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Life & Work with Bini Sebastian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bini Sebastian.

Hi Bini, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I’ve been drawing since I was a child, but the artistic journey really took off when I was an undergraduate student at The University of North Texas in Denton, TX, majoring in psychology. I loved people, loved my psychology classes, and loved being a part of a psychology research team, but I also felt like something was missing. I spent so much time thinking about my academic and career success, that everything became about what I’d do post-graduation, and I forgot about my art. It was clear that a part of me felt deprived. Luckily, I was surrounded by people who valued my artistic talent, and they encouraged me to go to the canvas. My creative flame was reignited, and I started painting and drawing again. During this time, I co-created paintings instead of creating originals or commissioning work.

Looking back, I think co-creating art was a way for me to stay engaged in people’s lived experiences rather than building a brand or making money off art. It was also an intuitive process that allowed me to blend my two loves – psychology and art.

Over time, I refined my skills and entered art shows. At these art shows, I remember watching the other visual artists navigate the business side of art in a way that still centered stories of human connection, which was inspiring. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much I loved networking, sharing the stories behind my work, and hearing how others resonated with my pieces. I decided to dedicate more time and energy into my craft.

I was unsure how this process would unfold, considering I had just started my PhD program in Counseling Psychology. With the encouragement of others who loved my work, I pursued the creative side-dream. I found myself juggling my graduate classes, teaching courses, seeing clients in therapy, teaching yoga, staying involved in community activism, and trying to weave in art. Slowly, art began to take a bigger piece of the pie, and I started taking commissions and marketing my work. Now, after many art shows, sales, and social media posts, I have my own little art exhibit, my own art studio, and my own website where I sell originals and prints of my work on a regular basis. It seems like others saw my potential before I did, and I am so glad they voiced their desire for more art.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It hasn’t always been the smoothest road. In fact, when I think about it, the times in which my artwork really flourished were right after an identity crisis, a tragedy, or a real hit to my sense of worthiness. I’m thankful I have art as an outlet to process my experiences of suffering.

One struggle I’ve experienced is related to my perceived underdeveloped artistic identity. I didn’t claim the title “artist” until a few years ago, a long while after I started selling my pieces. It’s funny because I was voted “most creative” 3 years in a row in middle school, won a couple of art contests, and would often get praised in my high school art class for my work, but I still was not comfortable with being called an artist. This is embarrassing to admit, but growing up, I drew primarily to get reactions out of other people – not because I wanted to explore or escape into the magical, fantasyland of my inner world. In fact, I didn’t know much about my inner world. Now, I don’t create anything unless it comes directly from my inner world. This is why it is so deeply meaningful when others tell me not only how my work looks nice, but how it makes them feel, why they resonate with it, and how it reflects their own journey of healing.

I’d be remiss if I did not mention obstacles regarding my cultural identity. While pursuing art as a profession is not encouraged in general, it’s even further frowned upon in Asian American culture. I was brought up in a household where there were certain expectations around success – expectations that had nothing to do with drawing. I know my parents did the best they could to support my creative interests, but I’m also sure my parents did not expect to give birth to a kid who would go on to pursue art as a side profession, nor were they raised in an environment where creative pursuits were encouraged. While my parents are more excited about my art now, this is something we are all learning how to navigate together. I’ve had to work with and against a lot of sociocultural norms to get to where I am today. And yet, in a beautiful ironic way, many of the socio-cultural values around discipline and cultivating a collective identity are the reason why I am where I am today.

The most heartbreaking tragedy was the passing of my ex-boyfriend, Jared. Jared was a talented musician, entirely dedicated to his music, and passionate about changing the world through his music. Anyone who heard him sing could hear the soul in his voice and believed in his vision. I told him many times that I saw him as a teacher. He knew matters of the mind, body, and spirit that could not be learned in books. Just watching him make music inspired me to dedicate myself further to my craft. Jared helped me deepen my spirituality, strengthen my artistic identity, and allowed me to realize I am so much more than what the world tells me. Since Jared passed, I don’t know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “What would Jared want me to do here?” This question has been an especially helpful, grounding guide throughout graduate school. He opened my eyes to so many truths in life, and I know he is and will be on the journey with me.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a visual artist, and I primarily use acrylic and colored pencil. As an artist, I’m inspired by my Indian culture, non-duality, the magical & natural world, and the human aspiration towards the True & Higher Self. Much of my work reflects my interest in liberation, cultural identity, death/grief, and spiritual grounding. Lately, I’ve been incorporating sacred geometry and biology into my pieces, which is definitely related to my interest in spirituality and holistic health. I hope to integrate my academic and artistic identities in the name of mind-body-spirit healing of myself and others.
For me, art is about expressing and healing. It has truly been a gift to create visual art while working on my PhD, specifically in counseling psychology. As psychologists-in-training, we investigate our own psyche, revisit our paths in order to become better therapists, learn about various tools for healing, and walk alongside others’ healing journeys. This deep inner work has birthed some really cool paintings centered around my hope, pain, and ideas of transcendence.

One thing that sets me apart from others is how the integration of my different identities show up in my work – visual artist, spoken word poet, college instructor, yoga instructor, therapist, and researcher. While it’s a lot, it’s all related and all centers around healing, creativity, and lifelong learning.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
Develop and trust your intuition. I hear a lot about trust, but I wish I had learned more about the risk-taking, the self-compassion, and the faith required to develop that intuition. That grueling, messy, beautiful process has contributed to my shift from operating from a fear-based place to tapping into my higher self. While a part of me wishes I had looked within for answers earlier on, I am glad I wandered the way I did. That wandering has led me here.

Pricing:

  • All originals are priced $200+ depending on materials used, time invested, and size of the piece
  • Prints range from $15-$50, depending on size

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Eileen Wisniowicz

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