Journey to my Birthplace: New Orleans

I was born in and lived the first 10 years of my life in New Orleans, on the Westbank in Harvey. Aside from one family trip back when I was 13, I hadn’t made it back since then. This year the wedding of my good friend from before we moved gave me the perfect excuse to reconnect with my roots.

My Adventures in New Orleans

New Orleans was not only my birthplace, but it was the place where I first became inspired by and bewitched with art. Some of my earliest memories of the city involve watching people paint, draw, and perform in the Quarter and being amazed by the massive float installations being constructed at Mardi Gras World.

The arts and culture played such a huge part in me becoming who I am today. I took a bunch of photos on my trip, got so inspired, and, as I stated when I did my post on the trip to Washington DC, I’m writing this so I can remember the inspiration I felt being there and an easier way to browse my photos.

Seeing everyone’s Mardi Gras posts inspired me to take a little time to reflect on my trip and share some of my moments with you.

Sharing my Sights

Here’s a collection of some of the photos I captured during my visit and stories about where I went.

Magazine Street

On my first full day there, I wanted to go see some things before I had to start getting ready for my friend’s wedding. Off the top of my head, I could really only think of going to the French Quarter.

Luckily, I was staying with native WestBanker and my best friend in kindergarten, Jamie and her hubby, Neil. They were quick to warn me how the traffic may cause issues with my restricted time-frame, then Neil suggested we go Magazine Street and I am so glad he did!

This was on my map of potential things to check out, but with minor understanding of what was there, it was basically a back-burner quest. With Neil & Jamie’s referral and encouragement, I got a chance to see browse this awesome little street, full of art studios, curio shops, and antiques galore.

Local Artist Lift-Up
Simon of New Orleans

I distinctly remember the bold aesthetic of his signs all over the Quarter when I was growing up here. It was so cool to meet the man behind the signage in his alley studio! Simon was incredibly sweet and friendly. Upon my telling him that I had moved away in ’97, he gave me a “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” magnet.

Becky Fos

This gallery was a beautiful space and Becky Fos’s work shows an amazing use of color and palette knife techniques. Really gorgeous work!

Miette

This was probably my favorite store on the street. Super fun, colorful, and full of handmade items from local artists and artisans. I picked up a Mad Darling candle and a terrarium necklace by Faerie Things at this shop, and passed up on some really cool body glitter by Elektra Cosmetics.

Additionally, they told us that upstairs they feature a body-positive, female-empowerment, LGBTQIA-friendly sex shop.

Faerie Things

The terrarium necklace pictured in my photo gallery was made by this local New Orleans artist featured at Miette.

Mad Darling Candles

I picked up one of these Eau de Laveau candles at Miette and it smells absolutely amazing. My home office space is smelling like roses & cloves and I feel fancy af.

Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World

This was on the top of my list of things to check out, as well as the #1 thing I recommend to people going to visit New Orleans. I came here a handful of times as a child and it’s one of the memories that has stuck with me so vividly years later.

The fact that I am older and have had some professional experience building photo props out of styrofoam and airbrushing made this visit all the more cool. Really, if you are ever in the city, check this place out. It is so neat and everything is so big.

French Quarter & Jackson Square

I went to the French Quarter and Jackson Square a couple of different days. The first was to scope things out, network with whatever artists I could, and do a little shopping and touristy stuff.

The second day that I went was a mission to cross “do some art in the French Quarter” off my bucket list. It was a rainy day, but luckily I was allowed to post up under the cover of the Gazebo Cafe in a pretty high traffic area. I got to meet some new people and even sold a few buttons. It was a wonderful full circle moment for me.

Working on commissions from Gazebo Cafe
LOCAL ARTIST LIFT-UP
Mattie Stillwell

This artist I met in Jackson Square actually had an opposite story from mine: born and raised in Texas (even lived in Austin for a time) and now lives in New Orleans. She had so many cool and colorful designs and I picked up one of her little alien drawings for my sister!

Jenelle Leigh Campion

This Jackson Square artist had a bunch of zen little skelly bois that had a really neat minimalist design. Loved her sharp contrasts, use of patterns, and incorporation of yoga moves and esoteric symbolism.

Zombieboy

I met David, who goes by the name Zombieboy, in one of the shops in along Decateur. He does a lot of cool, dark photography and back-lit spooky scenery paintings, but I ended up getting a wire-wrapped coffin nail necklace he made as a gift for my partner.

He packaged it in a bag of cleansing herbs and told me about how Death passes over wearers of the coffin nail, because he thinks they are already dead.

Michelle Davenport

This lovely lady is Neil’s cousin (if I recall correctly), who also does portraiture drag queen art and sells some really cute bath bombs and jewelry in Jackson Square and at pop-up markets around town.

Foods and Cool Dudes

A huge part of what made this homecoming so wonderful was the open arms and loving support of all my old friends there. As stated previously, I stayed with my long lost best friend from kindergarten, Jamie, and her super sweet hubby, Neil.

I had the privilege of seeing my old friend Lauren (@laurenvallehair) tie the knot with her beloved Patrick. All with the added bonus of seeing all of her family and meeting her funny little girl Audrey.

Also, I grabbed brunch with my old neighbor friend Erica and her momma and got to meet her silly little baby girl Ansley.

Things Learned & Memories Recaptured

Another neat thing was that Jamie and Neil live in the neighborhood that I grew up in, like a block from our old house. I took the morning of my last full day there walking around the places I grew up playing in.

A few memories and learnings

Justin Wilson — I used to watch so much of this guy’s cooking show on PBS. I had completely forgotten about it until I caught his red suspenders in a DJ Rhett video Jamie & Neil put on.

A Seal at the Playground — I thought I remembered a seal at the playground when I was little, but there was only the elephant (which I also remembered).

Heavy Cream in Grits — I learned about this at Jamie’s cousins house and it is so good.

A linguistic experience

There are similarities between the New Orleans dialect and Northeastern dialect, except they use an ‘uh’ sound instead of an ‘ah’ sound, e.g. fuh-evuh vs. fo-ah-evah.

Mashing a bunch of words together into one word is part of the Westbank dialect, which pops up from time-to-time in my own speech patterns when I am not paying attention.

Couillon — A dumbass. I don’t think jean shorts and shrimp boots are a requirement, but they are often tied to the couillon aesthetic.

Flapaié — The craps… I think. I can’t find anything with the appropriate spelling. Ended up being a running (har har) joke the entire trip.

Chaw! & Gaw! — General exclamatory phrase that can mean anything from Yeah! to Golly!/Gosh!

Podna — A good friend, similar to how the term “partner” is used in westerns.

Thanks for reading about my pilgrimage home!

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What’re your favorite sights or spots in New Orleans? Did you learn about anything new? Did you even read this whole thing? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

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« Laissez le bon temps rouler ! » If you ever get the chance to visit New Orleans, go do it! It’s a really awesome city and everyone is really open and friendly.

I spent five days there and still had so many things left on my list that I wanted to do, but the time I spent there was full and awesome.

Support Small Artists Holiday Gift Guide 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are pretty much here.

Are you worried about how this year’s holiday shopping spree may add fuel to the dumpsterfire of America’s late-stage capitalist nightmare? You’re not alone.

Maybe you should try: Supporting Small Artists™

“But isn’t finding and purchasing from small artists difficult/expensive?” you say. Don’t fret! I’ve come up with a handy holiday gift guide supporting ten small artists and artisans I know personally, most local-to or from Texas with a wide range of pricing options.

Even better, you can shop all these great vendors from the comfort of your own home. It’s just like Amazon, except we aren’t going to sell out humanity to the AI overlords… and you have to wait a few more days for shipping. Tee-hee.

Sam’s 2018 Small Artists & Artisans Gift Guide

For that self-care friend:

Self Care Friend

She smells like lavender and radiates self-assuredness. Her house plants are thriving and she never misses a therapy appointment. She seems to somehow take on the world from the comfort of her bathtub. But she’s still vulnerable about her weaknesses, making you love her even more. Here’s a few shops I’d recommend to find the perfect gift for your self-care friend.

Monthly Magickal Record by School of Life Design

Got a goal-getter in your life? Here’s a little organizational magick for the upcoming year. School of Life Design, the brainchild of Jessica Mullen and Kelly Cree, creates zines and manifestation manuals. Their latest project the Monthly Magickal Record, inspired me to write this post. 

This 158-page monthly planner has loads of exercises to help one explore their inner selves, pave the way to manifesting greatness, and empower themselves for the entire year. The perfect planner for anyone who is big on emotional and psychological self-care. And it’s only $20 right now on pre-order! 

Ritual Cleansing Goods from Black Star Henna & Apothecary

Incense. Face masks. Bath bombs. Candles. Everything someone needs to have the fanciest bath time. Real talk. I’ve bought myself a little care package from Black Star Henna & Apothecary for the past couple of years on my birthday. It is always worth it. Refreshing, relaxing, and smelling like some otherworldly, majestic being.

Additionally, Ashtyn Nyx, artisan behind this shop, has an incredible energy that he weaves into everything he does. Now even more so, since he started doing reiki. Whether it’s tarot readings, intuitive henna (Dallas-area), crystal jewelry or meditation foci, he can help reveal and empower the goddess in anyone.

For the “not like other girls” friend:

She’s not like other girls. She’s from outer space. Her unique style sense and gravitation towards all things colorful and psychedelic let you know she’s blazed a new trail once or twice, cannabinoidically-speaking. Her bizarre tastes make her a little difficult to shop for, but you know when you see something she’ll love. Here’s some fun suggestions for this out-of-this-world friend.

Not Today Satan from ThirdEyeMonsters

Know someone who has just about had it with humanity? Get this amazing Not Today Satan design printed on a mug, phone case, or t-shirt for that special someone from the ThirdEyeMonsters Threadless store. There are plenty of other colorful designs on her shop, including a toadstool ballerina, model-inspired psychedelic mashups, and references to those little stamps hippies eat.

ThirdEyeMonsters is run by my sister, Jesseca Soper, who is also a talented artist and designer. It runs in the family! Additionally, she makes some really cute polymer clay figurines and pendants. I have a little third eye alien pendant I got from her that I love and wear often!

ToddMart by Me&Todd Co.

Know someone who loves occult symbology and psychedelic art? Well, strap the eff in and let me tell you the mono-myth of the ME. The ME is a symbol developed by Todd Mein of Me&Todd Co. which just looks like a face at a glance. It’s also a representation of the self. The mustache, or mouth, represents five mountain peaks, symbolic of the peak ages of one’s life, while the eyes represent the rising sun and setting moon, symbolic of birth and death. The encompassing circle tying together the cosmogonic cycle that everyone walks through. Pretty deep, huh? 

The ME is painted almost graffiti style on various found art pieces, onto hats, and into various situations and identities to further the idea that ME can be everyone and everything. Aside from his various MEs, Todd also has several pop-art canvas pieces with his distinct comic stylings; think Sigourney Weaver with her cat or a psychedelic Aquarius portrait of shirtless Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds. 

For the fashionable friend:

Her color blocking game is always on point. She is a master at thrift store finds. She’s somehow classic and timeless, while also being modern and trendy at the exact same time. She knows her hat is a little extra, but she also knows you have to be a little extra to be iconic. Here’s a couple of my fashionable friends who opened their own vintage resale shops, where you can find something for yours.

Eleganza Extravaganza from Austin Vintage Vibes

Shopping for someone who lives for the elegance of fine draped fashions from the 50s through 70s? Austin Vintage Vibes is a small vintage shop with an amazing selection of dramatic dresses, gowns, nighties, and accessories. Shop curator Bibi Fedell combines her background of working in boutique costume and retail shops with her love of old Hollywood to bring great finds to her shop.

She’s on a short break for her birthday and Thanksgiving, but her Etsy will be back up soon after. I also got the inside scoop that she is perusing some of the thrift stores we went to back in high school for even more amazing finds over her break. Favorite her shop and give her a follow so you can know when she comes back from her break!

Bold & Beautiful Realness from Blue Suede Vintage

Maybe you have someone who flaunts the bold colors and patterns from the 80s and 90s? Casey Shumake from Blue Suede Vintage has you covered with more modern vintage options. She is an absolute shark at finding colorful and fun patterned statement pieces that are sure to please even your most fashion-conscious friend.

Additionally, she has some killer home decor finds. There’s a BOGO sale going on right now through November 26th in her store. And if you’re in the Memphis-area, she’s having a holiday pop-up shop on December 7th. 

For the home makeover friend:

Home Makeover Friend

She’s lived in the same place for three years but the interior is ever-changing. Her hobbies include constantly rearranging her furniture and repainting her house. Oh look, she just taught herself how to reupholster a chair as a fun weekend project. You never know what she’ll be working on next, but here are a couple of vendors that might have just what she’s looking for. 

Home Decor by Calloway Studios

Have someone on your list who is constantly redecorating? Gift them some pops of their signature color. Robert Calloway, owner of Calloway Studios, creates beautiful ink-suspension resin-cast home decor, including trays, coasters, and abstract artwork. Each item is completely one-of-a-kind.

For the price conscious gift giver, he also has loads of fun keychain designs and bold jewelry. Black Friday through Cyber Monday he’s offering 15% off everything on his website with promo code GIVETHANKS.

Independent Contracting by Draper Construction Company

Maybe someone you love has been dreaming about a big home renovation project: A new deck? A refresh of the kitchen backsplash? A custom-built storage bed for the kids? Amber Draper, sole proprietor of Draper Construction, is an Austin-based construction contractor, who is nothing short of an artist when it comes to carpentry.

No job and no space is too big or small for Amber. She works with precision and can cater to your budget. E-mail her today to get a custom quote to help get the Jr. Bobby Berks in your life get started on their next big home makeover project.

For your nerd friends OR your mom friends:

Nerd Friend

She’s either raising a kid or still acting like one. Whether she’s reading science fiction and playing Dungeons & Dragons or trying to teach a kid to read and changing diapers & more diapers, you can find a custom gift she’ll love here. Maybe she’s a human mom, maybe she’s a dog mom, maybe she’s a cat mom. It doesn’t matter. These ladies love educational materials and custom portrait work.

Custom Portrait Commissions by… Wait, this is a self-promotion, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Hello. Surprise, b*tch, it’s me.

Imagine the look on your loved one’s face when they open up a beautiful hand-drawn portrait of their child as their favorite superhero or themselves as a magical mermaid warrior or their cat as a space queen. Think of the possibilities… I can also reproduce a photograph, if that’s what you want, but fantasy portraits are way more fun. My multi-step process results in the perfect final artwork every time.

I have limited commission slots available for the holiday season. My rates page says closed right now, but it’s about to be open soon. Commissions will be serviced on a first-come first-served basis and you can email me to reserve your spot in advance.

I can even make up a gift certificate, if you’d prefer to leave their options open! 

Art Prints by BAMFaktory (I’ll have another!)

But really, Brad and I have a lot of nice, cheap prints available on the BAMFaktory Etsy shop. The majority of our prints sell to Montessori schools, professors, and doctors because they are educational in nature and true-to-form. The focus on natural sciences, geometry, meditative mudras, and modern music history makes them great decorations for rooms of children and nerdy adults.

We also have a full line of fantastical airbrushed zodiac prints, loaded with esoteric symbology, that are perfect for the astrology lovers in your life.

Onward to a more connected, personal holiday shopping experience!

Thank you so much for reading my suggestions. I mostly wanted to lift up the other creators I know making a name for themselves independently. And you know… do a little shameless holiday self-promotion.

So go ahead…

Bask yourself in the post-shopping glow of knowing you helped one individual person make ends meet and get gifts for their own during the holidays.

Rest assured, you’ll find super unique gifts that your loved ones will love and see the personal touches throughout your order buying from any of these wonderful people.

Be happy knowing you’re supporting female-owned, feminist-owned, queer-owned, and black-owned (or any combo of the four) independent small businesses.

Feel the interconnections of the human experience providing happiness to not just your gift recipient, but the vendor, as well, which is something you cannot get shopping on Amazon or at a big box store.

Try it out. You might really like it. Shower yourself with gratitude from both ends of the gift giving cycle by supporting small artists and artisans this holiday season. 

I’d love to hear about your favorite small artists and artisans. Leave a comment below with the friends you turn to to get the coolest, creative gifts!

Trip to Washington DC 2018

In September, I went on a trip to Washington DC for a friend’s wedding. Because it is cheaper to buy tickets in the middle of the week, I got to spend a very full six days in the city.

My Adventures in Washington DC

So, DC is fkn wild. (inspirationally-speaking)

All the museums are free and built for actual giants. My puny human legs were not nearly enough to carry me everywhere I needed to go. The buildings are all absolute marvels of architectural and artistic achievement, built around an aesthetic lost today on capitalist materialism. I almost cried in the Library of Congress. It was this whole thing. The ceiling and walls were hand-painted with thoroughly planned, conceptual messaging surrounding enlightenment through education. I couldn’t help it. 

All around me, I heard people speaking different languages and most of the Lyft drivers were happy to tell me more about their countries of origin. Austin isn’t really a melting pot like DC is, so it was inspiring to actually be surrounded by a global community and learn through conversations.

I did some life sketching in the Reading Room at the Library of Congress, lived my Bio-Dome fantasy at the US Botanical Gardens, had my mind blown at the National Gallery of Art, embraced some natural wonders at the National Museum of Natural History, and even ate Laotian food and went on a Metro ride for the first time.

I was expecting to see and do some interesting stuff, but wasn’t ready for the amount of inspiration that was crammed through my ocular and auditory receptors.

Sharing my Sights

Here’s a bunch of photos from my visits to various spots around America’s capitol city on a quest for knowledge.

U.S. Botanic Garden

Have you ever seen Bio-Dome? Fun fact: It’s probably within the top 3 of my most-watched movies of all time. It is a really dumb Pauly Shore movie, but it’s also an environmental/life science-focused stoner flick that makes me laff.

Anyways, this botanical garden was like being in a mini bio-dome. There was a desert section and a tropical section and a medicinal herb garden and an island section with a waterfall. Rapid rates of photosynynthesis. Mini-tribal. All that. Living my dreams.

There is also a beautiful rose and outdoor garden. I took a bunch of photos for later artistic reference. Some of these also may have been taken by my friend Sarah, who was nice enough to send me her’s.

Library of Congress

I’m not going to lie; I would never have thought of coming here if it weren’t suggested. I am so glad I listened.

Imagine a building constructed mostly from natural stone, brimming with hand-carved sculptures and adorned with hand-painted murals, each one portraying symbolism entirely focused on learning and expanding consciousness.

That is the Library of Congress. It’s absolutely breathtaking and should really be experienced first-hand, but here are some pictures anyways.