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Making Thank You Drawings

Around the holiday season, I make a series of small works on paper to send to collectors of my paintings as a way of saying thank you. This time-lapse film documents the process of making the mixed media drawings I sent this year. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I started working on light blue paper, but eventually switched to a white paper. The blue paper felt too flimsy, so I used a heavier-weight watercolor paper instead. You’ll also notice in the upper left corner when I cut the new watercolor paper. I think my favorite part of the video is seeing all the tools move around as I used them.
This was shot over the course of two days, with a photo once every 10 seconds. I used watercolor, graphite, ink, wax pastels, colored pencil, and gouache (opaque watercolor). Enjoy!

On the Outdoor Experience and Art

me drawing, not sure when (4 years old?)

I moved around a lot as a kid. My mom is French and my dad is American, so we lived both in the US and France for a few years at a time. I didn’t feel like I fit in in either country. We also spent a lot of time doing outdoor stuff. We hiked, camped, ran, rode bikes, and played a lot of imaginary games outside. I remember building tree houses, making magic potions with mud and flowers, and pretending to be on secret missions and outdoor expeditions. I may have also made a fire in the middle of our backyard so I could make s’mores and cook beans in a can. (Don’t tell my parents.) Anyway, when I was in the outdoors, I was at home. No matter what country I was in, when I was doing stuff outside, I felt at home. 

Growing up, I also spent a lot of time drawing and making things. Looking back, I realize  that the experience of making things was and still is the same for me: I am focussed, nothing else matters except for what I am making at that moment, and in the best case scenario, I am in a state of flow. This feeling of being in the moment and fully engaged with my environment and what I am doing is similar to my experience when I am enjoying the outdoors. Whether in a forest or on a mountain top, what resonates with me are the feelings of being connected to the world and at the same time, of being small in a vast universe. While I can portray what an outdoor scene looks like by making a landscape painting, through abstraction, I explore what it feels like to be outside.

Jessica Singerman painting "Pilot Mountain 1"
Pilot Mountain 1, acrylic and oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2018

It’s through making things and being in the outdoors that I am able to connect to the world and to find my 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. For me, I don’t feel like my words do these feelings justice. But in my artwork, abstraction in particular, I can explore the human experience in the outdoors, the spiritual element of being in the outdoors – that feeling of both being small and being connected to a vast universe.

Being a human is complicated. Spending time in the outdoors and making things helps me make sense of life – of my place in the world. When I make things, I express what I feel but that I don’t have the words to explain. Through abstraction, I try to communicate the complexity and the vastness of the human experience. 

Jessica Singerman in studio with son

On Motherhood and Being an Artist

In a 2016 interview with German newspaper Tagesspiegel, the performance artist Marina Abramović said: “I had three abortions because I was certain that it would be a disaster for my work. One only has limited energy in the body, and I would have had to divide it. In my opinion that’s the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There’s plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.”

In 2012 when my husband and I were living in Australia, we had a baby. I was in a typical new parent sleepless daze for months. After two months I realized I was losing my sense of self, and the best way I could think of to regain it was to make things every single day. I had been browsing books at the local Michael’s on a trip Stateside with my parents, and found a book called 365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Every day and Change your Life! by Noah Scalin. The book is full of prompts for projects to make every day for a year, and it struck a chord. That night I made a small drawing project and vowed to continue each day for the next year.

Let me back up a few years. After I completed my Masters in Fine Arts, I had trouble making things consistently. I worked on commissions and made things for exhibits. I made collaborative work. I even got a grant for a public art project in Adelaide, Australia. But I wasn’t making work every day, and it gnawed at me.

After I had a baby, time seemed to speed up and I got the feeling that I had no time to lose. I felt a sense of urgency to make work – that I had to make work to exist. Having a baby gave me a clarity of purpose and made my priorities very clear. I am here to make things, to paint, to create. 

We now live Stateside, but I have this same sense of urgency in my practice. Up until January 1st 2019 I had another job, so I had to be ruthless about my studio time. I moved my studio time according to the needs of the family. Over the years my studio time varied from early in the morning before anyone was up to late at night after everyone was in bed, and everything in between. It is important to me to show up every day and make work.

I have figured out over the years that I am my best self when I regularly sustain my artistic practice. I have a visceral need to create. It’s how I connect to the world and how I make sense of things. Now it’s also my full time job, so I juggle my studio practice with the work needed to sustain that: writing, photo/video, marketing, web design and web building, accounting, setting up exhibitions, etc…

I also believe that Mrs. Abramović and all the other people who think that women must choose between making good work and being a parent, are mistaken. Being a parent has made me a more dedicated and more professional artist. It has given depth to my practice and given me vision both for my work and for my life. I am grateful to my son for helping me uncover my path.

Thank you for reading. If this post resonated with you, please share it by email or on Facebook!

You do not have to be good.

I came across my first Mary Oliver poem somewhere in a field in Pennsylvania when I was 23. It was autumn, the sky was big, there were wild geese flying overhead and forest around us. One of my artist friends brought a book of poetry, and when she read the first line of the poem “Wild Geese:”

“You do not have to be good.”

I was stunned. “You don’t?” I thought to myself. As a young woman, to hear this so bluntly spoken was a revelation. It’s the opposite of everything I had been taught growing up. I listened to my friend read the rest of the poem. She loaned me the book, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, and I poured over its pages. My love affair with Mary Oliver’s poetry began at this point, and I often consulted it when trying to come up with titles for my artwork. I often don’t know what my most abstract work is about until I have to come up a title for it. Mary Oliver’s poetry puts into words all of what I am feeling through my artwork. Images of the landscape and layering that with our experience as humans. Her writing is spare and to the point.

“… Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

….

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination…”

These are a few lines from that first poem I heard, “Wild Geese,” a poem originally from her 1986 book Dream Work.

If this resonated with you, I encourage you to check out Mary Oliver’s writing at your local library. And if you like this post, please share!

2018 Year in Review and THANK YOU!

Artist Jessica Singerman in the studioIt’s almost 2019! As we look forward to the new year, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and I’d like to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for your support. Here are some of the things that your support helped make possible:

Last winter the Happenings CLT blog featured me as a “Carolina Art Crush.”

I won an Arts Council of Winston Salem and Forsyth County Duke Energy Regional Artist Grant to purchase a professional photography and video setup. I discussed the importance of grants like this for the arts community with writer Michael Solender for the Duke Energy Illumination blog.

In the spring I was in a three-person show at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, and the gallery subsequently asked me to join the roster of artists they represent.

At Elder Gallery, I gave a lecture on abstraction, my painting process, inspiration, life as an artist, and why making art matters. You can watch the lecture here.

In autumn I had a solo show in the Elberson Fine Arts Center at Salem College in Winston Salem. Virtually walk through the exhibit here.

The College of William & Mary in VA, my alma mater,  invited me to give a talk during the “100 Years of Women” anniversary while my painting Greenway Triptych was exhibited there.

And like last year, thanks to my collectors who bought artwork, I was able to donate 5% of all my sales to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

Stay tuned for what’s happening in 2019. I’m hitting the ground running with two shows at the start of the year and I’m building a mountain in March at Elder Gallery… In September, I’ll have my first museum show at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art!

Thank you so much for your continued support along my journey.

Evolution of an idea

My idea started simply: Build a mountain of paper.

Digital Rendering of Paper Mountain at Elder Gallery

As a painter, my work is basically two-dimensional. As a painter concerned with the outdoor experience, the flat surface of a painting could be considered limited. A bit like looking through a window instead of being outside in a landscape. I wanted to make an immersive experience, something bigger than me or anyone else. Something evocative of the outdoors, specifically being in the presence of a mountain. I often think of the sculptor Richard Serra’s work, gently curved huge steel walls. Standing near these sculptures, one gets a strong  feeling of being in the presence of something much larger than we are as humans, something that looms over us in a physical sense and evokes standing near a mountain or in a crevasse – something approaching the sublime.
So I planned to build a mountain using paper because paper is the most basic element we use as artists. I hoped that it’s delicate feel would help convey the fragility of our environment and that it would contrast with the large scale of the mountain.
I first thought I would stack recycled paper in 1-ton bales and retain the mountain shape using wire – the same kind of wire used on rock faces on the side of roads to prevent rock falls. It turns out recycled paper smells terrible, so I ruled that out. I thought about using recycled plastic, but decided it would end up looking like piles of trash and would be too oppressive in a gallery setting.

a concept drawing

I then thought of making a mountain form with wire and lumber covered with paper. When I went to Elder Gallery to take photos and measurements, I noticed that there were metal beams along the ceiling. Rather than building my mountain on the ground, I could hang it from the ceiling! The mountain could be suspended. I could make wire and folded paper sandwiches so that each piece holds its shape, and they would all be hung from the ceiling like a sort of dense mobile.

To try this out, I built a smaller version of the mountain in my studio. I attached chicken wire to grey paper and molded each piece into what looked like a large rock. I hung all the pieces from the ceiling. It looked terrible. It looked like exactly what it was: paper with chicken wire taped to it. I want my mountain to be transcendent, to be more than the sum of its parts. I want my mountain to inspire, to make people dream, to be poetic. This was not it. Back to the drawing board.
When I had originally conceived of the project, I thought about using paper folding techniques so the piece would be elegant in its finished form. I wondered if there were mathematical concepts that could generate folds to look like rock formations. I decided I wanted my piece to feel more organic though, and initially decided against paper folding. After mocking up the mountain using the paper and wire sandwich though, I reconsidered the paper folding. I remembered all the time I’d spent folding paper as a child.

Paper Crane Drawing, pencil on paper, 2018

Paper folding is something that I’ve always returned to even as an adult – it’s meditative and it’s like magic – making three dimensional objects with a sequence of folds. I remembered the story of the 1000 cranes, that folding 1000 cranes would bring you luck. There are other stories of the 1000 cranes involving kindness and peace and giving. I decided I’d try to hang the cranes in a mountain formation that would touch the ground. The mountain would be made of a dense flock of birds. The companion project to the Paper Mountain is a project involving images of skies, so birds were fitting.
I went to work finding the right paper. It had to be big because the area of the mountain would be thirty feet long, ten feet wide, and thirteen feet at its highest point. The paper had to be the right weight. Too light and it would collapse under its own weight. Two heavy, and it wouldn’t fold correctly. After weeks of folding cranes using all weights and sizes of paper, I found a drawing paper that worked well enough. Each sheet must be cut to an 18×18 inch square. The paper is thick enough that as folds are added and its structure gets more rigid, it fights back a little. But I found ways to effectively fold it so the folds are crisp. And with its weight, it holds a good shape.

Paper Cranes In My Studio

Over the course of a few days, I hung each bird using fishing line from my studio ceiling, in the dense flock I’d imagined in my mind’s eye. I started at the top and realized that I should rather start from the bottom to avoid getting birds tangled in fishing line. I started too densely and then left more space in between them. When the small mountain was finished, it felt right. I calculated that I would need to fold 1200 birds to make the mountain as large as I planned. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s taking large projects and breaking them down into smaller chunks. So every day, without fail, I’m folding birds.

To learn more about Paper Mountain, visit the project page.

Folding a crane

A Small Token for World Kindness Day

I’ve been folding paper since I was a child. It has always been a mindful activity that brings me peace. Today is world kindness day, so I want to share peace and kindness with you as I fold this crane.

My heart breaks each time I hear the news these days, and as an artist, we sometimes question the validity of what we do in times of crisis. But after years of thinking about this, I know that what artists do is essential to humankind. We open up conversations and connections between people who may never meet. And today in a small quiet way, I am sending peace, love, and kindness to the world. Paper folding is a prayer for peace.

Why I love the outdoors

I am obsessed with the outdoors. From a career in the outdoor industry for over a decade to making artwork that is a love letter to nature, my experience outside feeds my soul and my art. The best possible scenario for me is if after looking at my artwork, someone is reminded of the power of nature and is motivated to get outside and feel connected to the earth. If someone can share this experience with another person, that is the absolute BEST.

My newest project PAPER MOUNTAIN & SKY PROJECT creates an immersive outdoor experience. I believe that in an increasingly digital world, it is vital to go outside. My hope is that this installation will encourage people to commune with nature and experience the world directly. This project will give people the opportunity to dream and to experience joy as they share the project with friends and family. I’d love for you to share in this experience too! Click here to find out how.

Paper Mountain & the Sky Project

From now until March 2019, I am working on a project for Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.

This project has two parts, a very large paper mountain and a video projection of skies.

The idea behind this is to create an experience that evokes the outdoor environment. As a painter, my work is about the intersection of the outdoor experience and art. Because painting is inherently a two dimensional experience, this installation is a way to create a more immersive experience for viewers.

I’m looking for partners to help cover the costs of the project. There are the material and equipment costs to build the mountain and to create the sky project, staff to assist with the building of the mountain, and all the time and work I am doing between now and March to make the project successfully come to life.

To learn more about the project, please visit www.jessicasingerman.com/papermountain

On the website, find out more about the project, what it’s about, why it’s important, and different levels of support. I appreciate any level of participation.

If you want to ask me about the project directly, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.

If you love this project, but can’t swing a contribution at the moment, please SHARE this project with everyone you know who’d love it.

Private viewing of the “Shape of the Sky” at Salem College

My exhibit of paintings “The Shape of the Sky” is on view at the Elberson Fine Arts Center at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC until October 5th. So if you weren’t able to make it to the opening last Friday, there’s still time to see the show! Watch the video above for a tour of the exhibit.

In these paintings, I continue to explore the intersection of the outdoor experience and painting. The forces of nature are an ongoing source of inspiration in my life and work, and in these paintings, I aim to share that with you and to inspire you.

While the work is on display, you can still purchase the paintings online. They will be marked as sold in the exhibit and shipped the week of October 15th. Visit the Gallery Shop to bring these paintings into your life.

I donate 5% of the sales of my works to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

Know someone who’d like these paintings? Please share this post!

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