As an African whose father first came to the US in the 1950’s to go to school and returned in 1962 with my American mother whose Caribbean heritage is from Trinidad and Jamaica, I spent most of my summers in the US as a child and came to live like my father in the 1980’s to also go to school and unlike my parents stayed on to work professionally and grow a career in architecture, academia and a business. My base in New York City was Brooklyn like most Africans but and 60 years later, I see Africans have consolidating in the Bronx and they are a dynamic group of people with a rich culture.

So, as I begin with curator LeRonn P. Brooks to craft an exhibition, public programming and community events for the Bronx Council on the Arts with Deirdre Scott, its Executive Director, it’s important to take the time to document the process and do what we Africans say often, tell our stories in our own words. It’s been 15 years since the three of us worked together – the last time was on the Underground Railroad Project with City University.

As a child of an African journalist and also the only sister of the publisher of The African, I am aware of the enormous richness in the stories of Africans in the US. Our history in this continent came before slavery with ocean voyages and during slavery as our descendants were traded like cattle. We have always been here and my father’s generation came to be educated and to return to Africa to build our countries, I came with the same mission but the 1980’s saw most of us remain in the US, as opposed to returning home.

Today, the 2000’s have changed Africa and we are immigrants again – from Europe to the US, and mostly to the New York area in the borough of the Bronx. I remind people often, the word immigrant is a word for all Americans as we are all strangers in this land – no matter when your parents came and how. We are not the original people of this land – it is our cousins, the indigenous American Indians.

BRONX / AFRICA: Fashion, Food, Film, Performance and Language will explore Africans in the Bronx through ethnographic lenses focused on Fashion (Fabrics, Textiles, Hair, and Dress); Food (Ingredients, Markets, Tours, and Tastings); Film (Media, Webseries, Comedy and Video); Performance (Comedy, Music, Worship; Poetry, and Plays); Language (Spoken, Written and Symbolic) in an inter-generational series of public and community programs that deal with the concepts of Homeland and Identity.

Interested in BRONX: AFRICA, please email me at and please read this article on the influx of African immigrants and join our Facebook group: Bronx / Africa.


Johanna Flores, Christine Facella and Andrea Miranda Salas: 9 Designers and Artists I Know

9 Designers and Artists I Know is a 2014 series of stories of nine designers and artists I know and admire as they navigate their world and produce art and design projects that make me want to work even harder. I repeat, I admire their talent, work and spirit.

by Atim Annette Oton

In my first blog about the 9 Designers and Artists I know on Hollis King, I hinted that the next generation was still trying to sort it out. Indeed, it made me think of three young product designers who were students at Parsons when I was there. They entered my life in ways that I think most of them did. Young, Quiet and ready to learn design. Each of these young women are individual, independent and at the cusp of sheer spectacular beauty in the work I see them produce now and there is in me the need to say, “take the leap”, your soul will thank you.

Johanna Flores

johanna-picphoto credit: Johanna Flores

Cool, collected and very much the sophisticated Frida Kahlo-like Mexican American designer Johanna Flores was my student assistant at Parsons for 2 years when I was the Associate Chair of Product Design. She was fiery and cool at the same time and it was ceramics that brought out her passions and revealed her intensity to create shear beauty.  Mexican chica, I used to call her silently, and then and now, I expected bursts of brilliance, so as I thought of the next generation, she and 2 others in this blog came to my mind as designers I admire and know. Selecting her and the other two and writing about them as one group was easy because I feel they are standing on the edge of the mountain and need to take that leap to soar.

johanna1 johanna2 johanna6 johanna5 johanna4 johanna3

photo credit: Johanna Flores

When you see Johanna’s work, you first would not get it but if you understood the craft of ceramics and the delicate technique of reviving an old process from Wedgewood of color mixing, then you understand that delicate balance. As she says on her site, “the rich and exquisite colors on the porcelain pieces are achieved by coloring the porcelain clay itself, as opposed to applying a surface glaze. Coloring porcelain is a very labor intensive and a rather costly process. The technique of coloring porcelain was discovered and first used by Wedgewood on their legendary Jasperware during the late 1700’s.”  This coloring technique looks simple, but you would not understand how its simplicity was hard to achieve.

She is re-imaging ceramics through simple vessels and objects. I call it, a mix of Mexico and London, after all, she was raised in Mexico, lived in California, educated in New York and escaped to London to work and live, before returning to work in all things corporate America for the likes of Martha Stewart. Complex, no. It pays the bills and has given her time to return to ceramics again here in Brooklyn.

I thought of her over the years since she left Parsons in 2003 as a graduate and as serendipity would have it, I kept bumping into her after she returned from London, first at the Dumbo Festival, on a train platform and around my neighborhood, now hers. Each time, she walked away, a thought crossed my mind, when would she take it and own it? The stage was hers, she needn’t be shy, she is a diva, the good type. Smart, talented and creative. She was and is her own person and she needs to bring Frida Kahlo out to the design stage. Take it. Chica. Visit her site for more details at

Christine Facella SONY DSC

photo credit: ColourHeelsDiary

Gregarious, cool American Norwegian fiery young designer, ever so quirky, always questioning herself, but daring to take risks and sometimes stopping ever so short of taking the full leap. Like Johanna, she was at Parsons in product design and also found her passion in ceramics. Christine Facella came into the program with questions, good ones too. And I remembered her well. In my 6 years at Parsons. I could almost say I knew 600 students very well who came through the program and like most of them, she arrived quietly, nervous at first and left loudly, confident, sure of herself and ready to take the world on.

Christine has been crossing cultures, her American side was always in conflict or in tune with her Norwegian side so when she left Parsons in 2004, I was unsure what she would do but knew she would go about it in her own way. And a few years later she walked into my store, then, on Washington avenue, accidentally, and informed me that she begun taking classes at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I recalled then that she was so into ecological issues and it fit her. She was still searching but building her skills and knowledge. She then went on to work as an illustrator and model maker at the Museum of Natural History in 2005 where she found her pace and it helped her work on her extraordinary collection of porcelain animal skulls.


photo credit: Christine Facella

A reviewer of her work wrote, “the accuracy and intricacy of her work result from sculpting up to 20 molds for each piece.” Another writer called her pieces “quirky, decorative pieces, sometimes adorned with gold, are intricately detailed with near anatomical correctness.” Her skulls sells to stores in the Americas, Europe and Australia, and she is represented by Michele Varian in Soho. This impresses me because we have had talks about mass market and commerce and even the very concept of money. Her work reminds me of Georgia O’keefe and she is an artist, after all.

In 2007, when she opened her design company, Beetle & Flor, she had a clear mission: putting her design services to good use: offering design assistance to under-served communities who depend on making crafts as a living. It made me proud as she was one of the students who took on Tony Whitfield’s (the chair of Product Design) mission of design for social good which we ran as part of the product program from 2000 – 2008. My six years at Parsons was just that. Her mission has taken her to India where she has been working with NGOs. This is again how we began our talks last year. I reached out to explore making clothes in India with some of the NGOs she worked with as I realized, it was time to work with new groups. We also have been talking about her trying to figure out what next. Yes, she, like Johanna is at that place too. To jump ahead and to soar, or to stand and wonder. Visit her site and read more about Christine here: or see her discussing her work at

Andrea Miranda Salas

Solo Exhibit at Brooklyn Workshop Gallery with ELEMENTS OF PROTECTION new work from artist Andrea Miranda Salas July 2012

photo credit: courtesy of ©Brooklyn Workshop Gallery

Andrea Miranda Salas is the most complicated of the three designers, she’s taking longer to brew her mix and her work like Christine’s is breathtaking. She is delightful but intense. Happy but complex. Her work is her signature, the spirit of an artist, The delicacy of the pieces, the sheer honesty of her soul in her work, and the craft astounds me. I am humbled by its beauty. Andrea is from Costa Rica and life should not be complicated but she meanders through the mode of what’s next. I want to yell, dive in. Just leap ahead. I am cheering for you. Your soul will soar higher.

Dumbo brought us back together again after she left Parsons in 2004, she was there freelancing at West Elm, what most designers do. I could tell immediately it was a job and not her passion so like I did back at Parsons, I asked if she was doing her work. She responded, “you know, I am starting to go back into the ceramics studio”. And her face lit up. I was pleased to see this excitement. She was there in Dumbo for a while before she disappeared again into another freelance gig. Almost a year later, I got an invitation to an exhibition of her work. I realized that since I left Parsons, I had taken a hiatus from going to any of the students shows  so I decided to turn at the Brooklyn Workshop Gallery run by Martine Bisagni in Carroll Gardens. I was not disappointed. I was blown away. Andrea has always been complicated yet inwardly delicate. The exhibition was entitled: Andrea Miranda Salas ELEMENTS OF PROTECTION in July 2012.

Solo Exhibit at Brooklyn Workshop Gallery with ELEMENTS OF PROTECTION new work from artist Andrea Miranda Salas July 2012

photo credit: courtesy of ©Brooklyn Workshop Gallery

andrea6 anfrea9

photo credit: Clay Space


photo credit: Clam Lab Blog

Her work is always challenging her assumed versions of herself, so to see her resolve it in her work was powerful. She had accomplished what it took most of us a life time to achieve.  Andrea focused on the idea of protection of one’s self, through delicate armor, she has created the poetry of her soul. And ironically, she is still on the cusp in her mind. She is still searching. So, I want to say, you’ve got it. Damn, you really got it. Own it. Own it. Simply, soar like an eagle. See more of Andrea’s work at her website:

As a designer and educator, now, an entrepreneur and story teller, I am fortunate and  privileged to see these three designer blossom from “the kids” to full womanhood and most importantly, to be the deep, passionate, and rich spirited artists that they are now. Not rich in money, but in their souls. They have affected my life deeply like the other 597 product students. I honor and respect them, even their choices and paths they take. I learnt from them to take the leap, and banish caution. Six years of holding their hands as the tried and failed, tried and succeeded as students is enough to make you do what you plan.

This next generation trio have the passion, talent and creativity to do anything and from far and close, I see that they are holding back. To sell their work as mass market objects or spectacular one of a kind pieces is the struggle, to be the true artist which is in their nature, their DNA, or to “sell” out and be the designer of their ceramic journeys of mass market objects. I am torn for them, my soul says artist but my brain says designer. And the truth as I write this, I want both for them, just do it. Take the leap, stop being apprehensive and cautious. Commit, because life is too short.

Creating Income as an Artist or Designer

by Atim Annette Oton

I woke up early this morning reflecting on how many artists and designers I had worked with over the last five years who came to me with just two or three income streams and they had never really looked beyond the two jobs or three opportunities in the years since they left school. It’s nothing new, but this means they keep the myth of the starving artist. I was born an artist and chose to become a designer and entrepreneur. Business was always around me when I grew up as my parents ran a company in Calabar in Nigeria where I was born. So, my frame is defined – to see opportunities and income streams in several arenas.


To be able to do this process, I tell artists and designers that you must move out of the tunnel vision of just developing as an artist or designer and shift to the creative entrepreneurial mode. This requires multi-level thinking and strategies to produce multiple pools or sources of income. I believe after 20 years in design and entrepreneurship, I have identified 15 work opportunities that must be developed to create income in the creative sector (earlier this morning, I had 13). Most artists and designers limit themselves to just three and wonder why they do not have income or enough income to produce their art or design work. These 15 ways will make you think creatively about your career and illustrate missing income sources:  

  1. Art and Design Work: This is the everyday work that most artists and designers are doing. This work is a job or independent paying work. When I begun as a designer, I worked in architecture. It was the place that defined the beginning of my career and helped me navigate my future in design. This way of working is the first way to experience your career.
  2. Exhibitions or Projects: After a year of work, I participated in exhibitions (a tradition I had begun in college), in this realm, I sold some art work based in design ideas at a gallery group show. For artists, exhibitions are a way to expose your work to the world, build a following, define a price-point for your work and begin to sell periodically. As a business who sold work of artists via exhibitions, I also ask artists to get prints and cards done to sell as part of the original work. Simply, you may not sell your originals but you may sell some prints. I sold some artwork early in my career and garnered about $2000.
  3. Freelance work: I urge artists and designers to seek freelance work – from doing logos to selling your images, drawings, paintings or design work. Here are some places to look or find some freelance work at this site My freelance work provided an extra $3000 – 5000 a year.
  4. Teaching in Academia, Online and/or your neighborhood: It is important to update your portfolio, website and resume (CV) periodically with the work and projects you are doing. Your blog or website should show that you’re interested in teaching as an artist or a designer. You could teach classes or give individual lessons to people who live in your area in your studio at a price. After graduate school, I began looking for adjunct positions to teach design and ended up teaching interior design in New Jersey for about a year and a half before ending up at Parsons teaching Product Design. This process took sometime, I even got offered positions in Long Island that I turned down. It provided an extra income of $4000 to 10,000 a year. I will also ask artists and designers to consider teaching online.user_friendly
  5. Workshops/Seminars for Organizations, Groups and Corporations: As I taught as an adjunct, I began marketing myself as a workshop or seminar instructor and began approaching organizations. This income gave me about $250 – $500 per workshop and since I had experience as an adjunct, it placed me on several speaking lists for several design topics including diversity in design, attending graduate school overseas and art and design options in New York City.
  6. Collaborations with Others: As a strong believer in collaboration, I was and am always invited by others to work on an idea or project. These opportunities take me into new arenas and income streams that I would not imagine. One of my best was in 2000 when I helped with Paula Griffith build the team that first won the competition for th African Burial Ground’s Interpretive Center – the team was led by IDI Construction who had the contract for it.( IDI ended up closing but that project defined my career and was one of the reasons I was hired at Parsons. It was a project I worked on after my day work.
  7. Research and Consulting: The next place I have found work is in research. The African Burial Ground project paved way for the Underground Railroad Experience where I was the Co-Executive Producer, Design Project Developer in Multi-media, Design and Content/Curator doing research and consulting. The project came to Professor William-Myers who I was working with on the burial ground and along with Deirdre Scott, we sat and crafted the project, built the team and had the last website up via City University of New York’s website, a site which is no longer up today. That project was about $40,000 of income over a period of 2 years through my company, A2EO Media, Inc.
  8. Company – Develop with services: I created my first company A2EO Media Inc., design firm and I specialized in idea, content development, conceptual design and strategic planning using multimedia technologies. Artists and designers need to create companies and not just get work as themselves – using their name. In competition with other companies, an organization actually prefers sometimes to deal with another company and not an individual, particularly an incorporated one. It is also good for your taxes as you pay more as with a Schedule C.Strategy-300x225
  9. Writing for Pay: As a child of a writer and journalist, I knew I had some skills, so I begun writing after graduate school. One of the first places was Oculus, an architecture industry publication (which no longer exists) – but it gave me a place to create a writing portfolio – I continued to write periodically and have earned about $3000-5000 a year when I am busy, that is why I keep this blog and have developed it. Some work is not about pay but about creating an audience and developing an idea or project. My work at Huffington Post Black Voices is about Africa.
  10. Not Profit Work: I have volunteered with several non-profits that have ended up hiring me for freelance work or for a nominal income. This opportunity is one that some artists and designers miss in their search for work or income. A not profit brings you in contact with a group of believers, but one caution I would say is that this process takes time and is about relationship building. Expect income of about $1000.
  11. Lectures: Like workshops, I also began approaching organizations and institutions to do lectures. The first one was free and set me off to speak at 3 other places where I earned a speaking fees. doing lectures builds your career, shares your ideas and work and provides a nominal income. I typically tell artists and designers to do at least one every season, so 4 times a year for an income of about $1000-$2000 a year.
  12. Making Products for Sale: My first product was a t-shirt, then a journal and I moved on to earrings and dresses. As a designer, I have earned income periodically with some of these products and lots of websites like can be used to create products. I typically expect an income of about $1000 a year.
  13. Traveling Opportunities: In the beginning of my career, I looked for travel opportunities to build my work and freelance experience, outlook and network. I got paid to travel to explore design schools, art and design curriculum and projects. This was a very specific income stream that I got occasionally. It earned me about 1000-$2000 only.
  14. Competitions: When I left college, I believed like most that you had to do competitions to make a name in architecture so I did several, won a few but realized it was more about my creative energy of exploring ideas and not an income stream. These days, I have moved away from design competitions to work on competitions in developing apps like the one I worked on with Nokia.
  15. Grants: Artists and designers have always used this as a source of income but it is not a reliable as it can be like the lottery. In the years I have gone after grants, I have received no more than 3 in 20 years.

Each of these 15 ways has produced income, taken time to identify people and organizations. I have used my Rolodex, and contacts to produce results. I believe after 20 years in design and entrepreneurship that these 15 work opportunities can be developed to create income in the creative sector for artists and designers. My final comments are that if you earn $20k as an artist imagine what you will earn if you added 14 income streams: I estimate that you double your income with a strategic organized plan of action.

The Head Game: 6 Ways to Break the What Ifs to do Life’s Work

by Atim Annette Oton

Most people wonder why I seem to move ahead and succeed in what I plan or intend. My simple response is that my head game is extremely focused and inline with my life, goals and objectives, and I am on a mission to fulfill my dream. Additionally, I think positively and actually think less about the problems and issues. So when I meet designers and artists who tell me they don’t know where they are going, I often ask about their head game. Head game is about change and I have come up with 6 ways to break the what ifs and actually accomplish doing your life’s work as an artist and a designer.


SolutionWordPuzzleBreaking What If’s and doing work as a designer comes with insight. How did I get here? For me, channeling a positive head game all starts with assessing and analyzing any problem or issues for a solution. Simply, in most things I do, I let solutions be my focus. In order to do so, I have always planned and usually executed alone or with a team of people. It comes from my upbringing living with a journalist and an educator but I was also educated in this way. In this vain, I ask for help and have built a team of advisers who I can consult with when I need feedback.


The-Moment-You-Take-Responsibility1-300x176The hardest part of the process of art and design is how I enter any idea. I begin by taking responsibility for an idea that I conceive, the process and the end result. Most importantly, I see the beginning, middle and end of all ideas. I find that some artists and designers see or look at the beginning or middle.

Risk versus Fear:


In all things, I take risk and fight fear. As a designer and entrepreneur, my goals are to get things done and spend less time on the issues. In order to do so, I make sure that I never get stuck, and just keep moving with purpose. And like designer Dyson who created the vacuum who made over 2000 changes, I look for another option when I hit a roadblock.

Invisible Luggage (Burden):


My head game is very much aware of the invisible luggage I carry with me when I start a project or work on a project in unfamiliar territory. So, I throw away my invisible luggage/baggage every time I work on a project as it will hold me down. Each of us has one, and for some of us, it’s the fear of failure, not having money and not trusting your instincts or ideas. This luggage holds you for doing anything or moving ahead.

Playstage versus Work stage:

dreamIn order to place myself in the right head game in a design process, I begin by writing my ideas down so I can “remove” them from my head. I really believe the notion that if it stays inside my head, it means I am not working on it. Putting it on paper makes it real and I can draw it out, write about it and question it. In my head, it’s not really real as I change it and not really deal with it. I call it being in my head – my play stage and when it’s out of my head, it has become my  work stage And this shift means I own it and take responsibility for it.


feedbackOne of the most important processes in design is Feedback. I often see many designers and artists avoid this stage. They try to do it by asking novices and not the peers or mentors. I am a feedback loop, as I share my work with others for feedback all the time. It gives me insight and allows me to work more realistically. My feedback comes from a team of people who I assemble before, during and after a project.

word-cloud-giving-feedbackMost people who are successful have a good head game. They can develop ideas, work on them, complete and analyze them. Artists and designers who are unable to keep a good head game are in crisis and you can see it in their work. Life is short, live it with passion and purpose and keep your head game conquering your fears.

Need to get your head game together, and if you are interested in making a shift to enjoying the creative process, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at

Enjoying the Creative Process: A Lifetime Process

by Atim Annette Oton

joy2Several of my last postings have focused on the perils of artists and designers;so this week, I begin exploring the process of creativity that blossoms in the hands of success. My good friend Patricia would say that New York’s sun affected my mood this morning so, alas, the positive mode.

Last year, I was counseling two designers, one in the beginning and the other in the mid point of their careers. Guess, who was happy? One would have expected the “young” one to be. I was not surprised, more amused that the young one did not see possibilities only issues that were having. What did the older one have? And why was she coming to me? The secret ingredient: Joy in herself and work; curiosity about things, an openness to learn, and an interest in trying new things. She was curious to know if I could make her design more vibrant, willing to see what she did not know and open to examine her processes. Bingo. These are some of secret sauces of artists and designers.

The Joy of Creativity, Art and Design:


Imagine the feeling the sun shining on a cold morning in New York, or spending the day on a beach in the Caribbean, that’s joy. So what is it in design or art? Some artists and designers say that it is that once in a lifetime commission or project, that big break or show. Maybe. I beg to differ because that one thing just last a short time. What about the rest of your life?

Joy in art or design is about doing work you love or are passionate about with purpose. It is the work that you imagined you would be doing for most of your career and life. The work that you rise up to do very early, the work you create and make change the world. It excites, nurtures and satisfies your soul. You cannot imagine doing anything else. Been there? I have periodically in my career.

It’s my life enjoy the work I do and to be in the obis of joy and creativity. The joy of art or design is an awesome place, it’s a place of nirvana, the best of you – fully functional, and most creative people dream about it. I have experienced it so many times, I often wonder why most creative people don’t. It is when there is a convergence of the right project, the right people, and you at your best. I have experienced it even at work. Much thanks to Tony Whitfield for some of those moments at Parsons. And most especially thanks to my mother at Calabar Imports. Work equals joy, it’s just that simple. But you must be working your joy.



The mark of a talented artist or designer is their curiosity, their intrinsic interest in people, things and the world. These creative types are the ones you see at the newest exhibitions talking to the artist or curator. They are curious about how things work, ask a lot of questions and even do research before and after, actually follow-up with people. Curiosity is sometimes built in to some people. It begins as a thought and an idea and evolves into an action. It is part of the creative process…to look beyond yourself and take an interest in someone else’s work. To be curious is an art, a way of being and an approach to life and work.

Some artists and designers who I counsel tell me that there are open. They make a statement of saying they are. I smile because they are not. Openness is a vital quality that separates the doers from the talkers. Openness is about supporting a fellow artist or designer who evolves a new idea in your own backyard. Openness lets you work with such diverse people and not the same old cliche you went to school with. Its about trying new things, taking a risk and being prepared to learn something new.
The irony of openness for artists and designers who are considered creative is that some of them are not open. You can see it in their work…they are still doing the same work they did 10 years ago; you see it in the collaborations they set up…the remain working with the same people. Very few surprise you, I even see it in the exhibitions they participate in, they are with the same old crew. Imagine if they step out their element and a new group or new viewer saw their work.

Openness requires flexibility, dynamic thinking and engagement. Do you know how many times I hear artists or designers tell me how open they are but they are the first to refuse to try new ideas, methods, or make any changes? Openness breeds transparency, authenticity, creativity, and collaboration.

Trying, and Trying again:


Designers and artists who enjoy the creative process believe in the concept of trying so much so that they do not sleep when they have an idea. They work at it, try many possibilities until the get to the place they need. One of the most successful designers, James Dyson became better after failure (see Imagine working on over 5000 changes and modifications just to improve a product. So, when I hear designers or artists give up after 5 trials, I shake my head and think, you really are not a designer who is on track to succeed. Another good read is here.

Joy, curiosity, openness and trial options are four key components that form the basis of the art and design process; they make artists and designers successful and quite frankly, happy. So many times, I see the opposite so I think it was high time to highlight positives. Need more inspiration and if you are interested in making a shift to enjoying the creative process, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at


The Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up: Fronting, Stuck, Hiding and Running Away

by Atim Annette Oton

My last 13 years of working with artists and designers have revealed some deep and critical issues about how they handle themselves in crisis or make critical decisions. What it shows are four destructive paths that form the basis of self sabotage and result in failure, so when I began to write this blog, I reflected on the notes I kept over the last 2 years. Here are 5 deadly excerpts that I have experienced since consulting some of them in the last 5 years from the crash of 2008:

Scenario 1: Designer tells all her friends to have insurance but has none, then loses day job, gets sick and is in coma. 

Scenario 2: Artists quits his job, has no plan, but exhibitions and grants. A year later, he is broke, and borrows money from friend to pay rent. And all his friends think he is doing well.

Scenario 3: Designer is overworked, he gets sick, goes to hospital, checks himself out and dies. No insurance and has too many clients at Christmas season.

Scenario 4: Artist has steady stream of income until 2008 when economy crashed. She is still working the same plan and getting 20% of income. She has not invented or created a new income stream. Still hoping for pre-2008 times.

Scenario 5: Designer on Facebook. Life is sunny. Or so it seems. Behind the smiles and postings…but the reality is that the designer just lost space and business due to family crisis.

2013 has been a year of realness and if you are not dealing in truth and reality as a designer or an artist, it is giving you hard knocks and showing you that fake facades do not work in the real world. Simply, if your foundation is weak, it has and is crumbling. The five scenarios above are real stories of this year. Each demonstrate lessons of how artists and designers get stuck, hide from the truth, pretend everything is okay or run away from dealing with issues. Each is deadly and result in failure.


I love art but…I have lost my voice…I don’t know where to begin.- Erica Meade

Scenario 4: Artist has steady stream of income until 2008 when economy crashed. She is still working the same plan and getting 20% of income. She has not invented or created a new income stream. Still hoping for pre-2008 times.

stuckSome artists and designers are experiencing a mental block, a place of non-movement, and a place I defined as stuck. This has left them frustrated, inadequate and angry. How they came to this place is not just their fault but it is part of a life process as a creative person. When you are stuck, you exhibit the following characteristics: avoid people, situations and tasks, have bad habits, criticize others, procrastinate, seek perfectionism and are negative about things.

If you are stuck, you end up not doing anything, your work stays the same, you do not finish projects and it can take a long time to get out of this state without help. A few artists talk about how they deal with being stuck, they call it getting in a creative rut:

“I read poetry… Rumi, Neruda, Rilke, and my own poetry, to remind myself of my own art. The words help me to see shapes, colors, form, which then inspire me to write, paint and create.” — Arica Hilton, Poet/Artist

“If I get into a creative rut, I take a long bath, light a candle, and listen to soft music followed by a nice long slumber. After a restful night’s sleep, I often wake to a morning of refreshing ideas!” — Dee Alexander, vocalist


What are you hiding? No one ever asks that. – Sarah Vowell

Onstage, there’s no hiding; you either can or can’t act. There’s no second take. Anna Friel

Scenario 2: Artists quits his job, has no plan, but exhibitions and grants. A year later, he is broke, and borrows money from friend to pay rent. And all his friends think he is doing well.

hidingWhen artists and designers are not ready to deal with the world, they hide away from it. Hiding keeps an artist safe but it makes them obsolete unlike a working artist who is always around doing shows, producing work and networking. Hiding keeps you away from opportunity and people really forget about you. Imagine being asked to be on a panel at a funeral? Yes, that happened to an artist I know. So, when you hide away as a creative person, you make it easy for yourself to be a non working artist and not to be seen.

My last blog, Succeeding an Artist and Designer, defined some of artists and designers bad habits; and one of them was networking. When you are not working, it’s best to do meet people. Hiding in your studio does not grow your circle or make you grow. And during slow times, a creative person makes Personal Development be a priority.


Scenario 5: Designer on Facebook. Life is sunny. Or so it seems. Behind the smiles and postings…but the reality is that the designer just lost space and business due to family crisis.


This year, I watched an artist and designer spend the time everyday posting happy things and positive motivational words and images on Facebook but the irony is that these two people were in crisis. I know that Facebook is not the place where people are really Real but to watch these postings was painful as I knew the truth behind the facade, there were having so many issues. One lost his work space, and the other her apartment. I feel your pain, but if some of your contacts knew what was going on, maybe they could of helped in some way.

Pretending that everything is alright has become the status quo for artists and designers these last five years. To deal with themselves, some are creating a fake facade of reality. I know, I have had to tell about 6 artists and designers to post on their pages that they are looking for a job and in less than a week, all of them got a job or gig.

Running Away:

Early this month, I got an early morning call from an artist who was experiencing a problem and in that conversation, I dared to ask the question: when you face an issue, what do you normally do? She said, I run away. Yes, a grown-up said that. I should have been shocked but since I spent 6 years at Parsons with creative students, I had seen and experienced this before. My role was to go find that runaway student even if it meant going into bathrooms to find them.

Running away is the easiest thing that creative people do, it’s like hiding except it is more destructive. It means you avoid dealing with things and postpone the issue. A designer I was working with told me they avoided some issue for five years, and when I asked what was the end result, she said, “well, I can no longer work with those clients anymore”. What was the issue? She could not deliver her designs on time and she gained a reputation. So, I asked, What did you learn from it? She said, I just moved on to the next clients. I responded, you lost money. Business is about repeat business.


To move away from the Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up, I have 4 innovative concepts for artists and designers: Paradigm Shift, Truth and Reality, Taking Stock and Getting Help, Mining Your Resources and Setting a Path.

Paradigm Shift:

2008 marked a huge Paradigm Shift, a new way of being, working and thinking. Some creative people got it, but a lot missed it. It was a huge change and redefined how things worked. Forget the financial crisis, 2008 marked a point where ideas and beliefs shifted dramatically. It was a point to see things differently, to try a new perspective and work differently. Not just a place to think outside the box but a place and point to remove the box. Imagine that. Edward Glassman, PhD writes that “a paradigm shift changes your belief structure and your perspective so you see things differently and creatively”.


If Cubism and Dada changed the attitude and thinking of artists and debunking the realm of possibilities an art work could depict, imagine what could have happened for artists in 2008 if something new emerged? There was an upheaval, a radial change; and even five years later, I am looking to artists and designers to create that new space and thinking. And they should start with their work and themselves.

Truth and Reality:

truthToo many artists and designers are refusing to face the truth of what is happening to them. Life has dynamically changed and when I counsel them, I do a session on truth- how to tell the truth about what is going on with themselves, their work and relationships – personal and business. The truth shall set you free is a key statement of this session. It frees you to be yourself, the real you. That freedom lets you redefine things more clearly and straightforwardly.


If you are honest with yourself as an artist or designer, you stop covering up the truth from yourself. If you have not exhibited work in a year, then, you are not a working artist. Let’s be real, working artists create work and exhibit or sell it. Art is their main gig and not the hobby, so they work on developing, nurturing and growing it even with a full-time job. I am a watcher of artists and designers and when I meet one, my first question usually is – where did you exhibit or show recently? Or, what new work are you making?


The reality of telling yourself the truth makes you responsible, less insecure and engage in changing things in your life and career as a creative person. I often say, be real with yourself and you can solve anything. I make creative people do a reality check – from analyzing how many times they are showing work, selling work, making new work and even networking. The list is enormous because, quite frankly, a real creative person is running a business and not playing the old stereotype of the starving artist.

Taking Stock and Getting Help:


It takes about three meetings with artists and designers who are stuck, fronting, hiding or running away to real get to the essence of what is going on. Why? Creative people are the most creative about lying to themselves and others. I have to dig deeper, and since I know what they can hide, I keep digging. They make the sessions I have with them interesting. It does take a creative mind to come up with layers of excuses and to bury things. I call this process, taking stock. It is the gathering of all the issues, problems and seeing what is working and not working.


Taking stock is about taking a moment, to evaluate and measure where you are in life. It’s a vital check in. I often advice creative people to do it every season. And in New York, there are four seasons, so four times to see where things are. It is a way of knowing what you have done so far, what you need to do and a way of creating a list for the future. And after you have taken stock, I often tell artists and designers to get help if they need it at this point.

help_keyboardGetting help is simple. If you know you need to do taxes, you will see an accountant. So, why is it that when you are stuck, running away or fronting, you avoid talking to someone? I am bold to tell creative people that they need therapy. Talking to someone that can unwind them from their stuck stage is a strategy I use. Help comes in all forms, and most creative people wait until they are almost a foot in the grave before they actually reach out. I usually get the emergency call to help, so these days, I am blogging to say to all creative people, it’s much easier to help you earlier. Simply, I can solve the problem faster and suggest options.

Mining Your Resources and Setting a Path
career-change1Sometimes, I cannot believe how many artists and designers do not use their own resources: contacts and networks, funds and brains. Yes, I dare say it – brains. So many have stopped thinking creatively. They have stopped connecting the dots and are working in silos. The creative sector is about relationships, collaboration and partnerships. It has never been about the solitary artist or designer. That’s a myth.

As a designer and business person, I have “mined” my resources. It is how I have moved from place to place and built my career and business. I can see that physically from where I sit in my store. My broker is a person I knew well enough to ask her to get me a space on Franklin Avenue at a reasonable rate because I wanted to build a business on that avenue after the fire I experienced.

The main message I give to artists and designers is to change, you have to create and set a path. I call it setting goals and objectives that you can implement. Yes, you must define where you want to go in your career and life. Some artists and designers created a path 20 years ago, since 2008, its time to dust that plan off and create a new path. What worked 20 years ago does not necessary work today and tomorrow.

The Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up: Fronting, Stuck, Hiding and Running Away is a place of fear and marks a path to failure. Changing this notion is a process and some artists and designers understand there are in trouble, while others are afraid to admit there is a problem. If you are interested in making a shift, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at

Change and Reinvention: The Art of Navigating your Art or Design Career

by Atim Annette Oton


Change is one of the hardest places to get to or to do as an artist or designer, I know. Since graduating from architecture school in 1991, I have been strategic about making change and reinventing myself and career. The 1991 recession made me realize that it would be 10 times harder to get a job and after reading an article in the New York Times about an architect driving a cab because he could not find a job. I sat back and really took stock of reality and decided to go to graduate school.

An ornate clock with the words Time for Change on its face
As I went through the process, I decided not just to focus on architecture but to go into what was going to be vital 10 years down the line: energy and environmental studies. I also decided to re-brand myself by going to one of the best schools in the world – The Architectural Association in London. The re-branding worked, as 2 years later, I returned to New York which was still in a recession and got a ton of interviews. But, I was looking to work in a firm that was a solid brand too, so I did the “relationship connection” thing and reached out to my former undergraduate dean to work in his firm.

I stayed in architecture for 5 years and started realizing it was changing, not for the good but for the worst. Knowing this, I begun talking with others and took on 2 outside projects that would eventually re-brand me. The first was Blacklines Magazine, my first foray into publishing. The other was the African Burial Ground Interpretive center which my team won and lost after our construction firm partner IDI Construction folded while waiting for the government to move ahead with the project. These two projects were about taking risk in my 20’s and defined my second stage of change and more so, reinvention. Since I knew there was something amiss in architecture, I also began looking to teach and ended getting an adjunct position in New Jersey teaching interior design. I also quit working my full to job and became a full-time instructor. This was the point when I realized that I had enough of traditional architecture practice and had no plans to return to it. My teaching led me to Parsons School of Design and through a contact (who I did not know at all), I sent my resume and in less than a week was hired to be the Associate Chair of Product Design.


Some might say Wow but I say as repeated to me by my former boss, “I was hired because of the magazine and the African Burial Ground project”. He said it showed risk, tenacity and the ability to implement things which is what he needed. I did so at Parsons for 6 years and in the process changed my career track and re-invented me.


The Parsons brand and the title gave me a tool to work on several projects; more importantly, it also gave me time to work on my third shift…the invention of Calabar Imports, my foray into retail and product design, plus Calabar Magazine, my foray into publishing.  My retail reinvention came through travels across the world at Parsons and personally. It was a shift from architecture and academia but it was about a desire to design things, to curate, to share and educate. It was also about becoming independent, a self employed person, whose choices and decisions were not determined by others. That shift in thinking was the point of reinvention. It is the place of radical change, one that creates a road map forward and takes determination to keep, nurture and hold steadfastly to.
After 7 years since leaving Parsons and full self employment, I am at fourth place of change: this time, I would call it global expansion. In this place, it is about working across continents, developing products, teaching design, developing curriculum and expanding my small retail empire. It is also a place of collaboration and partnerships, one that is Brooklyn-centric and Africa focused. In short, I have become my father and mother who went to Nigeria in the 60’s to build it. The pan-African Brooklynite in me sings loudly.


Change is about risk and fortune, it is about doing the work and doing it well. To achieve it, you have to be beyond mediocre and set an exceptional trail. It involves assessment, renewal and more reinvention but it is built on a solid foundation. Change is about recognizing that you have to be ahead of your self and have the right timing, be in the right mindset and space. My real lesson from change is about being open and being prepare to share how to re-invent yourself.