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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. 

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