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An Intro to Nia Simone, the Lore of "Letting Love Go"

Updated: Sep 4, 2023



To understand me as an artist, you have to understand Letting Love Go. This piece was the true Genesis of my confidence in not just my technique, but my ability to truly be creative.


An Amateur Prelude


I remember when I was growing up, I was obsessed with tragic romances and dramatic stories of love. I would even clasp onto the way people fell in love in romcoms because the girl somehow always got the guy.


I remember romanticizing every cute boy I came across, wanting them to notice me.


I would study the girls those boys noticed and try to copy their mannerisms and the way they dressed. I thought I could have a Grease moment, and maybe then that boy could be my great love.


I would even sometimes look to my guy friends just in case my great love was the "one that was there all along," like in 13 Going on 30.


By the time I got to high school, I was introduced to the concept of being insecure and self-conscious.


It just felt like everyone made it their mission to humble me in some way, shape, or form.


I didn't change too much about myself though. I was still opinionated, had hair that was never a natural color, and wore eccentric outfits. I was, however, less confident in how I presented myself.


But of course, I just pretended I was Kanye-level confident. I never really believed in giving anyone the satisfaction of changing because they wanted me to.


So it was fun to see that when I started going on dates and having boyfriends, they would find me fascinating. My intelligence and humor made me captivating on the first date I "wasn't like other girls" no, I was "different."


The fact that I wasn't afraid to be weird made me fun. The fact that I wore clothes I knew complimented my figure made me sexy. And the fact that I knew how to do makeup to alter my features and hide my imperfections made me pretty enough.


And then my allure got old.


I used to always think that my intelligence and ability to be deep at such a young age was a twisted curse. My mother told me it was a gift, but in teenage love it just made me feel ostracized.


Whether it was because I felt love deeply every time I felt it, or because I wasn't as easy as they thought, or because I would embarrass them with my crude humor in front of their friends, the allure always ended.


Of course in hindsight, we were only teenagers.


But, eventually, I grew tired of not being loved for who I was. So I started altering myself a bit. Little by little, boy by boy, I made myself smaller.


I stopped eating. I stopped reading. I got on an acne regimen. I stopped writing. I only wore Black weave. I stopped wearing creative eyeshadow and heavy makeup. I kept painting though, the boys liked my work, even though they didn't understand it. And my outfits became simpler, still a little slutty because... Feminism, but simpler nonetheless.


And then, things changed.


I had my She's All That makeover, and it worked.


The boys I fantasized about liked me. The cute boys actually liked me. I was quieter. I only said weird things rarely, to let them know I was "different" but not too different.


I let them talk and made them think they were smarter than me and challenged them rarely to let them know I was still smart, so their smartness could have value.


I would pretend to not know they were sexualizing me, and make them think I was too naive for that to even be a thought.


And for a while, the shrinking of myself didn't matter. I was desired. And I finally had a chance to attain the love I wanted. Even if I was less of me and more of them. I was finally able to get that perfect love story.



How it Actually Began


In my freshmen year of college, I was growing tired of the way I shrunk myself. I majored in Psychology, I kept wearing my Bella Hadid-inspired outfits and I was in a relationship. As I always was, because I loved the security of them by then.


I wasn't painting as much anymore. It felt silly to even try. The glares people gave me when I even mentioned it was something I liked to do made me feel embarrassed and childish. I felt smaller than I already was.


By that time, I was making every relationship I was in, when I was in it, my entire personality. I was obsessed with making whoever I was with when I was with them my ideal match. Even if I was unhappy I figured "maybe I needed to look within and change something again."


So I would smoke and listen to sad songs and wonder what my problem was. Why was I so hard to love?


I would listen to 20 Feet Tall by Erykah Badu and just cry.


"My Love, what did I do

To make you fall

So far from me?

And now, I can't recall

Because of the fall

Selective Memory

Then you, you built a wall

A 20-foot wall

So I couldn't see

But if I get off my knees

I might recall

I'm 20 feet tall"


My interpretation of the song was that she was trying to understand the distance between her and her love interest at the time. But she was blinded by being so deeply infatuated with him, that she couldn't fathom why he would ever harden himself toward her. And in time, he put up a tall wall to block her out, but she found a way around that wall.


I had got a picture of that in my mind.


A tall woman- me, with a tiny man- my love, falling from her grasp, but she is still reaching for him.


The tone of 20 feet tall always felt like a misty dream, so I painted a lot of muted blues and purples.


Unfinished 20 Feet Tall, painted by Nia Simone in 2020.



Then, one day as I was looking at pictures of myself from when I first turned "pretty" I saw a glow that I had lost. I decided to stop letting this idea of love burden me, and to love myself again.


I knew I couldn't grow in the same place that didn't nourish me. So because of embarrassment and a need to start fresh, I moved from the place I grew up-- Columbus, Ohio, and back to my hometown in Compton, California.


I felt like I had nothing to lose.


When I moved back, I decided to take my love of painting seriously again, like how I did in high school.


A lot happened in between that's kind of irrelevant to the story of Letting Love Go, so I'll skip that for now.


But I spent 2 years single.


I remember, during my freshmen year of college I had a friend I met through our love of Christ, and she asked me, "Nia, have you ever just been single? Just you? No boyfriend, no boo, no crush, nobody you're just messing with or talking to. Just... you?"


That question stayed with me for a long time, so I tried it.


I've never not been in love for that long. I feel like I've always had some sort of love interest since I was 4. My life was centered around finding my perfect prince, even if I had to bind my feet to fit into that shoe.


I spent the first 3 months mourning my most recent breakup, and the fact that I no longer had access to him.


I spent the rest of the 9 months wanting a new boyfriend because I thought I was "healed."


But lucky for my growth, moving somewhere during a global pandemic made it harder for meet-cutes.


So I was forced to sit with myself.


In my solitude.


I had used all that time to reflect. To paint. To write. To see myself.


It was scary at first.


I was digging up and purging the person I made myself be. I was being moved around in every which way.


I was learning how to pray in the most vulnerable way, and it felt safe. To not pretend in front of God.


I was learning things for myself and not for the boy I liked, or my parents or even for my friends.


I was liking the way I looked. Even though I had gained 30 pounds because I was eating again.


I was accepting that my skin would never be 100% clear, because my skin just breaks out. It happens.


I was moving my body and eating the right things because I loved it, and wanted to take care of it. Not because I wanted it to change.


I was deep conditioning my hair because I wanted to show it I loved it, not because I wanted it to grow.


I was doing these physical things because I was loving my physical, not because I hated it.


So when I would walk past a mirror to see how I looked, I would smile.


I would read these books because I wanted to learn something or attain more comfort in who I was growing into as a woman. For my flaws and all.


I had spent so much time despising who I was, trying to grow and change at every second that I had forgotten what it meant to be content in who I was-- in who I am.


I was writing poetry again consistently for the first time in years. I wasn't writing to relate or even to release, I was writing just for the sake of writing.


I was painting for the sake of painting. Painting things I liked looking at, people I liked listening to, and places I wanted to be.


During that first year, I was just letting myself be in a way I couldn't in Ohio. It's something about places where we grow up, they always hold you to however they see you. Sometimes it would feel like no matter which way I went, to the person's perspective I was always tied to however they remembered me.


I was too self-conscious and too afraid of being judged by my peers, to be who I am today.


In California, nobody knew me. I didn't have any peers. Maybe coworkers, or classmates I met online in study groups, but I didn't have anyone to hold me to who I was.


I could finally just... be.


Letting Love Go


I never knew what to do with 20 Feet tall at that time. I didn't resonate with that feeling anymore. So I let it sit in my Grandfather's shed for a year before I laid eyes on it again.


By that time, my second year, I was living in Long Beach. I was taking walks for the sake of feeling the sun on my skin. I was reading books with my coffee every morning, sitting on the porch, slowly realizing why our grandparents loved doing that so much. I was barely watching TV, and when I was it was only shows that comforted me. I was spending time with my family. Talking with them for the sake of talking, laughing until my belly ached.


I was indulged in a sense of benevolence and love that I had never known.


A love that I was always searching for in everybody else, and I was finding it in myself.


Every day I took care of me in some way. And I had a sense of peace within, that I hadn't known since I was a child.


It felt free.

It felt special.

It gave me an excitement that was foreign. Not like the dopamines you get from a crush, but more like the endorphins from running every day. It was steady.


And one day I understood what had happened. That shift.


The love I would pour into everyone else, I was pouring into myself. Day by day, little by little. I understood what it truly meant to fall in love with yourself.


I had always misunderstood it because I saw the concept through a surface-level lens. I thought it just meant dating yourself, doing face masks, and working out.


I had no idea that it would take me not being mean to myself. Letting go of friendships and relationships that made me feel small. Setting boundaries and sticking to them in respect of myself. It meant me seeing my flaws all across the board and still saying "I love you" instead of despising myself for not being "enough" or "right."


So I went and picked up 20 Feet Tall from my Grandpa's house.


I didn't know what I was going to do with it yet but I shaved off as many layers as possible with a mixing knife and sandpaper and put gesso on top of it.


I just started painting after that. My hair was blonde and long at the time, and the skies were always this beautiful shade of blue. I wanted to paint that.


I wanted to wear orange because I was obsessed with Erykah Badu's Orange Moon at the time. I wanted to emulate the sun. It took me a while to figure out if I still wanted the figure falling to be a man or if I wanted the subject to be a past version of myself.


My first conceptual sketch of "Letting Love Go," September 2021.


It took a lot of "God what should I paint" prayers to get to the conclusion that the figure should indeed be a man. To tell a story of love.


I even wrote a poem during the process of painting, and it helped me get a better visual of what was missing.


The poem:


Letting love go; spotless minds

"I woke up one morning feeling complete

No longer mourning a past that made me feel obsolete

Yes

I remember that morning

My heart wasn’t heavy and my feet felt light

I cried and cried from tears that were hidden behind its sockets for years finally showing themself

In all their glory

& I felt large

Like I was touching the sky

Radiating in synchronicity with all of nature

While the sun hugged me as if we were one

I felt like an orange moon but instead reflecting the light of love itself and not of you

And even at my size I tried to believe you would see the beauty in my majesty

So breathtaking that you would dream of my love suffocating you gently like the breeze would your skin but carrying you through it like doves in the wind

I thought you would embrace this change

And that you would want to grow with me too

But, when you looked at me..

Well When you looked at me

I knew you saw this differently

& in the midst of my new found elation

I began to understand that this transformation wasn’t written for you

And I Couldn’t force you to fathom something beyond your comprehension

So on that morning

I had accepted that you would remain who you are

But I would never be who I was

So I let you go

And it wasn’t sad

Nor was it painful

But It felt as easy as the breeze and as graceful as the flowers dancing in it

Almost like our separation Was our new beginning "


From there, it was a matter of color theory, symmetry, proportion, movement, balance, and scale.


The Final Sketch of "Letting Love Go" on Procreate, October 2021.




And the thing that shocked me most about this process was, that every time I posted an update on Twitter, it would have thousands of likes at a time.


My work had never made that much noise, especially not a self-portrait piece. It was unheard of for me.


People were so captivated by it. I didn't understand it.


When people would ask for commissions or want prints, they always wanted something of themself, a loved one, a landscape, or a celebrity. Nobody ever wanted my self-portraits. So I thought they just weren't good enough to be on people's walls.


I just figured that maybe they could serve as my own personal therapy, and if someone resonated, then even better.


But seeing how many people loved this piece was a shock to me.


Then, I posted the final with myself in the picture, and my phone was going crazy with people saying how much they admired and resonated with this piece.


Myself, and "Letting Love Go" via Twitter.


People were sending me their breakup stories, their theories, and even their reactions.


I was in shock because, well, I could never fathom that my work could do this.


My art served as my healing, as a way for me to vent. A way for people to see me in a different way, and maybe even see themselves. From past work, I understood that my vulnerability in how I painted gave way to taboo conversations about how we feel and the things we go through.


I just didn't know my work could reach this many people.


I painted this when I was at peace. Just idle, not really expecting much from it, of course, hoping, but still not doing that with the intention of getting a reaction. This was new to me. I had just reached a contentment with my craft.


I had prayed, read some verses out of Psalms, and got as many signs as possible from God that I was doing what he put me on this earth to do, despite my doubts, I trusted.


For me, this attention served as a sign that I had the potential to make it in this field. I just had to keep going.


The likes didn't determine my value or supply me with newfound confidence. It just gave me that sense of security I needed.


That my approach to creating had potential, and that I could make something of myself doing this.


That there was purpose in my pain. In my outlook on life. In my stillness. I was able to create a masterpiece, that random people I meet can recognize. And some can even see themselves, and hold this piece of art close to their hearts. That in itself, is beautiful to me.



Closing

A lot of the time, as a society we look down on the concept of being vulnerable, of being who we are in our purest form, and saying our truths for what they are.


Through living, I have found my strength in it. In all parts of me. Even in the parts, I may not like.

I took the power away from embarrassment and pain and I have learned to use it to my advantage.


To channel it into the gifts God gave me.


Especially knowing that being true to yourself for everything that you are, is what fosters genuine relationships.


It allows us to feel seen, to heal, and to love in the way God intended for us.


Because our ugliness, our truths that we bury, and our insecurities only have power when we don't face them.


Letting Love Go was a long journey. It was a journey to the woman I am today and the woman I am still becoming.


And I hope that the next time you see this piece, you see the journey the yellow woman took to become her size. You see this isn't a violent story of hating men, and it really has nothing to do with them.


That it is just a story of letting what I believed love was, go.


And that I decided to begin pouring what I was giving away, back into myself.


I appreciate you for staying through the journey, and for taking the time to connect with my words and my painting.


This was my first blog entry, and I promise you my next won't be this long.


But introductions are just too complex to summarize. Especially to an artist.


We have too many layers, thoughts and opinions to be mushed into one paragraph.


So thank you for reading, and I hope you visit again.


- Nia Simone

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