Proud Business Project--Artist Ariel Dunitz-Johnson

Business Name: ARIELDRAWS! I’m a freelance illustrator and artist. I’m also an art curator at Blackbird barin San Francisco.

Website and Social Media:     IG: @arieldraws

Location: I recently relocated after to downtown Vallejo after living in SF for over 13 years. My studio is in my house.

Tell me about your business: I do a variety of things and I like the mix of projects I get to work on. Constantly changing it up keeps me interested and excited about everything I’m doing. I focus on realistic pen and ink illustrations, with a focus on portraiture. I’ve worked on everything from specialty cocktail articles for clients like, food issues for magazines, commissioned pieces for local icons like Juanita MORE!, commissioned portraits for private clients and personal projects for solo and group shows.

How does your queer identity play a role in your work? I try to highlight and give back to the queer community as much as possible in my professional and personal work. For the past decade I’ve been working on a queer portrait series, SWAY, which I was honored to have displayed on buses across SF as the winner of the city’s first Muni Art in 2015. This ongoing series highlights a variety of people from the Bay Area queer community and has been an amazing way for me to stay engaged. As often as I can, I try to participate in queer events, like presenting at the Radar Productions reading series at the SF Public Library or donating and creating works for events and non profits. Recently, I had the honor of creating a portrait for the 1-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Projects like these both hit on a personal level within the queer community and act as reminders of why I love doing what I do.

What makes you most proud as a business owner? Feeling like I’m doing something that makes a difference makes me proud to be a queer business owner. Connection. Whenever I can create pieces that connect the viewer with the subject – when the work creates an emotional response – I am reminded of the true purpose of my work. I feel proud to be creating work that speaks to people, that highlights the queer community and that incites a conversation about queers.

What makes you most proud as a member of the LGBTQ community? I am so proud to be part of such an amazingly diverse community of people. The LGBTQ community is ever changing and evolving – we are at the frontline of major issues and we fight for change. There is a bond in the queer community that is unlike any other group I’ve been part of. There is so much respect, unity, desire for growth & education, and a sense of family that many have never experienced. More than any other group I know, the LGBTQ community fights for social and political justice, equality, self-expression and individuality.

What does community mean to you? Community means people have your back and you have theirs. Community means we’re in this together. Community means no one suffers in silence or alone. Community means if you reach out, someone will be there for you. Community means you have a place to see and be seen.

What has been one of your biggest challenges getting to where you are? Being a disabled, queer woman, I have gone through a lot to be where I am today. I struggle through daily chronic pain since an accident when I was 19 and have battled Lyme disease for the past 5 years. I’ve often wanted to give up and have struggled to keep my chin up and have a good attitude. Ultimately, these challenges have made me stronger and they’ve enriched my work. I believe you can see my experience through my illustrations -my ability to anthropomorphize objects and to portray people with honesty and affirmation. My experience and the challenges I’ve faced have forced me to stop drawing for a year or more at a time. When I stop drawing for such long stretches, I feel afraid I won’t get it back. It also teaches me to observe, to have compassion and ultimately be more sympathetic and empathetic with others and myself. If we are gentle with ourselves, our biggest challenges can become our greatest assets.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an up and coming queer entrepreneur? If you have a passion, run with it. There will be people to guide and help you along the way, but no one will make your business or dreams happen for you. Reach out to people you admire for advice and guidance and educate yourself as much as you can. Take opportunities that are presented to you and seek out opportunities that will help you grow. Creating a business is a constant learning curve and you have to be pro-active and find ways to keep building and getting better.

The Proud Business Project is a photography project highlighting LGBTQ business owners and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area who honor their identity in their business to serve their community in a bigger way. Do you know a proud business owner? Email with the subject "Proud Business Project".