Conversation with Tulani Reeves-Miller
Q: What does your creative process look like when approaching a piece? What part of the process comes first?
A: At Wellesley, Professor Nikki Greene talks about calling the art “work” instead of pieces, and I’ve adopted that into my vocabulary. When the work of Black creators often gets devalued, it’s important to call it what it is. I always start drawing with a sketch. Sometimes there are words that won’t leave my mind until I turn them into artwork; sometimes I look through old sketches or thoughts or doodles and go from there. I am in the habit of carrying a sketchbook around everywhere, and there’s so much to draw or write anywhere, at any time. After sketching, I often use pastel, colored pencil, and pen to utilize color and create atmosphere and convey emotion. A lot of the time, I’ll take a concept and use that to generate different works of art, making poems, songs, illustrations, and comics from a single inspiration. Art is like breath. Ubiquitous, unappreciated, and something to be forever grateful for. Introducing play and freedom into art has become intrinsic in the way I think about art. What carries me through is the joy. I notice that joy when I am creating sometimes, and that feeling often affects whether I feel like the work is something I can share. If I think of the art being good enough to share when making, I tend to get artist block. It’s taken a bit, but I’ve realized that my art goals don’t coincide with creating every day to please some algorithm or grow on social media. The sharing has to come from pure love, or it does me more harm than good.
Q: Is there a place—whether physical, cultural or otherwise—where you think of your writing/art as coming from?
A: There’s this idea Elizabeth Gilbert calls Big Magic-that ideas float around and find people who will use them, that there’s something magic about creativity. In my experience, that’s true. Sometimes you find work so resonant with ideas you’ve had that it’s uncanny, but you know there’s no way the artist has seen inside your brain. I think creativity is innate in all of us, and mine comes from a desire to connect, to share, to understand and be understood by humanity. To go deeper, I am creating from a foundation of reading Black authors who continually challenged mainstream notions of who gets to be human, especially in America; Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and more recently Ben Passmore and Bianca Xunise. I am also buoyed by manga authors like Fuyumi Soryo and Akiko Higashimura, and other authors who explore trauma in their work and know that sometimes there are no easy answers. Cartoonists like Tillie Walden and Rosemary Valero O’Connell weave narratives with so much heart and space, and those are qualities I cultivate in my work as well. Through art, I am questioning what it means to be me and what it means to be human. I am realizing now that I can choose what I share, even if sometimes the making takes on a life of its own. When I get into the flow, it’s not about conscious decisions, it’s about trusting where I am being led. There are always more questions that need answering. Simply put, the art comes from curiosity.
Q: What community has been nourishing your growth and your work? In what ways?
A: For me, feeling artistically supported really started in 2019 with other Wellesley students. I was part of Alternative Print Methods, taught by Kelsey Miller, in Fall 2019 and it was the first time I felt able to be real and vulnerable in the work and be supported by other artists who also put their hearts into the work. I learned so much about the power of community in that class. When I talk to classmates, they are so beautiful and kind and believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself. We see each other. It’s so important to have trusted friends to share art and issues with and to know that you can give and receive support safely. Robin Siddall ‘20, who was in the class as well, is organizing a print exchange this spring and I am so excited to participate. I love knowing that we are all making together, even if we aren’t all currently at Dactyl Press.