Madam Muse is Throwing a Paint Party

Adrienne and Janeeka Muse built an artistic empire around their art.

Their work features larger than life portraits, often showing black icons captured in moments of peace, happiness, and strength. And maybe the light radiating from their work comes from the artists themselves: Adrienne found her passion after leaving a job in corporate banking to embrace her talent in painting. Now she works with her wife creating art, hosting live painting events, and sharing their life with over 56,000 YouTube subscribers.

I wanted to know how Adrienne crafted her career, how a couple successfully combines so many parts of their lives, and how artists can diversify their offerings while staying true to themselves.

You’re a self-taught visual artist who spent years “doodling as a hobby.” What were some of your early experiences creating and making art?

When I was young, in elementary school, I can remember every art teacher hovering over my artwork watching me create, or going to grab other teachers to watch me. I didn’t understand at the time, that they were admiring my stuff. I thought I was in trouble or something.

My father kept most of my childhood artwork. My drawings would win so many awards. I love creating more than anything.

What catalyzed you to make the transition to becoming a full-time artist?

Working in corporate America was very easy for me. It wasn’t hard to catch on quick and get promoted. But after a few years of it, I became very depressed. I would always resort back to drawing during stressful workdays.

I would sketch portraits at my desk with the copy paper. One day - a bad day - my coworker walked by and saw my portrait. His face lit up and said he’d pay me to draw his daughter. I had never seen myself as an artist before then, only as someone who could draw. I went downstairs and showed my fiancé the portrait, she spoke life into me. She said “Adrienne, you’re an artist, be that!” I quit that day and never went back upstairs.

What did that transition look like in your everyday life?

The creative transition was pretty amazing. After I quit my job, I started experimenting with all sorts of mediums. I have always been fascinated with learning new forms of expression. I even tattooed for a few years.

It was pretty rough the first few years, though. I don’t like to think about the financial transition - art sales has its ebbs and flows, and I was still trying to find my way.

Reading about your story on your website I learned that you taught yourself and your wife, Janeeka, to paint. Can you talk about what that process was like?

We became homeless and while in the shelter I taught myself how to paint. We would go to the library and I absorbed as much as I could on color theory, painting mediums, composition, and subjects.

When we got our place, I was able to create without boundaries. I turned my entire living room into my first art studio. Paint was everywhere. She would sit and stare at me paint for hours, and in months she started to pick up a few of my techniques, even suggested colors I was missing on my palette. She was my subject in some of my earlier works, literally my muse. She learned fast as hell. I said, “You’re an artist, too.” Afterwards, we worked together each day teaching her how to paint.

You and Janeeka collaborate closely: you share a Big Cartel shop, you host your Paint Party events together, you both run your YouTube channel, and the list goes on. How do you manage to navigate the complexities of working together so intimately in all facets of life, as well as being so visible publicly?

Janeeka is my best friend. She’s my better half. Where I lack, she’s strong. We have a great balance. Janeeka’s more passionate about the business side of art, which also works great because my passion is more on the creative side.

Speaking of your YouTube channel, y’all have quite the following! What prompted you to start your channel? How do you decide and plan what content you’ll share?

The reason why we started our YouTube channel was because we wanted to showcase what our life was like day in and out as a queer family with children. We didn’t see many queer families on YouTube that represented what our life is like so that’s when the decision was made.

From paintings to prints to apparel to your Paint Party events, you’ve managed to do a really great job diversifying your artistic offerings. Was this a strategic or intentional move?

I would say it was intentional. I get bored very easily and I like to try new things. I have the best collectors in the world.

You do a lot of commissioned work in addition to selling a variety of work in your Big Cartel shop. Which one came first?

Commissions came first. It’s how I kept food on the table.

What draws you to portraits? Do you remember the first portrait you ever painted?

When I was in middle school I had an amazing art teacher, Mr. Yarborrow. He made sure we learned every facet of drawing. From animals and still life, to landscape and calligraphy - but it was the portrait studies that always made me most inspired. I have been doing portraits since I was a girl, I don’t remember my first.

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You’ve painted a number of portraits featuring prominent African-American cultural icons and celebrities including James Baldwin, Beyoncé, and Grace Jones. When did you start this series? Can you talk about what prompted you to capture these legendary humans?

I just want to pay tribute and honor the ones who inspire me.

They’re iconic to me. I can’t even create without black music or film somewhere in the background.

Who, of the people you’ve painted, inspires you the most?

Maybe Beyoncé… no, Prince. This is hard.

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As a queer woman of color, how important is it for you to reflect and share your world and story through your art?

It is how I express myself. I was so suppressed before I became an artist. I don’t to want to have any regrets.

What advice or words of encouragement do you have for other people out there aspiring to become working artists?

Your possibilities are endless. It takes hard work and discipline so keep pushing through every obstacle until you reach your destiny.

Visit Madam Muse to get to know Adrienne and Janeeka. Support them by picking up a print in their online shop or by following Adrienne on Instagram.

Vanessa Wardy

Community at Big Cartel. Easily amused. Endlessly curious. Likes most things. Heart on sleeve.

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