Searching for titles

I’ve just gotten back from a trip with my family to France, and I’m jumping right into the thick of it: TITLING PAINTINGS. Titling artworks inspires dread in the hearts of many artists. How do we put words to a thing that we don’t have the words to describe? Isn’t this why we work in visual media anyway? Kidding aside though, while titling doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, I have a process for coming up with titles. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry and take note of any poems, phrases or particular words that jump out at me. I keep a little notebook of these words and phrases and then either use those as titles, or come up with titles by riffing off her work. Her writing cuts to the essential about what I want to express in my work. I love the way her poem below “Mysteries, Yes” encapsulates the myriad feelings of wonder we can feel as we go about our lives.

Mary Oliver - Mysteries, Yes
From the book “Devotions”

Why does fitness matter as an artist? It’s not what you think.

Artists get a bad rap. Whether it’s the myth of the starving artist, or the stories of drug and alcohol abuse, there aren’t a lot of highly visible models for artists to follow for a healthy sustainable career. An artist who takes care of themselves, spends time with their family, and behaves like a professional doesn’t necessarily make for the most exciting story, but the fact is, it makes for a more productive, well-rounded, happier artist, who is more likely to keep making their artwork and have a thriving life and career.
Here I am hoofing it up one of my favorite hills in PA…
Fitness is an important tool for me. I need to move my body to burn off excess energy (outside if possible), and most importantly, I find that it clears my head, focuses my mind, and helps manage my mood – an essential part of spending long hours working on my own.
I believe that to make our most honest artwork, it helps to have a clear head. When I don’t exercise – especially outside – I am prone to depression and anxiety. Riding my bike is especially potent – the intense exercise burns off excess energy and the repetitive action of pedaling helps to tap right into a meditative state. This is the best recipe for me. As a bonus, riding is a social activity, a good counter balance to days working alone.
Tying fishing lines to hang origami birds for Paper Mountain
I stand most of the day and my work sometimes involves reaching and twisting into strange positions (such as the week of installation required to hang Paper Mountain – Click here to watch a timelapse of the week-long process). My work involves making repetitive motions for long periods of time (when using painting or cutting tools or folding paper for instance), so repetitive injury is a risk for me. In addition to more vigorous exercise, I practice yoga on most mornings to stave off pain from new and old injuries and to calm my mind. When I’m being especially good, I also finish the day with a few minutes of physical therapy and calisthenics for basic strength and injury prevention.
A big part of making art sustainable for me is to take care of myself. It’s hard enough to spend long hours on my own acting as both artist and entrepreneur, but if I’m not mentally and physically fit, it makes it difficult to stay focused and to work without physical pain.
The old myth of the starving unhealthy artist is just that – OLD. I’d rather keep myself healthy so I can keep on making my work long into old age.
What works for you? What keeps you healthy and happy? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at: [email protected]

If you found this interesting, you’ll like my post: 11 things athletes do that will make you a better artist

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The appeal of working big and working little

People ask me if I prefer working big or small. I do enjoy working on both scales. Each size has its benefits. The experience of making a large or small painting is very different – both for the artist and for the viewer. I choose to work at both scales for the following reasons:
Painting in a field
Working Small
Small work can often be completed in one sitting and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. This makes it particularly well suited for traveling or when you don’t have a dedicated studio space. I used to make small works when we lived in Australia and the contents of my “studio” could fit into a cardboard box that lived on our dining room table. I still make small works when traveling, when I want to work outdoors, or when trying out new ideas. Sometimes smaller work ends up inspiring larger pieces.
When I make plein air paintings – the ones I paint on location – I am making both a small artwork and also in a way, doing research for more abstract work. While I look at a landscape and make the small paintings outside, I build a memory bank of images, shapes, colors, light effects, and even sounds and smells that I can later refer to in more abstract pieces.
For you, the viewer, the experience with a small painting is more intimate than with a large one. Only one person at a time can really savor a small work at close proximity.
Starting two big paintings
Working Big
A large painting takes much longer to make than a little painting. Even the preparation of the painting surface (canvas or wood panel) takes much longer. It takes a couple of hours to build and stretch a big canvas, and painting each layer of gesso (a kind of primer) takes about 30 minutes compared to just a few minutes per layer for a small painting.
Working on a large painting can be daunting at first – that’s a lot canvas to fill! – but on the other hand, it’s exhilarating to make something larger than myself. I can use my whole body – working crouched close to the ground or reaching out. In the case of super big work like Paper Mountain, I worked with assistants using scaffolding, lifts, and ladders. It’s exciting to create something bigger than we are as humans.
We have a particular experience when we stand far from artwork, and another experience when we are close to it. The piece fills our field of view. I think about this as I make a piece – it’s important to me to create a special experience for viewers of my work. I want to draw you in to examine the work more closely. When I create little surprises in a painting – details that can only be appreciated at close range – I am rewarding you for coming closer. My work is driven by my experience in the outdoors, so when I make something big, I hope that the work transports viewers to the outdoors or a memory of being outside.
Making bigger work requires a longer commitment and focus than making small work. Keeping the energy of the piece going and working through tough spots can be challenging because of the scale of the work. On the other hand, making big work is rewarding just by its sheer scale. There is something special about making something larger than yourself.

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Check out the following blog posts if you’re curious…
This one if you want to see what it’s like to build a super big canvas
This post if you want to see how my team put together Paper Mountain installation. And here’s the project page.
And this post if you want to see how I pack my plein air painting kit in a cigar box.

“100 Years of Women” talk at the College of William & Mary

In the fall of 2018, The College of William & Mary in Virginia, my alma mater, invited me to give a talk during the “100 Years of Women” anniversary exhibit. The talk was part of the Department of Art and Art History’s Alumni Speaker Series. It was a humbling experience to give a talk in the very lecture hall where I took my first art history survey class as a freshman in 1998.

I spoke about how motherhood spurred me to get serious about my art practice, how spending time in the outdoors fuels me and my work, my art-making process, some of the stories behind my work, and why art matters. Watch the talk below.

You can watch my other talks here:

Demystifying Abstraction

About Paper Mountain and Sky Project, my latest projects

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How My Family Motivates Me

Looking at Paper Mountain
For the last year, I worked on the largest (literally and figuratively) project of my art life, Paper Mountain. The idea of creating this immersive experience for people – something much larger than any of us, that would evoke a mountain – was a driving force in my life. I consider it a major success and I’m really proud of that project. You can see images of this installation and read more about it here.
My other big motivator are my husband and son. It is super important to me to be the best version of myself so that I can be a good partner and parent – and continuing to make artwork is one of the best ways that I can follow my path and be true to who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. Having my son was hands down the biggest catalyst for reframing the way I perceived myself as an artist, and as soon as he was part of my life, I wanted to demonstrate strong work ethic and I wanted him to be proud of me and of my work. I do that by continuing to make art work. Read more about how being a parent has positively impacted my art practice on this blog post.
My family

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How to stretch a big canvas

By popular request, I made a video tutorial showing how to stretch a really large canvas. This one is 5×4 feet. And if you scroll down, you’ll find a time lapse video I made showing how I went about building and stretching a giant canvas (5×6 feet). You’ll notice the bit where I have to cut down one of the cross braces. This doesn’t usually happen, but in this case, the one sent to me wasn’t cut to the right length…


Looking for more tips for artists? Check out some of my blog posts below:

How to pack a travel watercolor and drawing kit

Timelapse showing how I pack my plein air painting kit

11 Things athletes do that will make you a better artist

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The Story Behind Sky Project

Like a lot of artists, I use photography to document my work and to share my process with the world. I sometimes take photos as reference material for my work. And sometimes the photos make the work. In one of my newest works, Sky Project, I crowdsourced photos of the sky via Instagram to make a video projection. People from all over the world shared photos.

The project is a reaction to the outdoor experience as filtered through our phones. We take photos of everywhere we go and everything we do and share them on social platforms such as Instagram. Many people’s experience of the outdoors is entirely based on what is Instagrammable. So how do we continue to have unmediated experiences in nature with the constant distraction of telephones in our lives? Can we still do that?

While technology like our phones and social media connect us, they also sometimes broaden the divisions between us. When we go outside with friends and family, we can feel genuinely deep connections both with each other and the outdoors. Through Sky Project, I encouraged people to look up from their phones, toward the sky that we share with everyone else – to get outside and to look around. Ultimately, I want my work to spur viewers to get outside and experience nature for themselves. I hope that by doing this, we can forge more profound connections with each other and develop a deep appreciation of nature together.

See more of the project along with Paper Mountain HERE. You can see both projects at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in the exhibit “Beyond the Mountain” until April 26th.

Get a video tour of the exhibit on my blog HERE.

Going outside will save us


On March 16th, a day after the opening of “Beyond the Mountain” at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, I sat down for a talk about the inspiration behind my work. I explain my painting process, where the ideas for Paper Mountain and Sky Project came from, and why art and going outside will save us. And if you scroll down a little farther, I added a little treat: a private tour of my work in the exhibit. Enjoy!

You can experience the exhibit for yourself until April 25th at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.  To see more of Paper Mountain and Sky Project, visit the project page HERE.

Interview with the Abundant Artist

At the start of the year, I sat down for a conversation with Cory Huff, founder of The Abundant Artist, to talk about busting the starving artist myth. We talked about my trajectory from graduate school to becoming a parent, to being a professional artist and quitting my day job.

The Abundant Artist is an artist association, and our interview was featured last week on their blog, emails, and social media. Read the interview below:


Association member Jessica Singerman recently quit her day job to focus on pursuing her art full-time! Woohoo! We sat down to learn more about Jessica’s trajectory: how she arrived from art school to quitting her day job, and what lessons other artists can learn from her experience.

Of her trajectory from art school to quitting her day job to create art full time, Jessica says it was “not linear.”

“I finished my MFA at University of Delaware in 2004 and I had been teaching while I was in school.

I kept teaching, so I was teaching art at University of Delaware and the community college as an adjunct in New Jersey. I was doing the adjunct thing and I was also working at a bike shop.

I was painting, but kind of inconsistently. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life after grad school. I would say the first few years out of graduate school I did not know what I was doing.”

Pilot Mountain 6, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches

It wasn’t just the sense of uncertainty about the way forward that was an obstacle to Jessica’s success at first. She shares that her understanding about the way that inspiration functions for the working artist was preventing her from making regular work:

“I had this misconception that you will work when you’re inspired. And now I know that that’s really far from the truth. You just work. You put the work in, and then inspiration comes.”

It wasn’t until her son was born and she experienced a crisis of identity that Jessica discovered how to incorporate a daily art practice into her life. She also found that this profoundly alleviated the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The Airplane Painting, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches

“I set this goal to do a daily project. I would do a project in one sitting, usually when my son was taking a nap, and I started hanging on to this for dear life. I did that for a few months. We were living in Australia at the time, so I didn’t have a studio. My studio was like the contents of a little box. I learned really quickly that I had to make my work space easy to access, and my projects quick to get into with no clean up. I wasn’t using oil paints at the time, I was using watercolors and inks and drawing. Everything was quick to set up and take down.”

Jessica has fallen into a new rhythm since that time. She is still somewhat beholden to her son’s schedule, but most often she chooses to make work first thing in the morning while her “critical brain is off”. It was those early days of motherhood that taught her the importance of making art everyday. Around the time her son was one, she met a fellow artist through a life drawing class who referred her to a gallery in Charlotte. The gallery took her on, which Jessica described as “very validating.” In the end the gallery didn’t work out, however, and Jessica had to flounder a bit before finding new representation that was a better fit. She says of her current situation:

“I’ve got this gallery in Charlotte which is a great fit. The owner trusts me, and she’s willing to take chances on my work, so I’m trying something different. I’m doing a big installation and a video projection in March as well as some paintings, to give her something a little more easy to sell. But I really appreciate that she’s willing to take that chance on me.

I also work with a shop in Winston-Salem. It’s a showroom for really high-end hand built furniture, and they also show other local artists there, so it’s a really nice fit. It’s a beautiful space. I also show at university galleries and other nonprofit spaces as well. This year in September I had a show at Salem College, I have some work going in to a faculty exhibit at a beautiful gallery at Winston-Salem State this month and then I’m showing in an architecture firm also next month.”

Birds Content Try Again, oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

This is a surprising amount of activity for Jessica, who was not too long ago struggling to make any work at all and feeling adrift between teaching, a full-time job, and trying to make room for her art. When asked how she accomplished her current lineup of representation and ongoing shows, she shared the details of that “non-linear” path that led her here:

“A friend of mine is friends with the owner of the gallery in Charlotte, and had mentioned my work to her. I showed her my work, and the gallery owner actually approached me, which has never happened in my life, and asked if I wanted to show in a three person show last march. That was kind of like a trial.

The shop in Winston-Salem I found through Instagram. Someone who I didn’t even meet but we were following each other, had mentioned my work to their friends who run this shop. So when they opened the shop they asked me if I wanted to show some work there.

The show at Salem College last year, I found out who the contact was and emailed her. I asked her if I could show there, and actually it wasn’t gonna work out for a couple of years, but then all of a sudden she had a hole she needed to fill. The Winston Salem State show is because I taught at Winston Salem State and they’re doing a faculty exhibit.”

Perhaps one of the key takeaways from Jessica’s experience is that it’s all about who you know. She’s had the benefit of valuable friends and acquaintances both in day-to-day life and on social media who recognized the quality of her work and shared it with others. So the key? Talk about your work.

The flip-side of that coin is that not only does Jessica talk about her work with people she knows and maintain a good online presence, but she also jumps at opportunities that present themselves.

Forces of Nature 4, mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Jessica also has the unique experience of being an art-world native who has had to find her wings outside of the protective bubble of art school and academia. As she has taken steps to grow her own career both with and without gallery representation, he has encountered elitist attitudes about doing the work of selling her own art:

“It’s ego, you know? You don’t want to look like you’re selling your work, because then it’s like you’re selling out. And it’s such a misconception, because the idea is that the galleries are going to take care of it. But even now, I think it’s expected that you still represent yourself on social media. I have friends who are represented by plenty of galleries and they’re still working it on social media.

So for me, it’s ego. It’s been just swallowing a lot of the misconceptions that- I don’t know that they’re actively taught, but you’re definitely made to feel that if you try so hard to sell your own work, you’re selling out or that you’re not a serious artist. Not a lot of people talk about having day jobs in the art world, because it’s like this dirty word. It’s okay to be a teacher, and it’s okay to have a wealthy partner and not mention it. “

Light Igniting Fields, Trailing Clouds, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

Jessica’s current focus is on improving her writing, producing more content for her marketing efforts and finding a new rhythm, having recently quit her day job to pursue art full time (way to go, Jessica!)

“My big thing now really is not to overdo it. My natural tendency is to work all the time. And the big thing I want to work on this year is spending more time with my son. With a day job and teaching, I was teaching last semester, and then my art practice and the business, I was not spending what I felt was enough quality time with him and that’s the big thing for me. That’s the big shift. Spending more time with my son. Not overdoing it. Setting boundaries for myself, and not burning the candle at both ends, which I’m really good at.”

Photo of Jessica Singerman

Growing up, Jessica spent a lot of time drawing and making things. Looking back, the experience of making things was and still is the same for her: she is focused; nothing else matters except for what she is making at that moment, and in the best case scenario, she is in a state of flow. This feeling of being in the moment and fully engaged with her environment and what she is doing is similar to her experience when she is enjoying the outdoors. Whether in a forest or on a mountain top, what resonates with her are the feelings of being connected to the world and at the same time, of being small in a vast universe.

It’s through making things and being in the outdoors that Jessica is able to connect to the world and to find her place in it. In the outdoors, we are reminded of how small we are in the world. We experience the vastness of the universe and at the same time, the interconnectedness of it all. See more of Jessica’s work at

How I Started

I’ve been making things since I was a kid – I remember a lot of time making stuff with my mom at the dining room table – and I always drew.

Fast forward a few years… My dad signed me up for figure drawing sessions at the École des Beaux Arts in Tours, France when we lived there during my tenth grade year of high school. That was my first time drawing from the nude figure and in a room full of other adult artists.

I continued studying art in college and in grad school, I even taught art, but it wasn’t until after we had our son that I really began to understand what it means to be a professional artist. After he was born, I had to make art a priority – to be ruthless about it – if I was going to keep making things along with being a mom, a wife, and holding down a day job. I also wanted to demonstrate strong work ethic to my son, to show him that part of the process of doing things is to experiment, to fail, to start again… and I wanted him to be proud of his mom.

If you want to read more about how motherhood has impacted my art practice, check out my post “On Motherhood an Being an Artist.”

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