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Meet Karen Yarima Ramirez in Lynwood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Ramirez.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Early Saturday mornings in the early 2000’s meant I could follow my dad to his job at a factory that bought and sold plastic. We would wake up very early and go to the donut shop across the street from the factory. He would get a cup of coffee and I would ask for apple juice and donut holes. We had a shitty, tiny, old television with antennas that never got the reception quite right, and we would set it down on the dirty floor of the factory’s lounge. I would fiddle around with the antennas before I would place my donut bag, apple juice, color pencils, and notebook on the floor right in front of the TV. It was time for Saturday morning cartoons. I would draw my favorite characters, create my own, and make comics with my own stories. On the floor of a dirty plastic factory, under the Virgin Mary statue covered in old, dusty Christmas lights, I was a small girl looking for magic in reality. I would find it when I climbed boxes filled with plastic. These were my mountains. The little nooks the boxes would create when they were stacked were my secret hideouts. Left on those boxes from years ago were my drawings of ugly anime characters.

Growing up, I was enamored with the fantasies I created in my own head. They made me a strange dreamer who was always just a little out of touch with reality. I was awkward and I was teased for my obsession with the fantastical. I feel like other kids felt exactly the way I did, I just expressed things differently, and I never let those fantasies be torn away from me. If it wasn’t for those experiences, however, I don’t think I would be the artist I am today. I am still obsessed with magic and fantasy, but I also like to make commentary on more serious subjects. It’s a very messy, awkward, and charming journey. I love that it’s not perfect yet. My journey is the same as many people that live in Lynwood. We are the artists that make murals with wonky proportions, we are the artists who paint their own signs for their businesses, we are the kids who tag underneath the freeway, the beauticians doing eyelashes from their own bedrooms, we’re the kids drawing cartoons.

Has it been a smooth road?
I would say it’s easy being an artist but it’s not easy getting the outcome you want. Being an artist comes very naturally to me so I’ve never had a problem accepting that part of myself. I have always felt like anyone could be an artist if they wanted to because the only requirement is to create. Humans already create so much so to be an artist is to be human. In that way, it’s very easy. When it comes to execution and getting paid for those services, however, I am still trying to figure that out. So, yes, it’s easy but, no, it’s not.

Some of the external challenges I faced when I was younger were often other people telling me that I wasn’t going to make any money off of being an artist. I would get good grades so I was often told that I was wasting my potential on something that was unrealistic. Luckily, I was very stubborn and I wasn’t a good listener so I applied to Ryman Arts to get a scholarship. I was accepted and they offered me college-level art classes and free art supplies. I think that’s when my parents finally understood that I was pretty serious and that perhaps just maybe there was a future in the arts for me. However, I had already known art would be in my future. Not because I felt confident in being able to land a job in the arts but because I knew I would always want to create no matter where I landed.

After graduating from high school, I went to California State University, Long Beach. There I met people from La Raza Student Association and that changed the world for me. I am a bisexual, Latinx daughter of immigrants and it was within this group that I found belonging. I became more aware of the systemic challenges that a lot of Latinx students face. I finally found the words to express the challenges I faced growing up. I started experimenting with more serious subject matters in my artwork that only a few professors really understood and supported. I was trying to stick true to my magic while paying respect to the struggles I and many people like me faced. I struggled to find that sweet spot and I would say that’s where my struggle currently resides as well.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am an artist and I am an assistant for a non-profit arts education organization. The work that I do is very fulfilling and it feels nice to be around people who care about students and art passionately. It never feels like I’m wasting my time when I see students and their families creating artwork. My only hope is that I’m providing something of substance for them and for the community. These students deserve the best education and the arts are for everyone to enjoy.

On the side, I take commissions as a digital illustrator. I also make hand-crafted journals, I sell prints and zines, I make dice for Dungeons & Dragons, I am currently designing the packaging for a toy, and I’m all over the place. I am proud that I stick to my curious nature. I do not want to be defined by one thing. I do not want to be stuck creating the same thing over and over again. I hope to continue to surprise people by what I can make. I want to continue to resonate with other people.

I think what sets me apart is that I do not want to be apart from others. I very much want my art to be an experience that everyone can take part in. I want people to understand my world and I would love to learn about theirs as well.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is growing. Success is moving into a new stage in your life because you have met your previous goals or changed them. It’s a target that’s constantly moving but not in a negative way. It taught you something about yourself and in order to learn and grow it has to move around.

Currently, the next stage I am trying to get to is a little vague. This success is closely tied with a feeling or understanding. I want to create a piece or a show that makes a stronger statement and reaches a larger audience. I want something that my parents can understand despite the language barrier. I want something that my friends would be excited to take part of. I want something that excites and elicits emotions. I want something that makes a mark. I want to have fun, I want it to matter, and I want it to be accessible to everyone. I don’t know how to get there just yet but if you join me in my journey, maybe you’ll see what I come up with.

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