“I tried to be normal once. Worst two minutes of my life.”
An apt subtitle to her most recent painting, and a fitting description for this dynamic, bold woman. I was lucky enough to meet Asphyxia when she wandered in to my shop one day and asked if we could do a skills swap, to share our creative knowledge. Her story is like one of her beautiful canvases: full of layers and textures, mixed media colliding with insight and passion. Her soulful work speaks of the inner strength we discover when we dare to confront our own vulnerabilities. I hope you are as inspired as I am by the personal insights Asphyxia has shared below.
Q | What is your creative background?
I have loved making things since I was a little girl. I remember at age eight or so, cutting out silk kimonos for Japanese dolls. I didn’t have a Japanese doll so I cut all the hair off my Dutch doll, made her a black bob with cotton thread, and hemmed her kimono with nail polish. I haven’t looked back since then. I studied ballet as a child, then moved to Circus in my early twenties because instead of pushing for conformity, they celebrate freaks. I was able to work with my Deafness instead of trying to hide it, and that was wonderful for me. Making circus and physical theatre shows was my creative outlet for a long time, then I moved into puppetry. After a chance encounter with puppeteer, Sergio Barrios, on the street in Guatemala, I begged him to teach me his skill. We had a handful of lessons right there on the street, and I came home and made my own puppets. Much of it was trial and error, but eventually I ended up with a gorgeous family of puppets, The Grimstones, which I was totally in love with.
The Grimstones as a theatre show shocked me by being incredibly successful, and my partner and I toured constantly for the next 5 years. We had to retire because we needed to spend more time sleeping in our own beds and growing our own food. The Grimstones lives on though, as a book series. Publisher Allen and Unwin commissioned me to write a junior fiction children’s series, which I also co-illustrated with Jenine Davidson. This was my first taste of professional drawing/painting and I loved it.
I now sell paintings and other artworks via my internet based Etsy shop, Fixie’s Shelf, as well as writing and creating artwork for my current book.
Q | Did you study your art? Are you self taught?
I don’t have much formal training – most of what I’ve learned has been through tidbits of advice and a lot of experimentation. My drawing skills took a huge boost when I travelled overseas with my journal, drawing as I went instead of taking photos. You can really see the difference in my skill from the beginning to the end of that book. After that I took a handful of courses over the internet and they have done wonders for my skills. For a whole year, my friend Jenine Davidson and I practiced portraits, one per week, and we kept each other accountable for our progress. By the end of that my ability to paint faces had improved out of sight.
Q | Were you influenced by a friend/relative to pursue your art form?
Jenine Davidson has been a wonderful inspiration to me, always nudging me to try something new, do better, and also helping me find confidence in my creations when I’m not sure. We still have a weekly session where we show each other what we’ve made/painted and it’s so good for both of us.
Q | Where do you work from? Do you have a shed/studio/craft room or perhaps the kitchen table?
For years I worked out of a cardboard box, which had to be packed up after every single art session. Now we’ve extended our house a little, and I have space for a couple of dedicated art benches and a supplies shelf. That has made all the difference, and is essential now that I’m selling so many paintings. I can work at one desk, painting, while my partner works at the other, preparing packages for shipping. I keep my most used tools within reach, and tidy up at the end of most days. That means I don’t need to think – I can just reach automatically for what I need.
Q | What inspires your work? What are you passionate about? How do your beliefs find their way into your work?
I like painting pieces that inspire people to live the way they want to live. Many of my paintings are an affirmation of sorts – a reminder to be more inclusive, or true to yourself, or to take charge of your life, or simply play and remember the flowers in life.
I am passionate about disability activism, and I love painting pieces that reflect this. One of my favourite pieces is currently in a museum in Delaware, and it’s called Open Doors. This piece reflects how I’ve realised that opportunities often bypass Deaf people, so it’s up to us to make our own opportunities, and that has a lot to do with how I’ve managed to be successful, both personally and professionally, in my life.
I also love DIY, and my work has plenty of protests to consumer culture and mass-manufacturing. I see this as the opposite of finding our inner creative path. Some of my pieces have a street art, urban style. I’m very inspired by street art. For me, graffiti is the authentic voice of protest, an image of beauty that is not about money. It’s proof of the DIY ethos of an individual who has not bowed down to the “experts”.
Q | Is this your full time job? What are your aspirations for your work?
Between writing and developing artwork for my current book, and painting pieces that I sell, I have a full time job. On top of that I also home-school my son and grow a lot of food! But that’s another story. For my work, I’d like to create and sell larger, more detailed pieces. When I do that, I spend heaps of time visualising what I’ll make, sketching ideas, planning colours, and experimenting with techniques until I’ve realised my vision. But that sort of approach is timely, and those pieces have to be expensive, as a result, which means that much as people love them, they can’t always afford them. I am working on finding a balance, creating affordable pieces while also finding the opportunity for artistic experimentation.
Q | Can you share any important lessons you’ve learned from running your own business?
I think when running a creative business, it can be tricky to find the balance between personal creativity, and creating a product that meets market demand. On one hand, if you are just looking for a gap in the market and trying to fill it so that you can make money, then you can stifle your creativity, and the job may not be so fulfilling. On the other hand, if you just make what you feel like, there’s no guarantee that there’s actually a market for it. I think the trick is to look for the overlap. Experiment with lots of offerings that you enjoy making, and see what works and what doesn’t. Then for the areas that are working, explore more options in those areas, looking for ideas and inspiration to develop it further.
I always keep my audience in mind when I am developing ideas for pieces to sell, whether the audience is people who will purchase a theatre show or parents who will buy my paintings as a gift. I do deliberately channel my creative energy into areas that I know will appeal to my audience. And when something doesn’t sell, I stop to analyse why, so I can apply what I’ve learnt to future products.
Q | What sets handmade objects apart from those mass produced, and why is this important to you?
I think handmade objects have a piece of their maker’s heart in them. The things I make do, anyway. There’s an authenticity to handmade pieces that machines just can’t compete with. There’s something soul-less and empty about mass-manufactured items, and since I made the effort to surround myself with handmade things, I feel my life is richer for it. Everything is embedded with a memory, whether it’s of the person who knitted it for me, or the day I found the piece of wood which I used to make a certain piece. Shopping at two dollar shop just doesn’t bring up the same kind of memories!
If you would like to find out more about Asphyxia’s story and her vibrant and diverse range of work, check out her sites: