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On favorite childhood books

This week in my studio, we found the tiniest mouse I’ve ever seen. After letting it run all over the place for a day and then have a good rest (it chose to sleep under my husband’s desk for the night), I managed to put it in a jar and release it in the backyard. It predictably broke back into our house a few hours later, so I caught it again and drove it down the road to a more appropriate spot (ie: very far away from our house). I placed it near a mountain of kudzu, thinking that would be a good place for a mouse to go on an adventure.

It made me think of one of my favorite childhood books: Comment la souris reçoit une pierre sur la tête et découvre le monde… I don’t know that it was ever published in English, but the title roughly translates to How the mouse gets hit in the head with a rock and discovers the world!

In the book, a young mouse who lives with her parents underground decides to dig a room of her own. As she digs and digs, she eventually breaks surface and sees the outside for the first time! She goes on an adventure and meets new friends: the sun, the moon, stars, wind, clouds… all sorts of natural phenomena. In the end they all give her a little piece of themselves in a little backpack with compartments for everything. She then continues on her way with the sun so they can make new friends together. As you can imagine, I love her backpack loaded up with all sorts of natural ephemera with a neat little spot for everything. That image has always stayed with me.

You can watch a short video where I share this and show some of the beautiful watercolor illustrations in the book on either Facebook or Instagram.

If you live in the Winston-Salem, NC area, Aperture Cinema is featuring my work all month. Before every screening, you’ll see an interview where I talk about my work and what it’s like to work as an artist in this area. Thanks Aperture!

New South Finds Feature

Thank you to arts writer Linda Jerkins for featuring my work in this month’s issue of New South Finds, an online magazine that profiles Southern artists and their work.

You can read the profile and see the other artists in this month’s issue here.

Jessica Singerman painting in studio
Of Stones and Earth and Air, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

The quest: mysterious and weird

Last month I shared with you that I started painting people again. You can see the first four paintings of the series below. I’m now working on the fifth painting of six I planned to make. After I make six, I’ll decide if I’m going to continue making them. At this point, I’m loving the process, I’m learning a lot and I see no reason to stop working figuratively in the near future. It’s interesting to note that I was primarily painting people until a semester into graduate school when I began exploring abstraction. This was back in 2002, and over the years every time I tried making figurative work again, it just didn’t feel right.

This time feels different. The way I’m approaching painting the figures and establishing their relationship to the spaces around them, the way I’m layering the paint and using color feels like things I’ve been thinking of for the last 2 decades are clicking.

I’m interested in what happens when the figures aren’t looking out at us, when they look away or toward someone or something off the edge of the painting. The paintings feel like a moment within time, like something has just happened before we were privy to the moment in the painting and it will continue beyond the painting. The people occupy outside spaces that are ambiguous, sometimes deep and three-dimensional and other time more geometric and on the surface of the painting. I’m playing with colors, noticing which ones create interesting optical effects, particularly on the depth portrayed in the painting. The paintings are mysterious and a little weird and that feels like the right place for me right now.

Four recent paintings on my studio wall

Looking at the image of my studio above and of the painting Pilot Mountain 1 below, you’ll notice similar colors and compositions. Seeing my work from different periods like this together reminds me that I’ve been interested in the same things visually for a long time. I think it’s the subject matter thats most different.

Pilot Mountain 1 is available from my shop. It’s one of the paintings inspired by my favorite place to walk and run, Pilot Mountain. 

Pilot Mountain 1, acrylic and oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2018

Teaching at UNCSA

I am pleased to share that I’m now part of the School of Filmmaking faculty at UNC School of the Arts. I’m teaching in the Production Design and Animation departments and am excited to be training the next generation of filmmakers. This semester I teach how to communicate ideas, mood and stories through drawing, as well as color: how we perceive it, how it behaves and how to use it effectively. I am not exaggerating when I say that what I’m teaching is 100% my JAM.

In the studio, after a summer of drawing, I decided to be brave and do something I’ve been trying to do on and off for about 2 decades: integrate the human figure into an abstract painting. I sanded down the paintings I started in the spring (they didn’t feel right) and am working on a new group of works. I’m making six 30×40 inch pieces – a sort of proof of concept if you will. I’m still figuring out what they’re about, but it feels like the right direction for my work at the moment. I’m enjoying the process and am learning a lot. You can see a studio view below.

PS: The shop is open and works are available for purchase now or on a payment plan. You can see available pieces here. And you can always email me if you have any questions about my work, whether it’s an existing piece or a commission you’re thinking of.

Three current paintings in progress – Each one is oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.

Climbing mountains, getting Covid and making drawings

Fruit definitely tastes better when you pick it by vineyards on a hike.

Whew! After a trip to France followed by getting sick, I am back in the studio/office.

My husband, our son and I went to France as soon as our son’s school let out in June. We visited family and friends we hadn’t seen since the before-times and went hiking in the Alpes with my brother for a week. We got home after 3 weeks on the road and promptly got sick with Covid – all 3 of us.

I’m starting to feel like myself again though, so I wanted to write about some things we learned in the last month:

  1. Hiking difficulty ratings are off the charts in France. One of my cousins took us hiking near Dijon on the Chemin de Felix Batier. The route we took was marked as Difficult, but we felt prepared since we consider ourselves fairly experienced hikers. We ended up doing what amounted to climbing without ropes. It turns out this Felix Batier character created the trail in the 1950’s to help train alpinists for the difficulties they’d face the Alpes.
  2. Always stop and pick ripe fruit you find during a walk (unless it’s near the ground of course). See the image above of us eating cherries we found along the aforementioned hike.
  3. Stag beetles don’t typically bite unless you accidentally grab them – which is exactly what my son did during one of the climbs on this hike. Luckily he did not fall off the rocky climb. And yes, it hurt like hell. He had the marks to prove it.
  4. Don’t trust the guy at the gear shop who recommends the perfect hike for your family. After telling him what we do and don’t enjoy when hiking and letting him know we had a 9-year old with us, he recommended a hike up the Crête du Vars. Instead of making a loop, we ended up turning around at the summit because we were so terrified by the exposure. When we saw the crest from the bottom, we thought for sure we’d be hiking around it. No, we would be hiking on it. Lesson learned: if you’re so scared that you’re not enjoying the views anymore, it’s time to turn around. Note, this hike was marked as Moderate in the hiking app we used, which is shocking to me given the level of exposure we experienced up there. But I realized that steep (up to 30% grades here) or sustained climbing doesn’t add to the difficulty level in France. It’s the technicality of a hike that matters when rating them.
  5. We survived Covid. I think we caught it on the plane ride back Stateside when a woman near us took off her mask before having a coughing fit for 5-minutes. We’re still tired and needing to sleep a lot, but we are ok. I’m also thankful for Zoom which allowed me to teach a workshop virtually rather than in person when I was sick.
  6. Drawing is the best. We knew this already, but I’ve been reminded again as I make drawings and watercolors in my sketchbook. From taking notes and color references, to practicing drawing skills, to trying out new techniques, to figuring out what to do with a painting, the humble sketchbook is the place to do it all. This summer, I’ve been drawing a lot. And my son is old enough to model without moving too much now too. He even likes modeling! See the drawing below to see what my son has been up to…
  7. I am still afraid of everything until I do it once. I’d wanted to try Paris’ bike share program Vélib since I’d heard about it, but hadn’t had the chance to do it yet. Well after a day of walking around the city with my brother, I decided it would be a good idea to ride the 45-min ride back to our apartment by bike. I hadn’t ridden bikes in a city since we lived in Australia, and WOW I had forgotten how full-on city riding is, especially in a place where there are so many things going on at once. Cars, city busses, other cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians, trams… the list of possible ways to get hurt goes on. I almost got squished by a bus (my fault entirely) and was afraid to get hit by the eerily silent trams, but thankfully I made it back to home-base in one piece. And it was so fun that I’ll probably do it again next time we’re there.
The Crête du Vars. We were way up there on those rocks.
My son making the most of summer and reading in bed

Last day to order paintings and an invitation!

This Sunday at the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem, come see some artwork and listen to live jazz. I’ll be there along with a group of Artfolios artists, and all artwork there will be available for purchase. The center is at 101 W 5th St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101, and the event is from 2:00 – 5:00 PM. You can find all the details here.

The Spring Studio Refresh is still open if you haven’t had a chance to check out some of these artworks. These are pieces I’ve made to try out ideas, to hone my craft, to demonstrate technique to students and for fun. You’ll find that work here.

And lastly, I’m headed to France soon to visit family and friends and for some hiking in the Alps. I’m closing my shop while I’m away, so if you have your eye on something you’d like to get your hands on soon, now’s the time!

Last day to order a painting for delivery or pick up this month is Monday June 6th.

High up in its windy nest, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
Field and forest with turquoise, acrylic on panel, 5 x 7 inches

 

on process and discovery

Paintings in progress
Three works in progress in the studio

I’ve been working on a new group of paintings. The work feels good, which is actually scary because this makes it harder to progress in the paintings. It’s easier to work on a painting when it doesn’t feel right and when things obviously need to be corrected.

Part of the process for me is figuring out the painting as I go. I don’t have a particular image in mind when I’m working, so the process is a kind of searching for the image. As the painting progresses, I slowly discover the painting – a kind of adventure!

To summarize my painting process:

  • Starting (doing something to activate the white of the blank canvas)
  • Making some decisions for what the initial composition will be (breaking up the pictorial space into shapes using color and line)
  • Every layer after that is a series of edits until something gels. This can include combining smaller shapes into bigger ones, changing colors by covering up opaquely or transparently or pulling paint through wet underlayers, making new shapes, changes edges of shapes by accentuating or softening them or outlining them for example…

Over the years, I’ve tried to combine some of the different ideas I explore in my work: geometric abstraction such as my little watercolor squares, plants and the landscape, and a stacking of shapes like these paintings:

In the new group of paintings I feel like I’m getting some traction combining these ideas. The work feels decisive and allows me to work both from life and with abstraction – which is satisfying. I start the paintings looking at a landscape or still life (a house plant in this case) as a reference. I block out a composition in one color – usually a hot pink because I enjoy the dissonance it creates with the colors in the finished painting. Using that first start as a sort of map, I decide what to outline or fill in with color. From there, each layer changes according to what the painting needs and I follow the process I outlined above.

I’m excited to be making these and am curious to see where the work goes as I progress in the series…

If you’d like to be the first to know when this work becomes available, sign up for my emails here.

Taking my son on his first backpacking trip

Backpacking gear watercolor painting
Watercolor painting of our Backpacking gear because I couldn’t resist

I took my 9-year old son on his first backpacking trip last weekend. We were out for 2 nights and covered a total of 22 miles, with plenty of climbing and challenging trail surfaces – and beautiful landscapes to reward us!

We started our adventure by climbing Mount Rogers, VA for a few miles until the path intersected with the Appalachian Trail. Once we got on the AT, it was a different feel than any other trail. There are more people – although it’s remote enough not to be swarmed – and there is a palpable mystique. Hikers we met were friendly and encouraging to my son – everyone understood how challenging it is to carry a heavy pack for many miles, especially for someone that young.

View from Thomas Knob on Mount Rogers, VA
View from Thomas Knob on Mount Rogers, VA

On day 1 we hiked 6 miles mostly uphill until we stopped for the night at Thomas Knob, the highest point of the AT in VA. It was cold and windy that night and my son had trouble sleeping because of it. In the morning I showed him the map and possible bail-out options if he was really having a terrible time. We talked about what continuing meant and how leaving early might make him feel, and as we got moving and he warmed up, his spirits lifted and he decided to stick to our plan for the big day ahead. We were rewarded with gorgeous landscapes and the legendary wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.

Rocky Terrain on Wilburn Ridge, VA
Rocky Terrain on Wilburn Ridge, Appalachian Trail, VA

On the second day we hiked about 12 miles of rolling technical terrain over 8.5 hours. It was by far the hardest thing he’s done yet, and the last hour especially was a struggle, but we made it to our spot for the night at the Old Orchard just in time to set up camp, find water, and make dinner before dark. 

The descent toward Scales, Appalachian Trail, VA
The descent toward Scales with the Blue Ridge, Appalachian Trail, VA

On our last morning, after hiking about 1.5 mile, we said goodbye to the Appalachian Trail and finished our hike for about 2 miles on the Fairwood Valley trail. This was mostly downhill and other than a stream crossing, smooth terrain, so our adventure ended a little faster than expected. After celebrating in the parking lot, we drove 2 hours to make it home in time for pancakes and bacon for lunch. 

During the trip, I was struck by the variety of landscapes and trail surfaces we moved through: dense forests, rock gardens, mountains, hills and valleys, with all shades of green, big skies, cold and heat and wind… I’m taking all these landscapes with me as I work on a new crop of paintings… so stay tuned.

In the woods of the Appalachian Trail, VA
In the woods of the Appalachian Trail, VA

Thank you to Into the Backcountry for the excellent trail recommendation.

Wild in the heaven of earth, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches

Running the Pilot Mountain Marathon

On Saturday, I ran a trail marathon on Pilot Mountain in North Carolina, a state park 30 minutes from Winston-Salem. These are typical East Coast technical trails with plenty of rocks and roots to navigate and 4,500 feet of climbing. This mountain has inspired much of my work, both paintings and installation, notably Paper Mountain. I’ve also spent countless hours hiking and running and camping here, so it felt pretty special to have the chance to run this event. Here’s my race report for anyone who cares about the nitty gritty details.

The race approaches the mountain on the Pilot Creek Trail, heads up the mountain on Grindstone, then Ledge Spring trail, goes around the Jomeoke trail at the top, back down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail, then back up Grindstone, Ledge Springs, Jomeoke, down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail again, and back out on Pilot Creek trail. Here’s a map of these trails if you’d like to take a look for yourself.

Pilot Mountain 11, acrylic and oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. One of the paintings I’ve made inspired by my time on this mountain, specifically hiking along the Mountain trail

It was a little above freezing at the race start and got up into the mid forties by the end. I carried a hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, a small first aid kit, a little baggie of potato chips and gummy bears, and planned to grab most of my food and additional drink  at the aid stations along the way.

The morning of, I had my typical “race breakfast” of oatmeal, scrambled eggs and coffee, and I did my physical therapy exercises to help make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I drove the 35 minutes to race start and after picking up my bib, I did my usual dynamic warmup, ate a banana and drank a bottle of water.

A small group of us gathered at the start and it started to rain freezing rain. There were many more people racing the 20km course, and they stood nearby.  The mood seemed fairly calm and relaxed. The race officially started and those of us doing the marathon ran into the woods. I could hear the freezing rain, but the tree canopy kept us dry. The ground was muddy – as expected since it rained most of the previous week.

I passed some people and was passed by others as we all established our rhythm, and within 15 minutes or so I was basically on my own in the woods. The first section, Pilot Creek trail, is a 3.3 mile section that brings you to the base of the mountain.

I stopped at the first aid station about 30min in, grabbed a cup of water and some Oreos and was on my way to start the first of 2 laps up and around the mountain. I ate an Oreo on the way up Ledge Springs trail, one of the big climbs, and was shocked by how sweet it tasted. I had a hard time getting 2 cookies down, but knew I needed the calories. My belly felt a little off after that, so at the 2nd aid station at the top of the mountain, I drank some Coke which thankfully helped. I grabbed 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ran down the mountain.

Of Stones and Earth and Air, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. One of the paintings I made inspired by hiking at the top of the Grindstone trail

About halfway down the Grindstone trail, I took a wrong turn (100% my fault). Luckily I realized I was on the wrong trail fairly quickly, turned around and headed back to rejoin the right trail down the mountain. I lost a few minutes there and laughed it off to keep my heart rate from spiking due to the adrenaline.

One my way around the base of the mountain,  as I stuffed my gloves into my pack, I twisted my ankle hard, but quickly recovered. To me this stretch is mentally the toughest of the race because it’s long and feels never-ending, but I felt pretty good. I ate my 1/2 PBJ sandwich and passed the water aid station, a gallon of water along the side of the trail, and opted not to stop there.

Pilot Mountain 7, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches. One of the paintings I made inspired by hiking along the Mountain trail

I passed the fourth aid station at the start of my second loop up the mountain, had some coke again since it worked well to keep my stomach settled and grabbed a half banana to eat up on the steep Ledge Spring climb. Just after starting that stretch of trail which is a series of steep rock “steps” for almost a mile, my left inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I tried climbing leading with my right leg each time. After a few steps, I realized I’d quickly fry that leg too, so I went back to alternating legs up each step, but focused on engaging other muscles. It worked and I was able to very gingerly make it up the climb without fully cramping.

Another coke from the aid station at the top and I took a gel with me for the loop around the base of the mountain. On the loop, my right inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I resorted to taking very small steps as I climbed and hopped around the rock gardens along the trail. I ate some of the chips I had brought with me, hoping the salt would help. It didn’t help fast enough, so I quickly downed the gel and that did the trick. My pace felt pretty good on the flats and descents and I eventually made it to the last aid station just before heading back on the Pilot Creek Trail. I walked to drink a cup of water and had another gel to make sure I didn’t “hit the wall” on the last few miles. Other than stiff legs, I felt ok, so I decided to pick up the pace on this last home stretch. I caught and passed a group of 3 men about a mile from the finish and happily kept them at bay. They were chatting as they ran, so I think I was working a lot harder than they were, but I’ll take it!

As soon as I popped out of the woods I saw and heard my husband and our son cheering for me, and felt a surge of emotion as I ran up the grass to the finish. I did it! I was greeted with a finisher’s medal (and I’ve never been so proud to receive one of those) and a bowl of chili and cornbread which I ate as I walked around in a daze.

The race promoters put on a great event, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging trail marathon. I’d also like to take a second to thank my husband for supporting all my training and for being generally awesome. Thanks Tim!

Pilot Mountain 10, acrylic and oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. One of the Pilot Mountain paintings I made over the years, this one specifically hiking along the Mountain trail

Feature in Art Beat of Forsyth Woman!

This month Forsyth Woman is featuring my work in their magazine! Writer Taryn Jerez and I discuss many aspects of being an artist including influences, my evolution as an artist and how I carve out studio time. You can read the piece here.

Thank you Taryn and Forsyth Woman for the feature in the February issue!

Paper mountain and the space between the clouds installation
Installation shot of Paper Mountain and the Space Between the Clouds at Sechrest Gallery of Art at High Point University
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