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Posted by Printist on Jan 12th 2022

Moe Butterfly: Identity and Queer Storytelling

Moe Butterfly is a twenty year old 2-Spirit digital artist who has gained a great deal of recognition early on in their career. Their work is inspired by 2-Spirit identity and experiences as well as a combination of modern Indigenous culture and traditional Seneca culture. Their bright colored portraits combined with intimate patterns and designs are a powerful expression of identity and queer storytelling. Printist had the pleasure of connecting with Moe Butterfly through our November exhibition Native Voices

Moe Butterfly - The Stories Within Us

How did your art practice begin? What was the journey that got you where you are today?

My art journey has had a lot of highs and lows. I really started building my practice my freshman year of college when I started putting a lot of energy into my social media presence. Then a lot of life changes that led to me being separated from my now ex-husband and needing a way to support myself, and art is how I ended up being able to do that.

Have you always worked digitally? What was the process of finding your medium?

Working digitally is actually a very recent medium change for me. For most of my life my main mediums were watercolors and colored pencils, but I was never fully satisfied with the saturation of my colors. Then someone gifted me an IPad for Christmas two years ago and I instantly fell in love with the medium of working digitally, it helped me fall back in love again like when I was a little kid discovering art for the first time.

Can you tell me a bit more about what programs you use, or give any insights into what your studio practice looks like? From start to finish, from concept to completion, can you walk me through what this looks like?

I have always been a huge sketchbook user since middle school and that certainly hasn’t changed. Most of the time I will sketch a basic idea out in my sketchbook before I move onto my IPad. From there I’ll take a picture of that sketch and use that as my base layer on Procreate. (Ironically I am HORRIBLE with technology, but Procreate is my favorite program and honestly the only one I really know how to use.) From there I add a second sketch cleaning it up on a second layer that is a more concrete idea of what I want. Then I do linework, color and finally background. However it isn’t an exact setup every time and I like to move around to layers that I shouldn’t work on yet if I get too excited about certain parts of the piece.

What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced as an artist? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Some of the most rewarding moments are the messages that I get from people on social media about how my art has truly helped them. My art is also the reason that I have gotten to meet so many other amazing Two-Spirit and Queer Natives that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. The biggest challenge that I will always have as an artist is the uncertainty of it. I don’t have a set amount of money I’m making a week and I’ve had to learn how to manage that, but no matter what, getting to create for a living makes it worth it.

A good bit of your work focuses on figures, are these specific people in your life? Where do you find references for these figures?

I find references in a lot of different places. A lot of the time it's actually just my own body I use for references of the pose and then will just change proportions to make it look like different people. I also use my roommates and family members a lot of the time. But another great place I get references is from comic books! I’m a huge comic book nerd and so I’ll get a lot of dynamic poses from there.

Moe Butterfly - The Stories Within Us

Your work feels very narrative, how does storytelling influence your creativity?

Storytelling is something I try to do with every single piece I create. I was raised by storytellers, grandfathers, aunties and uncles have been telling me these stories since I was just learning to walk. Sometimes I draw my version of these stories, but other times I try to create my own, for all the Queer stories that have been lost.

In your artist statement, you express gratitude towards your elders guidance as well as other Two-Spirit youth, can you expand upon how this influences your work?

My elders are the ones who have taught me everything that I know of our stories and our people. I am lucky enough to have gotten to have some of the most loving, and understanding elders in my life. Whenever I came out as Two-Spirit they opened me with welcome arms and taught me what that would truly mean for my life going forward. So through every piece I try to show my gratitude towards them for their love and shared knowledge. I also want to make art that represents mine and my fellow 2-Spirit kin. 2-Spirit love is powerful and almost never actually shown, so I want to change that.

Do you have an artist philosophy, or mantra that dictates your creativity?

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have an exact philosophy or mantra when it comes to creating, but I am an avid believer in never taking your work too seriously and to always have fun with your art. I think serious art is very important and I love making it but I always make sure to break up my serious pieces with very fun, light-hearted ones. Almost after every serious piece I make you’ll find a Native Sailor Moon piece right after.

What ideas are you exploring in your work? What is next for Moe Butterfly!

There are a lot of different things I want to explore within my work. One of the biggest is continuing to explore what being 2-Spirit means the more I evolve and also explore my own identity within being 2-Spirit. But I also don’t believe in only doing one type of art. So while I’d love to keep exploring this also in a graphic novel or even a children’s book.

To see more of Moe Butterfly's work, follow their instagram @moe.butterfly.art or their etsy to see available prints.