First of all, I want to start by saying I am not sure where this post is gonna go. All I know is it's been a whole YEAR since i've posted an update about my work and my life. A lot has happened since my last post, Covid-19 took over the world (and still is) and while i've been INCREDIBLY lucky to still have jobs and projects, I also decided it would be best for me to take a break to recalibrate, rest and rejuvenate. Today I had the sudden urge to write about it, and so here I am. Welcome friends, thanks for reading.
When I first started Project MIRRO and became a full time artist and "entrepreneur" in late 2018, I was actually feeling pretty lost. I knew I wanted to start a business selling my art and my services, but I wasn't sure about "who I was" my identity, my brand.
A big part of being an artist is expressing your true authentic self, and I wasn't sure who my "authentic self" was. Prior to being an artist, I was constantly working at my full time Marketing job for years. I had a 1 year break to pursue art (textiles) in uni before I came back to KL to start Project MIRRO. I had no breaks - therefore I had no time to really think about what it is that I wanted to express, what I wanted to say... which directly affects what I would create and sell. I felt as though I was pressed for time... I became a student again at 28/29 years old, not earning an income anymore and I was terrified. I started Project MIRRO in a rush to "save" myself. I painted and created just for the sake of launching something by September 2018 as that was the "timeline" and "target" I had placed on myself.
Theres good and bad doing things that way. The good thing is - I started something, I didn't delay and procrastinate, I had no time for self doubt or fear, no time for dilly dally, it was "launch or die" for me. I needed to start making a full time income from doing Art full time. I had no more bosses or team. It was all on me. I was back at my parents house after a decade of living independently on my own and being financially stable. I really needed it to work so that I could prove to myself that I could earn a living in this field everyone said was "risky" and get my own studio etc etc. So many things were on the line for me.
And so I set the launch date, whipped up a website, created / painted as much as I can without thinking much and launched the business. Sales were slow at first but soon, I started getting projects. I was saying yes to everything, stretching myself as thin as possible, mural work, design work, lecturing final year degree students, art workshops, commissions, I did everything. I was getting jobs, and I was happy. But I was tired. And I was still "lost" when it came to my "identity as an artist" and Project MIRRO as a brand. I had no time to think about it, and every time I tried to decide or "figure it out", I still wasn't quite sure.
I did a lot of research about this. I wanted to know how other artists and brands decided on their "identity". A lot of them had figured themselves out before launching (brands, especially) and many artists just went with the flow. Going with the flow was something difficult for me. Coming from a Business Development / Marketing mindset, there's no such thing as going with the flow. You need a plan, and you need to execute the plan. You can't launch a brand / campaign / product without having a brand story to back it up with. But art doesn't work that way. It's all about the process, and you'll figure it out along the way - you just need to trust the process. In order to trust the process, you'll need to have faith in yourself and your work that you will one day reach a point and say "hey, this is me, this is what I wanna do, what I wanna say, what I wanna sell, and im confident about it"
At that point, I was having issues even posting a caption on Instagram! Is this really what I wanna say? Should I reveal my personality in the caption, or keep it simple and straight to the point? (For those who know me personally, I have a gregarious personality, and I can be over the top lol) But I was doubting myself a lot. I wasn't confident and I wasn't sure on how to present myself. I never even had a public instagram before that, so having to talk about me/ my work / to the public / strangers / the internet was DAUNTING. Thankfully, I was well aware that I just wasn't used to this "public life" (chey macam celebrity je #over) and that I would eventually get more comfortable about posting my work online, handling criticism and feedback and basically just exposing myself.
A lot has happened since that point. It's been about 3 years. I feel as though I know myself better now, and I am confident about what I want to say /create/ produce / sell. It took a lot of "trusting the process" and thrusting myself into uncomfortable situations. It took a lot of mistakes as well. Biggest mistake was disregarding my health for work. Second mistake was thinking I had to be productive all the time (equating making art to writing a report). Third mistake was trying to do things the conventional way.
The biggest lesson I learned about being an Artist is that it is not the same as being a Marketer. I cannot think the same way. I had to unlearn so much of that in order to be free and liberated to create. To create without an outcome, to create without a target. I just needed to create and enjoy myself. Doesn't seem like a hard thing to do, but it was so hard for me. I couldn't switch off my mind most of the time, and that affected my ability to explore and make mistakes. I kept thinking, I need to sell this painting. What do people like? What would sell? I should be like this artist or that artist. Here I was trying to "find my identity" but I was busy comparing my work to other artists. I was doubting whether or not my work was "acceptable" to the public and "sellable". I stopped doing that after a while because I realized I wasn't being "me" while trying to be everything to everyone.
I decided a break was needed in order for me to "find myself". I was still juggling so many projects and churning out so much, it was impossible to work on my own art if all my time was for my clients. I carefully planned and saved up for a break. Then Covid happened, and I was forced to take a break earlier than expected. I still had some projects here and there but I FORCED myself to do nothing most of the time. My thinking was that, I am always on the go almost all of my working life, my brain functioning at maximum capacity all of the time. I knew that was the reason I wasn't able to figure it out. There was too much noise. What would happen if I stopped working? I was curious to see what revelations or perspectives that would crawl out of my subconscious if I was still and idle for a period of time. I was curious to see how my art would turn out, if I could figure out my "identity" or at least a direction I wanted to go in, I wanted to see if I could "hear" myself, my inner voice. I wanted some clarity about my work. Ive been creating non stop for years, and I wanted once and for all, to know what im actually all about.
I've been reflecting all the while, this entire year, and I think I found my answer to my questions. It took me about 6 months of on and off breaks to get to the point where i'm clear about myself and my work. The answer was so simple, and pretty anti-climatic : whatever I create and produce, that's me. I was so busy trying to "find an identity" that my identity has been facing me in the face for so long. I just needed to add a layer of meaning and confidence to it, for it to be valid (which was the hard part). In short, I needed to validate my own work. I also had to put in the hours and have a body of work for me to "see" my identity, see the patterns. What works for me, what doesn't. These things take time. I already found a "style" that I was searching for (it was whatever that came out of my paint brush) My break helped me realize what I actually enjoyed, what I didn't enjoy, and what I naturally gravitated towards. When I wasn't busy trying to accommodate to my clients requests all the time, I was made aware of what I REALLY liked. This was a whole process and it was quite a journey.
I also learned that, whatever I produce naturally, meaning, for fun, just for the sake of doing it (not trying to practice something or thinking too much) always had the best reception. Whatever I created because I liked it, got sold much faster, had the most likes / engagement / inquiries / commissions. Whatever I created because I wanted to "experiment" being someone else, did not receive as much positive feedback. Whatever I created in a hurry because I had a deadline, also did not receive positive feedback. So I learned that I just had to be myself and do things at my own pace. Only then everything came into place, and everything became much easier. I cant rush myself. Art just cannot be rushed. Art is not a marketing report (stuff I tell myself when I find myself rushing) I was glad that I separated Project MIRRO, the brand, and me, the artist. I also started @mirronotes, a place where I could express all my rants (mostly silly poems and musings in Manglish) which is also separate from my brand and art. I realized that I really do enjoy this other side of my "expression" that doesn't necessarily fit into what I usually do. But hey, all of my "expressions" are part of my "identity", so why suppress it? Surprisingly, what started of as me being silly and playing around, Mirro Notes started to get a life of its own, and its own followers. I now sell Mirro Notes merch as well, as requested by my new followers (all ma sisterss) Who would've thought my random (dumb) journal entries would amass thousands of shares?
I learned quickly that I can't work like a brand, drop art / products every season, do campaigns constantly - basically sell my art like in retail. It just doesn't work the same. For context I studied Marketing and Management, specializing in Retail Management. My brain has been conditioned that way for so long, and it took a while to break away from that thinking.
Now, I create when I want to create, what I want to create - be it a MIRRO's Garden Painting, a MIRRO-fied Disney illustration or a silly poem on Mirro Notes- I would give myself creative freedom to do whatever, but I would have a deadline to stop. Then I would have a phase where all I do is work on the webshop and sell the art I made during my "creative incubation" Then I close shop again and focus on creating. It's not a conventional way of running a business, but it seems to be working for me, for now. I want to keep the business lean, as I dont want to hire / have people depend on me. I want to be able to do what I want, when I want, and not have to set targets and be pressured to make sales. It's easier to do that when you're a one woman show, with no one depending on you. I hire as and when I need extra help. Figuring this out has helped me tremendously in understanding what I want out of Project MIRRO, my processes and the most efficient way for me to work. It also helped me ENJOY creating again, without the stress of constantly having to manage the webshop and orders at the same time.
I feel much more confident about where im headed now. I finally have a direction that im confident and excited about. I feel like I know what I want to say about my work (captions and artists statements are getting way easier) I have so many new ideas on what to paint and create. I am also (yet again) moving to a new studio. I had the opportunity this year to have a shared studio space with amazing artists (Sherwan Rozan, Haris Rashid, Bono) but Covid made it hard for us to be in the same space and work together (interstate travel bans, needing to be with family etc) I learned so much from them in such a short period of time but it is now time to move on.
Project MIRRO won't have its own studio anytime soon, as I am still developing and preparing for (hopefully) a permanent studio space by the end of 2021. It won't be in the city either. My next adventure will be the biggest one yet, and im ECSTATIC to see how my work would develop should I be taken out of the city and placed into a new environment. Many more things will change. I have come to terms that every time something happens to my personal life, my art life / work life will consequently adjust itself too. That's what happens when "you are your work" I wont say much more about whats to come, mainly because it's too much in its early stages and development, but I will say, that if I manage to pull it off, it will be EPIC. It is what I had wanted since forever. I will have a new set of challenges, but i feel more ready to take it on now that I have a clearer direction on what I want to do, my identity, where im gonna go. I will be posting more about this when the time is right.
For now, my webshop www.projectmirro.com will be relaunched soon (or launched already, depending on when I post this up) so do check it out! I will be posting new items in stages so expect new goodies every week! Thank you for reading my looooong update everyone. I just had to share! Hope you like all my new stuff! Let me know if you do, slide into my DM's haha. Have a great week ahead!