It’s a common dilemma in our early years; We spend our youth enjoying a variety of subjects that at the time feel like they fit seamlessly together but as subjects are worlds apart. It’s not until we have to pick our GCSEs or we’re heading to college or university, when we’re put in the position of having to choose one grounded and rounded subject to focus our energy and time into, when we realise juggling all of our passions isn’t something that’s necessarily supported by our current system.
For Jenna, it was the choice between Art and Design or Dance studies, in which she decided to go with the latter and later became a freelance dance artist. She went on to work alongside a team of three other women and built up a performing contemporary dance company from scratch, under the name of ‘Taciturn Dance’, where they would craft their own work while also working with “incredible choreographers” along the way, Jenna recalls.
Several years into founding the company, all four co-founders began to have families of their own and ended up having children around about the same time, which meant the company had to be put on pause with their new families coming into the picture. Not long after, she found herself needing a creative outlet and so when she had some time spare on her hands, she decided to pick up her paints for the first time in years.
“It was amazing that people loved what I did and so that gave me the confidence to learn more, develop myself, and create.”
Starting small, “I was painting presents for people and special occasions; baby showers, birthdays, and weddings,” she explains. Her talents didn’t go unnoticed and someone suggested for her to start selling the work that she was creating, “It was amazing that people loved what I did and so that gave me the confidence to learn more, develop myself, and create. I contacted some local art fairs and they accepted me. Commissions and other work quickly came in from there.”
Her first piece of work came from “two wonderful friends” who run a children’s theatre company in Liverpool, ‘Travelled Companions.’ They asked her to create the artwork for a new touring show that they were developing titled ‘Five More Minutes’. “Having seen various stages of the show in development, I knew the best way to approach the project,” she reflects. “It was a wonderful show full of colour, energy and excitement so the ideas flooded in, which was lucky for me as I was a little nervous!”
Early on into her practice, she had a distinct artistic style which presented a calming tone enough to put anyone at ease. Her illustrations and abstract paintings are modern, colour-loving, and playful with bold experimentations of colour, shapes, collage and textures, using preferred mediums which are a balance of the old and the new, “I paint digitally using my computer, tablet and pen but then I also use gouache paint, acrylic paint, markers, and coloured pencils.”
“I always knew I wanted to work for myself; I love the collaboration process when working with clients, the storytelling nature of illustration, and the endless possibilities that come with it.”
The concept of working for herself was never unfamiliar to Jenna, her vision was always set on having that level of independence and freedom of creating, and so nurturing her own personal projects was far more desirable than to sit behind an office desk working a 9 to 5. “I always knew I wanted to work for myself; I love the collaboration process when working with clients, the storytelling nature of illustration, and the endless possibilities that come with it.”
Now four years into her illustrative career, Jenna has established a new routine for herself that allows her to balance the two things she loves most; her family and creative endeavours. “After the morning madness of family life and dog walking, I often go to my local coffee shop and go through my to-do list. If I need to paint any work I will do this at my home studio, if not, I will stay out and about with my computer and tablet,” she tells me.
Not one to stay seated for too long, she’ll set herself breaks throughout the day and walk her dog – an activity she’d recommend to everyone. “It helps a lot if your brain is stuck!” Back from her walk, she’ll begin packing her orders, replying to emails, finishing off other admin-like jobs, and then heads to the post office if needed. Come the evening, “Once the little one is in bed I will work a little more by sketching out ideas or getting on with some painting,” she says.
“I have sent my work to lots of places over the globe through my online shop, it’s another chance to get your work seen.”
Having the ideas and creating the work is one side of running a business based on your creativity, but having your work seen by an audience is an area which creators often find most challenging. When there is an abundance of options and platforms you could choose to build your personal brand, it’s clear that being intentional and deliberate is most important when it comes to choosing the right places to present your work. For Jenna, she has dedicated most of her time offline by attending art fairs and print fairs, “I have met some incredible people at these events that have turned into friends… you’ll also find that you can meet lots of likeminded creatives and potential clients here too.”
Online, you’ll find her Etsy shop; a platform well known amongst the creative community in which she admits ‘is great for a creative business’. “If you work hard on it and give it the time it needs it can be rewarding,” she continues, “I have sent my work to lots of places over the globe through my online shop, it’s another chance to get your work seen.”
However, social media such as Instagram and Twitter are yet platforms for her to take full advantage of although she recognises the opportunity that lies within it. “I like to be spontaneous on social media, but I find it can be quite stressful at times… Regardless, I’m working on planning and managing it because I think it is a valuable tool for a creative business and gives you another route to link to your online shop… I have had many clients see my work and contact me directly this way.”
Some people will love your work and some not so much – that is just fine.”
Jenna’s experience is one that I know many people can resonate with as well as take inspiration from. It’s one that represents not only somebody pursuing a passion that has clearly been something that’s been there since a young age, but it also goes to show how changing careers might be what enables you to take the next step in growing as an individual.
Throughout her career, she has experienced humbling moments that many of artist strive for, “Whether that’s learning new skills, when people love your work so much they want to buy it for their house, or when you have one of those days when your creativity is on fire – they are the moments I love,” she reflects. “Just being able to see your work printed is pretty amazing.”
The lessons you learn during this type of journey is both personal and professional, for Jenna she had learned how the concept of failure is neither a negative nor something she refrains from talking about, “Failure is not a bad thing,” she reflects. “It is just a part of the learning process and some things will not work but try it anyway… who cares”. Another would be trying not to get ‘caught up in the ego’ of it all. “Some people will love your work and some not so much – that is just fine,” she emphasises.
As for advice for those looking to break into the field, Jenna admits that she is still learning, however, would encourage all creatives no matter where they are in their career to get involved in a much as you can. “Perhaps open an online shop, enter competitions, write to magazines, network with people, apply for events or create personal projects that you can share on social media… From there, social media will help you find your tribe!” she says.