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jennifer valentine {an interview}

liz lamoreux

Over the last few weeks, I have been slowing reading The Crafter's Companion to try to savor all that I am learning from it. It has me excited, motivated, and inspired! I was particularly drawn to the way the book is set up to give the reader a peek into the everyday lives of the artists/crafters within and insight into their inspirations and what they surround themselves with in their creative spaces. I didn't want those pages to end. It felt like sitting down to tea with some wicked cool crafty+artsy girls.

I have decided to continue those "tea dates" virtually through interviews every now and then with an artist who inspires me. And, along the way, I hope to introduce you to a few artists you might not yet know or if you do, give you some insight into their worlds in a new way. I plan to ask the questions that I think would come up over a cup of tea at a local cafe. I also want to ask enough questions to allow for a sense of who the artist is, what inspires her, and what has led her to this place on her path. I hope you will enjoy reading them.

The delightfully poetic and clever Jennifer Valentine of the blog Sacred Cake has agreed to be my first interviewee. When I first saw her piece "Flying Irony" (pictured below) last summer, I literally clapped my hands with delight. I love the way this girl looks at things. Read on...

***

I would like to start with a little bio about you. Tell me (and the folks who will be reading this) a little about you, your creative endeavors, and so on.

My love for forlorn, abandoned objects defines the nature of my art. Rescuing the discarded for the sake of creating something of intrinsic beauty first came to me when I was a little girl. Friends and I would scour the neighborhood on trash day for things that were no longer wanted. Thrift stores and yard sales have since taken the place of trash day, becoming my favorite haunts for the part of me that never grew up.

I have evolved into an assemblage and mixed-media artist. I am married to a remarkable poet and portrait painter, and in addition to being the mother of five amazing children, I am a graphic design student. To my great delight, Cloth Paper Scissors magazine recently featured my work in their May/June issue. Seeing my work published for the first time gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Poetry is another necessary aspect of my everyday life; whether I am writing about the aesthetic emptiness of housework or reading between the lines of a great poet, there lays a great sense of personal harmony. The path of self-discovery is a daily walk.

Paint us a picture of your studio/creative space or the one you hope to have one day.

I have a small studio that consists of shelves lined with (what may appear to the untrained eye as) trash! I am in love with things that most people would consider to be the unwanted remnants of everyday life: old postcards, cracked plates and pitchers chipped and stained. I have a shabby fabric collection, a growing stack of old window frames, and drawer bins filled with antiquated books, junky hardware, buttons, old radio and TV fuses; flashbulbs, antique silverware, and lots of ephemera. I keep quite a bit of things preserved in vintage suitcases as well. Old suitcases make excellent storage. In a beloved Samsonite, I have a collection of antique and vintage photographs that I love to look through. I feel a sense of connection with the faces I see there.

"Leaving"

Someday I’d like to have a studio with a lot more working room—a place to envision and create much larger pieces. But for the time being, I must allow space to define only the size of my assemblages, certainly not the size of the creativity.

What is your favorite way to spend time in your studio/creative space? What do you do when you have some time to create with no deadlines and are just creating for you?

My favorite way to spend time in my creative space is to go through some of my bins and suitcases and shelves and find something I might have forgotten that excites me. I love to look at my old photographs, especially my collection of vintage photo booth pictures. Sometimes my eyes get accustomed to perusing all of the well acquainted objects (especially if I haven’t gotten anything new in awhile), so I have to “re-look” at what I own to become inspired.

Lucky for me I don’t have many deadlines, so creating “just for me” happens almost always.

If you find yourself in a creative rut, what do you do to shift things?

My creativity seems to come in waves, and at times I do recede into a dry spell. To remedy this predictable element of my creative spirit, I keep a favorite soundtrack nearby for just such an emergency. A favorite of mine, “City of Angels,” has been keeping me company for almost as long as I have been creating art. When I begin to feel the onset of a “dry” run, I listen to the music and soon I am reminded of more creative days. Then things start to flow again.

If you had an entire day to "fill up your creative well," what would you do?

I would spend the day immersed in art galleries and thrift stores with my husband...then I’d have uninterrupted time to explore in my studio and create with wild abandon.

Do you have a daily practice?

Having four children at home means that “me” time is hard to find. I like to get up very early and do some stretching and centering yoga, and then I have a cup of tea and do some journaling. I may even start a new piece and work on it when I get small breaks throughout the day.

Do you find inspiration in your town or in another town/city? If yes, what inspires you about the place?

I spent three wonderful years in the Seattle area, and I loved exploring the galleries there. That always inspired me to go beyond any creative boundaries.

As you reflect on where you are in your journey, can you think of a feeling/issue/fear/something else you had to let go of in order to follow your dreams? If yes, can you touch on how letting go of "it" changed you?

I had to let go of what I thought other people would think of my work. Honestly, I never thought anyone would be interested in my “junk” art until my friends urged me to show it off. I have become more confident as I experience people’s positive reactions to what I create.

Thinking back on your life so far, is there a pivotal or specific moment that led you to this place on your path?

There have been so many pivotal moments in my life, but there is one that really stands out. I began creating artwork for my own enjoyment and, after a few months, I began branching out. I really wanted to know what people thought of my work. So I gathered my courage, took a very deep breath, and called the local SoHo gallery and asked for some time with the curator. I packed up my work in a big plastic tote box, gathered my nerve, and went to see a Frenchman named Fabrice. He spread my work out on the floor and took his time to contemplate each piece. After a silence that seemed like forever, he said he liked my work and that he’d like to keep some for the gallery. He chose 5 pieces to display. A few weeks later, I sold my first piece. The gallery owner said it was to a woman who bought one of my winged hearts for a couple’s wedding gift. This was 8 years ago and I haven’t stopped creating since. It is an absolute joy.

"Flying Irony"

Do you feel a connection with mindfulness or intention when you create?

When I create, I feel a personal connection to the piece I am working with. The things I create with are forgotten and homeless until I give them a place in my heart. I’d like to feel that my work conveys the message of finding the sacred in the ordinary...that there is infinite potential in all of us.

Do you have a favorite shortcut or "trick" that you use when creating?

Glue... many kinds of glue! There is a glue for everything and if you don’t use the right kind, your project will go awry. I know this from experience! Know your glue!

What are some of your other inspirations? (Such as, movies, books, music, websites, artists, writers, blogs)

I really love Robert Rauschenberg’s work. One piece that sticks out in my mind is called “Bed” that he created in 1955; using a pillow, sheet, a quilt, and lots of paint. He inspires me to be more creative with my materials.

I am inspired by a small group of blogs that I read daily: my sister Kelly Rae, your blog, and Dana’s blog. Each one has its own unique and wonderful qualities. These blogs remind me to embrace myself and my creativity. When I read them I feel uplifted and centered.

Religious iconography is also an inspiration to me. It is a powerful example of an application of a simple idea in a work of art. It has an immediate effect on the viewer. This idea, for the most part, centers on the use of the halo or nimbus. With the use of a crescent or a full circle, the artist creates a universal symbol of sacredness.

I enjoy listening to Blues of all kinds, especially Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Something about a good Blues riff keeps me energized and focused.

Do you have a favorite quote and/or personal mantra?

“Seek the sacred in the ordinary.”
I also love the poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver.

If you could have one superhero power, what would it be?

Let’s see, I would like to be able to fly for sure. I like to create wings for some of my pieces to covey the feeling or idea of flight and freedom.

"Magic Slippers"

Phew! Thanks for answering all these questions...Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d like to do commissioned work...someone could send me a box of things, and I could create something magical with them. That would be a lot of fun!

***

Visit Jennifer's blog and etsy store to see her current creations. I am lucky enough to have one of her winged hearts watch over me each day in my little room.

Thank you Jennifer for sharing yourself by answering all these questions. Hopefully one day we can have that tea and I can see more of your pieces in person...