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Jennifer Judd-McGee - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, mixed media, collage
Jennifer Judd-McGee - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, mixed media collage

Interview by Tara Thayer with Portland, Maine based artist Jennifer Judd-McGee. The interview was done via email during April 2009.

TT:: When did you first start drawing and creating, and when did you first consider yourself an artist?

JJM:: I've been making things since I was a kid. I took a lot of art classes in college, but then ended up pursuing a career in womens healthcare. I started making things again in about 2006, and it suddenly seemed I couldn't stop. I've been making art full time since 2007. I still have a hard time calling myself an artist.

TT:: Where do you go, what do you do, to find inspiration for your work.

JJM:: I love living along the coast of Maine, and find lots of inspiration in nature. I love to sit outside with a sketchbook, or gather a bunch of bits and bobs while out on a walk with my kids and then come home and draw them. I am really attracted to patterns I see in nature, like moss, striped rocks, bark, pebbles, mussel shells, tree buds and branches, etc. I am interested in taking little patterns and recreating them in my palette and style. I'm also really drawn to vintage stitch and embroidery books and mid-century modern design.

TT:: Do you have a favorite spot in your house? Portland? The world?

JJM:: My favorite spot in my house is my dining room, because it is light and sunny and I find it a nice space to spread out and work. Around Portland I like to go to the beach at Kettle Cove, dig my toes into the sand and hang out with my sketchbook and pens while my kids play in the tide pools. My favorite place in the world is anywhere on or in Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park, where I grew up. So much of how I see the world has been shaped by the natural beauty there. It's a really special place.

TT:: Has trying to develop your artwork into a means of earning a living changed either your work or your process?

JJM:: Since I started pursuing art as a career in 2007, I've been extremely lucky in terms of not having to seek out a lot of opportunities - they've largely come to me and I feel very grateful to the internet and the online art/design community for the connections I've made and the opportunities that have come my way. I've been feeling super busy over the past year, which is a great problem to have but I find myself really wishing for a stretch of down time to 'refill the well' or even go back to school for an MFA one day. My process these days mostly involves trying to juggle lots of different projects I'm working on while not checking out as parent.

TT:: Is there anything you miss about your "old life" with a job outside of your home?

JJM:: I miss the daily dose of being around co-workers + friends I respected and thought really highly of. Working at home alone can sometimes feel pretty isolating. I also miss the 9-5 schedule and the ability to walk away from work at the end of the day. It's hard to walk away when it's in your house. )

TT:: How do you maintain a balance between the demands and desires of being a mom (and a wife) and being an artist?

JJM:: This is the $64,000 question. I honestly don't feel like I'm balancing anything very well right now. My kids are at a great age and I love to be around them when they're not at school - and I hate having to say "sorry, I'm busy." We do listen to a lot of audiobooks together at the dining room table - I do my work and they draw or do homework. It's one of my favorite ways to be together.

TT:: Does having an "audience" via your blog affect your work or how you think about your work?

JJM:: I am a really shy person and it still feels weird to me that I even have a blog, even after 2 1/2 years of writing it. I try not to think about the audience too much when I write my blog or put my recent art out there on the blog. My goal for the blog has always been to share a hodgepodge of lots of things..stuff I make, what I'm inspired by (music, art, links, whatever,) stuff around the house, and kid related goings-on...but to try and maintain my family's privacy at the same time. In this sense I am just writing it for me and not for whoever the audience is out there in the world. I don't know if it works for everyone, but it works for me. I am really attracted to blogs that keep it real and show slices of everyday living.

TT:: Do you do any other sort of art or crafting or writing, etc...? Did you start out just drawing, and move to mixed media, or the opposite; or did you start out painting and evolve into other forms of expression?

JJM:: I've dabbled in all kinds of things. I used to like to write, but not so much anymore. Mixed media and drawing have always sort of gone hand in hand for me. I taught myself how to do rug hooking with hand-dyed wool strips a few years ago, and I found that really enjoyable. I'd like to get back into it. I love printmaking too, and while I still do it a little bit here and there in the forms of gocco and linoleum block printing, I'd love to really dive in to some other methods.

TT:: Would you describe the general path you take to start on and complete a piece?

JJM:: If it's a drawing, I usually do a bunch of sketches ahead of time and then just sit down and dive in once I feel ready. For my mixed media work I go in phases: collecting materials + sorting them into color families, drawing lots of little bits to be cut up, painting backrounds (sometimes) or painting smaller bits I'll cut up, and making bits of gocco or silkscreen prints that I'll cut up and reuse. Once I've got all of the parts, I tend to work on several pieces at once and it's a big giant mess until I'm done playing around with each piece (which often takes a longer time than I'd like it to.) I have recently been reassured that the holy mess I make seems to be common among mixed media artists - seeing other people's studio spaces (and messes) is one of my favorite things to find on Flickr or various design blogs.

TT:: What would you like to do next? In a year from now, what do you imagine yourself working on?

JJM:: I'd like to dive into encaustic painting once I get some better ventilation in my work space. Also, I've been drawing repeating patterns for years but am alarmingly illiterate with Photoshop or Illustrator. I'd love to learn those programs and start making patterns that could be reproduced on textiles or paper goods.

Thank you so much for asking me such great questions and for the opportunity to show work in your gallery.


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