Layers of Art & Me
By Sandra Cheah
Family expectations. Fear. Uncertainty. Some of the many negative thoughts that flow in a teenager’s mind. Cue art, a community, a tool, and a coping mechanism that changed a girl’s life.
Procreate is a tool used by artists worldwide to portray their ideas as digital pieces. Unlike traditional art, digital artists use different methods to formulate their pieces. Digital artists use layers; layers are essential, as they are the building blocks of your piece.
Growing up, my idea of “perfection” was living up to the skills and talents of my older, seemingly infallible sister. I watched on the sidelines as she would embark on competitive sports, from swimming and dancing to even baby crawling. These moments of my admiration and endeavorment would come frequently. Coming home each day, I would see the trophies that lined a shelf; they prompted acts of self-reflection that would torture me for a period of time.
But I wasn’t a perfect child.
Layer 1: I spent years training to become a competitive swimmer. In my mind, I had sketched out a general outline of everything I wanted to be, everything my sister was. My body would stiffen at the sweeps of water that would flush at my skin with every stroke. Coming out of the pool, my body felt heavy and deflated. I hated the pool, the shivering, and I most certainly hated the competition.
Layer 2: After years of attempting to find a passion for swimming, I realized swimming was not my cup of tea. I learned that fulfilling someone else’s passions didn’t fulfill my own. The words of encouragement I longed for from my mother were never there because they were simply not my words to hear. It was at this moment when I began to map out a concrete sketch of my own life. I finally erased the remains of the sketch that I had drawn from my expectations. This was when I discovered the fascinating world of art. Art fostered a sense of community in me; through our unique artistic styles and creativity I found a space of growth and exploration. Amid the competitive pressure that runs through my family, art gave me a sense of fulfillment.
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For more than two years, our young writers have weathered an adolescence shaped by an ongoing global pandemic. But a harsh climate can also produce work of rare depth, complexity, nuance and humor. The Girls Write Now mentees in this collection have found new ways to build community and take root. This anthology is a catalog of seeds—each young writer cultivating a shimmering, emergent voice. In short stories, personal essays, poetry, and more, they reflect on life-altering topics like heartbreak, self-care and friendship. The result is a stunning book with global relevance of all this generation has endured and transformed.
Layer 3: Art allowed me to express my emotions and solidarity in a new form. During the recent increase in hate crimes against the Asian American community, art became a coping mechanism after seeing my po pos and gong gongs fall under the hands of racist people. Seeing the work of Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, a creator for the “I Still Believe in Our City” campaign commissioned by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, gave me hope for humanity. I visited the Museum of Chinese in America back in October. The wide range of exhibitions ranging from the immigration movements of the early industrial era to the modern day made me feel as though I am walking through the footsteps of the people who have come before me; I saw the work of those who have taken the risk, coming to an unfamiliar place despite the unwanted atmosphere.
Merging layers: Art became my version of the swimming pool. As my feet stepped closer to the tip of the diving board, my heart began to pound and my hands were suddenly drenched with sweat. I leaped, and my weight fell toward the water: arms first, then head, body, and finally my feet. For a while, I let my body sink into the deep waters in the swimming pool, feeling a moment of serenity. I lifted my head and looked for the scoreboard. To my surprise, there was none. There was no competition with art. It was a continuous journey to improve my skills and explore new realms. Relief flushed through my body.
I took my first digital media course this year at my high school. Little did I know, this class would change my perspective on art. New possibilities came out of my hobby; it paved a way for my self-discovery, values, and activism. My piece was inspired by some of the skills I learned while taking digital media. The structure came from the process of designing a digital piece, incorporating my journey to discovering my passion for the arts.
Sandra Cheah is a high school sophomore from Queens, New York. She is a proud first-generation, Asian-American student with a passion for gender equality and women’s empowerment. She runs Dear GlobalGirls, an organization and digital magazine with a mission to empower girls to unlock their potential and break barriers in male-dominated spaces. Her advocacy efforts have been recognized internationally, as featured in Plan International. In her free time, she enjoys coding, drawing, trying new dishes and playing Chinese poker with her family.