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:

New City Studio–January 7th to January 17th, 2020

I’m new to the Phoenix area so I don’t know a whole lot yet on how to get involved in the art scene, but by the luck of hashtags, the art curator for New City Studio discovered my floral artwork on Instagram and asked me to be a part of their January showcase. The theme was “All Natural” and featured many artists in the area. There was no fee and all commissions were 100% the artists.

This was my first “Phoenix First Fridays” which is a monthly art walk in the city. Galleries open up, bottles of wine are shared, friends gather, and Phoenix artists get to showcase their work. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the luxury to enjoy these nights fully on my own, but I had so much fun being a part of it. There’s something about seeing your work up on white walls.

(Left) “Gratitude.” Acrylic on 36 x 48 Canvas
(Right) “Becoming.” Acrylic on 30 x 40 Canvas
This artwork is one-of-a-kind authentic, original artwork.
All copy right and reproduction rights are reserved by Melanie Nicole.

Probably one of my favorite moments was taking my niece to the gallery. I love being an auntie to her and I love being closer to my family. For 6-8 years, we were all living in different places in the world. Italy, Guyana, Texas. I think at the time it’s what we all wanted, but I think we’re all searching to lay some roots down somewhere. At least I am. And I’m incredibly happy to have started here in the desert.

Me and my niece viewing my artwork at New City Studio.

Ironically, the day of the opening reception was also my last day of work in community nutrition. If you didn’t know, I had been pursing a career in nutrition for the past 6-7 years. Graduating with a degree in Dietetics, working as a diet technican for awhile, and to my own distaste widely referred throughout my Peace Corps service as “the nutritionist”–it seemed like I was on track to achieving the security I thought this career would give me.

Post graduating, post building years of experience, post serving in Peace Corps… I got a job in the field WAY below my means to be financially independent. And time and time again, I was told in order to get better paying positions (and by better, I only mean 45-50k starting) I needed to go through a 9-month internship (that you pay for) and potentially a Master’s Degree (that you also pay for). Looking at those odds and also how miserable the work made me, I finally quit. Haven’t I already done enough?

In the movies, I feel like people are so happy when they give up their corperate jobs and pursue their creativity full time. I half expected there to be music playing and a party thrown in my honor. But I did not feel happy. I did not hear the music. And I did not throw a party. I was crushed.

6-7 years of my life, tens of thousands of dollars into a degree, and all the hard work/sacrifice… for what? It just all felt like a waste and I felt so disappointed. Not because I quit, but because those things didn’t give me the life I needed it to… that I thought was guaranteed to me.

It took time to process that.

In the end, I learned again that nothing is ever guaranteed to me. No matter how many years I put in, no matter how much money I invest, no matter how many prayers I pray. It’s always about what choices I make and living with those results. I had to change what that meant entirely and ask myself “what do you want out of this life?”

I want to choose to take a chance on myself.
To grab hold of new opportunities that make me feel good.
To do something I never thought I could.
To make choices that are for my health and well-being.
To say yes to what recognizes my value and talent.
And to say no to what doesn’t.

Being a nutritionist, I didn’t accomplish a whole lot of that.
But as an artist? Well, that’s what this is all about for me.

RAW Artists–November 7th, 2019

RAW Artists: STELLAR at The Pressroom–PHX, AZ

I kid you not, I was sitting in a pizza place with my co-workers on our lunch break when I suddenly received an email from RAW Artists to be featured at an upcoming show. I had maybe 2-3 paintings finished at the time and was still trying to figure out if I was a “true” artist. But here I was responding to an inquiry for my first showcase.

I had never heard of RAW Artists before, and quite frankly, I totally thought I was being scammed. But after talking with that art curator (and after a deep dive search through google), I realized it was legit. Can’t blame me, I’m new to the scene.

If you are/were as clueless as me, let me tell you about RAW Artists.

It’s a giant art production of different local artists in your area. They reach out to fashion designers, make-up artists, illustrators, painters, potters–you name it. There is a daunting $500 fee for each artist, which I believe is it’s biggest turn off. RAW Artists encourage you to sell 20 tickets to your friends, family, and fans for $25/each to reach the amount.

How did you come up with $500?

I’m incredibly new to the art industry and didn’t have (and still don’t) have a large fan base, but I’m really fortunate to have friends and family that are ridiculously supportive. I made a list of people I thought would be willing to buy a ticket and offered a free print of my artwork in return. I didn’t make a great big announcement on my social media about it, but instead reached out to each person personally. I found that to be very important and I think my friends/family appreciated it too. With their help, I managed to raise the $500 without having to contribute from my own bank account.

What was the event like?

I think there were about 50+ other vendors there. We each had a 6ft x 6ft metal fence to hang our artwork and about 4ft out to put tables, chairs, or other display items. It’s not much, but the challenge of figuring that out is half the fun.

Full artwork display at RAW Artists: STELLAR at The Pressroom–PHX, AZ

There were TONS of people there. My brother said there was a long ass line out the door just to get in. Just think about it, 50+ vendors who brought 10-20 ppl to the event–that’s nearly 500-1000 ppl coming through who are all really supportive of art. The energy was wild.

Did you gain anything from it?

I didn’t sell anything, but that’s ok. I enjoyed the experience in full connecting with other dope artists and introducing myself to people who thought my artwork was incredible. I felt validated as a “true artist” for the first time and it really inspired me to take my talent even more seriously.

Do you recommend participating in Raw ARTISTS events?

Definitely! I was mostly motivated by the opportunity to experience my first show. Learning how to talk to people as an artist and just not someone who paints. Taking my first step into the scene outside of social media. Legitmizing my career. This was really the beginning for me and I’m so thankful for it.

There’s pros and cons to it, but don’t like the feeling of not being “ready” stop you from trying it out. Take on the challenge of “ok, what do I need to do now to BE ready.” You got this.

If you have any questions about the event, please leave your comments below!