le•ga•to :: in a manner that is smooth and connected
by Jenny Doh
She is inspired by children, by nature, and elements found in urban life. Her painting process involves the building up of layer upon layer ... a process that requires the ability to let go to a point where the pain of doing so opens up imagery that is only possible through a complete surrendering to the process. This is how Jennifer works, learns, grows, and evolves.
JD :: I recently saw the installation art you created at The Anti Mall in Costa Mesa. Tell me about how that installation came about. And I'm also interested in what the process is like when you create such large works in public.
JM :: I love that place! Its so colorful and original. My recent goals have been to introduce my art into new markets and what better place than Southern California! I made a connection with Melissa Northway, a collector of my art, author of the book I’m illustrating and now friend who lives down there. She investigated places for me to show and one happened to be the Artery at the Lab. They decided it was a great fit and also invited me to do this mural, I call it "the Stripe," as part of their Arbor Day celebration. It was so cool … they even made little seed packets with my art on it!
As far as the mural goes, I typically have a general vision or rough theme of what I’m going to do. For this one, I was inspired by the colors of the LAB, a botanical theme for Arbor Day and I knew I wanted to use purple. The process is similar to that of individual paintings I create. I basically start scribbling with markers, pencils and paint all over the wall, making sure to cover all ground. Words emerge as bi-products of conversations with observers or song lyrics from a band playing around the corner. Floral drawings were inspired by the plants around the LAB. In this particular mural, I even collaborated with a handful of creative kids passing by. As time expires, I gradually become more deliberate and create a balance to the space I’ve now colored.
JD :: When I was viewing that art, I was with three other artists. As we were admiring it, I explained that your work was distinctive because it has an element that I describe as "street" ... which I suppose means that it doesn't feel fully "studio." Does that make sense? How do you react to that?
JM :: This is a great question, thank you for asking. I love to hear my art categorized as part "street." I relate it to graffiti, Brooklyn, hip hop, the 80s, inner city living, etc. I think all these things are cool, yet don’t necessarily feel a part of this culture. I am certainly inspired by it, so I take it as a compliment. To describe street art, I’d say it’s raw, not totally refined. Bold. Colorful. Bright and neon colors to be specific. I also think text makes it more urban, perhaps because graffiti is words?
JD :: So you were born in Long Beach and grew up in Connecticut. Tell me about how that came to be. And also, where do you live now? Do you wish you were living any place else?
JM :: My parents come from large families in Connecticut. My dad works for Nestle and got transferred to California, where I was born and then he was transferred back. I only lived there for a few months, but that is long enough for me to claim that I am in fact a Beach Boys California girl! Ha! I currently live in Portland, Oregon. Portland has been AMAZING for the development of my art career. The community here is super supportive of art and artists. It has allowed me to thrive. I still like Portland, its pretty unique. Its easy to bike everywhere, I love the rain and the mild temperature. I do feel inspired to live on the water, probably a lake as I love to swim! I also want to be near my parents. I’m not sure when or where that will happen, but I assume someday I will say hello to a new home, hopefully one with a waterfront!
JD :: I notice also that you use neons in your work. Not too much but a little bit. Have you always used fluorescents? Are there rules you impose on yourself when it comes to these rather dramatic colors?
JM :: I have not always used neon colors. I think I started back in 2008, possibly from when I first started using Nova Color paints for murals, as they offer a fluorescent pink color. Like I mentioned in a previous question, the neon relates to this sort of street feel. I like the way its brightness stands out. I feel these colors keep me young. I also like the juxtaposition of bright colors next to more neutral ones.
While I’ve never felt quite compelled to make a completely neon painting, I do think I must limit my use of the fluorescents. I’m sure its related to sales; who really wants a neon painting in their home? Most people do not have neon décor! However, as I say that I am reminded that that is not why I make art. A fully neon piece could be fun! And quite street or pop culture … so watch out!
JD :: Do you teach? If so, where, and what has the teaching process been like for you? Do you enjoy it?
JM :: I have taught a little. I’ve done mostly private lessons for both adults and kids. While I love sharing what I do, and watching people open up and freely express themselves, I typically wait for teaching opportunities to come to me versus seeking it out. Which is what has happened with you! I look forward to traveling to California and having fun with your students, it will be my first official workshop! [Note: Jennifer Mercede will be debuting her very first 2-day painting workshop in Studio Crescendoh on March 3-4, 2012. Details will be posted soon.]
JD :: I understand that your aim is to have your work uplift. So my question is about when you are feeling dejected. When you are feeling down, are you able to create? And if so, are you able to create uplifting art? Or do you find that different type of art comes out in those instances and if so, how do you feel about the works that come out that are not close to your aim?
JM :: This is also a great question. Yes, I love to paint when I’m feeling down. Its actually a great way for me to release frustration or sadness. I tend to get really physical with lots of rough scribbling and globs of paint flying all over the place; your typical artist. It baffles me because even the art I create during those periods tends to come out cheerful. There is only one series I can recall in which I chose blacks and red, colors I never use, and feel that my negative, menstrual cycle induced mood clearly transmitted. I’ve provided an image.
JD :: What's the key to letting go?
JM :: Ha ha ha! You’re asking me?! As life would play the game, of course you ask me this question when it is just the thing I am currently faced with in my life. Powerful. I suppose an onlooker could watch my art process and say that I have mastered the art of letting go. Granted, in my art I paint layers. I build up a layer to a point that looks like it could be finished, and then BOOM, paint right over it with a large brush loaded with white. Or I’ll get to a point where I’m scratching my head and ask, how can I move this forward? BOOM take that same large brush and wash over it with a yellow orange.
Yes, it’s a letting go. Especially when I first started to do that, I would think, really? I’m really going to paint over everything I just labored over for the last three hours? Really? And I do. And sometimes I cringe. I’ve even cried. I jump on the roller coaster. Sometimes it takes me down, to a place where I hate the painting. Its often a stage in the process where I feel connected to the truth, where I am most open to life. It’s a point where I choose to surrender to the painting itself.
So you ask what the key to letting go is. Your question has me pondering deep, is washing over a layer really a letting go? Or an escape? Translating it to life, if I were to operate the same way, when a situation gets tough and I choose to "paint over it," wouldn’t that be running away versus letting go?
Surrendering to the process and trusting is essential. Its something I’d like to employ more in my everyday life. When I choose to let go in my art, I am confident that the painting will turn out great. Like I mentioned, it may go downhill, but as long as I keep working on it, it will always come back up. Nine times out of ten the painting has transition to a place far more exciting then where it was.
*Trust that everything will turn out great, or even better than they are
*Surrender to the process, of art or of life
*Be brave and take risks
*Stay committed to your goal
Thanks for helping me figure that out!
JD :: You have a Gerry the Giraffe book that is coming up in December. Tell me about the book. Where can people buy it?
JM :: Thanks! Yes, I am illustrating Gerry the Giraffe, a children’s book written by Melissa Northway. It’s a sweet tale of a young giraffe who wants to be better at volleyball (as all giraffes play volleyball). He works hard, gets strong and grows into a great player. It will be available as a storybook app on itunes and as an ebook for the Sony Read, Kindle or Nook. Eventually it will also be available in print form through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The illustrating process has been quite challenging for me. When I typically hit a canvas, I am free and spontaneous. I have had to coax that side of me out while working on this book. I’ve asked Melissa for motivation kicks in the pants several times and I’ve even rented a separate studio just to have space to focus on this project. Posted on its walls are notes to myself: "Make art how you want to make art!" and "Yes!!! I can do this!" as well as, "Relax…" Even though it's hard, I fully want to do this project. It’s a challenge and an awesome experience, as someday I would like to write and illustrate my own stories. I like illustrating and want to develop my unique style, so its important I stay true to my voice as an artist and not fall into what I think a storybook should look like.
Please stay tuned for an official release date which will most likely be early next year. In the meantime, you can check out Animals Wild, a book my friend Jason Holmberg and I put together a couple years ago.
JD :: The song that will usually get you up and dancing is ...
JM :: Ooh! Something by Michael Jackson, like Bad or Beat It. Ow!
JD :: Nature and animals. They seem to be highly important to your work. What is it about animals and nature that inspire you?
JM :: My favorite type of art to create is abstract, completely wild and free. However, at one point I grabbed an animal book from the library and began sketching some. Just for fun. A friend saw a sketch of a giraffe and asked if I’d paint him a large one. Sure thing! I answered, and got right on it. As I was painting that one, another friend saw it in my studio and commissioned a giraffe for her boyfriend. Before I gave it to her, I hung it in a show with a note that said not for sale, but will take commissions. I received three.
After striking that show, I was carrying the art and made a pit stop at a store I where I sold. The owner saw the giraffes and insisted I do a giraffe show. And so it serendipitously began. I started making giraffes like crazy. They flew off the shelves (who knew?)! Eventually I began to make other animals as well.
Animals and flowers provide something people can relate to in my art. I love to combine my natural abstract tendencies with funky, whimsical animals. Even when I draw the animals, or anything representational for that matter, my goal is to maintain my doodling, like I’m doing abstract work. Often times I do not look at my paper, just the image from which I’m drawing. I am inspired by the colors and soft shapes of plants and prefer to draw them from life.
JD :: Tell us something that very few people know about you.
JM :: I like math. In fact, I think creating a successful piece of art is equivalent to solving a math problem.
JD :: I imagine your studio to be large ... with paint on concrete flooring. Do I have it right? Describe it for me.
JM :: Oh geez ... you are right. It's in the basement of the house I live in. Honestly, it's not that exciting and I definitely have studio envy of other artists (eh hem ... Flora Bowley), as well as dreams of what older established artists have, out in the country somewhere, in a finished barn, with skylights and woodfloors. Sigh …
Mine is in the basement. In the winter, it becomes an island due to flooding. I’ve enjoyed painting in the basement because I feel like there I can be messy. Plus, its away from my bedroom, and other people. It can be my own creative zone. And honestly, I think I like the lighting (I think). I moved into this basement about a year ago and I’ve never quite set it up. It’d like to invite Kelly Rae Roberts over to help me, as she is amazing at making any space look like love. But I haven’t. I just keep operating in its chaos, its messiness and its plain basementness.
JD :: When it's blazing hot, what is your beverage of choice?
JM :: Water with lemon. Sometimes with ice, sometimes without. Strangely, more often without these days.
JD :: When it's freezing cold, what is your beverage of choice?
JM :: Tea. Usually herbal, but my favorite is The Republic of Tea’s Mango Ceylon, a fruity black tea.
JD :: Think fast and tell me a word or two that comes to mind when I say ...
- Portland :: here
- little girl :: fun
- jump rope :: heartbeat
- pink :: hot
- butterfly :: circles
- rules :: break
- action :: work
- inaction :: annoying
- audience :: laughter
- giraffe :: ha ha ha, of course
- stripes :: fun to draw
- heritage :: Italian
- little boy :: cute
- school :: homework
- solo :: quiet
- group :: silly
- family :: warm
JD :: What have you/do you learn from kids?
JM :: Oh Geez! Kids are the master artists. Think about how when young kids are writing a word and they come to the edge of the paper.
With no space left, they simply finish the word below. Or sometimes above. Their letters can be backwards, or upside down or even missing a letter. Maybe they will go back and add the letter in, or scribble out a backwards letter and write it correctly above the old one. There is such a freedom in that.
As I witness kids create so freely, I am inspired to be in that zone myself. Perhaps it is a detachment from the outcome. Perhaps it’s a degree of carelessness or lack of attention span. Either way, its honesty allows the creation to be organic, raw and in the moment, which is what I strive for. I strive to create beauty out of the imperfection and mistakes that is life, wabi sabi style.
All images provided courtesy of Jennifer Mercede. To learn more about her art, visit www.jennifermercede.com and her etsy shop here.
GIVEAWAY :: In art, how do you define "street"?
Through the process of ths interview, the concept of how one defines "street" in art became a point of great interest, both to the interviewer and interviewee. To explore the concept further, we would like to hear from you ... in art, how do you define the concept of "street"? Please leave your answer by commenting on this post (by Friday, November 11th, 5PM, PST). We will select one random commenter who will be able to select one of the three originals shown here, from Jennifer's frog series. Each is an original 6" x 6" paint and pencil work on canvas.
EDIT :: Congratulations to Jani Howe, winner of our giveaway!