Today’s #inspirations4aspirations interview guest is @Pariswinkleart
I first met Pariswinkle Art (aka Crystal) a number of years ago in a drama class. Later, she was one of the first people I knew in real life to share their artwork online. It has been amazing to see how much she’s progressed since then. When I joined Instagram, she was the very first person to share my work in a story (back before I understood what a story was).
Crystal’s character portraits have an emotion to them that I really admire. Her use of shading and linework make her art very interesting and eye catching. She works in both digital and traditional mediums. She is also an avid storyteller, crafting characters for a comic series she hopes to someday make. She fashioned the white haired elf, Pariswinkle, who represents Crystal online.
For many years, she has studied Japanese language and culture (and is often invited to participate in local cultural events). In addition to art, she also does Japanese calligraphy.
Given her frequent character portraits I looked to one of the oldest forms of portraiture: coinage. This piece is inspired by a never released to circulation 1656 coin depicting then British Isles ruler Oliver Cromwell in a roman style. Cromwell remains the only non-monarch ever shown on the British Pound.
Pariswinkle Art: in her own words
I was born and raised in the U.S., specifically a city in northern Florida. As a child, I was always very into crafting and painting, and as my finer motor skills developed, I added drawing to the growing list of artistic interests that I had.
From a very young age, I can remember wanting to tell stories, or wanting to express ideas. I think my interest in drawing characters stemmed from that, as well as playing with different aesthetics that these characters could have.
I started to get more serious about it in 7th and 8th grade, but I really decided to take my art seriously around the age of 13. After that, it sort of spiraled into what I’m currently doing: illustrating, and writing comics, with hopefully characters that feel like real people, even if they themselves are nothing more than words on a page or brushstrokes and lines on a canvas.
When did you start creating digital work?
I started at around age 14 or 15, when I got my Wacom Bamboo Create tablet, back in either 2013 or 2014. For a while, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and continued to prefer traditional media for a while. But after I started to watch more tutorials, and practiced a bit more, my usage of my tablet became more frequent, especially around 2016.
Do you think you prefer digital or traditional media?
I’m honestly not entirely sure. While I like the convenience of being able to edit things without the risk of them being permanent in digital, I also love the feeling of pencils and brushes on paper, and the look of real watercolours. It’s a toss up for me, honestly, despite having done more digital than not in the past few years. But I’m hoping to blend the two more often, so that I can keep doing traditional work without fear of making minor mistakes.
What program do you use for your digital work?
When I started out, I was using two programs that came with my Bamboo Create tablet: Photoshop Elements 9, and Sketchbook Pro (I believe). But as I started to explore more, I found programs like Medibang Paint Pro, which was free, and I fell in love with it. I still use it to this day on my iPad Pro. But now I also have two other programs that I switch between, and although Medibang is often my go-to, sometimes I’ll switch to Procreate or to Clipstudio Paint when there is something that I can’t figure out how to do on Medibang, or if there is a certain tool or brush or feature that I like better on either of those programs.
Where did you learn your shading techniques?
Heh, various artists, to be honest. There’s quite a few digital painting tutorials out there, and I’ve found them incredibly helpful. I’ve also learned a lot from other artists that I follow, a few of them being friends of mine.
What inspired you to start sharing your work online?
I can point to a handful of very specific artists for my inspiration for wanting to display my work online, when I first started out: Lachri Fine Art (Lisa Clough), Lenayga, Draw with Jazza (Josiah Brooks), and Baylee Jae, just to name a few. But Lachri and Jazza I suppose were the catalyst to me jumping into the online world, in terms of my art. Lenayga inspired me with their beautiful digital art, Jazza, more so for the art tutorials themselves back when he exclusively made them, Lachri for her surrealistic oil painting and portrait speed paintings on YouTube, as well as her advice for making a profitable self-managed art business. Finally, Baylee Jae was sort of a mix between Jazza and Lachri for me, offering both tutorials and advice for getting started on YouTube and other platforms for sharing art.
Are you ever scared to put your work and videos out there?
Sometimes, yes. I’m not a political artist, nor do I ever want to be, but I do worry that some of the art I make could be disturbing to someone emotionally. Sometimes I just worry about rude comments, or my art being stolen for unauthorized use. But overall, I would say I’m not too scared of it. I make sure to upload medium to low quality images, so that they can’t be stolen and reused easily. As for the subjects of the pieces themselves, I just tend to hope that my viewers aren’t sensitive or vulnerable to the kind of graphic imagery I tend to depict in my work.
Who is Pariswinkle and what is her story?
Pariswinkle had actually started out as another character of mine; she was originally supposed to be a mage, and had eventually morphed into the persona I decided to identify myself with in the art world. And because of that, she and I are practically the same now.
Originally, I had wanted to tell a story with her as well, but I think now she’s too intertwined with my identity as an artist to separate for something like that. And to be quite honest, I quite like being represented by a white haired elf, who surrounds herself with mystical spirits. Perhaps I’ll hint toward or expand upon that with future artwork someday.
Where does the elf part come from? What influenced you to draw this species of being? Lord of the Rings? Legend of Zelda? etc.?
Most specifically Zelda, but I’ve always loved the elven race, as a concept and as an aesthetic. There’s something elegant and otherworldly about the elves, and they’re fun for me to draw too. I also figured having something like that to represent me would act as a short hand way to express that I love and draw a lot of fantasy scenes and characters.
Shifting gears a little bit, what got you interested in Japanese culture?
Now that’s an interesting story. Funnily enough, I would say it started with the media I grew up watching as a child, and with Animal Crossing of all things. I remember learning my first word, こんにちは (konnichiwa, good afternoon), from one of the rare lines of dialogue from one of the villagers in my copy of Animal Crossing. It just stuck out to me as odd, and I’ve held onto that memory and the word since.
But I think what really got me into the Japanese culture was watching an anime that a friend had recommended to me at the time when I was about 11 years old, or so. I was watching a few episodes on YouTube, and had accidentally clicked a sub (subtitles) version, instead of the English dub, not knowing what the difference was at the time.
At first, hearing a different narrator at the beginning of the episode in a different language, I nearly clicked off the video to find an English dub. But I remember pausing once I started listening to the narrator a bit more, and seeing that the subtitles were in English, rather than what I normally saw would be in Español (which I cannot read or speak). I remember very distinctly finding the narrator’s voice oddly captivating, and the language that he was speaking incredibly intriguing to me. So I stayed with that video to hear more. From then on, I would exclusively watch the rest of the series with subtitles, and then a few more series. Eventually, I was picking up little words here and there, as well as bits of the Japanese culture (not a lot, but some).
When my mother found out one day what I was doing, she found a tutor for me who began teaching me words, and giving me other listening material to practice what I was learning. And not long after that, I was introduced to yet another tutor, who I am still in contact with now. We began working off and on for a few years, until I got into Florida State University’s Japanese program, where I was welcomed incredibly warmly, both by the dean of the department and the professors, as well as other students. All of this before I’d even graduated high school. I studied for about four years or so, and began studying Japanese calligraphy with a local master in my town, who would–and still does–invite me to volunteer at various Japanese cultural events here in town.
What does it feel like when you do Japanese calligraphy?
It’s hard to describe without really going into depth about the process itself. But it is essentially something one needs to be in a very focused and peaceful mindset to do; every aspect of it is meditative, from the mixing of the ink, to the brushstrokes or pen strokes themselves.
It’s rather unlike anything else I’ve studied. In art, you can be as chaotic and sporadic as you want, and work at whatever pace suits best. But in calligraphy, you need to sit down and be calm, in order to have your lines and strokes come out well. It’s definitely taught me something about living in the moment, and appreciating the little mundane processes of things, which I think was part of the purpose of it.
A few years ago you actually visited Japan. Can you talk about that experience and what it meant to be surrounded by the culture you studied?
Oh gosh, where would I even start… It was definitely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, in the best of ways. I’ve travelled before, and I’ve been outside of the U.S. before, but never so far away from home, and I’d never been overseas before. The time of year we picked most likely contributed to this, but I very clearly remember the atmosphere and the vibe just feeling very serene, and oddly peaceful despite the chaos of travel on barely any sleep. We went the day after Christmas, and I got to spend the New Year over there, during the Japanese week long New Year, or お正月 (oshougatsu). I spent about two weeks there, and went from Hokkaido all the way down to Osaka, and I got to see a glimpse of some of the different sides of Japan and how the people are.
It’s weird, you usually hear about experiencing culture shock when you go to a new country, or just someplace new in general. I honestly felt more culture shock coming back home than I did in Japan. I felt at home there. I felt safer there than I ever did here. The people are very polite, as is how their culture is in general, and they seem to light up with excitement if you show that you can speak and comprehend the language (which I am by no means an expert at, and I feel bad for the poor employees at the airport we first arrived in). A lot of them seem to be very helpful too, more than an American citizen might be, which again, probably stems from their culture.
There’s so much to touch upon for that visit, and I’d love to go back again.
Do you think you approach art differently after all these years studying Japanese language and culture?
Hmm, possibly. It’s hard to really pin point anything that might have directly influenced my process, other than the signature I use or the style that I work in, or adding Japanese writing to some of my pieces. I do want to bring in more of the aesthetic into my work, and I think I’ve started to with some recent characters of mine. I would honestly have to ask other people if they’ve noticed anything in my artwork that resembled that.
What lessons do you think creatives (or people in general) can learn from Japanese culture?
Oof, that’s a good question, and I think there’s a lot that one can learn from them.
With art specifically, patience and diligence. I’m a perfectionist by nature, but their culture also encourages one to perform to the best of their ability. There’s also something to be said about the artwork and styles that have come from Japan throughout their history.
So I would say keeping oneself in the present, appreciating the meditative process that creating art brings with it, and that doesn’t have to be exclusively fine art; yes the end result is always important, but if I’ve learned anything from calligraphy (and my own work), it really shows in the final product if you took your time or not, or allowed yourself to experience the process of creating it. Finding the beauty, and appreciating that beauty, in even the smallest of details is something that I’ve noticed is prominent as well.
For people in general, I would say this: every culture has its dark side, even Japan. I would not idolize one culture above others, but rather find what about it speaks to you personally, what draws you to it, and explore all of it that you can, learning whatever lessons you can glean.
And in my experience with Japan, that has been a process of learning to ground myself in the moment, admiring the world around me, and opening my mind to other perspectives aside from my own. Putting others above oneself is a huge motif in Japanese culture, and I think a lot of people could stand to learn from that mentality. Of course, that comes with it a dark side of self neglect, which I wouldn’t condone or recommend for anyone. Without rambling much more, it’s about finding a balance, and I think that Japan for all its faults, their culture does try to strive for that in many aspects.
If it’s alright, I want to talk about a tricky subject: cultural appropriation. Obviously, you are being respectful of Japanese culture and in your case you are actually being invited to participate in the local cultural events. So more in general: how does one find the balance between honoring a culture that inspires you and stealing from that culture?
That’s perfectly fine to ask. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m really qualified to be an authority on that, because I wasn’t raised with the culture myself, and am not Japanese. But with all of my research and studies, I would say that the best way to avoid “appropriating” a culture is by, well, studying it, and really getting to know what something means to that culture.
Does that mean you can’t use something for your own purposes? Absolutely not. But it does mean that if someone picks out something to use, like say, a word, just because it sounds or looks cool, chances are that word (or whatever it is that’s being used) is being taken out of context, with no respect given to it, even if it’s as silly as overusing the word 可愛い (kawaii, cute), or something more culturally significant.
The Japanese seem to be the most lenient about that, because they enjoy whenever anyone takes an interest in their culture and language (from what I’ve observed). But it always helps to know why you’re using something from another culture. Yes, it could just be because it’s cool, but you need to know why it is the way it is. A subversion is always a fun take on a cultural norm or something from the culture, but a subversion only works if you know what you’re subverting, and that goes for anything, not just culture.
In a 2018 video you talked about how you were unable to finish that year’s Inktober. And you said, “…failure isn’t always a bad thing. It teaches you and tests you.” How do you know when to give up on something you’re passionate about and move forward?
I think it depends on what it is, to be honest. If it’s a challenge like Inktober, then obviously one needs to prioritize their everyday living, or school, or work above that challenge. That was a case where I had to do exactly that, and I knew I was going to be a perfectionist and overly ambitious about each piece for each day.
I suppose the simplest and most flexible, applicable way to look at it is that, one has to realize their strengths and weaknesses, and work out their priorities in their life, as well as what they realistically can and cannot do. That doesn’t mean if someone has a dream to do something ambitious that they need to give up at the first sign of trouble; it just means that, to that person, that goal needs to be something they believe to be worthwhile. Inktober isn’t always worth compromising a daily schedule or neglecting school/work.
Your character portraits display a variety of emotions. What emotions do you experience when you make them?
First I’d like to say that I’m glad that it’s noticeable to other people besides just me, because I worry that I don’t push the expressions enough. But to answer your question, it really depends on each piece, and then mind frame I’m in when I’m working on them. Sometimes I’m perfectly content and excited to work on something heavy and dark, and then other times I will start a piece to ventilate my own emotional state; but I don’t tend to finish artwork all in one sitting, so I don’t always carry over the same feeling that I started off with.
My emotions can range from calm to excited, inspired, experimental, hopeful or even hopeless, powerlessness, anxiety, anger, sadness, grief, etc. And typically, whenever the inciting emotion wears off, I tend to just be calm or hyped to finish a project that I’ve started. If that makes any sense.
I should probably also mention that, even if I myself am not experiencing an emotion related to the piece when I start it, I listen to various music with a variety of tones and moods. So that can also affect how the piece comes out.
I aspire to create work that challenges, inspires, and comforts people.
1 Why do you create?
I have a lot of emotions and scenes in my head that I want to depict. Be they scenes from a story that I’m writing, or something I feel could have an emotional impact on someone, or just something to release my own feelings.
But whatever I’m doing, I like when I can elicit some sort of emotional response within whoever views my art, as most of my favourite pieces do for me. Be it positive, or resonating with some negativity.
I always seek to create something that would inspire myself to work, and hopefully others as well (though I hope I don’t sound pretentious when I say that).
When life gets you down what inspires you to get back up?
That’s a very good question, and I’m not really sure how to answer it. But I suppose I’m “inspired” by people who I’m close with who have gone through similar situations; I guess I get sort of a second wind after talking it out and reminding myself that things can get better.
You’ve studied Japanese language and culture for several years. Why do you think it’s important to learn about other cultures?
Learning about other cultures gives you a glimpse into other mindsets and opinions you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Most people tend to believe their way of thinking or their own culture is “right” or “normal”, and while it may be normal for them, but if they studied another culture they may find that their ways of thinking, acting, speaking, etc, are all quite foreign to someone else.
It’s good for expanding the mind, and opening oneself to more opportunities to be compassionate, and give oneself a more varied library to pull from for writing, art, or whatever. More than that, I feel it’s quite an enriching experience to learn about how other people live, especially when you find a culture that really resonates with your being. People say “ignorance is bliss”, but it does more harm than good when it comes to socialization, psychology, and art.
What is the importance of storytelling?
Stories have always been a part of every culture, and it’s fascinating to really sit down with them and study why each one is so important to the cultures they came from. They can teach lessons, explore concepts both positive and negative, that otherwise one couldn’t explore, or can do so in a safe manner; they play with the imagination, and make all sorts of things possible, from the mundane to the outlandishly fantastical.
They can serve a purpose, teaching morals, or delving into certain themes or topics, or they can be just for fun, playing with concepts and “what ifs”.
I think it can also be wonderful for critical thinking and for writing practice, as well as a release for anyone who wishes to write them. And in a lot of cases, they can inspire others to create, or if the characters or the scenarios really hit home for someone, can help them identify with who they might perceive as a role model for themselves, if they don’t already have one. Or even provide entertainment or escapism from something in someone’s life.
And circling back to the culture aspect, they’re a vital tool for discerning morals and beliefs held by different time periods, depending on where they come from. I could go on, but I think I’ve rambled enough on that.
Stories have all kinds of applications, and they can be interpreted in so many different ways. And I think they’re important because of the reasons I listed, and perhaps even more that I didn’t touch upon.
Many thanks to my inspiration and aspiration, @Pariswinkleart.
I’m John Lhotka, wishing you a nice day, and all that jazz.