media, there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you are doing, and I think we rely too much on validation from others. That is why mean comments hurt so much, I think. If we reassure ourselves and fill our minds with positivity, it makes it easier to block out negativity.
BTCF: What are your top three tips to help young performers pursue their dreams of being on a show like “All That”?
ARIA: My first tip would be to make sure this is a career that you want to pursue. Things will get difficult and if you instantly want to give up when things get hard, this may not be for you. Next I would say take acting classes, specifically improv and comedy classes. Lastly, don’t expect to immediately reach your goal. There is a lot of rejection in this business, so you have to be prepared to work really hard for a long time.
BTCF: We first were introduced to you when you attended one of our music live streams to support our work. It was apparent immediately that you are wise beyond your years. Have people told you that before? If so, how do you feel about it?
ARIA: I have gotten that a lot! I feel like since I grew up around a lot of adults, it is true. My parents are band directors, so their students were always babysitting me. Eventually, I guess I just picked up on a lot of things.
BTCF: Aria, you are truly a role model in everything you do. What does being a role model mean to you? Who are a couple of your role models and why?
ARIA: Being a role model is inspiring others and empowering them. Some of my role models are Marsai Martin, Zendaya, Melanie Martinez, and my mom. All of these ladies are creative, talented and use their platform to inspire or educate others.
BTCF: Is there a process you go through when you are creating a song or a character? Can you share a little bit about that?
ARIA: When I create a song, normally I just vibe to the song first. Then I create my chorus or come up with the concept because normally that’s easier for me. From there, I tackle the verses. When I create characters, I get my inspiration from pictures, stories, dreams, etc. A lot of times I write female leads because it makes it easier to write based on experience. But as of late, I have been trying to challenge myself.
BTCF: What are some positive tips you can give young people regarding self-esteem and self-awareness?
ARIA: There are plenty of times where we pour ourselves and our love into others, but we forget to check on ourselves and treat ourselves. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself because your mental health trumps everything else.
BTCF: At such a young age, you have been in some major dramatic projects portraying incredible characters like Anger, the niece of Harriet Tubman in the award-winning film “Harriet” and Nola in the series “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings”. How is your preparation process different for you then something like the comedy type show, “All That”?
ARIA: The preparation for comedy roles is very different from preparing for drama roles. I always rehearse and learn my lines for comedy out loud and full out. Reading the lines in my head every time is not helpful for me. This is because the more calmly I practice it the more I get used to reading it that way. With drama more times than not I read it to myself as if I was reading a book. This is what helps me.
BTCF: During COVID, you have created a IG Live Series titled “Ask Aria”. How would you describe it?
ARIA: Ask Aria is an IG Live series I created to feature performers, creatives, activists, etc. I get a chance to ask them questions to get more information for myself but also to educate others. My guests also get to “Ask Aria” so I get to be in the hot seat too.
BTCF: Can you share a little bit about the Kilgore Music Foundation and how you and your family came to be such passionate supporters?
ARIA: Ryan Kilgore went to school with my mom, so i’ve been attending his performances and events since I was really young. The Kilgore Music Foundation offers so many ways for aspiring musicians to live out their dreams. I have had a chance to perform for kids in a children’s hospital and participate in instrument drives. I’m also collaborating with him on a new song and it’s going to be BIG!! I can’t wait for everybody to hear it and see what he has to offer next.
BTCF: Is there anything else you would like to share with BTCF?
ARIA: Be sure to follow all of my social media @itsariabrooks on Tiktok, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. I have new music in the works right now, so you’ll be hearing more of that very soon so stay tuned.
AN INTERVIEW WITH AMY KATHLEEN LEE
“She needed a hero, so that’s what she became.” Author Unknown
Grey Matter performed by SRJC Touring Dance Company in Dancing With ED presents:
“Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey”
“Stages of Change” photo credit: Matt Haber@matthaberphoto
BTCF: Why and when did you begin your nonprofit, Dancing With ED?
AMY: The name Dancing with ED came to me in 2012 during a therapy session. We had been discussing my dance career and the doctor who diagnosed me with degenerative disc disease, three herniated disks in my lower back, and arthritis. He told me I had the spine of a 40 yr. old when I was 17 and that I would never dance again. It was one of the most painful moments of my life. It was in that session I realized, I’d never stopped dancing, I was just dancing with ED. The moment I said that, a sense of familiarity and the knowledge this name was the start of something meaningful. And not just for me. Giving back has always been part of me moving forward, so it wasn’t a surprise that I chose to start a nonprofit named Dancing with ED on June 25, 2013. I actually went to the library to borrow the book How To Start A Nonprofit For Dummies. Growing this organization is my way of giving back and having the chance to be the person I needed when I was a dancer. I want dancers to know, they don’t have to dance through this alone.
BTCF: What is Dancing With ED’s mission and goals? Where are you based?
AMY: We are based in San Luis Obispo, California, however we work with dancers all over the country through our various virtual projects and collaborations. Dancing with ED’s mission is to inspire all members of the dance community to love and care for their bodies through eating disorder awareness, outreach, and education. We include family members, teachers, studio staff, companies, dance leadership organizations under this umbrella. Our goal is to see an increase in mental health education, eating disorder resources and support, and more educational activities focused on decreasing stigma. We are building a supportive online community around eating disorders and mental health struggles, creating workshops, camps, events and other activities in hopes to be the difference we want to see in the dance community because it’s not just one person’s journey, it’s ours.
BTCF: You are very open sharing your personal story of being both a eating disorder and suicide survivor, how has that changed your life in the work you do?
AMY: The work I do has changed my life. When I started sharing my story 8 years ago, I had no idea it would bring me to this place. I never would’ve believed it if you’d told me I’d go from sitting in a psychiatric hospital in 2011, drugged up on medicine to keep me from killing myself, staring at the wall, being told I may never have an independent life, to starting a nonprofit, standing on stage speaking to hundreds of people. It’s pretty amazing what God can do. I am so open about my personal life because I have nothing to be ashamed of. You’d be surprised how many people come up to me and say, “me too’. I am ruined for all other forms of employment. 🙂
BTCF: Can you tell us more about your show, “Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey” and the impact it has made?
AMY: Most of my creative projects come from my personal journey. For example, I am currently working on healing trauma trapped in my body from childhood sexual abuse. My therapist and I are exploring how my body moves and through this process I’ve learned my body has it’s own story. Naturally, I wanted to share this with dancers – give them a chance to explore their stories using the language of dance. I thought a dance show to showcase their choreography and inspire would be an opportunity to share this with the community. It’s a chance to come together, connect, network, share resources. Celebrate our love of dance and our bodies. I found the greatest impact has been on the dancers themselves and their families. After our first show, I looked into the tear-filled eyes of a mother who said “thank you for giving my daughter the chance to do this. You have no idea what this means to us.” That’s my million-dollar paycheck, and what keeps me going when I feel discouraged.
BTCF: You’ve created this workshop, Body Talk – how did that come about, and can you please share the passion and purpose behind it all?
AMY: No one ever talked about anything when I was young. I was 13 years old, very insecure. I had no language around emotional and mental health. If I’d learned before I entered the more serious and competitive dance environments, it would have been easier. It’s really important to teach and equip young dancers the fundamentals of body image, self-talk, and identity. I use group discussions, personal sharing time and journal activities. Dancers learn key concepts to apply to body image and identity: I am more than my body, I am enough, just the way I am, I can be my body’s friend by using compassionate language and empathy, I can use self-care tools to build a healthy relationship with my body and myself. Due to COVID-19 our in-studio workshops are postponed. I am opened to trying it virtually.
BTCF: Is there a turning point in your life you can share that has created great connections with the participants in your classes? How do you think it transcends into the lives that you serve?
AMY: The greatest turning point in my life was when I survived suicide. In that dark space in my mind, where death loomed over me, I called out to God. I told him if I was going to live then I was no longer going to live half alive. It was either all in, or nothing. I made a choice that day. A choice I’ve had to fight for day after day because the mental illness in my brain will never go away. It’s me who’s getting stronger. When I tell people this, share these raw moments, people’s perspectives change. People without mental illness thank me for helping make sense of the disease so they can effectively help their loved ones. That has a ripple effect. Hope spreads.
BTCF: Your Pointing to Recovery Project is really special and you’ve made it so that others who are a part of it can participate by sharing their story in some way. How does it all work?
AMY: There is a long story behind the creation of Pointing to Recovery. Long story short, the project idea came after I’d signed the last shoe I ever wore on stage. It became my symbol of recovery. For a long time I wasn’t sure why I wrote “I chose recovery” next to my initials. It is only now, 10 years later, I realize it was the young dancer inside me, wanting people to know, she’s finally free. The purpose of this project is to give ballet dancers who may feel alone, like they are the only one struggling with an eating disorder, a sense of community. Seeing the shoes together sends a powerful message and it’s beautiful. If a dancer wants to participate, all they have to do is sign their name on a pair of pointe shoes, add a meaningful message, drawing etc. Shipping is tax-deductible. We add them to our collection, take pictures, and share them on social media. Powerful beyond words.
BTCF: There is a unique dance camp and classes you’ve created for young dancers. What is it about and how can people learn more?
AMY: We are all experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety. Especially our children. It’s hard for us adults, but can you imagine what our kids are going through? Their lives have changed drastically. Some are no longer able to dance at the studio with their friends, perform in recitals and connect with their dance family. We want to support our most vulnerable young dancers. In response to this need, Dancing with ED teamed up with Mindfulness Coach, Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniveristy to create Mind. Body. Heart. ? Mindfulness, Movement, and Expressive Arts camps and classes for dancers ages 6-8 and 9-12. We explore our inner world of thoughts, emotions, and attitudes for positive mental and emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness-based learning themes are woven into each class through fun and engaging activities, including community building, dance, movement, art, journaling, storytelling, and more! The embedded core competencies of emotional intelligence will empower and equip students with the knowledge, tools, and confidence to positively impact all areas of their lives. Emotional Intelligence skills are the major predictors of overall well-being, success, and happiness in life! Camps and classes resume in the fall.
BTCF: We share a mission aligned call to action and that is using art as a process of healing from eating disorders, disordered eating, and increasing positive body image relationships and improving mental health. What does that personally mean to you when you think about your life as a dancer, the trauma you have gone through and your own personal recovery?
AMY: Dance saved me in a lot of ways. Especially as a young girl having experienced trauma. I needed a place to bury my pain and just be me. It is interesting how it also contributed to my perfectionism and obsession with thinness. The ballet world is beautiful and brutal. I was obsessed with it for years. Being a ballet dancer was my identity. My eating disorder and trauma recovery taught me I am more than a dancer. I am enough, just the way I am, and I don’t have to hide anymore. I am no longer trapped. It’s ironic how the thing that I loved (ballet) trapped me, but it’s also what I used to set myself free. I use all forms of dance as a way to heal, to improve my mental health, and to feel alive.
BTCF: We are living in a time under unusual circumstances with COVID-19 and the narratives we share are so important to have gentle and a valued approach while serving those in need. How is Dancing with ED working through these times?
AMY: The past few months have been extremely difficult for me. As I am sure everyone can relate. Stress levels are high. I took that time to take care of myself and my daughter because I want to ensure I live what I promote, as much as possible. We encourage our online community to put their health and wellbeing first. We’ve continued to support, encourage and connect with dancers all over the world through social media platforms. A resource we’ve shared that’s been extremely helpful is IADMS new initiative “Helping Dancers Help Themselves” This range of programming is to offer support, information, and community to dancers, dance educators, researchers, and medical professionals during COVID-19. We are promoting self-care, mental and emotional wellness. I think people forget that COVID-19 has not only taken our loved ones, but our sense of safety, security, and hope for the future.
BTCF: The photo of Grey Matter is so powerful. Would love for you to share what is behind it all.
AMY: This piece was choreographed by Tanya Knippelmeir. It is a dark exploration into the sickness of the brain through a modern dance lens. The mind can enslave itself in repetitive negative thoughts that spiral continuously into darkness. This piece explores falling into these dark patterns, ironically designed by your own internal construct, and how we can pull ourselves out of this destruction for a better positive self. When I watched the piece for the first time, I got chills. Very powerful. We can learn so much about ourselves through choreography.
BTCF: In your show, Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey, you performed a piece where you held a scale. What was that like for you?
AMY: It was intense and life changing. The scale represented my eating disorder, and abuse from the past. This was the first time I allowed my body to move without determining its next steps. I felt naked, but not afraid. People came up to me afterward in amazement telling me how incredible it was. All I can remember is feeling happy, like my body took a huge deep breath.
BTCF: Having a young daughter, what are some of the things you share with her when it comes to self-acceptance, self-love, and positive body image relationships?
AMY: Now that she’s 13, we are able to talk more in-depth. It’s not only brought us closer but has allowed me to heal my younger self. I share that she has value, is not her body and is free to choose how she feels about herself. She has the power, not them. We talk about the reality of how difficult it is to be positive and love ourselves when all the messages around us are saying the opposite. Teaching her how to identify her feelings, and the fact that she is allowed to feel them and express them, is one of the greatest gifts I can give her. I remind her we are our strongest when we feel the weakest.
BTCF: Thank you so much for sharing with us! Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
AMY: I am growing my team of board members and volunteers!! This work is so rewarding, but it can’t live on passion alone. I am looking for creative, innovative, talented individuals, motivated by a desire to be the difference they want to see in the world. I have big plans for Dancing with ED, I just need to find the right people to come alongside me. Please spread the word!! Thank you, Breaking the Chains Foundation, for all you do, and for giving me the chance to share my passion and vision of Dancing with ED.
AMY’s CONTACT INFORMATION
Amy Kathleen Lee
Founder/CEO Dancing with ED, Inc.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PRISCILLA O. AGYEMAN
“You can’t pour from an empty vessel”-
I remind myself of this daily as a signal to prioritize self-care and rest.
If I’m not taking care of myself, how can I take care of others?
BTCF: Could you please share what Saddie Baddies is about? When did you launch it?
PRISCILLA: I started Saddie Baddies on March 8, 2019. It was an instinct for me at the time because I was sitting at my desk, at a job that I was really struggling to find fulfillment in at the time and I was craving an outlet for girls like me who had their own struggles with mental health but nowhere to unpack it. When I would talk about my anxiety, sometimes people wouldn’t understand where I was coming from, or would assume I was only talking about panic attacks (when in reality there’s so many different types and displays of anxiety). Saddie Baddies gently introduces research-based topics that so many of us (people of color) have been wanting to address by breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. The end goal is to initiate collective healing.
BTCF: How did you come up with the name Saddie Baddies and what does it mean?
PRISCILLA: So a “baddie” in popular terms is someone who is…easy on the eyes (ha!) A saddie baddie is someone who from the outside looks like they have everything going from them externally, but still faces their own mental and emotional struggles on a daily basis. I came up with the concept of saddie baddies because I realized people only assumed that you have to “look” a certain way in order to deal with mental health issues. That’s a huge misconception.
BTCF: You describe wanting mental health to be palatable. It’s such a creative way to hear it put that way. Can you please give us some examples and insight about this?
PRISCILLA: I use the term “palatable” because talking about mental health shouldn’t be such a taboo topic. We talk about music, fashion, politics, media, and celebrities like it’s nothing but so often when we ask the question “How are you feeling?” we lack the language to truly express how we feel. Or we lie and say “Everything’s great!” and deflect actually tapping into our emotions. I created a safe space Saddie Baddies of allowing my community to actually say how they feel, not just what they think is socially acceptable. We’re losing people to suicide, depression, PTSD and so many other mental health issues because for so long we’ve been ashamed to say “I’m not okay, and I need help.”
BTCF: In your work, you chat about how mental health is very stigmatized in the black community. Why do you think that is and in what areas would you like to see this change so that there are more opportunities for positive change?
PRISCILLA: Stigma comes from shame and shame comes from guilt. In the black community, we have historically been left out, abused, and ostracized by the medical community (there’s an excellent read on this called Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington that goes into depth about this), so we have systemically been disconnected from healthcare for centuries. Psychiatry and psychology was designed for the majority of White, wealthy Americans. Black people did not even have adequate access to mental health services up until the last 1960s-1970s, if we’re being honest. So think about how much we’ve missed out on in terms of care? It’s unbelievable. And culturally, our only source of mental health “care” was through the church or religious services. Our pastors became our counselors, we would go to church on Sundays and cry and mourn and let out our emotions. However, the shame of going to an actual psychiatrist or therapist who could provide behavioral therapy and medication was highly stigmatized, and even discouraged. That’s where that shame came from.
BTCF: Your videos, website, social media accounts are very creative and inviting which visually embraces your mission, intention and goals. Did you study art or just super creative?! Where did you get your inspiration?
PRISCILLA: I’m a deep lover and student of all arts! In high school I was really into drawing and painting, and as an adult I think that’s evolved into more curating images that I find striking or writing as a form of self-expression. I go to museums (pre-coronoavirus!) to find inspiration and I’m inspired by so many views just living in New York.
BTCF: I really enjoyed your YouTube video Dealing with High Functioning Anxiety. Can you share a little bit about what is high functioning anxiety and how does it affect your life?
PRISCILLA: So high functioning anxiety is not an actual mental health diagnosis, but it’s the way mental health professionals describe a person who has all the symptoms of anxiety but is still able to “function” or perform their daily tasks relatively well although it’s still a burden. I identify with this because it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s I realized I had always shown symptoms of anxiety, but I didn’t know what it was called or have the language to properly describe it. But I would have anxiety attacks throughout college, and physiologically I had all the symptoms of anxiety- stomach problems, irritability, nervousness, trouble concentrating and sleeping, fast heartbeat. Going to therapy a few years ago finally helped me understand what anxiety is and how I can manage it better.
BTCF: What are some helpful ways that people in the black community can open up about their mental health and not feel it’s something to hide?
PRISCILLA: Talk about it! Journaling is an extremely therapeutic act, I’ve been journaling since I was in first grade (ha!) and it truly is a great way to release anything I’m trying to process. Look for a therapist (on saddiebaddies.com/resources we have a list of mental health tools) and make the effort to take care of yourself. Talk to your friends and loved ones who are able to listen and be there to support you. We have to be adamant about self-preservation, especially during this social climate when we’re seeing over and over again how society sees and treats Black people as if we’re disposable. We are not disposable, we matter, and we deserve peace.
BTCF: How do you manage your mindfulness in your everyday living? Do you have a top 5 you could share?
PRISCILLA: I would say my top 5 methods of mindfulness would include: meditating every day for at least 5-10 minutes, eating plant-based, making time for joy daily, practicing gratitude, and showing love to the people around me.
To learn more about Saddie Baddies, please visit www.saddiebaddies.com and follow them on @saddie_baddies on all their social!
AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNA ROSE SIMON
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” – John Maxwell
BTCF: Using your art as a form of expression is truly something that beholds deep meaning to you, can you please share some of the why and how?
JENNA: The why kind of happened by accident. Years ago, I was mostly creating this art for myself and to share only with a therapist. One of my drawings, now featured in ABC news and Good Morning America went viral on social media when someone in my Facebook friends list (still don’t know who) saved my drawing and uploaded it to their own page and toggled the viewing ability to public. It was shared over 140,000 times. It was kind of frustrating because it was my work and shared without credit, but you have to look at it like this: over 140,000 people connected with this piece and wanted to share it. It had that big of an impact. It was that moment that I realized I needed an IG dedicated solely to my art and that my story might help others.
Now the how is tricky. Most of these pieces come out of feelings I have that I need to express in a healthy way. Being a trauma survivor and someone with an eating disorder means I’m used to running to a quick, unhealthy fix. Art became a better place to put those feelings. So when I have a feeling or experience I want to express, I come up with the idea and then figure out how to get reference photos to help me create the image I want to. Then I draw it.
Jenna’s ABC Feature & Photo that went viral:
BTCF: You were also a dancer for many years. What type of dance? Does this art form contribute to your other art forms? If so, how?
JENNA: I was! I was studying ballet about 40 hours a week by the time I was 12 up until I gave it up at 18. It really doesn’t contribute. I loved it when it was a part of my life, but while most previous dancers claim to miss it after the fact, I really don’t, I love watching it, but I don’t miss it as a part of my life.
BTCF: There are many pieces of your work that are a self-portrait, and each have very specific meaning and depict very specific moments in your life. Are there some that were done in real time and others a reflection of other times?
JENNA: So much yes! And you can see it in the evolution of my actual craft. The start of my account has so many “quick” scratchy type self-portraits in graphite pencil that don’t have a photo realistic quality to them. They were done in the moment and quickly. As time went on and I started to heal more, I would remember something, or some situation would come up in a flashback that would cause me to think about that situation again. But because it was more of a reflection, I wasn’t in quite the same hurry to “get it out” and you see the art show more time and energy. I look back and think sometimes “this piece isn’t good” because the quality isn’t what I’m currently used to seeing in my work…. but I try to remember it was a different time. I was different. I had been drawing this much for less time back then. Less experienced.
BTCF: Even though you may be in the piece, is your work always a reflection of you or a reflection of society?
JENNA: It’s funny you ask, because my own work is always a reflection of me or something that has happened to me. But it’s super important to create things that reflect our world and history. I just assigned an art student I teach at Fusion Academy to create an abstract portrait of something she feels strongly about in society, and she did the most wonderful painting of a political figure depicting her thoughts on him and how he runs our country. Those pieces hold so much value too!
BTCF: When did you start drawing? How and when did you come to learn that your art inspired healing in your own life?
JENNA: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. But not this kind of stuff. But I always loved it. My dad would help me cartoon on napkins at restaurants. I really started to understand how it helped me heal through sharing it with my therapist some 4 years ago. And now I look back on it and see the differences between how I must have felt when I created things then versus now and I can see the growth. I hold onto that growth when I’m challenged now.
BTCF: Some of your self-portraits went viral on Facebook and then many news outlets began to feature your work. Can you tell us a little bit about this? What kind of realization was this for you? What did it mean to you and how did it all change your life?
JENNA: It changed my life in the biggest way by sharing my story before I was ready. Once people knew the work was mine and who I was, we had friends and people in our community recognize the work and my signature. They would say “what happened to Jenna?” Or “is Jenna okay?” When ABC news came to me to do a story, I was hesitant but ultimately decided I’d rather explain my story the best I’m willing to at this time than let people wonder and think what they want. But in outing my story before I was ready, I had to get strong really fast and be braver than I ever had been, with very little time to get used to the idea. It was scary, but it ended up making me a better person and, on some level, it gave purpose to the life I had. It’s like “okay, this all sucked, but maybe this is the reason that happened…. to help it not happen to others or help others who experienced the same thing.”
BTCF: How would you describe your art in five words?
JENNA: Moving, Deep, Uncomfortable, Thought provoking (okay that’s two words!), Controversial
Jenna’s CCN Feature:
BTCF: Was there a turning point in your eating disorder that brought you to a place of creating to heal or was it the other way around?
JENNA: It was definitely the other way around. I very sadly admit that I was not very motivated to change behavior or heal. I actually didn’t even think it was possible. The experience with the art and having an impact on others was definitely a catalyst for changing things within me. You know, none of that stuff you do to control your body seems to matter quite as much when you have other things – people, hobbies (for me, my craft), a job you love etc. it’s like you have so many other things that bring you fulfillment that you start to heal naturally.
BTCF: How is your art healing for you now?
JENNA: It’s interesting. I find myself lately doing more art that pushes the boundaries of my craft…. like trying new mediums or new styles. There’s less need right now to create for healing. But I’ll tell you this. Sometimes I create something to depict a feeling I used to have because I think it’ll help someone else. The flood of comments and direct messages I get from others about how the work helped them or sharing their personal stories of recovery is actually very healing. You look at what other people are going through now and remember when you were them, and who you’ve become.
BTCF: You created two books, workbooks that aide others in their healing journey through the use of art. Can you tell us what they are, a little bit about them, what inspired you to do them and where people can find them?
JENNA: Yes, one is a workbook. Unbroken, An Art Book is a book that has 20 chapters. Each chapter contains one of my therapeutic art pieces, an explanation of what I was going through when I created it, and a drawing activity for the reader. My second book, Creating a Warrior, is a collection of large scale images of every therapeutic or concept art drawing I created at the time of publication. Both can be found wherever books are sold online. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc., and one most countries.
You can find Jenna’s books here:
Unbroken: An Art Book: My Journey So Far, Plus 20 Feel-Good Drawing Activities
Creating A Warrior: An Artist’s Journey Of Healing From Abuse
BTCF: Could you explain how you use your work as an artist to shed light on eating disorders and the pain of abuse?
JENNA: How many times has an eating disordered person been told “you can control it, just eat?” How many times has an abused individual been told “that’s the past, just forget about it.” This is what I want to change. There is an entire unwrapped box following around every person who has gone through either of these things that the outside world doesn’t see. WE, the people who go through it don’t even know exactly what’s inside, and every time something falls out, we have to deal with it. People who haven’t been through it have no idea what that’s like, and sometimes words just don’t explain it. I think we are all visual learners to a capacity, and an image can make someone feel more deeply than an essay on the data collected surrounded eating disorders and abuse. Words go numb. We use them all the time. You have to make people think further.
BTCF: Who inspires you and why?
JENNA: Oh my gosh. It’s a lot of people. I’ll narrow it down to a few.
Amanda Schull: she is an actress (and friend) who just exemplifies everything that a human should be. She’s so talented but I don’t even think she knows it…. there’s grace and beauty and she carries herself so confidently but as a warm, approachable person.
Austyn Vovos is my friend. And there isn’t a moment I see her post or share anything that doesn’t have a positive twist. I’ve never met anyone like her. She is honest and forthcoming, but every single situation she can be in gets twisted in a positive, uplifting manner. Who doesn’t wanna be around someone like that?
Little words project: I know this isn’t really a person, but it’s a group of people. I recently came into contact with their organization and bought myself 17 (yes, seventeen) of them with different words on them. Each bracelet has a tag with a serial number that you can register online so that if you ever give the bracelet away, they can register it too and you can track your bracelet as it helps multiple women. How much more unified and stronger as a group can we feel?
BTCF: All of your art has either a story or an explanation behind them. Why?
JENNA: In short, I got tired of the comments about not understanding the pieces. The point of my work isn’t only to help comfort those who are going through it. It’s to shed a light to those who aren’t. If they are commenting “I don’t get this,” then the Art didn’t do it by itself and I need to take it a step further.
BTCF: What type of materials do you use to create? And why?
JENNA: A year ago, this would be a very short list and the reason would be “it’s all I know how to use.” Not kidding. Now, I’m learning to use new things, and the why is because I want to better my craft. Some of them do have a very specific reason, so I’ll put that next to them where applicable.
- Colored pencils
- Graphite pencils
- White jelly-roll pen – to get super bright lights in a portrait drawing like in the eyes or lips
- 5 mm screwdriver – to remove thin layers of colored pencil for fine highlights, mostly in hair and lips
- Windsor and Newton markers – for any colored pencil portrait I use this as a base under the pencil to make it more realistic
- Black sharpie marker – to get the darkest dark lines – mostly in eyes and eye lashes
BTCF: What are you currently working on?
JENNA: An attempt at photo realism on my friend Amanda Schull, a collab with a contortionist, and an abstract painting of myself (that one should be interesting since I only just started painting!)
BTCF: As an art teacher for some special needs, could you please share with us what that means to you? Do you have a class story you could share with us that holds special meaning?
JENNA: Earlier in the year, I had an art student who used to come to class and repeat “Art with Jenna” over and over, it literally made my day. Not all the students I teach have the same needs, but it can be amazing to see what they create. Art is like a universal language. I have watched a mostly nonverbal child create on paper exactly what I, myself created without really being able to communicate it as they were doing it. It’s a form of expression that regardless of talent and skill level, truly comes out of everyone. And when I would see that student draw what I drew, step by step and it looked just like mine, I would know I made an impact…. that the student understood me and wanted to create with me, even if the words never came.
BTCF: How are you today? What does recovery mean to you?
JENNA: If I’m honest, I still have my moments. I am in the midst of a very great challenge in my life right now, which has set me back a few paces. But I’m handling it differently than I used to. Instead of rolling over when someone mistreats me and deciding that’s all I’m worth, I’m fighting back. And as hard as that is, that’s progress. Recovery doesn’t mean you’re perfect and this never affects you again. At least not to me. I believe you are challenged forever by different things because you’ve undergone this in your life. Recovery is about continually making choices that are more and more healthy when you’re met with these challenges. Continually doing better than the last time.
BTCF: Is there anything else about you, your work, eating disorders, or abuse that you would like to share?
Just social media accounts:
Instagram: @AGentleTouchOfArt / @JennaRoseSimon
Facebook: Jenna Rose Simon / Twitter: @JennaRoseSimon
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHEF GASON YEN NELSON
“Being a Great Chef in this culinary game you have to stay motivated, passionate, energetic and driven to succeed. Every morning I start the day with prayer, meditation and a workout to clear my mind and align my spirit with intention and purpose. Then I set out to conquer the world!”
BTCF: What does it mean to you to be a Chef? What does that look like for you?
CHEF GASON: It means being creative and having a clean canvas to create culinary art. Being able to educate people about the food and making them excited about what they are eating.
BTCF: Let’s go even further what is a Chef?
CHEF GASON: A chef is someone who has free run with your palate, but also must deliver on taste and an unforgettable culinary experience.
BTCF: What is your food philosophy?
CHEF GASON: I believe in respecting all food, being open minded about what I eat and learning as much as I can about food daily.
BTCF: You have said “Food has a powerful presence, even a personality”. Can you explain what you mean by that?
CHEF GASON: Food speaks to you in its own way. When prepared properly it can make you feel a certain way. Whether it’s hot, cold, spicy, sour and so on.
BTCF: Plating is such an art form. What does that mean?
CHEF GASON: It’s a canvas for you to express yourself. You can take it anywhere you want it to go, because there are NO culinary boundaries. Plating requires that you use your imagination.
BTCF: Being such a highly accomplished Chef, your ideas and imagination are endless when it comes to plating. Can you elaborate on this?
CHEF GASON: Let your imagination go. The possibilities are endless and there is no right or wrong to do it. HAVE FUN and watch the magic evolve on the plate.
BTCF: Can you describe a dish that you plated and how it made your clients or customers feel that you were serving?
CHEF GASON: I remember serving fried oysters with shredded beef, and as simple as it sounds it turned out amazing. These clients were from Atlanta and they were saying that they couldn’t see the vision of this dish, but when I placed it in front of them, they were blown away. Like I said before, food is powerful. It all came together, and they ate it all.
BTCF: You make food look like art, is that something that means a lot to you and why?
CHEF GASON: I always aim for perfection in anything I do. I totally respect the ingredients and the preparation process. It all comes together at the end, and it shows on the plate.
BTCF: We live in a “diet culture”. Does it bother you to hear that and why?
CHEF GASON: It’s doesn’t bother me, because I know that anyone can enjoy food. It’s all about moderation and exercise. I would never put myself in a position where I can’t enjoy what I want to eat. I live by the two words moderation and movement.
BTCF: Being a father of two lovely daughters’ what advice do you give her when it comes to having a good relationship with food?
CHEF GASON: I just tell them to be open minded and try different things. Never overdo it and try your best to always know where your food is coming from.
BTCF: How does it make you feel when you see the happiness you bring to people with your dishes?
CHEF GASON: It truly makes me feel like I am living in my purpose and bringing people joy with the gift GOD gave me.
BTCF: What is one memorable experience you have had that brought you to tears of joy in your career?
CHEF GASON: Honestly this might not be the answer you’re expecting, but it was the year the Saints won the Super Bowl. To know I provided Reggie Bush the proper nourishment he needed to help the Saints bring the City of New Orleans its first Superbowl win was very rewarding.
BTCF: Being from New Orleans, a city known for its southern cooking and hospitality, people look forward to eating delicious dishes. How do you see this differ from the mindset you see in other big cities and why?
CHEF GASON: New Orleans is full of culture and many different flavors. I’ve had great dining experiences in other cities, but the way we bring out flavors in New Orleans is truly bold and exciting.
BTCF: Loved watching you on the TV show, “Chopped”! Is it as fun as it looks?!
CHEF GASON: It was fun, but very challenging. You must be on your “A” game when stepping into the Chopped kitchen.
BTCF: You are the private/personal chef/owner and CEO of “Full Of Flavor” in New Orleans. How did you come to name your business “Full Of Flavor”? What does that mean to you?
CHEF GASON: Full of Flavor is something that just hit me one day when I was driving, and I said yea that’s it. Thank you, GOD!! To me it’s all about bringing the right flavors together so everything can fall into place the way it’s supposed to.
BTCF: What is one of your favorite festivals you showcased your talent in and why?
CHEF GASON: All the Festivals I’ve participated in have been special, but one that really stands out is the Houston Creole Food Festival. Merging different cultures such as, French, Spanish, Native American and Haitian foods at one event really makes for a great time and a truly successful event. It represents the true meaning of Creole and being a part of it is very special to me.
BTCF: How did food play such a vital role in creating good memories to last a lifetime?
CHEF GASON: It’s hard to forget anything good, so preparing good food will always bring you good memories. I still remember being a kid in Hawaii when my dad and I would smoke these amazing ribs in the back yard. That’s what I mean when I talk about memories that you can’t forget.
BTCF: You are an advocate for various organizations and have been a guest speaker as well. Can you share a little bit about a couple of them and what they mean to you?
CHEF GASON: I am heavily involved with the American Cancer Society because of a personal experience I had. I had a son who died of leukemia when he was a year and a half old. That was a traumatic experience for me, and I vowed to help others in any way I could to make their experience with cancer easier to handle. I am also very involved with New Orleans Public Schools. They school system is important to me because my daughters both attended New Orleans Public Schools and as a parent this is my way of giving back. Finally, my involvement with The American Heart Association was born out of a fundraising. That effort has since become an annual much anticipated event.
Follow Chef Gason on Instagram @chef_gason
An Interview with Brianna McKee
“Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy”
Photo credit: @maxwell_remington
AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIANNA MCKEE
BTCF: So many times, eating disorders manifest themselves due a trauma of some sort. Growing up you had family challenges that created personal pain at a very young age and developed an eating disorder at 12 years old. Can you share some of that and what was that like for you at such a young age?
BRIANNA: At the time, I just moved on. I wasn’t really feeling like things were bothering me. I didn’t know there was a problem for a few years and felt like emotionally I was ok.
BTCF: At 15, you experienced a few words about your appearance that triggered the beginning of body dysmorphia from one simple act done by a dance teacher. Did your feelings about dance change? How did you deal with it?
BRIANNA: My feelings of dance didn’t change, but I think I started to get more obsessive of my body and what I was eating and how much and in turn an unhealthy yo-yo imbalance started.
BTCF: What was daily life like for you in high school? Can you share an experience that you felt changed the course of your life?
BRIANNA: The day I graduated…ha-ha. But, really, I’m grateful for it, although it can be hard. The peer pressure, heart breaks, criticism from yourself and others, going through so many changes, I was ready to get out of there.
BTCF: Your eating disordered spiraled out of control when you were dancing at a professional level. It was also at a time when you started yoga. How old were you? What was your relationship with dance? What was your relationship with food?
BRIANNA: I would say it was bad from about 16 to 26 years old or so. I was freelancing doing all kinds of shows and traveling over those years as well. I started yoga, bikram, when I was 20. The heat and looking at myself going inward so intensely in silence was definitely a game changer. One, it helped me not want to self soothe with a bunch of food because the next morning would be so much harder and to look at myself and not be so mad that I couldn’t have enough self-control to not binge until I threw up or make myself do so. Unfortunately, most of the time I was disgusted with myself and so mad. At 23, I moved to Hawaii and I got pretty sick. To be honest, before I left for Hawaii, I was doing more damage to my body then just binging and purging. I was smoking and doing other things to help me not to eat so I would look good in my costumes. That was the only way I thought I could “control it”. That got out of control in more ways than one, and the universe picked me up and gave me a chance in Hawaii. After getting in trouble there and still finding whatever I could to eat before bed, which was usually enough sugar to put someone in a diabetic coma. Eventually, after a couple hospital stays and lots on gut terrorizing rounds of antibiotics, I found a naturopath and that was the real beginning of some healing.
I was diagnosed with systemic candida and metal toxicity. Yeast overgrowth in my blood, brain, GI, reproductive organs, esophagus and mercury poisoning, causing inflammation in my whole body and candida loves and needs sugar to survive. The naturopath put me on a personalized nutritional journey with help and support along with herbs to rebuild. After about a month, I felt like I think most people feel, which was hungry and satisfied before and after eating. It made me cry, I was so relieved.
The next 10 years I still had to and continue to pay attention. Eventually I quit smoking about 4 years ago, which was a 10 year on and off crutch/side kick of the overeating/starving. While in Hawaii, I started my healing process, changing my relationship with food including my food allergies, intolerances, leaky gut, emotional patterns of eating, and other challenges. I also damaged my throat and esophagus from the years of binging and purging. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong but had to administer a tube down my throat because I couldn’t even swallow water for over 30 hours. From my experience, receiving treatment from a naturopath, some holistic specialists, nutritionists helped me. Eating disorders and other addictions are complex, it’s a whole-istic process of healing. And there are always some of those underlying emotional pieces wanting to get acknowledged, which therapists, energy workers, introspective time in nature, your sport of choice, dance, yoga…. all help with that. I’m still figuring out foods and times that help me feel optimal for shows, mood, and overall nutrition. But the difference is it’s not running my life, and I’m not sabotaging, or using food as a self-soothing unhealthy act anymore.
BTCF: Reuniting with your father later in life was something you took initiative on doing. Why was that important to you and did help in your healing?
BRIANNA: I think it’s natural to want to understand and know our parents. The lesson I didn’t figure out until later was that I wanted to understand why I wasn’t good enough and was seeking his approval so I could love myself. I also needed the child in me to heal, even though as an adult, logically I thought it didn’t bother me as a child, because things were going to be better. I’m not a psychologist, but that’s what I take from it now.
BTCF: BTCF believes an eating disorder is not what it looks like on the outside, it’s what’s going on in the inside. What part of this resonates with you? With your journey?
BRIANNA: I fully agree with that, with eating disorders or anything else. Yes, creating to me is picking the color that makes me feel good to wear that day, makeup, cooking, painting, writing, making anything, dancing out a song that’s speaking to me.
BTCF: Can you share what your tattoos mean to you? Do you have a favorite one?
BRIANNA: Yes, I design my tattoos, they are my ideas. I see what and where, or at least the feeling of it, explain and express it to the artist, they draw, and we go from there. They inspire the feelings I want or have intentions to have or heal. Like affirmations, but the energy into positive change with color and design. I think tattoos can be very powerful. As I sit and breathe through the process, meditating it and what the tattoo means to me, it creates change while it’s vibrating into my being. On my throat is a black and grey rose, with a lot of white in it…It’s supposed to be for purity and truth in expression. Throat chakra, speaking and expressing oneself. On my collarbone connected to it is the word clarity. So, the intention of clarity in expression. Still working on that ha-ha… but that is the point. It reminds me, is beautiful, inspires me and hopefully others. I don’t think you want me to share all the stories and meanings of my tattoos. Although, they are usually a symbol of what I’m going through or an affirmation for how I intend to express a lesson. I have mindful on my hand, after reading Mindful Eating by Jan Chazen Bays. It faded a few times and I just kept getting it redone with intention to be more intentional with how, why, and what I fed my body.
BTCF: Were you able to use dance, a creative process to aide you in your struggles? If so, how?
BRIANNA: Definitely, and just breathing and moving energy through has always helped whatever was going on.
BTCF: On your healing journey, what did you find that brought you some grace and aided in your recovery?
BRIANNA: Patience and kindness. and slowing down my universe. (A friend and holistic practitioner told me those and they stuck)
BTCF: Your life as a professional dancer has been extensive and still going strong. How do you relate to dance when it comes to your body today?
BRIANNA: Grown and sexy;) I still have my days (around the holidays) that I overdo it or don’t use food as medicine, like it really is. But I am so much more forgiving, and I want to be nicer to my body and give my organs the foods, herbs, and thoughts that will help them function the best they can. As women, we fluctuate and that’s ok. I can get more fit sometimes and love my curves too. I’m thankful my body does all the things it does for me.
BTCF: If you could describe the two sides of your journey to recovery, what would you say finally brought you to a place of wellness?
BRIANNA: The work is never really done. But the balance is way less 90/10 and more 60/40 and I’m ok with that. Still lots to learn, heal and grow.
BTCF: What other types of certifications do you have and how does that aide in creating a sense of wellness and peace for yourself?
BRIANNA: I have my massage license, reiki 1 & 2 and my 200-hour yoga teaching certification. I’m not doing any massage anymore but still teaching and wanting to learn more about energy modalities.
BTCF: Sharing your story and helping others is a passion of yours. What inspires you? What are you passionate about and why?
BRIANNA: Creating and helping…and when they come together in some way, it’s pretty cool.
BTCF: You have three beautiful nieces. What are three body positive things you share with them?
BRIANNA: They are the best. To be gentle with yourself. Feeling good, healthy, and happy is the most attractive. And to breathe and chew and move… more advice than a body positive thing… but really helps.
Follow Brianna on Instagram @brimckee77
An Interview with Alex Little
BTCF – For those who don’t know or who have never experienced your extraordinary and one of a kind dance piece “7 CHAIRS”, can you share what it is?
ALEX – 7 Chairs was created 8 years ago when I was in recovery (still am) from my multiple Eating Disorders. The healing process was helping me so much in realizing that it was ok to share my feelings, thoughts, celebrations and hardships because I was not alone. I was not the only one. Others could relate! This was the cornerstone to healing for me (& still is). I wondered what it would be like to use the structure of a “group sharing & healing circle” with a group of dancers, using our own unique movement to narrate whatever it was we wanted to offer or share about ourselves/our life at present, in real time. Every rendition, process, performance of this movement piece is completely different from the prior time it was performed but its structure remains the same. As it turns out, although it is much different, this process continues feels very healing, cathartic, inspiring and empowering too!
BTCF – We’ve seen “7 CHAIRS” performed several times now, each time different, and each time there is not a dry eye in the house, it moves people to places that redefines their inner connection on multitude of levels no matter what one is going through. The piece is so rich and full of personal story as the dancers allow us to feel every movement and core of their being that it has such a tremendous and lasting affect as well as impact on people in such a beautiful way. This internal process of yours radiates in all you do as a person, creator, dancer, and teacher.
ALEX – When we all own our parts of the space; we begin connecting into ourselves and with one another. By acknowledging the power of others’ presence, we begin seeing and listening to one another and we, individually are more and more willing to be seen and heard. It’s all just the “Circle of life” – we are having conversations without words. We hold space for our, and each other’s journeys. For me, connection is a vibe or energy that is created in that time. I perceive it often to feel “risky and safe” all at once; and often it feels vulnerable & empowering. It will most certainly change moment to moment, class to class, performance to performance. We are all so different and the ways in which each one of us connect will look and feel different. After that, it happens just as it should for that time.
BTCF – What inspires you?
ALEX – Stories. Connection. Sharing information. Receiving information. Living my life in a creative “research lab”. Learning. Meeting new people and artists of all ages. Being inspired by these folks. Growing. Listening to, and telling stories through movement & the all the possibilities that creativity and the arts offer.
BTCF – Being a deep thinker and emotionally perceptive, as well as knowing the importance what “connection” means to you, what is the process you go through when you teach?
ALEX – As prepared as I am prior to classes, I also believe in being present and sensing the energy & feeling(s) in the room as best I can before and throughout and after the session. I often check in with the students prior to the start of class. And always throughout and at the end. This helps me a great deal in guiding the way I facilitate that session. I want to create and hold a space where in the students feel that their energy and emotion is cyclical (as it is) and in turn, their presence & humanity will empower the room. This is the bedrock for connection.
BTCF – How do you view an empty room – the space you teach in before it fills up with people?
ALEX – I see possibility. The beginning of a new experience. The space is often quiet. I see a sacred communal meeting ground. I see a research lab. A space to fill with journeys, with information, with mind, body, soul. Sometimes I feel anxiety. I always feel nervous. And excited.
BTCF – You have had great success as a dancer, teacher, choreographer. What does success mean to you and how would you explain it to young minds who look up to you?
ALEX – Success is simply showing up. Being vulnerable. Standing in my light, with honesty and integrity. Being of service to others. Being a part of the world. And not using my Eating Disorder behaviors or other addictions to get through, but instead leaning into life. Success is a one-day-at-a-time thing for me.
BTCF – You are very open about your eating disorder. Why is that important to you and what are your aspirations in sharing more with others and what message would you bring to them?
ALEX – Well there are two main reasons. One is because the minute I am hiding it is most likely going to be the minute I get active in it all over again. I don’t want to go there again. 20+ years was enough. Now I don’t parade around with it on my shirt or anything, but I do openly talk about it and I remain in lifetime recovery practices every week.
The other reason is because it’s a silent disease and I want to use my experience to lend a voice to this epidemic and be there for those in its clutches. This illness comes in multiple forms and isn’t spoken about much, and if it is, it’s identified in its extremes only. Eating disorders don’t always have a look to them. And it is not just about vanity. These two myths keep society in the dark about all of the nuances and varieties of this Mental Illness and Addiction. And the fact is, the disease is even more a mental illness than a vanity feat. It’s cunning, baffling, and powerful, it tells you “Keep quiet. Don’t tell anyone about this. You have to do life this way now, and on one will understand. You are the exception to the rule, so you must hide it.” The truth is there are people out there that do get it, have lived it and Thank God, have gotten out of its dark deathly clutch. Hopefully an antidote will be voices like mine and the light that is possibility and recovery.
BTCF – Who is the one person who gets Alex Little and why?
ALEX – My sister, Devon because she has grown up with me- and probably knows me better than I know myself! We are close, only 2 years apart, and we have been through a lot together to say the least. <3 BTCF – 7 Chairs is presently being created as an “experience”, one that participants will be able to learn and experience the process of it all and be able to take workshops from you. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ALEX – Yes, from my personal experience that I found communal gatherings often activate or assist others in individual healing, the 7 Chairs Experience is a powerful, freeing, revealing creative process, which is both personal and communal. It will highlight through the art and movement, that there is healing in the service of both sharing and receiving which results in the realization that we are not alone.
Follow Alex on Instagram and Twitter @alex_little. Facebook – Alex Little
Contact us if you would like to sponsor a 7 Chairs live performance or tour!
MIKE COLLINS – SHOCKBOXX GALLERY March 18, 2019
An Interview with Mike Collins
Why did you want to become an artist? Many reasons or just one big one?
I don’t think of myself as an artist, but I get where you are going with the question. The beginning for me was back in the eighties with skateboarding. I had a group of guys that I ran around with and we started using paint pens and spray paint on ramps, shoes, skateboards, clothes, backpacks…anything really. There was a rush in that for me, and a way to lay down a mark that said, “This is me. I’m right here. I did that.” I was (still am) observant of crowds and how they moved and interacted. I’ve always felt a nervous energy around groups of people and wrestle with the struggle to simultaneously blend in and stand out. I think those early marks were doing just that. I found a way to say, “Oh, ok, this is what we are doing,” but to then stand out within that same scene by making a mark and saying, “I’m right here.” I think it’s the same thing, 35 years later. I show work in art shows and it’s a way to blend into a crowd and try and stand out at the same time.
Many of your pieces are quite large. Why?
I remember when I jumped up to painting 4×6 canvases and the challenge of the size really drew me in. I was doing abstract stuff and I’d just get lost in the space and would find some sort of trouble or mistake that would motivate me to really get deeper into the piece. That is where it started, but with the stuff I’m doing now, I’m working with unstretched canvas that I lay on the floor. I really like that the size is too big to just stand there and work. I love getting down on the floor and crawling around on the piece as I work. I’ll leave them on the floor and walk on them. I’m finding a freedom in the fact that the size allows for a loosening of detail. The larger format draws me into the process in a way that I get totally lost in this world I’m trying to create. This new stuff has me swept away every time I start to work.
There is a running theme in your pieces, one central character as well as another that seem to reappear. Can you tell us about that, why, and the meaning behind it all? Are they a part of a continued story or separate?
You must be talking about the girl in the pink dress. The first time I painted her was about seven or eight years ago. My mom had just died and I just couldn’t get myself to paint. I went back to try and work on a piece and I ended up painting these weird circles and started covering older work. Whatever I had been painting was over and gone and there just wasn’t anything coming out. I had this idea to make 12 pieces that were related to the album, “Wish,” by The Cure. This album was on heavy rotation when I got sober (in 1996), and it’s just always felt like home. So I start listening and wondering and finally I start making some stuff. The work was totally different from anything I’d done before. I had this idea to make a painting related to the song, “Open,” that communicates my experience with addiction. I really wanted to try and capture the relationship between the addiction and the addicted, and specifically, was looking to represent where I was at that exact moment in time. I was 16 years sober, had just lost my mom and had this absolute knowing that I didn’t feel like drinking, but that I was really shook…so I’m painting and all of a sudden I’m grabbing a thin brush and outlining this young girl in a pink dress. I’d never painted a human figure and at the time I recall thinking, “what the heck am I doing,” but I went with it. The piece ended up with the girl, a bird, a cage and some flowers…it’s raining and there are hash marks ticking off 16 years worth of days. So who is she and what does she symbolize…she symbolizes a part of me that I keep pretty close to the vest. She absolutely does not just symbolize an addict or an alcoholic. Initially she represented that, but has grown to represent so much more. She’s a fighter. She represents being knocked down but not out…she’s braver than me most all the time and I think I’m trying to follow her lead. I’ll leave it here: I feel the most risk and vulnerability when I put her pieces up.
What do all the black x’s represent in your work and the various ways you use them?
Sometimes the x’s change colors and they are expressed quite often, what do they mean? Is there a story you can share?
The X’s cover stuff up, they mark where the treasure lies, they remind me that some things are poisonous, sometimes they just balance things out, other times they represent the things we cannot say, or where the body is buried. I keep bringing them forward into my new work because they bring a thread of the past into the present.
What does your art mean to you? How is it healing?
The work I create most often marks an emotional place and time in my existence. It’s really no different today than it was back when I made marks on my skateboards, I’m just saying, “I’m right here and this is who I am.” The healing part of feeling driven to put it out there is the risk.
There is a multitude of expression and movement in your work, it’s very alive and primal. What is your internal process you go through before you approach a piece? Is it different every time?
Your question makes me think about how much I admire dancers. I am in no way at risk of becoming a dancer. I think they are so brave in their willingness to share that expression and movement in its most raw form. I feel the same way about singers and guitar players. There is something so awesome about watching a human just lay it on the line and communicate so vulnerably in that way. I dig that you see expression, movement and something primal in my work, because that gives me a clue that my process is coming through in the finished product.
Somebody once said to me that they imagined it to be peaceful to paint and my response was, “when I’m feeling happy or peaceful, the last thing in the world I’d feel like doing is picking up a paintbrush.” I think agitation is my internal process before I start a piece. I’m usually pretty wound up and grinding on something when the urge to paint comes on and so I’ll get in the studio and put on, “Plainsong,” by The Cure. I put it on repeat and will sometimes jump right in, or other times I might wind up just moving stuff around and spending a long time waiting, but once I start laying down marks, I’ll get swept away. Once that happens I stop the song from repeating…it’s be a little to obsessive to just keep it looping.
What is your inspiration?
Oh man…my inspiration comes from all sorts of places. Sometimes it’s a word, or a phrase, or a lyric, or a dream, or a nightmare…I’ll get something stuck in my head on a loop and won’t be able to let go. That’s where the ideas come from. The inspiration to get them out and onto a canvas always comes from agitation.
You are also a therapist as well as an artist, how did that come about?
Art didn’t have anything to do with me becoming a therapist. Addiction gets all the credit for that one! I got sober in 1996 and the process of figuring that out, and then of –not only- changing and growing in my own life, but watching other people change and grow, caused me to head back to school. I knew that my long-term solution was going to be to create meaning out of my struggle with addiction. I think that’s what binds me with the work you do with Breaking the Chains…that I’ve been able to use my experience to work to understand how those of us in recovery are all related.
How do you think art aides in healing areas of one’s life who suffers from addiction?
Creating art connects us to the parts of our being that are younger than words, or that have experiences that cannot be spoken. I think that creativity allows us to express ourselves to the world and that is where the healing happens…not so much in what the world does with what we say, but that we find a way to say it, regardless.
As a creative soul, is art an important part to your healing?
Creating gives me an outlet for whatever gets stuck and starts spinning inside my head and in my body. I think that is an important part of keeping my sanity, which must then be a part of my healing, or recovery, right?
Breaking The Chains Foundation is art-based using various forms of art as healing tools for those suffering eating disorders, disordered eating, negative body image and underlying or co-occurring issues. How important is art to you in your own healing and why?
When I first got sober, I was pretty numb to anything that was going on inside my body. I think that’s probably common for the people you work with at Breaking The Chains, too. The solution I’ve found that keeps me moving forward was to learn how to make peace with those parts of myself that I was trying to keep hidden. I think creating is a way to express the hidden and the unspoken. The freedom from all that –for me- is to put it out there and just ride the tail of the tiger. This is going to sound so corny but I’m saying it…remember that therapist character on Saturday Night Live….Stewart Smalley? Stewart was the guy that would have his clients stare in a mirror and say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.” Well…that’s the deal right there. That’s the secret. If I find a way to put myself into the world authentically, the chances are I’ll have that Stewart Smalley experience and realize that I’m ok. I think creating work and putting it into the world sets me up to chase that down.
What types of mediums do you work on? Why?
The type of medium I choose to work on is driven by what I’m trying to accomplish. Right now I’m working on used drop cloth. I like the way it feels, and how the stains and marks create a foundation to build upon. When I begin a drop cloth piece, I always start on the floor. I like to be able to get down and crawl around while I’m laying the foundation. It’s totally conducive to making a mess and really getting lost in the piece. As are as materials go, I’ve really been digging starting out with charcoal and other mediums that are going to smear and get pulled into the paint. I’ve been having fun with different types of paint, too. I used to use the same brand of Acrylic for everything and had every color on had before I’d begin, but for this latest series that will make up, “The Funeral Party,” I’ve had fun limiting myself to what is laying around the studio. It’s been fun to make due with what’s on hand, or to mix latex, oil, crayons, fishing line, or whatever I can scrounge up to try and tell the story.
What types of tools do you work with and why?
I mostly use Wooster Pro house brushes. I have an assortment of sizes but for most pieces I’ll wind up using the same one for the whole thing.
Your work is so colorful, do you create your own colors?
No, I don’t mix my own colors. I’ve learned that certain colors work better (for me) from certain brands, or one brand might have a different texture than another. I love the blues from Golden Acrylic, and I love the way Nova Color (which is made in Los Angeles) flows.
What is your favorite piece you ever created and why?
I have a sunset painting from around 2006 that is my favorite. The reason why is because that’s the piece that set the whole thing off. I had really just started painting again and I was trying to paint these sunsets that were so inspiring. I rattled off 3 or 4 pieces that were just flat out awful and was so frustrated. I called my friend, Robb Havassy (he’s a great artist) and asked him for some pointers and he said, “dude…don’t paint what you saw, paint what you felt.” That was it…I had this little pile of wet paint and a piece of cardboard and I tried what he said and there it was!
How do you think your work inspires others? Do you have a story you can share?
I hope that my work inspires people to get in the game and go for it.
You have a show coming up on March 23rd, The Funeral Party at your Hermosa Gallery, Shockboxx. Can you tell us about it? What do you want people to know the most about it and why?
The Funeral Party is my first solo show. I’m excited to have these pieces together and to let the story unfold. I’ve been working hard on this one and have built a world around the girl, the bird and the cage. I’ve got some new characters inserted into their story and I can feel them living and breathing now. I know the title might suggest that this is the end of something, and while that’s probably true, it is also just the beginning for where this world I’ve created might take us.
8/18/18 Creative Teens in Motion
An interview with: Marlowe Peyton
What is your favorite creative outlet? If you have more then one, please share favorites and why. Art and music are my two favorite creative outlets. In art, you can do anything! It allows you to take ideas directly out of your head and make them a real physical thing with infinite possibilities, that’s one of the things that makes it really enjoyable for me. With music, I love to create songs because it’s something other people can enjoy and since I’m a singer, I can sing my own music as well. For me, melodies are exciting to create and lyrics are a really good way for me to vent my feelings. If putting my thoughts and feelings into art and music allows other people to relate to my pain and maybe in some small way help them with theirs, then I’ve created something that is good.
How do you feel when you express yourself creatively? I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest and put into a piece of art, and lets me better understand what I’m feeling. When you’re writing lyrics you have to think about the emotions you’re trying to express and give those feelings words. This forces you to examine your thoughts from a different perspective and makes you take a step back to examine what you’re feeling. When I go back and listen to my songs or look at the art I created from these deep intense emotions, I can see how I’ve improved and how far I have come.
What would you tell another young girl like yourself how creativity can bring forth positive feelings and can do the soul and body some good? What I think I would like to say to other young girls is that you will certainly have a lot of heavy uncomfortable emotions in the course of your life and you need to make them into something tangible. Art is the way to do that whether it’s painting, dance, or music. Taking those emotions and using them to create things makes it easier to deal with those feelings and gives you a different way of looking at them. I’ve found that being productive and using creativity as an outlet for uncomfortable feelings can make you feel better about your life.
You got a new haircut and color recently. What was that like? Can you walk us through the process?At first, I was super nervous and wasn’t sure if I would regret cutting all my hair off. I thought about it probably for way too long, but now I know that this is exactly the hair I was supposed to have and I feel so much happier. From the beginning, I knew that if I was going to cut my hair off that I wanted to donate it to help someone else. There were places that accept donations of hair for people with hair loss from cancer and makes wigs for them. The hair has to be a certain length and my mom and my hairdresser Curt Darling found out all the requirements. When I got to Curt’s salon he sectioned off my hair for the donation and then he let me make the first cut which was really empowering! When I donated it to Locks of Love I did it in honor of my acting coach Cheryl Faye who is currently battling cancer.
What are you working on now? Currently, I am working on producing my first music video for the release of my next song called “Corrosion.”
We hear you have some amazing news and will be going to Las Vegas. Can you tell us a little bit about that? My first animated project “Parker Bubblegum” has been accepted into the 2018 AOF Film Festival. It’s a project I started when I was 12 and I have a lot of amazing voice actors involved in it. I’m so honored and very excited to have “Parker Bubblegum” be part of the festival this year.
What do you think of when someone says eating disorder? How does that affect you? I feel like I can’t truly understand what people with eating disorders are going through since I have never had one, but I can relate. I understand that it seems necessary to them to use food and that it spirals down quickly. Spiraling down is something that I can personally relate to and I know how hard that is, but I also know that if you have people around you that support you and care about you, then you can push through it, even if it’s super difficult.
Encouraging young teens to pursue their artistic passion? Some people may not like the things that you create but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, and it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Expressing your emotions through art may mean it’s not going to be pretty or comfortable for other people to listen to or see, especially if you’re in a sad period, but that’s exactly why you have to do it. Also, remember to keep going, keep improving, and I promise it will pay off.
I think its time that we all have a conversation about something a little…uncomfortable. Something that has such a stigma attached to it, that people all over the world are suffering and DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. I’m talking about eating disorders. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “OMG Jillian, do you have an eating disorder”?! While I may not suffer the way so many young people do, I absolutely believe we’re all effected by this terrible disease one way or another. And the fact that so many people are ashamed to have a conversation about it has to end.
I don’t consider myself to have a bad relationship with food, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my fair share of struggles with body image and self-love. I’m really happy that my industry (entertainment) is moving toward a more “body positive” way of thinking, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have the occasional day where I just feel like crap. Maybe I ate too many tacos the night before, or maybe it’s that time of month and I’m feeling extra bloated and sad, or MAYBE I just don’t like what I see in the mirror that day. We’ve all been there, right? It happens. For some of us, those feelings are far more severe and life threatening than others, and because I want every young person to wake up feeling like a damn queen every day, I got involved with Breaking The Chains.
To read the entire blog post please visit www.jillianrosereed.net
Actress/Producer/BTCF Celebrity Spokesperson – Jillian Rose Reed
Hello Breaking The Chains Family!
I’m so happy to be writing my first blog for this amazing foundation, and I’m so happy you’re here sharing this experience with us! Now, you may be wondering “What exactly IS Breaking The Chains?!” That’s where I come in!!! Let’s break it down. I’m here, along with some of my good friends to change the face of eating disorders. For too many years, eating disorders have been looked at as a clinical and shameful disease that no one wanted to talk about… and we aren’t cool with that. If you’re anything like me, you probably know someone, have known someone, or have personally struggled with body image issues or an eating disorder of some sort and you probably know that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to talk about. Listening to stats and science about a disease that is so individualized can be monotonous and there may seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Well, we want to shake things up!
What would happen if someone suffering from an eating disorder looked at treatment in a different way? What if we could do something NO ONE HAS DONE YET?! What if we can encourage healing through music… And art… And image… And POSITIVITY! Crazy right?! Well, not really.. Sounds pretty awesome to me! So that’s what we’re doing here at Breaking the Chains. We want those struggling to find hope in a new way. T o look at an eating disorder from the inside. Because ultimately.. It’s about what you feel … Not what you look like. And we hope that by creating a safe, positive platform, we can stand together…As one.. And help you beat this. Because if you want to, then you absolutely can!
Maybe you’re thinking “why should I get involved? I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder!”. Well, neither have I! When I got involved with Breaking The Chains Foundation, it was because I wanted to be a positive light in someone else’s life. As a woman in the entertainment industry, body image is something that is focused on way too often. Although I’ve never personally suffered from this disease, I know people who have. I’m doing this for them. And if you need help, I’m doing this for you. I’m here to talk, to listen, to encourage, and to love you. And if you haven’t suffered, I encourage you to join me in saving the life of someone else.
Breaking The Chains Foundation wants to change the face of eating disorders, but we can’t do it alone. So come on board with us, and let’s change this disease one beautiful soul at a time.
Jillian rose Reed