A less-than-conventional artist warrants a less-than-conventional approach when interviewing for a feature. Harmony Dimmig has a professional persona she “wears” like any other small business owner. I wanted to reach her, as a journalist, where she drops the façade and is more comfortable. I scheduled the interview to take place in her studio/bedroom and was not disappointed with the results.
Pat Berryhill: Hi, so a bit of an unusual situation isn’t it? It isn’t often a mother gets to interview her daughter for her first feature interview.
Harmony Dimmig: You’ve been interviewing me my whole life. (laughs)
PB: True, things just played out that way because I love covering the arts, it eliminated a lot of research I normally do for an interview because I already know so much about you. However, I’m not privy to your daily work ethic and there are things about your art career I’m unaware of. We will attempt to stay objective. (laughs) I am looking forward to learning more about the madness behind the method and the method behind the madness. I understand you’ve the reputation here in the Winston-Salem arts district as the youngest artist, at age 21 in 2016, to receive the nonprofit group Art for Art’s Sake, or AFAS, Wild Dog Initiative Grant. How did that affect your work and how you viewed yourself as an artist going forward?
HD: It didn’t feel real. There were some issues getting my application in through the website at first, but one of the board members and artists in the association, Julie Knabb—she owns and runs Studio 2 at Soho Alley—let me know there was a problem. So, I knew I had the support of my colleagues, but there was still this dialogue in my head that said I wasn’t going to get it. I thought I was too young and people weren’t going to take me seriously. When they announced my name and I went up to receive the check, it was like—simultaneously—a weight was lifted off my shoulders and a new one was put into my hands when they handed me that check. I realized when I looked at it, this was real and people did take me seriously; I had to step my game up. It made me take myself more seriously. It reinforced my dream. I could be an artist and do that for a living.
It also enabled me to purchase my desk and new materials to work with. Materials of a higher grade that I wasn’t accustomed to, at the time, and see how I could push myself. I wasn’t sitting on my bed with a pillow drawing anymore. I had a designated workspace. It changed everything. It made me feel [pause] official. I had storage other than under my bed and a place for everything.
PB: Did your work take a different focus than before?
HD: Well, since I had gotten involved with the artist organization AFAS, Art For Art’s Sake, and I got to know some of the more well known artists around the arts district here in Winston Salem, I saw how my goals were achievable. I was meeting artists who were making a living at it through hard work, daily. I was already working several hours a day, but I opened myself up to commission work and advertised to my followers and on art groups on Facebook, like Punk Rock Art that has over 13,000 members. They would come to me with these visions of artwork or just a central, vague idea or a feel, and didn’t know how to do it. They came to me to ask me to make it come alive for them. As I became more business minded, the desire to master my own style (and be open to the ideas of others from commissions) increased. Of course, that causes change.
PB: As you worked, how did your style evolve?
HD: Before I applied for the grant, I was studying human anatomy, character design, things like that. I would make little cartoon versions of my friends and family to practice making a real person animated. I even did my pets and people as pets—pets as people. I would post them as examples and people would come and ask me, “Hey, can you cartoon my wife? My kid? My cat?” And there were some people who wanted just weird stuff. There was this one commission, from one of my more frequent collectors of my work, I won’t say his name, but, he wanted me to do a tiger surfing on lava. (laughs a little nervously) He knew I like doing kind of surreal, weird stuff at times and he wanted to challenge me. One of the more recent ones I did was a dude in Renaissance gear. He works the Renaissance fairs. So I took a photo sent of him and animated him with the scratches in the shield and holding up HIS sword and placed him on a cliff fighting a kraken. That is his favorite mythical creature, and his wife came to me to make it a reality. That was one of my favorite ones. Now it’s a collection of all of it. When I get a commission, I never know what it might be.
PB: Okay, tough topic. Although you are a member of an arts organization in your hometown, Winston-Salem, you aren’t an active physical presence. In fact, instead of working in a studio or traveling various places and setting up to paint, you work exclusively from your home and have adapted half of your bedroom into a studio space instead of renting a studio. Can you talk about why you choose to do so?
HD: Um, so I suffer from a thing called agoraphobia. It is an extreme anxiety disorder and it makes it extremely difficult to leave my house. I like to work where I am comfortable. If I am at home I know I have my family nearby. I have my cats. I can relax and get comfortable. That’s a big part of it too because I suffer from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility type, which causes chronic pain and chronic fatigue. It’s much easier for me to stay here. If I can be comfortable and in my comfort zone, I’m not stressed out about how I’m gonna get home, if I’m gonna get sick in public. I like being at home because it’s comfortable—for me.
PB: I noticed you said agoraphobia, but also spoke of going places. Most people believe that agoraphobia equals not able to leave the house at all. Can you explain that and how it affects you as an artist?
HD: While I’m working, going out to a meeting or something similar, it’s difficult for me to be comfortable and creative over the constant worry. There are ways I can leave the house but there has to be certain specifications. I have to know I have an easy way to get home, I have to be with someone that knows what’s going on with me so they can help me if I start to get anxious or feel bad physically from the EDS. It’s really making sure I have an easy escape route, but I don’t generally like to go out. What most people know is what’s portrayed on TV and it’s a bit more complicated than that. One thing I do every year is I go to Arts on Sunday every single time so I can network and meet people who purchase my work face-to-face. Even though I have a smile on my face and I am genuinely happy to be there, all the alarms in my head are still going off and it’s very draining and difficult to push myself through. It is always worth it, even if I end up sick from it and have a flare of my physical symptoms or my nerves make me sick. I just push through.
PB: Living with chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, has extreme daily challenges. How does it affect your work day? What is an average day as an artist like for you?
HD: It’s an everyday impact. My mood influences my work. If you’re in a good mood, you doodle little hearts and yadda yadda. It’s the same if you have chronic illness and chronic pain. It’s a way for me to cope. So, if I am having a bad day it’s good to put it on paper. Then it isn’t just something in me, it’s an actual physical thing I can see. A lot of the work I do revolving around my mood and chronic illness, I just do it and never show it to anyone. Not even you. Some of it is just to help me cope.
PB: What things do you do, you think, that varies from how other artists work, pertaining to your illnesses? Is there anything technique related? I know you are self-taught. I find your methodology very intriguing.
HD: I do watch a lot of YouTube videos to learn from. Two of my favorites are Jacquelin Deleon and Danica Sills. They both have channels on YouTube and make speed paint videos. What’s interesting to me isn’t just the painting, they also talk about their thought process and touch on subjects that help other artists out. I follow their work closely and they both inspired me to begin making my own videos, on occasion.
HD: I also watch a ton of cartoons. I am not kidding. It is an unhealthy amount. It is like a home tutorial on character design. That’s the main part of it. Look at a cartoon like Adventure Time. The main character, Finn; you know what he is about. You know all about his life and what is going on with him, everything he has been through from the design of the character. You can tell where he is in the show based on how he looks. That’s always been very, very interesting to me. It is like when you see someone on the street or in the mall, you see what they look like and you kind of make a snap decision about who they are and what they are like. You can do that in art too. You can tell what they like to do and set the mood for a painting or even develop a character you use over and over again.
As far as the physical part in technique, I have a special memory foam cushion I use in my chair. I have special compression gloves if my hands begin hurting. I play laid back, peaceful music in the background to, kind of, drown out all the noise in my head and just focus on the work. If that’s not working, I play The Office on Netflix. I’ve seen it about 15 times, all the way through. Not exaggerating. It never gets old, I love it so much that it is a comfort thing for me now.
PB: Your style is distinct. To me, it is a mashup between Brian Lee O’ Malley influence from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fame and, more recently, Snotgirl combined with manga artist Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Of course, I am aware that both artists were childhood influences. Who else has impacted you stylistically, either as a child or adult? Do you feel there have been stronger influences from one place or another as your style has developed?
HD: Spirited Away was a really big one for me. My mom, at the time, was really religious, I was very young, and my grandmother bought it for a family trip. We would watch videos on the way, sometimes. I don’t think she knew what it was about, entirely. I wasn’t supposed to watch things that had spirits, witchcraft, and magic. It was all in there along with other gods and concepts of the afterlife I wasn’t familiar with. Naturally, I was intrigued. That aside, the opening segment where she is in the car? It’s gorgeous! You can tell how she is feeling, where they are going, what the weather is like outside. It was the first time I looked at a movie or piece of art and thought, I wanna be able to do that. As I got older, I found Scott Pilgrim in the library and you open to see what they are like, just how they are dressed. Ramona is cool and Scott is kinda nerdy. I fell in love with it all. Snotgirl is just a beautiful comic and I am so in love with her hair.
PB: Do you think your style is done morphing at this point and it is down to refinement or do you see there being further evolutions in the future?
HD: Well, I take things from life too. It’s always changing. For example, I have a Pinterest that has boards for fashion, furniture, landscapes, studio design, backgrounds too. I take things I see in life and tweak it, put my own spin on it stylistically.
PB: Don’t give away all your secrets.
HD: No, I’m not, it’s a really good tool though!
PB: I am aware you have got a big project under wraps that has some advocacy aspects to it, but it is presented in a unique fashion. I know you aren’t ready to discuss it openly, but you do need a mass amount of new materials to tackle this endeavor. So you are fundraising by selling all your previous work, at discounted rates, to move it out of your way for storage space, and purchase what you need for the new project. With the amount of work you generate, it piles up quickly. Excluding what is seen here in the article, when people go to your Facebook site Lap Cat Creations , how do they know what is for sale? Will it be on Facebook alone or are you doing other platforms like eBay?
HD: I don’t like to use eBay or anything like a silent auction or other conventional fundraisers because all my life, I never really had the money to buy really cool art that I like and enjoy. My prices kind of reflect that, I like making it reasonable for my materials and a little for the amount of work I put in, and nothing more. I want it to be reasonable. It is always first come, first served and I use flat-rate shipping, when possible, with a tracking number. I will have a post with all my work for sale and it will be on my Lap Cat Creations on Facebook.
PB: Lastly, if you had some sort of wisdom to impart on a new artist looking to break into the field, what would your advice be?
HD: Practice, practice, practice. You have to want it and you have to work for it. There are numerous resources online with YouTube, Pinterest, pages unrelated to social media. Find what works for you and stick with it. You can do it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, because you can.