12 Female Artists, Tired of Waiting, Are Hosting Their Own Gallery Show of “Night Shift” Creations
Interview by Mike O'Donnell / Editor
Night Shift is a one-night-only pop-up gallery show where female artists reveal what they create at night. I spoke with the collective of contributing artists to learn about the conception of Night Shift, how the nighttime influences the output of daytime creative professionals, and what advice they have for up-and-coming artists looking to create their own projects and make their own opportunities.
Night Shift is next Saturday, April 13th from 6-10 PM at 172 Allen Street, NYC, NY. The show is free and open to the public.
How did the idea for Night Shift come about?
Simi Mahtani: Jocelyn Tsaih was visiting some of us here in New York. She is an amazing artist, and she suggested putting together a show. From the start, it was really important for us to keep the lineup all female, because the representation of women exhibiting, doing group shows, and in museums is really disparaging. It was also important not to give the show a female-centric name, because we didn’t want it to be stereotyped in a certain direction. We chose the theme of what we create at night because we all have day jobs as designers, artists, and illustrators. We all were doing this creative work during the day, but when is it that we create on our own, for our own personal creative growth?
At what time of day or under what set of circumstances do you feel the most creatively productive?
Briana Garza: Usually, it's coming up with ideas when I'm at work, and at night is when I actually play around and see what I can create.
Viscaya Wagner: It’s a struggle because once I have the ideas, I, too, am excited to go home and end my day by being productive in the way I want to be. But it always takes me a while to decompress at the end of the day. The time I'm ready for bed is the time my mind is ready for something new, so it's usually late, unfortunately.
Sidney Howard: I'm not always necessarily productive at night, but I get a lot of creative ideas on the train. I have full lists of ideas on the phone. The train is a good place for art.
Teresa Wozniak: I tend to struggle with falling asleep. It probably takes me about two hours to fall asleep every night, so that's honestly when I come up with ideas like “what if this was a neon” or “what if we did this with that canvas.” Then I can't fall asleep because I'm thinking about those ideas.
Sasha Veryovka: That's funny because I feel like I have trouble staying asleep sometimes, so come 5 am, I'm up. And it's almost easier to not fight it and just make a cup of coffee and start work early.
Is what you create at night a departure from the work you do in the daytime? In what ways does the work you're creating at night have a different tone or vibe?
Lisa Ito: I'm a little bit of an outlier here because my role during the day is more operations focused, so it's about all the things surrounding design. I'm working with designers and artists, and I get so excited about what I'm seeing during the day that I want to go and try it. When I was a designer, I did more illustration work during the day. There were things I would try at home and bring into work, and then things I was doing at work that would lead into what I was doing at home. They influence each other. I have free reign on my own time to do whatever I want, so I'm not held to any kind of standard, and it's a little bit more wild when it's just for me.
Simi: Some of us do ad-based work, which makes it difficult to influence your own artistic style onto that space. Making an idea that we have during the day that we're super jazzed on doesn't really apply. I think that's the truth for some of us.
Teresa: The work that most of us make at work is also usually very uplifting, happy, and inspiring. And in my personal time, I make a lot of work about death, nihilism, and the end of the world. At night is when I get to do that.
Viscaya: I find the nighttime mostly affects color palettes for me. You're under the art direction of someone else during the day. When I come home, I'm always excited to explore different ranges, particularly in color and definitely in illustrative style, too. That's one of the reasons I'm so excited about this show. It’s hard sometimes to feel connected with something you are passionate about. We're committing to spending a lot of time and energy on this thing that is purely for us and purely our work going out in the world. It feels really cool to be doing that and owning that, because that's the work I'm most excited to share.
Sidney: We've all come together to make our own thing happen, whereas I feel like a lot of art, design, and illustration is waiting around for someone to notice you and say, “Oh, wow. I really love your work.” But we’ve decided that our work is good enough and we want to show it to people. And we’re not going to wait around to make it for somebody else.
What are the specific kinds of things that you tend to draw at night?
Teresa: I do a lot of work with type, but I feel like it usually has something to do with things that scare me. I feel like the best way to get over things that you're scared of is to just deal with them headfirst. The way out is through, so to speak. It's not some kind of inspiring, uplifting thing, but that's how I deal with my demons. I'll draw it out, make it look funny, and then post it on Instagram with some weird sarcastic comment.
Viscaya: One thing that I wouldn't really have observed until being in the role that I am in now is this sense of feminine versus non-feminine work. It's something I wish I didn't really think about or didn't have to worry about in my work, but there is definitely a check: Is this feminine? Is this too feminine? How do people perceive this? And I think a lot of what I do at home is "feminine". I tend to lean into that more in my personal work.
Sidney: I totally agree. If it looks too cute, then that's code for it looks feminine.
Viscaya: Yeah, or “I hate it.”
Sidney: I guess being able to make work outside of your day job is being able to express yourself however you want. Maybe that's being cute or being feminine or using pink or softer colors.
Sasha: I think there's something really nice in making nighttime artwork where you get to embrace ambiguity. I think that's something you don't really get to do at work because it needs to have subject matter that's “relevant.” You can't let it follow the direction it's taking you in. I think that has a lot to do with the nighttime too. Opening doors that are closed and going down weird alleys. The ambiguity that happens at night translates into nighttime work really well.
There seems to be a consensus of feeling like you have to check yourself more during the day, whereas the nighttime lets you create with less pressure, expectation, and restraint. You can lean into what you want to create more freely.
Teresa: When you're designing for yourself, you don't have any constraints apart from the ones that you give yourself.
Viscaya: I actually have a question for Jocelyn and Paulina who are currently freelance. Obviously, you are more in control of the way you spend your time, whether it's for a client or personal. I'm wondering how you feel about the work you make. You don't really have the boundary, so I just wanted to hear your thoughts.
Jocelyn Tsaih: I think it's really interesting for me because I just recently transitioned into freelancing full-time, so I'm still in the mindset of having to do productive client work during the day. Right now, I'm working on some commissions and editorial illustrations, and I spend most of my day doing that. But when I get home and sit on the couch, that's when I'm sketching out my personal ideas. Maybe slowly I'll start to transition into working on my personal stuff during the day, but I'm still in that mindset of saving the personal stuff for the end of the day.
Paulina Ho: I'm working on client stuff during the day, but sometimes there's downtime when people aren’t getting back to you in time or you're waiting for feedback. I think that's when I try to work on my personal stuff. It's kind of a balance.
The next morning when you wake up and you look at what you created the night before, what are some of the immediate reactions you have?
Viscaya: I find it very energizing, honestly, to wake up and be like, that was awesome. That's what I want to be making. Sometimes I wish I could keep working on this all day. Usually I feel like it gives me new life a little bit.
Lisa Ito: Sometimes I wake up the next morning thinking, “I don't remember. Is what I made last night actually terrible looking?” But I look at it, and I'm like, “It wasn't so bad. I wasn't crazy last night when I was doing this.” I would change some things here and there, but it's usually not as bad as I was thinking.
Bailey Sullivan: If I paint late at night on something I'm particularly excited to work on, I will zone out and not realize what time it is and work until 2 or 3 in the morning. In the morning looking at the work, I think it's cool that it wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t stayed up to make it the night before. This didn’t exist. Now it does.
Creating at night clearly offers its rewards, but it’s often simultaneously a result of really busy days. Is the balance a struggle?
Lisa: What I’m struggling with is how much time I should set aside. I recently got an iPad and am trying to be more mobile with making artwork and seeing if I can sketch on the subway. In my head, it makes sense that I can draw in my 45 minute commute in the morning. But it’s like “no, that's not going to happen. That's not enough time. What was I thinking?” I really need to sit and have no distractions for three hours. That's something that I need to be better about.
Sasha: Not having enough time becomes an issue and that's something that the night grants you. If you start at 10 pm, you can stop half an hour later or you can go until six am if you're really, really, really into it. No one's asking you to do that, but you have the privilege to do that if you need to. Doing something in between, on your commute, or on your lunch break doesn't really grant you that luxury. That’s another reason why I'm drawn to creating at night.
Viscaya: There are so many rewarding things like working out, cooking, and spending time with your friends, and I really struggle with that balance. I definitely have a tendency to feel like I'm wasting time if I'm not being “productive.” It's stupid and unhealthy because sometimes it's really important to decompress, especially on the weekends. At home at night, I'm like “I should be drawing,” but I'm mentally drained.
Teresa: But I don't know that there's anything wrong with that. I feel like people mistake productivity for having to do something instead of wanting to do it. It's forcing yourself to do the thing that you're supposed to love, but you're making it a chore. But once you find that thing that you love to do, you're not going to be looking for time to do it. You're going to be making time to do it. Sometimes, I don't make things for three weeks, and I feel totally okay with that. I'm not going to force myself to make something that I don't like just for the sake of making something.
Lisa: I feel like that's what's nice about this opportunity. A lot of times when you're making stuff, it's alone. You're alone in your own head, creating this thing, and you're putting time into it. But participating in something with a group of people that I love and like to hang out with adds a layer of sociability to it.
Simi: We are all working professionals in art and design, so it creates a feeling of “I’m making money off of doing something for my career” versus “I'm doing something for myself.” It's really nice to be able to do something for ourselves and support each other.
What is the process for what you choose to submit?
Viscaya: We knew the group of women that we wanted to participate and we basically said, “this is what we want to do, would you be interested?” And once we gained interest, we found a space that fit a budget of around how many people would be participating; it then started to feel very real. Things started happening, and we said submit by this date. We're all friends. We know each other, so it wasn't about curating the artists so much as it was collectively creating an opportunity with and for the people we love, and whose style and work we appreciate.
Teresa: When you work at night, you make things with no constraints. There's no vetting process for what someone wants to make. That's not the point of the show. It's to do what you want. Literally the only limitation we have is how wide if can be. I don't know what half of them are making, but I know it's going to be cool, because I know their work and I love it, but there's no rule for what we have to make.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming illustrators and artists about creating personal projects and opportunities?
Viscaya: Surround yourself with people you respect. I think there's a lot to be learned from people around you; it gives you liberty in a way, watching how other people treat their work as something exciting and experimental. And with that, something that we'll probably all say: be very mindful and careful about Instagram.
Teresa: It doesn't matter.
Sidney: I think that's why it's so important to have a physical community. Online communities are awesome, but having people in real life to talk to is key. “I feel like shit, because I've been looking at the best people in the world on Instagram all day.” It's like, “Okay, turn it off.” We're all really talented. Spending time with people that you are inspired by and having a support system is really important to making work.
Teresa: This goes back to college, but every time I've gotten feedback that I did not agree with or pushed back against or was personally insulted by in the end wound up teaching me way more than doing it my way would have. I've actually gone back and apologized to design teachers I had in college: “I hated you so much. I thought you were the worst teacher in the world until after I realized how much you taught me.” You're not going to learn by doing the same shit all the time. If someone's telling me that it isn't good enough or I should try this or make it in ceramic, at first I’m like, “What the fuck? No.” And then I try it and it might actually be what I want to do, and I didn't know it. I'm a very stubborn person, so it's hard for me to be like, “you were right.” But I'm saying it more and more frequently.
Sasha: Having a strong desire to make stuff is really, really important. And being less precious with it totally helps demystify the creative process and makes the blank page less intimidating. I find that that's been really important for me when I start making stuff. Otherwise, you get so in your own head and don't end up making anything at all, which is so much worse.
Briana: I think the act of completing half finished things whether it’s just an idea, or a sketch. Ultimately, you’re still creating something. So it's definitely worth it. Even if it’s not going to get likes or no one is going to see it at all.
Simi: One piece of advice I can give is not only to surround yourself with a community but also feel empowered to create an opportunity. I think that's one thing that people gravitated toward for this; we realized that we all like doing something together and want to share that with each other. There’s definitely strength in numbers as well. And if we’re not getting that opportunity otherwise, we should feel empowered to make it ourselves and amplify each other in that way.
Viscaya: Create the opportunities that you want to see. Connecting back to Instagram, there's a lot of comparison that goes on in the creative industry. “They have this platform and that's so incredible.” Make your own. This show has been really cool because we want to show our work, and the only limitation is the fact that we aren't so ... now we are.