Last year, I started volunteering to host & moderate the weekly Queer Erotic Content Creators Club through Patreon. Nearly one year and more than fifty members later, what started as an eight-week experiment has turned into more than just a permanent A Club online. It´s been a source of knowledge-sharing, community, collaboration, and more. I´m so grateful to be a part of it.
One of the first people I met through this Club was Ariadna Rodriguez Barclay (she/they), an artist and educator who has been attending our weekly meetings and contributing ideas and resources to our group´s Discord page actively ever since day one in September 2022. I enjoyed getting to know some of the art that they´ve been making and posting online, and was grateful when they accepted my invitation to collaborate. Her art accompanies my short stories published on my site: so far, Ari´s done the art for Shut the F*** Up (Part Three) and Shut the F*** Up (Part Four), and there are more to come (you can decide if that pun was intentional or not).
Below is a transcript of an interview Ari and I had recently, so more folks can know about them and their superb work. Enjoy!
Christian Pan: Tell us a little bit about your art. What tools do you use? What's your process?
Ariadna Rodriguez Barclay: My art can be the fun playground for my ADHD to run around in, meaning that I use it to experiment with the many different styles and mediums that end up bringing me joy and comfort. This can be seen pretty evidently in the pieces that I end up creating, they can be texturally very soft, depict erotic scenes in a more romantic lens, or have this rosy hue to them. Currently, I am focusing on digital art, traditional acrylic or gouache paintings, or punch needle projects. While my tools can be quite varied (and often influenced by my current fixation), the process itself can be pretty similar. I find that art is one of the ways that I participate in mindfulness practices. I find it to be a great way for my body and mind to sit with my emotions as I intentionally sit and create something. I also tend to alternate between working in digital and traditional mediums because I have found them to be incredibly impactful in the speed of the development of my skills.
CP: Do you approach your erotic art pieces differently than your non-erotic art pieces? If yes, how so?
ARB: Lately, yes, there has been a difference in how I approach my erotic and non-erotic work. This is primarily because while I do love creating erotic pieces, I found that some recent hardships made it difficult to feel inspired to create sensual, erotic, and intimate scenes. This led me to start challenging myself with some time-limited studies, focusing specifically on studying an erotic image and trying to capture the right proportions, lighting, and feeling within 1 hour. This was perfect because not only did it scratch that itch of wanting to create, but it forced me to have to develop a looser and less perfectionist style, which evokes more emotion - something I have been wanting to get better at. My erotic images also require intentional composition because I have to plan out how I am going to censor the piece if I want to promote it on social media platforms. With my erotic pieces, they aren't fully complete until I create censoring stickers and emojis to cover up those juicier and spicier aspects.
On the other hand, my non-erotic pieces tend to be driven by a desire to be closer to nature and my current emotional state. These are the pieces that I find to be more meditative. As I paint, I let myself be conscious of the feelings that are coming up, and I feel a cathartic release as I let them pass as I continue to create.
Overall, my work is very much an embodiment of myself. They display the emotional states, desires, themes, and general vibes that deeply resonate with me.
CP: Promoting and sharing your work online has gotten increasingly difficult in recent years, especially for art about sex. How do you navigate this with your own artistry and career?
ARB: Now this is a doozy, and honestly, something that I am constantly experimenting with. One of the things that drew me to Patreon was the ability to post my 18+ erotic art without the need to censor my work, even if I am effectively shadow-banned because of the adult content. This means that my erotic work requires me to advertise on other platforms because it is impossible to search for my page through Patreon itself. This then as you can imagine comes with its own hurdles because many social media platforms are not friendly to erotic art. Currently, the way I navigate this is by one, connecting with other people and if they are interested, physically showing them my work; and two, posting censored or alternative versions of specific pieces (not all of them can be effectively censored) and posting them on sites like Instagram.
CP: Did you study visual art? If so, where? Who are your inspirations?
ARB: I did not study visual art but studied psychology and its research methods as my B.Sc. in the UK. And so I am self-taught. However, I did always really love studying art in high school, it was just unfortunate that the art teacher did not enjoy what I was creating. There was actually a rather impressionable piece that led to that. A pair of wet red lips that were deemed pornographic. From then on my work was not seen as art, but porn. This might be the more bratty side of me, but it does bring me a particular type of joy that I now create some beautifully explicit pieces that are both art and porn.
Unfortunately, I am so awful at remembering names, so the most concrete inspirations I have are driven by feelings and experiences. I take a lot of inspiration from nature, personal sexual desire, animation media (particularly movies like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Paprika), songs, going to museums, and finally the community around me. There's something magical about creating and engaging in a space that is not only sex-positive but prioritizes creation.
CP: How does your identity or identities manifest within your artistic work, if at all?
ARB: Some predominant identities that I hold are that I am a latinx, bisexual, genderqueer person who adores talking, learning, and geeking out about sex. I'm poly inclined, submissive, kinky, and playful. I've also gone through a decent amount of mental health and relational trauma that I have been actively working to heal from. And all these things tend to show up in their own way in my work. Because I am impish, and love connection, and comfort, a lot of my work tends to have a playful, submissive, queer, and rosy vibe. This tends to be because these types of themes are what I like to have in my environment, and it is also a great compliment to the type of sex education that I provide.
CP: Yes, tell me more about that: how, in addition to visual art, you are also a sex-educator.
ARB: Looking back, there hasn't really been a point in my life where I wasn't extremely interested in pleasure, relationships, sex, the erotic, and intimacy. I loved geeking out and learning what I could about sex and was often that friend. The one that would yabber on about what they learned about the birds and the bees. In fact, my first debut in sex education was when I was around 9 years old. I remember having a sit down with my friend at the time, telling her that if she was going to have sex with a ghost, they should use a condom because she was too young to have a half-ghost baby.
Now at that age, I didn't know what sex was other than that it was not allowed, dirty, very tempting, and always led to having children. And I grew curious. Why would people want to engage in this taboo and exciting thing if it was forbidden and shameful? And so I did what any curious kid did and dived into the topic with full force. Reading and re-reading the word sexual intercourse in the dictionary and finding it titillating, finding books that used ridiculous alternatives for genitals like "damp and mossy cave", and going online to find images of naked women. The latter consequently led to me having an awkward conversation with my parents to stop searching for topless women holding tomatoes. Long story not too short, I received some horrible sex education, but because of my very driven curiosity, I learned about what my body liked. I discovered and played with my sexuality. And in spite of some sexual trauma, my first time having PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex was a wonderful experience that led me to develop the skills for effective communication, negotiation, consent, and playfulness in sex.
Unfortunately, not everyone has that journey. Many people experience lackluster or traumatic experiences, and I believe that a major contributor to that is the horrendous, shaming, avoidant, and fear-mongering sex education many of us receive. Which is why I worked towards receiving my certification for holistic sex education. Now I teach and provide consultations to adults about pleasure, communication, intimacy, and sex! My goal with the sex education I provide is for people to make their own empowered sexual wellness and health decisions, so that they can access the pleasure their body can receive, communicate their needs, desires, and limits, and know what to look out for with sexual wellness products so that they can create their beautiful and personalized sexual experiences.
CP: A lot of artists today have serious questions about artificial intelligence (AI), and how tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion are impacting human-created art. What are your thoughts on AI, and how is it interacting with your work and your creative process?
ARB: This is a topic that requires nuance, and personally, it brings up a lot of thoughts, both positive and negative. The first being that without its context, I think AI is a great tool. To be able to have a way to experiment and play with what you are creating is great. It not only allows those who might feel limited by their skills to be creative, it also works as a great soundboard, to bounce ideas off of. Unfortunately, we do not live in a contextless world. As an artist, the main concern that I have is the way that these AI systems have collected data. Systems like ChatGPT, MidJourney, and Stable Diffusion did not create their own prompts, but scoured the internet for images and text with no regard for ownership and copyright law. Because of this, I think that in terms of using AI to create for commercial purposes, it is far more ethical to use it as a way to build prompts to inspire work, rather than using it to complete the piece.
In terms of how I've interacted with it for my work and creative process, I've honestly not been too fussed about it and haven't used it much. I've been curious and have dabbled with some of the visual AI systems but found it easier to just find reference images. As far as my sex education work goes, I won't lie, I have been feeling the pressure to use ChatGPT to try and keep up with the need for constant content. While I did find it to be a great way to get ideas about what to talk about if I was feeling blocked, overall the content was missing that humanity piece. At the end of the day, it's difficult to talk about vulnerability, pleasure, and connection when you use an AI to create that content.
Overall, my sentiments with AI can be boiled down to frustration. Frustration that there is this great tool that could make our lives easier and allow us to have more time to create, that is instead being used for corporate and consumptionist greed.
CP: What do you hope people will experience or feel from seeing one of your images?
ARB: In sex education, there is this model called the PLISSIT model. It stands for Permission, Limited Information, Specific Suggestions, and Intensive Therapy. I want my erotic art to play deeply with that Permission aspect of the PLISSIT model. To break down those shameful thoughts we were all taught to have about sex and pleasure and give ourselves permission to explore and play with our bodies without the expectations of what society deems "good and moral" sex. And whether my art pieces are erotic or not, I want them to help people tune in with ways that make them feel grounded, and presently experience what pleasure means to them. Whether that be pleasure derived from non-sexual, sensual, or sexual ways.
CP: What projects are you working on now?
ARB: I am currently working on a lot of projects (I seemingly don't know any other way to be). I am currently working on a revamp of how I do my sex education to integrate more of my erotic work with it, as I find the connection to the erotic to be a powerful tool in self-love, compassion, and pleasure. With this comes collaborating with other educators on workshops to address the blocks that we might have when it comes to sex. One of these projects is going to be a community-share and support group about how anxiety can block us from being present in our experiences of pleasure where I will be working with Brenna Doyle, CHSE who runs @anxious_sx_educator on Instagram.
I also am hosting a book club as a part of my community events, currently, we are finishing up Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern, with the next being Orgasmic Blueprint: Tools for Pleasure, Desire and Consent by Matthias Schwenteck.
In terms of my art, I have broken a multi-year hiatus and am painting once again with acrylics and canvas, and I have several painting ideas (both erotic and non-erotic) that I am very excited to dive into. Particularly because...I am writing a book! It will be a blend of sex education, artistic pieces, and some personal stories, and I am super excited about it. So keep an eye out for that!
CP: Anything else you want us to know about? You have so many projects, I want to make sure everyone learns what they all are.
ARB: I am working on setting up a website to host my work in an integrated manner, but in the meantime, I post my work on Patreon, Redbubble, and Instagram.
I can be hired for consultations for adults who want to learn more about reframing sex, accessing pleasure, and what to look out for when buying sexual wellness products through OhAnswers and my intake form can be found here.
You can also commission me for artwork. I do a variety of work that ranges from personal erotic and non-erotic pieces to logo and tattoo design. My intake form can be found here: forms.gle/cYoQcdSNeCigsCLg6.
Finally, I am also always happy to connect with folx and can be reached at email@example.com.
To close out, just to share this little tidbit, pleasure and sex are individualized concepts, there is no such thing as a "normal" way to have sex other than having sex that feels good, empowering, and in line with your desires, needs, and identities.
Information about images (top to bottom):
Self-portrait of the artist
The Three Nymphs : "My name, Ariadna, comes from Greek Mythology, and I have just always loved the stories and myths from it, which inspired this piece. This is a mixed media painting where I used acrylic paints, white pencil, and gouache paints to depict a scene of three different types of nymphs together by a tree and moving river. The Nymphs from left to right are the 1) Asterai - nymphs of the stars, 2) Lampades - nymphs of the underworld, and 3) Nereides - nymphs of the seas."
WoW Tarot Deck Cover: "This is a digital piece that I created to be the deck cover of a tarot deck inspired by one of my favourite games, World of Warcraft. The deck cover has 9 segments each depicting iconic scenes from 9 different expansions. Going in a clockwise direction to the center we have 1) Classic, 2) Burning Crusade, 3) Wrath of the Lich King, 4) Cataclysm, 5) Pandaria, 6) Warlord of Draenor, 7) Legion, 8) Battle for Azeroth, and 9) Shadowlands."
Yonic Summer Rose: "This is one of the textile pieces that I create, where I blend in together genital structures with flowers. This piece in particular was a gift to a fellow sex educator and dear friend of mine depicting a vulva, the clitoral glans, urethral meatus, and vaginal opening on a summer rose. This is a punch needle piece done with a very soft velvet yarn and batik backing."
A Summer Solstice: "This is the piece that broke my multi-year hiatus from painting with acrylics. After a year of some rough hardships, I found myself feeling meditative and grounded when taking in the colours and ethereal nature of clouds and the sky. This piece in particular was inspired by a photo a friend took during the summer solstice."