We had the good fortune of connecting with Ariel Kohn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ariel, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Nine months ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in the midst of this crazy pandemic. Maya’s arrival changed my life in almost every way I could think of, and in many ways I never could have anticipated. The time I spend working on my collage art (and more recently embroidery) has always felt really precious to me, but becoming a mom has made every moment I can find for creativity that much more meaningful. In the practical sense, it has meant running back and forth to my cutting mat to change my X-acto blade between diaper changes, abandoning half-cut images on my desk to pick her up from a nap and swapping out some of my art books and magazines for ABC books and color flashcards. In a more profound way, her existence has shifted the way I create and think about my art entirely. With the responsibility of caring for her came a natural editing process of sorts- since I don’t have as much time to sit around and mull over an idea for a piece, I’ve discovered that oftentimes that idea will either grow into something much better than its initial seed of thought, or that it doesn’t come to fruition at all because it just wasn’t meant to be. It’s been an interesting addition to my process to say the least. I’ve also found that lately I’ve been pulling a lot more images of children in my search for collage materials, and that most of my recent favorite pieces include really sentimental vintage photos of kids. I’ve had to force myself to be satisfied with changing the scale of my art as well; to be content with smaller or simpler pieces since I don’t really have the time for intricate, long-term projects. As a creative, this was admittedly a tough pill to swallow at first, but I finally feel like I’ve found a great work/life balance, and am more than at peace with it all because I’m certain I will always find time to nurture my art. All of a sudden I have this little person who is at the forefront of every decision I make, which has spilled over into my art in some surprising ways. Everything in this mom role of mine feels new, and I’ve had to continue to find new ways of expressing myself to keep up with all the changes. I’ve never really been comfortable promoting myself or pushing my art, but having another (super cute) mouth to feed has really brought out the hustle in me. I started an Etsy shop with collage apparel, have started selling my embroidery pieces, am currently working on illustrating a children’s book and recently had the opportunity to work on an ad campaign with the creative/marketing team at the The New York Times. Any accomplishment, small or large, feels more significant to me now because I realize just how precious the hours in each day are. All changes taken into consideration, embroidering clothing for Maya is by far my favorite new artistic endeavor. Music and film are two of my greatest loves, so this seemed like a solid place to start in terms of design choices, and I plan to continue growing the collection and of course introducing her to my favorite musicians and movies every chance I get. I so look forward to the day she can appreciate what I’ve made for her, and even the day she’s embarrassed to wear her mom’s art, but especially the day she inevitably thinks vintage is the end-all-be-all of cool and realizes she can’t find this kind of stuff at even her most treasured local thrift shop. I suppose the way I’ve (had to) come to think about my work/life balance is that an artist is nothing if not flexible, and ever-changing, and always growing. And that I’m happy to bend for such a worthy little human. It means that some weeks I’ll only have one decent collage idea, that comes at 2 AM because that’s the first moment my brain can contemplate anything other than bottles and The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and that my desk is sometimes just a place where half-baked ideas fade away. But it also means that every moment I spend on my art is ten times more meaningful than ever before, and that I’ve never worked harder to make my art happen.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My main artistic medium is hand-cut collage. I collect vintage magazines, postcards, photographs and other paper materials and will then usually combine found images with newer images from photo books and the like. I really love the whole hands-on process of creating analog collage. I love the hunt for materials, sorting through them all, taking the time to cut things out as precisely as possible and then assembling them in different ways until I find the perfect composition. In the past year or so I’ve started combining embroidery with collage to try out more of a true mixed-media thing, and I’ve been really inspired by all the new possibility that it’s been bringing to my art. I’ve been making art since I was a little kid, but I’d say that sometimes I feel like not having a formal art education can feel like a challenge. By no means do I think an artist needs formal training (in my opinion some of the greatest are self-taught), but I do sometimes feel bogged down by the question of “what if?” I often wonder if my creative world would have been opened up in unimaginably incredible ways by being introduced to so many different artistic mediums and by having surrounded myself with other artists for four years. Considering the impact of the digital world we live in, I also feel like a bit of computer education would be a real advantage. I’m definitely not tech-savvy, and I’d never give up my analog art, but it would make things like touching up pieces for print and setting up websites a lot easier. I’m also blown away by some of the digital collage content I see on social media. I’m slowly teaching myself some Photoshop stuff (with my sister’s help and a friend’s help), but it’s a definite struggle for me. Today’s challenges, specifically those of the current pandemic- which everyone is experiencing in their own way- are definitely some of the toughest my art has faced. I’m a person who is incredibly inspired by the people around me, the beauty of the outdoors and all of the great art constantly being made around me. I so miss even the smallest interactions with people, the freedom to go anywhere I please and doing things like roaming around art museums and fairs. It’s not uncommon for me to feel a decent amount of pressure to create something new when it’s been even a day or two, but being stuck at home has really magnified that feeling. Parenthood is of course a contributing factor in this as well- if my daughter is asleep or hanging out with my husband and I’m not taking advantage of that time to make art, it feels like a horrible waste of time, and that’s a really tough feeling for me when it comes to my creativity. All of that being said, I am insanely grateful that for the most part these are my biggest problems in a time that has been so painfully difficult for so many people.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One of the main reasons I moved from New York City to LA was to be able to take advantage of all the beautiful outdoor space that exists in and around this sprawling city. I love that in LA you can hang outside almost 365 days a year, and that driving an hour in any direction will take you to entirely different scenery. I also love that everyone seems to love to visit LA! It’s always hard to fit in everything I adore about this city, and I’m pretty sure our guests leave exhausted, but there’s just so much to see, from the skaters at Venice Beach to the natural beauty of Angeles National Forest. Personally, I will never forget the first time I saw the California coast, so that’s usually where I start when people come to visit. Even though it takes a little longer to get there, I love to drive through iconic Laurel Canyon and take Mulholland all the way out to Malibu. There are epic views of the Valley on Mulholland, and I love imagining what life would’ve been like in Laurel Canyon during its musical heyday in the 60s and 70s. Malibu has a lot of beautiful beaches, but El Matador is my favorite. I love introducing people to it because it has a really different atmosphere than most of its wide-open neighboring beaches. There are very few parking spots, so sometimes you have to circle the lot forever, but it’s so worth the time even just for the view when you walk around an unsuspecting bend that opens up to reveal this gorgeous Mars-like landscape with giant rocks jutting out of the sand and little hidden coves. Another reason I love bringing people to Malibu is for the endless hiking trails. Solstice Canyon is a favorite because it has a little bit of everything- rolling hills, shaded paths, a little creek, a waterfall and even some ruins of old mansions. But it’s truly impossible to choose just one trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. The last stop of a day in Malibu is always Point Dume. This magical place is a nature preserve and long bluff that juts out into the ocean, offering the best views of the Santa Monica Bay. In the winter months it’s a great place to go to try and see some whales, and if you’re lucky, the added bonus of a butterfly migration. In the summer I find it incredibly peaceful to just sit and watch the sea lions swim around the rocky coast or the massive groups of surfers below at Zuma waiting patiently to catch the next big wave. After a good rain at Point Dume the surrounding greenery explodes with yellow flowers and it’s really just a sight to behold. In my own neighborhood of West Hollywood, I love walking down the grungier part of Melrose Ave that is studded with thrift shops and sneaker shops and brunch spots, or browsing the Melrose Trading Post on a lazy Sunday. A large part of my collection of vintage magazines, postcards and photos that I use for my collages was actually acquired there so it has a very special place in my heart. It’s also always amazing to see what local artists are creating and is a nice place to grab little gifts or trinkets. For a quick bite after a long day of sight-seeing (and traffic), I usually take people to Guisado’s for tacos. I realize some Angelinos would have me crucified for not shouting out a favorite taco truck, but they have a great selection there and it’s always fun to sit outside and people watch. For a beer, some fried pickles or an unexpected-yet-awesome conversation with a friendly stranger, I always take people to Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Blvd. It’s a West Hollywood landmark with a lot of history and even more character. It attracts people from all walks of life, the entire place is decked out floor to ceiling in Cali memorabilia, and above all has this special vibe that somehow just forges friendships. While I love hanging in my own neighborhood, one of my favorite things about LA is that each neighborhood has its own unique feel and energy, so I love spending a full day just hopping around to check out the different architecture, views, restaurants, etc. There are a lot of impressive Art Deco buildings to take in, colorful Victorian homes in Angelino Heights on the Eastside, classic Spanish homes and some wild, over-the-top mansions nestled into the hills. I always joke that if I ever make it big I’ll need a home in too many places to count. When visitors are hanging for a little longer, I love to drive out to the desert. Joshua Tree never gets old with its one-of-a-kind views and unique hiking trails. Having been raised in the Northeast, I think the desert landscape felt the most different and special to me. It’s so quiet out there but is full of life, and while at first glance it seems like you can see everything there is to see for miles and miles, it somehow holds so much mystery. In my opinion it’s an artist’s dream, and I really hope that one day I can spend a few months holed up in a little shack there with my family, creating art in that perfect light and exploring the terrain. It might be a little cheesy, but I like to end an LA tour with a walk along the Hollywood stars. It’s not necessarily something you need to do more than once, but I love movies and old Hollywood culture and all of the layers of crazy stories that exist there. The first time I walked around the area it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but really most of LA makes me feel that way, in the best of ways. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to dedicate this shoutout to my husband Dave. He is my biggest fan, and has constantly pushed me to pursue a path of creativity, through what feel like thousands of moments of self-doubt and worry. He does everything he can to allow me the space and time I need to be an artist, has waited around thrift shops for hours while I scour piles of books, and always knows what to say when I’m feeling stuck with a piece. I ask him countless annoying questions about the collages I’m working on, and he always answers thoughtfully and with a lot of patience. I also love and appreciate the way he still always comments on a new post on social media with a bunch of embarrassing heart eye emojis. Like everything else I do in life now, I’d like this to be dedicated to my daughter as well. She is the best thing I’ve ever made and the love she brings to my life is immeasurable. Additionally, I’d like to mention Tiny Art Gallery- an amazing collective of local LA artists that has given me the art community I never new I needed so badly. This incredible group of people took a chance on me and my art and offered me a platform to showcase my art, my very first LA art show, and most importantly a big little fam to depend on. They’ve helped me to dream bigger, push harder and to believe in myself more. I feel totally indebted to them. I truly feel like I wouldn’t be who I am today, both in general as a person and specifically as an artist, without exceptional family and friends. I am eternally grateful to them for loving and supporting me, for showing up to my fifth show with the same enthusiasm and energy as they brought to my very first, for donating art materials, for donating time spent photographing my art or hooking it up with mini Photoshop tutorials, for sharing and purchasing my art, for all the likes and comments and shares and most of all for believing in my art. I am confident that these people know who they are, but can only hope that they know just how much I appreciate every one of their kind words and gestures.