artist . brooklyn . New york
Coming back to her place of birth in Brooklyn, Megan is on a mission to elevate her mandala art with hopes of being able to become a full time artist. But NYC doesn’t roll out the red carpet for anyone especially for young artists. We talked to Megan about her journey, what inspired her mandala creation and what it has been like to live in Brooklyn after so many years down South in Atlanta.
"New York feels like one big jigsaw puzzle. It feels chaotic at times but I think it’s very helpful that I have family here and they’re my backbone. If I didn’t have them then the city probably would have taken me in and spit me out."
Lilian: Tell me a little about where you are from and how long you’ve been in New York City.
Megan: I was born here in Brooklyn but moved to Atlanta with my family at age two because my father got a job in that area. I ended up living in Atlanta until about two years ago.
L: What was it like to grow up in Atlanta? Were you a creative kid?
M: I grew up an only child, so I had a huge imagination and a lot of imaginary friends. I remember always playing the damsel in distress game with myself. In every game, I would create some crazy dangerous scenario for a prince to come save me. When I think about it now it just reassures me that I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. I also had this huge chalkboard that I was in love with. I would draw so many things on there and write random words on there too. I don’t even remember where that chalkboard came from, but I was so attached to it. I grew up and discovered the dry erase board, and now I hate chalkboards.
L: (laugh) What an upgrade!? If only you could dry erase some of those adult romance disappointments.
M: (laugh) Yes that would be incredible.
L: Did you continue riding the imagination wave into your tween and teen years.
M: You can say that. I loved to doodle and write. Doodling was incorporated in all my note taking. I would draw designs around the most important information and maybe add a little animated facial expression next to it (if the information was perceived happy or sad). A lot of teachers didn’t like my doodling and a few would demand that I didn’t doodle on any of my notes. That always seemed odd and unfair to me, because I was a very detailed note taker. I just used my doodles to make my notes look prettier. A lot of times when I got home from school, I would go back and decorate my notes from class.
L: What inspired your doodles?
M: I loved to mimic wallpaper designs I would see in someone’s house or in a doctor’s office. This is probably where a lot of my design patterns come from now. I doodle a lot of typography work. I loved to change up my handwriting style just for the fun of it. Sometimes I would fall in love with a friend’s handwriting, and all I had to do was watch them write a few times, and I had it down.
L: I can see how that could have come in handy in forging some notes for school, though I’m sure you never did that.
L: You also mentioned writing when you were young. What did you write about at that age?
M: I kept a few diaries around that I would write my feelings in, but most of the time that felt forced. Most of my journals were short stories, mainly love stories. Writing to me was just like talking to a best friend, but instead of sharing my experiences, I would just create ones I wanted to have. My father would always tell me I would grow up to be a writer, so in my mind, I thought that’s who I was supposed to be. I liked the art of storytelling.
L: Your father was supportive of your art and writing?
M: My father supported me being an artist, but more as an hobby, not a career. He just wanted me to be secure in life. He didn’t understand why anyone would choose the struggling artist lifestyle. I still believe he would be happier if I followed a career path in science or accounting. Even now that I’m actively pursuing art, I feel like he will never be completely proud of me, because in his eyes I could be more successful in life if I did something else.
L: Did you ever try to go along with your father’s expectations for you and your life or did you always know you would pursue art as a career?
M: I felt like I found a compromise between the practical and the creative with journalism. During my second semester of college I choose a media communications major with a concentration in journalism. It was the best fit for me at the time. Like I said, I liked writing and storytelling. I did a few editorial internships and wrote for my school’s newspaper. I also wrote student’s papers for money. At some point, I taught myself how to use InDesign, and my advisor gave me the responsibility of laying out and designing the school newspaper. That lead to my fixation on all the horrible photos being submitted, which lead to my interest in photography and photojournalism.
L: I can see how that could have been a natural transition for you. Did you end up pursuing formal photography training in school?
M: No I didn’t take any classes. I just bought myself a nice digital camera and taught myself how to shoot through watching YouTube videos and reading. I took most of the photos for the newspaper. I even tried out sports photography. Eventually, I connected with some Atlanta bloggers and started working as an event photographer.
L. How resourceful! What was that experience like for you?
M: I definitely felt a thrill while shooting and loved the social aspect of photography. Working events allowed me to meet new people and be out on the town a lot more than before. I liked that when I went to a party, I could just grab my camera and shoot instead of engaging in awkward small talk.
The downside, however, was that photography is an expensive hobby, and I didn’t always have the funds available. I was working part time and going to school full time and trying to explore photography on the side. Most of my frustration came from feeling like I took on too much, and did not have the time or resources to do what I wanted to do in photography.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college, when I was romantically involved with an artist that I realized it’s really possible to make a living off of art. He was a tattoo artist, painter, and a muralist. What I admired most about his lifestyle was the freedom art gave him to just be himself. I think from that point I knew that was what I wanted in life. Even though it didn’t work out between us, I think his role in my life was to introduce me to art as a lifestyle and to assure me that it is possible.
L: What a beautiful unfolding! It’s incredible to hear about all the people in your life that gave you direction to play, explore, and learn even under difficult circumstances bound by time and money. Could you say what eventually motivated you to move away from you life in Atlanta, from you support system and your work?
M: I was at a point of getting more and more into drawing as a way to decompress from all the running around I was doing. In the midst of this, I was talking to my auntie about my drawings and after seeing some of my work she mentioned that New York City has markets like Artist and Fleas where I could potentially sell my drawings. She was like, “If you ever come to New York you have a place to stay.” I was like, “Okay cool.” So I quit my job the following week and I was like, “Auntie, I’m coming to New York.”
I had no idea what I was going to do but I needed a change of scenery. I got a couple jobs and finally a receptionist job that kept me sitting in one place for long periods of time. It was at this moment that my drawing turned to creating mandalas.
L: Ah yes, I was wondering when you started to create mandalas. What a great use of time! It feels like your drawing has offered a beautiful accent to all of your desk bound endeavors, from the time your where a youngster in school to the present moment. Your inner child lives on! haha.
L: What has your experience of the city been like thus far?
M: New York feels like one big jigsaw puzzle. It feels chaotic at times but I think it’s very helpful that I have family here and they’re my backbone. If I didn’t have them then the city probably would have taken me in and spit me out. It would have been too much, but instead I’m just on this journey and it’s exciting. I’m getting more serious about the art and New York is a place where I can grow as an artist. I’m here to stay.
L: It's heartwarming to hear you express gratitude for your family. You are certainly lucky to have them here. Your reflection in NYC life as a jigsaw puzzle naturally made me think of your mandala drawing. Can you tell me about what inspires your mandala designs?
M: I don’t know how to explain it. When I first started, it was the process of making them that inspired me. I like how I can put a pattern together and it comes out so beautifully. It starts in the center and it just unfolds. There’s no real tie to it. I’ll be sitting down watching a show or something. I’ll outline some circles and I’ll just go. Whatever I want…do a line here and…oh that looks nice and then it just keeps going. Now that part is still true but it’s more about meditation for me. Each mandala reflects where I am at the time. How I feel affects how it comes out. If I’m sad or depressed I’m probably going to get something pretty dark and it’s going to be all black. If I’m happy like the one I did when I went to Mexico for a week at a yoga retreat, you can see the colors that inspired it. I never know how it’s going to come out.
L: Have you noticed a connection between personal growth and your mandala practice?
M: Definitely. Since I’ve started drawing mandalas, my focus and concentration have grown and I can be more detailed in my work. I feel like the mandalas have more character. It’s like they were babies when I started and now they are pre-teens. In a way, I like to think it’s a reflection of my growth. My patience is a lot better; I’m not always in a rush. I am now able to slow down and plan my next move.
As a person I’m chaotic and think in scattered ways. I tend to overanalyze everything in my life, every detail. A lot of times, I would see these qualities come out when I was drawing. However, as I continued on creating mandalas over time the rhythmic patterns calmed my mind and allowed me to mentally break things down in my head. I started being able take the details of a problem or situation and reconnect them or make sense of them in a new way. I started being able to appreciate all the moments in my life including the times that I wished I could do over. All of these experiences served a purpose in making me who I am. They gave me a personal understanding of "everything happens for a reason." I also developed a better understanding of my perfectionism and the way it affected my life. In my mandala drawings, even if I messed up on one little line, or I didn't like something, no matter how small the detail was, I would start over. That is definitely a reflection of my whole life, because I tend to start things over all the time. Now, I’m practicing finishing my mandalas, no matter what, and I believe that ability to finish what I've started will carry on into my life.
L: When you talk about your process in this way it feels like the mandalas tell an illustrated story of your personal growth and self-discovery. It's beautiful! Is there anything else you do in your life to take care and support yourself?
M: Yes. What I admire most about people who are successful is that they appear to have a great understanding of themselves and aren’t afraid to be authentic. I have so much I want to accomplish, and I think that in order for me to do that I have to be able to deeply connect to myself. Yoga allows me to connect in a way that makes me feel free, happy, and comfortable in my skin. I just started therapy this year with the intention of learning how to express myself while being emotionally open and vulnerable with my friends and family.
How do you like therapy thus far?
So far, it is definitely an uncomfortable experience having someone else analyze my life. It’s weird talking about my feelings and sometimes I feel like this is stupid, I don’t even want to do this. At the same time, I'm way outside of my comfort zone and it's helping me learn how to put myself out there in lots of ways including experiences like this interview. Also, it’s funny because the therapist has confirmed a lot of stuff I realized about myself while I was drawing, which was an indication that mandala meditation works.
L: Thank you for your candor Megan. For most people therapy is a difficult consideration. I think reading about your process could help a lot of people make the choice more easily, espeically when thinking about it as a pathway to strength and connection. Could you talk about what is next for you in NYC?
M: I've reached a point where I know I have the talent to create a beautiful mandala, and although it means something to me, I'm now considering questions that can help me standout as an artist and connect with a larger audience. I wanted to incorporate more meaning into my mandalas, where someone can look at a drawing and connect in a way that can help them explore their feelings of darkness, sadness, or happiness.
L: That's an awesome intention Megan! Thank you for your time today and for your effort to stay open. I know it wasn't easy.