A Seat by the Firehole, Watercolor and Gouache with Image Transfer on Paper, 14" x 9.75", ©2018 Jennie Traill Schaeffer
It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators. They are the magic people of the world. - Amy Poehler, from Yes, Please
I think I forgot over the past few decades that I was one of those dreamers, a thinker, somehow magical for what I do. I grew up as a dreamer - playing, creating, and then I became a mother, at the same time as opening a studio / gallery in a storefront. A lot of energy went into creating that space, the events, the shows, the lessons, and some artwork along the way.
Since closing my brick and mortar in 2013, I birthed another son, took time off from creating art, but then slowly started pulling myself up and out of my house. My art classes moved locations, grew in number and then shrank again while I tended to some very personal needs for my family. All the while, I was making, exhibiting, but something was shifting. During that contrition, my artwork started blossoming again, changing, emerging as something wholly new.
While motherhood may spark dreaming in some people, I have found in some ways the opposite. There were moments of creativity and bursts of ingenuity that surprised me, but for the most part I was tired, exhausted, and spent - trying to juggle so many things. The truth of motherhood is that it is so damned hard. And, it doesn't get easier. But, somehow in the past two years, I have worked equally damned hard on myself and have found a burst of growth that is too amazing not to notice. I have found peace, I have found more space for my ideas, and I have found new places for my work.
35 has been a long time coming. While I'm no longer 35, I began this painting when I was 34, I think. Sometime in 2012, I believe, or maybe 2013, those years are a bit of a blur. I was running my gallery in Newton, NJ, a large 1250 sq' space where I was teaching, curating and exhibiting shows, and painting. Those years were great, and I have fond memories of the space, the art, and the people I connected with through art.
At the same time, it was tough. We honor and lift up women who do it all, and laud all the hard work. But, behind all of the successes, events, and work, I was struggling. My oldest son was 3 and in daycare 4 days a week, I was working tremendous hours, and my husband was commuting an 1 1/2 by to Millburn, NJ, and traveling on top of it for work. In the midst, we wanted to have a second child. I grew up with a sibling, as did my husband, so we wanted that for my son. All the while, my husband and I were discussing a move from Newton, which on top of everything was draining; not knowing whether to close my gallery, where we would go, what I would do.
The second time around, this process was not easy. Looking back at my life at the time, I can see why. I eventually got pregnant sometime in 2011, and was so thrilled that I wanted to tell my family and close friends, earlier than most do. I always felt if something did happen, I would want the support of my family. Sadly, something did happen, and I miscarried around 6 weeks. It was hard. I sometimes minimize the difficulty by saying, well it wasn't as hard as others' situations, but it doesn't matter. A loss is a loss and it is emotionally difficult to deal with. Beyond that, recovering physically was something I wasn't prepared for. It took a toll on my body and it took me almost a year to move on, not so much emotionally, but to normalize my body and physically let go.
This piece was started sometime after I miscarried, which the term in itself has a negative connotation and suggests that the mother did something wrong. I never felt it was my fault, and was hopeful that I would be able to conceive in the future. During that time I put so much pressure on myself, that I ended up with increased anxiety, a trip to the ER for a panic attack, and of course the side effect was an inability to let my body relax and be open to a pregnancy. After therapy, many doctors appointments for various issues, I finally found an answer from a doctor who, after some minor medications worked, told me your body is healthy, you can start trying. He worked with me, he was honest with me, and his statement lifted a weight off my shoulders. About a month later, I was pregnant with my, now, 3-year old son.
I've dealt with appliances as a subject for various reasons; maybe out of fear or just not knowing yet how to deal with the figure. They have become metaphors for people. Many are unfamiliar with the small appliance depicted in my work; it's a Sunbeam egg cooker. It was my mother's; she gave it to me several years ago to use in my work. This entire work is an evolution from my Maésta paintings featuring an appliance version of a Madonna and child seated on a throne. No longer is the chair the seat of the appliance, but a reference to a kitchen sink that has been collaged with egg shells. If you count the pearls, you will see there are 34. At the time after my miscarriage, 35 was the year when all things fertility-wise start going downhill (so we were told) and you become classified as high risk. This year hung over the head of many of my friends, including myself at the time. I ended up pregnant at 34, and delivered at 35, a healthy natural birth.
We ended up selling our house and closing my gallery two months prior to his birth, and relocating to a temporary apartment in Short Hills. All of my art supplies were boxed up shy of a sketchbook and a few watercolors. We were there for only 5 months before moving permanently to our home in West Orange. I took the time after having my son to care for him, minimize the time my oldest was in pre-school and get our house settled. That first year and a half are a bit of a blur with lots of sleepless nights and very full days. I produced little if any artwork during that time.
I gradually set up my studio, began teaching again, and I believe it wasn't until last year, that I pulled out this painting to resume work on it. I'm not one that easily lets go of things (as you can see). And, while some artists can just toss out a painting, say it's not significant for me, that wasn't the case. I needed to finish this, see it through to the end; it was important. So finally after 3 intense months working on this a few hours a week, I felt it was completed. It is done. That period of my life is over, but not forgotten. It was beautiful, tough, and while I often felt discouraged, there was hope that a second child would come, despite 35 hanging over my head.
Now, 35 is not such a problem and new research is coming out that suggests women who give birth at later ages, actually live longer! I stumbled on an article in The Daily Beast by Jean Twenge, psychologist and author of The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant, that noted 35 was derived based on French birth records from 1670 and 1830! It was thought that 1 out of 3 women could not get pregnant between the ages of 35 - 39. Those statistics lasted so far into the future that it affected my thinking about my pregnancy capabilities only a few years ago. New studies show 80% of that age group does become pregnant. So to those who have experienced miscarriage, struggles with pregnancy, fertility, you are not alone. I'm so thankful that this is a conversation that we are starting to have, and am very grateful that my second child did arrive, and thrilled that "35" has been resolved and is no longer on my easel.
Head over to my Facebook album of works in progress if you'd like to see the development and transformation of "35" over the past several years. Contact me for interest in the "35" or exhibit opportunities for the work.
An email came through my inbox recently from a local charity, Oasis, asking for donations to support their moms. With mothers on our mind I thought now is the perfect time to launch a month-long mission to raise awareness about Oasis and donate 15% of profits from my art sales.
Oasis is based in nearby Paterson, NJ, a city that exhibits a child poverty rate of 42%, compared to a 16% statewide rate. I've supported them in the past due to their excellent programs and their rating on Charity Navigator, plus 83% of their donations go directly to the women and children they aim to help. I've worked with and donated to other organizations in the past that help moms due to the direct link in helping future generations. By helping moms become self-sufficient, their children benefit directly by a higher quality of life. Moms are important.
All of the art on my web site and anything in my studio qualifies towards my donation (with the exception of a few pieces going out to exhibit this month). A limited selection of works are available for online purchases in my store, and most other available works are in my portfolio. Shipping is available for anything not listed in my store, just contact me with the art of interest and we will determine shipping costs or delivery details. If you're within a 25 mile radius, I'm happy to offer complimentary delivery. Any commissioned works, including my Wedding Cake Portraits, also qualify towards my donation. I would love to aid in Oasis' mission to "change the lives of women and children by breaking the cycle of poverty through compassionate programs designed to feed, clothe, educate and empower women and children in need." Enjoy browsing through my works and I hope you'll find some art to love that will help me lift up a mom in Paterson.
A special thanks to my mom, my husband, and my kids as we approach mother's day. I'm grateful for my mom's unconditional love and lessons in becoming a mother, and for my husband in helping me through the ups and downs of motherhood, and to my kids who have taught me a new kind of love and become creative in ways I never thought possible. Happy Mothers Day to my mom, my sister on her first Mother's Day, and to all of the moms out there who work so hard every day to feed, clothe, and love your kids.
My most recent works, the Red Carpet Icons, have been on exhibit at Hat City Kitchen in the Valley Arts District of Orange, NJ, for two months already! A couple of weeks ago, the restaurant hired a new executive chef and repainted the dining room. After the transformation, Jeremy Moss, local artist and operator of the gallery for Valley Arts, my son, and I spent an afternoon rehanging the show. The photo below speaks for itself.
I'm both sad to see the exhibit close in a month, but happy to explore new venues for these pieces. If you haven't gotten to the restaurant to see the exhibit, the work will be hanging through March 9th, and Valley Arts, the host of the Orbital Gallery at Hat City Kitchen, is hosting one last Artists' Salon Monday, February 8th, from 6 - 8pm. I hope you'll either come out and join me, or explore the exhibit online from the comfort of your device. There's also something special on Monday for attendees and email subscribers. So hop on over and join my list and make it an #Artful2016!
Happy 2016! I've taken a break over the holidays to shut down my production and focus on my family after a very intense end of year celebrating birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, hanging a solo show, last-minute holiday commissions, and online sales. I feel as if I'm starting to emerge on multiple levels. While I haven't yet gotten back to art making, I've spent the past week bookkeeping, reviewing and reflecting on 2015. While many artists I follow on social media are actively creating already, I have needed to take a step back and meditate on my successes and failures and BREATHE before moving ahead. Something people keep telling me I need to do, both literally and figuratively. So I'm heeding the advice.
Through that pause for reflection I discovered 2015 was a year of growth for me. I increased my overall student enrollment, began teaching adult watercolor classes at Work & Play in South Orange, offered a part-time summer drawing camp, created over 30 new pieces of art, exhibited at multiple venues including the Maplewood Art Walk, SOMA Studio Tour, and currently at Hat City Kitchen, participated in two public art events in South Orange, reintroduced my annual calendar, began making watercolor calendars for a free monthly desktop download, helped a student set up a private studio, and participated in an art challenge to create every day during the month of November.
Whew! I am proud of my own accomplishments. But, I couldn't have done it without the following in place. As a working mom with young kids and a husband who spent a good portion of the year traveling for his job, I got help with my kids. My youngest is in part-time daycare and I added on a day where he goes to a neighbor's house. My oldest is in school, but I've reached out to friends when I need extra support after school. For keeping myself on task and organized, last year I invested in an awesome planner: the Passion Planner. It's a neat book that encourages me to goal-set and write things down, as well as offers space to work out ideas visually. I've noticed that days without my planner I feel lost, adrift, even more so than being without my technology. Both the act of writing out my goals and paying for time to create my work keeps me on target. I know that when the kids are in school, I am in my studio either creating, marketing or teaching.
Yesterday, I had a phone call with an artist I knew from my former gallery in Newton, NJ, and he wanted advice from me on goal-setting and moving forward with his art. He was questioning where to sell his work and how to price it. Though I've been in business for ten years, my relocation and taking time off after having my 2nd child, has put me back in the same boat. I told him that I was in the exact same quandary: wondering about pricing my work, where to sell it, and what to make. Ultimately, my advice to him was to follow his interest in subject matter, keep making the work, do lots of research and networking on the best venues, and continue to create and test the waters. After all, that's what artists do. I'll be taking my own advice, and my goal this year is to attend one art-related event per month that is not my own so I can begin to network and see beyond my own studio.
Whether you are an artist, student or hobbyist, what are you doing to move into 2016 artistically? How have you found success in your work and what does that mean to you? Share with me on my blog or on twitter with #artful2016.
Jennie Traill Schaeffer
Sometimes called the Kitchen God's Artist, I'm balancing mothering two energetic sons, our new pup, Cider, while making and teaching art. TraillWorks is the apron under which I create and teach. My own art develops mostly in my West Orange home studio, but is often spurred through my teaching, and travels.
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