Asian District Night Market–February 29th, 2020

Live painting at Asian District Night Market 2020 in Mesa, AZ
February 29th, 2020 | Photo taken by Monica Zimmerman

Early February, I was approached through Instagram by one of the entertainment coordinators that works with the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce (AACC) to do a live painting at their annual Asian District Night Market (ADNM). The AACC is a non-profit that supports Asian-American small businesses in Arizona. Every year, they host ADNM to celebrate Asian American business owners, artists, performers, and vendors. Usually it is held in Phoenix, but due to the relocation of many Asian American communities in the Area, it was held in Mesa for the first time this year.

I was pretty shocked to have been asked to do a live painting seeing as my resume is still building a reputation. She said she found me while scrolling through #phxfirstfriday posts and really loved my work from my recent feature at New City Studio. I didn’t get paid much for the gig, but I did get paid to do it–which is a first in my career and worth appreciating even if it wasn’t a lot.

Live Painting Set-Up at Asian District Night Market in Mesa, AZ
February 29th, 2020 | Photo taken by Monica Zimmerman

The headlining acts of the night were AJ Rafael and Ruby Ibarra, two filipinos that have impacted the music industry in more ways than one. I didn’t know about Ruby Ibarra until the event, but I grew up listening to AJ Rafael in my teens. He’s a Youtube Legend and a part of a generation of Asian Americans who really transformed how artists can use Youtube for their music. When I saw the promotion flyer with our names on it together, it was kind of a surreal moment.

I had never painted in front of a live audience before so I was pretty nervous. I read up on some live painting tips and decided to sketch my portrait the night before so that I was less likely to panic the night of. It helped a lot going in with a plan. I painted an oil portrait on a 20×24 canvas.

Why did you choose oil paints?

Most people would suggest using acrylic paints bc it dries faster and it doesn’t take quite as long to prepare/clean up. However, I chose to use oil paint because I work faster with it and I was worried about finishing the painting on time. I only had about 3-3 1/2 hours. The preparation/clean up was messy, but I personally like the slow process of taking care my paints. The important thing is to consider your goals for the live painting and to go with what you’re most comfortable.

How did you decide a 20×24 canvas was the right size for the live painting?

The coordinator didn’t give me any guidelines, so I had total freedom in making those creative decisions. I chose from in my inventory of blank canvases at home bc I didn’t want to spend any money on new supplies for the event. Ultimately based my choice on what I thought I could finish in 3 hours. That was my priority. I’m sure I could have painted on a larger canvas, but I also went with what felt safe to me. I was already taking a risk of being an unexperienced live painter… lol

“Golden Hour.” by Melanie Nicole. February 2020. Oil on 20×24 Gallery Wrapped Duck Cotton Canvas.

What inspired the portrait?

First it was the golden poppies that grew in front of my grandparents house. Thinking of them brings me a lot of joy. They’re the reason my family and I get opportunities like this. And secondly, just feeling really happy to be representing Asian American females with brown skin at this event. In a world of color, I mostly just see white–even amongst the Asian American community. In many Asian cultures, people with brown skin are not as highly praised as those with lighter complexions. Many young girls grow up feeling afraid of the sun and becoming too dark bc we fear it will limit our opportunites or decrease our worth. So with my art, I wanted create space for myself and others alike to be appreciated and respected for our skin color.

Thank you AACC for having me.

If you want to learn more about AACC, please visit their website here:

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