The DIY or Die attitude is strong with local artist Marena Skinner. Proudly self-taught and largely traditional with her creative process, she cleverly and unabashedly illustrates and addresses her inner ogre in a style that’s both crude and colourful while demanding our attention. We recently had the chance to speak with the Skinner while unwinding and absorbing the success of her first solo show at Chinatown’s Avant-Garden.
What is your neighbourhood and what makes it home? I currently live in New Westminster and I love it for all the old homes and convenient shops nearby, but I always feel more at home in East Van. I can be in East Van and run into pals and not be the only “alternative” person around. There are more small shops and restaurants and just more creativity, which I love.
Your neighbourhood haunt? Nothing in my current living neighbourhood, but if I want to go out for a beer I hit up Uncle Abe’s…It’s decorated like my apartment, they play good music and there’s always a good vibe.
Drink of choice? Cheap beer or wine.
Why New West? I can afford my own apartment to live alone in and pay as much as some pals are paying to live in a room in a house with tons of roommates! No thanks! I live not far from the train, steps away from buses and all the shopping stores and restaurants I need here. I love living alone and having my own apartment. I used to share a one bedroom apartment with a roommate in East Van for a little less than what I’m paying now.
The place you go to hide out? My apartment.
The thing you do to unwind or de-stress? Paint. Something about brush strokes is very relaxing.
Best place for people-watching? My patio! I live on the ground floor. A+ people- and dog-watching.
What keeps you up at night? I think like most creatives — my mind doesn’t stop running. I can be thinking of anything, something embarrassing I did or said, what groceries I need, drawing ideas…
What do you do when you can’t sleep? I’m horrible and I go on Instagram.
Your late night drunk snack? Pizza slice or onion rings. I take transit so I’m always grabbing food at train stations on my way home.
What is your education? I’ve finished high school and that’s it! I didn’t go to art school and have zero plans to. I take lessons that are a few hours or classes if I want to learn a new skill.
Describe your art in 10 words or less. Lowbrow, punk, DIY, mental health awareness.
The word that your best friend would use to describe you? “Dramatic.”
Your least favourite word? “Moist.” (Isn’t that everyone’s?)
A bad habit? Jumping to conclusions.
A ritual you have? I’m not sure if this counts but I always drink beer when I screen print because it gets me motivated. If I don’t have any beer, I’ll go get some before I print.
Something that you’re superstitious about? Everything, haha. Ghosts the most. I truly believe my parents’ home is haunted.
I deal with my mental health, PTSD and image issues, and I wouldn’t take back the experiences that brought me here… It would be nice to not always be suffering but unfortunately it does make good art!
The last argument you had? I really dislike engaging in arguments because I get so riled up and focus on it so much to where it ruins my day or week. I sometimes post “controversial” drawings with a message about cat-calling, not owing men conversation and rapists so you can imagine I get a few nasty comments to which I post statistical facts or personal experiences and I don’t argue. I’ll just leave it at that.
Your biggest fear? Heights…and darkness (dark rooms).
Favourite childhood cartoon? I watched a lot growing up but I think my parents could attest to the fact I watched The Simpsons every day as a kid.
What does the little voice in your head sound like? It’s definitely just my voice whispering bad things.
A little white lie you told? I’m a horrible liar. I’ve probably just lied about liking past jobs during interviews.
What do you think happens to us after death? I’m torn between the idea that the light just goes out and you’re done or there’s some like paranormal afterlife or we go to another planet.
Your tombstone inscription? “There better be dogs” or “Died eating cake” (I’m extremely allergic to tree nuts and I always test it).
The last dream you remember? I rarely remember dreams. If I do, they are super terrifying and I wake up sweating.
A recent random encounter that made an impression on you? I got recognized on the street in Oakland, CA last month and I almost cried of happiness.
Three favourite artists of all time? There are so many artists on Instagram that inspire me every day to push myself. I can’t say there are only three I could list as staples. In high school I loved Andy Warhol and it got me into screen printing. Lots of album artwork inspired me — adult cartoons and music.
The piece of advice that you wish you had taken? There is probably a lot to list here, I learn from my mistakes for sure but that’s how we grow!
The piece of advice that you wish you had ignored? A few people gave me advice about tattooing and I wish I ignored it all and just kept doing what worked for me.
How do you pay the bills? I am currently unemployed (looking) so I’m a full-time artist at the moment. It’s definitely a struggle but pretty rewarding.
Your three favourite gallery spaces in Vancouver? I honestly wouldn’t know! I’ve attended more concerts in my life then art shows. The Interurban was my favourite until it closed. Hot Art Wet City seemed to have a cool space until that closed too. Vancouver No Fun City is ruining arts culture and putting in ugly apartments with expensive coffee shops while pushing out the DIY and creative spaces that actually attract people to cities. Avant-Garden let me take over their space so that’s my new favourite spot!
Last band you saw play live? The last show I saw live that I actually enjoyed was Red Fang, who I’ve wanted to see for years, so it was one of those happy shows for me.
Favourite local band? Baptists.
The last thing that you splurged on? A last minute trip to Oakland to see my friend’s fashion show.
A trend that you’d like to see die? Wearing sweatpants/yoga pants in public. They’re basically like pajamas. Just stop.
A trend that you’d like to take off? More actual high waist skirts and pants. When I shop in stores for them they say high waist but they go to my hips — it’s all lies.
Your personal “uniform”? Leather jacket and toque.
Your first tattoo? 17 years old and it’s a Band of Skulls lyric.
What does it say? Haha, it says “I know what I am, they know what they are, so let me be” from their song “I Know What I Am”.
What does “style” mean to you? Style is your personal form of expression. When you’re out in the world, people don’t know you personally, they just see how you look and what you wear conveys your personality, in my opinion.
Describe your style in 10 words or less. Really depends on my mood but ..vintage punk? Haha, I don’t know! I’ve been rocking the 70’s rock and roll look a lot lately.
Tell me about your creative process. My mind is constantly running, I can wake up in the middle of the night and have a picture idea. It’s all very random and not thought out. I usually get creative juices flowing with a drink or two and my floor is littered with paper that has notes or ideas on them. When I paint the cut-outs, I’m always on my floor and I just free-hand them, grab a drink and start painting with acrylic paint. With the illustrations I post on Instagram, I draw them in black and white on printer paper with my markers and then scan them and add some colour on Microsoft Paint. I used to colour with markers for those but markers scan horribly. I don’t use graphics programs to edit my art.
For screen printing, I hand paint my screens with drawing fluid then add screen filler; clean it all and then I have my screen! Most of my merch is DIY. I screen print and hand dye the shirts I sell and I printed the beer koozies I sold myself. I just get prints made at a local print shop! I’m all about the DIY. If I can do it myself, I will.
You have a very distinct style. Have you always drawn this way? Kind of, it’s hard to say. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid but in high school I started drawing with scratchy lines and lots of detail lines and my art teacher hated it. Then I started doing show posters almost weekly when I was 19 and I was forced to draw more. A few years ago I created this devil monster dude for a poster and decided it was too good for just one poster and kept drawing it and more monsters. I’d say that’s when my style started coming into shape. I haven’t had the greatest past year, so I told myself art is 100% the most important thing in my life and I need to focus on it everyday. I have been making myself draw everyday and my style has definitely evolved strongly since then and I finally feel like I have my distinct style. Although people have seen some of my older work and know it’s mine instantly, so I guess the past few years have been that growing stage up until now.
How much of yourself goes into your artwork? A lot! All of the quotes and writing I put on my illustrations are things I’ve thought, I’m currently thinking, or have been through. I even put my own tattoos on the monsters too and I love platforms and beer so the monsters are really just me.
How much of your work is inspired by real life? All of it other than drawing weird characters. The message I add to them is what’s really going on in my life or things I see happening when I’m out in the world, ie. cat-calling.
Do you consider yourself an “activist”? Not really, no!
How do you react to cat-calling? Dirty looks, swearing, flipping them off, ripping my headphones off and asking why they’re talking to me or flashing my pepper spray from my pocket.
Your subject matter addresses a lot of issues about self-image, depression and other mental health issues. Why? Because these are all things I deal with on a daily basis. I also feel there’s just too much bad taboo when talking about mental health openly and I want to make it less taboo. So many people deal with depression and mood disorders, the more we talk about it, the more we can relate and help each other and learn more. I’ve had so many people from around the world send me beautiful, heartfelt messages thanking me for being open online because it helped them feel less alone and realize they are not alone in this.
Your work also has a sense of humour. What makes you laugh out loud? Men getting mad at my art, dog videos and anything “The Office” related.
If you didn’t deal with the mental health and image issues that you experience, do you think that you’d still be making art? How would it be different? I think I would be a completely different person! Probably less interesting, to be honest. Maybe I’d be painting Still Lifes of fruit bowls and garden scenes. It sucks but artists are usually sufferers. Not saying I choose to suffer whatsoever, though. I deal with my mental health, PTSD and image issues, and I wouldn’t take back the experiences that brought me here, they have made me who I am. It would be nice to not always be suffering but unfortunately it does make good art!
What are you most proud of? Pulling off my solo show and people actually coming!
Your biggest insecurity? Everything, honestly. My looks, my art.
How do you feel after you’ve completed a show or series of work? Exhausted and happy.
What do you do when you’re depressed? I cry. I cry A LOT. And I always have City And Colour’s Bring Me Your Love album on repeat.
Who is your mentor? I don’t have a mentor. I have been alone in my process of art and doing everything myself, teaching myself. Recently I’ve been trying to get into neon work and have had a local be super generous by teaching me some stuff, so that’s been new and cool!
How did you start working with neon? It’s something I’ve been interested in for years and have looked into before in Vancouver and it’s pretty impossible to do here. I had a scary, kind of near-death experience a year and a half ago and decided life is short, I want to learn about neon! I found a place in the States and impulsively paid for it. I don’t think it will ever come to anything here in Vancouver as it’s kind of a dying art form no one wants to teach here but I’m glad I learned something that not everyone knows about! I want to do that more.
What is something about working with neon that surprised you? For some reason I didn’t process that it would mostly be glass blowing, even though it’s all glass. It’s so interesting to learn, honestly! I love working with my hands and creating something.
How do you hope to incorporate or utilize neon into your future artwork? I would LOVE to keep painting my characters on wood back drops and using the neon as an outline. We’ll see where the future takes me!
An artistic medium that you’d like to work with in the future? Ceramics! I want to make my bottle/mug characters real!
A tool that you can’t live without? Brush tip marker or sharpie, either or.
A tool that you wish existed? Brush tip marker that didn’t blow out after a week.
Something that recently unsettled you? A couple of my Instagram artist pals have had their art ripped off by large and small companies and it’s terrifying because you wonder if it will ever happen to you.
What do you listen to while you’re creating? So many different genres. I get stuck on 50’s – 70’s rock and roll, then disco, then punk and surf rock.
What impact do you hope to make on viewers? That talking about mental health can be thrown into normal conversations. I make art that attracts people’s eyes, then they see a message with the image or what I add and I hope they realize it’s cool to tell people you cry.
Tell me about your next project. I’d like to put on more events, free or small charge events that bring artists and people together. I also really want to paint a mural for a business (a dream) and hand paint more clothes. I have no set project really, just a bunch of ideas.
What does ‘the future’ mean to you? Being alive and being able to be a full-time artist and live comfortably, preferably in a new city.
What city would you like to live in? Los Angeles has been my dream city since I was a teenager, hopefully somehow, one day!