Ambivalently Yours draws at her desk with her cat on her shoulder

Ambivalently Yours: The Tender Synergy of Depth and Nuance

Softness and Strength: Tumblr first became a platform for Ambivalently Yours' emotional creativity and tender reflection. Now Ambivalently Yours has become admired for pieces that bring focus to soft strength, feminist values and ambivalent thoughts.

"I love the concept of ambivalence; having two or more opposite strong feelings at the same time. For me, that was a really helpful place to explore ideas of feminism and emotionality..."

Ambivalently Yours sits at their drafting table with their cat on their shoulder
Ambivalently Yours

Perpetually Ambivalent: In your bio you describe yourself as a semi anonymous, perpetually ambivalent, visual artist, animator, and writer. Can you elaborate on how you relate to yourself as an artist and an individual?

"So I started doing work under the pseudonym Ambivalently Yours, in 2011/2012, and it was sort of like my MFA project and I wanted to create this persona through which I could make work and share it on the internet. Back then, Tumblr was the site that people used the most. I wanted it to be anonymous because I felt like it would be kind of freeing for me to be able to explore emotions and feminist ideas while still keeping myself from having to be too vulnerable because the internet can be so volatile, especially for anyone that's not a rich white male.

The idea of being anonymous was the answer to me. I was thinking I could be a bit more honest with my emotions if I kept a little bit of distance from sharing my personal life. I feel like, especially if you're being really vulnerable in your art, you don't want to become so vulnerable to the point where it begins to work against you.

So the Ambivalently Yours pseudonym is like my boundary with putting my art on the internet. Over time, though, it grew in a way that I didn't expect and I started encountering people that wanted to work with me, exhibition opportunities and workshop requests and then that's where it shifted into a more semi-anonymous existence because I realized that in real life, there was also a value to meeting people face to face and being who I am. In 2019 I moved to a small town and it's also impossible to be a part of the town and simultaneously anonymous - I had to open myself up a little bit more and allow my artist self and personal self to coexist. It's something I'm ambivalent about and ambivalence is the very thing that's at the center of all of my work. I love the concept of ambivalence; having two or more opposite strong feelings at the same time. For me, that was a really helpful place to explore ideas of feminism and emotionality because I don't think that there's ever any clear answers about everything. I think the best answers are always complicated and always dwell in that inbetween.

I think as soon as we try to look for binaries, this is right and this is wrong, that's where we get lost." 

Ambivalently Yours painting with green and purple
Ambivalently Yours

Resistance Within Conflict: Some of your work carries specific themes and, in your words, “potential feminist resistance that exists within conflicting emotions”. Would you dig deeper into what you mean by that?

"I had faculty advisors who would say, 'what if you let go of all the pink? What if you made art that was stronger ... '"

"This project was something that started for me in grad school. I completed a visual art MFA but between undergrad and graduate school I worked for five years in the fashion industry as a textile designer.

When I got to art school I really wanted to study feminism, a lot of which was inspired by working in the fashion industry because it's such a misogynistic industry. I needed some relief, or I needed help to unpack what I had just lived through while working in fashion.

But then when I got to school, because I was open about the fact that I worked in fashion, a lot of my faculty and some of the student body really saw me a certain way and seemed to have this preconceived notion that I had a limited understanding of feminism because of my background in fashion.

It was like an interesting place to be. At my fashion job when they found out I was going back to school to study feminism, they were like, “Oh, feminist killjoy over here”. And yet in art school they were like, “Oh, like she's duped by the patriarchy, she doesn't quite get it,” especially since the color palettes I like using are very feminine, very soft, with lots of pink.

I had faculty advisors who would say, “what if you let go of all the pink? What if you made art that was stronger with more black?” and I realized that for some people strength is more associated with more masculine things even within like these so-called progressive spaces.

It's not like everyone in those spaces was like that but there were still some that seemed to think that somehow being vulnerable and sensitive and pink meant weak or at least not strong. So that gave me a real ambivalence about feminism itself and where I fit in the conversation because I do get a lot of joy from things that are considered feminine and I'm a very soft spoken, sensitive person. I think now that that sensitivity and vulnerability is also a huge sign of strength. So for me I had to work through my desire to be accepted by my feminist peers while also staying true to who I am. 

I think that conversation has shifted a lot in the last like 10, 15 years, and I think more current waves of feminism are including more representation and sensitivity."

Pink portrait with clown face that is droopy and drippy and it says  "I want to feel the feelings I keep under my skin"
Ambivalently Yours
Portrait on watercolour paper with long yellow hair
Ambivalently Yours

Emotional Palettes: The colours in your work are so vibrant and yet soft. What has drawn you to these specific pallettes?

“Pink, for example, is kind of forced on women. And it holds all of these connotations of this weak girl kind of idea, that patriarchy established. But that takes away our decision to just be like, “Do you even like this color or not''? It's all so coded. For myself, I just really like pink from a purely aesthetic point of view. If I see a shirt available in several colors, I'll want the pink one. And, maybe part of that for me is that there is something ingrained deeply about it as a child and perhaps there is rebellion but regardless, I love pink. Why would I deny myself that joy? Just to prove some sort of point? I didn't want to make that kind of compromise.” 

Face with pink background and the word FEELINGS written all over their face and neck
Ambivalently Yours

Navigating as an Artist: What has your personal journey as an artist been like? Where do you think it began and what made you consider pursuing art?

"Yeah, I was just one of those kids that was always drawing. I always really loved it. I often, even as a kid, liked drawing faces and I still do. For me, drawing was how I kind of worked things out for myself; it was how I processed emotions. 

When it came time figuring out what I wanted to do for a career there's a part of me that didn't really think I'd be able to make a career out of art and yet I still wanted to try. In my last few years of undergrad, I took some textile classes like printing and dyeing and screen printing and that's how I ended up getting into the fashion industry. It wasn't like something I had planned. It's just kind of like an opportunity presented itself and that whole thing where your first job leads to your second job and your third job, because that’s where you’ve built your experience. I really loved the work I was doing in the fashion industry and I still like fashion. Designing textiles and designing prints and so on was very neat but I didn't love the industry itself. So that's when I went back to school to study art again. And after that, I worked at more art galleries and I participated in exhibitions.

I've been teaching more  now. I think with art, it's not like one of those straightforward trajectories. It's kind of like pursuing and or studying art gives you a set of creative skills and helps you come up with concepts, execute those concepts, and present those concepts in different ways. It gives you these skill sets that you can use in so many different jobs."

Painting of a face close up in bright pink and yellow
Ambivalently Yours

Inspirational Sources: What are your main sources of inspiration, and how do they shape the emotional tone of your work?

"When I started posting things on Tumblr I was just posting my own drawings first. On Tumblr, people would send each other messages, like people you didn't know, and you could also message anonymously back then. I started getting a lot of messages from people who connected to my art in a certain way. And then they started asking me for life advice on different topics. So, because I was not qualified to give people all sorts of life advice, I started just like responding to their messages with drawings. For a long time that was my source of inspiration. I've since continued to do that a bit through Instagram because Tumblr has kind of quieted down.

Sometimes I'll do a prompt, like in my stories, that just says how are you feeling? Or one that asks them to tell me two feelings that they simultaneously feel. I'll do drawings inspired by their answers. I get a lot of these messages and I reflect on them. I don't know these people and I'm only getting this brief take and I'm kind of interpreting it through my own feelings and lens. It becomes a collaboration; their prompt and how I relate to it and express it.

I also get inspired by other artists. I've made a lot of friends and connections online. I have, like most people, an ambivalent relationship to social media, but for finding other artists it's been really helpful. Outside of social media, art markets and things like that are great for connecting and getting inspired."

Painting with figure who has long wavy neck and poem reading "I thought through my emotions so thoroughly that I forgot to feel"
Ambivalently Yours

Work Through It: Can you describe your artistic process and give an example of a piece you are proud to have created?

"There’s a piece I made that is called Crying Girl Number One with Resting Bitch Face. It's this painting that I don't even know where it (the concept/vision) came from. When I first started it, it was really ugly to me and I didn't know what I was doing.

Often when I paint, I don't have a plan and I just start painting. This  painting was  ugly and I really thought I was going to have to discard the canvas because I didn't think it would be salvageable. It’s just a painting of a face with pink and red, which is my favorite color combination. Somehow it eventually came together. It was so interesting to keep pushing through with a piece that in the beginning was so ugly and by the end became my favourite part of the show I was exhibiting. 

I think I've learned that you just have to keep going. That's the process."

Ambivalently Yours Painting Sad Girl with Bitch Face
Ambivalently Yours

Inner Sad Girl: Do you find that certain emotions fuel your creativity more than others?

"Art is kind of where I can be really honest; almost too much. It's also a place to kind of commit to my inner sad girl."

"Yeah, I'm a very emotional and sensitive person. I'll feel things pretty deeply. I'm also a very anxious person. So my art has been a place for me to kind of work through some of that because I think it's really good to honor your emotions, but, at the same time, you can't let them just like completely take over who you are, or let them become like an excuse for treating other people unkindly. Sometimes when I’m feeling some really intense emotions, and I know they're not going to last a very long time, art helps me cycle through them quicker. I tend to do my best drawing when I'm a little bit sad for some reason - sadness seems to be an easier place for me to relax and make art from I guess. 

Whenever things are happening or I'm feeling a certain way, I try to unpack that through drawing and these little micro poems that go with drawings sometimes. Art is kind of where I can be really honest; almost too much. It's also a place to kind of commit to my inner sad girl. I also think, perhaps for a lot of artists, that their work is a place to feel the feelings that they can't always feel in their everyday life as much. There's not a lot of space in most people's everyday life to sit with sadness. Earnest sadness is not something that is often expressed publicly."

Portrait of a figure with a long neck and long hair. Hand is up covering one side of face with flowers illustrated behind it and the poem reading "Disappointing you was the kindest thing I ever did for myself"
Ambivalently Yours

Materials and Methods: What materials/projects are currently encouraging your creativity?

"Going from using mostly paper and watercolor and pen which is what I am used to, to acrylic on canvas was really fun because I can be a bit messier and worry less about fine lines and that sort of thing. I have less time to do painting, but I do really like it and I’m hoping to do more in the future.

Last year I published a book called Fire and Other Feelings, which is a book of poems and then one short story. The book is about a girl who can't stop catching fire. I'm currently working on a graphic novel that's a longer piece of writing which I’m looking forward to completing. I really like merging my writing with drawing. Writing has become more and more part of my practice, which is exciting for me." 

Ambivalence in Art: Have you ever experienced ambivalence towards your own art? How do you resolve these feelings and move forward with your work?

"Every time I've been a part of an exhibition, I have at least one moment of like, “Oh my god why am I even showing this in public? This is all so horrible”. It's usually always near the halfway point of installing. I panic and then I just struggle through it. But usually by the time everything's done I'm like, “okay, no, I think this is actually fine”.

I definitely have that imposter syndrome and self doubt that I have to work alongside of. Sometimes I worry a lot about everything; I worry about my art and putting stuff out there. Like,  how are people going to interpret this? Or I wonder if I'm going to change my mind about something one day and then I’ll look at my older work and be like “I don't feel that way about that anymore”.

But I think that's okay; it's okay that you evolve as a person and your ideas can change.

Along with what I said about ideas changing and growth, I think art has always helped me process that. I think it’s a nice thing. I think that growth and shift is a natural thing that our society could have a bit more compassion for, especially online. There could be more nuance to discussions because the internet is not always a good platform for nuanced discussion. I work through a lot of my feelings through my art. Art has been a place to work through things and get to know myself more because as you're reflecting about things and taking time to draw, and write, you're spending more time with the feelings instead of just bearing it down and thinking you’re fine. I often ask, how can I describe this feeling? How can I draw it? How can I write about it? When you spend all that time with something, you start to understand it more and then you start to be able to let go of it."

Portrait with orange and pink water colours of a face with drooping, drippy lips
Ambivalently Yours 

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