Recent discussions about art have centered on artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will transform the creative industries. While the rest of the world is frantically feeding prompts to AI text-to-image generators like DALL-E, eager to see what synthetic nightmare or masterpiece it will produce, visual artist Cheryl Owen is in no rush.
Since leaving the fast-paced advertising industry seven years ago, Cheryl has been spending more time in the great outdoors, where she finds inspiration for her paintings. In this interview, she talks about her deep connection to nature, the Divine Feminine, and redefining softness as a strength. She also shares her thoughts on AI and why she wants to take her time before integrating it into her process.
Elements of nature are prominent in your work. How do you stay connected to and inspired by nature?
I loved playing outside in my lola’s garden when I was a kid. I’d observe plants and small insects. I think the interest in being outdoors started during those years. I even remember one day when I was sitting in the passenger’s seat while my dad drove, I could see the Sierra Madre mountain range in the distance, and I badly wanted to go there. I even asked my dad to drive us to the mountains! Of course, we didn’t go.
Fast forward to when I became an adult and started joining hiking events and trail runs. Almost once or twice a month, I go hiking or trail running in the Cordillera mountains or Rizal. This hobby of mine fuels my inspiration bank. Sometimes I also get inspiration from gardens or parks. Basically anywhere with trees and plants! I’d take out my phone and take some pictures of plants, animals, and insects that inspire me.
How would you define the Divine Feminine? What role does it play in your art and life?
For me, the Divine Feminine is the aspect of our spirit that is intuitive, caring, gentle, nurturing, compassionate, and encourages growth. It taps more into our emotional side. Both men and women have these traits.
Growing up, I noticed that I wasn’t the type who was assertive or exhibited physical strength and leadership (Divine Masculine). And for a long time, I thought I was a weak person because of that—and also because our society teaches us that going inward and tapping more into our intuition and emotions is a sign of weakness.
But times are changing, and people are more open now to accepting that being compassionate, gentle, and caring towards others, especially during times of hardship and chao s, is also a form of strength. And I wanted to show that in my art by weaving elements of nature as symbols of the Divine Feminine.
Why did you decide to leave the advertising industry and pursue a career as a full-time artist? How has your life changed since then?
After I graduated, I worked in the corporate world for almost seven years. And even though I enjoyed the work, during those years, I felt something was missing. My creative output was mostly graphic and advertising design, which is very different from the creative output of traditional art. I love to paint. And working 9-5 only gave me a small amount of time to paint. Not to mention the amount of stress I always felt with my day job.
I knew that my truth was to do painting full-time. So I planned and financially prepared myself for a year before I left the corporate world for good. I noticed that I became happier and less stressed after quitting. Sure, there are still stressful moments and burnouts, but they are the type that you know you can pull through because you are living your truth.
Your paintings are known for their intricate details and rich imagery. How do you decide which elements to include in your paintings?
This may sound vague, but I just include elements that feel “right” at the moment as long as I stay true to my message.
Is there a particular project or piece of artwork that holds special meaning for you?
My series for Mind Tenants exhibit back in 2018. I was having a lot of panic attacks and nightmares back then because of PTSD. Painting what I was experiencing was my way of facing my traumas and fighting back. Again, I used nature (ravens) as symbols of my anxiety, accepting them as a part of myself that warns me to leave the situation I was in.
As an artist practicing traditional art, what are your thoughts on AI tools such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion?
When AI became popular within my circle early this year, I was really against it. Especially when I saw other artists, who I look up to, have their work stolen and used to train AI applications without their permission. I am still against using it, and I do not plan to use it anytime soon unless clear copyright laws are imposed on it.
Aside from that, I do not want the most important and the most human step in my process to be taken away by AI, which is concept-building through experience. I like to take my time developing concepts and ideas. I think the reason people connect with my work is that they resonate with my thoughts and experiences, which I express through my art.
This is not to say that AI is evil. I think that it is useful, especially if you want to make your process faster. I am not closing my doors to using AI. We artists need to adapt sooner or later. But as long as there are gray areas when it comes to copyright, I won't be integrating it into my process just yet.
What do you hope to achieve with your art today and in the years to come?
Career-wise, more shows locally and abroad! But on a deeper and more personal level, I want my message to reach more people. I want my art to be in the homes of people who find my work comforting. I want my art to be a window of solace and a reminder that nature is out there. I am a firm believer that nature heals because it has done so for me. When you go outside, you also go inward. Nature is like a mirror because it confronts you and makes you feel your emotions. When you are with nature, you unconsciously dive within yourself and find yourself. When you go out for a short walk in a park, you suddenly have a conversation with yourself in your head and find a solution to problems you’re having. Being with nature calms you down and clears your head. It is a place where no one will judge you and you are free to be yourself, allowing you to find your personal truth.