Toni Chä, 21, Explains Being an Artist Who is Black, The Lack of Understanding For Artists, & Her Favorite Thing About Connecticut

Toni Chä is a digital artist from New Haven, Connecticut. She spoke on her creativity, culture, and the importance of labeling artist. She also touches on the lack of understanding potential clients can have when it comes to requesting art. We learn more about what she enjoys eating and what she is listening to.

Toni Chä
Toni Chä taken by Kairo Nathan

What is your background? 

I am twenty-one years old, I live in New Haven, Connecticut. I’d like to say that I’m a Jamerican, which is my made-up term for an Americanized Jamaican [laughs]. I was raised by my American mother with the culture of my father.

Were you always creative or did you learn through trade?

I was always copying things that my brothers did, a lot of the times they would draw Dragon Ball Z characters. I wasn’t interested in Dragon Ball Z like that, so I made up my own characters. Eventually, I learned how to technically hone my skills through school. I was self-taught for a while and now I’m not. Both, I guess but I feel like a lot of artists can say that.

Toni Chä
Illustration By Toni Chä

What’s your favorite thing about where you’re from?

Believe it or not, Connecticut is very diverse in culture and very involved in art. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I live in Connecticut and an artist. It was bound to happen being in New Haven, I love it. There’s so many ethnic restaurants and places to be as a person of color, it’s hard not to find your community. Could there be more opportunities? Absolutely. The foundations we have in culture and art is amazing. These are my roots and I’m proud of it.

A question I love to ask photographers/artists is: Do you believe in the term “Artist’s Eye?” If so, what does it mean to you? 

Artist’s Eye” is how we communicate our innermost feelings or perception of the world. I always say art can be anything, something, and nothing. What I see, is not always what you see. Not to seem redundant, but we see things differently.

Is there a piece that you’re most proud of? Why?

That’s like asking a mother which child she likes best; I mean there’s always a favorite but I’m proud of them all, they my babies.

Describe your work in three words:

Surreal. Romantic, sometimes… There’s not a word that describes this but it kinda makes you go, “mhHmm” when you see it.

What three things can you never leave home without?

Aside from my phone, my headphones, and my laptop… My necklace, my Sketchbook and pens, and my leather jacket or my self-respect, logic, and honesty. That’s if I want to be deep and cheesy.

Toni Chä
Illustration By Toni Chä

Is it challenging being a young black female artist?

I’m going to be truly honest… I hate it, the challenges, with a passion. For a number of reasons, but the most is that I’m labeled as a black female artist in the art community. There’s this thing called typecasting and it’s when an artist draws a significant amount of a specific genre that they become a “blank” artist. It’s kind of like how certain actors are known for a specific type of acting, for example Mike Epps is known for comedy. But we do not call Mike Epps “that black actor who does comedy“, he is a comedian. In other words, I do not like being called a black artist because it binds me. I’m an artist who is black but I am not a black artist. Why is it that I have to hyphen my label as an artist and non POC [people of color] don’t. They are just artists and I’m the black artist because I illustrate black people? No, we’re all artists. I just so happen to have predominantly black people in my art because that’s who I am and that’s what I see and that’s who I want to be represented in the best way possible. The only time that I allow that phrase to be used is by other black people because it means they’re describing me to other black people; it’s always for networking to better ourselves and our community.

Your go-to comfort food(s)?

Anything with intense flavor. I mean, chocolate, candy, pastries, and spicy Jamaican food–spicy anything. Anything that can be enhanced with hot sauce. People keep telling me I should carry Hot Sauce around because I require it in everything, so I guess that counts as comfort food [laughs]. Pretzels… Soft beer pretzels. It does something to me, great things to me. I love it!

What element of art do you enjoy working with the most?

I like painting and how it looks. I’m a digital artist, though. I really enjoy working digitally because it’s less precious and I don’t get tied down to mistakes as I normally would with traditional.

Toni Chä
Illustrations By Toni Chä

I do art myself, and as an artist the most annoying thing  to me is being asked, “When are you going to draw me a picture?”. When being asked that, how do you personally feel?

I usually follow up this question with “when are you going to pay me?”. Anybody who asks this question most likely thinks this is a hobby and that I do this for fun and that it takes all of 5 minutes. Well the fun part may be true, it’s still a job and it should be treated as such. Most of the time people who ask this question are the ones who think they’re entitled to a portrait,  which is funny because they wouldn’t spend more than $10 on one. They’re usually the same people who tell me that I’m going to make it far and become a big-time artist, whatever that means… if that’s supposed to happen and you’re trying to pay me $10 for a portrait that took five hours… You mean to tell me that my life-long skills and talents are worth $2 an hour… Issa dub. They are the ones who create starving artist and I am not exaggerating [laughs]. I think there’s a lack of understanding and respect when it comes to having a career as an artist. If you had a friend that was a dentist, would you walk into their dentist office and say when are you going to clean my teeth? No, you would make an appointment, hand in your health insurance, and get your teeth clean. Many would say because that person is your friend you should give them a discount, free cleaning, etc. Your friend did not become a dentist just to give you discounts and free teeth cleanings! They have to make a living and you should respect that. Eventually with the time, that loyalty and respect of their career could offer free teeth cleaning. I apply the same philosophy to art.

Finish these:

Black Women are

Multifaceted, magical amazing human beings. Who. Have. Voices. Emotions. And experiences. That. Should. Be. Validated.

Art is my

My lifeline, It’s a part of me like a second head.

Got my mind on my

Future.

WHERE DA

Niggas at? *eyes emoji*

Black Panther is

Like Obama got re-elected again. It was lit.

Don’t touch my

Me. Just don’t touch me.

Shout out to my

People who want to see me do great things but also match my energy and more, because I also want to see you do great things.

When creating a new piece, whether big or small, what inspires you to create?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I kind of just start doodling and eventually I get an idea, I kind of just redraw and redraw it until it looks satisfying. Redrawing doesn’t happen a lot but it’s kind of my thought process, to draw until I’m satisfied.

Do you ever use art to channel through you emotions?

Absolutely! There are times where I’ve gotten sick and I’ve made artwork from that. There are times when [I’m] going through depressive episodes and I make art about that. There are times of my emotions affect my art; Sometimes, I make bad art when I’m too zealous, it’s funny how that works. And there are times when I make really great art and I’m not even thinking about my emotions or feeling neutral. I guess I could answer your last question, but sometimes I make art based off my emotions.

How do you feel about some artists working under the influence? Do you?

My only issue would be the addiction that could follow depending on what influence they’re under. The art community is a very demanding field and if your drive is coming from drugs or alcohol, you’ll easily fall prey to addiction. That will easily be your downfall as it was your come up.

Toni Chä
Illustration By Toni Chä

What’s your favorite music genre(s)? List three of your favorite music artists?

Hip hop and R&B, I like everything except country I really don’t know what happened in that field. I don’t think anybody likes country except people who make it. This is really hard because I like a lot…

Daniel Caesar

Boyz II Men

Kendrick Lamar

Cardi B

SZA

A lot, just a lot [laughs].

List your favorite song(s) out right now? 

The Black Panther soundtrack, thanks Kendrick.

Freudian by Daniel Caesar

To the Moon by Phora

Wait a Minute by Willow Smith

Garden (Say It Like Dat) and Broken Clocks by SZA

Where can we find you?

I took a break for a while, artist tend to lose themselves in social media because of the high demand to be popular and great with your art. Instagram, Vero (@ToniNotTony), and Twitter.

Toni Chä
Toni Chä by Kairo Nathan

 

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