“Art Is How I Make Sense Of My Feelings”: 3 Artists On How Creativity Defines Them

Do you remember the first time you made something? And can you recall how satisfied or proud you felt? From the colourful pictures that earned their place on family fridges to the first rolls of film we put through a camera, our earliest creative pursuits tend to stay with us, and all the little nuances and memories of where we’ve come from can often inform who we become and where we’re heading. 
Together with photo- and video-editing app VSCO, we’ve been thinking about the adventures that creativity can take you on and the things it can teach you about your own identity. It’s in this spirit of curiosity and self-discovery that we’re asking the question: This year, what will making make you?
Advertisement
We caught up with three artists from across the globe to find out just that. Here, they reflect on the formative moments of inspiration that have shaped them into who they are today, describe the power of making art for the pure joy of it, and give us the tips we need to set out on our own creative journeys.

Laurence Philomene, Photographer, Montreal

Growing up as a queer kid in Montreal, Canada, Laurence Philomene looked to the vibrant artistic communities online for inspiration and connection. "We’d log on after school and spend evenings chatting about photography, films, and coming up with new ideas," they recall. "When I was 13, I became obsessed with a group of photographers taking pictures of vintage Blythe dolls, and I started collecting and photographing them myself." Over time, photographing dolls gave way to photographing friends and Philomene themself. Now, Philomene takes daily self-portraits for a project called Puberty, documenting their experience on hormone replacement therapy. "When I first started my transition I felt scared to talk about it online, but once I did it was liberating," Philomene remembers. "I get feedback that it’s really helpful for others to see the things that I’m going through, and that’s what it’s all about. The whole point of my work is to humanize trans existence, because even though our existence is marginalized, at the end of the day, we’re all human and our day-to-day looks no different." Philomene has decided to extend the project into 2020, hoping to see it flourish into published and performance-based iterations, too.
Advertisement
Philomene’s self-portraits catalogue the slowness of transition, capturing the beauty in the little details of daily life: brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, and watching films in bed, sometimes using different coloured bulbs in their bedroom to illuminate the most ordinary moments into atmospheric scenes. "It’s documentary, but it also plays with the line between what is and isn’t staged." Sometimes Philomene will grab their camera to set up or recreate a moment; other times they just let the day unfold and see what happens. After all, inspiration often comes from the places you know most intimately. "My favourite place to take pictures is my home. I have my studio there, and it gets the most beautiful daylight, even on the cloudiest of days," Philomene tells us.

I want us to be able to relate to each other more, and photography is a really powerful tool for that.

Their photography style is simple, colourful, and intimate. "I have a VSCO membership, so I have access to all of its presets (filters). I use my favourites to edit all of my photos, and I play with saturation and contrast a lot. I’ve been putting a selection of the images on my VSCO, too, using it as a dedicated, curated space to show people that project and see how it’s working together."
A real emotional investment goes into making socially engaged work; when asked what needs to change in the way our societies represent trans and gender nonconforming people, Philomene says: "I think in general there’s a lot of fear regarding otherness in our societies, and that fear often leads to violence, especially for trans people and gender nonconforming people of colour. A lot of what my work stands for is destroying that sense of fear and fostering a sense of community. I want us to be able to relate to each other more, and photography is a really powerful tool for that." Creativity is a universal language, and art can tap into shared experiences in the most poignant ways. For Philomene, a creative life has also offered a chance to shape their own path. "I have a chronic kidney disease, and because of that, my energy levels fluctuate a lot. Being able to make a living from my art means I can shape my days however I want. I can listen to my body more, which has been really special to me."
Advertisement
Maintaining a balance between creating for yourself and creating with an audience in mind can be tricky, but Philomene says: "I don’t post as I shoot things; I’ll often hold on to images just for myself for a while." That way, things stay sacred and personal. A good way to get started on a creative journey, they say, is to ask yourself these three questions: What do I feel is missing? What kind of art do I want to see in the world? And what story is mine to tell? Everything will fall into place from there.

Theresa Baxter, Illustrator, Los Angeles

"For me, making art has always been the way I make sense of my feelings or the larger ideas I’m trying to grapple with," says Theresa Baxter. "If I’m curious about something then I’ll follow that impulse, throw myself at it, and see where it takes me." Baxter’s the-world-is-your-oyster outlook might have something to do with her childhood, spent moving around a lot as the only child of a young single mother. "It was always the two of us against the world," she remembers warmly, "and having this strong feminine role model is absolutely reflected in the work I make now. She taught me how powerful women are and how we have to channel that outwards."
Baxter’s digital illustrations are worlds within worlds — gorgeous, colourful, celestial scenes filled with pink skies and moons and bathing female nudes. "I’ve always liked to draw very normal, human things and then elevate them into this astral, fantastical universe," she says. "I drew when I was looking for comfort or a place to make my own, and I’ve realized as an adult that this still helps me handle upheaval and transition."
Advertisement
Her journey into professional art-making was a winding one, and she traced a path through art therapy and psychology before getting to where she is today. She attended art school, but something about it seemed to suck all the joy out of creating; for a time she stopped making work altogether. It was only when she began to reflect on how sharing her work online had the power to touch other people that she turned her attention back toward it.

I stand for body neutrality, portraying bodies as they look, and championing ourselves just as we are.

Early in her career, she made a network of friends in body-positive communities across the internet and started asking women who were proud of their bodies to send her nudes she could draw for practice. Responses flooded her inbox. "I got everything from professional shots to mirror selfies from women with a whole gamut of bodies, and it was the most amazing thing," she says. "I’ve struggled with body image my entire life, and just talking about it on the internet has changed everything for me. I only started making art the way I do because of these women." Making has made her more self-confident, and having people respond is what empowers her to continue. "I stand for body neutrality, portraying bodies as they look, and championing ourselves just as we are." Her illustrations are a lesson for us all in self-love — an ode to doing, and being, whatever makes you happy. 
Take pictures, write everything down, save it for later, Baxter says, because inspiration can come from anywhere. "When it comes to designing for apparel, I spend a lot of time thrifting — I love going through silly vintage tees. I take pictures of designs that speak to me and write endless one-word notes on my phone when ideas strike. I make sure to consume art and design as a leisurely activity, because so much of our inspiration and creative process happen when we aren't looking at our thoughts. And I keep mood boards of everything and anything that gets me excited." She’ll often sit and edit images in VSCO for the pure joy of seeing what they look like. "I love to document my friends and the places I love, but because I’m an obsessive creative, I want those memories to look and feel the way they did at the time."
Advertisement
Her big focus for 2020 is her online shop, which she’s just relaunched. It’s a passion project, and she’s been featuring herself and her friends as models and using VSCO to edit the photos. "I did it all myself and didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion this time. I just said 'I want it all to be pink' and I went for it."

Yuki Sazu, Artist, London

Yuki Sazu spent her early years in Japan before relocating to the U.K. as a child, and she’s always had a creative spirit. She’s worked with brands, started a magazine, and created her own clothing. Her use of different media, like photography or collage or textiles, is instinctual based on what she feels is the most effective way to put across the images and ideas she has in her head.
She started taking self-portraits around 18 months ago, sporadically at first. "My style is very DIY and esoteric," she explains. There’s a velvety quality to a lot of her pictures. She edits them with VSCO and posts them on social media, sometimes accompanied by little slices of text detailing how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking about that day. "I use a lot of the editing tools to play around with the contrast, brightness, and saturation, and I also love how you can use the app to really experiment with colour and play around with the spectrum of different reds and yellows and greens."
Advertisement
Sazu’s images weave together colour and emotion in beautifully subtle ways. In some of her photographs, she stages herself as archetypes like a bride or an archangel; in others she documents personal moments, like herself crying. "I think it’s really important to explore your vulnerabilities in general," she says, "and doing that in front of the camera can be a really strange experience. It’s so much easier to be private and not share." But where would the fun be in that? It’s something she continues to tease out through the daily process of taking pictures. "Making has made me healthier because it’s provided an important outlet for me to understand myself. It’s a therapy and a source of energy for me. I couldn’t imagine not being able to instil this as part of my routine." For anyone planning to embark on their own creative journey, she says the most important thing is to "accept yourself and then use that as a starting point" — art is free expression and everything else will fall into place from there.
A lot of Sazu’s opportunities and relationships have formed through her social media presence. Online communities have been such a huge thing for her because "no one can create work in a vacuum," she says. Digital platforms allow for infinite connection and inspiration at your fingertips, which can be amazing and overwhelming in equal measure. For those wanting to get making and sharing their work, she says, the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with your online self is remembering you don’t have to share everything. Take a step back to recalibrate from time to time — Sazu did and it worked wonders. "Now, when I post I try not to let myself think about a photo’s subsequent life online. I put images out, and if someone sees them or is moved then great, but I’m making them predominantly for myself."
Advertisement

Making has made me healthier. It's a therapy and a source of energy for me.

Taking time out to write a daily journal has been her biggest inspiration for the past year and has fed into the way she sees her practice as an extension of herself. "The closer I feel to my work, the more genuine it feels, so it always has to do with what’s happening in my life at the time. I think I make work the same way I experience emotions — it takes time to look back over everything and figure out what you’ve learned and how that might inform what you do next." Her place of inspiration is transient, showing that the best ideas often come to us on the move. "I carry my notebook with me everywhere I go, and I love long train or car journeys that give me the time to let my mind wander." Sometimes, all you need to do is throw on a jacket and head out into the world to find inspiration.
Advertisement

More from Living