Future Prairie Radio Season Four Episode Two: Layer by Layer with Annamieka Davidson
My name is Annamieka Hopps Davidson, and I also go by Mieka, and I’m 35 years old. My pronouns are she and hers. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and I’ve been in Portland now for over a decade. The most significant part of my identity that’s important to share is that I recently became a mother: I have a one-year-old.
I live and work as an artist, and I am primarily a painter: I’m a painter, drawer, illustrator, and occasionally surface designer on fibers and textile. My work has also led me to be a teacher. A lot of my creative practice is this fluid motion of learning, figuring out how to do something, sharing my discovery, sharing the delight of the creative process, and sharing it. I do this by teaching creativity courses and mentoring artists one-on-one.
I have this funny little niche where I basically shout enthusiastically through a Zoom screen while people work in their own studios. Or I can go physically to their spaces if they live locally, but I work with people worldwide. I also founded an art studio in Southeast Portland called the Nurture Artists Collective, and five of us share space here. We collaborate frequently, and we created a community.
In the Nurture Artists Collective, we’ve all been friends for years now. We decided to name ourselves Nurture Artists Collective because a lot of what we do in our community and with each other is to nurture and uplift and encourage and “water” each other’s creativity, and see each other through times of challenge.
I do the same thing in my year-round course called Let’s Go Deep. It's basically a community that I facilitate, but I’m also living my process out loud for the participants: I’m completely transparent about my creative practice, the highs and lows, and the times of great productivity—and so, we work through the whole year together in that way.
I feel that I have two creative communities. I have Let’s Go Deep, my year-round course that I’m about to launch again for its third year. Then I have the Nurture Artists Collective, my physical studio in Portland with my fellow artists. The Nurture Artists Collective also has a Patreon, and we are starting to do more collaborative offerings with our growing Patreon community.
For many years, I’ve been teaching in-person classes. I got my start in 2007 as an intern at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, which is this fabulous little nonprofit on the coast that is centered on a nature preserve. The Sitka Center brings artists and ecologists together from all over the world! It’s a significant creative hub for the Pacific Northwest. I told my students, “Let’s go explore out in the woods!” I’d teach them to identify plants and then paint them in layered paintings. I taught that workshop for years and simply loved it. It inspired the content for my first online course: I basically adopted the process I taught at those workshops to the online format.
It was fun! I hired a videographer friend of mine, and we went out to the old-growth forest, where we filmed the botany parts of the class. Then we filmed all the other parts of the class here in the studio. That class, Wild Wonder, has now been taken by over a thousand people all over the world. It’s super fun for me as an Oregonian to share the gorgeous natural beauty of our region, and I can’t help but get enthusiastic when I’m doing that kind of stuff.
As a teacher, there’s a point when we have to make a decision: Are we willing to give it all away? I firmly believe that there’s genuinely no competition in creative work because the most rewarding, fulfilling career is finding our voice and sharing that. The more we work, the more undeniably true to ourselves we’re being. So there’s no fear for me when teaching my process, because one of the most fun things I do is keep innovating and thinking of something new.
In my year-long course, I have a cohort right now of 35 artists that are doing this with me for the second year I’ve taught it. The whole point is for them to get a creative practice going that fits them and supports them as they make a cohesive body of their work. I teach lessons and the students do exercises and work on their own artwork as we follow the yearlong curriculum. We learn basic design and color theory. We look at art history and creative practice, and the participants end up making a body of work that’s all their own. Each artist’s unique, original voice gets gently revealed, even if they were having trouble distinguishing it before.
I’m trying to imagine, if you’re listening to this podcast from, maybe in your kitchen, or you’re chopping vegetables or folding laundry or maybe driving somewhere and trying to picture my paintings in your imagination. I typically start with quite a bit of color. I’m a huge fan of blues and greens, and there’s usually botanical imagery—and I can’t help but make some sort of all-over pattern. I like to weave and dab the color all around. There’s a story inside every painting, so sometimes there are people. Sometimes there are animals. Sometimes there are plants—it’s either based on an actual walk I’ve taken and something I’ve encountered or a memory or a wish for the future.
Almost always, if we have a chance to talk about the painting, I’m going to tell you about the process of making it because the picture itself, when it’s done, feels kind of like a moment in time. It’s one bit of the whole experience, so that’s why I like to make videos about the process and teach the process, too.
Layer by Layer and much of the process is the title of the body of work that I’m working on now. This is the first proper full body of work I’ve created since I went through a considerable metamorphosis and became a mother. Layer by Layer and much of the process is the name I came up with because it will be interesting to share the process. My plan is to create and edit a video that shows the process of creating this new body of work.
This project is also giving me accountability and a deadline. Due to COVID, my gallery placement fell through. I don’t have my deadline on my venue anymore, but I’m still trying to keep to the same timeline because I very dearly need to make a new series of paintings.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a massive opportunity for transformation as a society, and we see that with Black Lives Matter and the civil rights uprising. COVID and quarantine have caused us all to reconsider what’s essential. We’re learning that connection is necessary—and we’re creative beings, and so creating our art and expressing our truth in that way is essential, and we have to find ways to do that on a personal level. I’ve learned that the more I can learn to love and accept myself, the more I can help my students learn to love themselves and move themselves forward on their creative journey.
Then, my big dreamy hope is that that self love and acceptance ripples out, and we’ll have a more tolerant society because people are learning to love and accept each other and provide for each other. My hope is that this time is an opportunity to realize our impact on each other, to learn how much connection matters, and for the artists to remember that your work is needed; it is generous to make your art and to share it, and that’s enough; get out there and do it now!
In the future, I want to continue to be a painter and be healthy and happy and provide for my family. I say that because I’m squarely in the struggling working class right now, and I want to live in a future where it’s not such a grind to be an artist—a future where we have the ability to have our work be supported and valued by the community. I want to live in a society where healthcare is a priority for everyone. It’s scary to live in a community that feels like it doesn’t truly have your back. My vision is for personal resilience that then ripples out into societal resilience and the realization that everyone needs to be loved and cared for. That, I hope, is part of the new paradigm that we’re fighting for right now, that we’re actively creating. I believe that as artists, by practicing and keeping our creative muscle and our imagination healthy, we can keep visualizing and actually creating that possibility so other people can see it and then help direct the whole collective thought that direction.
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