Get smarter and happier with the help of all kinds of dance instructors at Culture Shock. Lobby floor painted by MP5.
  • Get smarter and happier with the help of all kinds of dance instructors at Culture Shock. Lobby floor painted by MP5.
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Our affinity for artistic expression sets us humans apart from all other animals. We continue to find innovative ways to communicate our complex emotions and philosophical reflections. Though it is inarguably enriching to appreciate works of masters, it’s ever more important to become creators in our own right. It’s not just good for our heads, it’s also great for our hearts.

Whether it’s observing the work of others or creating our own, we have ample opportunities to experience art right here in San Diego. — Barbarella

Culture Shock Dance Studio

2110 Hancock Street, Old Town

Culture Shock Dance Center

Dancing is as beneficial for your brain as it is for your body. We’ve long known about the benefits of dancing’s physicality, such as increased serotonins (makes you happier) and decreased stress (again, makes you happier). But apparently, dancing can also make you smarter and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. According to a 21-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing was “the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.” You can get smarter and happier with the help of all kinds of dance instructors at Culture Shock, who can teach you anything from hip-hop and break-dancing to contemporary choreography and tribal fusion belly dance. Drop in for $15 or sign up for one of the affordable packages.

California Center for the Arts, Escondido

340 N. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido

California Center for the Arts

Cheaper than a cup of coffee, the center asks only $2 per student in exchange for a 50-minute hands-on art experience, catered to your age and skill level. In addition to lessons in visual arts, the center offers a “Beyond the Words Drama Workshop” for $4 per person where students learn cooperative skills and theater vocabulary, as well storytelling and character development. Each group gets to perform a scene to immediately implement what they’ve learned. There are many other types of classes offered.

Alan's Music Center

8510 La Mesa Bouelvard, La Mesa

Alan’s Music Center

Increased capacity for memory, enhanced coordination, and overall stress reduction are among the reasons to learn to play an instrument. All that, and it’s fun! Around 30 instructors are available to help beginners of any age learn almost any instrument, including piano, guitar, trombone, cello, drums, and even the piccolo. The schedules are flexible, as each instructor sets his or her own. All classes are held in the store. Fees are monthly.

The Ink Spot

2730 Historic Decatur Road, Barracks 16 #202, Liberty Station

San Diego Writers, Ink

By learning to write better, you can improve and refine the one skill that is transferable to any job or relationship: communication. Writing can also help you work through emotions and improve your quality of life. A study in the The Oncologist demonstrated that “a single, 20-minute writing exercise” helped cancer patients change their attitudes toward their illness and improved their moods. Whether you want to blog, write a novel or screenplay, publish an article, or learn how to better express your thoughts and feelings through journaling, the professional writers/instructors at San Diego Writers, Ink offer regular workshops to help.


3316 Adams Avenue, Suite B, Normal Heights

Rare Hare Studio

Geared toward children in preschool through eighth grade, classes offered by Rare Hare encourage kids to express their own points of view with the materials provided. Whenever possible, the studio incorporates recycled materials into the creative process. For example, to create sculptures of robots, kids used donated items such as silverware, old tins, and bottlecaps. The focus on recycled items helps the children “gain awareness of how their own ability to express themselves can be interconnected with their community.”

San Diego Ceramic Connection

3216 Thorn Street, North Park

San Diego Ceramic Connection

For the ultimate hands-on approach, dig your fingers deep into the creative process by learning how to sculpt with clay. Master Japanese potter Kouta Shimazaki is as patient as he is fun as he walks students of all ages and levels through each step, from wedging and wheel throwing, to trimming, inlaying, and applying glaze, and, finally, firing a unique creation in one of the kilns.

San Diego Art Department

3830 Ray Street, North Park

San Diego Art Department

Painting is the quintessential art form. The instructors at SDAD offer classes that delve deeper than the usual “how to,” such as Deron Cohen’s “Painting and the Creative Process,” which covers abstract painting, drawing, and oil painting; and Josie Rodriguez’s “Art of Encaustic Painting,” which incorporates techniques she gleaned from an intensive workshop in Italy. Though silk painting, acrylic, watercolor, and other painting-centric classes are offered, if you’re looking to stretch beyond the canvas, Art Department also offers wood-collage workshops, basket weaving, photography, and mosaics. Students are able to showcase their work in the gallery onsite.

Write Out Loud’s 14-foot-puppets, Edgar and Sam

Write Out Loud’s 14-foot-puppets, Edgar and Sam

Photograph courtesy of Kim Keeline of Write Out Loud

What do Japanese paper theater, 14-foot puppets, and a liar’s contest have in common?

Under the motto “Let us read you a story,” the San Diego–based nonprofit Write Out Loud headed by creative duo Veronica Murphy and Walter Ritter brings the appreciation of literature to audiences of all ages. With staged readings, Stories for Seniors, the Read-Imagine-Create contest for 12- to 18-year-olds, and the yearly TwainFest, among other events, Ritter estimates that Write Out Loud reached up to 9000 people throughout San Diego County in 2013.

Inspired by Selected Shorts in New York and Stories on Stage in Denver, the organization is going into its seventh year with plans to expand its offerings. This winter they will introduce kamishibai, Japanese “paper theater,” to grades K–2 in several San Diego schools. Kamishibai is a story contained in a briefcase-sized box, fashioned like a miniature stage, which opens to reveal picture scrolls. Early readers respond excellently to it. Veronica and Walter hope to develop the program to include students crafting their own kamishibai.

August brings the fifth annual TwainFest — the most popular of Write Out Loud’s programs — to Old Town State Park. Last year the free event drew 5900 attendees and gave away 684 books as prizes. With the help of 120 volunteers, partners Todd Blakesley and Lee Lawless, Fiesta de Reyes, and many Old Town businesses, Write Out Loud puts on a day of 19th-century literature-themed fun inspired by Mark Twain. Meet a 14-foot-tall puppet of Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe, catapult the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, spin the Wheel of Fiction, drink tea in the Garden of Literary Delights, or practice the art of deception in the Liar’s Contest. The idea, Walter laughs, “is to make it all about literature in a way that the kids would never know it.”

But it is literature that unites the local actors, performers, and volunteers behind Write Out Loud. Supported by funds from the City of San Diego, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dr. Seuss Foundation, ticket sales, and other sources, the organization performs countywide. Upcoming performances are scheduled at North Coast Repertory Theater, Cygnet Theater, the Athenaeum, Scripps Ranch Theater, and Horton Grand. They’re also regulars at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park and Grossmont Community College Literary Arts Festival.

Murphy and Ritter hope their efforts will reacquaint readers with their favorite authors, introduce works to audiences, and encourage listeners to consider literature in a new way.

— Leorah Gavidor

Ray @ Night

2014 marks the 13th anniversary of Ray at Night, San Diego’s longest-running art walk. Located on Ray Street in North Park, Ray at Night offers visitors the chance to view art by local and nationally known artists. Nearby galleries and businesses open their doors for this monthly event. The walk occurs on the second Saturday of the month and includes more than 30 art galleries. It is free to the public and family-oriented. Free parking is available nearby or for $3 at a parking structure within walking distance on 30th Street.

Arts Park @ Chollas Creek

5010 Market Street, Chollas View

Writerz Blok

Located in Southeast San Diego, Writerz Blok is a graffiti-art lover’s dream. The facilities yard offers over 10,000 square feet of paintable walls. Stop by to try your hand at creating your own murals or stroll the grounds to take in the murals done by locals and pros. Writerz Blok sells paint and other supplies. Admission is free. Writerz Blok began in early 2000 as an outreach program geared toward young artists with the goal of encouraging artistic exploration in a safe, gang-neutral environment. The facility now offers classes in muralism, screen printing, urban art, and disc-jockey training.

The Ink Spot

2730 Historic Decatur Road, Barracks 16 #202, Liberty Station

DimeStories at the Ink Spot

If you like to write and like to ham it up in front of an audience, DimeStories is your event. DimeStories, is one part awkward and two parts hilarious. On the second Friday of every month, budding writers meet at San Diego Writers Ink in Liberty station to read their own original three-minute prose (not poetry). The three-minute rule is strictly enforced. If the performer goes over the three-minute mark, a recording of crickets is played. DimeStories is everything you’d expect from an open-mic night. There’s oversharing, emotion, and laughter combined with some serious talent and, on occasion, lack thereof. Light refreshments are served. A $5 donation is collected at the door.

Rebecca's Coffee House

3015 Juniper Street, South Park

Rebecca’s Coffee House poetry reading

Poetry readings have the tendency to be unintentionally hilarious. For every great poet there is a handful of train wrecks. Rebecca’s poetry reading, on the third Tuesday of every month, will keep you on the edge of your seat. Set in the heart of South Park, Rebecca’s cozy couches, paired with a cup of coffee and a delicious scone, is the perfect venue for a poetry reading. The event takes place at 7 p.m., sharp. If you’re interested in reading, be there at 6:30 on the dot for sign-ups.

La Bodega Studios and Gallery

2196 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan

La Bodega

La Bodega, Barrio Logan’s newest art collective, recently took over a vacant warehouse that, in 1917, was home to the “Bank of Italy.” Inside sit 30 creative studios and 1600 square feet of event and gallery space. La Bodega’s mission is to create a place that will inspire both struggling and established artists, as well as bring the community together through events. This creative hub hosts art shows, special events, and various workshops. Upcoming events to look out for include: “March,” an all-women’s art show; “South of You” surf, skate, life art show; a “VW(Volkswagen) Inspired Art Show,” and “The Perfect 10” group art show.

3rd Space

4610 Park Boulevard, University Heights

(No longer in business.)

Vermin on the Mount hosted by 3rdSpace

Vermin on the Mount is an irreverent reading series based in Southern California. Now in its tenth year, Vermin on the Mount celebrates a mix of fiction, poetry, and true tales that break the mold or are difficult to classify. Novelists and poets take the stage with journalists and bloggers — anyone who can tell their story with wit, humor, and style. Vermin on the Mount is always free. The event is currently hosted by 3rdSpace.

Queen Bee's Art & Cultural Center

3925 Ohio Street, North Park

Lyrical Exchange at Queen Bee’s

Lyrical Exchange is a weekly chance to embrace your inner artist. Queen Bee’s in North Park hosts this unique open mic geared not only for poets, but also for singers, emcees, musicians, and comedians. Lyrical Exchange offers a fresh take on your run-of-the-mill open-mic night. Instead of sitting through a night of purely prose and poetry, prepare to be entertained by musical acts and stand-up comedians. Early arrival is recommended in order to secure a seat and parking spot. Come to perform or to be a spectator. $5 at the door.

Athenaeum Art Center School of the Arts

1955 Julian Avenue, Barrio Logan

The Roots Factory

The Roots Factory operates as a multipurpose art space and cultural center in Barrio Logan. They are a grassroots organization without government or corporate affiliation. Their goal is to promote culture, self-empowerment, and awareness through art. They host monthly gatherings, at which the community takes part in events that combine art and music within a peaceful family setting. The space is partly run by community volunteers and interns. The Roots Factory hosts regular screen-printing classes and workshops.

Vixen Productions


Thanks to Vixen Productions owner Venessa Johnson, San Diego is taking baby steps toward a fashion-forward future. San Diego rarely hosts runway events but Vixen Productions is working to change that. The all-female collective is geared toward fashion, music, and art. They host pop-up boutiques throughout San Diego, bringing retail designs to consumers for purchase. They also host fashion runway shows featuring live music, art, cocktails, and, afterward, an opportunity to shop the looks seen on the catwalk. Be sure to check out their annual “San Diego’s Most Stylish Man” event.


3112 University Avenue, North Park

May Star’s Club Fashion Whore Hosted by U31

May Star’s Club Fashion Whore happens every second Saturday of the month at North Park’s U31. The indie, avant-garde event features runway shows by local, Southern California, and (on occasion) international designers. But, be aware, cocktails and shopping are a recipe for some serious impulse buys. The runway shows begin at 8:30 p.m. and wrap up around 10 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to stay afterward for the dance party hosted by U31. If you would like to avoid the cover charge, RSVP to May Star, for free cover before 9 p.m.: [email protected].

Space 4 Art

325 15th Street, East Village

Space 4 Art

Space 4 Art is a three-warehouse facility containing 32 artist studios, five live/work artist studios, a two-room exhibition gallery, and an outdoor performance stage and classroom. They frequently host events that are experimental in nature that include musical acts, art, and spoken word, and offer everything from summer art camps for homeless teens, to artists’ open critiques, art exhibitions, and writing workshops.


317 E. Grand Avenue, Escondido

Art Hatch

Art Hatch, founded in 2004, is a volunteer-run, nonprofit art center located in downtown Escondido. This 7000-square-foot space hosts over 50 emerging artists. The center is geared toward young artists (teen-college). They offer free supplies and studio space to budding artists in exchange for volunteer work. The point is to foster creativity in youth. Art Hatch has ongoing exhibitions and offers classes to the public. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday, 11–6; Saturday, 12–5. The second Saturday of each month, Art Hatch hosts receptions with open studios, live music, Stone Beer, and wine from 6–10 p.m.


3536 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights

(No longer in business.)


Normal Heights is quickly becoming the new North Park when it comes to the arts and nightlife, and ArtLab is one of the venues helping to infuse a little more culture into the neighborhood. It’s a membership-based workspace and gallery with regular art openings and performances. ArtLab hosts artist showcases, writing-workshop events, musical performances, and classes every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings.

University Art Gallery at SDSU

5500 Campanile Drive, SDSU

University Art Gallery

San Diego State is home to the University Art Gallery located in the School of Art, Design, and Art History building. The gallery exhibits contemporary art by regional, national, and international artists. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday and Saturday noon–4p.m. All exhibitions, special events, and educational programs offered by the University Art Gallery are free of charge and open to the public. Exhibitions are presented during the fall and spring academic semesters.

The (under)value of art

When Adrienne Patrick was in the sixth grade, she made a series of hairpins out of ribbons. Then she created a catalogue, listing items available for purchase along with a picture of each clip. It was her first venture into the world of art and commerce. It didn’t last very long because a boy in her class berated her for misspelling the word “subtle.” And, as many a sensitive artist will do, she retreated and gave up on the idea of selling her work. She never stopped creating, but for many years, her artistic endeavors stayed within the realm of the personal.

“I have this pretty significant insecurity with my value and my work and my voice,” says Patrick, now the mother of nine-year-old twins and a new resident of San Diego. “I’m maybe the thinnest skinned person you’ll ever meet.”

We’re sitting in her studio, one of the two bedrooms in the house she rents in the Mountain View neighborhood. The twins share the other bedroom, and Patrick sleeps on a daybed in the living room. This room has been entirely given over to her marionettes, mobiles, and other creations. From the walls and ceiling and a coat rack in the corner hang her whimsical creations: a black horse marionette, a circus-wire walker holding an umbrella, a little dude flying a biplane, a tiger’s head — all made from recycled fabrics.

“My strength is in all the lines being wonky,” she says of her art. “I feel like it looks the way a child imagines it. It’s not the way things look in our world.”

While stitching together the leg pieces for a marionette sporting a perfectly round black afro sprinkled with gold stars, she shares her frustration with “the relationship many people have with fabric arts.” She offers the example of a friend who knows she’s a fabric artist asking her to make a handbag or a headband adorned with silk flowers.

“I think the particular irritation for me is that if I were really successful right now doing what I really love to do, it would be easier for me to just say, ‘I’m not the person to do that for you,’ and I think people wouldn’t come to me and ask me to do those things.”

Back in the mid-2000s, while living in Brooklyn, she made and tried to sell children’s clothing. “People were, like, ‘What? Fifty dollars for a kids’ dress?’ And I’m, like, ‘If it were J Crew, you’d spend more than that for a kids’ dress.’ But because it’s Adrienne from down the road... My rent is just as high as your rent. Why am I all of a sudden working for nothing because I sew and I make clothing?”

In the fall of 2012, following the death of both of her parents, the ending of a long-term relationship, she and the kids drove across the country and settled in San Diego, where Patrick still struggles with the idea of art versus commerce. Her marionettes sell for between $100 and $600, prices higher than the average crafts-fair attendee is willing to pay.

“I did some craft fairs here,” she says. “What it ends up being is more like a little traveling gallery. People stop by and take pictures and sometimes post the pictures on their blogs, but they rarely purchase anything.”

For the 2013 holiday season, she created a series of dolls to sell at the winter festival at her children’s school. The dolls take three to four hours to make and sell for $30 to $50. She went to the festival with 30 and sold all but 4.

“I think I made more money at that fair than I’ve made in all the other fairs I’ve attended in the last four years combined,” she says.

Still, Patrick is disheartened by society’s undervaluing of art. “After 25 years of very intense experience of sewing and embroidering and beading and pattern drafting,” she says, “I’m making minimum wage at the end of the day.”

— Elizabeth Salaam

Thomas James Field has transformed the outside of his South Park house into an artistic recycled materials wonderland.

Thomas James Field has transformed the outside of his South Park house into an artistic recycled materials wonderland.

That One House on 31st Street in South Park

The house sits on the northeast corner of the alley between Hawthorne and Ivy Streets in South Park, and its owner, Thomas James Field, former executive director at San Diego Art Institute, has transformed the outside into an artistic recycled-materials wonderland. A broken oriental-style ceramic piece was first used to turn a small corner of the yard into an abstract fishing village. Bird sculptures composed of painted wood and fallen nature perch in the parkway, gazing into the street. The alley wall’s mural touches on the world’s progression from Atlas to the Industrial Age to Haight-Ashbury. Chalkboards invite the neighbors to add to the display.

God's Extended Hand

1635 Island Avenue, East Village

The mosaic around the door of God’s Extended Hand.

The mosaic around the door of God’s Extended Hand.

God’s Extended Hand

Unveiled in March 2009, the tile mosaic spanning the corner of 16th and Island on the street-facing walls of rescue mission God’s Extended Hand was four years in the making. Spearheaded by Encinitas-based artist Jeremy Wright, and with the help of over 90 volunteers, the mural saved the then-80-year-old building from being demolished.

Flanked by porta-potties and homeless people’s shopping carts, the bits of tile and pottery — even spoons and a hammer — create many separate images and abstractions but convey the same message: inside these walls are people that will help. A favorite is Jesus tending his flock in sneakers.

Switzer Canyon Drainage Tunnel

Beneath 30th Street in Switzer Canyon in North Park/Burlingame

Rolling across 30th Street on the causeway that links the North and South Park neighborhoods, one might not have an inkling of what lies beneath. Since 1957, a cement drainage tunnel underneath said causeway has been beckoning the brave to traverse its length — which connects the two sides of Switzer Canyon. In this tunnel, and adorning the outside of its west entrance, are years of paintings — everything from simple graffiti tags to more elaborate murals. The light from the other side’s opening is barely visible, but San Diego’s dry climate offers safe passage to the opposite end, if you dare.

Tweet Street Park

Date Street between Seventh & Tenth Avenues curving around down Tenth Avenue to Beech Street, Cortez Hill

Affectionately known as Tweet Street Park, these linear grassy strips take their name from the art project that eventually adorned some of the park’s trees with small birdhouses. These “upscale bird residences” were carefully built through a contest created for local artists of various design genres who adhered to strict artistic and ecological guidelines: the function of these were to attract small, native birds displaced by downtown development while still upholding the eclectic spirit of the neighborhood. The hundred dollars was given to each of the ten winning artists for construction, and the results are colorful, whimsical, and wildly creative.

25th Street Musical Bridge

25th Street Bridge between F & G Streets, Golden Hill

It’s not much to look at — nothing like the Vermont Street Bridge in University Heights — but the pedestrian walkway over SR-94 on the west side of the 25th Street Bridge holds a secret: the safety railing, measuring 288 feet, is the world’s largest xylophone. Strike each of the rail chimes purposefully, in succession, while walking down the bridge to serenade yourself. The tune is Crab Carillion, a palindromic musical piece — designed to play the same song from both directions — composed by SDSU music instructor Joseph Waters for this project. Tip: bring your own mallet/stick/metal rod.

Verde y Crema Parking Lot

Calle Orizaba 3034, Colonia Neidhart, 011-52-664-681-2366, Tijuana

Of course, Verde y Crema — the newest hip restaurant from Jair Téllez (recently named GQ Mexico’s Chef of the Year) — is beautifully designed, and the food fantastic, but it’s the 4300-square-foot mural wrapping around the gravel parking lot that, along with the food, leaves the most lasting impression. A collaboration by local artists El Norteño, Glow, Rod Villa, and Fernando Méndez Corona, the mural seems to tell a story of the history, landscape, and people of Tijuana while still showcasing each artist’s style and talents. The ultimate is seeing the lot lit up at night. It’s otherworldly.

There it is: a 12-foot-high red shoe.

There it is: a 12-foot-high red shoe.

Elizabeth Murray’s Red Shoe

In the eucalyptus grove southwest of Revelle College, off of Torrey Pines Road, 858-534-2117

Standing in a eucalyptus grove on the southwest edge of campus, there it is: a 12-foot-high red shoe. A funky-looking wooden high heel sculpture en pointe, it’s frozen in time running through the trees, leaving large-scale gems of various colors in its wake. Strange, indeed, but this is UCSD, whose Stuart Collection promises art installations in unconventional places.

Painter Elizabeth Murray chose this particular grove to install her first three-dimensional piece because the smallness of the trees could make something feel larger. The best part, it's meant to be climbed upon.

The B Street Face

Between 20th & 21st Streets, Golden Hill

If you’re ever in an aircraft over B Street in Golden Hill, make sure you look down. You’ll be rewarded with a face about a half-block long, spanning the width of both lanes, and painted onto the actual street staring back at you. This somewhat stern-looking caricature with a high forehead and prominent ears and nose is the work of street artist Phil Peralta, aka Pandemic. What’s crazier is that it’s been there since October 2010 and crazier still that Peralta painted this face in broad daylight while pretending to be a city worker conducting ordinary street business.

Barrio Logan Fire Station #7

944 Cesar E. Chavez Parkway, Barrio Logan

In 2005, Rebuilding Together’s San Diego chapter and the students of Perkins Elementary School got together to put a little color, and love, on one of the brick walls of their neighborhood fire station. Over five dozen students were given square tiles to paint on, each depicting a scene in the fire-rescue theme. These were then artfully arranged, along with blank colored tiles at the top of the wall. A three-dimensional ceramic fire house twists wildly underneath as small blue tiles spurt from its mouth. It’s fun, interesting, and completely unexpected to see when walking down the street.

It's just storytelling with images and words

Alonso Nuñez co-founded Little Fish Comic Book Studio in early 2012. With its walls lined by graphic novels and hardback reprints from 1950s EC Comics to the newest Japanese manga, the Ocean Beach studio hosts educational classes and live art demonstrations, as well as publishes their own comics, including titles co-created with kids who learn about the entire cartoon biz, from conception and creation to copyrights and marketing.

“Any artist, regardless of age or self-professed ability, if they love to tell stories, they can be a comic artist,” says Nuñez.

The Studio co-publishes a serialized webcomic, Squids & Rainbows, created by fifteen year-old Effren Villanueva, a tenth grader at High Tech High in Point Loma. “His strengths lean towards humor and expression, but his work ethic and his speed, his creativity and his ability to listen to criticism are just as impressive,” says Nuñez. “Effren’s been with Little Fish almost since the beginning, and the growth he’s shown is staggering.”

Former High Tech High multimedia instructor Patrick Yurick, who co-founded Little Fish with Nuñez, left the studio last August to form a non-profit organization called Based in Old Town, its online resources are designed for students, fifth grade and up, with a desire to make comics and connect to a community of actual comic craft practitioners.

“I became passionate about giving students firsthand knowledge of, and real-world access to, a profession they were practicing to be a part of,” says Yurick. “I do not believe in education that is based in simulated experiences.... In ceramics, students start learning by working with clay, and I also believe that comic students need to work with everything that entails making a comic in the 21st Century.”

Does that mean young students no longer aspire to hand-draw old-school pen-and-ink comics?

“The traditional comic art styles borrowed a lot of their gear from architects and draftsmen. Manga lines came from traditional eastern calligraphy brushes. I teach my students that comic crafting is about creating original work. That is always the point, and because of that the craft of an original process is equally important. For teaching, that means the ‘one way of comic making’ is an obsolete approach. Mastery of lots of different processes is super important in the pursuit of originality.”

“I still get kids who love to draw on paper,” says Billy Martinez. “I  teach them digital as well.”

“I still get kids who love to draw on paper,” says Billy Martinez. “I teach them digital as well.”

Photograph courtesy of Neko Press

That’s a philosophy shared by Billy Martinez, who self-publishes a couple of moderately successful comic books (Wildflower and Kickass Girl) from his Neko Press studio on University in La Mesa, across from Helix High, where kids drop by for art lessons taught five days a week and open to anyone eight years and older.

“I still get kids who love to draw on paper,” says Martinez. “I also teach them digital as well. I think it’s important to still work on paper, because it helps them understand Photoshop and the steps taken to produce a digital work. Reality mirrors the digital aspect of the art. You should be able to use both mediums. It always blows me away when I get students straight out of art school, and they tell me they were never taught the basics and only know how to do web design. [They] can only draw a circle in the computer with an elliptical tool.”

Despite being kind of the long-haired local rock star of comic book self-publishing, Martinez doesn’t limit his classes to the sequential arts. “I’m finding that I get many students coming in for many things. Some may want to break into comics. Some may just want to paint. I think it’s pretty even across the board. One thing that connects them is art.”

One of the newest types of art in the comic biz is digital painting, a burgeoning field essentially born in San Diego. A Sorrento Valley firm called In Color was already producing some of the earliest all-digital tints and hues for Marvel, DC, Archie, and Hillcrest’s Revolutionary Comics before joining forces with emerging indie powerhouse Image Comics, whose La Jolla-based WildStorm branch (later a division of DC Comics) was launched in 1992.

“The colorists and artists that I worked with and mentored over the years at WildStorm have gone on to be industry leaders,” says colorist Jeromy Cox, who earned several major comic award nods developing a custom comic painting program from his Clairemont apartment. He has digitally painted top titles like Teen Titans, Catwoman, and X-Factor, but his passion remains teaching and self-publishing his own creations like Zombie Love and Vampyrates (the latter featuring local musicians as characters). His computer painting classes have enabled many local youths to land pro gigs while still in high school.

As for the question of old school versus electronic comic craft, Cox says “I think new artists should approach the digital production of comics, not as an absolute, but as just another choice of techniques. It’s all just storytelling with images and words.”

—Jay Allen Sanford

IDW Publishing

5080 Santa Fe Street, Morena District

Despite not being one of the “mainstream” comics publishers, San Diego-based IDW is the fourth largest comic book publisher in the country. The company began by producing horror comics, but has found its bread and butter by doing comic book adaptations for popular franchises in all types of media. For 2014, the big thing from the company is going to be “Angry Birds” the comic book. Developed in tandem with Rovio Entertainment, “Angry Birds” will give stories to the familiar characters from the absurdly popular video game.

Live Art with the Infusion Project

Local painter Hill Young coordinates live art shows as part of the San Diego branch of the Infusion Project, a multi-city arts group that describes itself as “a conscious approach to collaboration, creativity, and being your own boss.” The idea behind the live art projects is that it helps fans and patrons engage with artists, but also gives artists a chance to engage with each other. The next live painting event will be February 22 at the Hard Rock Hotel, but Young and the Infusion Project host live events two to three times every month at venues throughout the city.


1475 University Avenue, Hillcrest

(No longer in business.)

“Art Speaks” at Thumbprint Gallery 2

Every month, museSalon Collaborative moderates a panel discussion with selected artists from Thumbprint Gallery 2’s shows. Set in the intimate space of TPG2, the artists take the opportunity to introduce themselves and their artwork. Many of the artists showing at Thumbprint are up-and-coming or little-known quantities, so fans of underground artwork are sure to be exposed to something new and exciting. Artists answer questions from the moderator and the audience, and the conversational atmosphere makes it easy to get up close and personal with some of SD’s emerging creators.

EQ Culture Studios

2001 Main Street, Barrio Logan

“State of the Arts” at EQ Studios

Eclectique Culture — in tandem with EQ Studios, a full-service production company that also rents studio space to artists — presents a monthly showcase of recent work from local artists. “State of the Arts” will introduce artists to fans in an informal setting, providing the opportunity to get up close and personal with members of the local arts community. Expect to see a variety of artists, most of whom will somehow fit into EQ Studios’ claim that their “standard definition is high definition.”

All Tijuana is Here

A police car whines its way through a Zona Centro intersection as a teenage girl, her blue-and-grey-striped sleeves rolled up to the elbows, pours homemade wheat paste from a peach Bonafont jug onto a paint roller.

Working quickly between over-shoulder glances, she coats a swath of wall on the corner of Sixth and Niños Heroes with the adhesive goo. She unfolds a six-foot print of a slender girl dressed in panties and knee socks, then strains to reach the top of her paste-up as she spackles it to the urban canvas.

Both street artist Dear and her painted characters wear anime bangs and exude a Lolita-like quality.

Both street artist Dear and her painted characters wear anime bangs and exude a Lolita-like quality.

Once it’s up, a likeness between the artist — an 18-year-old graphic designer who works under the moniker Dear — and her creation becomes apparent. Both wear anime bangs and exude a Lolita-like quality that teeters between coquettish and aloof. Where Dear holds a paint roller and water jug in either hand, her paste-up carries a compact mirror and a revolver. They are at once adorable and intimidating.

“[My characters’] faces are very submissive — sometimes sad, sometimes nostalgic,” says Dear, who cites influence from Japanese animation such as Dragon Ball Z and the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. “Sometimes they inspire a kind of tenderness or innocence. I don’t do it on purpose. It just comes out that way.”

An unabashed daughter of the digital generation, Dear designs her characters in illustration software, posts them to her blog, and then brings them to life with up to 24 interconnected prints.

“I like traditional painting,” she says, “but my love is digital art, especially on the streets.”

“The whole graffiti thing is based on respect,” says muralist and high school teacher Azteco.

“The whole graffiti thing is based on respect,” says muralist and high school teacher Azteco.

Dear has been pasting her creations around Tijuana for about two-and-a-half years now, often in the company of like-minded street artists such as Azteco, El Nini, and Ruffian.

“There are a lot of new artists in Tijuana with a lot of talent,” she tells me later as we sit outside of Mamut microbrewery in the art-walk corridor of Pasaje Rodriguez (between Third and Fourth on Revolucion). “It’s just one part of a global movement that is taking place over social networks.”

Despite her fondness for cyberspace and alleyways, Dear has shown her work in galleries between Mexico City and Tijuana, including Praxis Estudio de Arte (Pasaje Rodriguez), next-door to Mamut. Praxis currently features the work of (among others) seasoned graffiti writer and multimedia artist Tanke, whose tattoo shop occupies the studio’s back office.

Graffiti has deep roots in Tijuana, most notably with the legendary HEM (Hecho en Mexico) crew dating back to 1989. Today, there are countless graff writers who have elevated the alien etchings of neighborhood gangs into an art all their own. But, while some taggers pride themselves on ubiquity and writing over rivals, street artists tend to take a more Zen approach with the placement of their pieces.

“The whole graffiti thing is based on respect,” says muralist and high school teacher Azteco as we examine a tag scribbled over his rendition of Tlaloc, the rain god, in a parking structure beneath Leyva’s Paradise (between Sixth and Seventh on Revolucion).

“When they see something painted like this, most of them don’t mess with it. The ones who do are the kids. A painting by my house is completely covered now, and it’s a huge wall. That’s fine. When my work is done, it belongs to the city. It’s for everybody.”

Dear echoes his blithe attitude when we visit a six-month old paste-up of hers in an alleyway off Seventh Street that is now obscured by tags.

“It doesn’t bother me. People can do what they want. First this guy wrote, then there was this, then this. Now, all of Tijuana is here. I don’t mind.”

Leyva’s underground garage, a semi-secret gallery in its own right, was painted at the end of 2012 by artists including Azteco, Dear, Hey! Glegle, Arre, Panca, Jules Gray Mind, Mendoza, and Mannyax. Surrounding them are numerous intricate graffiti tags — decipherable only to those who speak the cryptic, interwoven lexicon of the streets. Here, the line is blurred between street art and graffiti. Indeed, in Tlaloc’s case, one becomes a canvas for the other.

As much a philosopher as he is an artist, the 25-year-old Azteco bases works such as Tlaloc on the “broken windows theory,” a criminological concept that demonstrates how acts of vandalism precipitate more serious crimes. Azteco aims to inspire the opposite effect with his cartoonish characters, comical messages, and subtle critiques of religion, violence, and corruption.

“If you go out and you see color and murals and shapes, you see good energy on the walls, and you say, ‘hey, I live in a beautiful city.’ It helps the community.”

Case in point? An alleyway called Callejon Z (between Coahuila and Negrete on Revolución) on the fringes of the notorious Zona Norte red-light district.

“This wall was covered in gang graffiti,” Azteco explains. “So my friend who lives across the street provided white paint for the base and told me to do whatever I wanted.”

The result, created over the course of six months in 2012, is a mural inspired by the forlorn mariachis who stand around the nearby Plaza Santa Cecilia, waiting to be picked up for a party. In his characteristic style, he modeled each of the musicians after Aztec gods. Next to the band is a portrait of Hunter S. Thompson with twisted limbs, a Felix the Cat medicine bag, and a word bubble quoting the Good Doctor of Journalism saying (in Spanish), “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”

“He proved that you can take control of your life by living on the edge,” Azteco explains. “You have to challenge yourself constantly.”

Along with Azteco’s work, you can find pieces by Tijuana muralists Ugo, Panca, and Deived, and it all looks much nicer than the chicken scratch gang tags that once occupied the space.

A few blocks up the street, the same handful of artists can be found alongside Hey! Glegle, San Diego’s Moistrix, and several others in an alleyway between Second and Third Streets, a half-block east of 5 de Mayo.

When asked who else he recognizes for beautifying the city, Azteco gives a nod to Mode, a local who does “realism with spray cans” and recently painted the canal with portraits of the Tijuana Xolos soccer team (visible from Plaza Rio).

“Pablo Vega is also painting the supports under the bridge with huge murals,” Azteco notes. “He has one up already that says ‘THC,’ which is an abbreviation for ‘Tijuana haciendo cultura’ or ‘Tijuana making culture.’”

— Chad Deal

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SerettaMartin Feb. 20, 2014 @ 3:19 p.m.

RE: The San Diego Reader 2014 Guide to the Art in San Diego, Volume 43, Number 7, February 13, 2014. Dear editors, You neglected to mention the New Alchemy Poetry Series at Upstart Crow, 3rd Wed. 7 p.m. Featured Poets & Open Mic. Hosts: Seretta Martin & Fred Longworth. This reading is going into the 14th year, first at Barnes and Noble stores before moving to Upstart Crow. The amazing cast of published poets is International, USA and local. You mentioned the Shakespeare Society but not this poetry series. What happened? Perhaps you can ask one of your reporters to stop by to do an article to make it up to us. Also, it would help if you would publish our notices in the Reader instead of leavening them out when we submit them. Thank you! Seretta Martin


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