Today we’re joined by Monica. Monica is an indie illustrator from Texas who primarily works in illustration. Her current project is The Stolen Child Tarot, which is based on the William Butler Yeats poem. It is genderqueer and asexual. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I mostly do objective illustration work that is heavy on symbolism and organic plant/animal imagery and most of my work is acrylic ink on paper or a combination of ink and watercolor painting. People tell me that it reminds them of older storybook type illustrations, which was definitely an influence.
My current project is working to complete the minor arcana cards for The Stolen Child Tarot, a deck I started as a major arcana deck a few years ago that was well received. It was inspired by the Yeats poem, The Stolen Child, where the fey are luring a human child into the wilderness to them. The poem is seen as eerie or sinister to some, but in working on the deck, what jelled for me was just how done I was with the world of men, ingrained attitudes — a lot of things including internalized attitudes about gender roles and gender binary. Traditional tarot decks are pretty horrible in terms of a fixed and narrow male/female dichotomy, and apologists often try to play it off by defining those roles as a primitive way of creating a symbolic shorthand for groups of traits they want to lump together, even up to and including that sexual parturition is inevitable in a whole complete and healthy life. I think it’s baloney. The rules in my deck are that there can be no manmade objects and all the human figures are children. So symbolically, the challenge becomes to find ways to express the archetypes and concepts in the cards without resorting to old gender stereotypes and narrow beliefs about sexuality. So this is my asexual, genderqueer/androgynous tarot.
Right now I’ve been using Patreon to continue funding work on the deck:
What inspires you?
Literature and the natural world. There’s usually a book phrase or song verse that won’t get out of my head and it becomes the germ for a concept and then a finished piece. The Stolen Child Tarot is the largest thing I’ve worked on with a single poem as the jumping off point, but since it’s episodic, other lines creep in and help inspire the content for different images. For example, in exploring security versus the risk taking of asserting personal agency in the Four or Oaks card, the image came to me when a line from a Mountain Goats song kept repeating in my head, “God does not need Abraham. God can raise children from stones”.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I have always loved to draw and to write and loved books above all. At a certain point — and social media is a great prover of this — I realized it was easier to get people to pay attention to images than words.
I self-published Tarot of the Dead in 1999 and then submitted and was accepted by Llewellyn with it in 2001, but my pursuit of illustration began full-time in 2010. I was the executive director of the Central Texas SPCA, which was essentially an operations and management position. Animal welfare work is emotionally and physically demanding and I was just burned out. It had been drilled into me that you should have a ‘real job’ and do art on the side, but here I was approaching middle age, already with arthritis and a little nerve damage in my hand from a dog bite, and I just realized, “If I don’t do this now, I don’t get to do this at all.” The world doesn’t reward you for following perceived rules, and you only get to experience the things you make happen.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in our work that you’d be willing to reveal?
With the beginning of The Stolen Child Tarot, my signature became a rubric of an acorn with my initials and the year, but that was mostly a by product of doing jewelry work and continuing to work small — you need something unique looking but unobtrusive. It’s not a secret thought. In my Tarot of the Dead deck, I put a lot of secret homage stuff in there when I dressed the skeletons. There’s a John Waters skeleton and a Tom Waits one among others. I didn’t think it was necessary to point them out though.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
There’s an adage of “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.“ And I think the idea of starting smaller with what is immediately available so you can start cultivating an audience without a lot of risk is solid advice. I totally believe that to run a business and to make things, you have to give yourself the tools to succeed, but in the US at least, where you are programed to think and spend big big big, you can get yourself into trouble throwing away money and resources on overhead if your initial idea isn’t perfect out of the gate. And in a creative business, you need the room and flexibility to self-discover and evolve. Don’t be cheap about your materials, but be resourceful and start small because there are so many lessons you’ll learn along the way and it’s better that a single misstep be a learning experience instead of completely wiping you out.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
Probably demi or autochorissexual. I used to have a higher motivation and tolerance for faking perceived normal desire and relationships, or for trying to explain myself. At this point I feel like I’ve done my time trying to educate others though.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Among artists, luckily I haven’t had any issues. Okay, ignorance yes, but prejudice, no. When I’ve gotten into discussions with other artists about not sexualizing my human subjects or about portraying androgyny, the most common reaction is that a mirror is held up to other artists who automatically and unconsciously depict their subjects, especially women, as sexualized eye candy. Like it’s never been presented to them that they have internalized and are regurgitating a media bias, and it can be an interesting moment when you see the other person turn over these ideas in their head. I want to say though, I only describe what is present in my work — I don’t critique or judge others work. For one thing, I’ve done commission projects that reflected a gender binary I didn’t agree with. While I don’t think I’d ever agree to that again, it’s so hard to create much less make a living at art, I’m not going to assume I know where someone else is in their life or where they are coming from. Getting comfortable in your own skin can be a long process and I think people should go easy on each other.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
That it means you have no libido or that you are neutered. And also the usual assumptions — it’s not an orientation or it’s only a byproduct of abuse. My sexual assault was someone trying to ‘fix’ me, so that brings up a ‘whole chicken or the egg’ issue.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
Find some nonjudgmental people. They don’t have to identify the same as you, but there are others who are intelligent, caring and open-minded. And you don’t know where you’re going to find those people — it’s a hunt. My best friend from kindergarten, a gay man, was unable to talk to me about it. He argued that it wasn’t real and even if it was, why did ‘they’ want to be represented in Pride when they couldn’t be oppressed? The conversation went nowhere. Two weeks later I had an amazing four hour discussion with an out dom/sadist and both of us were hugging on each other like old friends by the end of it. This was someone I’d seen activity of online and I just messaged him that I wanted to talk and he was down with it. You just don’t know.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
Thank you so much, Monica, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.