A new week, a new Art Wall artist interview. The talented Jenny Lee Fowler of Art Wall's Living Room is joining us today. I had an absolute blast working with her on this interview. I hope you enjoy it just as much.
AW: How did you get started in paper-cutting/silhouette art?
Jenny: I've always been a maker. When I moved to the Hudson Valley over a decade ago, I began cutting snowflakes for every snowfall. Over the long winter weeks, they grew more and more elaborate on the windows of our apartment. As my excitement for papercutting grew, I became aware of it as a historical art and folk tradition with roots all over the world.
AW: Was there a turning point for you when your work turned from a hobby to a business? Was it a natural evolution or a conscious decision?
Jenny: A few years ago, my son was consumed with pirate fever, I started cutting snowflakes based on old illustrations of black beard and Anne Bonny and other figures from library books. When my father-in-law saw them, he asked me if I'd ever considered cutting portraits. I didn't really take an interest in them until I began to see each one as a real person at a particular time--a moment's momento. So on the new year I dared myself to cut a hundred profile portraits. I invited friends and strangers to sit for me in my living room, at the gym, at the park. My collection began to grow and my passion for the art really took hold. I started cutting professionally at local events and wholesaling to boutiques, then eventually hung out my shingle online because it allows me to work from home in a meaningful way.
AW: What an inspirational story. I love how you describe it as a "dare." It makes your self-challenge seem all-the-more motivating. Speaking of challenges, what has been the hardest part of your entrepreneurial endeavor?
Jenny: Definitely balancing my work with home life. We home-school our two children, and they are both very active here and out in the world. I'm blessed with a studio of my own and a very supportive family.
AW: Silhouette art seemed to be a dying art some years back. What do you think brought it back to life?
Jenny: New technology, graphic sensibility, and a sentimental hunger. Though there still aren't many people out there like me who practice the traditional art of cutting by sight rather than tracing, shadowcasting, or using a computer program. I also think many contemporary artists, like Kara Walker, have been inspirational in bringing papercutting to the foreground as a fine art medium.
AW: "New technology, graphic sensibility, and a sentimental hunger." That's the perfect explanation. I think the modern woman (or man) can appreciate your twist on tradition. It has to do with that sentimental hunger you spoke of. For example, you do a classic silhouette and update it by using a leaf or bark as your medium. Are you always thinking about what your scissors can attack next?
Jenny: Bark is actually the most ancient form of silhouette cutting. It was used as templates for embroidery in China and to created basket designs by Native Americans. Hans Christian Andersen left behind a leaf cutting from a rubber tree. As an artist and crafter, I am always looking for ways to tap back into that well and experiment with new materials. At the moment, I've got three lovely bundles of silk waiting on my worktable.
AW: Silk? Can't wait for that update. So what is your favorite scene for creating new pieces?
Jenny: Sitting in my cozy yellow chair with a rare quiet. Aluminum tray in my lap catching bits and pieces as I work. Sunlight on our hill. Kids busy in the sandbox.
AW: What's your most popular item?
Jenny: Standard black portraits. Bread and butter.
AW: Do you have a sweet story someone has told you about how they have given/used your work?
Jenny: Many people cry when they open their gift. I love being part of that tenderness between people.
AW: That's pretty special. Not all artwork is easily given as a gift but yours possesses that special quality. So, what is #1 on your list this year?
Jenny: New snips.
AW: What's a teeny tiny thing that makes you happy?
Ha! You can't get much tinier than that, touche'! Thanks so much, Jenny. I hope this short but thoughtful interview will inspire at least a few people to "dare" themselves to do something wonderful.