a soft place to land

By Joanne Shih

I created this four-panel piece in the summer of 2021, about a year and a half after leaving an evangelical church that had been home to me for a decade. In the months after leaving church, with the backdrop of social upheaval that marked 2020, I faced several revelations: (1) I am wonderfully queer and nonbinary, (2) I wanted desperately to shed layers of conditioning that I had relied upon in order to “fit in” to spaces I no longer inhabited, and (3) in this unsettling time, I needed and wanted to learn how to truly love and take care of myself.

This season was full of questions — questions that often led to more questions rather than answers. I created mental and emotional space for myself by taking many solitary walks that spring and summer, and those walks inspired these four illustrated panels. As the panels progress, the foliage takes up more space: a return to the wild self that finally has the time and space to emerge.

Over two years later, I return to this piece and converse with my past self, offering some of my own responses through a set of oracle-style cards. My hope is that through these panels and cards, the viewer can orient and come back to themselves, wherever they may be in their journey, and that they find a moment of rest and self-kindness amidst the soft foliage.


“Whose presence helps you stand more confidently in your unmasked beauty?”


“Where do you need to be more patient with your growth?”


“What happens when we pay attention to these repetitive movements?”


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Headshot of Joanne Shih

Joanne Shih is a queer, non-binary Taiwanese American artist and illustrator living in Somerville, Massachusetts. After graduating from MIT with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Joanne worked at a neuropsychology lab and then at a digital marketing agency before they decided in 2014 to pursue their own path of making art. Their meandering creative path has looked like exploring and embracing the gift of a non-traditional art education, traversing various realms of artistic interests including hand-lettering and calligraphy, watercolor and gouache painting, and more recently, comics and digital illustration. In their work they explore themes of emotional honesty and the liberative journey towards one’s true self.

Some of Joanne’s favorite freelance projects have been illustrating a cocktail recipe book, contributing artwork for an oracle-style deck of trans wisdom (Sacred Incantations by enfleshed), and creating an event poster for Octavia’s Parables (a podcast by adrienne maree brown and Toshi Reagon).

Joanne is an aspiring pleasure activist and in their 30s they have embarked on a journey to more fully embrace their sensual self. They are a beginner pole dancer, after taking an intro class early in 2023 and falling in love with the feeling of spinning around the pole. These days you can typically find them drawing and writing at a cafe while sipping iced tea, or watching pole dancing tutorials as they recover from their last practice dance session.

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