In our recent interview, we spoke with Liz Flores. We were inspired by Liz Flores’ art and style, and even more by her perspectives on storytelling and using social media to display her work. We discuss finding her passion in a fresh career and how she found confidence within herself. Check out her beautiful work on Instagram.
My name is Liz Flores, I’m 28 years old. I am an artist/painter in Chicago.
You went to ISU and graduated from the business school with a focus in entrepreneurship, but you realized the corporate world wasn’t a fit for you. If you could go back and do it again, would you have started out on an art path right off the bat?
I don’t think so. A lot of people, including artists, don’t see art as a business which can be a mistake and lead to a lot of struggle. Having that business background is helpful in understanding things like marketing and sales. It was beneficial to have entrepreneurs around me at the time because I wanted to sell the art I was making but didn’t know how to do it. That community really catalyzed the business side with things like building a website, sales, press and figuring out how that looks. Sometimes I think it would be good to go back to art school, but I’m back and forth with it. Ultimately, everything happens for a reason. Since I didn’t go to art school there are many things I have to learn on my own, but at the same time your mind is like a blank canvas. People might say it’s required to sell art through a gallery but I wanted to do it differently and put it on Instagram. Not having those preconceived ideas allows me to continue to experiment and figure out what works for me.
Did you always have art in mind when you applied for college?
Not at all. I wanted to minor in art because I was always an art kid, but my parents wanted me to stick to business, and I honestly didn’t think you could do it full time or professionally. I left it alone for a while. At ISU I’d try to peek over the art kids’ shoulders to see what they were doing, but then I’d have to pull away and go back to the business building. It stayed in the background until I graduated. It’s funny how even if you deny it, it still comes up in little ways. When I would present a case study at the business school, I was always focused on the visuals and would search for ways to be creative. I’d look for these outlets but at the time I don’t think I realized it was because I wanted to be an artist.
You said on Instagram you come from a very big, opinionated Mexican and Cuban family. What was their reaction to your career switch?
I put in my notice at work before I told anybody I was going to be an artist full-time. I was living at home and my dad has an office upstairs and I walked in there feeling like I was about to die. It was a similar feeling to when I was younger and I would have to tell my parents I got an F on a paper. I told him I had put my notice in already and wanted to try to pursue art. My parents were shell-shocked. They were trying to be supportive and they’re more supportive now, but they still ask if I’m ready to get a real job. My grandma really thinks I’ve been unemployed for three years. For the first year, I felt as if I was a black sheep. At family parties my cousins would always say, “Look at Elizabeth, she has a great job!” or “Look at Elizabeth, she went to college and is doing really well!” and people stopped doing that. I knew it was the right thing but I felt very self-conscious about myself. I wasn’t sure what my place was in my family anymore and had to re-define that. Now that it’s been going on for longer and I’ve had more opportunities, they’ve started to comprehend it better and I’ve gotten more confident. Still, I know that even when people are treating me differently or are skeptical, believing in myself is all that matters.
You said they’re more supportive now. Did you have to show them you were successful before that happened?
Yes, and it’s about proving myself all the time, even in things like living on my own or having my own stuff. I don’t open up about my art or the process with my family very often, because I feel protective of my work. For a while, they’d ask what I was doing and I’d say nothing. Along with the self-confidence came knowing that they wanted to know more because they were trying to understand and I had to learn to be okay with explaining it to them over and over again. It’s helped because they feel included now. I have more of their support but still feel the pressure to prove myself. Once a project ends, you’re constantly looking for a new project or a way to fill the well. It’s a constant hustle which is nerve-wracking for parents.
When I initially came across your website I was drawn to the 100 Days project where you drew a train conductor 100 different ways. By drawing a certain subject over and over again, how do you keep from repeating certain design aspects?
I did definitely repeat some, but that’s part of the process. In this particular 100 Day Project, when I got to the 30s, I hit a major slump where I had no ideas. It was excellent learning because I was figuring out what came naturally to me. I went to Bali for a month and it forced me to get outside my own environment in order to bring in more ideas. In each of the 100 Day Projects I’ve done, I’ve improved because I needed that constant iteration. My very first 100 Day Project was too broad and I had no focus. The second time I was focused on the train conductor, which I thought was easy enough, but it was hard to travel with all the different materials I had. The last one I did was just a black and white color scheme and focused on storytelling. I only used one black pen so I didn’t worry about color or materials. Eventually, you realize you’ve been setting up all these barriers and you have to figure out how to bring them down in order to work anywhere.
You’ve described your style as “stripping the human condition to shapes and lines” (The Glossary). By studying human stories so closely, what have you learned about people in general?
We’re all going through similar things. We might not be going through the same experiences but we’ve felt similar emotions. With the 100 Days of Simple Lines, having the different stories and emotions all in black and white gave a cohesion that I thought was really beautiful. If you look at each one individually, every single one is different, but there’s a similarity threaded through them all. Everyone has things going on, but at the end of the day, everyone wants themselves and their loved ones to be healthy and happy. That body of work in particular helped me feel more similarities than differences between people. I enjoy travel and putting myself in places that are very different from my day to day. Places where I get to interact with really different perspectives and ways of life. For instance, this year I traveled to Joseph, Oregon where I did my first art residency at The Jennings Hotel. It’s the kind of place that’s surrounded by mountains, where people know each other by name and you can walk the entire town in 15 minutes. When you can travel to different communities and hear about their lives and what they’re going through, it really shifts and expands your perspective. In this town I explored a new take on community when I learned that some people trade goods instead of using money. This became the basis of my painting.
You told The Glossary that in the creative space, especially with women, there’s a “scarcity mindset.” What did you mean by that?
It can feel as though there’s only room for one winner but I don’t think that’s true. There’s room for everyone. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by amazing women who have uplifted me and given me counsel when I had no idea what to do. When we’re all in the same artistic space, it can be easy to get into that competitive mindset but it’s important to pay it forward. I got help, I still receive help and will continue to need help. It’s not often that you see a lot of female artists in the fine art world. I want to uplift artists the way they uplifted me. I think if you want to see more women in the art world and you are already there, collaboration is what needs to happen.
Was it difficult to enter that field or were you always welcomed into it?
I felt very welcomed but maybe I got lucky. Around the time I got on social media, I gravitated more toward female artists. Not that the men weren’t inspiring, but the stories from women were what I needed to hear to be confident in myself. That’s why storytelling is so powerful. It allows people to see what’s possible. Elle Luna was one of the first people I started following and seeing her create and talk about her work really inspired me. The only other artists I had encountered up to that point were the ones in history books and they were primarily dudes. It was nice to see living female artists that are doing amazing things right now, today.
You didn’t start sharing your art on social media until you already had your studio and were making different pieces. How do you think social media has changed the art world?
It’s honestly a love/hate relationship. It’s awesome for connecting everyone and linking up with brands, but it’s where you get lost in comparison. When that mindset starts to shift and I’m spending more time scrolling and putting myself down than creating and feeling collaborative, it’s a good idea to take a break. Especially for young artists, it’s easy to look at other people’s work and be inspired, but in return it’s hard to find your own voice. Be inspired, but then get off and make horrible, awesome stuff. You’re not going to differentiate yourself when you’re continuing to scroll because authenticity comes offline. My boyfriend recently asked me what would happen if I were to paint a piece but never post it. It was a sort of revelation, because usually I’ll post something and see the likes and comments and the endorphins will take over, but then I wonder whether I’m painting because I want to create or because I’m feeling more excited about the posting. This kind of derailment happens quietly and is something to look out for as it can shift your relationship to your work.
Also, relying on Instagram for everything related to your business isn’t a good idea. Are you updating your IG profile more than your professional website? If Instagram was gone tomorrow, your whole portfolio of work is gone. You may have all these followers, but how many of them are subscribed to your newsletter? A website your own you can control whereas the Instagram algorithm is obviously working for someone else.
Before you left on your first residency in Oregon, you commented on Instagram that you constantly wonder if you deserve time to yourself. What steps or reminders do you give yourself when the emotional guilt takes over?
I remind myself that I’m going to do shitty work if I don’t take the time. Even though it feels self-indulgent, it’s also for the work and the people around me. It’s still hard and I tend to be a people pleaser so I frame it like it’s helping everyone else too. There will always be something to do. I have post-it notes all over the place in my studio with reminders but even if I did all the things on my list, I know there’s more. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking breaks (I love naps) and my boyfriend is very supportive of my career. We’ll go out for dinner and it’ll be our time to not do any work. When I walk my dog I won’t check my email. It’s those little moments that I use as time for myself.
In “The World We Want” project, you said the word art can deter people from galleries and installations. If there is a divide of art on one side and community on the other, what can be done to bridge the gap?
When I first started, galleries intimidated me with their white walls and prices and there’s usually a person at the computer that doesn’t even look at you when you walk in. They didn’t feel very welcoming. What I love about public pieces and “The World We Want” in particular is that we bring the art outside to the public where it’s interactive and where people feel comfortable. We meet people where they are. Don’t get me wrong galleries certainly have a place in the art ecosystem, and now that the word “art” is less intimidating for me so are galleries. I’ve loved seeing community-focused galleries that represent all different types of art, from fine art to street art pop up. Galleries are starting to be more approachable and as people get more involved the word ‘art’ seems less scary. Murals in particular are a great bridge that gets people involved in the art community and learning more about the artists in their neighborhoods.
Any future projects we can look out for?
I want to do more art residencies and mural work. I have a couple things lined up but I’m definitely looking forward to creating murals in the new year.
Written by: Andrea Carrillo