We had the good fortune of connecting with Carolyn Carter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carolyn, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I love to keep busy. I enjoy many things. I love learning. What I don’t love–being broken. Sure, I come from a broken family, a broken society that created this environment in which I was barely raised, and took it upon myself to continue that cycle because if you’re just surviving–there’s not much else you can do especially if you don’t have the means to pull yourself up out of it. I overworked myself to the point of breaking and it became a cycle. I’d break in some small way here or there, bounce back because I had to, until eventually I broke down physically, mentally, and emotionally after I moved here to LA. By that point I had dealt with too much trauma. I wore myself down thinking it was what I was supposed to do. It was what I was conditioned to do–to think. It was what was expected of me at the end of the day–jump through hoops until I kill myself literally or figuratively. And later I found that often enough there are times you shouldn’t listen to others and that was very much one of those things where as a workaholic, I needed to change. Life is too short.
While yes, everything takes some amount of effort–and the path I’ve chosen isn’t an easy one either. I will have to work hard regardless. But you can also work smarter too. And I don’t mean some get-rich-quick scam or anything. I mean taking the time to pace yourself and incorporate more self-care into your routine-however that may look like. For me that looked like meditation and spending more time in nature, allowing myself to just have fun for fun’s sake, let my brain not be in work mode 24/7. Granted, I have a wonderful roommate and patron who has helped me have time and space to breathe–not having a safe space to rest and recharge wears you down and it’s not pretty. Everyone deserves to be treated as human beings. Perspective makes a huge difference in how we live our lives and balance is such an important aspect to take into consideration.
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.
Generally speaking I enjoy trying to express what I find beautiful and create what comes to me in my imagination. Sometimes it’s poetry or stories, sometimes it might be a certain feeling or impression I’m trying to convey, or a design. It try to mix things up a bit and experiment.
Being half-Asian and from a broken/poor family I had a lot to overcome on multiple levels, I was also drawn to more East Asian aesthetics style-wise and I got bullied a lot for it. (I do like a mixture of styles but that was a prominent one for my personal taste). There were plenty of people who like what I do but there have been a number of people who didn’t. I worked at adjusting myself to “fit in” or create a more generic style I could use commercially. I also took time to try and learn new things with each job, or take classes after college with mixed results. I’ve since learned after the fact that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to learn how to make art–really it comes down to practice (technically speaking).
I’ll admit–it traumatized me for a while after I burned myself out trying to chase these exterior standards for so many years–from abusive work standards and culture at regular jobs, but mostly from people who were supposed to be teachers or from certain fine art or entertainment art industries that really did their best to deter me from having my own style and voice, if it didn’t fit in their box. I do understand where they’re coming from, but it also didn’t sit right with me. Then of course was the crippling self-doubt from imposter syndrome and perfectionism that I’ve had to continue to work through.
I managed to somehow put myself through school, and little by little, grow despite facing a lot of depression, abuse, and poverty. And I did occasionally have help along the way, but it wasn’t something I could count on.
So fortunately or unfortunately I felt the need to take time to center myself and find my voice again so I could express myself sincerely and authentically. I also was having to deal with the fact I didn’t have the same resources that others might. And so there were many ups and downs if not mostly downs for a long while. Wrestling with just being in survival mode all the time for most of your life really kills the creative voice. Trauma, insecurity, and stress were BIG hurdles I had to overcome, but I’m glad I didn’t give up on myself.
While I am still developing my creative voice again and growing my own business as a freelance artist, I do what I can. I had pushed myself past my breaking point and broke myself–which I don’t recommend, so even if that means taking time out or asking for help when I need it I learned that sometimes you need to be willing to surrender to what is and do things differently or slowly; give yourself downtime so you can be present. I’ve spent much of my life being cut off or cut down and instead I want to build and connect in a way that comes from a place of love. While I mostly make art for myself, I would hope that I can create something that may resonate on some level with other people. I think it would be a great compliment to find someone is inspired by your work, as a creative.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
That’s a tough one–I think though I’d likely want to take them along the coast and visit the beach, walk along the pier and downtown area in Santa Monica, or go to visit some of the public gardens in LA, like the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens or Descanso, and make a trip down to Little Tokyo to have tea and visit some of the many delicious restaurants there, look at the fun little boutiques, and visit the Japanese Bookstore, Kinokuniya. I absolutely love nature, and places like bookstores, art supply shops, tea rooms, crystal or metaphysical shops, I only just moved up to LA right before the pandemic hit, so I am still exploring places–though I’ll admit I really am not a big-city girl. I need places where you have space to breathe and have more nature.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to give a shout-out to Tara Thaler for the kind referral to this publication but I also want to include Russell Nohelty and Kristen Simon for giving me a chance to branch out into comic anthologies with Wannabe Press and Insider Art, Brandie June for being an excellent writing partner, to my college art teacher Chuck Grieb for giving me hope during some dark times, and I also want to give a special thanks to my initial patrons as I was starting out, to the friends who helped along the way, my younger brother who helped me when I most needed it, my roommate Zach for bring so supportive of my career and healing, and my cat Mab who keeps me on my toes.
Art and Designs by: Carolyn Carter (Image #4: “Camp Sarnath” blurb) Story Written by: Brandie June.