We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie Newton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natalie, how do you think about risk?
With the mention of “risk”, I find myself recoiling. As an introvert, I consider myself fairly risk averse. However, upon further reflection, what may have been outwardly perceived as risks may have merely been opportunities to me. By reframing those risks as opportunities, I realize the extent of my risk taking. Those closest to me may claim that it began in early childhood, but it certainly made the difference for me in college and beyond. Putting your artwork up on the wall for class critiques is an obligatory part of every studio art class, but it felt daunting to me at the onset of my art curriculum. I genuinely felt like an outsider. All of my peers in the School of Art were edgy, defiant, and exuded a sense of identity I had not yet known for myself. Many of them had already developed a style they were refining since adolescence, and those without a set style had the talent to make up for it. Yet, here I was, the imposter biology student, not yet officially a drawing major, with no sense of style and only the faintest semblance of formal elements in my insipid drawings. At first, each critique felt like a risk that served as a source of both excitement and dread, but mostly the latter in those introductory art courses. Critiques were my opportunity to see how my work stood against others. What were they doing successfully, and how could I incorporate those elements in future pieces of my own? The purported risk presented by critiques pushed me towards taking real risks in creating my pieces, largely to avoid the mortification of an instructor’s feedback about a piece looking flat or disproportional. I increasingly spent more of my “free” time on drawing assignments, initially equivalent to the time I spent studying for other courses and then quickly surpassing it. A few extra hours of dedication became days and, on several occasions, all-nighters in preparation for the critique and submission of the final product. As I continued pursuing art seriously, my most successful pieces were the ones on which I took the biggest risks. The pieces in which I played it safe and submitted a project merely for a grade were not my best. Eventually, as my feminist identity coalesced, I grappled with how to best convey that theme in my artwork. Upon creating my first female portrait, I did not look back. The earliest bids at drawing faces were quite difficult, but I plowed through, challenging myself to try drawing portraits even if one of my previous attempts had a subpar result. My efforts and risk taking were rewarded. In preparation for my senior exhibition, still needing one more drawing a week out from the opening, I photographed a former mentor and supervisor with her permission and set to work on making her portrait. It took me a few consecutive late nights of work that week to render the drawing. Using bold, new color combinations for the portrait and with no time to spare, I could not afford to question my decisions. Although I was only able to resolve the piece before the exhibition, I was pleased with the result. With respect to my career path in biology, I also took risks. Having chosen two distinct degree programs within different schools, I set my sights to graduate in five years instead of the recommended six. From advisors to peers, I was told it would be too difficult, to drop one, to see only one of my degree programs through to the end. Afterall, taking 21 credit hours each semester for two years would not be easy. They advised me to take a steadier pace. Nevertheless, I persisted and refused to let any opportunity pass me by. I accepted a teaching assistantship, a research aide position, and executed my own research project. These were all worthwhile learning experiences that prepared me to enter the ‘real world’. At the expense of my academic standing, I accepted those opportunities and their associated risks. Ultimately, by managing those responsibilities synchronously, it was to my benefit. After graduating from ASU, I began searching in earnest for a position. With each interview, I was repeatedly asked where my career path would lead me in a year, or two years, or five. Each time, I could not help being honest. More often than not, my intention to earn a graduate degree and my interest in research were not well received. By being sincere, I accepted the risk of not getting a call back. If it does not suit a prospective employer that I intend to continue my studies, then how can I belong at that workplace? My risk taking was once again rewarded when my goals, skills, and experiences were seen as assets by the right employer. Thanks in large part to my history of risk taking by accepting additional responsibilities as an undergraduate, my ideal employer recognized my tenacity and extended an offer. I now proudly work as a Lab Coordinator in a research lab at ASU. Most nights after work, I continue to take risks in my drawings. Since graduating, I have created several pieces to expand my portfolio. Additionally, I have branched out to use other media I had never before used in my pieces. Most recently, I have stepped into the extraordinary world of digital art. Indeed, there are many risks I have yet to undertake. I look forward to pushing myself further to see where my risks will take me next, in both art and biology. Broadly speaking, risk taking can be very fruitful for one’s career. Undoubtedly, you stand a lot to lose by taking risks. Regardless of what the feeble minded will have you believe, do not let that be a deterrent. Everyone fails from time to time. I have failed to produce a piece of art that I am proud to claim as my own; I have failed to render a recognizable portrait; I have even failed tests in my STEM courses. Nonetheless, the platitude holds true. It does not matter that you fail all those times because those were all learning experiences that will enable you to succeed in the future. Ask yourself instead: did you fail to try again?
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a feminist, my art centers around women and aims to celebrate those women who are normally underrepresented in media. To recognize an array of females in my artwork, I choose to draw portraits of women who are plus-sized, minorities, or who may struggle with insecurities. Since women are almost exclusively praised if they look one particular way, I choose to depict women as complex individuals who are proud of what sets them apart. These female subjects do not need to meet certain parameters of a societal definition of femininity to be empowered or to finally start living their true lives. My portraits serve to reinforce the strength that each individual woman holds, regardless of their differences or perceived flaws. While photographs of women overwhelmingly portray one composite as the ideal, the same holds true for illustrated female figures. Through my more illustrative pieces, I counter the tendency for idealized females to exclusively be the subject. In my work, any woman no matter their shape, size, or color can be celebrated for being themselves and living their lives. My drawings are for all the women who were taught that they were not enough and needed to change to be more of a “real woman.” Professionally, I am just beginning my journey. Completing my BFA was fun and at times, challenging. My artist friends, fellow peers, and some of my instructors were immensely supportive of my efforts along the way. In the past year, I have been building up my drawing portfolio on my downtime after work. My hope is to display my work formally in the new year. Additionally, I will sell limited edition art prints of some of my pieces for those who would like artwork featuring everyday women.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Tempe and Downtown Phoenix have a great deal of the must-sees in a trip to the valley. In Tempe, time is well spent at the ASU Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and on Mill Avenue, certainly depending on the time of day. Within just steps from ASU campus, you can find the Phoenicia Café and the Chuckbox, two of my favorite spots for lunch. The Phoenicia Café offers a Mediterranean cuisine and friendly service. If you enjoy food from Pita Jungle, opt to give your business to The Phoenicia Café instead. The Chuckbox has a simple menu featuring mostly burgers. Regardless, their food is amazing, and the place is full of character. Naturally, no visit to the valley is complete without witnessing one of our beautiful sunsets. Papago Park’s hole in the rock offers a great vista at golden hour, but there are plenty of other decent lookouts around town to enjoy the sky before nightfall. For a more laid-back evening, we would take a trip to Snakes & Lattes on Mill Ave. It has a modest selection of drinks and appetizers, but you stay for the camaraderie as you sit to play some board games among friends. Back in Downtown Phoenix, we would visit the cultural district spanning from Central and McDowell to Roosevelt. Visits to the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum make for great daytime activities. A walk down Roosevelt Row as the day wanes promises an enchanting sight of public art installations and murals. Just a few years ago, Roosevelt Row was composed of a bunch of cute and dingy establishments that made the street come to life during nights and weekends. Although many of them have since disappeared, the Songbird Coffee and Tea House is one of those cherished places that remain. This cozy and inviting café is perfect to sit and chat with your friends while enjoying your drink of choice. For a slightly more upscale dining experience, Cibo Urban Pizzeria boasts a stunningly lit patio dining area that is most attractive after sundown. In the avenues in Phoenix, a fun way to pass time is to play miniature golf at Castles & Coasters. Further west on Indian School, Brother’s Pizza is a delightful local destination for incredible pizza and wings.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
To my family, my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, and my late grandfather, thank you for everything. I could not have made it this far without your unconditional love, encouragement, dedication, and your sacrifices made on my behalf. To my wonderful partner Johnny, who believed in me before I truly believed in myself, I am forever grateful for your unwavering love and support. Countless other instructors, mentors, and supervisors from my youth into adulthood were also integral to my development. Though I cannot name them all, I am profoundly thankful for their patience, kindness, and faith in my potential. For my closest friends who were there when I needed them most, thank you for your caring and generosity. I endured my toughest times because of the additional love and support you provided.
John Moran, Natalie Newton