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Continuing with our Taproot Interview Series, we'd like to introduce you to Jennifer Judd McGee. Jennifer is a full time artist and mother of two. She was our cover artist for Taproot Magazine throughout 2012. Jennifer recently renovated an old house with her family and works from home in her downeast Maine studio. Papercutting and illustration are her primary mediums, and her work is influenced by her coastal surroundings. She shows her original work in galleries across the US. You can find more of her work at www.jenniferjuddmcgee.com
You've been making art full time since 2007. How has working for yourself, from a home studio, changed and grown over the years? What does a typical creative day look like for you?
Well, when I started making art I didn't have a proper studio - a lot of it happened at the dining room table in my house in Portland (Maine.) It felt pretty crazy! Since then my family and I have moved to Mount Desert Island and renovated a very old house, adding a proper basement studio for me. We added some nice windows that look out over the field next to our house, which I love. And it's really nice to have a space where I can leave work in progress and know that it's not in anyone's way.
A typical day for me involves answering emails, checking Etsy, preparing and shipping orders, working on original pieces or illustration jobs for different publishers and companies I work with, and a million other little jobs. It's nice that no two days ever seem to be exactly the same. This time of year is very busy on Mount Desert Island - we're a huge vacation destination because Acadia National Park is here - and my own business is a lot busier in the summer because of the different shops and galleries I work with ramp up and do the majority of their sales between May and October. So I am often trying to keep up with producing enough original work and inventory for the local shops. I love working with them.
You draw inspiration from your environment (living so close to the beauty of nature located on Mount Desert Island) Can you share a bit of your process with us? Do you take photographs or collect treasures on your hikes or do you rely on memory and imagination to start your creations?
I grew up on MDI, but I don't think I truly appreciated just how gorgeous and unique this part of the world is until I was an adult. I can hike a very short distance and be in Acadia, and there are some really incredible gardens - the Thuya Garden and the Azalea Garden - really close to my house. I feel so lucky to have such close proximity to these amazing places. At this time of year the Azalea Garden is peaking, and I take a lot of walks over there to soak it all in. It has lots of little paths and quiet places for reflection, and the colors and forms are pretty magical. My kids love to hike and bike, so we do that a lot too. I take a lot of photos and use them for inspiration, and I also rely on memory. Much of my recent work is not about specific places, exactly - I've been going more for the feeling one might have spending time here.
There is a lovely video
online that shares a glimpse of you and your process. To quote your kids, you "get on the art channel" when you are in the zone with creating. That's a great description and very telling of the space required by artists to create. Your kids have grown up with you creating art. Did you find the early years a lesson in time management? As they are older now, has it become easier to balance work and motherhood? Do your kids create art with you?
When my kids were little my time management skills were terrible. I was so very happy to be working from home and getting to spend more time with them, AND it was pretty tricky at times, too. I still find that balance to be a hard thing - I feel more able to be disciplined now, and their schedules are more regular, so it's evened out a bit. The kids often come home from school and will do their homework with me while I am working, and we'll catch up and talk. And they both help me with certain jobs now, too, which is great. They're going into 10th grade and 8th grade this fall, and lately I find myself feeling panicky that I will close my eyes and they'll be out of the nest all together - so I try to appreciate every minute they want to spend hanging out with me. They're both very creative themselves, and the house is full of musical instruments, drawing supplies, embroidery and you name it. This week they've been working on a ukelele and mandolin duet, and it's been so much fun to listen to them play.
How do you keep yourself learning and growing as an artist? Some artists find inspiring weekends a necessity for keeping the creativity and connectivity flowing (like time spent at Maine's Haystack Mountain or Watershed Center). Do you find yourself diving into learning new tools if you are away on a working/creating art weekend? What art mediums are you finding particularly exciting right now?
Even though it can feel scary as an introverted person, I've found that I love and crave putting myself in learning environments as often as I can. I've been lucky to get to spend time at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts three times in the past few years, and it's come to be my favorite place on earth. Each time I've gone I've tried a different studio and medium, and tried to put myself out of my comfort zone a bit. I've studied printmaking, improvisational quilt making and blacksmithing so far. In addition to being a beautiful place with great food and amazing teachers, what I love the most is being around so many other creative people from all over the world. I've made some wonderful friendships and have come away with lasting inspiration. Haystack has a Fab Lab, and that was where I first learned that I had a huge crush on what a laser cutter can do - and I've since purchased one for my studio and am doing some interesting and exciting work with it. My primary medium these days is freehand paper cutting, and it can be pretty time consuming - but i think it's really amazing that I can send the image of a papercut I've done by hand to this machine and it will cut or etch the design onto paper, glass or wood. I'm working on some wood etched jewelry and some small editions of laser cut "prints" of a few of my papercuts, among other things.
Your art graced the covers of Taproot Magazine during 2012 (our first year!) and we continue enjoying and sharing your work within our pages. In addition to Taproot you do a variety of work with/for Target, Land of Nod, MTA Arts NYC Subway, Timberland, and Storey Publishing (to name a few!) Do you have any future projects you are working on that you can share with us?
I've had a lot of fun continuing to do work for Taproot! I especially loved working on the papercut I did for this most recent SEED issue
. A few other jobs I'm working on right now are continued work with places like Land of Nod, Hallmark, and Urban Outfitters - and my biggest push this year has been getting ready for a solo show of my original work for the Blum Gallery at College of the Atlantic
, my alma mater, which opens on 7/3 and will be up through 9/12. I've done a ton of original papercutting for it, and it will also have an installation component of strung paper and sail cloth flags (cut on my laser cutter!) hung throughout the gallery. This will be the largest show I've ever done, and I've had a lot of fun getting ready for it.
Thanks so much for your time, Jennifer! It's been a pleasure getting a glimpse into your creative process.