Interview with interpretive park ranger Vivian Wang

Ever since I started watching documentaries about food waste, climate change, fast fashion and others, I began to really look at how my actions were in connection to these issues. I believe this really sparked my passion for nature more than I ever have. I developed a new appreciation for the world.

a Redwood tree I saw during my trip to the Redwoods

National parks and hiking locations became the focus for (almost) all my travels and as a result, saw the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen in my life. My trip to the Redwoods is a great example. Seeing the redwood trees in person was such a moving experience for me. I am specifically grateful for the helpful park rangers who informed us of some amazing hiking trails. Without their passion and knowledge, I think my time there would have been less fulfilling. I found out that one of the bloggers I follow happen to be a park ranger. That’s why I am happy to welcome Vivian Wang to this interviewing series.

Vivian works at Yellowstone National Park as an interpretive park ranger. She and her friend, Jennifer, also founded the website, Tinycaravan. Their passion for the environment and hiking is infectious. I asked Vivian if she could answer a few questions about what it’s like to be a park ranger and the experiences associated with that position. Check out her answers below :)

Connie: First thing, for those of us who don’t know, what is an interpretive park ranger?

Vivian: The goal of an interpretive park ranger (interp) is to positively enhance a visitor’s experience. We do that through leading ranger programs, helping at the front desk, answering general questions, and simply engaging with visitors throughout the park. We educate the public by allowing them to form their own intellectual and emotional connections to their surroundings and meanings to certain resources. We want you to learn, appreciate your surroundings, and ultimately, have a great time.

Vivian Wang in uniform (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

How did you decide on the path to becoming a park ranger and what is the process like if someone was interested in becoming one?

I love the outdoors and everything that comes with it. Ever since my trip to Yosemite three years ago, I became hooked on national parks. I’ve always thought it would be so cool to be a park ranger and live in a national park. You see them everywhere and they just looked so cool with their flat hat, badge, and uniform.  My co-worker saw an opening at Yellowstone and encouraged me to apply. I thought, “Eh, why not. The worst that can happen is that I get rejected. Not much to lose.” I applied and the rest was history. There are tons of different park ranger positions ranging from law enforcement to trail maintenance to wildlife biologist to interp. You can find park ranger positions at and type in ‘park ranger’. Depending on the position, there are different qualifications and requirements for them.

You mentioned in your blog (and with several beautiful photographs on your Instagram) that Zion National Park is your favorite, as well as, Yosemite being a second. How do these parks differ with others you’ve visited and why are they so special to you?

The first time I went to Zion, I was absolutely blown away. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of southern California where there are no massive red-colored rocks like Zion. Having never seen such natural structures like that, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked that a place like Zion existed — so sacred and special in every way. During that trip, my friends and I hiked Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and the Narrows; all challenging but so so fun. Combine my initial feeling and a memorable, thrilling trip, Zion tops the cake. Yosemite is special because it was where I found my calling for the outdoors. I had a lot of “firsts” with Yosemite. It was my first visit to a national park, my first time camping, first time seeing massive waterfalls (Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall), first time seeing tall tall trees, and first time hiking long full-day hikes. It was honestly a life-changing experience and part of the reason why my friend and I started Tinycaravan.

The Narrows of Zion National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

To have a fun, yet safe, experience while hiking, what are the tools and supplies one should carry with them during their trip?

The most important thing is water. Bring at least 2L of water or more depending on how long your hike is. For day hikes, I usually bring food (nuts, snack bars, sandwich), first aid kit, jacket, swiss army knife, map (depending on the hike), headlamp, sunblock, camera, trekking poles, and of course, water. It’s also important to wear the right clothing, socks, and shoes. Always check the weather and terrain of your hike.

Can you list some tips or advice about visiting national parks?

– Depending on which park you go to, their national park website is super helpful in planning your trip to one. It’ll answer most of your questions.
– Always check weather, road conditions/closures, and trail updates.
– Google Maps does not work well in national parks; a paper map is the way to go. The map park rangers give you at the entrance gate should be good enough.
– Read the newspaper they give you at the entrance gate. It has lots of useful information about the park, safety, service, and amenities.
– Respect the rules and regulations of the park. Simply doing this helps preserve the park for future generations.
– Pack your patience. If you’re going during peak season, expect large crowds. Avoid them by starting your day early.
– Don’t expect to have cell service or WiFi in or around the park. Enjoy the outdoors!

Vivian at Half Dome at Yosemite National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Is there any fun/interesting fact that you can share about being a park ranger that maybe most people don’t know?

Especially during the summer, there are lots of seasonal rangers. If you go early summer like around June, interp rangers only had about a month to prepare their multiple programs and cram as much information in their head. It may even be their first time in the park or presenting their programs so be nice to them; they’re trying really hard. In general park ranger don’t know everything; it’s impossible.

What does a typical day look like for you and what’s been the best thing about the position?

My schedule looks different everyday, but the tasks we do are similar every day. Each day we have certain hours on the desk, certain hours walking and talking with visitors around the district, and present at least one ranger-led program. The best thing about being interp is that you get to create your own programs however you want. There are certain layouts and information that you have to incorporate in your programs, but other than that it’s a free-for-all. In my programs, I always incorporated messages along the lines of sustainability, preservation, and visitor use in the park.

Yellowstone National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Were there any things that you learned about yourself or the environment that you did not know before obtaining a position at the Yellowstone National Park?

One thing that Yellowstone has taught me is the importance of keeping things wild. Yellowstone is big on keeping everything as natural as it is and as it should be. Sometimes when people go to national parks and see road signs, visitor centers, restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, they tend to forget that they are in a natural place. People start to have expectations that they should have cell service or WiFi or easy access to things you normally find in the city. It’s important to remember that you’re in nature where dangerous things can happen out of your control. I always say, “Expect the unexpected.” You never know what is going to happen so the best thing is to be prepared. One of the reasons national parks are so special is because there’s not a lot of these natural, wild places left on Earth — untouched by human civilization. These natural formations can’t be found elsewhere in the world. I can’t stress enough how important it is to preserve these places or really, what’s left of it. Though it can be annoying and frustrating, following park’s rules and regulations is key. There’s a reason why they are there, both for your safety and the park. If you’re going to Yellowstone, I highly recommend reading the book Death in Yellowstone. It’s a little morbid and dark at some points in the book, but I think it’s an eye-opening and necessary read for the public.

Lastly, if there was one thing you’d want readers to know or to do about the environment, what would that be?

To know that you play a large part in preserving these natural places even by visiting them. We rely on the environment for everything from food to shelter to medicine and more. Why would we not want to protect the only thing that can sustain life? There are so many beautiful natural places all over the world; take the time to simply appreciate it for what it is. Don’t get caught up in the social media and what you’ve seen or heard. Cherish the experience and make it your own. After that, leave it better than it was found so future generations can enjoy it too. The environment is an open space for everyone and that in itself is pretty great.

Vivian, I was excited to read your answers. I think a lot of us, including me, had very little idea of what a park ranger has to go through. Thank you for the care and work that you do!

To connect with Vivian, check out her Instagram account at @vivwangg.

Vivian Wang (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

My hope is that when more people expose themselves to the outdoors, they are willing to learn about the area, and then want to protect it.  – Vivian Wang

To see more interviews in this series, click here.

Interview with fashion designer Anine Paulsen

I truly appreciate and admire good design. It could be someone’s website, the architecture of a building, a handmade card, and even someone’s haircut. You get the idea. I love the details. I am almost too detailed-oriented (and do not confuse that with a neat freak, as I assure you, I am not). After seeing Anine’s clothing designs and eclectic pieces, I knew I had wanted to interview her. She’s intriguing to me because she thinks outside of the box and isn’t afraid to try different styles and use different materials.

Photograph from

To me, she represents boldness, creativity and hard work. Paulsen seems to always challenge herself. She reminds me of my mother, who isn’t a fashion designer professionally, but has had extensive experience in tailoring and creating pieces. Throughout my youth, my mom had knitted my sister and me sweaters (with alternating colors in zig-zags or rows), sewed and designed our bathing suits, made curtains and recently, summer shorts. It feels special to wear a handmade original piece. I have always had this tiny part of me who wishes I could sew and create my clothing, too. Maybe one day. I am inspired by these women because there is so much thought, time and patience that goes into good designing and creating and really, any dream worth making. I am so happy to welcome Anine Paulsen to this interviewing series.

Connie: Your style pieces are so unique and creative. How do you come up with your designs?

Anine: I get very inspired by the fabrics I use, and they usually “talk to me” (sounds cliché, I know) and tell me what to do with it. If I have an idea of what to make before going to the fabric store, I usually can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, so I like to have an open mind when shopping for fabrics. I always design something based on the mood I’m in that day, which means my designs can very fun and quirky one day, and more laid back and classic the next. No matter what I always have a vision in mind when designing, where I know how the final project is going to look like.

How did you first learn how to sew and what do you love most about it?

I’ve always enjoyed sewing growing up, but I didn’t really learn all the proper techniques until a couple years ago. I spent a lot of my time at my Grandma’s house, and she taught me everything I know today. She’s been sewing her whole life, and I definitely think I inherited my passion and drive from her.

What I love most about sewing is the ability to take a piece of fabric and transform it into something totally unique and one of a kind. After working on a piece for a long time, the feeling when it’s all done is indescribable. When I’m sewing I’m totally in my own zone, and I can go at it for hours without even realizing it.

AninePaulsenWebsitePhoto8Photograph from

You are originally from Norway, but you currently live in Arizona. What are some differences that you have noticed regarding fashion or style?

There are definitely a lot of differences when it comes to style and everyday fashion you see on the streets. Norwegian style is very minimalistic and “clean”, while people here definitely use more colors and prints, often mixed together. You also see a lot more dresses and looser fitted garments, not surprisingly because of the all-year-summer-weather here in Tucson.

Do you have any fashion icons you are inspired by?

I get very inspired by street style in general, and especially people who dares to dress a little different. I really love the girls behind the blog “” they just have a lot of fun when getting dressed, and I love how they combine sweet, funny and cool all in the same outfit. I’ve also always loved Audrey Rogers, Julie Sarinana and Mira Duma.

Can you tell us the moment in which you decided that you wanted to become a fashion designer?

It’s always been a big dream of mine, and I used to sketch outfits all the time when I was younger. I think the moment I realized it could actually be my future for real was when I started the blog and started sewing regularly a couple years ago. I got completely hooked, and haven’t stopped since. I don’t think I will ever find something I’m so passionate about, and I’m going to work hard to make fashion design a serious part of my life, and hopefully my career.

How would you describe your personal style and the fashion pieces you create?

My personal style is very similar to everything I make, as I’m always designing what I would want to wear myself. I would describe it as fun and playful ready-to-wear with a twist. I always strive to make something that isn’t already out there, and I like clothes that stands out a little in the crowd. I like making classic pieces, but use a bright fabric or interesting details to make it different.



Fashion seems to change often with many different perspectives and influences. What do you hope to see in the future of fashion?

I hope to see more of the 90’s style that is coming back in fashion right now. I love the colors, textiles and cuts that 90’s fashion is all about. I also want to see people have more fun with their outfits in the future, and not settle for a “uniform” – similar to what everyone else is wearing. We have to take more risks, especially in Norway where I’m from, and dare to stand out a little.

In one of your entries, you wrote, “After I started sewing regularly, I’ve barely bought a single garment and I’d rather make something I know will last and that feels more personal.” How has your life changed since making your own clothes? Do you DIY in other aspects of your life?

My life has definitely changed, especially when it comes to shopping. I value quality a lot more, and I always study how a garment is made before buying it. There is a lot of clothes out there that are really poorly made, something I never thought about before sewing myself. I also have a bigger appreciation for vintage, both when it comes to fashion and furniture. Just about everything in our apartment is bought at a thrift store, and we’ve spent a lot of time sanding down tables and repainting furniture. It’s so much more fun than to just buy a piece of generic furniture at IKEA.

Photographs from

What qualities does one need to have to pursue a career in fashion?

You need to have a serious interest in a specific part of the fashion industry, like photography, styling, writing, graphic design, researching and so on. There’s a lot more to fashion than just designing clothes, and there’s plenty of opportunities if you really have the drive to work hard. It’s a tough industry, and I think it’s important to be patient and optimistic, and never giving up.

Do we define our clothes or do our clothes define us?

I think both. What we choose to wear says something about how you want to be perceived by the world. But I also think what we wear sets the tone for how we feel during the day. If I wear something I feel comfortable in it can make my day so much better than if I don’t really like what I’m wearing. I’m sure not everybody has the same view, and many people will just grab whatever is at the top in their closet, but personally I think it makes a big difference.

AninePaulsenWebsitePhoto13Photograph from

After reading a few entries on your blog, I learned that you enjoy playing music when you sew. Which artists do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of different artist, but now my playlist mostly consists of Meghan Trainor, Miike Snow, Låpslei, Aurora, M83 and Sia just to name a few.

Do you have any future projects you are looking forward to next year?

I have one project that might happen, but it’s definitely not set in stone yet. It’s a secret though, so you’ll have to keep reading my blog to find out what it is ;)

Thank you so much, Anine! It was such a pleasure to hear your stories on sewing, the quality of fashion and all the aspects of your exciting adventure. I am looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future and wish you much success on your future projects.

If you’d like to check out more of Anine’s work, check out her website.

Interview with editor, photographer, director and filmmaker Kelly Teacher

taken by Kelly Teacher

I love art. I know that this is probably obvious already, but the reason may be less so. Love comes when I see a piece of art that tells me something; when it’s more than just the image my eyes see. That’s how I categorize pieces as “okay” to “good” to “amazing.” You know that feeling. There is depth. There is story. It feels familiar, nostalgic and enchanting. I came upon a few photographs that really caught the moments in time that are natural, spontaneous or unrehearsed; like laughing from a funny joke or admiring a beautiful landscape. I’m not sure how she does this, but I do know that Kelly Teacher is amazing at creating the feelings of humanity and reflects this through her photography, music videos and editing style. I am delighted to welcome Kelly to this interviewing series.

taken by Kelly Teacher

Connie: When and how did you decide that you wanted to do film and editing work?

Kelly: When I arrived at college, I started studying as a pre-med student, but all my friends and the people I surrounded myself with were cinema majors. Just being around them gave me the confidence to take the leap to be in a creative field. Editing is such a learned skill, I can’t imagine jumping into it and finding it fun, you really have to know the programs first and then it gets fun. It’s been really fun to work with so many musicians because I can work on multiple projects in a short amount of time and I’m building on top of their creative ideas. It’s always a fun experimental collaboration.

Do you have a set process when you are making a film or is it different each time?

I start by organizing, that’s always key, the prep you do before the creative stuff is probably the most important. But other than that it varies per project, sometimes a scene or a shot gets me really excited and I start there or other times if I’m not so inspired I organize more, until something clicks and I can see a bigger picture. I like talking to people and sharing ideas and getting second opinions, but sometimes I’m inspired enough to start going on my own. The best part about film, short, music videos, features, documentaries, is working with other people, getting feedback and discussing motivations behind the cuts or dialogue or whatever.

taken by Kelly Teacher

You directed the short film, Dinner, what was it like to direct while also being one of the stars of the film? Also, have readers missed their chance to see this?

I never want to direct and be in the same film! Dinner was really an experiment, something I could shoot for cheap at my parents house with friends. I used to act when I was a kid and really enjoy it, but trying to stay in the moment as your character and pay attention to the rest of the cast was almost impossible while directing. I’m sure it would get easier with more experience. But as a director you’re trying to think how each character’s lines and deliveries and actions and body language is going to fit into the story, the next shot, the overall scene. Definitely would love to work on more short narrative films, but maybe just as one or the other. It was a great learning experience for sure and I enjoyed every minute of it! I’ll post it on Vimeo eventually.

After watching the tour videos you directed, shot and edited for the bands, Bear’s Den and The Staves, I’ve become a new fan of their music and your work. How did you get involved with working with these bands?

I met The Staves and Bear’s Den on a tour in 2012. I was hired by my then boyfriend Marcus Haney to be the tour photographer, additional videographer and DIT while he directed a documentary about the tour. The doc is called Austin to Boston and it’s out on Netflix and most online distributors now! That tour was so much fun and I’m so lucky to have met so many amazing people both on screen and off screen from that experience.

taken by Kelly Teacher

What is it like touring with a band and what have you learned about yourself from this experience?

Touring is super fun but also really tiring and can be stressful. The days are really long, and you’re usually confined to the venue or a few block radius because there’s load in and sound check and then doors open. And you never know if the venue will have decent wifi. You have little privacy but it’s also easy to feel alone. But you make friends really quickly because you’re sandwiched in a car or bus with everyone. I’ve been lucky to see so many amazing places and get new friends in the process. I’m more confident of myself in strange places, being able to get from A to Z with less stress or just going for a stroll and not really knowing where I am. Being on tour you have to roll with the punches and not get stressed out if something gets canceled or pushed back or needs to be delivered in 1 hour. You realize you do the best you can and the rest is out of your control.

directed by Kelly Teacher

For those who are interested in studying film production, can you tell us a little bit about your background training and education?

I went to the University of Southern California for film and TV production. The School of Cinematic Arts there has amazing facilities and professors, but I think if you don’t know how to take advantage of that it doesn’t do you much good. Just because you sign up for a film education doesn’t mean you’re getting your money’s worth. You need to push yourself to take the classes you think you’ll enjoy and benefit from the most. I had to get a petition to take a graduate level editing class, but the silly thing was no such class was provided to undergrads. Learning how editing software works is without a doubt the most useful thing I learned in school. I think most of what you learn in school is confidence and practice and maybe friends and some connections. But as an undergrad in film production I was still figuring a lot of my life out and did not soak in everything I could have. Inside the classroom only really benefits you if you’re motivated to be working just as hard outside the classroom.

taken by Kelly Teacher
taken by Kelly Teacher

Your photographs are so beautiful and deep. They feel personal, casual and meaningful.  What does photography give you that filming and editing does not?

Thank you! Photography is closer to the heart for me, I feel you can’t get more personal with photography because it is literally what I’m seeing and choosing to show you. Motion picture and editing always has some form of deception to it, which is awesome and necessary because you need to convey a whole story. With photography, you’re only sharing a piece of the story, so it’s up to the viewer to make up the rest.

I think that’s why I tend towards analogue and documentary style photography over fashion or too much digital manipulation. When I look at other photographer’s work, sometimes it’s just a blend of the right colors and shapes and other times it moves me because of the person in the image or the subject matter. Photography feels innate, for some music is the easiest way to express themselves, for me it’s photography. It’s step one. Maybe someday I’ll feel as confident about films.

taken by Kelly Teacher

You currently live in New York.  Are you a native New Yorker? In your opinion, what’s the best thing about this state?

I am not a native New Yorker. I’m originally from Los Angeles, California and I moved to New York right after graduating college. I wanted a change and an opportunity to push myself and discover new things about myself by living far from home. It’s hard to see the best part about the state, but maybe it’s the seasons. Even when it’s disgustingly hot and humid, you know it’s summer so you take full advantage of summer things. You feel time more with the seasons and therefore you do more.

You recently worked on a documentary about musician Ron Pope. Why did you decide to make this documentary and what are your predictions for the music industry in the next five to ten years?

Ron’s story is incredible and inspiring and really relevant for anyone trying to make it as a creative but not sure where to start. For those who don’t know, Ron is a completely independent musician/artist/producer and has been successful touring worldwide; he’ll be putting out, I believe, his twelfth album next. He’s managed to make a name for himself and has a huge following without the help of a major label.

I have no idea where the music industry will be in the next five to ten years, but I hope we see a lot more new faces. I think there’s room at the top for more diversity and just more in general: different sounds, different kinds of artists and musicians. I don’t think the public understands how much power they have.

Streaming is here to stay, I think everyone has realized that. You hear a new song and want to share it with a friend, you’re probably going to do it through youtube or spotify – you didn’t have to pay for anything. But you’re spreading the word about great new artists faster than ever! I think the public will start to realize more that art and music especially needs to be paid for, even if it’s a small fee per month. What inspires us daily should be rewarded and supported.

taken by Kelly Teacher

Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your valuable insights and genuine experiences in the fields of film and music. I’m excited to see your work go further and bring light to some cool and interesting artists. This was such a treat for me to learn about you and the individuals you work with; it inspires me and I’m sure other fans, as well.

Check out more of Kelly’s work on her website, here.

Interview with artist and entrepreneur Kristina Moy

I’ve always admired the dreamers. The ones who inspire with their vulnerability and trust in honest living and creating a life that truly makes them happy. If we allow it, our passion can lead us onto different, amazing paths and will manifest itself in many opportune ways. I have a friend who has such a passion that exemplifies this. With numerous experiences in the marketing and art field, as well as, an eternal love for Harry Potter, Kristina (Krissy) Moy is unstoppable. For this interview, we will hear her thoughts on finding balance, fandom culture and her varied expertise in marketing and art. I am happy to welcome Kristina Moy to this interviewing series.

Connie: Your Black Out Art Facebook page includes some updates regarding different conventions.  Can you tell us a little bit about your first experience attending one?

I got into the conventions when I went to my very first Harry Potter one in 2010. A non-profit called HPEF (HP Education Fanon, Inc.) was hosting a convention called Infinitus, so attending that event opened my eyes quite a bit. There was so much going on with networking, making new friends, going to different presentations and panels, checking out the vendor room and craft fair, hanging out and so much more. I had such a blast and got sucked in to going to conventions. Not only have I helped volunteer and plan programming at conventions ever since, but I even sold some of my art at a couple of the craft fairs. That was actually how Black Out Art was born. I made things like bookmarks and notebooks based on fandoms like Harry Potter, Sherlock and Merlin to start out. When people actually started buying my stuff, I thought, “Hey, I should keep doing this.”

With all the projects you are involved in, how do you find the balance in keeping up with all of them and what advice would you give to others in your situation?

For me, this can be very challenging since I’m an event planner in the day and use what little free time I have for my art. I try to keep a few things in mind: Make sure you don’t push yourself. It’s always tempting to do a lot of different projects, but I know I’m only one person and there are only 24 hours in a day. For me, art isn’t something I can do quickly. I like to take the time to process what I am drawing and keep a narrative going. There is always a story behind each of my pieces. And, I also run an Etsy shop, which involves answering customer questions, processing orders and shipping them out. So that’s why I also keep a keep a notebook and/or sketchbook of ideas. Being a creative person means you get random ideas popping up when you’re sleeping, out to dinner or whatnot. If you take the time to jot it down, it’s something you can revisit later when you DO have more time. Lastly, I try my best to pace myself. When I’m getting ready for artist alley tables at conventions, I make basic deadlines when I need to complete certain tasks, so I can get things printed and created on time. Cramming bookmark making or drawing a couple of nights before a big show isn’t going to do me any good because I want quality over quantity. I want my stuff to sell. So time is the essence here.

Created by Kristina Moy

On your portfolio website, you mention that you enjoy drawing a lot.  Can you tell us when and how you first got interested in art?

Oh…I’d say I got into drawing around middle school. Eighth grade was my year when a lot of my work was displayed in the showcase in front of our school library. It wasn’t until I was finishing up a pastel illustration of a tiger that my art teacher told me I should consider taking advanced classes going into high school. I thought about what she said for a good while, by taking art electives first before taking an honors class for drawing and painting. That led me to join online art communities to start drawing Harry Potter fan art and to get my studio art minor in university. I had the pleasure of taking high level classes for basic drawing and painting, but also for printmaking and silk screening. With fan and original art, I was always doing experimenting and doing something different.

Since you are currently a marketing coordinator, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on the importance for businesses and institutions to be involved with the various kinds of social media.

Social media is the KEY to getting people to know you. Word of mouth is soo important for any brand, whether you run a small business or a huge corporation. It’s a quick way to tell people what you’re doing. And if people like what you post, they will share it with friends an family. It’s quick, easy and relatively an affordable way to advertise yourself. Old tactics like billboards and magazine ads don’t quite work as well. We live in a digital age where people are connected to the internet via computers and smartphones. And social media can do wonders…it’s great for engaging with customers, networking, sharing photos of your creation process, and overall a great way to build online presence. There are just so many people who are doing what you are…cooking, drawing, dancing, singing. So I use social media to show others how MY art is different from others.

Taken by Kristina Moy

Of all the different kinds of art you create, which is most fulfilling for you and why?

My tea labels make me really happy because once I’m done with one, I can upload it and release a new tea blend. It’s like a mini-accomplishment every time I release a new blend. I currently have over 70 teas blends on and I love the fact this company embraces creativity from its customers. They give you the power to take teas and blend them together, give it a description and name and even “brand’ it. I think of my tea labels as a collection of art warm-ups for me since I always try to make my labels look good without adding too much detail. Making tea blends gives me the whole aspect of business and art, trying to figure out what will taste good and how to make the label appealing enough so that someone will buy it. It is such a cool process.

As you and I know, you are a huge Harry Potter fan.  Why is the Harry Potter series so special to you?

Harry Potter was my first introduction to fandom and pop culture. It really created this magical world I could go to whenever things got tough. So, through high school and college, I was really able to look up to this series for support. A lot of people might regard Harry Potter as “children’s books” since the characters start off as children, but I think it’s important that people realize how many life lessons there are in these series. There’s magic, but there is also war, violence, friendship, love, prejudice, politics, and growing up. There is such a diversity with the characters; each with their own history and personality. No doubt, there is at least one person that you can relate to. Most importantly, Harry Potter encourages people to believe in anything, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many people (friends and even professional connections) who like Harry Potter and embrace this particular value.

Is there any person in the art or business world you would love to collaborate with in the future?

Of course! It would be so fun to work with artists like Noelle Stevenson, Aun-Juli Riddle, Cara McGee, Megan Lara and so many more people (but that’ll make the list really long!) All of these artists appreciate pop culture as much as I do, and they make fantastic art (tea, comics, shirts, etc.). The key thing: you know that they love what they are doing.

A lot of your work and merchandise includes fandom art.  Why do you think the fandom culture is so strong?

Fandom is something people can relate to. People like Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Avengers, etc. Fandom is a way to connect people with a common interest and get excited about something. I almost consider fandom as a “brand.” People buy coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts because they’ve done a good job in building up and maintaining their brands. They introduce new products and things they hope customers will like. It’s the same way how fandom works; except it works on making communities, so people start talking to each other. When people like a concept, they want to see more of it. But fandom does a great job in actually becoming important to people’s lives (ie. same reason why Harry Potter is important to me). That’s why people will freak out if they see a TARDIS art print or Gryffindor shirt. It’s cool and it means something to them.

Created by Kristina Moy, taken from Black Out Art Facebook page

You seemed to have made many friends and connections through your art and marketing experiences.  Do you think it’s important to stay in touch with people you meet along the way?

Absolutely! You never know what type of opportunity will come your way, so I always keep my door open. It’s great to have people you can talk to who are in your community and have an interest in what you do. Especially with my art friends, they can geek out with me, but they know how hard it is to create a great piece of work and understand what it means to have “artist block.” These are the folks you can go to if you need help with promoting your stuff. Working on a new project? Have them tweet or make a post to their followers for you, so long you do the same. News will spread to a bigger and new audience that way. With marketing, I find that these connections are key to hang on to. For example, I met some key members from, a Harry Potter website that has fandom-related news, trivia, podcasts and more, and they’ve been some key connections in helping promote muggle quidditch for me. In return, I’ve created a few designs to use for merchandise to support their podcast, Alohomora. Being active and connecting with others is crucial for anything you are doing these days. It’s also one of the best ways to meet life-long friends.

Krissy, thank you so much for your thoughtful answers.  It sounds like you’ve gained a lot through your experiences.  I appreciate your sharing all the lessons you’ve learned.  You’ve definitely opened up my eyes a little more about the art, fandom and business world.  I’m excited to see what you’re going to do next!

Taken from Kristina Moy

If you would like to learn more about Kristina Moy, check out her Facebook page, website and Black Out Art online store.

Interview with photographer, filmmaker and artist Jesse Richards

There have been a few questions I’ve been thinking about recently regarding art.  What is considered art?  “Good” art? What does it mean to be an artist and to live an artist life?

Filmmaker Jesse Richards is an artist who represents these questions for me.  He’s been challenging the standards and supporting the undiscovered artists for many years now.  I believe these are actions that continue to keep our world and culture progressing and renewing.  Anyone who knows him can easily see how dedicated and passionate he is to film; along with his resiliency in keeping his values with him through his years as an artist.  Known as the co-founder of The Remodernist Film Movement and author of the Remodernist Film Manifesto, Richards’ work is known worldwide.

We recently re-connected and I thought this would be a great opportunity to hear from him about his thoughts on the craft of film making and life as an artist.  I am excited to welcome Jesse Richards to this interviewing series.

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photograph from:

Connie: In The Remodernist Film Manifesto, you embrace and encourage filmmakers to welcome failures, insults and criticisms; as well as being uncomfortable. Do you feel that this is the best way in learning the film making craft?  

Jesse: I think this is the best way to create, in general, if you can allow yourself to go to or be in these places. I feel like more and more we’re taught to try to go the easy way, to go with things that make us comfortable, whether while creating or while “consuming” culture. It really seems to become more extreme: trigger warnings, Dancing With the Stars, constant remakes of mediocre movies, etc etc.

You are a very honest and candid person and this shows in your recent, “An Open Letter to the Film Industry.” You mention a lot of things that people can do to revive the film industry from its current state.  What do you think caused this shift in the film culture?

Well, this shift has been in the making for a long time. Back in the 90’s, you could still see some fairly challenging work in the big multiplex cinemas. You could go to the movies in a Connecticut suburb even and see David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” Although Lynch is a fairly mainstream filmmaker, I think even something like “Lost Highway” could never play in a multiplex now. Basically, that wave of indie type of stuff became absorbed into sort of a fake, safe Hollywood sort of indie cinema, so it shifted from David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch to stuff like Noah Baumbach and shitty films like “Frances Ha.”

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rose homemade lens test – photograph taken by Jesse Richards

In your interview with iNews, you mention about the gauge of success, whether it was defined by money or expressing yourself accurately as an artist, that you are a failure in both those terms.  How do you gauge success?

I’m not sure that I gauge personal success as an artist… maybe by whether I’ve been able to make the films I want to make… and in that case so far I’m a failure at that too, but I’m still trying to get there.

If I were to say that there would be a “Jesse Richards Film School” scheduled to open and you had control of the curriculum, what would it look like?

Well, ideally, first off, it would be government-funded, but without any interference or censorship from the government, (this is how you know this is real fantasy-land type stuff right now). I have a real problem with the way education here is now, especially art education; artists are being ripped off by huge educational costs, with generally no hope or help to make a living with their work, and the schools damn well know it, too.  They’re basically bloodsuckers of the poor, the untalented or for bourgeois posers. Anything you can learn in film school or art school, you can pretty much teach yourself instead. At least a bachelor’s in art or film is basically useless. A master’s is ok, I guess, if you want to teach and become part of the corrupt system.

Otherwise, if I were independently financially secure and could teach for free and without having to ask students to pay beyond dealing with their own costs, here’s what it would include: an emphasis on getting into a receptive head space: meditation, improvisation exercises, learning painting, photography, acting, theatre, philosophy. Being given an environment that encourages independent creative thinking (in the sense of not trying to do shit only to please a teacher), and an emphasis of taking risks with your work, making personal stuff. Abandoning the tyranny of the screenplay. Letting the whole process be more natural. Use whatever materials you have on hand to shoot with, and when that isn’t enough, teach how to find resources that you don’t have already. For things I don’t know? Bring in people that know their shit, rather than pretending and giving out wrong information or bad advice. Have actors available with some fucking guts to be in the students’ films, or even better have them be in each other’s films. The majority of the class, however, should be on actually making shit and NOT on listening to me or anyone else talk for hours on end; because really, who gives a shit what I have to say? It should be about listening to the inner voice and acting on it and seeing where you go.

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low tide, Old Saybrook, CT – photograph taken by Jesse Richards

You take a lot of risks personally and artistically.  Which is a greater loss and/or gain: to stay on the safe route and fear everything or to risk it all and fear nothing?

I couldn’t say honestly, because I have a certain way I like to work, so I go that route. I like to do work that puts me in unknown territory, otherwise I get bored. The difficulty with working that way as a filmmaker is finding other people, especially actors, that appreciate working that way as well. I would say though, that either direction does involve a certain amount of fear, but at least with the risky route you can meet it on your terms.

You produced the film, “In Passing.”  How did the experience change from being a director?  Have readers missed their chance to watch this film and if not, where can they expect to find it?

In Passing – to watch the whole film, click here.

The experience of producing “In Passing” made me never want to produce ever again, even for myself. If any of you reading would like to take this on for me, please get in touch. I’m still producing my own work right now because I have no other choice, and I’m able to do it, but I hate this aspect of things and it’s a huge distraction from dealing with the creative elements; not that producing isn’t creative, but it’s about being creative in a different way. Producing for others can be a seriously thankless job though. Luckily, in the case of “In Passing,” Peter Rinaldi did a ton of the work involved in the producing, but wouldn’t take the damn credit for it. Now all of that being said, Peter, Kate, Heidi and Roy made it a great experience and I’d happily work with any of them again. And all of them did things to try to make things go more smoothly. They deserved producer credits. The other three? Never, ever ever again.  At least not with me.

Based on the research I have done, it seems that you have gone through some incredibly positive and negative experiences in your life.  What keeps you grounded and true to yourself and your craft?

I don’t think I’m grounded or balanced at all. Quite the opposite. However, I have to keep on trying to make the stuff I’m trying to make. I don’t have a choice. That’s just how it is, and why it’s such a killer when I sometimes reach roadblocks on things, because it makes me absolutely insane when I have to stop or put something aside. And the main trouble is finding serious, dedicated collaborators to be in things. Luckily, I’ve found great filmmakers to collaborate with on things, but the difficulty is that all of them are hundreds or thousands of miles from me. Some has been ok when it’s something I can do alone or via internet collaboration; but lately finding real world, in person collaborations are getting harder and harder to put into motion, and lately I’ve grown bored with working alone. It’s against my nature.

field test
field test – photograph taken by Jesse Richards

Can you tell us how you define a “good” film? 

For me it’s when it resonates on a deep level and this can happen with films by people as different as Bela Tarr and Jean Rollin, but they both had been able to tap into and communicate very special things. There are many others who have as well. These are just two of them.

What would you ideally like to see in the film industry in the next ten years?

Support for the younger and lesser known filmmakers through financing for lower budget more personal and adventurous films.

You are currently working on a new project, “Journal of My Other Self,” an experimental film based on a novel by Rainer Maria Rilke.  Can you tell us what your process is like and why you chose to work in this project?  

This is my favorite novel and I’ve wanted to work on this for years. My approach is to take some elements from the novel and explore them; using notes and improvisations, but no screenplay. This requires a certain kind of performer and finding them is not easy.  Right now, I’m thinking part of it will be closer to the book, and another part will be more autobiographical, showing my own experiences that have echoed those of the characters, at least somewhat; its an intensely personal work, and it demands an intensely personal approach. Also, will have multiple actors interpreting some of the characters.

Jesse, thanks for taking the time in doing this interview.  I truly admire the honesty and thoughtfulness of your answers.  You’ve introduced me to a whole new way of seeing films and understanding the importance of depth in how they’re made.  I am excited to see your next project, Journal of My Other Self, and wish you the best of luck with all the future projects you decide to work on. 

If you want to learn more about Jesse, check out his Tumblr, Vimeo and Facebook.

Check out this short interview Jesse did at the 2011 International Film Festival Manhattan:

Interview with singer and songwriter Ciara Catalla

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Photograph taken by Monica Kmet

Music universally connects all of us to one another.  There have been many days in my life when the songs I listened to made me feel alive and inspired.  It’s the singers who really convey that feeling and translates the song into something we can all relate to and care about.  Passionate, angelic and sweet are a few words to describe Ciara Catalla’s voice.  Although she sings many covers of different songs, she is able to add in her own identity and style in each of them.  Ciara’s original songs are also worth checking out.  Her dedicated fans on YouTube and Facebook may also agree with me.  I came upon Ciara’s video a few days ago of a cover she did of Dashboard Confessional’s song Stolen, which reminded me of why I love the song so much.  I am more than excited to welcome Ciara Catalla to this interviewing series.

Connie: As I was listening to your covers on YouTube, I noticed that you and I like some of the same bands.  What qualities of an artist or a song do you value most and why?

Ciara: Ohh, very cool! In artists, I value their sincerity and passion in what they do. I think you’re able to see and feel when somebody is singing from their heart rather than just singing to sing. I also love an artist’s courage to try new things with their music, and trying different ideas, yet still remaining true to themselves. The same goes for songs…I love the way songs can make somebody feel. They may not know the person who’s singing/playing it, but just hearing the voice and the music can move you so much. If a song makes you feel, whether it’s happiness, sadness, or whatever…it’s doing its purpose.

I love your original song titled “When” because it’s a song that I feel everyone can relate to regarding the experience of love and the curiosity of it.  What inspired you to write this song or your other songs in general?

Aw, thank you! That’s actually the first official song I’ve ever written and shared with others. At the time, I was only 15 years old and still in high school. I didn’t know much about love, nor did I experience it yet. Thinking back on it, the relationships my two older brothers had with their girlfriends inspired me to write “When.” As cheesy as it may sound, it’s true! The trust, respect, and love they share is what I hope to share with whoever “the one” may be.

Life experiences inspire me to write songs in general. But I also like to write about feelings or experiences I want to experience in the future. Also, just listening to different artists motivates me to keep writing as well.

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Photograph taken by Monica Kmet

Your anticipated first EP, titled
Closer to Home, is going to be released this summer.  Can you tell us a little about the journey it was in creating this album?

It’s been really awesome, fun, creative, and overwhelming. I’m just very fortunate and blessed to have the people I have in my life. I think if you meet the right people at the right time who believe in what you do and are willing to help you through with it, then that is awesome. I feel like that’s what happened with me. We started recording back in September, and I remember that was the first time I’ve ever been in a studio. It felt really surreal, but the whole process has been awesome and I can’t wait to put it out there!

In 2008, you first started releasing your cover song videos on YouTube.  What has changed about your musical tastes, techniques, or your perspectives on life since then?

I actually never anticipated growing a decent following on YouTube; it just happened as time went on and people were giving feedback, whether it was good or bad. I was a very shy person and still am today, but I think recording these covers has helped me personally with my own self-confidence and it was also just a way to let it out. They’ve helped a lot with my creativity as well, and putting my own twists on different songs. They also help me strive to do better on the next video, vocally and musically. I’ve read a few comments from people that have told me I’ve come so far since my first video and how they’re proud of me…and it just makes me smile.

Can you tell us what first inspired you to play the guitar and the keyboard?

I come from a pretty musical family, and we’ve always had a few guitars around the house. I remember the first time I picked up a guitar was when I was about 12 years old, and I just started messing around with it. My two older brothers knew how to play already, so I would ask them for help and what not. They eventually helped me read tabs, and I figured out a few basic chords, and went from there. I would go online to find out the chords to certain songs and I just practiced! When I was 7 years old, I took a few piano lessons and then I quit…unfortunately. I was still so young and I guess I got bored with it (which I regret). I don’t play piano as much as I play guitar, but I still love it!

ciara 1
Photograph taken by Monica Kmet

If you ever become hugely famous with Grammy success and seeing your face on every magazine, what would you like everyone (including yourself) to remember about your time in your life right now, in this stage of your musical career?

Oh man….that’s crazy to think about! I would want them and myself to remember the determination and the passion I have for music. I’m having such a fun time doing it, and that’s so important. I also have so many wonderful people in my life that are so supportive and loving. They constantly inspire and help me to move forward.

Of all the steps in the process of making music (composing, songwriting, producing and performing), which is your favorite and why?

Producing is one of my favorites for sure. I love the whole process because it’s such a creative world. You can try and add so many things to bring the song to life. And then hearing the final product is the best part!

You noted on Facebook that you auditioned for the show American Idol when you were sixteen years old.  What was that experience like?  Would you ever consider auditioning for that or a similar talent show again?

Overwhelming and nerve-racking, but it was also very cool.  It was my first time trying out for a big show like that.  The hard part is the waiting, because you get so antsy and the nerves build up.  I didn’t get passed the first round, but it’s okay!

I actually had the opportunity to go audition for a similar show two years ago.  I almost got there, but I was unfortunately rejected.  I think that they are really great experiences and opportunities to get your name out there.  It’s something I still consider, but as for now, it’s not my priority.

Thank you so much for taking the time in doing this interview, Ciara!  I think there are a lot of bumps on the road when you pursue your dreams.  However, with the strong support and passion you have, I have no doubt that you’ll reach far beyond you ever imagined.  Best of luck to you, Connie.

To find out more information on Ciara, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview with world traveler extraordinaire Karen, The Squeaky Robot

After a day of work, I often find myself relaxing by browsing the web. I usually come across articles or pieces that are visually-based. My eyes become hoarders of photographs of foreign lands, foods I’ve never eaten and paintings I never could have imagined myself. But then there are these rare moments, when I come across a different kind of inspiration; the kind that comes from the written word. Finding a good piece of writing is like finding gold; it’s valuable treasure.

When I came across the blog, The Squeaky Robot, I knew that I had found gold. Karen has a passionate heart for travel and an honest heart for writing. Her photography is great, too. Her writing pieces are straight forward, smooth and witty. They also include philosophical and honest hugs within each entry. I learn something new about myself when I read her pieces because they are emotionally relatable. Her passion for travel is unrelenting and desirable. I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or two from the world traveler extraordinaire. I am thrilled to interview Karen, The Squeaky Robot, (who is currently residing in Hanoi, Vietnam, because, why not?)

Is there a story behind your title “The Squeaky Robot” and if so, may you tell it to us?

Karen: There is no story. The phrase popped into my head one day and I liked the ring of it. I like how it insinuates both imperfection and functionality, because these things are never mutually exclusive. It’s also supposed to tell readers that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

From reading a few of your entries, I’ve learned that you’re comfortable with letting go of your possessions or passing them along to someone who can make use of them. Why do you think it’s difficult for some people to detach from their belongings and materials as a whole?

Yes, I can be pretty loud about my anti-materialism. At the same time, my family will laugh reading this, knowing how much stuff I have sitting in my mom’s house that I’ve yet to get rid of! But that’s kind of the point: living unattached to possessions is a life-long project, then following through on that is another. In high school, I would shop online, perusing not only the clothes but the dreams that the clothes and advertisements offered. The underlying message of ads is, “You are not okay the way you are. Buy our product and you’ll be better,” and this message kind of seeps into our psyche. It makes letting go all the more difficult, and furthers confuses “want” vs “need.” That, and it’s often a comfort/safety issue, a nostalgia issue, an image issue, a fear of change issue. Pick your favorite.

Photograph from

Asking as a fellow twenty-something, how do you feel about the expectations of adulthood such as getting the “right” job, obtaining a higher academic degree or the dreaded question of “what are your plans for the future?”

Adulthood means something different in every culture. In my culture, I’m supposed to find a job with “upward mobility,” an apartment in an urban area that’s not too far from my family, and wear gray pantsuits everyday or something like that. The nice thing about my situation, though, is that no one has a gun to my head. This is what is expected of me? So what? It’s irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned, because I firmly believe that each of us must try to spend our time in a way that makes us happy and fulfilled. If someone is disappointed with my choices, and I’m not doing anything outright stupid and illegal, that’s their problem. Life is not “one size fits all”; for some, going to university might be a bad idea. And if someone asks me about my future plans, I feel “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. I’ve met 60-year olds who don’t know! But again, I feel very fortunate to be in this position, to be able to cast aside the pressure. I make sure not to take this for granted.

What are some new skills you’ve gained through traveling that you could not have gained through anything else?

I could write forever about travel as the best self-education that exists, but I’ll spare you. I learned how to catch a fish in Tobago, the ins-and-outs of Russian train etiquette, and how to herd sheep in Uruguay and ride a horse gaucho-style. These place-specific things and more generic things, like how to navigate a foreign metro or bus system, are things you learn only by doing them.

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Who or what inspires you?

There are a number of photojournalists who make me think I can fly. One look at the work of Andrea Bruce, Don McCullin,Véronique de Viguerie, Paula Bronstein, & Alvaro Ybarra Zavala (to name a few) and I am humbled and inspired. Photojournalism, in general, is a huge source of inspiration; it is art that changes the world. It shows me whats going in Kiev, in Mombasa, in places I’ve never heard of. It is the telling of real stories about real people, and this is so important.

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At what age did you first step onto foreign ground?  Was it then when you first fell in love with travel and adventure?

Growing up, I traveled a lot around Europe with my family. My parents are from Poland, so I would visit relatively frequently. From there, we would go on road trips to the south and west. My dad loved luxurious things, so we would always stay in a nice hotel, go to nice restaurants. This is probably why my love for travel didn’t sink in during these times; it was never life-altering, just more of the same.

The way I travel now is more in tune with the way my intrepid mother went around South America in the 80s. She has a very down-to-earth sensibility, always pushing me to try new foods and go to new places since I was little. My mom would prefer some dirty hole-in-the-wall with home-cooked meals than a place with salad forks and tablecloths, and I’m exactly the same way.

I fell in love with travel when I realized it can be a powerful tool for self-education and self-discovery. I came back from a trip in Peru, for example, and I found I wasn’t the same person. I was better than I was before.

Who are your heroes?

I don’t really have heroes, but the person who comes to mind when heroism is discussed is Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go to outer space. He was a largely imperfect figure, which I like, but I can’t get this one image out of my head, the one of him in his Soviet metal ball, floating high up the earth in the expanding darkness. Imagine the courage that must have took, the uncertainty, the painful years of dedication on the ground, all leading up to that one moment. His first flight was his final flight, though. He became a national treasure and was too valuable for the Soviet Union to risk his life again. In a way, he was too good for this earth. I like to think he would have wanted to float up there forever.

You seem like a complete free spirit when it comes to being an explorer.  I understand that this may vary depending on the location, but how and when do you decide to leave a country for another? 

All places are fair game! It’s simply an issue of seizing opportunities, like cheap tickets and accessibility. This is partly why I’m so fucking excited for Southeast Asia. So much color is packed into this relatively small peninsula; I’ll be border-hopping a lot for sure. I can’t wait for Burma in particular.

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You wrote a post about what you thought about fear and being fearless.  I think you are very fearless.  You go to unfamiliar lands and share your stories so openly.  I admire your ability to write the good and the bad.  Do you think it’s important for one to share their experiences honestly?  Why or why not?

Ha! Thank you. But I assure you, I’m terrified, there is no doubt. Regarding my move to Asia, it’s not a fear of the unknown place, it’s a personal fear that I won’t make it everything I dreamed it to be. It’s the fear that we actually have no control of our lives whatsoever. And in my specific situation, it’s the fear that I won’t rise to the occasion, make Hanoi and afterwards everything I want it to be. But these are moot, as you know. Only time will tell.

There is nothing more important than honesty in any creative endeavor. It allows a kind of authenticity that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. It lets people relate to your experiences, and you to theirs. We live in a complicated world, we have complicated lives. We must acknowledge pain and ugly feelings because they exist for everyone. Not writing about this honestly would be a disservice to everyone.

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Do you travel alone, with a companion or with a group?  Does it make a difference for you?

Never with groups larger than three. It’d be impossible to coordinate and I’d hate the slow pace. Traveling alone and with companions are two totally different experiences. Right now, I prefer to go solo because it’s easier, more convenient; I don’t want to wait for friends to take time off from work or school to travel, so I just go alone. And I like being with myself. Traveling with others can be fun, too; you get to have inside-jokes, shared experiences and such, but it can be much more emotionally exhausting than it has to be. It’s actually the one certainty: when you travel with someone, no matter who they are, you’re likely going to be frustrated with them at one point or another. You really get to know them, and that’s not always a good thing. My mom gave me the best advice: if you’re going to marry someone, travel with them first.

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I plan on embarking on my first ever road trip this year.  How should I mentally or emotionally prepare?  Do you have any general advice for me?

I don’t think there is any way to mentally or emotionally prepare. Like I said above, part of the reason why travel is so powerful is because we have to dive right in, figuring out how to swim after. When things get rough, when you get tired and anxious and all you want is a hot shower in your own shower, know that this is completely valid. And when it does happen, I like to focus on everything that I’m grateful for: this rickety train, that lady who is smiling, the breeze, the sunset, the pattering of rain.

Karen, thank you so much for doing this interview.  I am so appreciative of your time and thoughts.  I will keep your words in mind (and soul) when I travel in a few months.  You are a rare and thoughtful writer.  Traveling is a teacher of many things and I think you are able to embrace and accept all that it has taught to you.   I will continue following you on your blog as you discover Vietnam and beyond.  Very many thanks and much luck to you.

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To read more about The Squeaky Robot, please visit her official website here.

Interview with photographer Alicia Savage

Photograph taken by Alicia Savage

After looking through Alicia Savage’s photographs, I felt like I was brought into a quiet and calm dream world.  With her use of different environments, colors and scenarios, it wasn’t hard for me to stop and stare for a moment.  As Savage’s face was covered in each of the photographs, (whether hidden within her hair or under a cotton candy cloud), I was able to really notice and value the details.  What seemed like a natural situation at first, as she stood in the woods or sat on her bed, quickly became a different image entirely.  Reality was skewed just a little bit by the minimal and obvious details.

Photographer Alicia Savage is making a name for herself in this mighty interesting world.  Since asking her to do this interview a few months ago, she’s had gallery openings, workshops and traveling endeavors.  Needless to say, I am happy to welcome Alicia Savage into this interviewing series.

Photograph taken by Alicia Savage

Connie: Along with working in the studio and working on your self-portrait photography projects, you also teach photography workshops in Boston. What has teaching taught you?

Alicia: Teaching has taught me how incredibly important and valuable it is to share what you know.  It’s always a test of my abilities, and a friendly reminder of what I don’t know and how much I can learn from my students. What I love most about teaching is that it is always a collaborative environment.

You’ve traveled to Italy, Spain, Canada, Maine and many other places, however, you’ve stated that your favorite place is at a lake house. Is this still true and can you explain why?

This is true. 6AM at my lake house when the lake is like glass and all you can hear are the subtle sounds of the water and trees awaking – is by far my favorite place anywhere. It’s an experience and comfort that has existed in my memories as long as I can remember, and a place that continues to provide me so much calmness. I have had the chance to travel to some beautiful places, but as I continue to visit new places, it has made me realize how unique my home and particularly my spot on the lake is– and how important of a place it is to me. I have a feeling that no matter where I travel to through out my lifetime that will always remain the same.

Photograph taken by Alicia Savage

On your Alicia Savage Photography Facebook Page, you mention often that BU CDIA (Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts) supported and encouraged you while you were studying photography there. Do you think Boston or Massachusetts, in general, is supportive to up-and-coming artists such as yourself?

BU CDIA has been a huge source of support for me and has resulted in so many incredible friendships. As an emerging artist I have always experienced a supportive environment here in Boston, but I can also say that as a Boston artist you need to reach out to those connections and put yourself and your work out there to have that experience. The Art scene most definitely exists in Boston, but its not always in plain view.

As an artist part of this generation that heavily depends on technology, how do you think this affects the art of photography and the appreciation for it?

Developments in technology will always bring new challenges, but it also brings new opportunities during those transitions. We live in a day when you can essentially publish yourself and express who you are without the means of an agency or publisher. Everyone that carries an iPhone or camera is a photographer, and why shouldn’t they be. I think it’s awesome that everyone has the opportunity to explore the medium in some form, and are not be limited by equipment, cost, or career choice. Technology and the convenience of the iPhone camera has definitely changed the demand of some products/services with in the industry, but as a profession I feel it will always be defined by the intention of ones voice/vision and the ability of consistency with in the medium. I feel that will always be valued and appreciated.

Photograph taken by Alicia Savage

After having received an art degree at Northeastern and then receiving a certificate in photography at Boston University, do you think it’s wise for someone who is just starting out in this art to attend school or get trained?

This is a difficult one to answer as we all come from different levels of experience. Some have invested in their artistic abilities since they were children, while others, such as myself, may not have discovered their interest until they were older.  Obtaining an education and having the opportunity to be surrounded, inspired, and challenged by those like-minded, I think is always essential and beneficial – but those opportunities don’t only exist with in a classroom. As an artist, and as in any profession, it’s your work ethic and personal dedication that will determine your growth and success. Regardless of your choice to be self-taught or preference of the structure of an academic environment – create your own projects that will never be graded and ask for critiques on photographs that may never be seen. For me I found attending BU CDIA extremely beneficial, but know that your passion and determination needs to exceed any expectations that you feel an academic program will provide you.

Who or what inspires you?

For the past two years my work has been very self-reflective and I have had the opportunity to take some time to travel and explore on my own. I find that I am always most inspired by those I meet while traveling and my surroundings. More specifically, the area of Nova Scotia where my Grandmother grew-up, hence why much of my work is based there.

Alicia, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and taking the time in doing this interview.  You bring up some interesting thoughts and great perspectives on the ways in which one can learn and practice their craft.

Photograph taken by Alicia Savage

For more information on Alicia and her next adventure, visit her Facebook page.


Interviewing, why?

Interviewing is a kind of writing I like to do.  I consider myself rather serious when it comes to interviewing and hearing the stories of others.  I am a huge fan of interviews; whether they’re morning talk shows, late-night comedians, or serious Inside Actors Studio-esque programs or myself asking questions to the people around me on the daily basis.  Everyone is interesting.  We can all learn a lot if we step out of ourselves and hear another story from the other person.  When I interview someone, I learn a whole variety of things.  I research on their life, but also their craft.  Each new interview, I am more knowledgeable about life and culture as a whole.  Painting, music and photography and technology.  There is always something to learn.  I am happy that interviewing gives me a worthwhile opportunity to do so.  cnw

Interview with painter and poet Benjamin M. Prewitt

Balance and Humility
Titled “Balance and Humility” Photo by Benjamin M. Prewitt

There aren’t enough words to describe the creative talent that is Benjamin M. Prewitt.  At first glance, his paintings grabbed me and somehow made me feel whole.  The photo above is a photograph of one of them.  I could look at them for hours.  Much like his paintings, Prewitt exudes passion, love and grace with his inspiring and beautiful words of love, struggle and his day to day experiences as an artist.  His website titled, Expressions of my life – An evolution of art, My journey through life as an artist, father, and person with young onset Parkinson’s, will make you feel at home and treat you to a dose of reality, gratitude and smiles. I am so lucky and honored to present to you all an interview I did with Benjamin.

Connie: Your paintings can be very intense and exudes all kind of emotions. I understand that this may be too general a question, but what inspires you and your pieces?

Benjamin: It’s funny you should use the word emotions in conjunction with my Art. I think it was best said by a person who follows and collects my art that I seem to produce “Emotional Expressionism.” One the things you’ll find in my comments as I communicate with people on my website is I often paint the things I need in my life or the feelings that I am experiencing the most clearly at the time. Also, I believe that in my 2013 Press Release which was written about me and for me, but not by me, explains it and me fairly well.

Your blog, Expressions of my life – An evolution of art, My journey through life as an artist, father, and person with young onset Parkinson’s, is filled with entries you’ve written that include music videos, poetry and your paintings. You also post a lot of positive energy and loving words to your readers. How did you come about blogging your experiences?

Blogging was never my intention really. Neither was having close to a thousand active “followers” and over 21K comments. I originally started my blog as a place to vent about having Parkinson’s and look for people that were suffering from chronic pain as I do. Only after a friend suggested that I start posting some of my paintings did I actually start actively contemplating using the “on-line” medium as a way to reach people through my art and story.  As far as the positive energy and loving statements I make, its me simply. I like helping people; if one kind word can do good to the right person and the right time of their life, then 10 kind words is better than 1.

Do you have an artistic process you go through for each of your paintings and if so, can you share that process with us?

That is a trick question of sorts; a process, yes, I do both an emotional and physical process. My posts called “Parkinson’s and Power-tool” or ” The Process” detail visually the actual actions I go through. Though the real creation happens in my head. I often will paint the piece step by step in my mind before my palette knife ever touches the panel. People (other artists) have often commented on how many paintings I have done in a short period of time.  I think it’s because of the process I use. I truly see all my work crystal clear before I put it down.

Angels and Demons
Titled “Angels and Demons” Photo by Benjamin M. Prewitt

As well as a painter, you are exceptionally gifted with words. Did you study writing at all?

Thank you. It’s funny you should mention that. Actually no, not a single writing class ever. When I was in the 3rd grade I wrote a very heart felt piece that shocked all the adults and teachers around me. It was during a very hard time in my life.  My father and step mother had just divorced and I was living as a “latch key kid” pretty much by myself, yet, in my fathers apartment until my grandmother got word of it and moved up to help raise me. That piece was about the war between angels and Demons and how at its conclusion I felt the Demons were winning, fairly dark for an 8 year old boy. But it was published in a district wide school publication.

How has your attitude towards life changed since before you learned you had Parkinson’s disease to after?

Prior to Parkinson’s, I had pretty much put “myself” aside and dedicated my entire being to job and family. Not that I believe it to be a bad thing, but really nobody should ever lose self completely as I did. For 20 years, I climbed the corporate ladder; any and all of them. Yet, always keeping my paintings from my 20’s and teens close in storage and every so often I would “wake up” and paint for a while; then I would find I had no time for me and put things away. Though, I have been writing all my life.

After PD, I’ve often been quoted PD is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. It took away one life and gave me back another. In that respect, I think its harder on the family than on me. I’ve always been an artist; some of my earliest memories are those of my father painting or me playing with paint in some fashion or form.

Which characteristics must a painting have to be considered “good” according to you?

Ha, now your going to get me in trouble with that question. i guess that depends on whether we are talking my art or art in general. My art must feel and make others feel. It must evoke my thoughts and emotions at the time and meet the vision i saw in its inception. As a person who has spent a great deal of time standing mere inches away from great master works, I guess if a piece doesn’t make me believe that the artist was truly invested in the piece, then to me it;s not very good. I’ve seen one line sketches that evoke more thought and emotion than perfectly rendered photo realistic pieces. I’ve said it before and I stand by my words.  Just because someone knows how to paint doesn’t make them a great painter.

On your blog’s The Journey section, you describe yourself as having a zen attitude. Where does this perspective come from?

When I was a very young boy i was raised in the desert and the at the age of 3, I moved to the country. During those times, I spent a lot of time by myself thinking and listening to others speak. I watched the patterns and motions of the world and nature and felt as though i understood. I kept most of these thoughts to myself until I started having very in depth conversations about biblical theology with one of my aunts. At the age of eight when my life as I had grown used to it changed a great deal.

I started taking Akido at American States Karate *1978 before we moved *prior to the divorce I was getting in fights with much older boys and as you can imagine getting my ass kicked, so when we moved I wanted to take boxing as  a form of self defense. Thankful nobody thought it was a good age to start getting punched in the face, so Akido it was. In the summers when I was home from school and my father was at work I would basically live at the dojo. It’s at the dojo I really started to understand the commonality that I had witnessed as a very young boy in the desert and learned in my biblical conversations. See, at eight when you tell a child to be the energy of motion or to imagine evading by simply not being in path of a strike, then that’s what they believe. It never crossed my mind that I should tie physical limitations into anything. So, to the question now that you know where the answer comes from. Zen: the perspective of zen comes simply from a state of acceptance and understanding of the universe and the things in it.

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Which characteristics in personality, work ethic and/or perspective on life do you think writers and painters share?

To me, I believe that both writers and painter share a desire to express emotion and to share that experience with others. Yet, in the same breath, I don’t paint or write for other people. Painting and writing for me is like releasing the valve on a pressure cooker. Not to say I’m explosive in anyway, I’m a highly calm person, but creatively, my juices run full steam 24/7. Just because I like to stir the pot a little, I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. There is next to no premeditation in my writing. When its time to write, I start writing and with any luck my voice software will catch enough of it or my fingers will hunt and peck quickly enough to get it all down.

Thank you so much, Benjamin, for taking the time to share your thoughts and story for this interview with me. – connie n. w.

Benjamin M. Prewitt 2
Benjamin M. Prewitt Photo by Benjamin M. Prewitt

If you want to learn more about Benjamin, you can visit the websites below.

Benjamin M. Prewitt’s official website:

Artists Statement:

Press Release 2013:

Events page:

Interview with singer, songwriter, musician and composer Rae Hering

photo from
photo taken by Jonathan Morse

Rae Hering, who is based in Nashville Tennessee, is an exceptionally gifted artist.  At first listen, you’ll think that you’ll have heard her before with her sweet, sultry voice.  She will impress you with her smooth piano and guitar playing.  With an album already under her belt, Rae is only just beginning.  She writes in her WordPress blog titled, “Shy Gemini,” which she uses to share her music and post stories behind her songs, as well as, glimpses of her life.  She is a gemini, however, she is far from shy when it comes to her passion for music.  Early on, Rae exhibited musical skills that surpassed her peers, which lead her to work closely with one of her life mentors.  There are many artists out there who don’t hold a truth and honesty that Rae exudes in her work, songs and performance.

The music that Rae Hering plays is refreshingly unique and original.  Her song titled, How the Wind Blows, starts with a powerful melody that demands attention.  Another, Dollar in My Pocket, is whimsical and sweet that you can’t help but smile and sing along to.  One in particular, Watercolor, which she recommended I hear, is one of my favorites.  Her voice is simply amazing and this song was meant to be.  This is only a small sample of her music.  For more information, check out her official website.

photo from
photo taken by Jonathan Morse
photo from
photo taken by Jonathan Morse

I am lucky and honored to have the opportunity to interview Rae for this first the portfolio – in progress interview.  As I mention in my “About” page, I deeply value artistic admiration and “I am also a lover of the stories people tell in interviews, documentaries and the like.  Everyone is very interesting..”  I think that we all are artists in our own way and to have the chance to work on my interviewing and writing skills with such a passionate artist, I feel beyond happy and appreciative of that.

connie n. w.: You play many different instruments (piano, guitar, accordion, sorry if I missed any).  I know that it must be hard to choose, but which one do you most enjoy playing and why?

Rae Hering: You’re right, sometimes it is hard to choose simply because each instrument has its own unique quality.  If I pick up my guitar, I’ll write a song with a different vibe than if I was fiddling around with my accordion.  But if I’d have to choose one I most enjoy playing, I’d have to go with piano.  I started playing piano when I was seven, so I have a level of comfort when I sit down in front of those keys that isn’t going away any time soon.  Piano is also the instrument I studied at Belmont University in Nashville, so I have a level of understanding here that allows me to really open up musically.

As well as being a singer, songwriter and musician, you are also a composer and you’ve worked on some short films.  How did you get involved with these films and how does that compare to performing live on-stage in front of an audience?

I got involved with writing music for short films such as “without” and “The Once Mighty” in a way that most of the music business operates – having a circle of creative friends who are working on awesome projects!  We all help each other out, you know.  We exchange our creative disciplines – be it music writing, videography, photography, wardrobe consulting, music engineering and producing – because we’re all excited about what we’re all doing and want to be a part of each others’ projects! The beautiful thing about this is that other opportunities often arise from helping each other out.  For example, I was involved in the 2011 Nashville 48 Hour Film Festival and one of our team members liked the music I was composing and offered me the opportunity to write the music for a Singer Sewing Company advertisement.  I thought that was pretty cool!

Writing music for film/advertisements is a completely different experience than live performance.  Writing for a project entails nailing one specific feeling or ambience in order to enhance the scene on screen.  Performing live is all about creating an experience for audience members by taking them on an entertaining journey that includes the atmosphere of the venue, the music I’m performing, and personal connection.

I learned that you consider Rufus Wainwright as one of your heroes.  What qualities do you admire about him and is he someone you’d want to work with in the future?

Rufus Wainwright is uncompromising in being himself.  Musically, he has developed a unique sound that is unmistakably his, and his fans love him because of his quirks and idiosyncrasies, not because he sings with perfect technique or he has a song on top ten radio.  In fact, Rufus’ career, as I understand, is not based on radio play, which is very encouraging for an independent artist such as me.  Rufus tours internationally because he has found a strong following that loves his songs exactly how he writes them, even if they are not “commercially acceptable” and don’t nicely fit into a genre.  Would I want to work with him in the future?  You bet!!

What are your thoughts of one’s image and how important is it in the music industry?

This is a really good question.  Image plays a huge part in the music industry, whether you like it or not!  Even though it is an industry that focuses on sound, we can’t deny that the look of a performer will speak volumes when making a first impression on a potential fan.  But a good image doesn’t mean having a perfect body with a model-esque face.  This may still be true by big industry’s standards (meaning major labels – the guys who mass market music).  While big industry still emphasizes youth and sex appeal as necessary selling points where artists still reach an inevitable expiration date, there’s an emerging hunger in music fans for something that digs deeper than looks.  These days with how many avenues there are to get your music heard, all sorts of musical artists, regardless of their age and “sex appeal,” are finding their niche.You graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.  Do you feel that the experiences you had in college play a role in your music career, even today?Most definitely.  I studied commercial piano and composition at Belmont – which I describe as a program which teaches musicians to play popular styles starting with jazz and stemming off into other genres; however, it also teaches musicians navigate the industry as well.  I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be the musician I am today if my professors at Belmont had not pushed my musical boundaries.  Also, at Belmont I was able to freely develop and express a raw but true form of songwriting.  It was an integral part of my formation as a songwriter and has brought me to where I am today.

On your website, you are described as having an “eclectic songwriting style.”  Can you describe your process for writing and composing music?You know, it’s always a little different for every song.  Sometimes a song will begin with a cool instrumental riff I like.  Sometimes I’ll start the lyrics without touching an instrument, or even having a melody in mind.  I think the running theme through my writing process is that I get to the point where something clicks and I know the emotional content of the song without knowing how the song will turn out in the end.  That’s where the fun really begins for me – it’s like the song is already there, running ahead of me, making me chase it down and catch it.  It feels more like a game, like fun, than anything else.

Also, in my earlier days of writing I resisted writing from my life experience.  I think this was just a personal hang up I had.  I wanted to be different and out there and I thought that I needed to come from left field in my lyrics.  I’ve since really embraced writing from my life experience because it’s so important to be relatable!  And being relatable doesn’t mean being boring or unoriginal.  Actually, it’s the opposite.  To be emotionally impactful, I strive to say the familiar in an unfamiliar way.For many of us, we haven’t yet figured out what we want to do in life.  How and when did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in music?I knew I was in love with music when I was seven when I first started Yamaha Method piano lessons.  I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music when I was in high school when I couldn’t imagine doing anything else more fun and exciting than writing songs!  Songwriting was the one thing I could spend an endless amount of hours getting lost in (and that’s still the case), so it was no mystery that I needed to dedicate my life to music.

What is one thing you would say to the sixteen year old Rae?Well, speaking of my high school years!  I would say to myself that you can’t please everybody, so keep forging ahead and the people who dig your music will find you and stick with you.  I would say that there is going to be a lot of dead ends and dashed hopes, but those are necessary steps to truly earning and owning your music career.

Love is major theme for many songs out there.  What are your thoughts on love?

Love certainly crops up in a lot of songs, doesn’t it?  For a really long time I didn’t allow myself to write love songs.  Once again, I thought that love songs were entirely too conventional! (Oh, silly me…)  Now, I think a good love song has an amazing power.  And, on a personal note, I’ve got lots of inspiration in the “love” category because I recently got engaged!  So, believe, there are many, many songs to come from this… J

And lastly, who or what inspires you?

The style of music I happen to be listening to at the moment has a huge influence on how my own music comes out.  If I’m listening to John Mayer, I’ll unconsciously create a melody line that reminds me of his.  If I’m listening to Sly and the Family Stone, I can hear similar grooves in my piano playing.  Lyrically, I’ll get inspired by a big life experience but sometimes it’s just the sound of two words put together that get me going.

Thank you so much Rae!

Here is Rae’s official video for her song, “Leaky Umbrella.”