We had the good fortune of connecting with Saraiya Kanning and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Saraiya, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
The arts impact community in a huge way. Unfortunately, a lot of cultural and social assumptions get in the way of us recognizing that. We might think the arts are frivolous, something extra if you happen to have time, and overall not something worthy of investment. The truth is, artists are healers and uniters. Through images, songs, stories, and more, artists shape how we think about ourselves. They shape individual and collective identities! Regarding my own business, Raebird Creations, I see my impact as being in the field of wellness. We’re all out there moving at a lightning pace. People are hustling, running from one activity to another, struggling to pay the bills in some cases, actively avoiding self reflection by staying “busy” in others. With all that, where is there time to think? Where is there space for that inner voice to emerge and give us a sense of more fulfilling direction? When we sit to make art or look at art, we are essentially meditating. We are filling our cups with something nourishing. I want my art to slow down time. I strive to make every art piece a refuge for the mind, a place one can go to just “be”. When I teach, I strive to create an atmosphere of calm focus, encouraging participants to push aside other life tasks for that special allotment of time, and to simply work with their hands and not overthink. I think we really need more art and spaces to make art in order to heal from all the false messages we might get from living in a world that over-emphasizes the importance of production and constant, mindless “doing.”
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As an artist, I’m most proud of establishing a daily routine of practice. All growth comes down to that ingredient, and when I’m practicing I feel in motion. I’m exploring and staying curious – my spirit is activated. I do a little art every day, whether it’s a full piece or a little sketch in my journal.
It was not easy to get to where I am today. My progress has entailed so many moments of frustration, including artistic mistakes (like accidentally burning a silk painting I had worked on for hours!). It has included plenty of moments of self doubt, judging my own worth based on acceptance or rejection of my work, or flow of income directly from my art. To make art is to persevere and stay in a perpetual mode of learning. I’ve struggled at times to really appreciate that all things come to fruition through paced processes, and rarely by willful force. I’ve overcome that challenge through contemplation and meditation, breathing each time I sit down to make art, and imagining myself deep diving in an ocean, taking my time to explore a coral reef, reminding myself not to be overly concerned with the journey’s “mission”, so that I can appreciate the breathtaking beauty that surrounds. That is how I find flow, by being entirely present. As for the challenge of letting rejections get me down, I try not to dwell on it too much but to skip on to the next thing. There are always more opportunities to be found, and for some opportunities it may not be the right time.
One example of a recent disappointment is when Instagram banned my account, which I’ve had for about 5 years. I did not know the reason but suspect it had been hacked. I still haven’t been able to get that account back. It had over 900 followers and I was excited to finally reach 1K, to see if that brought more traffic to my website and Etsy shop. I was also getting a lot of commissions through Instagram at that point. I tried to use Instagram’s appeal form but never heard back. This was only last September. I’ve let it go at this point and started a new account. I realized Instagram is just one of many tools, and it doesn’t make or break my business. I don’t have to give it that power. By putting time into multiple avenues of marketing, not just social media, I diversify my approach and reach more people anyway. Also, it refocused my attention away from Instagram and back into my craft. As a creative, it’s easy to get caught up and frustrated in the marketing side of things. Leaning into my craft helps me get back into the heart of things and why I do what I do. I’m not an Instagrammer. I’m a maker.
My story is one of trial and error. The very process of painting on silk requires me to stay experimental. When mistakes are made, I have to accept them, integrate them, or scrap the work and try again, or move on to the next project. Unlike graphite or even watercolor, it’s much harder to remove a line or color you don’t like once it’s put down. I’ve learned to see mistakes differently. Sometimes they aren’t mess-ups at all, but an accident that turns out to be quite beautiful. Other times, I genuinely don’t like the way it looks and then it’s an exercise in detachment. There’s always the next project to try again for a different outcome. It’s how I’ve come to think about daily living too. Some days go awry, but there’s always the next morning to start fresh again.
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.
Tucson is amazing. It has a vibrant arts culture, stunning nature, and diverse food options. If my best friend came to visit, I would take them to see the whale mural by Joe Pagac on Grant and the Quetzalcoatl mural by Jessica Gonzales on Tucson Boulevard. There are many amazing murals here, but those two are my favorites. I would also take them to Madera Canyon. There are bird feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, and we’d sit there for a bit and look for hummingbirds, turkey, and coatimundi. Then I’d take them to one of my favorite restaurants: Zemam’s (Ethiopian), Lovin’ Spoonfuls (vegan), or the Persian Room. At some point we’d get boba tea from Bing’s. Then I’d invite some friends over to join us for a late evening of art-making or a neighborhood walk. My idea of a fun party is honestly just making art with my friends: seeing and hearing about their ongoing projects and being in the same space creating.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are many individuals and organizations who have mentored and encouraged me in life, but I’d choose first to dedicate this Shoutout to my family. I was raised by my grandparents and they have always been immensely supportive of my creative life. They were the first to provide the materials and spaces where I could glue, cut, paint, draw, and otherwise express. They never once discouraged me from pursuing it as a profession. Some families warn their children they won’t make money as an artist. While it’s true that we don’t invest enough in professional artists, I don’t think that’s a reason to discourage children from following their creative bend. There can be ways to make it work. It’s challenging but worth it. My older sister as well has set an example for me by having her own business as a piano performer and instructor, showing me that it is possible to take a leap and work for yourself. So I’d like to recognize my family for being the first to strengthen me in the arts and allowing me to choose that path so freely and openly.