Nomi Chi is an illustrator and tattoo artist working in Vancouver, Canada and most recently, the UK. Nomi’s been tattooing since she was 15 years old. In addition she also works in other various mediums. Fresh from her move, she sat down and gave us a peek into her art, work habits, and films. Read below for the full interview…
You are a busy bee! I believe you are the first tattoo artist to be in the Creative Spotlight. Could you tell us a bit about that? Are you apprenticing?
Nomi: Well thanks, that’s definitely an honour!
I’ve actually been tattooing professionally for about four years now: previous to that, I had a rather informal and unconventional ‘apprenticeship’ wherein I was tattooing out of a house – everybody has to start somewhere I suppose. I was about 15 when I started and didn’t really know any better, I was just happy that someone would give me the time of day and mentor me in tattooing. The learning process didn’t really start for me until I began to work in a professional tattoo shop environment with other artists and a more-or-less consistent supply of clients – and even then it was difficult. At the time, most of us were new to the city or new to the business or both, so we were squabbling over any and every project that walked through our doors. There was a lot of hair pulling and melodrama, and there have been many ups and downs since then. But these experiences have given me a thick skin and a [proverbial] hairy chest – things which are most definitely pre requisites to any kind of fulfilling art career.
How does tattooing give you a leg-up in your illustration career? Not all tattooers can be illustrators so what kind of advantages does that bestow unto you?
Nomi: For the most part, it’s great exposure. I often don’t have to worry about advertising myself as most of my best portfolio pieces are ambulatory – I mean, tattooing people is kind of like painting on canvases that walk around the city and hand out your business cards and drop your name at parties. Being a busy tattoo artist also means I am producing images pretty much non-stop throughout my week. It’s a great consistent art exercise if/when I’m motivated, but on the downside I can get burnt out and discouraged if I don’t manage my time properly – which, uh, I’m working on.
When participating in a group or solo exhibition, do you prefer if there is a theme for you to stay within guideline or do you enjoy being free from stipulations? What brings out your creativity the most?
Nomi: Themes definitely help. If its not a theme I feel like I can adhere to, it at least gives me a framework to build upon or even work against. Nothing stifles my creative mojo more than too much freedom.
In addition to being a great illustrator you are also well-versed in sculpting, casting, and working with ceramics. How did this venture come about?
Nomi: “Well versed” is not an accurate term to describe my process, really! I’ve had a few ceramic figurine-making classes (with my amazing professor, Justin Novak – check out his work here – http://www.justinnovak.com/) – with varying degrees of success. It’s something I want to continue, but it is very time consuming and often heartbreaking, so we’ll see. As for sculpting – I think it’s important for all illustrators to practice building physical objects with their hands. If anything it’s just a fun and rewarding hobby – it’s something I do to keep my fingers busy when I get bored of flat pictures but still want to make art.
Many of your illustrations combine (Wo)Man and beast. For me at least, there is even a sense of eroticism about them. Could you tell us a bit about your works’ themes?
Nomi: The short answer would be: I paint women because I like women, I’m attracted to women, I’m confused and frightened and intrigued by women. I attribute a lot of really important aspects of my life to the fact that I identify as female. I paint animals because, I’ve been drawing animals since I was a child; I wanted to be an animal biologist and I guess part of me never really let go of that. Combining to two themes yields a lot of potential for playing with character, narrative, for exploring an uncanny atmosphere.
However, this is something of a struggle for me. I mean, human-culture-juxtaposed-against-nature and/or equating the female form with ‘natural’ motifs are well trodden tropes within art history. Contemporary illustration is kind of obsessed with the whole woman-in-nature thing, and I am trying to pull away from that a little bit: I don’t want to be redundant, and I do want to remain culturally cognisant of the subjects I work with, but I also need to be honest with myself: i just plain really like animals and ladies. As I said previously: I’m interested in constructing surreal, perhaps off putting images. I try to aim for that sweet spot between desirable and just plain weird: I want people to like my stuff but I don’t want to make it too easy, you know? I try to make my images function like a mainstream David lynch movie. They’ll follow the rules of traditional narrative but there’s a big part if them that makes you go, “what the fuck?”
Tattooing, illustrating, or sculpting — which is the medium you find the most challenging and need more improving?
Nomi: Tattooing is definitely the most daunting. But all the mediums I work in have their challenges and I’m never quite happy with my work. I wish I had a million hands and more hours in the day so I could get better at all the things!
So if you combine everything up, you are indeed a multi-disciplinary artist. Tell us how you achieve balance, and how you are able to juggle all these talents.
Nomi: Truth be told: I don’t. There’s always something or somethings that I’m ignoring in favour of whatever I’m focusing on at present. I remember a quote by David Choe, and I’m butchering it, but he said somethething like: It takes incredible sacrifice, for those who want to keep balancing on the fence and don’t want to pick a side, keep balancing forever and see how that feels. So you always have to pick a side.
I’m definitely no David Choe, but that’s kind of how I approach it. I’m always neglecting something in my life for art, which makes me feel guilty. Or it’s the other way around and I feel even more guilty. I’m actually trying to re organize my priorities and bridle my work habits enough to allow for some semblance of a social life. On the one hand: I only have this one precious life, and do I want my legacy to boil down to a bunch of nifty pictures/objects and an impressive CV? On the other hand, I often feel like there’s a restless little monster in me and she is only happy when I produce lots and lots of art. So what’s a girl to do? Hmm!
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
Nomi: Where to begin? I really love Korean and Japanese revenge/gore films. I’ll watch pretty much anything by Takashi Miike. I recently watched “I Saw the Devil“, which blew my mind. Also, in no particular order: Ichi the Killer, Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Visitor Q, thirst, and that short (I think?) Chinese film about that woman who ate fetus dumplings.
You have a storefront….but it’s empty! What is up with that? Do you have some work coming in the upcoming year that you can let the cat out of the bag?
Nomi: Oh. That old thing…I want to start selling unlimited prints when I’m back home (as I write this, I’m studying in the UK), but that won’t be until July at the earliest. I actually have a really nifty art multiple which I’m selling through VonZos! (Check them out here: http://www.landofzos.com/items/product-category/peter-mycophillic-trysts-by-nomi-chi-2/) They are a fantastic publishing company and I foresee many cool projects with them in the near future!
How important to you, as an artist, to doodle in your sketchbook? Is it essential to maintain your skill-set to maintain your sketchbook?
Nomi: It is absolutely important. I am never without my sketchbook. I try to set aside time to doodle on a daily basis, but honestly the urge is strongest when I have other deadlines to meet, or when I’m in school listening to lectures.
As a creative who has been pushed to her limits, tattooing, studying, participating in art shows, etc. Do you have any advice for any creative out there on the pressures of dealing with stress and deadlines?
Nomi: Make a to-do list. Try to accomplish one task at a time. Breathe. Drink coffee. Try not to get distracted. Just try. Listen to podcasts instead of wasting time trying to compose the perfect “drawing time” playlist. Exercise, go outside. Make time for your friends. If all else fails, make sure there’s booze in the fridge.
Want to stay up to date on all of Nomi’s adventures? Follow her cookie crumb trail below: