Episode 18: The “Art Maker”

See how discovers unique, and clever ways to inspire the world around her by doing what she loves most 🎨

Joe Pascavage
11 min readJul 14, 2021

“Not all art has to have a deeper meaning.” ~

✨ About

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
Tell me a little bit about yourself:

My name is Vanessa Garza (ValexandraArt), and I am an artist from Chicago. I like to say that I am self taught, but I did have the pleasure of attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for 1.5 years. It was a great experience, however an expensive one! Instead of continuing my formal education I took a chance and began creating art. Selling art. Living as though I had already reached that point of creative success I envisioned.

The journey towards crafting my brand has been one full of emotional ups and downs. In February 2021 I decided to leave my position as a store manager at a Pet Supplies Plus store. A month prior to my departure, I was brainstorming ideas on creative ways to draw in more customers and increase our sales. After clearing the idea with our store’s franchise owner, I posted a story on my Instagram asking for any local singers or bands that would be interested in filming a music video in our store after-hours. It was definitely something different, and I certainly didn’t know if anyone would be up for the project. Any doubt would quickly fade away however, as shortly after posting the story, I got a response. Then a music video was created.

After working with both the singer and guitarist, I was inspired to follow my creative dreams as well. We all agreed that we seemed to work so well together, that we decided it was natural to continue to make creative projects as a team. From this, SunWave Productions was created: An art collective, and music production team.

These past couple of years, I have been experimenting with different creative mediums. From creating murals for Oak Park, Berwyn, local businesses and individuals, to being an art vendor throughout Chicago, I am both so very grateful and humbled by the opportunities I find to add art throughout the community.

By: Vanessa Garza

💡 Philosophy

Having worked in a variety of mediums, what would you say is unique about your personal philosophy being an illustrator and art maker?


The first thing that comes to mind is the intent behind the art I create. I find it so inspiring to hear the backstories of other creators, the deep meanings, stories, and symbolism in their works. What I think makes my personal philosophy about being an illustrator unique, is the simplicity. I make colorful, cute, simple art that I hope makes people that come upon it, smile.

Art is about building an emotional connection with the viewer, and I have seen plenty of works that beautifully capture feelings of love, sorrow, grief, and everything in between. My paintings and illustrations are created with the intention of connecting in a similar way, but with a goal to connect with anyone who comes upon it. It is not niche, does not have a particular deeper meaning, or backstory. I will say that drawing styles that are labeled as “cute” are dismissed quite often, but it is quite the experience to see people of all ages and backgrounds light up and smile because of my work.

How does that help motivate you to think forward and inspire others?


Not all art has to have a deeper meaning. Although simple and said often, I feel as though creators-especially those younger and beginning their artistic journey-glaze over this sentiment, for fear of not being taken seriously in the industry. I remember struggling during college in my painting and illustration classes, not for a lack of skill, rather I felt frozen to begin any project until I created a backstory I could recite to the class if it were to come up in discussion.

It wasn’t until I began creating- free of the classroom setting- that I began to enjoy making art once again. Suddenly it became reflex to think of fun new concepts, expand into creating stickers, enamel pins, and more for the characters I had created. I hope that my process inspires others to have fun while creating. As that is what creativity is all about.

🎯 Process

What does your creative process usually look like?


My notes app on my phone is my biggest helper when it comes to jotting down any ideas that come to mind throughout the day. I also love using Google Drive and its calendar to organize the ideas I come up with. I think what’s a bit unique about my creative process is the time I dedicate to continually reorganize my ideas, and schedule a specific time to either paint, illustrate or create them. I guess you can say I am still learning how to operate and manage my time, without the 9–5 I am used to. I’m also very big on productivity, so I make sure to put in 40 hours a week as if I were working hourly.

I usually start working on a new project by sketching it out on lined notebook paper, (It is much less intimidating to start a blank page when there’s less pressure to ruin a pretty journal!) and then transferring it to the Procreate drawing app on the iPad for linework and coloring. What I love about this process is that whether or not I get to physically painting the idea, I always end up with the digital finished piece. These can later become art prints I sell at art shows/events, or I eventually post them on social media to share what I have been drawing lately. If I end up deciding to paint out the image, I love making use of a projector where I trace the image on the canvas from the digital copy I had drawn prior. It also becomes useful with larger mural projects, where I want to ensure I get the proportions of the artwork correct.

As far as paint, I actually love leaving the traditional art supply store for this, and heading for the hardware store for 8oz paint samples. My go-to is making use of the Home Depot ProjectColor App, where I can find the exact colors in my digital artwork, and find the matching paint sample. Financially, they are more forgiving in their prices in comparison to what can be found at the art supply store, and they have great coverage. Whenever I paint on something other than a canvas or mural wall, I love using matte medium from the brand Golden. I use it on all of my projects to ensure paint will adhere evenly and to their true colors.

By: Vanessa Garza

👩‍💻 Projects

What kind of projects have you been working on recently?


I am currently preparing for a couple of art shows coming up, so my studio space is a bit crazy at the moment! I will be showcasing some of my larger paintings at the Dope Art Show in Chicago that I’m very excited about, as well as some smaller pieces for the Tiny Art Show at the Pilsen Art House. I have also gotten into painting shoes and skateboard decks recently, thanks to some fun commission opportunities, I definitely can see myself doing more of this type of work in the future. Lastly, later this month, I will be painting a mural for the city of Oak Park’s Green Line train station, so some fun projects to come!

How is your background playing a pivotal role in the success of these projects?


Thinking back to my previous jobs before I took the step to doing art full time, I was in management roles for the majority of those years. I was a pet store department manager at 18, store manager at 20, and at some point I decided to pursue other careers even trying out being an insurance agent for a short 6 months. I think my drive to lead and progress in my career is what keeps me motivated to continue to put 100% in everything I do. I like to think putting myself into these positions early on taught me the leadership and communication skills to both sell myself as an artist confidently, as well as lead myself. It can become lonely at times, as someone that is used to having a team to guide, but I feel that the success of my recent projects are due to my ability to manage myself as I would lead others.

Organization is also such a big factor into my ability to manage my personal projects, commission works, art shows, and community mural work. Without my background where I needed to be the example for my team and constantly have everything together, I can see how difficult it can become to manage all the little details that go into the preparation phase of creating my finished pieces.

What is the most interesting or exciting project you’ve worked on?


Last year, I had the pleasure to work with the Berwyn Public Art Initiative (BPAI) for their “Art On Track” project. It was a collaboration of 15 artists and 3 sculptors to create free standing murals and works of art along the BNSF railway. I had such a great time creating 2 of the permanent murals, and doing a live painting event hosted by the BPAI, where locals were able to stop by and watch the murals come to life, before they were installed at the city’s center. I definitely hope to continue to be a part of community projects such as these. The feeling of working with other creatives, especially those in your community, always make the experience much more special.

👋 People

What are some common misconceptions you’ve noticed people have towards your craft?


The idea that I- as well as others in my craft- simply create art, and it is a rather easy career. It is oftentimes forgotten the amount of work being done behind-the-scenes to get enough exposure to even have the chance to get our art seen by potential customers. From running a cohesive and active presence on social media, to pricing, working with manufacturers, keeping up with our websites, taking product photos, keeping track of our inventory, and designing every last detail of not only our artwork/products, but our packaging as well: it is more involved than it is often imagined. In the end however, I must admit I enjoy every part of the process, and I hope to be just as involved in every step 10 years from now as I am today.

How you do see art and illustration progressing over the next decade?


I can only see the demand for artists and other creatives increasing over time. We are living in a transformational period where everything seems to be evolving towards a society dependent on technology. Although it has been attempted, what will always be the most difficult thing to automate is artistic expression. There will forever be a need for artwork to bring life and character into our communities, products, and media.

Globally, after seeing our world go through a pandemic in our modern times, we have seen how the return of art has already shifted to meet our needs. The rise of experience-based installations such as the Van Gogh exhibit in Chicago for example, shows how we as a society are looking for immersion and connection. The constant evolution and improvement in virtual reality and the talented artists behind their creation also shows this shift.

I think as artists, it is important to be aware of these needs, and be able to evolve accordingly while also staying true to our established art-styles. I am currently working on a project that brings portrait photography together with my illustrations, bringing my characters to life in real world photos. Finding ways to connect just a bit closer to our communities is how I see art and illustration evolving over the next decade.

By: Vanessa Garza

What advice would you give to someone starting a career in your field?


Stay true to the art style that comes natural to you and build on it daily. Whether it be a simple 5 minute sketch, or an illustration idea you quickly jot down, being in the mindset of wanting to create is so important to continue growing as an artist, and always having references to go back to when you’re in a rut and feel uninspired.

When you are just starting out, the most important thing to do is to stick to one subject. In my case, creating limitations gave me a point to build on that barrier and think outside of the box. I decided that I would only create digital art for one month, and only create cute and simple characters, with a limited color palette. This later became the basis of my first enamel pin and sticker collection, which I am now in the process of making into an apparel collection as well.

Try not to over complicate your art in the beginning. Experiment in different mediums, don’t take yourself too seriously, and most importantly: have fun!

What drives you the most about your career?


I truly believe that the driving force behind an artist’s success is support. It is an art in itself to create original works from nothing, market it successfully, and be able to sell your creations to a customer base you need to work to create and retain. It drives me to continue when I see such a positive response to the art I create. I will never regret being in the market of “cute” art, when I see families take photos in front of my silly murals with faces, children asking their parents to purchase one of my pins or stickers, and adults enjoying the bright and colorful art style that I have stuck to.

👏 Thank you for reading!

, I truly appreciate your point-of-view about your work. It’s incredibly inspiring, and I can’t wait for others to hear your story. Stay true to who you are and finding those creative ways to do so. Kudos to you!

This interview with Vanessa Garza is part of a blog series by

called “Get Interviewed”. If you would like to learn more about this initiative you can read about it here.

Do you want to share your story?

Send me a DM or tweet @joepascavage letting me know that you would like to “Get Interviewed”, and I’ll take it from there.