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Contemporary artist Jen Stark is known for her vibrant and exciting use of color in paintings, sculpture, and animation. She will be the featured presenter at the Art Ed Now Summer Conference on August 2nd, and today she is on Art Ed Radio. Abby visits Jen at her L.A. studio for an enlightening interview on creativity, artmaking, and inspiration. Jen discusses her favorite artists working right now (6:15), the importance and influence of sketchbook work on her art (10:00), her bizarre collaboration with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs (13:30), and advice for aspiring artists (16:45). Full episode transcript below.
Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
We’ve got a huge guest today and I could not be more excited. I will be turning over the podcast in just a second so you can hear the interview that Abby Schukei did with contemporary artist, Jen Stark. You know Abby of course as she’s one of the most popular podcast guests we have and one of AOE’s best writers. More importantly, you know Jen Stark. She is really well-known for her colorful, creative work that so many teachers love to bring into the classroom.
Her melting rainbows, colorful murals, and work intensive sculptures are all enthralling. She creates incredible animations as well and everything she does will capture your attention and your student’s attention immediately. If you don’t know Jen’s work go look it up right now, take a look at jenstark.com or look her up on Instagram and familiarize yourself with her work. The interview will be so much better if you have a sense of exactly what Jen does.
That being said, I know you’re dying to hear this so let me turn it over to Abby and her sit down with the incredible Jen Stark.
Abby: Okay, this is Abby Schukei here and I am guest hosting for Tim today. I am sitting in Jen Stark’s studio, she is here with me and, Jen, how are you doing today?
Jen: I’m doing good, thanks for coming and joining.
Abby: Yes, thanks for having me. For those of you that don’t know, Jen Stark is actually going to be the featured presenter at the Art Ed Now Conference on August 2nd. I know that she has some awesome things that she’s going to share with you so you definitely don’t want to miss that. Jen, to get started here, a lot of art teachers, a lot of people are really, they’re familiar with your work, the vibrant colors that it has, it’s really easy to recognize.
Besides your work right now, I just want to ask you about yourself a little bit more on a personal level. Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up, where you went to school, and how you ended up as an artist?
Jen: Sure. Well, I grew up in Miami, born and raised, and went to public schools through my elementary, middle, and high school, and also attended magnet art classes throughout that whole time. Miami was a very culturally diverse area to grow up in, very many cultures. You have the Caribbean, South America, Cuba, so there’s all sorts of different people, it’s almost like a melting pot.
I feel like that influenced my work, like the color of those regions and also the tropical plant life and how plants grow. I think it’s definitely evident in my work now.
Abby: Very cool. Talking about your schooling experience a little bit, do you have any teachers that kind of stand out to you as being memorable, as somebody who really shaped your work as an artist?
Jen: For sure. I think teachers are so important in sparking creativity and taking us to the next level so I have a couple that I can remember throughout my lifetime that really made a difference in my life. My kindergarten teacher, Ms. Barbara Knighton, she was awesome. She was very hands-on. She would bring all sorts of things to class to let us play with and spark our creativity. She instilled that in me in kindergarten which was amazing.
Then, my high school teacher, Mr. Tom Miroba, he was an amazing inspiration. He taught a lot of self-discipline and technical skills as well as creative skills so he kind of prepared me for my professional career.
Abby: Very good. Kind of along those same lines a little bit, can you talk about how you came to find your artistic style? Maybe where did you start originally and how have you discovered and evolved to where you are now?
Jen: I think my artistic style sort of came from a love of process, accumulation, repetition, a lot of different layers, and I’ve loved those things, even when I was a lot younger. I think also a trip studying abroad in college kind of helped spark my style. It was junior year and I was studying in the south of France. I didn’t have much money to spend on art supplies so I just bought a stack of construction paper and it was very simple material that I started experimenting with in my studio and turning this two dimensional paper into 3D sculptures. That, the necessity of not having these fancy supplies, it made me think out of the box and try something new.
Abby: Wow, that’s amazing. I think about as like my own students who aren’t necessarily going to have all of the financial means to make that stuff. I think that speaks a lot to you make do with what you can and I think that’s a really inspiring statement that can be shared with those that are looking to create and just a piece of inspiration to continue on. Kind of going along with that a little bit, who are some of your favorite artists?
Jen: Some of my favorite artists are, I love Tom Friedman who’s concepts and humor with art work is incredible. Also, Andy Goldworthy. He does these really beautiful, almost like installations in nature, with nature. He’ll collect a gradient of all sorts of leaves in nature and then make this temporary sculpture that will fade or wash away with the river. It’s very process based and temporary, his stuff is really cool.
Yayoi Kusama is awesome. She’s having a moment right now, she’s all over the place, different museums.
Abby: She is, I just … I went to the Broad yesterday and had to go to the Infinity Room so that was a really cool experience.
Jen: Yeah. I love that she works with Infinity and a little bit of science. Her stuff is just so inspiring and I love that it encompasses you when you walk inside of it. Also, another artist, Tara Donovan, her work is really cool, very process oriented and using simple materials.
Abby: Very good. Now kind of going along this you talking about what artists inspire you, does it ever feel weird … I know that you are on social media and a lot of teachers are using you as an inspiration for, to teach their students. How does that feel when you see those things, whether it’s on Instagram or Facebook, and you are being taught in the same … It’s not just Leonardo da Vinci that they’re talking about now, you are part of that student’s art history. How does … Can you tell us how that makes you feel a little bit?
Jen: Yeah. That’s so incredible to me that so many teachers are teaching my art to students, it’s just I’m so grateful that my work has that inspiration and spark to keep … It’s crazy, it’s like, it kind of makes me speechless because it’s really incredible, I love it.
Abby: Well, and I’ll tell you something. I am a middle school art teacher and I remember a few years ago I had shown my students your work and we did create a collaborative mural, actually a permanent one, I was inspired by it. We had posted something on our school Instagram page and I tagged you in it and some of the kids were like, “Oh my gosh, Jen Stark liked the photo.” It was really, it’s a really cool thing to, one, see you interacting in that way and students everywhere. It’s so cool to have that living artist experience where you can interact with them, you can see what they’re doing in real time, which is just an amazing thing.
Jen: Yeah. I’m just so taken aback from all the social media love and I try to really interact with the teachers and the students when I see that online because I know it just, it gives the students a boost and it just makes them really happy that the artist can interact with them.
Abby: Yeah, it’s super cool and I know that you’ll just continue to inspire students everywhere and you’re just coming a part of those art history books, which is pretty rad.
Jen: Yeah, I love it.
Abby: Getting back to your own work a little bit, can you talk us through your process a little bit? I know that you use a sketchbook quite a bit when planning your work. I know, for me and my students, using a sketchbook isn’t always their most exciting thing that they like to do so can you explain your sketchbook process for us and how it really influences your work?
Jen: Well, for me the sketchbook is sort of the beginning because it’s where I can turn my, the thoughts in my brain to something physical. For me, a sketchbook is the most important tool and it’s also the most freeing, most spontaneous because I don’t really have to worry about what I put in it or if it’s bad or if it’s good. It’s the very first process of creating the artwork so I’ll just sit in front of the sketchbook and doodle for hours. It’s just a really fun tool to figure out which ideas are best, which I want to leave behind, and I’ll just go forward from there.
Abby: Very cool. After you work in your sketchbook and plan out your thoughts and ideas, how long does it typically take to complete a piece of art?
Jen: Usually it takes anywhere from a few days to about a month to complete artwork. It depends on the size and intricacy. The smaller sculptures and drawings are anywhere from a couple days to a week and the larger ones … I just completed a large scale mural in downtown LA, that took about four weeks so it really depends on, yeah, the size and intricacy.
Abby: When you do one of those large scale murals, is it all you just rocking it solo or do you have some troops helping you out?
Jen: Oh yeah, I need troops. The murals are huge so I usually have anywhere from three to five helpers, depending on how large the building is. My assistants are awesome, I have some friends that are artists that will help me out and we’ll just knock it out together, it’s really fun.
Abby: Very awesome. Do you have a specific, do you have a favorite piece that you’ve ever created or collaborated on?
Jen: My favorite piece, I would have to say, is probably the sculptures in the walls, the hand cut paper sculptures because I like how it … it uses the environment and it’s the surprise and it creates a sense of awe in the viewer and it’s kind of unexpected. I really like those because they work with architecture.
Abby: Yeah, absolutely. Have you ever had, just because of being, having your work everywhere, have you ever had a really interesting experience, anything that stands out, that’s, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened because of this,” or maybe something that’s most notable in that way. It can be bizarre or maybe just cool.
Jen: Yeah. Well, a kind of defining moment of my artwork was when I created artwork for the MTV Video Music Awards in 2015 and Miley Cyrus was the host. It all came about so organically. I had painted a mural on The Surf Lodge in Montauk, New York. My friend, Wayne Quinn, saw it and he’s friends with Miley so he told her about my work. At the same time, MTV was approaching her telling her, “We want her to do artwork for the MTV Music Awards.
This was all within the same week. She had met me and MTV had told her about my work. That whole project was amazing, awe inspiring just to see my work in front of the eyes of millions of people. That was a cool moment.
Abby: What was the … Because obviously that was a huge piece that you were working on as far as the event itself but then … I know for maybe those of you that haven’t seen it that are listening, you had animations involved like … Didn’t she slide down a giant worm hole as she went down?
Abby: How much time did that take to create?
Jen: Well, a lot of it was really a lot of design. We had fabricators in LA create the actual worm hole. I just told them the specifications, the different colors, and they created it. It needed to be able to break apart because it was on the stage so it had wheels on it and it was this huge 20 foot thing. Then, the other thing was animations I did for the actual stage design and I worked with an animator friend who … He’s an amazing genius at animating so we worked closely together. I think the whole project took about two months.
Abby: Wow, wow, that’s amazing. What other things are you working on right now or where are you taking your work next?
Jen: Well, I’m working on a couple collabos. I’m going to be in some art shows in LA soon and just trying to take my work to the next level. I’d really love to start creating outdoor sculptures that have a renewable energy element in it like solar or wind so that … The sculpture it’s this awesome, beautiful, inspiring thing but it also gives back to the community. It can give actual energy, which is so cool. That’s where I want to go with it.
Abby: Awesome. Well, I know that a lot of students and teachers are going to be, continue to inspired by your work so do you have just one last piece of advice before we get out of here just to … If a teacher has a student that is an aspiring artist what’s one piece of advice you would give them as they look towards the future?
Jen: I would just say follow your heart. Whatever you love just keep going at it, keep that passion, have a lot of self-discipline. You have to work really hard at what you want you know, especially if it’s something that is out of the box like being an artist or something that’s not like a typical job. You really have to do, put a lot of work into it but as long as you don’t give up I feel like you can achieve whatever you want.
Abby: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today. We can’t wait to hear you at the Art Ed Now Conference. Thank you for joining me today.
Jen: Thank you so much. Alright.
Tim: What an awesome interview, I loved hearing the story behind the Video Music Awards and how Jen just casually dropped the name of Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of a great band called The Flaming Lips. I also loved getting some of the behind the scenes story about her murals and her working process so I appreciate Abby putting together such a great interview and getting Jen to open up about all that.
As Abby said, we are lucky enough to be working with Jen for the 2018 Summer Art Ed Now Conference, it’s taking place on August 2nd and it is a full day of amazing professional development for art teachers. It’ll be headlined by the one and only Jen Stark. In addition to Jen’s keynote we have another 20 presenters, each with incredible lessons, videos, handouts, and so much more.
You can see all of the awesome presenters, the benefits of the conference, learn how to attend, and how to make the most of your day at artednow.com. Go check it out. I love hearing from all of these incredible artists. We had Romero Britto on the podcast a couple years ago, Alexa Meade last year, and now Jen Stark. It is one of my favorite parts of doing the Art Ed Radio Podcast. Having insight into their careers, their working process, their inspiration, and so much more is always an amazing opportunity.
A big thank you to Jen for inviting Abby into her studio and I know we’re all looking forward to hearing a lot more from her at the Art Ed Now Conference. Give Jen a follow on Instagram, go check out her website at jenstark.com, and join us to hear even more about creativity, inspiration, and teaching art on August 2nd at Art Ed Now, you won’t want to miss it.
Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Our email list has exploded over the past few weeks with all kinds of new people signing up. The email today even has a cool behind-the-scenes photo of Abby and Jen in Jen’s studio after the interview. Make sure you go sign up at artedradio.com. Thanks for listening and we will talk to you next week.