JENNIFER SHROY

 

How would you describe the work you do? If you could choose a word to describe it, what would it be?

That’s a really good question. Honestly, growing up I never really thought, “I’m going to be an artist” or that I was going to do art. It was drilled into me that artists don’t make a lot of money, that you should definitely do something else, and that while art may be fun and you can do it, you should also do something else. Art has always been whatever I’m feeling in the moment. So usually it’s emotional for me. That would be a good description of it, although I don’t necessarily know if everyone would look at my art and think “That’s an emotional piece of art” but I’ve started to utilize [art] more to help me handle emotions and stress.

 

Describe a little bit how you got here. What occurred early on to lead you down the creative path?

I was the kid who always wanted to be something new. At first I was going to be a doctor, and then I was going to be a veterinarian, then I was going to be a lawyer, then I was going to be a surgeon, then I was going to be a psychologist. When I became a psychology major in college I realized how much I hated it, and promptly switched over to arts and graphics and web design. I slowly made my way back to art after taking ridiculous classes like calculus in high school.
 
I did running start, which is where you can take college courses in high school. It’s both a good and a bad thing because on the one hand, you get to do a bunch of pre-recs for college early, but on the other hand you don’t get to explore what you want to do as a junior/senior in college. So you have to go straight from high school to, “I know what I’m gonna do now”, and, “I know my major”. I couldn’t do those undergrad years where you just got to do whatever you wanted. That was definitely a challenge that I experienced because I went from doing two years of college in high school to finishing up two terms to get my AA, and then I did night classes for a year which also screwed me over because I was working full-time during the day and taking night classes for this psychology program that I thought I wanted. It wasn’t until the following year when I switched to full-time psychology classes that I was like, “Oh no. Oh definitely not”. It was actually my partner Sara who said, “you should do art” and I said, “You know what? Yeah, I think I'll do that”. 

 
 

How did you get started? What's the first Illustration you remember drawing?

I remember drawing at, like, age two. My parents always had crayons and they were super supportive so my entire childhood was, “I’m drawing, here’s a picture, Dad”. I remember making homemade cards and thinking how my dad loves dragons so I’m gonna learn how to draw dragons really well, or I like horses so I’m going to draw horses really well. My entire childhood was just uninhibited art time and I think it wasn’t until I got older and teenage insecurities and pre-teen insecurities set in that I was like, “I don’t know what I should do”. 

 

How did you learn to draw? Did you use any reference photos or learn from a book?

I just figured it out! I took one art class in middle school and I took one digital art class in college which was all about the abstract and learning the tools. I took one other art class but it was all still-lifes and outline drawing. It was with graphite and charcoal, which I was already using so it wasn’t anything new. I want to learn to work with charcoal, but it’s the feeling of it on the paper that I don’t like. Charcoal is all over your hands - give me a mechanical pencil, please! I’ve never had another art class since then. I feel like the majority of my skills were self taught.  I think I just thought, “I’m not going to be an artist so I don’t need to learn the technical techniques”. Which I regret, sincerely. There are things that I wish I knew how to do.  
 
I think a lot of it was just me growing up as a kid getting colored pencils for my birthday and stuff like that. My dad’s family is ridiculously artistic. My cousin’s a romance writer. Her and her brother - they were super artistic growing up, my dad was super artistic, his brothers were artistic in different ways. One of them was a musician, one of them was a magician. And then my mom’s dad was an artist a little bit later in life. Artists everywhere, so everyone was super supportive.

 
 

You dabble in animal surrealism - primarily birds. Is there reasoning behind that? What draws you to birds in particular?

I was going through this moment where I was really thinking about how a lot of my work has to do with women and the female figure. It was right after Sara got me an iPad for Christmas and I was really excited to try some digital art out and I was thinking about the term “bird” and how that’s a slang term for women. It’s not a common one now, more historically, so I really wanted to explore that and the role that women had historically, so I was taking old photographs and implementing them digitally and then implementing a bird as their head to explore the roles women held and how that can translate with birds. There’s a couple pieces that I never posted, or at least one piece that I never posted on my Instagram account because it was a little too risque. And I’m probably going to pick that back up but ever since I’ve switched over to being a full-time designer at my work I’ve just been on the computer so much that I need to get back to pen and paper. 
 
I did one digital piece on January 20th (President Donald Trump’s Inauguration) and I was looking at a lot of the protest photos and I was thinking about the “grab them by the pussy” rhetoric. So that’s the only other surrealism piece that I’ve done besides the birds - it's these two pink cats holding a protest sign. I was going to do a series on that, but I just didn’t feel as good about it after I did it as some of my other work. It felt really empowering in the moment but then I didn’t feel like it was something that I could really explore and be interested in doing long term. 

 
 

Art as a career - What's your process for finding balance to create outside work? How do you prevent burnout?

What I would say is that it was harder to not get burnt out when I was freelancing because with freelancing you have 100% control of what you’re doing, and you have to do it as a job and it takes up a lot of your side time after work so being a freelancer and an artist was really hard for me personally. In my job now, I get to use a lot of the skills I’ve learned, but a lot of the things I’m doing come in from clients since I’m a junior designer. I build interactive web ads, essentially, so since I’m building out these interactive web ads, most of the time they’re already mocked up, and if they’re not already mocked up and I’m building the mock, then there’s a lot more constraints. So it’s creative, but also very uniform. There are a lot of rules and a lot of boundaries so even when you’re being “creative” it’s not the same at all as when I could go make something because I wanted to make that thing. 
 
Instead, now when I make something at work I’ve got to have a certain KPI in mind and I’ve got to have a certain CTA and I’ve got to have all these things that in my down time I don’t ever have to deal with. For me it’s easy to separate the two but I think that’s why I’ve been switching back over to classical mediums - I’m on a computer all day now in Photoshop and doing all these things and I don’t really want to stare that close at a screen when I get home. At my old job I would occasionally go do other things, but now it’s just 9 hours straight of Photoshop or Hype. And like, that’s what I do.

 

When do you feel like you create your best work?

I think especially this last year I’ve been motivated by trying to self-soothe. I feel like when I’m really happy the work’s great, and it helps me to stay happy but when I haven’t done anything in a while I just need to make something and it doesn’t matter what. I feel best with my work when I’m in a good place, but if I’m not in a good place I have to make the work to help me get in a good place. My whole late middle school/early high school experience was just me trying to be a tortured artist and failing miserably. I did that whole "tortured teenager who only wears black and writes bad poetry" thing but, while I can sometimes be cranky, I am definitely an optimistic person and you can’t be a tortured artist who’s also mostly optimistic. I’d rather just lean into the optimism and not feel shame for feeling good. I feel much better about it than trying to lean into my anxiety or that it controls more of my life than it does. I’m just going to be grateful for my outlook on life.

 
 


What's a project you're most proud of? Both personally and professionally?

That’s a really good question actually. I feel like I haven’t put my work out there in a professional way, which is a good/bad thing because it means that if you don’t put yourself out there you’ve never had a chance to fail but you’ve also never had a chance to succeed. So I think this is the year where I’m trying to build up enough of a collection where I can really start putting myself out there. I have one piece that’s my favorite. It is 100% not my normal style whatsoever and it’s the one that I love the most because it was so therapeutic. I had just gotten out of a breakup so I just figured I was going to doodle and then it was like, “Oh my God I’m going to do more of this”, but then it was so contrived when I tried to do it again, you know? 
 
It reminded me a lot of these books that I used to read as a kid that came from the library that I grew up around and they were these old books that had been illustrated in the 70’s and they were illustrated in black and gray and yellow and orange and they had these crazy weird lines and shit, you know - children’s books from the 70's! But I will probably never make something like this again, and I think that’s why I like it. It’s not one that I’ll ever show or anything but I like it because a lot of the times I’m way in my head and that was one where I was super not in my head. I think for me that’s what makes me happy about it. It was a time where I just did this thing and didn’t think about it. And I like it for what it is, and for me it’s hard to make something without being extremely aware of what the end product will be and feel anxious about what the end product will look like. I look at this and I’m calm. I was calm when I made it and I’m happy with how it came out. 

 
 

You've recently started drawing more portraits - does it make you nervous drawing other people? What lead you to draw self-portraits?

Yes! Insanely nervous. I have one picture up on my Instagram of my partner Sara and they definitely don’t think that the portrait looks like them. I was going to send it to you actually. I was just talking to Sara about it and they were like, “Sure, you can send it, but it doesn’t look anything like me”. I think it looks a lot like them in the eyes. I mean, the mouth’s a little off but no portrait is ever 100% accurate. They sent me a snapchat for reference when I drew it.

I’ve been doing a lot of selfie work because my body image definitely goes back and forth like many women's do, so this has been my way to force myself to look at the details of myself and appreciate them like I would appreciate photos of other women that I would use as a reference. I’m hoping to continue this. I think the next couple graphites I do will be selfies as well. 
 
With the selfies I want to force myself to really look at myself as a person who can be a work of art. I think a lot of people, particularly women, aren’t always as confident as we should be and we don’t think we could be something like an artist’s model. What better way to realize that you totally can be that than to make yourself one? It’s been fun too. I don’t take selfies - I’m the absolute opposite of that. Sara takes more photos of me than anybody and I’m always trying to ham it up because I’m uncomfortable being photographed - which is the opposite of my childhood because I was a camera hog. I’m hoping that when I get older I’m going to say, “Fuck everything, I can do what I want, I’m great, take all the photos of me” but I’m coming out of this phase where I didn’t want photos taken of me, I felt awkward, and now I’m just trying to own it and own my body and own who I am and be happy with that and not keep thinking that one day I’ll be what I want because I might not! People die every day, and just because you visually want to look like something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I don’t know. That’s where the selfies are coming from - it’s a self-empowering thing.

 
Jennifer Photo 5.jpg
 

You use an iPad Pro to create some of your work. Are you drawn more to digital art or classical (pen/pencil) art? Why?

I got the iPad Pro for Christmas last year and I found that it really helped me get back into sketching and making art just for the sake of making. It removed the barrier that mobility created because sometimes I don’t want to draw here [my apartment], I want to go places, but it’s a lot harder to collect all of your supplies and take over an entire table and spread out and then clean up. Even at home there’s times where I think, “Do I really wanna get out all my pencils and grab a ton of Q-Tips and get out all the paints and then deal with all the cleanup?' So the iPad is nice in that regard but I think for me it’s a little less therapeutic. The birds were nice because I did find that therapeutic but I always had to find research images which was less relaxing. 
 
When I want to just get to drawing, the iPad is valuable but there’s something about utilizing materials that are tangible. There’s something about how [with traditional materials] this is the one and only original piece of art, that feels much more personal and much more intimate than using an iPad. I find the iPad valuable for when I was interviewing for my current job I used it to wire-frame my mockups and stuff, and whenever I redo my website I have the full mock and right before I got the job that I have now I did a little mini update to my site with some of the visuals from that. There’s a lot of really technical stuff that I like the iPad for, but I’m definitely trying to move a little bit back into the traditional stuff. My sister got me oils for Christmas and I’ve never used oils so I’d really like to try those.

 

Is there a woman illustrator you particularly admire? What do you admire most about her?

I really like J.A.W. Cooper. Her work is amazing! I just love that she can do something straightforward like illustrations of animals that look like they could go inside of a textbook, and then she also does crazy paintings - like a giant cicada coming out of a frog that a woman is holding and she’s got sticks coming through her head. I just love her stuff and everything that she does. Her color palettes are always so beautiful. I could stare at her art for days and she’s probably the first artist I ever followed on Instagram. Her stuff is amazing. I discovered her about five years ago.
 
It’s really easy to feel like my art needs to be really abstract or that it can’t just be direct. I like that her work plays between these ideas. It’s like here is a person and here are these other elements and things to it. Sometimes as an artist I feel like my work isn’t good enough because it's straightforward, so what makes it unique? I like that she kind of plays with that back-and-forth. Some of her stuff is simple and some of it is not. Her technique’s just beautiful. And I think she uses all gouache - they’re like opaque watercolors. I have some; I’ve worked with them. It’s much heavier [than watercolors]. It’s interesting to watch her Instagram because she’ll do stories and she starts out with the rough sketch and then she uses the lightbox to transfer it and then she does ink outlines and shading and then she’ll add on the layers of color and it’s just so interesting. I love her work. 

 
 

Are you looking to branch out into other mediums? Have you branched out in the past? If so, how did it go?

My sister bought me oils - I really want to try that. Now that I have my new little art space set up in my apartment, I’m going to try to work on painting again more and I’m going to do more bold paintings. A lot of my work has been graphite and it’s been a lot of sketchbook-sized stuff and I really want to branch into larger pieces. I also want to branch into more color. I think I should start with several feet by several feet - just not 8.5 X 11 inches. That’s my goal. I don’t know if I want to buy an easel, but I feel like I should buy something like that just so I can have it there, so that way I have to look at it and think, “Ok I need to get this done”. So it’s not necessarily mediums - medium is part of what I want to play with but it’s definitely more size. I think for me it can be really hard to get comfortable drawing bigger, but I also want to start producing work that I can either show or sell, and that means that I need to push myself and use more space. 


Have you thought about making an Etsy?

I’ve actually had a lot of people ask me, especially this year, about an Etsy shop since I’ve been posting a lot more to my Instagram, so it's to be determined! My goal is to redesign my website and then have a component that’s either Etsy or a shop through my site. I just want to do a little bit more research because my website right now is all custom-built so I don’t want to implement a shop into a hand-built website if it is going to be insanely time consuming or expensive. Sara’s been pushing me ever since we got together to start a shop. We’ll be out and see some art and they’ll always say, “This person drew this with crayons - you could be up on this coffee shop wall!” And I’m like I know… But I feel like I need to build stuff up, get pieces together, and go from there. This is my year! 

 

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