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Unabashed Joy | Roma Edwards

As an artist, I look for ways to be vulnerable, brave, and free; embark upon ambitious projects; and immerse myself in our shared world. The process of art-making is a way to take a breath and self-reflect. I use art to fight for social justice by building community and re-framing the way we look at the world. I believe in the unabashed joy and expressiveness that, at its core, art is. --Roma (Southern Exposure Portfolio Spotlight)

SARA: If you could describe your art style in five words how would you think to describe it?

ROMA: Wonky, colorful, mixed-media, community-based and joyful.

SARA: When you're making art, do you think you have a certain creative process? Do you normally keep a sketchbook? Or do you have different sketchbooks for different things? Do you have certain art practices that you always go back to?

ROMA: The glue that holds all of my different art together is that I’m always inspired by the things around me. I’m really into art books that I read, or different exhibits I go to, or podcasts I listen to. I have this insane list of all the different things that inspire me, and it’ll be a quote from a play, and then, a postcard that I saw.

So you know, it’s very all over the place. Because of that I don’t think I really have one medium that I use—all of my art comes out of ideas. My problem is the opposite of a lot of people I know who have artist blocks and are not really inspired. I’m always so inspired by everything, and then I don’t have enough time to actually finish the things that I want to create.

SARA: And you were talking about being a self-motivated artist, can you talk more about that? What does that mean to you? And how does that show up in your creative process?

ROMA: I’ve always been really lucky to have this room in my house that is dedicated to making a mess, and making art. I was always allowed to get paint on the floor, staples in the wall, everything like that. For my whole life, art has been a very personal place for me where I would go and spend hours. I was never super into art classes at school because I would always feel restrained by them and not really free to be super creative. I never got into doing super technical practice, like drawing eyes over and over again. I was much more into playing around with things and making gifts for people. And then as I got older, over the summers I did art programs to improve my technique. For my whole life art has been a personal place for me to go. I’ve always found that my favorite way of doing art is just at night in my own space listening to music, and just getting into it. I never used to understand when people said they put their emotions into their art but I feel like for the first time I’ve really been using art as a way to be in a space of flow, almost like going on a run or something: You are so in it and you can take a step back from your other surroundings.

I’ve really been using art as a way to be in this space of flow, almost like going on a run or something, and you are so in it and you can take a step back from your other surroundings.

Sara: I totally get that, just being in that space, feeling through whatever you’re feeling and then putting that on the paper. Do you have a favorite/go-to subject or something you really gravitate towards?

ROMA: I feel like I always draw people. Even when I’m trying to draw something abstract it always ends up being a hat on a person, or a crazy face or something like that. I’m also really into recreating posters or drawing packaging or recognizable symbols. In that way, my art is a bit like graphic design without the computer aspect, and without the perfection aspect. I don’t exactly know why I’m drawn to signs or symbols and packaging, but I think I like the colors and the everyday-ness of it.

SARA: There’s a lot of typography in what I’ve seen of your art, and I agree, it is very clean, but not super perfect, with wobbly lines, or the perspective is a little off. Were you always into typography? Or is that something you’ve started getting into more?

ROMA: The typography partly came out of going to flea markets and seeing posters that I wanted for my wall, and so I’ll just take pictures of them and then recreate them. One of my favorite types of art is restriction art, where you give yourself a lot of restrictions for what you can do, and that actually gives you more freedom to put your own style into it. And so, with typography, you have the basic skeleton of what each of the letters is going to look like, and it allows you to really find your style outside of that skeleton.

SARA: You were saying that you feel inspired everywhere, do you have certain artists that really inspire you time and time again (whether those be visual artists/musical artists, etc.)?

ROMA: Totally! One of my favorite artists is Miranda July. I have issues with some of the things that she does, but what I love most about her is that she’s so interdisciplinary. I really see myself in that because she has such a voice in everything she makes, but she picks a medium based on whatever will work with that specific idea. That’s exactly the way that I go about art, too. I also really like how she does a lot of participatory/connecting-strangers art. One of the powers of art is to get random people to be connected to each other and to get emotions that people maybe didn’t even know that they had.

I think one of the powers art has is to get random people to connect to each other and express emotions that people maybe didn’t even know they had.

I really like Maira Kalman because I grew up reading her children’s books. And she got me into painting with gouache, and this childlike loose style. Similarly, I like David Hockney and Emory Douglass. I like so many artists I could just list a million artists! Emory Douglass is super cool, I like how he does graphic design work and really brings together art and activism. It bothers me when conceptual art is really inaccessible and you have to be able to understand a super academic artist statement to get meaning from it.

SARA: Speaking on accessibility, sometimes I feel like art in an academic setting can be super inaccessible. Earlier we were talking about your art education at UCLA; is there anything you hope to gain from it specifically? And what are you seeing in your discipline that you like/dislike?

ROMA: I’m happy to read really inaccessible stuff, but for the work that I want to make in the world I don’t want to make anything that is inaccessible, because I don’t really see the point. It feels very abstract to me, and I want to be doing real things that are actually changing how people see the world. Majoring in WAC (World Arts and Culture) really made me think about the ways that I can incorporate more practical art into the lives of actual people. I was super inspired by this community-based grassroots art collective that some women had made in India.

This weaving collective was a way to form a community of women who had all faced different kinds of trauma. Through their collective power, they had enough money and could be a mutual support system for each other, and their income was based on art that they created. So even if the actual weaving itself doesn’t have a deep structural analysis of critical race theory, it’s using art to actively create people power.

SARA: You were talking earlier about Miranda July and how different mediums lend themselves to different kinds of expression. What are some of your favorite mediums, or the ones you find yourself reaching for most often?

ROMA: My favorite and most go-to medium is gouache. I think gouache is what people used to use for graphic design before people had computers. So you can do that more graphic, commercial-looking art that I really like, but you can also blend it and see the artist’s touch of it. I really like that because it can lend itself to a lot of different styles and it’s the thing I have the most practice in.

In the past couple of years, I have gotten more into beading, and I think the main reason I like beading (and crafts in general) is that I really care about my personal space and art. I first got inspired to do beading because I got this Frida Kahlo beaded curtain for my closet, so I started making beads for an aesthetic reason. Similarly, I got into textiles because I have this cool quilt on my bed. So I got into those mediums because at first I liked how they looked, but then I realized that they were a very communal, participatory form of art.

I did a project at this summer program at RISD with bead-making and the goal of the project was to end by making a giant beaded structure that would exist in a public place and act as an outdoor sanctuary. It would exist as a home in a society where a lot of people don’t feel welcomed. For this project, I went to a park and random places around RISD and asked random strangers to make beads with me. It was a really cool experience of talking to random people who I probably wouldn’t have talked to otherwise. Doing this project made me realize that there is no one community that is in need. We were all just building a community together, making the beads and the structure. At the final critique, someone said, you’re trying to make a sanctuary out of the beads but in the end, you kind of made a sanctuary in the process. It was a really powerful experience of how art can connect people.

SARA: I really like that, and it gives you that experience that community and art can really mean anything, there’s no one specific way to engage with the community in your art. Are there any other mediums that you are trying to explore in the future?

ROMA: I’m a film minor and I don’t really know how to make films at all. But going back to accessibility, I love how filmmaking is one of the art forms that is the most accessible. So many people go to the movies, and people who don’t go to museums or read arts books will go and watch a movie for fun. It’s accessible, and you can tell stories with it, and you can get people on a basic level to feel emotional about things, but you can also change how people see the world—media is so important in changing how people see the world and act in the world. I really want to learn how to screenwrite and tell stories and bring visuals into those stories.

In terms of how I want to incorporate art in my future; I’m really into art and then I’m also really into activism, so I’ve had different experiences with them separately. Whenever I’m outreaching to people about an activism event, I feel like I’m putting a burden on them and guilting them into something or asking too much of them. But whenever I’m telling people about a show or an art event that’s happening, I feel like I’m giving them a gift and bringing them into something joyful. So, my goal for how I can use art in the future is to make protests a gift also and make activism and social justice something that people want to come to, things that are joyful and fun, and an experience that will motivate more people to show up and create more power.

SARA: I was looking through your projects for West Coast Crafts, and you have t-shirts and a lot of wearable art. Is that something you see yourself doing in the future?

ROMA: I do designs on pillowcases or shirts and I’ll make earrings and jewelry. It’s weird because I almost don’t even count that as my art, it’s more just something I’ve done for a lot of my life. It started as much more of a crazy thing, but as I got older, I started making earrings and shirts to sell. I feel like because I was selling it, I didn’t let myself be as creative with it. But I think it would be super cool if I could be an artist as my job and sell crafts to supplement that and then do more experimental, creative/fine art as my own personal practice.

My favorite thing about doing these craft fairs has been meeting other people. I’ve been doing some craft fairs in LA and I love talking to people who are not my age, either teaching young people or talking to adults and just getting a little glimpse into other people’s lives. You get to really engage with the people who are buying your things. I definitely have gotten more creative recently [with my crafts]. I started doing clay earrings and I realized I want to do an installation piece with a similar pattern. That also relates to why my style is more graphic: because I’ve always done more sellable art, the styles influence each other.

The idea of my art just being out in the world somewhere is super exciting. Recently this person DM’ed me and she was like, I have your pillows, and I love them, and I just wanted you to know that I had them. It’s crazy to think that my pillows and art have homes in other places.

Another story I have about selling stuff is this one person liked my drawings a lot and then commissioned me to do a sketchbook for her boyfriend for Christmas, and she sent me all these photos of memories that they had, and asked me to draw them, and it was super fun! I didn’t know either person I was drawing for. Then her boyfriend DM’ed me and told me he cried, and it was the best gift that he’s ever gotten. And it’s so fun to get to be a part of someone’s relationship. In some ways this is the most superficial type of my art, because it is the art that I use to make money, but it has also been the way where I’ve connected to people the most.

SARA: I remember seeing that book on your Instagram! Would you want to do more commissioned works in the future? Is that structure something you like doing?

ROMA: Oh, for sure. Commissioning is my favorite type of thing, because all of the craft stuff that I do is custom and hands-on anyway. With all the shirts I do each one is individually hand drawn and takes me a couple hours to make. So commissioned work does not take that much more time, but it gets to be personal, and I get to kind of creatively join with another person’s mind. It feels much more special to give someone something that they personally asked for. Also, going back to restrictions (restriction art), you get these random prompts that you probably wouldn’t have thought of otherwise that push you to do new types of art.

SARA: Earlier you were saying since you find yourself inspired a lot, you don’t really get creative blocks as much. Do you have any advice for artists who do get these creative blocks? How do you harness your energy, stay inspired and energized and then put all that into your art?

ROMA: Well, I guess to backtrack a little bit, I don’t get artist blocks, but I do get very many artist existential crises. I feel like everyone who is an artist is so personally attached to our art, and it’s very stressful to have something so close to you be put out in the world. I rarely feel happy with the art that I’ve made. I put so much time into it, and then I start second guessing myself and thinking that it doesn’t live up to exactly what I was hoping that I would be able to do.

When I went to that RISD program I became at peace with the fact that I’m not as “technically” good of an artist as the people around me were, and my portfolio maybe wouldn’t get me into as fancy schools as them. And I thought, that’s okay, because I’m going to be doing art until I’m an old lady. I’m going to be doing art for the rest of my life, going to be inspired for the rest of my life. Making art brings me so much joy and I incorporate art into everything I do, so even if I’m not an artist as my profession, I will always have art in my life.

Another thing about being a visual artist is that you have to be really self-motivated, individualistic; it’s a pretty lonely art form compared to other art forms. And you don’t have a final recital or performance, so it can feel very lonely, and it’s hard to finish projects. Something I’ve been trying to work on lately is seeing how my art can be more collaborative, even if we’re just doing our own thing. I had this thing where my friend and I would send pictures of whatever art we’d done that week to each other every Friday. And my other friend and I did this amazing thing that we called finger therapy where we finger painted in a different place every month, and we would just paint and talk about our emotions with each other. I’m a big fan of structure, like I’m going to do art every Tuesday for the next month, because we [visual artists] don’t get to have lessons or practices/rehearsals.

Roma’s (Recent) Favorites!

Musicians to listen to while creating: Kendrick Lamar to get energized, Simon and Garfunkel to be moody

Books: On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Midnight’s Children, Song of Solomon, God of Small Things

Podcasts: This American Life, Appearances, No Feeling is Final, Have you Heard Georgia’s Podcast?


Sara is a San Francisco-based UCSB student and artist check out her previous work with withitgirl here.

Additional Information:

Roma is currently selling one-of-a-kind clothing on her Instagram @roma.edwards, go check it out!

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