As an awkward teenager, I knew that there was more to life than what my parents told me — or failed to tell me. That’s why I gravitated towards enigmatic subcultures. There was something strangely exciting about being one of 11 kids in my city that did not have best friends in high school. I lived on Long Island for a good portion of my life, and I never really connected with anyone from there. The majority of my friends lived in Queens and Manhattan so I would venture out on weekends, or if I was sneaky enough, on a school night.
Predictably, girls at my school were preoccupied with looking pretty and buying Mavi jeans. Meanwhile, you could catch me with my eyeliner running down my face from sweating in a Hardcore mosh pit. The way I learned about music, movies, culture, and aesthetics was through solo exploration and a little help here and there from my dad and an occasional passerby. I would visit Tower Records on the weekends with my father and buy loads of CD’s by artists I had never heard of or seen before because I wanted to know what else was out there besides what the normal teenage girl listened to at the time (which was NSYNC if you were a good girl or Red Hot Chili Peppers if you were a trying-to-be-edgy girl). I bought my first ever Bjork album, Telegram at the age of 15. I couldn’t get enough of her obscure yet adorable voice and the different sounds in her music. I was hooked! I kept buying music that fell into different categories like trip hop, drum & bass, punk, ebm/industrial, synthpop, and new wave.
Aside from musicians, actors, painters, and burlesque dancers had a huge impact on my overall direction in life and personal principles of visual art. There are a bunch of women I look up to and many of them have had to fight to get where they did, like Audrey Hepburn, Bettie Page, and yes, even Gwen Stefani. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archeologist like Indiana Jones, but when I got a little older and found out how much money the schooling is and how lonely it can be, reality really set in. At the same time, I loved to draw and write stories. I was locked up in my room most of the time writing short stories and drawing the characters. My imagination was incredibly wild — I actually kind of miss it. I never really shared my art with anyone until recently. I was very secretive about it because of criticism and rejection. People are super competitive and showy. As Austin Powers would say, “That’s not my bag, baby.” So I just hid it from the world.
So what career path did I eventually choose? Well, the phrase “starving artist” couldn’t be any more accurate because I could not get a job anywhere. What about other avenues? Yes. In fact, I decided to shift my mindset to becoming a makeup artist. I worked my way up in the makeup industry after working for a couple of different companies including, Biotherm, MAC, and Estee Lauder. I freelanced and received many television opportunities, including FOX’s America’s Most Wanted. As satisfying as it was to be a makeup artist and work around fascinating people, I was still incomplete. I needed more.
Although I had been worried about something as stupid as what other people thought, I suddenly had a realization that what my mind and heart desires most is to have the freedom to let go of fear and ultimately not give a fuck. Sacrificing time with family and friends and my partner and taking that step into solidarity wasn’t an easy stride, but it needed to be done if I wanted to make an income from what I have always loved doing.
After moving to Miami, I really didn’t fit in at all. I don’t go to nightclubs and I don’t like to go to the beach that often because I do not want to turn into Leatherface by the time I’m 45. I didn’t have a foot in anywhere because I didn’t have friends in the area. I spent my days working at my day job and eagerly looking at the clock waiting for it to turn 5:00pm so I could rush home to splash paint around and make a mess on my coffee table with pencil shavings. There were many nights when my husband would go to bed before me because all I wanted to do was finish an art piece I was working so vigorously on.
One day I finally felt confident enough to post my art work on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. As much as hashtags are annoying, they work in a business person’s favor so don’t knock it until you try it! As excitement started to generate, my mind started to shift into the business aspect. Okay, now that I let go and I am showing some of my work, how am I going to make a living off of this? Well, of course I want people to buy original paintings and illustrations, but that is a heavenly stretch given that there are millions of artists all over social media. It will take time and of course I will never give up on that, but in the meantime how can I pay my bills with my art? I turned to other sources like gallery assisting, after school kid’s classes, social events, and I even applied to several art related festivals.
One day I turned to Living Social and bought a ticket to Paint Nite. What’s Paint Nite? Well it’s not the typical Paint & Sip company where you BYOB and listen to the boring monotone teacher. It’s a painting party! My first experience at Paint Nite was a thrill and I am so grateful that I went there and discovered such a fun and laid back scene. I knew it was my calling.
I’m a control freak, I love to paint, I love to drink alcohol, and I love socializing. It was a no brainer. I first started working as an artist for two Paint Nite contractors. I knew I wanted to become a contractor myself, but the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale were occupied by the contractors I work for so I decided to take on a different city more north. After a few months of training and hard work, I became a licensee/contractor for Paint Nite Port St. Lucie. Shortly after, my boss at the time was either fired or quit (it is still undetermined) and Paint Nite Headquarters offered me his city, Fort Lauderdale. I was beyond thrilled and took the opportunity right away! Now I have two cities as a Paint Nite licensee running under my business name MK Lemon Art, LLC. I get to work three days a week for a five-days-a-week paycheck and the best part is, I get to be my own boss and make my own schedule. Plus, I can be drunk while I work. Um…yes please!
I am thankful to have a good support system. That includes my husband, mother and brothers. My mother and I have been to hell and back together and as tough as it was, we are still here alive and have only grown closer. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be the capable business woman that I am today. My message to other women that feel held back or think there are no opportunities out there for them is: there are. If you keep trying and keep searching while developing yourself, you will find one and you will own it! Now that I have free time, I can work on my art more for side projects and other happenings in the near future. This isn’t the end of my journey as an artist, it is only the beginning.
While it’s scary to show who you are on the inside through art, whether through music, painting, or drama, you should never give up on what you want. Be determined and ignore the negative comments along the way. It is important to surround yourself with people that support you and what you want to do because they add that extra push with love and constructive criticism. Never let rejection stop you. If you’re an artist like me, you may be emotional, but you have to move past that and not let it be a handicap. Always keep your eye on the prize and eventually the word shy will be nothing but a 3 letter word.
Florida residents: Come check out a Paint Nite event here.