Jenny Brown – On Being an Artist

I decided early on that becoming a full time artist was my goal in life. I was 19 and a painting student at Bennington College, where the life of an artist was presented to me as almost a beautiful dream: a messy loft in New York City, ramen noodles for dinner, and the sudden discovery by a Chelsea gallery that would solidify my place in the art world… and would allow me to spend my life painting and traveling and in general just be cool.

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Brown, Jenny. Gray Pearl Cephalopod.  2016.  Pen, Ink and Collage on Paper.

I got an internship at Art in General gallery in 1994 (I was 20 years old), and I got my chance to live that fantasy. I slept on a couch in an apartment in Soho with people I barely knew, existed on pita bread and coffee for sustenance, and did embarrassing things like load all of the slides in the carousel backwards for a presentation at the gallery without realizing it. I was hungry and tired.

And I loved every minute of it.

After graduating from college the harsh truth set in: I wasn’t from a wealthy family or have a trust fund to fall back on, so I need to make money- not only to live, but to pay back the $30,000 I had to borrow to go to art school. I worked as a barista, a teacher, a waitress, a telemarketer, a medical secretary, and pretty much everything in between. I was broke but happy, and carved out time to make art between jobs in my bedroom. But I was tired- not only physically, but tired of people asking me when I would get a real job, tired of nervous calls from my family asking me what the heck I was doing, tired everyone asking me when I would get married and have children. Around that time I had the very good fortune to get to live and travel in Europe for two years. One night I was in Paris at a party and I told another guest, who was French, that I was an artist. Their face immediately lit up, and they proceeded to ask me all about my work and life like it was a CAREER. It had never happened to me before.

And it was all the motivation I needed to keep going.

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Brown, Jenny. Effervescent Flowering Scallop. 2017. Pen, Ink and Collage on Paper.

My work progressed. I had always loved working with collage material and it finally started to make sense in my work. I applied to grad school year after year and was rejected. When I finally got into the School of Visual Arts in New York, I thought it was all coming together (btw it took me NINE years to get into grad school). I figured I’d get an MFA which would lead to a great teaching job, which would lead to financial security… which would lead to me getting to just make art.

But it didn’t work that way at all.

I moved to NYC and immediately went into a downward spiral. The relationship I was in at the time came to a dramatic end. I found myself in New York with nowhere to live and and it was too late in the school year to quit. I had to borrow $50,000 to live and pay for school, work 4 part time jobs, and was almost laughed out of my classes for showing an interest in “paper ephemera.” I got sadder and more tired. I abused alcohol to almost a life threatening degree (which was thankfully a short lived phase). I felt I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was now EIGHTY thousand dollars in debt with no plum spot in a gallery, or really much to show from my time at school but a piece of paper.

But something kept me going.

I wanted to survive and make art.

I moved back to Boston to be by friends and figure out my next move. By then I had discovered that no one really cared that I had an MFA or had lived in New York. Unable to find any decent paying job in the art field, I took an office job that had nothing to do with art. Art was relegated to nights and weekends. Other artists I knew told me I was a sell out for taking a job in the corporate world. People in the corporate world didn’t take me seriously because they assumed I was a flake and not committed to my day job. I felt like I couldn’t win. But I kept showing up. Slowly but surely, I had a little money in my pocket and the confidence to keep working on my collages. And slowly they got better. Life was quiet and studious.

A few years later I met my husband and moved to Providence, RI with him. Not only did my husband truly believe in my work, but in Providence I found artists and friends and galleries did too. I got out of my comfort zone and started sharing my work on social media, and found another incredible community of artists and colleagues online, many whom I now call real life friends. I made the wholehearted decision to make my flowered-sea-creature-alien collages and be just happy with having the chance to make them.

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Brown, Jenny. Wandering Coral. 2017. Pen, Ink and Collage on Paper.

Right now, I am proud to say I work with 5 different art vendors and galleries. Some months, I make great money on my art and make almost as much as I do at my day job. Sometimes I go for months without even selling a print. And people still feel really inclined to share their feelings about my lifestyle, whether it be too corporate or too artsy in their view.

I think the real point of this story is to tell people that being an artist is really about committing to a whole life of art: the uncertainties, the doubt, the financial stress, the sudden successes. Someone recently said to me, “isn’t it WEIRD to really want to be an artist but spend all day in an office?” Another said, “don’t you wish you had never gone to school and didn’t have any loans so you could do whatever you want?” I honestly believe that all of these experiences, even the painful ones have taught me that I am TRULY committed to being an artist. Because some of the experiences really are painful. And yet I keep going towards my goal.

I am proud to live a life of non-conformity, complete with all the criticisms that come with it. I see people everyday who are unhappy and anxious and feel stuck and sometimes even tell me they wish they had been brave enough to pursue what they love, rather than be behind a desk all day. I hope they find the courage to take a step in that direction of what they love, even if it’s a little one.

I can’t promise them it will be easy, but I can 100% promise them it is worth it.

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Jenny Brown is visual artist living and working in Providence, Rhode Island, whose primary mediums are drawing, collage, and works on paper. Her work brings to life a mythical world of sea creatures and celestial beings, realized through her love of paper ephemera.

Her recent collage works focus on a dream of representing harmony amongst different elements of the natural world (flora, fauna, the moon, the sea). An abundance of flowers in the work represent the hearts and souls of these fantastic creatures. Branches and tentacles share their yearning to be connected to the most basic elements of life which created them…water, mineral, and the stars.

Jenny studied art at Bennington College and received her MFA from School of Visual Arts in New York. She is a featured artist in Issue 3 of Create Magazine, as well as part of the recently released “Craft Companion,” published by Thames & Hudson. She has also been featured at recent pop-up shops at West Elm & Anthropologie in Providence, RI, as well as Kate Spade in Pasadena, CA. Her work is currently available at Collier West in Brooklyn, NY and Good Eye Gallery in Los Angeles, CA.

Tess Runion – Why I shoot daily

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A usual day in my life is filled with chaos, kids, and lots of coffee/wine. Work, kid’s activities, homework, a college student, 2 dogs, maintaining a functioning household can be overwhelming, fun, joyful and tearful. I pick up my camera to find beauty in my ordinary. To document for my family the realness that is their life. So that they can learn as I have that it’s this beauty in all the little things that make up our big thing. That nothing is real without connection and emotion. So that they can remember to always find light and beauty in their regular and in doing so be more grateful little people.

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Based in Richmond, Virginia, Tess Runion is a documentary photographer specializing in black and white imagery. She strives to capture connection and to tell stories in each image. A mom of 3, she is inspired by her husband, children, good friends and good wine. To see more of her work visit www.tessrunionphotography.com.

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Brendan Ciecko – Seeking Grit and Ghost Signs

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I strolled along the cracked sidewalks and buckled paths of the “fossil American Venice” as Pulitzer Prize winning writer John McPhee once described this city. While passing through the sprawling district of canals littered with old brick mausoleums, I always notice something new. A century ago, that serpentine curve of the Connecticut River must have been a sight to be seen. Smoke stacks bellowing, trains roaring, and the bustle of things being produced in those factories. Each time I return, I examine the widespread decay, hoping that the “Queen of Industrial Cities” has stabilized and that she is in better condition than when I saw her last.

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“Hamilton Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Although many buildings and businesses continue to fall into ruin, the lack of forward motion has acted like a time capsule in some ways – preserving visual culture, commercial history, and proof of a more vibrant time. Behind flaking paint and around each corner, loom the ever-fading ghost signs.

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“Depot Square” by Brendan Ciecko

Most of my professional life has revolved around all things digital. Design is core to my being, and typography, a notable passion. When I travel my camera fills up with pictures of antique typography; hand­-painted signs, neon masterpieces, and chiseled cornerstones.

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“Haberman’s” by Brendan Ciecko

One of the things I can count on when visiting Western Massachusetts is that my ghost signs are still holding on tight. I’ve counted hundreds of interesting specimens within a mile radius of Holyoke’s majestic Neo-­Gothic City Hall.

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“Coca-Cola” by Brendan Ciecko

Oh, those ghost ­signs! High Street and Main Street have always been a feast for the eyes. Just look at the texture of the downtown, with its signage, old and new. But, the real treasures are of the businesses and advertisements long gone.

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“Main Pharmacy” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Essex Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Like a shoe-gazer on stage, you’d be surprised by what you’ll find with your head down. Terrazzo in the dipping entries of the old storefronts. Smashed marble and glass with hand-formed numbers and names of old departments stores. There must have been an old appliance shop here judging by that GE emblem, but I’ve never had the time to look it up.

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“GE” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Thom M” by Brendan Ciecko

In the 1960s and 70s, internationally renowned photographer Jerome Leibling took to the streets of this city’s raw downtown. During his time at Hampshire College, he brought along his students, including a young Ken Burns, to open their eyes and capture the grit of life.

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“Behind tenement” by Jerome Leibling

New York Times photographer Mitch Epstein documented the story of his family’s rise and tragic fall by the hands of Holyoke.

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“Newton Street Row Houses” by Mitch Epstein

A few months back, while visiting the deCordova, I came across a photograph in an exhibition titled “Overgrowth.” It was of a half­-shredded tenement with a hand-painted sign as an added bonus. Without reading the label, I knew where it was.

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“Coca-Cola, 1982” by Bill Ravanesi

These declining American cities have always captured our eye and imagination. I hope someday they’ll rebound, but until that day, I’ll continue collecting my snaps of signs and scenes of these formerly glorious New England mill towns.

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Brendan Ciecko is an entrepreneur, designer, and technologist. He lives in Boston, MA.

Steven J. Duede – Restive compositions of life

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During my years in art I was always interested in painting and photography as a way to convey ideas that were maybe not so obvious to a viewer within what might appear to be obvious imagery. Through texture and colors and patterns more ideas regarding the meaning of the subjects might avail themselves to those of us in the audience, depending on a person’s point of view.

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My images should be chaotic yet rhythmic. Organic, should be so packed with texture and physical substance that they can be viewed on different levels. Comforting, discomforting, beautiful, and transitory. These recent photographs reflect my continued interest in images that can be beautiful; images that are turbulent, from natural elements and that also evoke something less obviously marvelous.

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Flowers and natural things are marvels of beauty and flora is a big subject in my work abutting elements of the unseemly, the degraded. These elements provoke thoughts regarding the contrast of the graceful and the less than beautiful. Themes in relation to mortality and vitality can arise from participating in these sorts of subjects and that thoughtful imagery abounds for me in my own creative process.

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Within these images from composted organic materials I’m witnessing the decomposition of natural compositions.  In this body of work, as in many, I’m exploring the mechanics of transition through time, neglect and natural decomposition. I hope to establish images that can be beautiful and chaotic. Subjects that in their own specific way function as part of a beautiful transient process.

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Steven Duede is a fine art photographer, artist, designer and arts administrator living in Belmont, MA.

These and other works can be found at http://www.stevenduede.com

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Andrew Churchman – Album Cover Design

As digital music services such as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music compete for our attention, as an artist and musician I often lament the slow disappearance of physical media.  Sure, I love my Spotify Premium subscription as much as anyone but do you remember what it was like to go into a record store and browse through the racks of LPs, CDs, or cassettes?  Over the last few years there have been plenty of reports proclaiming the resurgence of vinyl records (even Whole Foods has begun to sell LPs) but 2016 has in fact been the worst year for overall album sales since 1991 (via Spin.com).

What we gain from the immediate satisfaction of streaming a song, we lose in of the enjoyment of the physical packaging of recorded music.  Have you ever taken a chance on an album just because the artwork struck you?  I have.  While it’s been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge an album by its sleeve.  For me, an album cover enhances the listening experience and colors the music.  I want to highlight three designers that I feel have elevated the medium of album design not only as a result of their unique visual aesthetics but also the quality of the music with which they were involved.

Peter Saville:  As a young art student in Manchester, England in the late ‘70s, Saville would define the look and feel of the lauded record label Factory Records.

Home to groups such as Joy Division, New Order, and A Certain Ratio, Saville broke away from the raw, Xeroxed look of first wave punk albums and began to appropriate highbrow influences such as classical imagery and modern typography into his album designs.

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His dedication to his craft has reached mythical proportions, with stories of the artist delivering posters for gigs after they occurred, because he was not yet happy with the finished product, and designing an album cover comprised of sandpaper.

Vaughan Olivier:  Like Peter Saville at Factory Records, Vaughan Oliver’s design work would become synonymous with the London record label 4AD.

While Factory incorporated additional designers aside from Saville, Oliver was essentially 4AD’s exclusive designer throughout the entirety of the 1980’s.  What this meant was that each record released by the label bore Oliver’s unique, dreamlike aesthetic.  A customer could identify an album as being released by 4AD just by looking at the sleeve.  For groups such as the Cocteau Twins, Pixies, and Red House Painters, Olivier created a visual world that was almost inseparable from the music.

Mark Robinson:  A musician, designer, and founder of Teenbeat Records, Robinson was influenced by both Saville and Olivier but put his own distinctively American spin on his work.   From his home in Washington, DC in the mid-‘80s, Robinson’s designs for Teenbeat Records began as Xeroxed tape covers and evolved into magnificently quirky and engaging artwork.

The designs for his own groups Unrest, Air Miami, and Flin Flon are pillars of American indie-rock design.  A dedicated archivist, I encourage you to browse the Teenbeat website, a massive design achievement in itself, where Mark has documented an exhaustive amount of label ephemera (including toothbrushes and drink coasters).  When not making music or releasing records, Mark can be found designing book covers for Houghton Mifflin.

Andrew Churchman

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Andrew Churchman is a musician living in Cambridge, MA.