Meet the Artist: Jengadi Jean
Jen is a New Englander who loves color and making a mess. We've carried her beautiful paintings in the shop for a while now and so we decided to speak to her (via email due to social distancing) about her work and her process. Read on and enjoy!
Your name is Jen, so where does the name Jengadi come from?
You’re a New Englander! Tell us where you live and how it influences your work.
I currently live in Western Massachusetts. I spent many summers visiting Cape Cod with my family and Long Island, Maine with my best friend’s family. Those areas have a special place in my heart. I fell in love with the scenes of the coast on those trips and thus my love affair with color and the coast began.
When did you start painting? Was it always something you wanted to do?
I was a creative kid but my heart was in science for a long time. Biology class introduced me to a newfound love of art: studying and drawing cells. From there, I changed from pre-med to a degree in Psychology my sophomore year of college. I thought, eventually, I would pursue a career in illustration and fine art but a near-death experience at the age of 24 fast-tracked that dream. After the event left me homebound and out of work for almost a year in 2014, I transitioned from being a preschool teacher to a web/graphic designer and artist.
You use bright colors and there’s a playfulness to your paintings that I really love. Did you always paint in this style or was there an evolution?
Thank you! I have always been whimsical in my work. My art professor in college would be on me for this….I would even turn still lifes into whimsical pieces. I honestly couldn’t help myself! I am such a rule follower in real life but not in my art! The colors have evolved over the years. I started off in more trendy color palettes and eventually landed on the beachy palette you see today. My first foray into the art world was creating art with and for children. Being a preschool teacher through college and a few years afterward really inspired and set the playful tone for the work I create.
How long does a painting usually take you from start to finish? Tell us about your process.
I don’t know if I could answer that! I have been painting in collections almost since the beginning of my career. I tend to batch my work. I will decide how many pieces and what sizes are in the collection. I then decide on a general color palette or theme. After that, I paint all of the backgrounds, collage, and texturize all of the canvases. Colorblocking comes next, the details, and the final marks. So, all of the paintings are in the same stage as one another. It’s a really fun process and helps me to balance the colors together and create a cohesive group.
There’s a business side to being an artist, to promote and sell. You do a great job with branding and promoting. What’s been most effective for you?
Thankfully, I like most of both sides of the business. When researching careers, I told my career counselor: “I never want to do the same thing every day. I want every day to be very different than the day before.” Being a self-employed artist definitely offers that! For branding, color palette is key. I try to keep it simple, very ME, and timeless. It is easy to be cohesive if most of your work and branding have a few colors that consistently run throughout. For me, that tends to be seafoam green, lavender, blues, fuschia pink and tan hues. My brand has a lifestyle of its own. A mentor once released me from the idea that I am my brand. I am not my brand. This really helps to keep the brand cohesive and my life, my life!
What do you do when you’re not painting?
When I am not painting (and not social distancing) I love to be with people! I am a wicked extrovert. My family is my favorite. I love being with my siblings (I am one of five) and my nieces and nephew. Visiting new art museums and finding vegan gluten-free bakeries are also up there on the list. I have learned to cook almost all of my favorite dishes gluten-free dairy-free since going to that lifestyle about 6 years ago. Vegan New York Cheesecake anyone?
You did a pop-up at our Hanover shop and your father and sister came along, they were so sweet and supportive. Do they weigh in on your work at all? How have they influenced your work?
They’re the best! I have been very, very blessed with full family support. They have all been to shows, set up, torn down, and been there for me every step of the way. They don’t usually weigh in on the artwork though. My dad is my business manager so he does sometimes. He also is the best seller of my art at shows and has over 50 years of retail experience so occasionally I listen to his input. I could not have done this without them. I started my business in the middle of a personal health crisis and my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends set up the shows for me more times than I can remember even traveling to different states. I could tear up thinking about the generosity of their time and encouragement. My aunts and uncles open up their homes across New England for me to do more shows. For the first several years, I had an entourage behind my tent with me. It truly takes a village.
You talk about the emotional impacts of isolation online, how have you been getting through the quarantine?
I am doing really well right now. I have been in a sort of “quarantine” since November 2017 and am still recovering from major surgery. So, 2018 was rough. By last year, I had finally adjusted to working from home and being limited in travel. The sudden change in my ability to travel independently and see my friends was very, very hard in 2017 and 2018. I was also scared for my health then. It’s shocking to have your life suddenly come to a halt outside of your control. I have never been more grateful for technology. In-person human connection can never be replaced though and I cannot wait to hug some people! I can only do so many house parties on my phone.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I bet a couple of things. I was pre-med in college and planned to become a doctor. I took a 180 and decided I would pursue a creative career instead. A medical mission trip to Vietnam one college Summer radically changed my life and my dreams. It also made me a Bubble Tea fan for life!
Best advice you’ve received?
Probably the stories my parents instilled in me about never giving up. My mom constantly read us “The Little Engine That Could” as kids and my dad pushed me outside of my comfort zone at a really young age. I know it's cheesy but it is true, this has served me well across many areas of my life. From never giving up on finding a diagnosis, to my relentless search to heal and building a career from scratch.
Have you heard of the 3ft from gold story? The story goes that a young man during the gold rush quit when he was literally 3 ft from gold. After mining away at a Colorado gold mine for many months, he finally quit. He sold all of his machinery and equipment to a “junk man” who sought counsel prior to resuming digging. His engineer advised him that gold would be found just 3 feet from where the previous miner had stopped. And do you know what? He was right. The first miner was literally three feet from striking gold – and he quit.
“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step BEYOND their greatest failure.” –Napoleon Hill
Do you have a favorite artist?
There are many artists who influence my work and there are a few I would love to have a conversation with. For me: the top three are Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, and Eric Carle. Both Matisse and Kahlo painted through their pain. They both have stories of seasons in their life where they endured great pain and yet made amazing work. Kahlo painted from bed following a car accident. She became prolific. She could not even sit up but was innovative and found a way. Art has been healing for me in many ways. I have brought my travel set to every hospital stay and painted during my recoveries. Beauty from the ashes. Hope on the horizon.
Eric Carle introduced me to collage work and is very influential in my process. I create textures with homemade collage papers in every painting. Eric Carle was at the top of my bucket list and a couple of years ago I had a serendipitous moment and was able to meet him and have a short conversation with him at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for his late wife’s garden exhibit in Amherst, MA. He was as lovely as I thought he would be.