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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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