Traci L. Turner

I don’t know about you, but that whole “they sleep we grind” mentality of working is not the move. There can be a lot of external pressure to constantly push yourself to the limit with your work, but there’s also payoffs from doing work at a pace that makes sense to you. That’s what drew me to talk with this week’s guest, Traci L. Turner.

We started our conversation on building creative momentum after big life changes, and she talked about her new focus on portraiture as well as her current artistic process (including doing a podcast). She also spoke on growing up in DC, attending college, and the challenge of balancing her art with a 9-to-5 job in her early career. Traci also shared some of her goals for this next chapter of her journey as an artist. It can be easy to get caught up with trying to compare yourself to what others are doing, but take Traci’s advice: just feel comfortable with doing what you want to do!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Traci L. Turner:
Hey, I am Traci L. Turner. I am a visual artist specializing with and mostly oil painting. And I live in Reno, Nevada.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far?

Traci L. Turner:
It’s been a lot of stop and go on my end. Late last year, I had a career change, so I’ve been trying to find the right job fit in my life, and also reconnecting with art and painting. And that’s been such a long process, but this year feels like the time when I’m back at it. And I’m having fun with it again, I’m excited, I’m inspired. So that’s been the tone since early January, just stopping and going with career and then picking art back up again. So that’s been going. It’s been slow, but it’s going.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. It’s good that you’ve picked things back up again. Now that you’ve done that, is there anything like in particular that you want to try to accomplish before the year ends?

Traci L. Turner:
I want to get more organized, I think I want to be even more intentional than I was about making art and what I’m trying to say and what this stage is because I definitely feel like I’ve pivoted in subject matter and just how I feel about art making in general. So I want to make sure that all of that comes together. What I’m trying to do is not get to the point where I’m not making art again for a long time, that was just so hard. And so I want to build that momentum. I want to just not put too much pressure on myself and I want to hopefully connect with people by commissions hopefully.
I think that that’s a process that I want to start incorporating, just that collaboration. And I don’t know, it’s also a nice way to make a little side money, if I’m being honest, but I’m not focused on that so much, it’s just making art and rediscovering what I like about it at this point in my life.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me more about that pivot. I can tell from looking at your website that you have done a lot of portraiture work, is that what you’re pivoting into or pivoting away from?

Traci L. Turner:
I want to lean more into that now. Back in school, that was when I discovered my love for depicting the human figure and portraits after, I don’t know, just being young and trying things out and just figuring that part of the world out. I don’t think I really stayed with that too often, but lately, I think that’s what I want to get back in into. I think that’s more my wheelhouse, I think that’s where I’m most comfortable. Well, as I mentioned before about the collaborative part, I like that part of things, so collaborating with a person and depicting them as a work of art in my own way, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you working on any specific pieces now?

Traci L. Turner:
I do have one that’s in the works. It’ll be probably the biggest one I’ve ever done size wise and price wise. So it is a friend that reached out to me. She wants me to do a posthumous portrait of her mom and it’s taken a couple years for us to finalize it. Mostly because I think she was going through that grieving process, she wasn’t ready for a while. And then our schedules needed to line up and I was in a slump and just a whole bunch of things just got in the way of getting things started. But finally, we’ve gotten to that point and that’s a piece that I got the green light to work on now.
I’m happy with that because that’s the statement, I think, I want to start making with my work, just having people know me, reach out to me, want me to do something for them, and we just hash that out together. I want to see more of what that’s like.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. My brother, he’s an artist in general. He does, or he has done in the past woodwork stuff and pencils and sketches. He got all the artistic ability in the family. I am not that artistic by the stretch of the imagination, but he does a lot of portraiture as well. He did my photo, he did like a big 24 by 24 painting of me, which I hate to say it’s sitting in storage because I was like, “This would be so weird to have in my apartment, a big ass picture of me.” It made me think of Whitley Gilbert from A Different World and how she had that Warhol, like four piece in her room. That would be weird.
But he’s a great artist. So I’m not saying that to diminish his talent because he’s done several of our family members and stuff. So there’s a definite market in portraiture, absolutely. It feels like, not a dying art, I don’t want to say that, but it feels like an art that you just don’t see that much of it now, I guess, maybe with the advent of technology, you don’t see that many paintings like that.

Traci L. Turner:
You’re right. It is very old school, because I know back in the day, it was something that was always commissioned by rich people. So maybe there’s a class thing too that was involved. And I think also it’s one of those things that there’s not much else you can do with it. So I get what you’re saying when you say it’s a “dying art” and I almost feel the same way too, but I’m just going to do it anyway because that’s what I like to do. And I still enjoy looking at how people do portraiture in their own way. I think I prefer more of, I would say, maybe what realistic representations than the ones that are super abstract, but as far as painting, I love what I’m seeing other people’s interpretations of the medium.

Maurice Cherry:
Well tell me about, how do you approach a new piece of art or a new portrait? What’s your process like?

Traci L. Turner:
Well, right now it’s where it’s coming from. A lot of it is coming from just, well, I want to do a series of friends and family, I think. So it’s hearing you talk about your brother doing a portrait of you, it’s like, oh that hits close to him. I think that’s what I’ll be doing too. Just because it will make me feel good, I think, I think it’s a way of memorializing these people and these connections that I have, people that inspire me, people that really understand me and who I feel just are doing amazing things in life, even though they may not think so. So I think I want to pull from that as inspiration.
It’s been a while now, but I had started a series of memes and I was doing that as a way to practice getting into portraiture again in a way that was fun and it’s super easy to find those images and you can get creative and people can connect with that. Because they’ve seen these things over and over again, so it’s just like an inside joke and I like that aspect to it. So in that case with the memes, it’s more about, well, what do I think is funny? What do I think I can do? What do I think is going to resonate with people, especially when I post online, what are the jokes that we’re going to be flying to each other back and forth?
I definitely think about how it’s going to be received. Maybe I shouldn’t, but in that way, not in so much that I want them to critique my work, but just I think about how the work is going to have me connect with people once it’s out there, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’ve seen some of the meme paintings, you’ve got them on your website. There’s the crying Jordan meme, there’s New York from Flavor of Love sitting in the bed. There’s Nick Young with the question marks. These are good. These are really good.

Traci L. Turner:
Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting that you say that you will do some paintings to see how other people or what the, I don’t want to say, reaction, but what other people think of it. Because I feel like portraiture invites that, probably more so than other art forms. Portraiture really invites you to look at it because in a way it resembles a mirror because it’s going to be in a frame of some sort, but it’s something looking at you. We have always seen in movies and television shows that trope about a painting’s eyes following you throughout the room or something like that. It almost invites you to have that one-on-one connection.

Traci L. Turner:
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve done a few self-portraits and that’s been a casual ongoing series for me, but I want to be a little less inward now and just try to show how I’m viewing other things, I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have any, I don’t know, pandemic paintings? I know you said you recently came back into it. It sounds like there might have been a time when you lost the love for it.

Traci L. Turner:
Yeah. I know exactly when that happened too. It was before the pandemic. This was back in 2017, I believe it was. I had an artist residency at the Torpedo Factory, in Alexandria, Virginia, because I was living in Reno at the time, I got accepted, so it meant going back home essentially. And I was out there for about a month. And I hit a wall right after that. I think what it was was maybe I just expected too much from that experience. I think I went into it expecting, “This is the moment, I’m really going blow up.” I’ve been grinding all these years, I’ve been doing this work, I’ve been developing this style that I feel like really speaks to me, it feels unique to me, and had been doing shows and all that.
And I did this artist residency and I thought that that was going to be the moment that I’m going to get noticed, I’m going to start getting gallery representation, all that stuff. And maybe I shouldn’t have done that, I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t really understand what an artist’s residency experience was supposed to do, but because I expected that and that’s not really where it went, I felt really depressed and lost my steam after that. For quite a while I thought, “All right, I need to maybe reevaluate some things. Why am I doing this? Is it to be super well known and make money and all this stuff? Or what if that never happens? Does that make me a failure?”
It was just all these questions that I had to sit back and look at and try to understand. And it took several years, I’m not going to lie, just sputtering, sputtering. And I didn’t really do art for a while. Maybe just a few one offs here and there, but I just didn’t feel like it. So what ended up happening through that, I had started a little podcast on my own, was called Art Life Confidential. When I put it out, in my mind it was for other people because I was feeling so lost. I wanted to try to pose these questions and answer them for other people. But I think it was also for me too.
It was just another way to try to connect and understand this thing that we’re doing out here, being an artist, being a creative, whatever that is, this abstract thing that has sometimes very little physical payoff in the other 3D world. And I wanted to try to encourage myself and encourage other people to keep going even though I wasn’t really doing anything. And it took a while and then I made some changes in my personal life, I fell in love, I have a partner now and we’re raising his daughter together. And that takes a lot of time out. I wasn’t really doing art, but I was still just living life.
Now that everything on that end is settled and I think my career path actually has a little more direction now, it feels maybe safer to bring art back in. At this point I feel like I’ve grown, I’ve answered a lot of questions that I needed for myself, I understand what I want to do a little bit better. I understand the things I don’t like about art and just trying to focus on the things that I do appreciate. And it took, well, like four or five years almost and now I’m feeling like, “All right, I’m good. And I want to get back at it.” That was the journey for the last couple of years in a nutshell.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think what you’re mentioning here, well, at least what I’m drawing from it also is that sometimes it’s important to just live life, especially I think if you’re doing something as tactical, creatively as painting, there might be this notion that you just have to keep doing it all the time. And if you lose steam and you take a break from it and you just live life, maybe it’ll come back, maybe it won’t. It doesn’t diminish you as an artist when that happens, it’s life, it just happens.

Traci L. Turner:
Yeah, you’re right. And that is exactly what I have realized. And just that I’m still an artist, even if it’s not my main job, you know what I mean? I’m still an artist, even if I’m on a hiatus. That was something I noticed too, even though I wasn’t actually painting, even creating a podcast and doing that is a creative thing, I was still drawn to be in creative or talking about, I was still making that connection even though I wasn’t exactly painting, I was writing a lot more. I think I may have even been doing more blogging. I started making YouTube video. It was just basically everything that I could think of that was still in a creative realm, even though it wasn’t painting.
And that helped me a lot. And it did reinforce that, “Well, you are still an artist, you can still do these things. And even if you’re not doing those things, that’s still who you are.” And so once that hit and I was able to actually embrace that, it just all finally clicked. And I feel really good now about where I am. And even though it is slower than I may be used to, I still have everything I need, I still know I can pick it back up and it’s going to be great. Even if I’m rusty it still brings me that joy. Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
As you mentioned, that just reminded me of I used to be a musician for a long time, a long time. And I gave it up, I guess, right around the time I turned 30, I was like, “I need to focus on just doing something else.” And I feel like you never lose that talent, you always will want to do it in some way. So for you, you never lost the will to keep creating, it just transformed into something else, which I think is for creative, something really important to recognize.

Traci L. Turner:
Yep. I completely agree. And hopefully that’s encouraging too for other people. One of the things, let’s see, I want to say maybe in my early 20s, I think that’s when I officially decided that I was going to be more focused on being a fine artist and developing my skills. After art school, I would take these one-off classes or you keep in touch with college friends and they start falling off real quickly once you hit the real world. You know what I mean? Maybe they still doodle here and there, but in the art classes I would take after college, I would be the youngest one there. And then I was in conversation with one of the other students and they said, “Well, I used to paint or draw or whatever. I used to be this artist and then life just happened.”
And then they would retire and they’re there taking these classes trying to connect with it again. And I remember thinking, “Dang, what happens in those 20, 30 years after you just don’t do it, it’s just gone?” I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want that to be me.” I always had that in the back of my mind just like, how do I keep this alive for myself? I don’t want to be one of those people where it’s just, “Oh, life just happened.” And then life just happened to me and then I stopped for a while. And I get it, I totally understand that now.

Maurice Cherry:
And it doesn’t sound like you forced it either. When you had the feeling of making art dying down, you just lived life and then it eventually came back to you. I just think that’s something that’s important for creatives now to really know, especially in this hustle, hustle age that we’re in right now, where everything is about doing all the things in all the places in all the platforms. And it’s like, do you have to do that? I look at these kids on TikTok, I’m like, “That’s a lot.” I know people that have quit jobs and like, “I’m going to become a professional of content creator.” In the back of my mind, I’m like, “Good luck with that. In this attention economy, good luck with that.”
Some of them are successful at it, but they burn out in two or three years. It’s like, you run hot doing that stuff so much that you don’t really give yourself the time to recuperate, to fill up your own cup. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Isn’t that what they say? Something like that.

Traci L. Turner:
Yep. It’s very true. Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s talk about your origin story. You alluded to earlier being from DC, like the DC Metro area. What was it like growing up there?

Traci L. Turner:
Well, I loved it. I lived in Maryland just right outside of DC, was always just right at the cusp. And I would say I had a pretty chill childhood for the most part. See, I was exposed to art by my oldest brother because he would always draw and I just liked what he was doing and I was definitely way more introverted. So just any little task like that where it’s like, “Oh, I can just do this on my own to myself,” I was drawn to. And it started because I asked him to teach me how to do bubble letters. And after that, it just took off. I didn’t know much about just the art history or fine art or anything like that. Not really at the time. It wasn’t until college that I learned about all that stuff.
But until then it was just me just drawing, just a sketchbook and vibes. That was drawing anime characters all the time, obsessed. It was just so fun and so pure. And that’s just how I knew that, “Okay, this is just what I’m supposed to do.” I didn’t know you could do it as a career until, I guess, I had to start thinking about it after high school. My mom, she was just always supportive of me doing that, just whatever I wanted to do. She knew I was into art, she’s like, “Then go to art school, check it out where you want to do.”
I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that there were schools for art. I could just go there and focus on that.” That’s what led me to, it’s called something else now, but at the time it was Maryland College of Art and Design. It was school in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was a two-year school. I went there and it was pretty awesome. I have to say I was around so many like-minded people and it was a mix of people. And that’s when I learned I loved paintings, up until then it was just drawing stuff, just pencil and paper. I got introduced to oil painting through this classes there and to art museum in Downtown for the first time, National Gallery of Art, later they added the National Portrait Gallery, which is my favorite one.
Every time I go home, I always try to check to see what’s new there. I would say it was a pretty chill, easy time. I graduated though. I didn’t have the confidence to present myself to the art scene there though. I just wasn’t ready. Maybe I just didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t really have a direction at the time either. I just wanted to work at that point. I was like, “I just want to work and move out of the house and I’ll figure all the other stuff out later.” And that’s what I did. I had started a blog, it was called, I don’t even know if the domain is still up, but it was called Purple Paintbrush.
And I went to the different art events in the city to write about them. I just thought that would be fun just to show, “Hey, this is what’s going on. These are the events that are going on. Here’s my perspective, I took some pictures.” And after a while I thought, “Wait, I could do this. Wait, I’m an artist. Why don’t I just do art? I don’t have to show other people, I can do my stuff.” And that’s when I started going back to take classes and was like, “I don’t know where this is going to go yet, but let me learn the skills.” I didn’t learn much about art business in school. That’s the one caveat to art school honestly.
You’re mostly there for technique and I guess to network, but if you’re not really good at that, then it’s, I don’t know. I don’t want to say it’s unnecessary to go if you want to go, but personally, I never went back to school full time because I just didn’t think that I got enough out of it. And I learned way more once I was on my own and sought out resources. There’s just so much that’s out there for free. So that’s how I started getting more serious, just reading books, looking at stuff online, they had free workshops around town.
That’s one thing I’ll say about living in a metropolitan area compared to where I am now, which is a way smaller town. There’s just so much to see and do and so many programs and workshops, you just have so much access. And sometimes it’s free. So I just took advantage of a lot of that. And I taught myself a little bit about how to present myself as an artist, how to go to galleries and how to start a website, all that stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
You just picked it up on your own?

Traci L. Turner:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Because it was like, “Yo, you can do this yourself.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Then I’ll just try it out. Why not?” I had studied some design in school so it didn’t feel too out of the ordinary to try to come up with “branding” or graphics or to throw together a website or just like the admin stuff, I guess of being an artist. It’s a lot of work. It’s so much work marketing. And once social media was becoming a big thing and people started using that to promote themselves, I think I got on it late, but it’s still one of those things where you have to use it as a tool to put yourself out there.
A lot of the contexts I’ve made have been because I just put myself out there. Somehow they found me or just being out and about talking to people, telling people, “I’m an artist.” Even if I didn’t feel really believe it, you got to say it. Even just that was enough to open certain doors or to have opportunities just saying it, you know.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, while you were out there, this is post-college, you were you taking these courses, you were blogging… By the way, your blog is very much still online. I’m looking at it right now.

Traci L. Turner:
Oh my gosh.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s great. It’s great. You should not be ashamed of it. I’m going to read some of it. And you might think this is really interesting. There’s a section in a post that you wrote called Recap, Regroup, Restart.

Traci L. Turner:
Oh my gosh.

Maurice Cherry:
And in the Regroup part, you say, “Now, that you’ve reviewed the year you’ve had, it’s time to regroup. This is a planning stage. This should also be considered a resting stage. Take a bit of a break from life. But Traci, how can I be productive if I’m taking a break? Hush, because planning and chilling out is productive as long as you’re intentional about your time and set a time limit.” You’ve got some good stuff here. You talk about a painting workshop that you did at Bay Area Classic Arts Atelier?

Traci L. Turner:
Oh yeah. Mm-hmm. Dang. Oh my gosh. This is bringing back some memories.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m not going to read it verbatim, but if you still want to search it out, it’s online.

Traci L. Turner:
Oh my gosh.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to talk about your post-college work because you said you were taking these courses, doing all these things, you were writing about your experience, I think is amazing to do all of that. You were also working at a company, you were working at this place called CustomInk. You were there for a long time. You were there for almost 15 years. How were you balancing that along with your fine artwork?

Traci L. Turner:
Well, it was the kind of job that, no shade to them, but it was the kind of job that where I could just turn it off. I didn’t have to commit really tough. I didn’t have to take it home with me. And after a while, I got into the rhythm of it, it was like doing it with my eyes closed. So being at a job like that where I didn’t have to really put that much energy into it allowed me to pursue art and be excited about that and put the energy and passion into that. And I did it, I stayed there for so long because of it. It was just a place I could park while I was trying to build this creative career basically. And it fit, it was just such a good fit for so long.
And then maybe it’s, I don’t know, growing up, maturing, getting to a certain age, I got serious with my partner. And so we’re figuring out plans for our future, I think, all of that coming together made me think that I needed to do something else for my career. I was getting frustrated at the job, I wasn’t really doing… I should say I wasn’t really grinding so much with art anymore. So it was like this, “Where do I put this energy now?” And it was a blessing and a curse being at that company. It was so good because I was able to do so much with my creative life, but then once I needed to change things, I had pigeonholed myself at this company, I couldn’t really move up.
I was only really good at that one thing. Luckily, in grinding so much and doing all the things myself, as far as my art career, I still learned a bunch of different skills. So in evaluating that I realized, “Okay, I can probably do marketing jobs. If I were to leave this company, I have this creative background, I know some technical things, I know the social media, digital marketing side. All that stuff I’m really familiar with and have to stay on top of.” So I was like, “Someone’s going to have to give me a shot.”
It was maybe last August, that marked the end of my career there at CustomInk because I was like, “I need to fuel myself a different way now.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So you were there from 2007 to 2021. That’s a long time to be… And when I say it’s a long time to be at one place, I don’t mean that in a bad way. I see what you’re saying about how it can pigeonhole you. When I think about how much the design industry has changed from 2007 to now, and the fact that you were still able to be at one company, doing design work is a feat. You should be super proud of that.

Traci L. Turner:
Well, thank you for saying that. Oh my gosh, I had a completely different and probably disparaging… Awesome perspective on it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think what’s interesting with design is certainly in the 2000s, I think web design, visual design online was starting to be taken more seriously. When I came into the web, which was right near the beginning of the 2000s or so, you could either be a web designer, a web developer or webmaster. Those were the three tasks you could do. And I would say probably even right around by the time of 2007, you were either a web designer or web developer, I think webmaster probably phased out and became system administrator or something, but there wasn’t that much-

Traci L. Turner:
I hope there isn’t webmaster anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. But back then, there wasn’t that much variation with what you could do with design online. And then the 2010s was just all about, I feel the rise of UX, the rise of product. You have so many tech focused companies that are building these design teams that are not just visual designers, but there’s also researchers, there’s writers, there’s all different matters of design coming out, experience design and things like that. And so what I think about is just how much it’s changed and the fact that you were able to still be at one place, that is a real feat because the industry has changed so much and you’ve still been able to maintain at one place. That’s really good.

Traci L. Turner:
Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. I came out of that experience thinking, “Dang, what can I do after this? I’ve been here for so long.” It was my first major job right after school. It did afford me a lot of different things as far as my independence goes and it was through that job that I was able to move across the country to Reno. And this is my home now. So I’m thankful for it. But at the same time, career wise, I thought, “Oh man, I should have had a backup or something.”

Maurice Cherry:
Because what you see right now in the market, and I mean right now is when we’re recording, it’s late June, there’s been a slate of massive layoffs from tech companies, mostly with their design teams. And I know from building teams myself, I know we’re talking to other people that recruit, they’re always like, “Oh, well, these designers are bouncing around there at one place for one year. They’re at one place for two years. They’re not staying and putting down roots.” And the reality is it’s hard to stay and put down roots now as a designer, it’s super hard to do that because the way that companies, at least tech companies and design companies have changed so much and they’re trying to really keep up with the market and with new advances and things like that, they’re cycling people out.
So it’s tough to stay somewhere for a long time. I got back into working a nine-to-five in late 2017 and my first place that I worked at was a startup called Glitch. And I worked there for roughly about two and a half years. And then during the pandemic, they cut our whole department. And so after that, I worked for a startup. This startup’s not an ideal place, go somewhere else. Go to this startup. You end up bouncing from place to place because you’re trying to find a place to park. And the reality is, CustomInk, for what it’s worth, I’ve ordered from CustomInk, they’re a pretty stable company because people always need t-shirts.
As long as there’s a family reunion, a conference of some sort, people will always need printed custom swag of some sort. So I get that. But a lot of these tech startups are so fly by night. You hope they’re going to stick around for five years, let alone whether or not you’ll be there or not, you just hope that the company is actually there because the market may change and focus on something else. And now what you were doing two or three years ago is now phased out or obsolete and you got to jump to something else.

Traci L. Turner:
So true.

Maurice Cherry:
Being at one place now for that long, as long as you were there, that really is something.

Traci L. Turner:
Thanks. It was cool. It was really cool. I think I was just so focused on what I was trying to do outside of there, it just, I don’t know, it made it so easy. You know what I mean? I guess I didn’t think so much about, “Let me advance here and learn all these other stuff I can do here.” It was just, “What can I do for my art? How do I learn what I need to do for art?” I think I am very thankful that I was able to do that there for so long.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, one thing that we’re starting to see, I think probably over the past, maybe 10, 15 years or so is a lot more black fine artists and their work starting to be exhibited in more mainstream type of venues, whether that’s at a big art show or even on a television show or an independent movie or something like that. You mentioned the National Portrait Gallery, of course that had me thinking about the Obama portraits, which were by two black portrait artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. What do you think about that kind of exposure? If you see, I don’t know, I’m thinking specifically, a while back I had Dawn Okoro on the show and some of her work was featured on BET’s, The First wives Club.
And I was like, “Does that help you as an artist, that kind of exposure? Or what do you think about it when black artists get that mainstream exposure?

Traci L. Turner:
I think it’s pretty awesome. At least that’s how I feel about it for now. I hope it’s something that can happen to me to be honest. I was like, “Let me just keep posting, maybe somebody who’s going to want me to have my artwork in the background of they show or something.” I think it’s super cool that black artists and creatives are getting that recognition. They’re getting their flowers now rather than after they’re dead. You know what I mean? Because there’s just so many people out there really spearheading what that “genre” is, which is black art and being a black artist. I think the more we can see what people are doing the better.
So that was something I struggled with for a while because I wouldn’t say that I do black art necessarily, but I can also say, well, it is black art because I’m a black artist. So whatever I do is black art. But it seems that term was only applied to, I don’t know, a certain aesthetic and it was something that I just didn’t feel connected to. It was like they only want to see our work if it’s talking about or depicting the black experience or pain or just to something along those lines. But I like seeing now that there are artists that are doing just abstract art, they’re doing whatever they want to do. They’re drawing manga and comics now and I’ve even seen meme art.
I like seeing that there’s a variety now of what’s out there as far as what black artists are doing and what we are inspired by. It’s not just about the struggle, it’s not just about Afrocentric imagery. You know what I mean? There’s just so much more to us. And so I think when any creative gets put on in a way like that where it’s just… I loved that the Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald got their shine for sure, for the Obama portraits. I thought that was such a milestone in art in general, just fine art and the business of art and then just black art history. That’s American history.
That’s, I don’t know, that was very inspiring, especially for me as a portrait artist to just see that, to see that and to have their work be seen by so many people. People flock from all over the world, probably the country for sure to go see these artists works. And I know they were pretty well known in their own right, but to see them get launched up even higher, that’s what we want. That’s what we want to see, especially because a lot of the artists, when you ask someone, “Oh, who’s your favorite artist or where do you draw inspiration from?” A lot of what we’re used to hearing are the old masters, which are these old white guys, which is fine. That’s what they were showing back then.
But I want to know, well, who are the masters of now? Who are going to be the people we’re going to be citing a century from now or whomever? And I’m hoping that more black artists, this is that moment where we’re seeing, “Oh, okay, here I’m going to be the masters of our future.” The future generation is going to be like, “Kehinde Wiley, that’s my old master.” You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Traci L. Turner:
I think it’s super cool. Really cool. And I hope it continues to happen as long as it isn’t exploitative, of course. So far, I think it’s been in celebration.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the mentors that have really helped you out in your career?

Traci L. Turner:
Man, I wish I had a mentor. Is anybody taking application? I feel like it’s just been me out here, but I will say there was a teacher that I had when I was back in art school, he was my painting teacher. I guess I can’t really say he was my mentor, but he was very inspiring and encouraging to me. And I do think of him often, especially now, because I feel, man, I have a little bit of a career. I didn’t know what this was going to look like for me 15, 20 years ago, but I can say, well, I’ve done some shows and I have series and I’ve written about my art and I just have this whole presence now in a way that I never thought I would have.
And I think back to those moments in classes with him when he encouraged me to experiment with color. There was just so much I didn’t realize I could do, and when I had the idea, even if I was hesitant, he was like, “Yeah, try it, you should do it.” He gave me critiques, and they were always very constructive and meaningful. That was such a launchpad for me, just being able to have that influence so early in my art career. It’s so funny, I did look him up recently. He’s still doing art and he is, he’s still out there doing art. He’s moved. So he doesn’t teach at the school anymore. But he looks happy living life.
I was like, “Maybe I’ll reach out.” But I haven’t yet. I don’t know, I’m too scared. But maybe after this, talking about it now would make me get the confidence to reach out and say what I just said just now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, reach out to him, give him the timestamp on this episode and he can just listen to it.

Traci L. Turner:
I will.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day?

Traci L. Turner:
I haven’t figured out who the famous person I would want to do yet is, but I would like a commission from somebody that’s famous or someone that finds me or maybe it’s word mouth or maybe they hear me on this podcast and they want me to do a portrait or commission for them. That would make me feel like, “All right, I’m doing okay out here.” Just some celebrity or famous person reaches out, but I don’t know who I want it to be yet. I think right now, beggars can’t be choosers.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re on YouTube, you’re on TikTok, you’re on social media, shoot your shot. If there’s a celebrity that you admire, just, “I think I’m going to make a portrait of them and see what they think about it.”

Traci L. Turner:
Go for it. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Doesn’t hurt. Doesn’t hurt. So I want to go back to this podcast that you mentioned before, Art Life Confidential, you mentioned you’re not doing the podcasts anymore. Have you thought about picking the mic back up again?

Traci L. Turner:
I really do want to, I have to figure out when, how is that going to fit into my schedule? My life is a little bit packed for right now, but I anticipate that it’s going to calm down soon. So once that happens, then I think that’ll be the point where I return to podcasting. Because I really do want to revisit that vision because it was really fun. And I went through all that trouble to make the website and the branding, everything. And I had a whole bank of topics that I might have to retweet now because there’s just so many newer things to talk about. I think some of the stuff that I wrote down is pretty outdated now.
So I want to have a space or resource in the podcast basically for other artists out there who are taking the leaps or want to advance their skills or their careers or their learning kind of how I did. You know what I mean? Not everybody can afford to go to school, I barely was able to do it. So I would love to be able to build that out, a resource for people or even just a space for people to commiserate or feel like, “Oh, okay. I feel seen, I’m doing this thing. I’m not alone out here. There are so many other people who understand this crazy pursuit that we’re doing as artists.” Nobody else gets it other than another creative person.
I had such big dreams for that and I would do want to get back to it. I don’t know, there’s a part of me that wants to be a mentor in that way. Not that I’m saying I know everything, but I don’t know, I think about how hard it was for me just fishing around by myself, not having that guidance. Just anything that I can offer from what I’ve learned or from what I’ve picked up from other people I would love to put back out there for people so they can have some help, some guidance. I don’t know, it gets dark. It gets dark in some of those moments as an artist. And I would love to be a little bit of that light to help people just stay with it. So hopefully soon, before the end of the year, I hope to have a couple more episodes added.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Pace yourself. The thing with podcasting is eventually you want to build up to a schedule that your audience knows that they can depend on hearing episodes or stuff from you. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong, especially if you’ve already been doing podcasts. If you come back and just say, “I’m just going to do it maybe once a month or once every two weeks.” And roll into it slowly as you start to build back up to it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that, you don’t have to hop right back into every week or something like that, just at your own pace, it’s your show. So you can do whatever you want to.

Traci L. Turner:
I was thinking maybe I could do it in seasons.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good idea.

Traci L. Turner:
Yeah. It could maybe be a once a month kind of thing or every two weeks and then that’s a season, and then I’ll take some time, do what I need to do, then come back, “Here’s the new season.” So you’re absolutely right, I think pacing myself is going to be key there. Because my life is just so different from where it was, shoot, even three, four years ago. I had so much time. So now it’s like, “How do I maintain all of that with a family basically?” And shoot, I have two jobs now because I’m crazy. And just all this stuff. So I think pacing is going to be exactly what I need to figure out.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want people to see when they look at your work?

Traci L. Turner:
This is a new answer because it probably would’ve been a little different had you caught me a few years ago. So what I’m going to say now is I want people to notice the technique, I want people to, I don’t know, because the style that I have, which is these bright colors, loose brush strokes, I’m not super concerned with perfection, with my work or having it look drawn super well. But aside from that, I want people to connect with the fact that this is my style now. I think when I started developing, I want to say, this style, it’s not anything that’s revolutionary, anything, but it feels unique to me at this point.
I want people to see that this isn’t an experiment anymore, this is my statement, this is what I want to do with this medium. And so I don’t want to get boxed into a certain subject matter necessarily, though I think my work is always going to be humanistic in some way. I want to be able to just paint whatever I want to. When people see my work, I want them to really connect with just how I’m using color. I think that’s what I want at this point in my art career. Before, it probably would’ve been more about the emotional side of things because I was very much pulling from very deep personal emotions and experiences before, but that’s just, I don’t know, I guess I’m not interested in that anymore.
Now it’s just totally different. Now it’s more about I want people to recognize that I am an accomplished painter, I know what I’m doing and have just, I don’t know, an admiration for the technique. I think that’s the answer here.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you envision this next chapter of your career to look like?

Traci L. Turner:
Great question. I honestly haven’t thought about that too much. I think I’m so focused on just getting back on the horse. I’m just to go with what’s first in my mind. Well, I want to have my own studio. I would love to have an official space where I do business and work and be able to have my own ample space to create. Right now I have a room in the house, and that’s fine, but I think eventually, I want it to be its own space where I can decorate and it’s inviting. And if people want to come see my work and buy it there, or if we want to sit down and talk about a commission together, it’s like, “Here is a welcoming space and this is a business space too.”
I’m in a place where I can separate myself and focus on being creative and recording and all that stuff. Because I feel I’ve been serious, but I think the way I want it to look now is a little more mature. And so that’s where I hope to be in five years, where I’m still doing this, but is in an actual official space.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work and everything online?

Traci L. Turner:
I am first going to direct people to my website because that’s just the hub for everything, plus I have a blog on there, where I go more in-depth about the stuff I’m doing and where I share things. So my website is tracilturner.com. It’s Traci with an I. And outside of that, I’m pretty much on every other social media platform you can think of. I’m on TikTok and Instagram as tracilturner. And I have a YouTube channel, I think it’s just Traci L. Turner Art and Twitter, though I’m not on there as much, but if you want to see my work and just the stuff I chat about on there, it’s just @tracekilla. Anywhere else where I am, I can’t think of right now, but it is on my website. So that’s the space where you could find everything.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Traci L. Turner, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think one thing that I get from listening to your story, and one thing that I hope listeners can gain from this is that making the art that you enjoy at the pace that makes sense to you is totally okay. I know that this world is about rush, rush, rush, get things done. You have to do more, productivity, blah, blah, blah. You can do your work on your own time, on your own terms. Nobody is rushing, well, hopefully nobody is rushing you, but don’t feel like you have to have that pressure to be this artistic factory.
And I think certainly from what you’ve mentioned and talked about from your own life story, you’re showing that you’re living life and making art on your own terms, which is what we should all strive to do as creatives. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Traci L. Turner:
Oh, thank you so much, Maurice. I love what you’re doing. I feel honored.

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Emmanuel Nwogbo

We’re headed to the Great White North this week to meet someone that I learned about while doing a deep dive on Nigerian artists. Emmanuel Nwogbo is a visual artist based out of Montréal, and to me, his work reminds me so much of the creativity and fun that design can create.

We chatted right around his first anniversary of moving to Canada, and we discussed his day job as a graphic designer, and how his passion for the arts inspired him to leave Lagos. We also talked about his 365 James Bond Characters project — a series of designs and compositions paying homage to characters in the 007 Universe. Emmanuel’s quiet confidence is one of his biggest strengths, so don’t be surprised if you see his work in a gallery near you one day!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My name is Emmanuel Nwogbo. I am from Nigeria. I am a graphic designer, so I work full-time as a graphic designer. I also do freelance graphic design, and I also do some visual arts. At the moment, I do the visual arts on the side.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So how has 2021 been for you? Did you learn anything new about yourself? How has the year been?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, its probably one of my best years so far. So I moved to Montréal at the end of 2019, and then 2020 happened, so 2020 was a very strange year. So 2021 was like my first full year in Montréal. Honestly, it went really well. It went really well, I pretty much hit all my goals, so that was a very exciting. It was also my first summer in Montréal, which everyone was … People really hype up the summers here. I can see why. So this was my first real experience of the summer in Montréal. It was a little restricted still because of COVID, but honestly, I think I had a pretty good year.

Maurice Cherry:
What makes the summer so nice in Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s so much to do. There’s so much going on here, event wise. There’s always something happening. You never run out of stuff to do. Typically, without any COVID or anything like that, there’s a ton of festivals that come in town and all that. It wasn’t as much as it typically would be, but there was still a lot of things to do here. There’s a lot of sports, a lot of physical activity, parties. There’s a lot. Honestly, I was a little bit overwhelmed at some point. It was a lot of things happening. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like Atlanta in the summertime.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Or really in the late spring, going into summer, because that’s sort of our festival season, and where there’s usually a festival, a neighborhood festival or something every weekend or something. I say that’s usually the best time to come because it’s not too hot, the pollen is usually not too bad around that time. It’s maybe a two or three week period where it’s like, “Oh, this is perfect.” We have that in the spring, going into the summer, and we have it in the early fall. Because it never really gets super cold here, so early fall, I don’t know, like back to school, September, October, is usually a really nice time.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s good to know about Montréal though. Maybe when the world starts to open back up, people can experience some of those summers.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, but you only want to come here in the summer, honestly, because winter is just miserable.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s no fall. It’s summer, then all of a sudden it is just winter.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. So for 2022, do you have any goals or resolutions that you want to share?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So usually I try to set goals and plans. The only thing on my list for next year right now is to get my citizenship, become a Canadian. That’s the only thing on my list right now. I started the process this year, I submitted an application, so now I’m just playing the waiting game, but that’s the number one thing on my list.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Second … I would say this is kind of the second thing on the list, but I’m not really sure how it’s going to go. I decided I was going to try to do some exhibitions in Montréal, because I haven’t done any since I moved here. So, try to break into the art scene a little bit. Honestly, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it, because it’s a big city, and there’s a lot of art here, there’s a lot of competition. So there’s that little fear there. So I am going to attempt to see if I can do some exhibitions next year. If not next year, then maybe 2023. It’s a little difficult given that I have my full-time job and I have my own personal practice. Yeah, but those are the two main things that I have planned for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of the full-time job, you work for MTL Développement. You work there as a graphic designer. Tell me about that entails. What’s a regular day look like for you?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the company is a real estate development company, so they build condos, they sell condos. So essentially my job there is to make promotional materials for the marketing department, essentially materials that help sell these condos. And so for each condo project, we create an entire brand around that project, and then we then try to create ads, and our design is based on that brand that we created. So the company itself has its own brand and then each of the projects has a brand that comes with it. So my job essentially is to create those brands and to design for those brands, and to make sure that everyone that is doing anything for the brands is adhering to the brand identity.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you’re doing this for, let’s say, like condominium complexes or subdivisions?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s mostly condominiums.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I got you. Sounds like Montréal is probably a pretty booming real estate market then?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, it’s pretty booming, despite the fact that there was a pandemic. It’s still booming.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been working during the pandemic?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I wasn’t really affected too much. I think there was maybe a one or two month period where my hours were reduced. So we had to go on this program that the government would … I think you work out pay … You say about maybe 20%, and the government would pay the rest, so I had to cut down to like 20 hours for about a month or two, but I pretty much worked all through the pandemic. So, worked from home, worked in the office, worked from home again, and then now we are back in the office since the beginning of the year.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the job was pretty much not affected, but obviously there was a reduced … The real estate market suffered a little bit, so there was reduced sales. So the marketing was totally … It was a little bit different than what it is right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Also, with the work that you are doing as a designer, you work with another design agency called Queer-IT. Is that right?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that job, that’s actually the first job that I got in Montréal. So I came in October and then I got a job in November of 2019. And essentially, I saw this ad where they were hiring, looking for a graphic designer, because I was just applying for every graphic designer job I could see. So I saw the ad and had an interview with the person that runs the place, and then they just hired me.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, what the job we is, is you give them your hours and then they send proposals to you based on your hours, or sometimes they just reach out to you and ask you to send the quote for a certain job. And then if the client accepts your quote, then they give you the job. Or sometimes they just tell you, “Well, this client wants to rebrand. Their budget is $2,000. Can you work with that?” That kind of thing. That’s basically how the system works.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, it’s basically still like every graphic design job, except that I would say the company is maybe targeted more towards queer people. So that’s one thing that I was a little confused about when I got hired, or when I applied for the job. When I applied for the job, I said, “Well, I’m not queer, so are you only hiring queer people?” And they said, “Oh no, you can apply.” So yeah, I applied and I got the job.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. It sounds like a collective model, where you’re not necessarily working full time, but as work comes in, if you have the time to work on it, they pull you into the project, they include you on the proposal. You’re sort of part of the working team for whatever that project might be, if they happen to land it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Exactly, that’s how it goes. And then there’s some projects that I did with them where the client was doing a full business plan, so there was like a strategist there, there was a copywriter, and we work as a team to deliver the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I want to switch gears here a little bit as you’ve been talking about your work, because I’m curious to know more about you growing up. Because you’re really a prolific artist, and I think that’s something that I really want to explore more as we go on in the interview.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
That’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about where you grew up.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. So Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world, over 200 million people. And Lagos probably has a [inaudible 00:11:51] 30 million people. Nobody knows the real number, because the census is very funny, very corrupt. But Lagos is huge. I grew up in Lagos.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Lagos, I would say, it’s pretty much … It’s a crazy city. There’s so much going on there, there’s so much crime, so much corruption. But again, even besides all that stuff, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of, I would say, heritage that comes with it. Lagos is an old city. It’s probably one of the oldest modern cities in Nigeria. So there’s always something going on.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So growing up, I wasn’t exposed to too much arts in a sense, but I’ve always had the talent to draw. I always knew how to draw, so I was always in the fine art class. And even when I went to high school, which is secondary school in Nigeria, you had to pick certain subjects. A lot of people were not doing fine arts, we were very few doing fine arts. Maybe 20 in the class. When I say 20 … This school was a big … I went to public secondary school, so it was a government public secondary school. It was huge. My graduating class had 506 people in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah. So it was a big school. Out of that 506, there was probably maybe 15 or 20 people that were doing fine arts. So that was my main exposure to arts. And honestly, the arts are not really supported in Nigeria. I think it’s a miracle that even my parents allowed me to go do arts at university. A lot of people were not happy about that. Because the general belief is that if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, you’re not making money. So there was always that to battle with, but I would say that … Honestly, the truth is a lot of artists are not making money in Nigeria. I also think it’s the way they present themselves. Art is not really respected, but then there’s also people making a lot of money it from it too. So I think it’s all about positioning and how you market yourself.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting, because I was going to ask about whether or not your parents supported you in this, but it sounds like you really got that encouragement from school to focus on arts and everything. When you decided that you wanted to go to college for the arts and for design, were your parents okay with that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were totally okay with it. I didn’t know anything about design growing up. I was an artist in traditional media, so drawing, painting. So when I wanted to go to school, I wanted to do fine arts. And then I got the admission, and then I got to the school and then I did one year in fine arts. And then I had this friend that was doing graphic design and he would just make cool stuff on Photoshop. So I decided, “You know what? I want to make cool stuff.” So I just switched. That’s how I ended up in graphic design.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the program that I did was kind of an interdisciplinary program, in the sense that there was no real focus. We did a lot of things like art history or cover the art movements. We also did 3D … I did a full year in of 3D in design. I also did web design, I did regular graphic design, logos branding. We did everything, but there was no real focus. So even when I came out of college, I didn’t exactly know what I was because then it’s like you know how to do a little bit of everything, but you’re not really good at one thing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the one thing that lacked in that whole school was research, because there was more focus on the finished product. But then as I’ve come to learn, a lot of design relies heavily on the actual process, not as much as the finished product. So when I came to Canada, to NSCAD, to do the Masters, it was a totally different experience. Because then at NSCAD, they were focused on research. That’s when I learned how to do research.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so they wanted me to do something … Because the Masters program has a thesis, like a final project. So they wanted me to do something Nigerian based. So I ended up doing this … I decided to tackle a social problem, so I decided to focus on the oil industry in Nigeria. So oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, and Nigeria is divided into four parts. There is a North, which is pretty much half of the country, and then there’s the South South, Southeast, and then the Southwest. I’m from the Southeast. So Nigeria has three tribes: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa. So the Hausas are predominantly in the north, the Yorubas are predominantly in the Southwest, the Igbos are predominantly in the Southeast. And then the South, Southeast covers a lot of minorities.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But at the time, when oil was discovered, oil was only discovered in the South South. So what that meant was that oil exploration, all the illegal practices that companies like Shell and all this other big oil companies, all the illegal practices and everything, all the nonsense that comes with oil exploration, only happen in the South South. But the Nigerian economy is pretty much only reliant on oil. So what that means is that that part of the country produces pretty much most of Nigeria’s revenue and sustains Nigeria’s economy. But then the people are suffering because Shell has so much influence in the Nigerian government. And so what that means is that they’re pretty much allowed to get away with whatever they want.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the oil industry is regulated, but it’s regulated to a point. Like I remember when I was doing the projects, around 2015, then there was an average of 1,000 oil spills in Nigeria every year. And that’s the reported ones. But in Europe they only had like seven in the last 10 years. So that’s how much oil spillage happened in Nigeria, and that’s because of illegal practices of mostly Shell. So my whole project was focused around how can we create awareness, because usually the only time you can get the Nigerian government to do something about it is when there’s pressure from the international community.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the Nigerian government does a really good job at hiding this whole problem. There’s a good 30 million people in this part of Nigeria, in this South South region of Nigeria, but even when I was growing up in Lagos, you only heard about this problem when the people in the area got upset. And then they created rebel gangs, and then they started kidnapping white oil workers, and asking for ransom. That’s when you started hearing about it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But on a regular basis, you wouldn’t … Like people would die all the time there, there was huge respiration problems, there was huge pollution issues, nothing was ever covered in the news. Or if it was covered, it wouldn’t be highlighted upon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the whole focus was how can I create awareness to this problem? And then that awareness would force the Nigerian government to treat the people of that region well. And one major issue that Nigeria has, and even till now, is that even though Nigeria runs a federal government, the government is more unitary. Because I know, for example in the US, and even in Canada here, each province or state has control of its resources and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, pretty much.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, in Nigeria it’s the opposite. Even though we also have a federal government, all the states … We have 36 states, and each state, everything each state generates or makes goes to the center, and then it gets divided at the center to all 36 states based on some metric they come up with. So what that means is that the region or the country that was responsible for, say, 90% of the economy, by the time everything gets split based on population and other metrics they have, they get 15% back. But they are the ones taking all the damage, and so their whole protest has always been we want hundred percent control of our resources. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So initially when the rebels started, it started up as a small operation, and then it became a big time operation. They were kidnapping oil workers, they were killing government officials. 2006 was the peak of the rebels in that area. And they were getting their money from oil bunkering, which is also contributing to the problem. Oil bunkering is when you break a section of the crude oil pipeline, and then you take crude oil from it and then go refine it and then sell it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were doing that and they were making money to fund their operations, but that was also contributing to the problems, because that was causing oil spills and all the same environmental damage that the region was facing. And that region is right by the Atlantic ocean and then River Niger, which is the second largest river in Africa, and also runs through that region. So most people there are predominantly fishermen, and the water and the ecosystem is totally messed up. I think it’s going to take like a hundred years of no oil exploration for the environment to return back to its natural state. That’s how bad they’ve wrecked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that’s what I spent almost two years doing in the Masters. And it honestly was a very successful project. It taught me lots about Nigeria that I didn’t even know about. And it was an interesting research in the sense that me being Nigerian, and knowing all the nonsense that goes on in Nigeria, and then me now being outside Nigeria and trying to do all this research, and then reading research papers and materials from people that have been to Nigeria and seeing their take on Nigeria was pretty hilarious. There’s some American articles that I read about the same problem in Nigeria, and there are some claims they made and they said, “Well, this doesn’t happen.” Or, “This never happens.” Or the way they tried to exaggerate certain things was … Yeah. It was actually interesting to see that from a different perspective.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, that’s a lot that you just described around Nigeria and corruption in the country, and I definitely want to go back and touch on that, but I want to bring it back a little bit, because you took us all the way from college, to going to grad school, to going to Canada. It sounds like, back when you were mentioning this program, that it didn’t really prepare you for the working world. Was that the impetus to move to Canada? Did you just want to get out from another country? Because it sounds like you moved from Nigeria to Cypress, which is where this university was located. And then what spurred the move, of all places, to go to Canada?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
What spurred the move was I’ve always wanted to come to the west, so it was either Canada or US or maybe the UK. I left school in 2014 February. That’s college. But I was already applying to several schools. So I got to teach university in Arkansas, and good thing I didn’t go there because I don’t know who lives in Arkansas but … Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You would not have liked it. You would not have liked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the reason I ended up Nova Scotia was because the school has a little bit of reputation. I heard about the school and the founder of the school is Anna Leonowens. So I just wanted to go to the school, because the school had a reputation in the art community. I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia, I didn’t know anything about the school. I just did some quick research. It’s the smallest place I’ve ever lived in. I think it’s like 300,000 people in Halifax. So that was a complete shocker to me. It was a totally different experience. I just wanted to come to Canada, right? I wanted to come to Canada or US, but Canada just seemed to work out better. And my dad has always preferred Canada, because he doesn’t like America because of the guns, and the fact that most people are just a little bit crazy in America.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair. That’s a fair assessment. But Halifax also has a pretty big black population too. We’ve had, back on the show … Oh God, this might have been a hundred or so episodes ago, we had Duane Jones back on the show. I think that was episode 203, if I recall, so it was a while ago.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a huge black population, but you have to go look for them.

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. He said that too. Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I used to work at a hotel in Halifax, at the front desk, and there are some times where a gal was having her birthday party, and all these black people would come. And every time I’m always confused. I’m like, “I have never seen this many black people before.” You actually have to go look for them. You have to go to specific places to find them.

Maurice Cherry:
How was it adjusting to Canada? I mean, outside from the fact that it’s a totally different country and different weather and everything, how was it adjusting?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It wasn’t too bad because when I came I was so busy with school that I didn’t really have time to do anything else. The weather was a huge shocker to me. So I came in August and there was a slow transition. And then, all of a sudden, on January first, that was the first time I ever saw snow in my life, there was a snow storm. January first of 2015, I woke up and there was a huge snowstorm, the snow was like four feet high. So yeah, that was an [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Maurice Cherry:
Whoo!

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So yeah, I had to shovel snow. So that was my first experience with snow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Adjusting wise, in terms of … The thing with NSCAD is at the time I was there, there was about 1,000 students roughly, maybe five black people.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There was no real advocacy. Again, it’s an art school, there’s not enough black people going to art schools. But I’m used to always being the only black person in most places that I go. Most classes or most things that I’ve done, I’m always the only black person there. That was not a problem for me. That’s something that I was already used to. But I never really had any issues, honestly, because Halifax is a very small and very laid back city. And also because it’s Canada too, there’s not a lot of overtly racist problems. People are very low key about their racism, because Canada … People here are supposed to be nice, so they always hide everything,

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s still there though.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, it’s a hundred percent still there. Like I had a lot of experiences when I worked at the hotel for about three years. There was a lot of incidents that I thought were pretty much very racist. But in general, there was nothing to the face. Plus I’ve also noticed this, I noticed this even from working at the hotel. Because I’m a very tall black guy, a lot of people just don’t mess with me, just in general. People just don’t mess with me even though … That’s just something I noticed. So I never had any issues, overtly.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
The first house that I stayed in … I don’t know if they have this in the US, but here in Canada, when you come to university for the first time they have this arrangement where you stay with a family. Yeah, so when I first came, I was about 20 years old. I came in August and I already arranged to stay with this family, and I only ended up staying there for three months because I don’t think that family has ever hosted a black person before, an African in general. So it was a very strange situation. It was this old woman and her husband, they were maybe in their 60s, 70s. And it was just weird living with them. They just didn’t know how to interact with an African. It was really odd. So I ended up moving out because I was just not comfortable.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so even that area they lived in, they lived on Gottingen Street in Halifax, which is a predominantly black neighborhood. So typically, because of the way Halifax has been, I say, constructed, that’s a hugely black populated area so there’s all these cops and all this sort of stuff. But at the end of Gottingen, it turns into a super white neighborhood, so that’s where I lived at that point. And so the woman, when I first moved there, she said, “Well, you have to be very careful because you’re going to be a person of interest.” I still don’t what that means till today. I just remember her saying that to me. And I still know what it means.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it just means … Honestly, it’s just you’re a black guy in a white neighborhood or something like that. So if something were to go down then you’re the first one that they’re going to suspect.

Maurice Cherry:
So where I live now in Atlanta is a pretty black neighborhood. It’s called the West End. But before that I stayed in Buckhead, which is kind of the richer, whiter part of town. I stayed there for a couple of years in college and then afterwards. And I remember I would go to the grocery store and get groceries, and then even on the walk home, which was not that far, because the grocery store was on the same street, maybe about a half a mile, I’d say three out of four times I would make that walk the police would just roll up slowly. You hear the siren and I’m like, “What’s going on?” “Well, we heard about some things going on in this area.” I’m like, “Well I’m walking with groceries, so I don’t know what you think I’m doing.” So it’s like, yeah, you’re a person of interest. They just want to, I don’t know, intimidate you I guess.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
In Halifax, there’s something they call DWB. It’s Driving While Black.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a lot that everywhere, it seems like.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a lot of racial profiling, people just getting stopped randomly.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. Unfortunately, that is all still a thing that we have to contend with even this far into the future. But I want to talk about this project that you did in 2018. So you did this … I guess you could call it a creative project where you designed or you did these photo manipulations, adding yourself in with James Bond characters. You did 365 of these. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so the project was not about me adding myself. I think maybe I added myself in two out of 365.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But basically what the project was … The planning started in 2017. I decided I was going to do a 365 project. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Because every year I try to set a goal at the beginning of the year and say, “Okay, this is my new year resolution and this is how I want to accomplish it.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I started working at the hotel in 2016, and the only reason I started working at the hotel was because I needed to get my permanent residence, which is kind of like the Green Card. It’s similar to the Green Card in US. And part of the requirement was that I was required to work there for a year, and the hotel was helping with it, so I pretty much got stuck there. But I was fresh out of school, this was a year after I got out of school. But then I’m also thinking, “Well, I’m going to be stuck here for a good year at least, maybe two years. I’m not really practicing design. I need practice.” Because you need to practice or you’re going to forget. So I was thinking, how do I go about this? But I also have the issue where I was always working at the hotel and I had very little time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So in the summer I did this 26 day creative project where I did something with the alphabet every single day. I did ABCD. Something based on A, something based on B. Just like that. And then I did all 26 days. I didn’t miss a day. So I’m like, “Okay, so this is actually doable.” So I decided, okay, starting first of January of 2018, I’m going to do a 365 project, but I had no idea what I was going to do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I did a lot of research, came across this lady, she said she didn’t know how to cook, so she went and bought the recipe book and she would make something from the recipe book every single of the year. And then there’s this guy in New York, he would go around New York and paint historic windows. So every day of the year he painted one historic window. A lot of projects like that, that I started following. So I was thinking, what am I going to do? And then I found this guy on Tumblr, when Tumblr was still a thing back then. He was doing a 365 project where he just remade one movie poster. And I was like, that’s actually interesting. I would like to do something that is movie related. And I’m a huge James Bond fan.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I saw this, then I remembered that there was this article that I saw about top 103 James Bond villains. I’m like, okay, so if there are 103 villains, it means that there’s more people. So I started looking up on the James Bond Wiki, I found [inaudible 00:33:17] characters. So I made a list of all the characters, did some research on each one to make sure that I had enough content that I could use. And so I did that, took me almost three months to compile. And then January first, the goal of the project was to make one poster that pays tribute to a different James Bond character every day. Just from the movies, not the books. So that was the goal of the project. And the only objective that I had was that every day just had to look different. That was just it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And at the beginning of the project, I wasn’t focused on the actual design itself. I was more focused on … The main challenge for me was … Because I knew I could do the design already, but can I do this for 365 days straight and not miss a single day? That was the most important thing to me. But I also didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t want to pre-make stuff. I have to make something every day. So for me that’s the challenge that was going on. Till today, some people don’t believe that I actually made one every single day. Some people are like, “So did you make three in advance and just wait and post it every day?” I’m like, “No.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Considering how much time it took, because I was averaging about 3.5 hours every day by the end of the year. And some days I had four hours, some days I had one hour, some days I had three hours. Well, basically I had about 3.5 hours every day to … I knew the character already, come up with a concept, and execute that concept. So that totally changed my whole design process, because there’s one problem that I had that that project fixed. The problem was when I get an idea and I think that this idea is a good idea, then I’m going to stick with it. It’s hard for me to leave that idea alone. But this project made me unintentionally grow out of the habit. Because there’s some days where I’m looking at the time, I’m like, “Well, I’ve been stuck on this one idea for three hours now. I have only two hours left. I have to do something else.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So then at first I would discard ideas. But then somebody told me, “Well, instead of discarding it, then you can just have a folder where you just put in all the stuff that you haven’t used, and then in the future you can use them again.” Which is what I started doing, I would just put the ideas there. But at first, the first month started off as more of an abstract deal, because I was afraid of copyrights and stuff. But then when I read up on copyrights and all this sort of stuff, I was able to move towards more using the photos. And honestly, when I started, I wasn’t delusional, thinking I was going to go all the way. I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to do this and see how it goes.” And then when I actually did the first 30 days and I didn’t miss a single day, I was so much confidence. So that’s how went that project went.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask, what did you learn about yourself throughout that process?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I am kind of a perfectionist, but then I also learned that I have to be okay. Because usually when you post your work online, you’re usually posting what you think is the best. Like, “Okay, this is really, really good and I’m going to post it.” But then I realized, well, I either have to make really good stuff and post it every day or I have to be fine with posting stuff that are not very good.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, at first I really struggled with that because I’m like, “If I have to post this, this has to be good on some level. It has to be good on some scale.” And so it started off like that, but then I met a lot of people that were doing projects too, and I talked to a lot of people. And a lot of people told me that you have to be fine with the days that are not good. You have 365 days, so if this day is not so great, you had a bad day. The next day you can knock it out of the park.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I also figured out how to take breaks without missing a day. So some days, because I was working morning shifts or evening shifts or night shifts. So some days I would make something at nine o’clock in the morning, and the next day I’d make something at 8:00 PM. So that’s a good, what, 30 hours of rest? So it’s like I missed a day, but I didn’t really miss a day. And I made a lot of sacrifices. There were parties or places I couldn’t go to because I’m like, “Well I haven’t done today’s work.” So everything is in the back burner until I do today’s work. Once I do the work and post it, it’s like a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief, that came with that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I have to give it to you for really finding a way to do it every day. I did a similar type of a 365 project. Not a visual project, I did a podcast where I recorded an episode every day for 365 days called The Year of Tea. And I did these short, five minute episodes just reviewing a different tea every day. And I didn’t get to it every day. There were definitely some days that I batched about a week together, especially if I was traveling or something like that. So I have to give it to you for carving out … I mean, one, carving out time to do it each day, but then the fact that you carved out so much time, like you said you were averaging around like three and a half hours a day for these designs. That’s a lot of time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, there’s a few days where I spent a good eight hours on this. I’m like, “Well today is Saturday, I’m home, sure.” I would sit in front of my computer for eight hours. Because then, the days that I have so much time, I feel like those days that’s where I put in way too much time and I try too hard. Because I’m like, “Well I have a lot of time today, so I’m just going to spend as much time as possible in this.” But there’s a day that I only have 30 minutes and I managed to do something also.

Maurice Cherry:
And you told me before we had started recording that there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Because initially I was like, “There’s over 365 James Bond characters?” I was like, there’s James Bond, there’s probably every bond girl, every bond villain, and I feel it sort of tops off right there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I mean there were some people that have one scene you know? There was a few people that showed up for one scene, so you have to do something for this one person. Maybe they said something funny. But so what I did was, when I was setting up the list, I spread out the characters. Because there’s a lot of characters that I wanted to get to, so I spread them out. So it was those characters that I wanted to get to that kept me going the whole time. I kind of put them strategically. So at the beginning of every month I have one major character, so one big villain or something like that. Day 200, I have one big character I have to work on. I strategically positioned each one.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the way I started the project … So all James Bond movies, and even the recent ones, there’s this organization called [Spectre 00:40:13]?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So each person at that time, especially from the movies in the ’60s, they had a number. So there’s a number one, number two, number three. So that’s how I started. And then on day seven, I did James Bond, which is Double O Seven. So that’s how I started the first few days. But there were little things like that. And so, I unintentionally populated the James Bond internet space. Like when you just look up random things about James Bond, you see my stuff popping up. So that that’s something that I’m really happy about.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean the thing with James Bond movies is that they come out every few years or so, so there’s a lot of time between movies to really fill that space with stuff, because there’s not a lot of active talk. I don’t even know if there’s a James Bond comic book or something. You would think with all the superhero movies and stuff, there’s always some kind of media that fills the gap between movies. It’s a television show, there’s a comic book, there’s something. James Bond, it feels like exists only in fiction and in movies. Of course it’s from the books, but there’s not really that other media around it to fill the gap.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I think a few people not named Ian Fleming have written books recently. But I think it’s because Barbara Broccoli that owns the IP, and MGM, they have a really, really strict hold on the IP, so it’s very difficult for you to be able … Now that Amazon bought MGM, maybe Amazon might want to produce a TV show or something. Who knows? But I also think it’s because the IP is so old and it’s right from the ’60s, so it’s one of those things where there’s so much content already, so maybe they don’t think they’re going to make money. Who knows? I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Could be. Oh God, you mention that … I feel like there was a cartoon series for James Bond. I don’t know if you remember. Well, I don’t know if they even showed it outside the US. It was called James Bond Junior. I’m showing my age by saying this, but it was like in the early ’90s. They had a TV show called James Bond Junior. I think it probably only lasted a season, but it was James Bond’s nephew who was also named James Bond, which I guess kind of makes sense for the show. But yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube or something.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I’ll tell you one anecdote about Africans in general. So, if you say … Say I’m 27 right now and say you’re 37, all the things that you experienced as a 37 year old, when you say you were 10, I probably experienced the same thing. Now, because of the internet, everything gets everywhere quickly, but as I’d say, the late ’90s, early 2000s, we were a good 10 years behind everything. The first computer I used was Windows 98. I also used dial up internet, I had a Walkman, I had the CD player, all the stuff, VHS. All the stuff that people my age here didn’t experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Out of all of the characters that you did, was there a favorite one?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My favorite one was … What was it? Day 124, which is May Day.

Maurice Cherry:
Grace Jones.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, Grace Jones. So I did that on May first, which is May Day. So, that’s my absolute favorite. That’s the one that I’ve sold the most, that’s the one that people love the most.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to have to check that one out. I don’t know if I saw that one on your site, but I definitely have to go check that one out.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You know the famous We Can Do It poster, with the woman flexing her biceps?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I did one with Grace Jones, where the background is yellow.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. Nice, nice. So you alluded to this when you mentioned this piece, but you’ve even managed to exhibit designs from this project, you’ve done a number of different exhibitions with it. How have those went?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
They went really well. So at the beginning of 2019, I did the exhibition … Actually, no, in May of 2019, I did an exhibition in a small gallery called Corridor Gallery in Halifax. It’s at Visual Arts, Nova Scotia. So that was the first exhibition that I’ve ever done. So I would consider myself a digital artist, so having to print out my stuff, put it in a frame, hanging it on a wall, totally new to me. But that was a great experience, so that’s the first time that I felt like an artist. That was amazing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I got to exhibit at the Halifax Public Library last year, despite the pandemic. I was there for about two months. The gallery there is a very lovely space. Huge. And they only accept, I think six artists a year, because each person stays for two months. So I applied and they accepted almost immediately. So I was beyond overjoyed. So that was the big exhibition that I had done. It was very good. I made a few sales from that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But like I said, the exhibitions, those were the things that made me feel like a real artist. So I really like exhibitions, that’s why I want to do some in Montréal, like a bigger city. Because I’ve always considered myself like a Nigerian artist. So the James Bond thing, I got a little popular from that because the James Bond IP was world renowned. Some people have never seen a James Bond movie, but when you say James Bond, everyone pretty much has an idea what you’re talking about. But I kind of want to stray away from that in a sense. I want to do more African themed exhibitions, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m trying to see if I can do something for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
So what prompted the move from Halifax to Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like I was saying earlier on, Halifax is a very small city. Honestly, I was looking at it and … Because I did that job at the hotel where I was pretty much stuck for three years … I stayed in Halifax for five years. Two years in school, three years at the hotel. And I was at that hotel, stuck. I couldn’t leave because of the whole immigration thing, so I was not happy in general. And my last year at the hotel, there was a lot of racially motivated shit that went on. So every time that I think of Halifax, I associate it with the hotel.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My plan was always get my permanent residence and move to some other city in Canada. That was always my plan. But I got my permanent residence in 2018 October, and then I decided, okay, in the new year, I’m moving to a new city. That was my resolution for 2019. I’m leaving Halifax in 2019. But the thing is because I made so many friends there, I knew so many people, I knew the city well, I was so comfortable, I just relaxed a little bit. So 2019 came around, and I applied for this artist residency in Banff. Banff is in Alberta. So I applied for the artist residency and made it to like the final three, but I didn’t get it. But that was my plan. I was like, okay. I had assumed that I was getting it for sure. That was how much faith I had in this. I was like, “Okay, once I get this, I’m just going to move to Banff.” The program was a two year program, do it for two years and make connections, and see what happens from there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I didn’t get the program, so I decided, okay … So that was in May of 2019. I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” I wasn’t sure. So my sister had a wedding coming up in August, so I went to Nigeria for the first time in six years for the wedding. And I decided, you know what? Once I come back from this wedding, I’m moving. But where to? I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to move to Vancouver because my sister was coming to BC for school, but then I started looking up Montréal because I knew somebody that lived here. I started looking up Montréal. So I went on Indeed, checked to see graphic design jobs. I was like, “Oh, there’s a lot of graphic design jobs here.” And I can learn French. So I decided, you know what? I’m moving to Montréal.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I decided, okay, I’m moving. So I went to Nigeria, I came back, I gave them my two weeks notice at the hotel, and then I moved in October first. Luckily for me, I was able to get an apartment right from Halifax. So I got the apartment, but then I started getting cold feet, because then I didn’t have a job, no real concrete plan. So to make sure that I moved, I shipped all my bags.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one way to make it happen.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I left just one bag. So after I shipped my bag, I bought my plane ticket. I was like, “Okay, I have to move now.” But then I discovered something. There’s so many people that discouraged me from moving. There was a few people that were like, “You know what, this is a good move. You’re probably going to make big advancements from moving.” But there are so many people that were projecting their fears and telling me, “Well, if you move then it doesn’t work out, what are you going to do?” People were saying all this stuff to me. But then I talked to my parents and they were in support of it, and I just moved.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I got to Montréal and I decided, well, I already did the job, worked at restaurants, walk at hotels, I think it’s time for me to get a design job now. So I decided, you know what? I’m only going to get a design job. So that’s how I ended up in Montréal.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve been in Montréal for what? A little over, you said two years now, something like that pretty much?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
About two years, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you gotten a chance to kind of see what the design community has been like outside of work?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Not really, because last year it happened, so that was kind of a write off. And then this year has been super busy trying to balance both jobs and also trying to have a semblance of a practice outside of work. So I haven’t actually had the chance, but recently I’ve been going to art galleries, checking out a few stuff and seeing what people are up to. But as for the design community here, the truth is in Montréal, if you don’t speak French, then you’re very limited in a way. Even though Montréal is super bilingual, most people you meet speak both languages, but if you speak French it’s like a new world opens up to you there. So that’s what I’m trying to do by learning French.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s your French going so far?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Pretty good. All of 2020, I didn’t learn French, even though one of my goals was to learn French. So I moved here, but then I got cold feet, because I got a job even without speaking French. But then I was thinking if I try to learn French what happens if I forget words? What if I can’t learn? What if I can’t do it? Because usually I do things that I know that a hundred percent I’m going to succeed at this, that’s the kind of things I like to do. So I was a little afraid, but then at the beginning of this year, I was like, you know what? This is my New Year resolution. I’m a hundred percent committed to learning French, despite work and everything. So then I got Duolingo and then I got a private tutor. And honestly, the progress that I made this year, it leaves me thinking, why didn’t I even start last year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, I actually made good progress. Speaking is very difficult because the pronunciations … The pronunciations are especially difficult for me because the sounds don’t sound like Igbo, and a lot of them don’t sound like English either. So there’s some sounds in French that my brain cannot just wrap around. It’s a fun challenge, so I’m not complaining.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I feel like the Nigerian accent is, and this is kind of this way with some African languages, it’s very throat based. The accent is very much deep in the throat, whereas with French, everything is nasally. There’s a lot of nasal stuff to it. So I know when you’re learning French, a good phrase when you get stuck with something and you don’t know, and your tutor probably told you this too, but just say, “[French 00:52:44].” Which is, “How do you say?” Yeah, so you can be speaking and you say-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, that’s a good one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you can [inaudible 00:52:50], you’re like, “Eh, [French 00:52:51]”]. And you kind of roll your way through it. And most people … I mean, I’ve not been in a lot of immersive situations. When I have been, it’s mostly been France French, not Montréal French or Quebec French or Quebecois or whatever, it hasn’t been that sort of regional-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s a totally different bag, but the thing is my teacher is from France, and Duolingo I’m also doing is French, so that’s what I’m focused on.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, once you really start immersing yourself in it … And I would say now it’s probably a lot easier to do, especially you got a smartphone or stuff like that, because you can set the language to French. And then you learn just from picking up context clues and stuff like that. You can watch movies with the subtitles and get the sense of what they’re saying, things like that. It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.

Maurice Cherry:
When I learned French, I was a kid. I mean, I started in second grade and then studied it all through high school and all through college. So I know enough to speak it and read it, but it’s a different thing to be immersed in it, when it’s the only thing you hear. My French is very situational. If I’m in a situation where I need to know French, like it’s a French restaurant, I’m like, okay, I know all the things to get around. Like where’s the bathroom, I will order this, I need this. I know that stuff. But then if it were something where I’m plopped into Paris, I’m like, oh, okay. That’s the real test is how do you use it from day to day.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But that’s the really amazing part about living in Montréal, because all the signs, everything is in French. It’s kind of a rule they have in Quebec. If you have any sign or anything you see outside is usually in French. That’s the rule they have. So everywhere you go, you’re exposed to French. People will say bonjour to you first, and then if you respond in English, then they speak in English to you. So my favorite game to play now is whenever I go out, I bullshit my way with French until the person realizes that I don’t speak very good French. I want to see how long I can play the game.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good way to do it, that’s a good way to do it. What are you most excited about at the moment?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s one thing that really, really excites me. Oh one thing that I did this year that I can’t believe I did was I learned how to ride a bike. Yeah, I never knew how to ride a bike because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a bike. So I just never learned how to ride a bike. So when I moved to Canada, it’s one of those things where I’m like, I don’t know if this is something that I can do, so I just never did it. But then I tell people I can’t ride a bike and people can’t believe it, because most people can ride a bike. So I decided, you know what? This summer, this is what I’m doing this summer. This is my summer project.

Maurice Cherry:
So did you buy a bike? Did you use one of those rent a bikes or something like that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It was more like a rental one or a friend’s bike or something like that. I’m going to buy a bike, but that’s going to be next summer, because you can’t bike here in the winter. There’s people doing it, but those people, I think they have issues.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But yeah, so that was the one thing that I did this year. It seems very small, but it’s one thing that just gives me great joy. Because I did a 30 minute lesson, and I could balance myself already by the end of the 30 minutes. And then I did another 30 minute lesson, and the next time after that, I was able to do eight kilometers. And then I was able to do 16, 20. And at the end of the summer I did 35 kilometers, so that was pretty amazing for me. All the while I never fell, until the last time I biked this summer, before it became cold. I was coming down on the bridge, one of these bridges in Montréal here, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I was coming down really fast, and they have these barricades that you have to wiggle yourself around. For some reason I got carried away. Next thing I know, I saw myself flying over one of these barricades. Yeah, that’s the first time that I’ve fallen in a really long time. Yeah, it was bad.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would’ve went to if you didn’t become an artist and a designer?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Probably an engineer, because my dad is an engineer. So even though he was very supportive, and even my mom was very supportive too, I feel like if I didn’t go into design, they probably would have steered me in the direction of doing engineering.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have an interest in it or do you think they would’ve just pushed you towards that because of societal expectations?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I never had an interest in it. Honestly, I’ve never had interest in science in general. I can’t think of one profession in science that I have any interest in, honestly. I’ve never had an interest at all. I think I’ve always been an artist at heart. And so even my uncles were really against this. Like, “How can you make money from art?” I was never really worried about money, because I always tell people it doesn’t matter what you read in university. There’s people on YouTube now making funny faces and making millions. I’m like, they didn’t go to school for that. So I honestly think that what you go to study in university is not relevant to how much money you would make or how successful you’re going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean now the whole thing that I see with some artists that are making money, they’re making it off of NFTs. I was reading this … It was some article I read maybe a couple of weeks ago about this artist. She’s a Canadian artist. I forget where, but she just started learning about NFTs in about a month or so. And then using that, she made, I think 50 something NFTs, and has made like $300,000 or something like that. If you’re able to get that much just off of a month’s worth of learning, you can do anything.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’ve looked into NFTs a little bit, but I haven’t … I have a two week vacation at the end of the year, so I want to use the two weeks to really educate myself and see what I can do. Because so many people have been telling me, “You have to look into NFTs.” So I’m like, okay, maybe this is something I’m going to look into. Who knows? Maybe that’s where I’m going to make it big. Because my goal in art is to make that one piece of art that’s going to pay me for the rest of my life. That’s my goal.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey, if you find a way to make it happen, let us know, share the knowledge so we can get in on it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I want to be that guy that just sticks a banana on the wall and people just pay $200,000 for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then everyone can cry about it [inaudible 00:59:57].

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s somebody that’s out here that’s listened to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I would say, honestly speaking, I’m probably one of the most fortunate persons that I know. I would say that because pretty much most things that I do, I succeed. I don’t know if there’s something special that I’m really doing that is leading me to succeed in most things that I do, but I don’t know, somehow I usually just pull it off. But I’m also someone that if I decide I’m doing something I’m going all in. And if I start something and if I realize that, you know what? Maybe this is not going to work out. I usually back out early. Once I get deep into it, then I’m seeing it all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like for example, the 365 project. By July, I was getting really, really tired, exhausted. Coming up with a new idea every day is not easy. Plus I have to make these all through artist blocks, like creative blocks. I had to find a way to make stuff. But I was also thinking, if I’ve made it this far, there’s no way I’m stopping now, because then if I stop, I’m going to regret this for a long time. So that’s usually how I approach most things. Once I start, I’m going all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
This is a problem that I realized that a lot of Nigerians have, and I used to have this problem. People are afraid to fail. Nigerians are afraid to fail in general, because the culture does not really encourage failure in a way where I feel sometimes failure is very important for you to get to the next level. Like you hear about these scientists where, oh, this inventor made 800 different versions before the final one worked. That’s not encouraged in Nigerian culture. If you do something, you have to succeed at it. This idea that nine out of 10 new businesses fail, if you start a business in Nigeria and you fail, a lot of people are going to make fun of you, even though it’s perfectly normal for businesses to start and fail.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So it took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that not everything I do is going to go the way I want it. And so since I’ve learned to accept that fact, I think my life has gotten a lot better.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’m not really a five year planning kind of person. I like to take things as they come, so okay, I plan for the next year. At end of the year, I’m going to sit down and think and see, and write down my goals and see if I have things that I want to accomplish next year. But usually, I take it year by year. So every year I have a big new year resolution that I want to hit, and I have very little ones that I … Because I like checklists, so I like to check, check, check. So I have very little things that I want to do, and I have a big one that I want to do for the year. And so I don’t really have five year plans.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Ideally, at the end of the day, I want to own my own design agency. I think, even before that, I want to become full-time freelance, but I still need to gain the confidence, because right now it’s really nice when you expect two paychecks every month. But then when you become full-time freelance, then you know that you have to do as much as possible, maybe at the beginning, to get money. Because I was looking into Upwork, and I realized that a lot of people in Upwork, they’re very, very talented and they’re probably very experienced. But if you’re starting an Upwork, you have to start like you’re starting all over. Because you have to beef up your reputation and your cred for you to be able to make money from it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, I still need to gain a little bit of confidence, but eventually I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to go full-time freelance, because I think that, like my dad always says to me, “You can’t get rich from counting on other people’s money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You talked about my website. I have to update the website because I made that website as a portfolio website when I was looking for a job, so I never really went back to go update it, but I think I’m going to go update it. But my website is mister365.ca, so Mister, M-I-S-T-E-R dot C-A. I’m very active on Instagram. My Instagram is nigerianexpert, E-X-P-E-R-T. You can find me on Instagram, that’s usually the best place to reach me. Or Facebook by my name, Emmanuel Nwogbo, N-W-O-G-B-O. I’m very active online.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Emmanuel Nwogbo, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think from hearing you tell your story and even you talking about moving here from Nigeria, I get this sense that you have this very quiet, maybe not so quiet, confidence about you. I mean, I feel like you’re downplaying it maybe a little bit, but I definitely get this quiet confidence from you when it comes to pursuing the work that you want to do. Because it takes a lot of guts to move from Nigeria to Cypress, to Nova Scotia, now to Canada. You’re still in your 20s, you’re still trying to figure it out, you’re taking on these creative projects. That takes a lot of confidence to be able to do all of that and still push forward and succeed, so I’m going to be excited to see what else you accomplish moving forward with your entire creative career. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, thank you very much for having me. I had a good time talking to you.

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This week, I sat down with Samuel Green — a product designer at Airbus Aerial in Atlanta, GA and a visual artist. Samuel is also the owner of Studio Mobius, which they call “a small creative group composed of like-minded humans who think differently.” Samuel’s trajectory hasn’t been a conventional one, but that didn’t stop them from achieving their goals. If anything this proves that there is a multitude of different paths for people to take to get to their destination.

Our chat covered many interesting topics including impostor syndrome, higher education, and creating a design directive in a very engineering-based environment. Give this episode a listen if you want to hear an insightful point of view on the future of design and how to carve out space for yourself in this competitive industry.


Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Deanna Testa and edited by Brittani Brown. 


When I stumbled across Cary Michael Robinson’s work, I knew I had to have him on the show. He’s got his hands in a lot of different aspects of art and design, and has even turned that into a series of entrepreneurial ventures in the DMV area.

We started off talking about Cary Michael’s day job with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and he gave a breakdown as to the importance of patents, trademarks and copyrights for creative makers. From there, Cary Michael shared his story of learning art at FAMU, and even shared some tips for designers on how to nail their own personal brand. Cary Michael is a true testament to living your life’s purpose through your passion, and I hope his story helps you pursue your inspirations!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
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If you have followed me and Revision Path since at least 2015, then you’ll hopefully recognize how powerfully significant this week’s guest is. Cheryl D. Miller holds many titles — visual artist, designer, author, writer, and theologian. Her trailblazing 1985 graduate thesis at Pratt Institute helped fuel the conversation about diversity in design for Black designers and designers of color — a conversation we’re still continuing over 30 years later.

Cheryl and I talk about her multicultural upbringing, her time as a student at MICA and Pratt, and she shared her memories of life as a designer in NYC during the 80s and 90s. We also spoke about the latest chapter of Cheryl’s design career — the acquisition of her personal work archive by Stanford University! Cheryl is living design history, and I’m so glad to be able to share her story here with you all!


Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
fbdesign_logo_75
Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
glitch_75
Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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