Sophie Peterson: An Artist’s Journey Toward Radical Acceptance

Sophie Peterson, a 24-year-old from Long Grove, Illinois, can pinpoint the exact moment she knew she wanted to become an artist. It was after she won a drawing contest in third grade. After that, she would frequently attend the Art Institute of Chicago with her parents and try to recreate the paintings in her notebook. At eight years old she was no Picasso (she says the drawings were “terrible”) but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the art. 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, Sophie faces her feelings of anxiety and depression

Over the years, Sophie admits she temporarily left behind her artwork for fear it would lead to an unprofitable career. She majored in international studies at Colorado State University but it wasn’t until she briefly left college that she rediscovered her love for art and used it to help cope with PTSD, anxiety and her decade-long battle with bulimia nervosa. 

“For the entirety of my recovery journey, art has been the one thing to keep me stable and has led me to have these revelations to see where I am in my mental health and where I am in my recovery,” she says. 

Sophie hopes that her work will encourage others to talk about their mental health

“I remember when I was in art therapy, sitting with a ball of clay trying to mold it and I burst into tears because I couldn’t get it. That was the moment I recognized that I had problems that needed to be resolved.” 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, she faces these issues head on and encourages others to do the same. The inspiration came at the end of her college career, a time when she was unsure of the path ahead and anxious about her future. So, she took her stress, fear and anxiety and channeled it into a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession through repetitive details and mark making. 

“My goal is to talk about my own experiences and let people in on the fact I was really not okay for a period of time and I figured out a way to work through that without using fun, self-care tactics,” she says. “I want people to know they aren’t the only ones going through this.” 

Sophie has always tried to be as authentic as possible with her work, which speaks to the experiences she has gone through with her mental health journey and what it’s like to feel “in your own head” all the time. 

Radical Acceptance is a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession

As someone who suffered from an eating disorder for an extended period in her life, Sophie says she that her work also focuses on depression and the inability to see yourself the way other people see you. 

“My experiences are really definitive of what my art stands for,” she says. “I want people to look at the work and put their own thoughts onto it. But once they hear the story behind it, they seem to open up and talk about their own experiences, which has been extremely gratifying.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness a year. Despite the common nature of mental illnesses occurrence, sharing individuals’ experiences with it remain a stigmatized topic.

Sophie and her boyfriend

Sophie and her boyfriend

With her art, Sophie is able to give people, who may not have the words to describe how they’re feeling, the tools for them to express themselves or identify why they may be feeling a certain way, which was the first step on Sophie’s road to recovery.

It’s been a long journey, but one Sophie says she wouldn’t change. “In general, there are time when I look back and think, ‘I wish I would have done this differently,’ but when I reframe thinking in terms of where I was at mentally and the trajectory that I’ve been on, I don’t think I have any regrets – life is what it is.” 

She laughs knowing how cliché it sounds, but also realizing how true it is, especially for her and so many others around the world. 

“The best part is when the audience kind of falls into a piece and puts their own interpretation on the artwork,” she says. “It might lead them to think about certain memories or experiences, which can help start a conversation about how they’re feeling. I don’t care if people love my work or not, but if people are talking about their mental health, then that means I’ve done something for them.”

To find out more about Sophie Peterson, follow her on Instagram.

Connection Is Key for Chicago-Based Music Duo Zigtebra

There’s a unique sound behind Chicago-based band Zigtebra’s music. Self-described as lo-fi indie rock, you can’t help but move to it. But it’s not just the synthetic beats or spunky lyrics that make the music mesmerizing. After talking with Emily Rose, 28, and Joe Zeph, 34, the “dream pop duo” behind the band, I quickly learned how their love for the music translates to their audience, making even a newcomer to the sound love their music too. 

Joe grew up in church and was therefore exposed to music at an early age whereas Emily’s background is in dance. But although delayed in formal music training, Emily’s passion for music has always been present, which is apparent in her dedication to the craft. 

In 2017, Zigtebra wrote one new song every month of the year and went on a 120-day summer tour. The following year they toured for nine months playing house shows and alt spaces around America. 

Emily described the tour as a learning experience that was “totally personal” and “satisfying.” She says, “It was the best kind of hard work. I would rather show up to that kind of hard work than hard work I’m not passionate about. That year changed everything. It grew me more than anything I had ever done.” 

That year, Joe and Emily started writing songs together – a process that transformed their songwriting journey. All of their music comes from personal experiences they’ve gone through whether it’s “scorching heart ache or longing.” 

Emily says, “The coolest part about our music is that it’s not the story that we own. It’s a story everybody knows and we want to write music that people can hear and think this is how I feel because falling in love, being dumped or missing somebody is a universal thing we all go through.”

“When you realize your friends or even strangers have felt the same jealousy heartache, loss and embarrassment, it brings everyone together and I really love that – it makes me feel a little bit closer to everybody.” 

And that’s what Emily and Joe want fans to get from their music – simply knowing they aren’t alone in whatever they’re going through, no matter how good or how bad. 

Emily, who doesn’t come from a music background, also says she hopes people feel empowered to share their creative or artistic ideas with others.

“I never want to come across as pretentious or too cool,” she says. “I want to feel connected to everybody because that’s what makes me really happy is going to shows where the artist is accessible.” 

She adds, “We always try to come on stage already thinking we’re connected to the audience instead of feeling self-conscious about how we look or what we’re doing.”

And by doing that, Emily and Joe have created a space where anyone and everyone can feel free to be themselves and connect with one another through their shared loved of music. 

Emily and Joe have come a long way since they first started making music and performing together, and in terms of their career, they still have a long way to go until they make it “big” so to speak, but they’re eager to see what the future holds and look forward to seeing it through with their fans. 

“In two years, it would be great to have an album made that I am in total love with,” Emily says. “To be able to go further and deeper down the hole and extend beyond the release of Major Crush.”

She adds, “If you start with realism and then go toward expressionism, Major Crush was our realism phase. We passed art class 101 and now we’re going onto weirder stuff.” 

And as for what’s next on the agenda, Emily and Joe would both love to sign to a record label and go on tour through Europe. 

They’re big dreams but dreams that don’t seem that far-fetched. Emily tells me she knew when she met Joe that they were going to make music together for a long time. 

“Everyone knows how that is,” she says. “When you have a friend that gets the same things you get and are curious about the same stuff. Regardless of what people thought of Zigtebra, we both knew it was going to be something we loved and that it wasn’t going to be perfect but we were going to do our best to make it get there.” 

The process hasn’t been easy. They’ve sacrificed a lot along the way and they’ve had their fair share of challenges, but it’s been worth it. 

“In this moment, we’re better than we ever have been in our craft,” she says. “And we can only continue to get better from here.” 

Find out more about Zigtebra on their website or Bandcamp. Follow along on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Andy Warhol Foundation Expands Grant Program to Cleveland and Denver

For budding artists and their communities, getting a foot in the door can be difficult. There is no set and defined pathway for an artist to become successful and until artists figure out how to monetize their work, money can often be a barrier to entry for artists who haven’t yet had their first commission or big sale. Fortunately for Cleveland and Denver area baristas with dreams of making it in the art world, the Andy Warhol Foundation is expanding their grant writing program to their cities!

Artists and art communities in the Cleveland and Denver area now have the opportunity to apply for grants provided by the Andy Warhol foundation for the Visual Arts. The foundation’s regranting program has a reputation for focusing on small artists and collectives that may otherwise fall under the radar.

There are currently twelve of these programs, located in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Portland, and now thanks to the recent expansion, Cleveland and Denver too.

Grants are available for as much as $10,000. These grants help small artists and communities who might otherwise be unable to complete their projects. An example of this is the, “A Color Removed” project. It focuses on removing the color orange from Cleveland. While this may not make sense to the average person, it is really a conversation about deconstructing symbols (orange is a symbol for safety) and coming up with new ways to make a safer city.

The grants have also helped small art communities pay rent, purchase supplies, throw gallery events, put down new sidewalks, grant wheelchair access, and much more. These grants are vital to artists who might not be focused on the high profile, attention getting exhibits that most grants tend to favor.

The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts plans to distribute $1.4 million to various programs. Most of the money will go towards grants, but a significant amount will also go to the programs doing the regranting, in order to pay for overhead and general outreach.

The Regional Regranting Program has been around a surprisingly long time. The program has been ongoing since 2007, and has so far delivered over 6.4 million dollars to various organizations. $3.6 million of this provided direct support to as many as 848 artist projects.

The money has brought attention to many small scale artists, and put a spotlight on topics as unique as the opioid epidemic among commercial fishermen, topics that might never have been noticed without these art projects to draw attention to them.

Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, had this to say about the project, “Informal experimental artistic practice comprises the majority of visual arts activity in this country, yet is often overlooked and lacks existing mechanisms for funding, which tend to favor high profile exhibitions at large institutions. We are confident that the expansion of the program and the reinstatement of The Grit Fund will introduce many new innovative and public-facing artist projects into the grassroots arts communities of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Denver.”

Thanks to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts artists in the Cleveland and Denver area can now begin to imagine the possibilities of increasing the scale of their work as well as take advantage of an opportunity to sustain the work that they have already been doing. Either way, the program is guaranteed to further its positive impact with this planned expansion.

You can learn more about the Andy Warhol Foundation here.

How the Environment Influences Yeisy Rodriguez's Art

A creative household 

Yeisy Rodriguez is probably one of the most socially conscious 20-year-olds you’ll ever meet. She’s educated on subjects such as climate change and animal cruelty and hopes to teach others about their lasting effects on the environment. But her teaching methods don’t involve lectures or waxing poetic on YouTube videos. No, her methods are much more creative. 

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Yeisy was born in Miami to Cuban parents who moved to Florida in 1995 to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. Her parents had family in the U.S., which made the transition easier but they still had to adjust to speaking English and living in an unfamiliar country. 

Yeisy’s parents encouraged her love for the arts and animals. The Rodriguez family went beyond the “must love dogs” mantra as pets also included birds, cats, dogs, hamsters and bunnies. When she was seven years, Yeisy also started discovering her inner artist by attending art and painting classes. 

At 14 she began to question what she wanted to pursue as a career, but as she delved more into her art, which she says started out as a hobby, she realized that art had become her calling.

“I didn’t think I would do it as a career,” she says. “When I went to college I had to choose a major and I chose art. It was easy because I would think of all the other things I could major in and none of them felt right.” But despite the easy choice, Yeisy still had her doubts because she knew little about the art world and had no idea where to draw her inspiration. 

Also at 14, Yeisy, like most girls that age, started wearing makeup. But unlike a typical teenager, questions would later surface about how her makeup products were being made. 

“I realized some makeup was not cruelty-free about two years into wearing makeup, and it was definitely a bit overwhelming and frustrating at times,” she says. “In some cases, finding replacements for certain items that had become staples in my routine was difficult but I was determined to only support cruelty-free brands.” 

Picture-perfect prevention 

Yeisy’s epiphany spurred her to research countless beauty companies and the ways to prevent cosmetics testing on animals. But it also urged her to create art that she hoped would raise awareness and most importantly educate people on some of these issues. 

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

“People aren’t choosing to be ignorant – they just don’t research,” she says. “I like to make that information more accessible. Pictures and visuals are easier for people to grasp and make more of a statement.”

Yeisy also likes incorporating numbers into her work and believes that when statistical information is presented visually, it can be “really impactful.” For example, her digital piece titled And then there were two is based off an article she saw in October 2017 that detailed how, because of a “record amount of summer sea ice and an unprecedented rainy episode,” all but two chicks of a colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins died of starvation in Antarctica. 

Another piece titled 99°, 99% also shows how rising temperatures are causing sea turtles to turn female. And while this may not seem like a big deal, scientists have started to question how the sea turtle population will sustain itself when, years from now, there’s a chance there will be no more males reaching adulthood. 

Stories such as these are a huge influence in her work, which features 2D and sculpture pieces, acrylic, water color, ink, graphite, prints, gouache and oil painting, which she says is her favorite medium to work with because she’s most “familiar” with it. 

“Climate change influences a lot of my work,” she says. “It impacts the penguins, the turtles – it’s very present.” 

According to the New York Times, scientists believe most and probably all of global warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases and if emissions continue to rise, warming could exceed eight degrees Fahrenheit, which would “transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population…and precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history.”

It’s a startling thought but one Yeisy hopes to bring attention to – even if it’s not overnight. “When people look at my work, I hope people learn something,” Yeisy says. “But I really hope it changes the way they do things. If at least one person can get that out of a piece I make, then I’m happy.”

An artist’s journey 

Yeisy’s art didn’t always have the same powerful message it does now. In fact, when she was entering college, she applied for the BFA program and didn’t get in because her work didn’t have an overall message. She spent the summer building her portfolio in the hopes of applying again but never did because she no longer felt like she needed the program to confirm that she was a great artist. 

“My work spoke for itself,” she says. “It’s become more specific and affective. I feel better putting more thought into it, which means the audience will put more thought into it.” 

Learning more about a particular subject has also allowed her to become more confident in her work and have a newfound appreciation for the craft. 

“I like that it’s [art] is an unique career. It’s something that people can look at and admire – like these animals,” she says. “I love the freedom of it and the ability to do what you want and have a voice.” 

Yeisy believes art’s role in society goes far beyond visual aesthetic. Artists, like any revolutionary, have a duty to speak to the world’s injustices – whether political, environmental or racial. 

“In the 20th century, a lot of Cuban artists made art about the government,” she says. “The same thing can be seen in Russia, Italy and other countries because art has always been used to spread a message and inform people.”

And while she realizes that a career as an artist may not be the most stable profession, for her, art isn’t about making money but rather making work that’s true to what she stands for. 

As for how she plans to do that, Yeisy, who graduated from Florida State University in May, wants to one day open her own art shop and have a portion of every sale go to a charity or organization that helps the environment or animals. Until then, she’s planning her next big art project (she would love to paint a mural for an organization that supports animals) and balancing working as a graphic designer and her art. 

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

It would seem like she has it all figured out but her assuredness didn’t come overnight. Her work comes from “finding my own way” and educating herself on the subjects that matter to her. But she wants people to know, that even if you’re not an artist or an activist, it’s okay. 

“It’s all about your actions,” she says. “If you’re in a creative field, it may be easier to express but making a difference starts with a small change in your life. You can volunteer or just encourage others to inform themselves so that they, in turn, can inform someone else. Life is chain reaction – if one person does something good, then maybe others will be inspired too.” 

For more information on Yeisy and her artwork, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.