We had the good fortune of connecting with Val Chan and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Val, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
On a day to day level, I am continuously distracted and inspired by all sorts of things: The impossibly delicate nest snuggled between a spray of leaves in my rose bush. The planting choices my neighbors make. Some silly poem I read online. A local business owner’s shrine full of Maneki Neko. Vintage irons found scattered throughout an antique mall. Sometimes, I am distracted only long enough to search out the name and some basic information about the item that caught my eye. Other times, what begins as a casual encounter with a cute little tchotchke develops into a long term affair where I not only “need” to acquire said tchotchke, but I also learn its story and feel compelled to draw and paint the subject repeatedly. This first level of inspiration is about being curious, learning and then trying to express how I connect to a subject or idea through my art.

But there’s also a deeper inspiration that underlies all the everyday curiosities and ideas. It’s this underlying inspiration that gives me the freedom to simply enjoy the process of creating art and to put myself out into the public eye. I discovered this source of inspiration in the the short story “Leaf by Niggle” written by J.R.R. Tolkien. I won’t get into all the details of the story, but here is what I recall most strongly: In his lifetime, Niggle was a mediocre artist whose work was neither appreciated nor recognized. He struggled obsessively to paint a great tree he could see in his soul. But alas, he was never able to articulate his vision though his actual work nor did he take joy in the process. When Niggle passed away, the only part of his life’s work to survive was one single painted leaf. This would be awfully depressing if the story ended here. But it doesn’t. In his afterlife, Niggle eventually ends up in a bit of heaven. And here, he discovers HIS tree. Someone knew what was in his soul. What he’d tried so hard, yet failed to produce in life, was fully seen by someone and was actually amazingly waiting for him on the other side.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I wrestle with self doubt and frustration as an artist. But “Leaf by Niggle” helped me to embrace the process of learning and making while not worrying too much about what I’m actually producing. I continue to work towards becoming a stronger artist, but it’s quite possible that at the end of my days all I’ll have to show for myself is some crappy “leaf by Val” and you know what? It’s ok! Because God sees what my soul longs to create and is pleased with my endeavors. And amazingly, someday I’ll get to fully experience what I can only clumsily strive towards today. And that’s what inspires me.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have always loved crafting, drawing, painting and just plain old making stuff. But I only donned the title “artist” some five years ago. Here’s my story.

I was born and raised in a small college town in Idaho. My dad taught at the local university and my mom worked as a nurse. We had a home and plenty to eat but we were on a pretty tight budget otherwise. We had a supply of No.2 pencils and stacks of drawing paper since my dad brought home discarded research papers that were still “clean on one side.” Drawing was an everyday thing. But other art materials were scarce. I confess to hoarding my special box of 64 Crayola crayons to the point of never needing to use the crayon sharpener built into the box.

Dad was forced into medical retirement at the same time I graduated from high school. We packed our lives into two cars and moved to Davis, CA where I’d been accepted to college. There we started afresh. I chose to study math since I had a knack for it and because so many students seemed intimidated by the topic, There was a moment in my senior year when I considered delaying graduation in order to earn a minor in studio art. But mom reminded me that we had moved to California so I could study math. Not art. I didn’t feel strongly enough about art to argue with her. I graduated on time with a B.S. in mathematics and was fortunate enough to be recruited to a job directly out of college. Do you know what I was most excited about? No longer being constrained to shopping the clearance rack at discount stores.

That first job as an actuarial trainee in an insurance company began in San Francisco with a transfer to New York City. I wore suits, carried a crossbody briefcase and rode the subways daily. Three years after moving to NYC, I married the boy who was running circles around me in our actuarial studies. Shortly after that, I decided corporate life was not my thing so I applied to to graduate school. To study art, you ask? No.. Sorry to disappoint. I studied and earned my M.Phil in statistics. There were a few years of lecturing statistics and a short stint teaching high school math. Then we had two little boys and I decided to stay home to raise them.

So far, my story has been math, work, statistics, work, kids. What about the art? In fact, crafting and art was the thread that wove in and out of all the years. I took figure drawing classes between studying for actuarial exams. Learned to knit while I prepared for the GRE’s. Painted and crafted alongside my kids. I took crochet lessons with the little boys in tow. If we compared our lives to a song, the steady stream of creative projects could be described as the bass setting the cadence throughout our days.

It was after we relocated from NYC to Charlotte, NC that I finally decided to pursue art as a career. To be frank, I only did that out of a certain level of desperation and depression. That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. After living in NYC for 20 years, we’d moved to a country club neighborhood in North Carolina that, though beautiful to look at, felt tantamount to being shoved in a sensory deprivation chamber to me. My husband was busy in his new job. Our kids were safely plugged into their new schools. I bought and redecorated a version of my dream house and then…. what? I say this partly in jest, but it was at my lowest point in that fancy house square in the middle of our picture perfect suburban existence that I decided it was either going to be art or alcohol. In 2017, at the age of 47, I chose art. And what do you know, it chose me back..

Fast forward five years to today. I’m a mixed media artist and I love it. Most mornings I wake up thinking about what I might paint, draw, crochet or create next. I let the ideas and colors combinations percolate as I slog through daily chores and duties.. I try to make something everyday. Do I regret my choice to study math and statistics? Not at all. I think studying math trained me to think linearly. Working a corporate job meant I was able to live (and shop!) in a way I had not experienced growing up. And I will always value the oppourtunity that first job provided when I transferred to work in NYC and stayed to start our family.

One of my favorite tricks when working on a new paintings is to paint directly over an old one.. When I do that, I always leave a bit of that original painting peaking through the new one. No one else knows what it used to be, but I do. You might not consciously notice, but that under layer adds depth to the final painting. And that makes all the difference.

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?
First foray out with any of my visitors would be a walk along the beach in the late afternoon. We’d start at the Santa Monica Pier and wander south along the waters edge as we watch the waves hit the sand and the light change across the water. If we’re lucky, we might pick up some pretty shells and enjoy the sight of sailboats in the distance. Lest I paint too rosy a picture, we’d also keep a sharp eye out for trash and dog poop which sadly litters the waterline.

Next, we’d have to check out the museums. I’d like to see the Takashi Murakami exhibit (here through September 25), so a visit to the The Broad is in order. Also, I’ve lived in LA for two years now but still haven’t made it to The Getty so we’re going there as well. And of course, we’d go to the LACMA because the Metropolis I train installation is darn awesome.

I recently window shopped my way from Pico and Main Street in Santa Monica to Abbot Kinney and Venice Blvd. in Venice. I discovered quite a few shops tucked away that I never would noticed from the car. So add exploratory window shopping to my visitors’ itinerary. And, if anyone has neighborhoods to recommend for fun shopping experiences, I’d love to hear from you!

Now let’s talk FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food in LA is outstanding. One thing I am constantly astounded by is how fresh the produce is here. We would have to make at least one trip to a farmer’s market. My berry guy sells out before 10am every Saturday, so we need to go early for our fruits and veggies. We’d head over to Sawtelle for udon or maybe ramen. Someone just told me the best place for karaage is on Sawtelle in a little shop above the Daiso mart. And, if anyone is still in the mood for fried chicken, I highly recommend SAHM Night Market on Pico just north of Washington. I’m pretty sure I could talk food all day long, but let me give just one more recommendation – boba lychee ice tea from Din Tai Fung. It’s yummy.

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?
First round of gratitude to my guys. To my husband for believing that my creative impulse should be taken seriously and for encouraging me to pursue it all. To my boy-os for trying out all the craft projects when they were little and for critiquing my paintings and drawings now.

A huge shoutout to the art community in Charlotte, North Carolina. You embraced me as your own when I stamped “artist” across my name. Being part of your community was very meaningful to me and I am grateful for all that I learned during my time there.

Lastly, a heartfelt thank you to the members of The Ten Women Gallery in Santa Monica for inviting me to join the cooperative. It’s good to discover friends when you’re starting all over again. I’m excited to be part of our venture together on Main Street.

Website: www.valzcorner.com

Instagram: @valz_corner

Other: A selection of my mixed media paintings and small handmade items are on display at Ten Women Gallery at 2719 Main Street in Santa Monica. You can also find me there most Fridays from 1-4pm. Come on by, I’d love to meet you.

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.