Creating bold, contemporary abstract art from her home in the Waitakere ranges, Jen Sievers somehow manages to produce artworks filled with light and energy while also juggling a career as a graphic designer and being Mum to an energetic toddler.
Quirky Fox spoke to Jen about her return to art after almost six years, her inspiration and the importance of housework...
What were your first inclinations toward being creative? Was it always a part of you or was there a pivotal moment?
I've always been interested in creating art. When I was really young I drew constantly, I progressed to chalk pastels and later paint. I grew up wanting to be an artist.
I went to art school for a few years and decided to change direction - the dream of making art a career changed into a dream of being a Graphic Designer - it seemed like a practical way of creating, while still earning a living.
I painted on and off for a while and then didn't paint at all for about 6 years. I was still creating on a daily basis, being a designer... and my job has taught me so much about colour and composition (which really helps with abstract painting!!)
I got back into painting in a bit of an epiphany moment. I moved to a new house in a semi-rural setting and was overwhelmed with the feeling of being inspired by my surroundings. One Friday afternoon my daughter went down for her nap and I literally grabbed whatever house and craft paints I could find and started painting on a piece of plywood. I haven't stopped since.
You still work as a graphic designer as well as juggling motherhood and your art. How do you balance the three? Does painting become an outlet for you or does it occasionally get pushed to the side?
It's a constant juggle, but one that I quite enjoy. I'm not very good at sitting still, so this gives me something to focus on in the evenings after work. I generally sit on the couch and plan, sketch or work on my marketing. I have an amazing husband who makes sure I have a few hours alone each weekend day to get stuck into my paints.
My painting is definitely my 'me time' - and has been so valuable helping me express myself as something other than a mother.
A lot of my work can be done in small bursts - do a few strokes then wait for a layer to dry - which works perfectly when you're chasing a three-year-old around. I think the one thing that tends to suffer is the housework, that definitely gets pushed aside before my art does!
As well as your abstracts you've recently produced some beautiful, strong portraits, your 'queens', what lead to their creation? Is this a new direction or a series designed to sit side by side with your abstract works?
The move to paint portraits even surprised me!
I had a spare hour one afternoon and wanted to try something new, to push my boundaries a little. So I tried to see if I could paint a portrait using the same sorts of style and strokes that I use in my abstracts. And it worked! I'm also so inspired by the 'Queens' movement, and how empowering it is for women. I like to think they can sit together - the colours and marks are all from the same soul.
You work on a variety of platforms: canvas, paper and slightly less conventionally Perspex. How did your work on Perspex come about and what challenges did it create?
I've always been fascinated with seeing through things and layering in my art. When I was studying I used to make little layered collages out of printed acetate and layers of glass. I noticed a few artists painting on perspex and realised that I might be able to do the same thing - I was so happy to find out I could use my usual acrylic paints.
It does come with its challenges though - I paint on the back of the perspex, so each painting is done in reverse. And I have to start with the top detailed strokes and end up with the backstrokes.
It takes a lot of planning, so each painting is mapped out before I start. I then have to work hard to keep the expressive quality of the brush strokes even within a tightly planned layout.
Colour is such an important aspect in all of your pieces. How do you decide on the palette for your works?
I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Pinterest and Instagram, gathering random images that feel magical to me and figuring out if their colour palettes would make good paintings. I then do very rough sketches, either on my computer or on my phone if I'm out and about, to test them out.
Sometimes I stick with one palette, or variation of it, for a few paintings, and then go on the search again!
I usually pick one strong colour that I want to be the main feature, then find a strong contrasting colour to complement it. I then throw in a wild card to liven it up... then a few neutrals to calm it back down.
Painting is your primary medium, but do you work in other mediums or explore other crafts?
During the years I didn't paint I experimented with all sorts of crafts including photography. The one that probably consumed me the most was a small business I had restyling old wood furniture: I would find old dressers, cabinets and tables on Trademe, sand them down and paint them crazy colours. My love of putting paint onto a surface was hard to hold back. If I had more time I would love to experiment with any mediums I can.
As an artist what have you learnt about your craft that you use every day?
To trust my instincts! I sometimes ignore a niggling feeling that a painting/idea or colour palette isn't going to work out... and each time I ignore it it turns out badly.
Jen's exhibition 'Colourscapes' opens Saturday 14 January.
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