Meet the maker
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ali Simmel! I'm 24 and a mother of two young humans, a pit bull, two cats, a tarantula, and a snake. I also have a partner I'm married to and that's kind of like having another child sometimes. I am in school for Psychology and work with children that have autism and down syndrome as an Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapist. I am an Aquarius sun, Pisces moon, and Scorpio rising meaning I'm a free-flowing, aloof but highly sensitive empath with a fiery side who loves the color black. I spend most of my time outside, and though I love my apartment and all of the plants in it that make me feel naturey, I get anxious when I'm indoors for too long and prefer to be by bodies of water. I was born and raised in the Fort Worth, Texas area and moved to Austin in 2017. As a result I have a country-western soul and a love for the heat.
Tell me a bit about your work and how you began making it.
I have been drawing my whole life. I used to get in trouble for drawing on furniture, and the first piece I remember creating was a sad bunny when I was 3 or 4. I was really upset with my parents, so I slipped the drawing under their door and packed up a handkerchief tied to a stick horse and walked to the end of our land. I have always loved drawing faces, doing my best to capture expressions and body language. But I never took drawing seriously, it was just something I did. In 2016 my best friend came over to paint and ended up leaving her supplies at my apartment. I had never really owned acrylics, most of my art had been created with BIC pens and school pencils or the limited art supplies bought for basic art class in school, but my friend had left canvas, brushes, and big tubes of primary color acrylics. After she didn't come back and get them for a few days, I texted her and asked if I could use them. That's how it started. I fell in love and was painting all the time. I would invite people over just to sit and paint with me. Eventually, people started asking me to paint stuff for them. After a while, I started charging them--very little though because I had no idea what I was doing. Two years later it had become a full-blown business complete with a website and clothing design. Now my sister and I are combining our talents to start an actual fashion line! It won't be here for a while though.
Are there any artists or companies that inspire you or your work?
Honestly musicians mostly. I have never been very educated about art, though I have been obsessing over discovering visual artists I love over the last two years. I listen to a ton of Elliot Smith when I paint, he activates my sad soul. I also listen to Johanna Warren and Bob Dylan. I listen to other musicians when I paint but those are the ones I have on repeat most of the time. You can ask my partner, he makes fun of me. As for visual artists, I would say that Kerry James Marshall is my most modern inspiration. I absolutely adore his work. He captures everyday life in such an enticing way, and seems to really bask in the souls of his characters--plus I love the deep contrast of his coloring.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process varies. My favorite is this thing that happens with writings, songs, fashion, and paintings alike where I'm quiet and still (usually right before falling asleep) and I just have this vision. Its always a flash, like a camera flash, of a vivid but instant "video" of the thing I need to create. I keep a notebook and sketchbook by my bed for this reason. However, not all of my creations are made this way. In fact, my favorite paintings were created just because of a mood. I have this mood that settles over me, it feels kind of magical but melancholy, and I go into my garage and pick up a brush and just start painting. Then the painting just kind of appears. My third process is actually more of a process than the other two, and it’s when I create a sketch in my sketchbook I like, or a series of sketches, and it gives me an idea for a painting. I then create the painting based on the sketches, but these are less fun than the first two.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
The hardest part is having the time to paint. Between all of beings I have to entertain and keep alive and happy, school, and work, it's really difficult to find the time to paint. I function best in the evening/late night but I can't really stay up late very often or I don't have the energy to wake up at 6 am with my kids. Plus, in order to get into the creative mood and actually get work done I usually need at least 4 hours, but 8 more ideally and it's especially hard to find that kind of time. The second hardest is finishing big projects. It’s easy and fun when it’s an inspired act that takes me 1-3 hours real quick in the day and it’s done. But when it’s a detailed commission or even just a huge original, it's hard to find the motivation to keep coming back to the same painting and working it, because then it becomes just that, work.
Do you have any advice you’d give a young artist hoping to embark on a creative path?
Some advice I'd give a young artist is to find art that YOU like. Not art that people tell you is good, not just the classics, follow artists on Instagram, go to art shows and find stuff that speaks to your soul and just makes you stare--take sketchbooks with you! In fact, take a sketchbook with you everywhere and draw/write stuff that stands out to you. And then sit in your spot and create. Don't worry about what you're going to make, don't worry about the end result. Don't worry if people are going to like it. Put on music that puts you in that mood, that creating mood, turn it up loud and just do some shit. And if you keep at it, and keep doing what you love and what you're good at, success will happen. Just keep networking and doing your thing. Also, don't worry about having a style. Even if you don't think you have one, your art will automatically have a flair that is uniquely "you".
Do you have a favorite project or piece that you’ve created?
I love Absent, one of my most popular pieces and the one that Rowan is sporting on her sweatshirt. The original hangs above my fireplace and I love looking at it. Sometimes it makes me want to cry, and that's how I know it's good.
What is your workspace like?
My work space is messy. I try to keep it organized, but even organized it's pretty messy. But it's like my brain I guess. I keep things in my workspace that I like, little trinkets and odd things that give me a certain feeling, a feeling of connection to myself. I have a shelf next to my work table that has an old 1970's Coors Light can I found wedged in some rocks on a mountain in Colorado, it holds an old shriveled up rose I got while working a gardening job years ago. I have some sea shells from Iceland my partner collected for me on a trip. I have snake skin and a tarantula exoskeleton that my babies gifted me when they molted, both in old baby food jars. I have a couple of dead insects perfectly preserved that I found on hikes or by my apartment. I have incense I love and sage and a lighter. On the walls I have posters of bands I like, a Sigmund Freud poster, a Van Gogh poster, and lots of my own artwork as well as some of my kid’s artwork. Then I have a straw carpet on the ground I found in someones trash as well as a bed for my dog and a cat tree for my cats and tons of art supplies and garage junk.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I'm working on a lot of stuff. I have a huge canvas I've been working on for a while called "Caught off Guard". It's a painting of a green humanoid laying strangely on a purple couch holding a book with their toes to the light of a pink lamp sitting on a nightstand with coffee stains and burning incense. The face is made of shapes, but have a 3D humanoid face popping through I made with wall plaster. I've been working on this one for a long time and I'm excited to finish it and see the end result. This one was made with that "mood" process. Every time I've sat down to work on it, something just happens. I definitely did not plan out this super weird painting, but it shows me who I am. Another one I'm working on is a giant painted version of a sketch I did called Martyr. It was originally a quick sketch in my tiny sketchbook I did during a series of quick sketches when I was pregnant with my youngest. It was a really hard time for me so I did a sketch a day to process my thoughts and feelings. Then I did a more detailed sketch, and then attempted a digital rendering (which I still wanna do) but now I'm bringing it to life on a 5 foot tall canvas. Another one I'm working on is this old TV i found in the trash. It's really big and one of those fatter ones. I painted a person screaming on it but the eyes and mouth aren't filled it so if you plug the TV in it just shows static through them. I'm going to do a lot more with this one, but it's basically a statement about commercialism/consumerism/technology. Lastly, I have a few clothing projects. I busted out the old sewing machine and am making a Halloween-spider shirt for my oldest human (she's obsessed with spiders and reptiles and Halloween, Nightmare Before Christmas is one of her favorite movies), and I'm trying to create this pair of shorts I designed for a Forth of July release for the clothing brand I'm working on with my sister. Oh and I'm also working on recording an album. Man, when I lay it out like this it's a lot.
Do you have any insight or tips on how to write about your work for other artists who may be struggling with that?
How to write about your work? Like I'm doing now? If so, read. The best way to learn how to write is to read. Anything. You don't have to read novels or poetry if you don't want to, but even just reading articles that interest you or recipes can teach you how to write. I'm reading this book right now called "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. It's a great book for any creative but it has amazing writing advice and funny anecdotes.
Is your creative work your full time job? If not, can you share a little bit about other work you do either full time, part time or on the side?
My creative work is not my full time job. There has been a few and far between times that it has been, but honestly it stresses me out when it's my only job. Too much pressure. But like I mentioned before, I am an Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapist for kids with autism and down syndrome. Essentially I have a few kids in my clinic that I am specialized in there specific needs and goals, and I work with them/play with them and try to get them to accomplish their goals and leave happy.
If/when you find yourself in a creative rut, what do you do to help push you out of it?
When I'm in a creative rut, I wait it out. I will change mediums sometimes, like if I can’t draw or paint I might turn to music for a while or vice versa. Or if I feel like I can't do anything I'll just do things that inspire me, like yoga and hiking and visiting art museums/shows or just seeing new and interesting places. Sometimes your soul just needs to rest. Especially after you've created something that took a lot out of you. Something huge and/or super personal can drain me for a couple of weeks and I will just rest a lot and take care of myself.