Hi everyone and welcome back to another week on the Chrissie Murphy Designs blog. It’s Artist Interview time again and you’ll have to forgive me, because I’m feeling a little starstruck this time! This week I’m talking with an artist I have looked up to for soooo long, the one and only Eni Oken.
Let me share a little secret with you. Eni is the artist I want to be most like in this world, and I don’t mean this in a “copying of work” kind of way. I mean it in more of an all encompassing way. You see I want to be producing the kind of “high quality work” that she does. I want to understand art fundamentals like she does. I want to be on the forefront of breakthrough art and design like she is. When it comes to feedback, I want to be providing constructive, helpful feedback just like Eni does. And I want to be looked to as an authority in the art world like she is. Now you get to see for yourself why I think Eni is an exceptional artist. You can see why I adore her work, and ultimately why I’ve chosen to be mentored by her through her Art Club.
Here is my Artist Interview with Eni Oken
Welcome Eni, tell me a bit about your background and how you got into this style of art? It appears you are a very active zentangle artist…. (Note: I also see you’re amazing with jewellery design, feel free to go there too)
I first got involved into Zentangle in 2013, while I was fighting stage 4 metastatic cancer. I had been an active artist and art instructor for over 30 years, including texture and fantasy design for video games, jewelry design, painting, drawing, lace making, model making, embroidery and many other crafts, but during treatment I was unable to create art at all.
I started to create these small drawings depicting aspects of the cancer treatment (see my collection Muddyglasses), when my oncologist suggested that I pursue “happier” drawings instead. I have always enjoyed pattern drawing, and these drawings were full of tiny patterns, it was so soothing. That’s when I discovered Zentangle and from that moment on, it was the only thing I wanted to do, not only for the art, but also for the de-stressing aspect of it. I practice Zentangle and create art almost every day.
As for my background, I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was about 8 years old. My very perceptive mother put me into any arts and crafts class she could find. My grandmother also encouraged me by teaching me many different styles of fiber arts, including crochet, knitting, embroidery, needle point, machine sewing, and even obscure needlelace techniques. However, for a twist of fate, I ended up with a bachelor in Architecture — I got dissuaded by peers who claimed that I would starve as fine artist.
For the next 15 years after graduating, I worked in many different kinds of commercial arts, including graphic design, toy design, fashion and costumes, furniture and home accessory design, CAD, desktop publishing, video game design, fantasy worlds design, 3D computer graphics, architectural model making, window dressing, you name it. I also started teaching very early on, just a couple of years after graduating. However, it wasn’t until near the year 2000 that I became more heavily involved with more fine art such as jewelry making, fiber arts, sculpting, drawing and painting.
Where are you located?
I’m originally from Brazil, but I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago. Now I’m living in El Segundo, a sleepy little town near the LA coastal area. I like living in a small town and yet so near such a strong urban area, we have everything, but also enjoy the peace of the ocean nearby.
You have developed a unique style to your work, what would you say is your favourite piece?
I don’t really have one particular favorite piece because I’ve created so many things, I fall in love with the latest picture, but then a new picture comes along and I fall in love with that one too. I look back and I fall in love all over again with the old ones. So I guess I’m an incurable romantic, falling in love all the time with these pictures and surprised each time at the fact that I created them.
With that said, I do see a trend in my work that has spanned over decades, regardless of the medium used. I’m always attracted creating things that are fantastic, far from reality, highly ornate and colorful. If it’s colorful and over-the-top ornate, then I will probably love it, but it also needs to be tasteful and artistic, especially when it comes to the use of color, I’m very particular about that.
Over the years I’ve watched you hone your skills and develop real precision in your work. Pens, pencils, inks, Watercolour … what are your favourite tools for creating?
Thank you, I think my all time favorite right now are the copic markers. Shading and coloring with markers has always been a challenge, and for many decades I considered markers to be the holy grail of illustration due the speed, but I never quite got the hang of it. Now I feel very comfortable with gray markers, and love the smoothness of it.
I still have a long time love/hate relationship with watercolors — I’ve had lovely and wonderful experiences with acrylics, oils, pencils, gouache, inking pens, but never with traditional watercolors. I use them to some degree in my work for backgrounds and some coloring, but they are fickle. That’s what makes them even more interesting — the discovery, the growth of using a medium that is hard to master.
I’m obsessed in exploring new media — especially how they relate to other media, finding their strengths and weaknesses. For example, in my opinion the pencil is the ultimate shading tool, but it can never quite get as dark as paint or colored pencils. And the markers, for as much as I love them, can never quite get into those tight corners of tiny Zentangle. The secret is to use each one to its strengths.
What would you say has been the most difficult aspect in being consistent with your art and how do you handle this?
As far as style is concerned, I feel that it’s mostly a matter of time and practice until you find your own uniqueness. At first, everyone is emulating someone else until you learn solid techniques and methods, it’s inevitable and you can’t fight that. It’s very difficult to learn a new thing AND develop a style at the same time. However, once you are comfortable with a technique or a method, most of the time you will see the work veer in a unique way that is all your own. Additionally, over time, you notice that your style will remain a bit consistent, it has unique traits that are always present, regardless of the method.
For example, my style has always been super ornate and colorful, even when I try to do things out of that style, invariably I end up returning to it. The best way to be consistent is to truly do only what you love, even if others say that it’s “not the right way”, or not the way that is trendy at the time.
I have a good story about this: back when I was creating fantasy worlds for video games, it seemed like the current style was always dark and grungy, very sci-fi-ish with grays and a few neon accent colors. My work was always colorful and whimsical, and didn’t fit that style at all. I just couldn’t bring myself to work without color, and eventually that proved to set me apart from the others and brought more interesting projects my way, also brought me awards for creativity and uniqueness, and clients who were looking for something different.
Obviously I go through times when I look for inspiration in others and explore online lessons to learn new techniques just like everybody else does, but at times I purposely try to not look at any other work at all, so that I can give my drawing a chance to develop on its own.
Do you have one tip you can share with us for combatting artists block?
Like all other artists, I have days when it’s difficult to control the “muse”, my creative energy is lower and I feel unable to create regardless of all the hundreds of ideas I have jotted down, waiting to be developed. On those days, I just give myself a break doing office work or organizing my tangles and supplies. Eventually, if I can manage to give myself that break without stressing too much about it, the muse comes back, ready to create 🙂
It’s very difficult when the muse decides to go away for several days in a row, or even weeks. I find it very important to be gentle, and not have too many expectations when first returning, start small and without too much complexity. I have artist’s block several times a year, almost on a monthly basis. Creating art is VERY cyclical, and the harder you fight, the less it works.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have an incredible passion for exploring media, techniques, methods. I simply love looking at a piece of art — any type of art, or even photos, a sunset, a sculpture or a vase of flowers, not just Zentangle — distilling and analyzing what makes it look great, and then applying those concepts in a completely different way in my work. It’s like a little game of discovery for me. However, the exploratory process is NEVER complete unless I get a chance to use it and to pass it along to someone else, to teach. So you can expect me to continue to learn, explore and teach.
Right now I’m SUPER excited about my subscription program Art Club, which has finally left the testing phase and is now entering a more well developed cycle. I don’t know if it will continue forever, but I hope it will go on for a long time. It is fantastic to see my students learn and evolve. I’m so GLAD when they turn to me and say “I’ll never forget how you pushed me to explore beyond what I thought I could” or “I never thought I could create art like this”. It is such a reward.
And lastly, tell us all the places where we can find you online…
My center hub is my website enioken.com where you can find my posts, portfolio, blog and lesson shop. All my lessons can be found at https://www.enioken.com/shop . I have two other stores online, at Etsy, and also at Gumroad. On social media, I dwell at Facebook in my Art Club group, my FB page and other Zentangle groups such as Square One. I also have a very solid Pinterest presence with 3 million monthly viewers, and I also have a small but growing presence on Instagram. And finally, I also participate in the Zentangle mosaic.
Follow me at my Facebook main page: https://www.facebook.com/EniOkenDesigns
Pinterest boards: https://www.pinterest.com/enioken/
Art Club information: https://www.enioken.com/artclub
Thank you SOOOO very much Chrissie for this opportunity to share my story and my work!!!
And that wraps up my Artist Interview with Eni Oken. Maybe now you’re starting to feel a little starstruck like I am. I really get the sense with Eni that nothing has been wasted. She has had a journey that has included so many creative elements. Now, here we are, many years later, and it all comes together to produce work that is truly spectacular. It provides for a background in which her teaching is first class and her knowledge is extremely broad.
I love this quote by Eni
“Obviously I go through times when I look for inspiration in others and explore online lessons to learn new techniques just like everybody else does, but at times I purposely try to not look at any other work at all, so that I can give my drawing a chance to develop on its own“.
In particular I love the bit about purposely trying not to look at any other work so that her own work has a chance to develop on its own. Friend, when was the last time you did this?
I’m putting it out there, I’ve never done this. When I read this, it hit me hard, right in the middle of my chest…. It’s a knowing. A knowing, that as I read it I knew Eni was right. This IS something I need to do if I want there to be any chance of my own art developing. What about you though? Have you done this? Do you practice this as part of your own creative development? If you don’t, do you agree you might need to?
Are we becoming saturated?
With social media being the way it is, we are living in an environment where looking at great art has never been easier. But are we becoming saturated? You know that when a cloth is truly saturated, it can’t absorb any more moisture. It reaches a point where it becomes unusable because it can’t absorb any more liquid. If we want to grow creatively, we need to consciously choose to leave room for our own growth and development… just like Eni says. If we’re totally saturated and full from over stimulation, we don’t leave any room for ourselves. We can get to a state where we become unusable, because we are so full of everything and everyone else, and that is truly sad.
So girlfriend, I’m confessing to you now that I am going to begin putting this into practice. I’m not sure how I’ll go about it yet, but I’m going to. I’d love to know how you plan to implement this too. Leave me a comment below. Maybe we can work together to keep each other accountable?
In the meantime, have you subscribed to my Email list yet?
Do you know that every new subscriber receives a copy of my free e-book “20 Ways to Connect with the Creator through the Beauty of Art and Craft“?
And they also get my monthly Connect with Chrissie email. This is the email that has my latest news, shop discounts and the odd freebie or two. It’s a good thing! So if you’re keen, fill in your details below and I’ll hook you up as a subscriber ASAP.
Until next week, connect with the Creator, let Him inspire you. His magnificence and beauty is everywhere, even in art and craft.