In honor of Pride, we’re chatting with a queer member of our teaching community each week this June.
These conversations are a way to honor the artists and their art. After all, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” And yet, these conversations also revealed a new thread: again and again, we heard that being part of a community has been a crucial step to creative self-expression.
And so, in the spirit of both individualism and community, of celebrating empathy and expression, we’re excited to share these conversations — and curated resources for the queer creative community — with you.
Peggy Dean inspires others to create. More accurately, she inspires others to create without judgement, without fear, without feeling bound by the need to focus on one type of art. It’s a mission born from her own journey, when a struggle with mental health led her to discover the healing power of artwork.
Now, she’s the founder of The Pigeon Letters, which educates aspiring artists on everything from technical skills to marketing their work. That work might be calligraphy, sketching, watercolors, or something else entirely — to Peggy, making art is less about the medium, and more about the process.
“When we put our energy into something tangible, especially art, we’re forced into both a mindful and mindless practice. We’re mindful of the process of what we’re creating, focusing on the media we’re using and the detail along the way. And we’re mindless in the process because we’re able to remove ourselves from our usual stress, worries, and anxieties,” she explains. “The end result is just a bonus that lets us feel a whole new sense of pride, seeing what we created with our own hands.”
Peggy sat down with us to share more about her creative journey, the magic of community, and how art has changed her life.
How has your artwork evolved as you have understood and shaped your identity?
I owe a lot to my creativity. I struggle with mental health, as do many people. I didn’t have the best coping mechanisms in my teens and 20’s. I tended to be destructive, essentially as a way to gain control over life before life could hurt me first. It served me at one point, sure, but as an adult trying to navigate the world, it was time for a change.
It took just one evening of turning in instead of acting out, where I dug into my cheap art supplies, grabbed some watercolors and painted all evening without thinking. I felt so connected to myself even though I didn’t have the skills or knowledge of what I was doing. I just painted. It fulfilled me in a whole new way. For two months after that, I’d come home from work and paint. Everything changed in one night and it’s what got me where I am today.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine, Lindsay Bong, who is both an artist and a therapist, about that eye-opening experience when I first dove in to watercolors and she said something that I thought was just profound: “Were you creating the art or was the art creating you?” I’m never letting go of that question.
Mental health is an incredibly important issue in LGBTQ+ communities, and you’ve been open about your own struggles in this area. How has art been part of, and helped you through, this journey?
Channeling yourself into creativity is incredibly healing. In addition, the art community is just as incredible. It’s brought like-minded people together and allowed them to show up as themselves and feel that they belong. Whether someone’s art is focused on human rights or cute snails, they will inevitably reach someone, making the connection a shared experience. It’s a beautiful thing.
You’ve built a teaching career on the idea that you don’t need to restrict yourself to one technique or medium. Why is this multidisciplinary approach so important to you, and for other aspiring creatives?
As a creative person, I think it’s natural to have our minds race and interests evolve. My curiosity demands dabbling in as much as I have the capacity to. The combination of being self-taught in everything that I do, being an oversharer, and showing up unapologetically (some people call that being authentic!) lets me turn around and teach the same way that I learn.
This approach is raw and explorative. I teach mistakes just as much as I teach techniques, and I don’t want to change that to come across too polished because that’s not relatable. I’m human, as are other mind-racing creatives.
In addition, learning one discipline will inevitably transfer into another. The more we build upon our skills, the better we become. I want to give people permission to play. You never know what doors will open for them.
When was the first time you experienced art that represented or spoke to you?
Because I’m so hands-on, I never really took notice to appreciate artwork until I started creating myself. It wasn’t until I had already gotten proficient in lettering, drawing, and painting with watercolors that I really felt connected to artwork.
When it happened though, WHOA. Enter James Richards, an incredible urban sketcher who captures energy in his pieces like I’ve never seen. He captures life through his hands with quick, organic lines, embracing imperfections along the way. I grew obsessed with the urban sketching style, began practicing it myself, and I’m happy to say that Jim and I are now good friends. He’s taught me more through his artwork than many long-term mentors in my life.
What are you working on right now? What are some of the themes you’re playing with and exploring?
I’m actually finishing up a creative bootcamp that I created to help both aspiring creatives and even accomplished artists overcome creative block. It’s going to be a six-month experience, where the bootcamp members will receive specific weekly prompts to create portfolio pieces. A lot of people want to create but don’t know where to start or fall short of ideas, oftentimes due to all the noise on social media. That’s where this program is going come into play and I can’t wait to launch it!
With lockdown, we are losing the physical connection and celebration of Pride month — what does that loss mean? How are you finding your community and building community during this time?
First of all, I am hosting a virtual Pride event! I recruited some of my favorite creatives who will be sharing their skills and talents with us — you can register on my website for the event next month.
Second, this is certainly a devastating time. And that’s why there are so many reasons it’s important to come together. Everyone is experiencing struggle in their lives in some form, and humans rely on connecting. Pride has always been a time that the LGBTQ+ community has been able to celebrate love. That’s what this all comes down to. Loving yourself, loving each other, accepting yourself and accepting that we all belong.
I’ve found it helpful to reach out to people to perhaps start a group chat on a social media platform or have weekly Zoom calls. Some people even just jump on Zoom to sit in silence and create together. There are people who feel the same feelings and people who identify the same way you do. It does wonders to connect with them. Have virtual tea dates or dance parties in rainbow sequins.
To you, what part does community play in queerness?
A HUGE PART! If I didn’t have people surrounding me that were comfortable in their skin, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be in my own. Find your people. They’re everywhere and with open arms.
In collaboration with our featured artists, we’ve curated a list of online resources and content for the queer creative community. Explore their recommendations here.