When Art Imitates Life

an interview with Tiffany Baker by Magnolia

Welcome back to another interview here at Takemetotheheights.com!

I am overjoyed in coming back with another individual who has shown me what art imitates life truly looks like. For those of you who are unaware, my first medium in expressing myself was art. Having the opportunity to meet this person allowed me to relieve my eight/nine year old elementary school days, composition notebook in tow filled with my sketches. Let’s dive in and get to meet visual artist, Tiffany Baker.

Takemetotheheights: Can you tell the readers who you are?

Tiffany Baker: My name is Tiffany Baker. I am a Brooklyn based artist, illustrator, and muralist. I am originally from Chicago, and I call Brooklyn home now, even though I spend a lot of time between (the two places) both Brooklyn and Chicago. I have a studio in Brooklyn as well, where I create most of my fine art pieces. I also work in oil, acrylic, graphite and I also work digitally as well.

TMTTHS: “In thinking about the different things you work with like oil, acrylic, graphite, who got you into art?

T.B: I think art chose me. I was always drawing when I was a child. My earliest memories were 3 and 4 years old, asking for a sheet of paper to draw the scenes in my coloring books. I didn’t color in my coloring books. I just wanted to draw the pictures. My mom was very confused. She would say ‘I would buy you all of these coloring books but you would never use them.’

TMTTHS: (laughs)

T.B: I was like ‘ I’m chill I just want to draw these pictures.’ I remember trying to draw everything I saw. And I also remember making little sculptures when I was younger out of like aluminum foil and toilet paper (laughs)

TMTTHS: Fantastic (laughs)

TMTTHS: Background aside, and just thinking more recently in your life, the book signing for J is for Justice, can you walk me through the process behind all of that? How did you get the opportunity to illustrate for such an impactful children’s book?

T.B: Sure. For so many years people have asked me ‘do you ever see yourself illustrating a children’s book?’ and I would even say no, or I don’t know. I don’t have the desire to and fast forward to the end of 2021, I was reached out to by Dara Beevas. She is half owner of a Minneapolis based publishing company and they’d been following my work for a while and they told me about the project J is for Justice. I was like this is it. I guess this is going to happen. We settled everything with a contract, and then I started working on/reading over the manuscript. I even met with Nekima Levy Armstrong at that point and we started beginning our conversations about what the book is about, the inspiration the character.

Nekima Levy Armstrong and Troy D. Johnson at J is for Justice book signing Photo Credit: Kimani Howell

T.B: So from January to August, I was using procreate to come up with the character, draw the scenes. We met every single week during that time, an hour or two hours, at length between the months of January and August. And we went page by page, scene by scene, character by character and fleshed out what the book was really going to look like.The moment when it started looking like a real book to me is when me hired a book designer. What a book designer does is they take your drawings and your creations and they lay them out on the page with the type. That was a game changer. I felt like “okay this is real. This is actually happening. Everyone was floored with the layout and how they (the characters) looked, all of the different options, with all of the different illustrations that I put together.

T.B: And then from August to the launch, that was the whole printing process. We had the final files together, we sent it off to print and surprisingly, it takes a really long time for books to be printed. This is my first time in this type of project flow.

TMTTHS: My follow up question to that is seeing your art in this particular medium, in a children’s book, did you have this moment where you thought, ‘children are going to read this story, they’re going to recognize my artwork, and it’s really gonna essentially follow them as they get older. They’re gonna look back and reflect on reading J is For Justice, when they were however young. Do you ever have those moments where you’re just thinking ‘I illustrated a children’s book and they’re gonna look back some odd years from now.

T.B (laughs)

TMTTHS: (Laughs)

T.B: I haven’t had the look back moment yet. But in little ways. I’ve done murals in the neighborhood and as I’m painting, parents and people with children would walk by and they’ll say things like ‘mommy, look what she’s doing.’ That really means a lot to me because I remember when I was that little girl and I saw someone creating art and it was very magical for me. And I projected myself onto that person and I said “I wanna do that. Like that’s how I wanna live. That’s what I wanna be. That moment as a snap shot, fast forward to the book, now the book is here! And I’m just like, everything you said and more. Not only are kids gonna interact with it. Hold it, its gonna be like lodged in their memory, growing up. Which is even more rewarding than anything I feel like I’ve worked on up until now. So it’s really cool actually.

TMTHS: Wow, so I purposely haven’t done the grand reveal of the story yet to my students only because life is lifing classroom wise) but a lot of the times, I tell them “I have something special to share with you friends.”

T.B: (laughs)

TMTTHS: And I can’t wait to see how you’re gonna react to it. I can’t wait to share that with you!

T.B: (laughs) I would love it!

TMTTHS :(laughs)

T.B: “Whenever I see young children hold the book, like one little girl even held the book and she kissed the cover and the main character, I see the reaction, I see little kids really connecting with the main character. And that’s super powerful to me.”

TMTTHS: Right, right. Wow, that’s so sweet!

T.B: (laughs)

TMTTHS: But J is for Justice aside, are you looking to do more, in terms of providing more of your artwork for these children’s books, stories or something along the lines of that?

TB: Yes! Absolutely. I wanna tell more Black stories. More stories with characters who look like us, who come from our experiences, that our children can relate to so they see a reflection of themselves in literature and in media. I’m really close with my family so I grew up hanging out with my cousins, spending time at grandma’s house and I would love to tell stories about that, about the bond that two people have even if they aren’t siblings. Or they are best friends that feel like siblings growing up. So, I’d love to tell those stories of coming of age, and intimacy and make it bright and colorful and for us.

TMTTHS: Definitely! I would love to see it and shove (those type of books) in the classroom library.

T.B: Yeah! (laughs)

TMTTHS: (Laughs) Even in thinking about the opportunity and creating for J is for Justice, in the realm of art, do you have any particular advice for someone looking to become an artist or within that realm of practicing that particular medium (showcased in J is for Justice)

T.B: Yeah. For sure. My first advice, which is psychologically, a game changer. Just announce that you’re an artist over over and when people ask you what you, don’t (say) ‘I do art on the side.’ No. Announce that you’re an artist. Say I’m an artist. I’m just starting out or I’m early career or however you wanna spin it to make you feel comfortable. But arrive there psychologically. And then also, I would tell ppl figure out what kind of artist they wanna be. They don’t have to know it right away. Or maybe they’re a multidisciplinary artist. You can do that by going to different art shows, seeing what you’re drawn to, what you respond to. If you can, (or) have the opportunity, visit an artist at their studio to see how their process is. You can maybe ask to intern for them or shadow them for a couple of months, just to get your feet wet, to get your hands busy, to see what it is means to be a living, working artist.

T.B: Also, go to art shows and meet other people who are up and coming or who are aspiring to create more work like yourself. What’s gonna happen is no artist can live silo, and you’d have to have a community of other artists and other creatives around you to feed your creative hunger. So those would be the things I’d tell people to do if they’re looking to break into the art world because the inclination to be an artist already means that you’re creative and you’ve decided for yourself you are an artist. So just start saying it.

TMTTHS: I’m a firm believer of stepping fully into who you are, so thank you for sharing that. But even moving further, what’s been the most fulfilling aspect or experience you’ve come into as an artist?

TB: Recently, I’ve had a lot of support and a lot of bonding with family and friends because now I’m at a stage in my life where my family and friends, who’ve been there since the beginning, can interact with my art, it’s out there in the world. They’re coming to my art shows. They’re seeing me show up in different places. I feel like that full circle moment of community around me, and also like my day ones, being able to see my work at galleries (and what not) that’s the most fulfilling thing for me right now.

TMTTHS: That’s fantastic. So now I’m going to delve a bit deeper. I like to ask this particular type of question to any and every type of creative I come into contact with only because I noticed that often times we can live very much in the now and getting things done and often times come to a place where one might say “okay, this is it for right now. Or, I’m okay in the season I’m in right now.

TMTTHS: But it’s five years from now , what are you hoping to accomplish then, in the sense of your artwork, the different mediums you tap into, like graphite, and things like that. (What you’ve accomplished in thinking of J is for Justice) But five years has passed, what are you looking to see or accomplish then?

T.B: I’ll respond to the first part of your comment. I think to combat any sort of complacency in your art journey or your path, it’s always important to remain a student and keep learning. There are so many different materials that you can work with as an artist and I, to this day take art classes. I sign up for painting classes just to keep my skills sharp. I research the different materials that I wanna work in, (research) different people who are doing new things with materials I’ve used for years. So to combat any complacency, I always want to have a growth mindset about where my work can go and what I can do.

T.B: In five years, I would love to be showing internationally. I’d love to have a list of dedicated collectors, people who enjoy my work. People who want to see me grow and do more of the work they enjoy seeing and more books especially. Then I want to give back. I have a studio as I mentioned before and I started my business which is Studio HBK. I want that to expand and I want to offer programming and classes and be able to mentor people and especially very young people, who are not exposed to art or whose families are not very keen on a career in the arts or what that even looks like. So those are some of the things I would love love love to be involved with in the next five years.

TMTTHS: I’m looking forward to seeing that. In just thinking about some of the students I’ve worked with in the past or just people I come into contact with in the sense of just becoming complacent at times, then you sharing the notion in having a growth mindset. Staying a student, always having that approach, that desire in wanting to learn more. Thank you for sharing that.

T.B: Yeah of course, it’s important because you’ll find your creative rut. There’s a whole list of things you can do if you ever find yourself in a rut creatively. You can journal, you can meditate. Changing scenery is very helpful. Traveling, even if you can’t travel outside of your home state, try to do a staycation. Disconnect from technology. Do stuff with your hands. Put the phone down. Like all of these things help to stimulate you coming back to yourself and you listening to your inner voice and your inner creative.

TTMTHS: Thank you for highlighting the things you can do if you’re ever stuck in a creative rut. What keeps you motivated or inspired to keep producing your art? This is actually intended to what you mentioned earlier.

T.B: Yeah! I think it’s the reaction and the interaction that people have with the work. Everyone has a different perception of what the work means to them. When I’m creating, I’m creating from a vessel like place. It’s flowing through me and then when people see it, it means something different to them. Everyone has their own interpretation. So seeing how people react with my work is rewarding and seeing how they interact with it, the emotion they get from it. Because one of my goals for my art is for people to have an unspoken conversation with the work, to see themselves in the portraits, the people, or the work that I create. So having that connection with the work means a lot to me and that is what keeps me motivated to continue to create the work that I do.

TMTTHS: I can’t wait to share that piece with one of the students whose artwork is on the forefront for them. The joy he has in tapping into his artwork, very detailed for a child might I add, just thinking about your response and seeing that overall love for art in other people (myself included) will always be there no matter what, and thinking about how you showcase your art in different ways, and the various ways you present yourself and show up in your artwork. Thank you!

T.B: Of course.

TMTTHS: Speaking to eight year old Tiffany, (Laughs)

T.B: (Laughs)

TMTTHS: If you can go back and have a conversation with her, what would you tell her?

T.B: Oh my gosh. She was such an eccentric little kid. (Laughs)

TMTTHS: (Laughs)

T.B: I would tell her first of all, you’re not going to be a zoologist.

TMTTHS: (Laughs)

T.B: And you won’t work for Disney.

TMTTHS: (laughs)

T.B: But, you will create amazing art and you’ll be happier than you ever imagined despite the challenges that you encounter along the way. You know, the purity of what she wanted is still there. I still love animals. Like I can still name just about every dog breed that walks down the street.

TMTTHS: Oh wow (laughs)

T.B: And I still love Disney movies. That was accessible to me. That’s where I saw myself. Like I wanna be an artist. I wanna draw for Disney. But honestly, I think where I am and where I landed is a much better place and it’s higher and more expansive and I’m really creating work for my community.

TMTTHS: I know eight year Tiffany is very proud. (laughs)

T.B: (laughs)

T.B: I know eight year old Tiffany loved wearing lipstick so she would be happy with the adult Tiffany (laughs)

TMTTHS: (laughs) “Not the lipstick”

T.B: She can finally wear lipstick.” (laughs)

TMTTHS: (laughs) she’s like yes, we’re doing the thing we’ve always wanted to do! (laughs)

T.B: We made it (laughs)

TMTTHS: Before I come to the end of the interview, I wanna stamp the idea of why we’re here. In meeting you and other creatives, I want to continue to amplify the voices of people that look like us but, stamp this idea of intention. Listening intently to what you mentioned with how you go about practicing the different mediums you tap into and you starting your own business, and the why behind it, is allowing me to have a full circle moment of just tapping more into intention. You helped to reaffirm what this space meant for me me coming in to chat with you today. Thank you.

T.B: Thank you for having me in this space.

TMTTHS: Before we close off, how can people connect with you, buy your art?

T.B: If you’d like to commission my work or purchase art, you can access my website. My name is Tiffany Baker and my website is Tiffany-Baker.com. You can fill out the contact form on my website and get in contact with me there. My instagram name is hiccupbk. If you want to connect that way, you can DM me and I’ll get you to the right places.


Published by Magz

TakemetotheHeights is a blog curated by Magz, a Brooklynite with Dominican roots stemming from both mom and dad. Currently, she spends her time working with children, taking courses for her Masters in Early Childhood Special Education, all the while chasing her wild dreams of fashion design and fashion marketing. TakemetotheHeights style blog is her reflection and admiration towards fashion as she pays homage to Crown Heights. Despite the negative connotations people may paint about areas like Crown Heights, Magz saw it was best to truly capture the essence and beauty of it all.

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