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In this very special episode of Art Ed Radio, Tim is in the Brooklyn studio of artist CJ Hendry. CJ is best known for her hyperrealistic drawings of Pantone color chips, Rorshach blots, luxury items, and her installations that showcase those drawings. During this discussion, she talks with Tim about inspiration and creativity, how we experience art, and the process behind creating her incredible drawings. Full Episode Transcript Below.
If you would like to hear even more from CJ, she will be the featured presenter on February 1st at the 2020 Art Ed Now Winter Online Conference. Details can be found at artednow.com.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
I have been in Brooklyn for the past couple of days, and today I’m in the studio of CJ Hendry. If that name doesn’t ring a bell right away, seeing her work definitely will. She creates gigantic hyper-realistic drawings in colored pencil, and graphite, and pen of Pantone color chips, and Rorschach blobs of paint, and luxury items, and gems, and so much more. You can see your work on her Instagram, which is @CJ_Hendry, or her website, which is CJ Hendry Live, so www.CJHendry.live. She has some incredible work, and just a quick comment on that. At surface level, her drawings are incredible. They are massive in scale, they are meticulously done. Her technical work is just perfect, but they are more than just easy on the eyes. There is deeper meaning there if you care to dive in, and CJ definitely has something to say with her work. They’re not just pretty pictures, that’s where the installations that she does come in. That’s where you can explore more of the ideas. That’s what reflects the depth of her thinking and, I hope we can talk about that in the interview today.
I also wanted to tell you about just how this opportunity came about. CJ will be the featured presenter at our Art Ed Now Conference in February. So we also brought our video team out here to Brooklyn to see her in action, talk to her about her work, and put together that presentation for the conference. If you want to see her studio, hear more about her art, and learn more about her work, or influences, or inspiration, that conference will definitely be worth your time.
Now, two quick disclaimers before we get started. First, we are recording inside her studio, which is an amazing place. There is however, some construction happening all around us, so I have no idea what kind of background noises you’re going to hear throughout the interview, so apologies in advance for that. Secondly, fair warning, that CJ cusses maybe more than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, and I asked her to tone it down, but I know there’s going to be some, so if that offends you, you may need to sit this one out. And if you’re thinking about playing this interview for your students, just don’t. Maybe summarize it for them, play a couple of clips later, but this isn’t one that will be classroom friendly, and I know that’s not how we usually roll. Just wanting to give you a heads up before we get started. That being said, I think we’re ready to go. I will adjust the mic here to pick up CJ. Yeah, just sit there. We should be able to get you from that. But yeah, she is here and I think we’re ready to go.
All right, and I am here with CJ Hendry in her studio. CJ, how are you?
CJ: Very well, thank you. Very excited to be here.
Tim: Awesome. Well, everybody’s excited to hear from you. I’m really, really thrilled to be here and be able to see all of your work in person, which is awesome. But we’re talking to art teachers here and, everybody in art education knows who you are, they’ve seen your work, they know your drawings. But, I guess I wanted to start the conversation just talking a little bit about you personally. Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up, where you went to school, and all of the amazing things he used to do before you became an artist?
CJ: Well, I don’t know if they were that amazing to be perfectly honest. But, I am Australian if you can’t pick up on the accent already, a lot of people think British, I’m like, uh-uh, nope, Aussie. In a town called Brisbane, so near the beaches, went to school, just a normal kid, went to school. I was a swimmer, so I swam professionally back in the day, which is a really strange thing that happened, but did, and at a pretty young age, it just wasn’t for me, and I didn’t enjoy it. For me, if I’m not enjoying it, I’ll just stop and won’t even blink twice. So I stopped swimming, and then when I stopped swimming was kind of the age where I was trying to figure life out. So I think I was just about to finish school and like I said, I was a normal kid at school, I did art at school, I did English at school, math, science, just a normal thing that you did.
And once I finished school, I went to go and study architecture for a couple of years, and then it just really wasn’t my jam, didn’t make sense in my head. And then, I dropped out of architecture, then I went into accounting and finance, which is hilarious, but made sense at the time. And so I did five years of that, and I’m two subjects away from getting my degree, but I dropped out. I know isn’t that silly? My mom’s always like, You should go back and finish. I’m like, Oh mom, what would I do? Roll up to some investment bank being like Hey, ready to trade the things. No.
I dropped out because it, whatever. Well, actually I dropped out because I was starting to take arts, and this was kind of the time when I was considering doing art with no real intention of doing anything. I was like, Oh I just want to draw. It was so simple and pure, and God, it was so simple back then, wasn’t it? I was like, Oh, let me just draw. Anyway, to keep it short, I’m just a girl from Brizzy who, just like anyone else could draw, but vaguely. I think if you give anything more time you can get really good at it, so I think I was good at drawing, but not exceptional, but I really enjoyed it. So I was like, Oh, I just want to draw because I like it, and I think I started off pretty averagely to be honest. And, I’ve gotten much, much, much better because I draw every day. You can improve skills really quickly if you give it enough time.
Tim: Yeah, that’s actually a perfect segue to the next question, so thank you.
Tim: I know you’re incredibly dedicated to everything that you’re doing, and the work that you do. So can you talk a little bit about how much time you spend in the studio, how long a typical work can take you to complete?
CJ: Mm-hmm. I spend a lot of time in the studio, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the right way to work, or . . . there’s no right or wrong way to make art or be creative. I think you just have to do what makes sense for your mind and personality, but for me, I am quite structured, and I just have a lot of energy. So I think for me, being able to work long hours is not a drain on myself as a person. The harder I work, the more energy . . . I don’t know, it’s a weird thing. So yeah, I am in the studio for a lot of hours, like seven days a week, generally speaking. I’ll be drawing for maybe 10 hours of that day, and then other things will take up my day, and we’ll have this meeting or that meeting.
So there’s always something going on, but it’s always around the work that I’m trying to make. So I’m never like out having long lunches, I don’t do too much outside of work, which is a very insular way to live. It’s very strange, I know, I don’t have much outside of this to be honest. My hobbies become my everything, but I love it that way. I’ve designed it so that everything is work and, being able to create as often as I can, is the way I like to work. Hang on, so did I answer that question? Not really.
Tim: Yeah, no.
CJ: Oh okay.
Tim: It actually got me thinking of something totally different, so I want to ask you that. You talked about doing swimming, and I know you do that at an incredibly high level.
CJ: Yes. Yeah, great connection.
Tim: So, I’m wondering if there’s a mindset there, because I think about kids who are going to be individual athletes, like professional tennis players, that’s all they do, 10, 12 hours a day. So, do you think that’s a mindset that that leads to success in both?
CJ: I think that’s a brilliant connection. I don’t often like to talk about it, because I don’t like to harp on about shit you did in the past. You know when people are like, But I was a great ballerina when I was five, I’m like, who cares bro, who gives a [expletive delted]? But yeah, I was a really good swimmer back then and really focused on represented Australia, and all that riffraff. But yeah, I think without a doubt what I learned… I don’t even think I learned how to be focused, but it’s just how my brain is wired. I’m a bit of an introvert, which sounds crazy because I can speak quite confidently, but I think I get my energy from being on my own. I think because I get my energy from being on my own, I am able to be on my own for so long and be very internal with my thoughts.
I also really don’t like aimless, pointless, faffy conversation. Just being out with friends, I’m like, Oh come on, let’s get to the point of something. So, I don’t spend much time outside the studio because I don’t like faffing around. I like to work towards something. I love having like a focus, I like working towards something, anything to be honest. God, it could be something, like Let’s paint the wall, I’m like, great, but we won’t stop until it’s done. It’s a really strange, intense focus, but that’s how I’ve always been. I think if you ask my sister or my parents they’re like, Yeah, you’ve always been super strange and super… No really, I’ve never had a lot of friends, I’ve always been a bit of a loner, but I think that’s kind of helped me in the work that I make.
So it’s, if I wasn’t an artist, I’d literally just be this weird kid who just doesn’t do a whole lot. But yeah, I really enjoy what I do and I enjoy the focus, but my brain is just a focus brain. Like my sister has ADD so she can’t sit down and do what I do. But she’s really good with people and she loves people and she’s a people person. I’m not that. It drains me. I don’t love it as much.
Tim: Oh trust me, I know exactly how you feel.
CJ: I actually think a lot of people do get their energy from being on their own, but whatever.
Tim: Just thinking about your work and all the time you put into it, do you think that is where your work is being successful, it’s resonating with people. Does that come from your dedication to it being able to produce so much, or do you think it’s more of a looking at creativity and originality or is it just the photorealism, the subject matter really resonates?
CJ: I think everything you’ve touched on maybe is the reason that I’ve had some levels of success I think. I think to be perfectly honest, hyperrealism and realism is really easy to digest subject matter. Let’s not beat around the bush. I think if I was doing super conceptual performance art I think . . . I mean that does interest me. Some of the people I admire. There are so many artists I admire who make very, very different work from mine. So I think yeah, the fact that it is so easy to digest, it’s easy to understand. It’s easy to wow people, so you’re using social media just to be like, Oh wow, it’s a drawing. It’s very easy to consume. So I think that is definitely part of it. I think the fact that there is so much going on, and so much that I do also keeps people entertained in a way.
And I also think there’s an element of me being a performer, in that I know what I need to do to showcase the work. So I have learned to become somewhat of an extrovert because I know that’s what’s needed. It’s not actually needed, but I think it’s more entertaining that way. I think, because I have quite a simple mind as well, I’m able to talk about it in a simple way. I’m not trying to do these heavy, hot and heavy conversations that are too hard to digest. For the majority of people, they can understand what I’m doing and I think that’s fine. So I think that’s maybe why it’s been somewhat successful because it’s not this crazy hard to understand work. It’s really not. It’s relatively simple on the surface.
But if you choose to dive further, you’ll understand that there’s, it’s far more complex. I don’t push the complexity on people, and I think that’s what I find, not unusual, but frustrating with a lot of art and artists. It’s like they force the conceptual, Oh, there are these big highfalutin words. I’m like, why push that? Just push the great work. And if people are even interested, they’ll look further. And dive further into what it is you’re trying to say.
Tim: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
CJ: So I keep it really lighthearted on the surface and really fun and playful.
Tim: But there’s more there.
CJ: Yeah, of course.
Tim: If you want there to be more there.
CJ: Yeah. Always.
Tim: And then I wanted to ask you too, I know you love to work in series, and so the first part of that. Where do you get your ideas for these various series? How does inspiration strike, and then I guess secondly, how much time do you spend conceptualizing or thinking before you dive in before you start working?
CJ: Great question. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that. I think. Okay. What I do know, and this is something I can answer quite clearly, is that inspiration can come from anywhere. So it can be the most unusual thing that can spark the idea. So for example. Just a wig. I saw someone wearing a wig, this crazy hot pink wig. I was like, wow, that’s just a wig. But I was like, gosh, imagine taking wigs further. And so we might be conceptualizing this whole show around wigs, and playing, and dressing up. There’s so much to wigs and such a narrative that you don’t even really think about, but wigs, there’s so much to it. You can transform yourself. You can become another person, and use it. There’s so much to talk about within just a wig.
And plus I love drawing hair, and anyway, so that interests me. We’re going to be doing a show with flowers. I’ve always steered clear flowers and floral imagery only because it’s so common. And I don’t like to do what everyone’s done. I find that really not that interesting. And a little bit naff. I actually find flowers really naff and a little bit . . . I think I’ve sat with flower imagery for so long and I’m like, God, how the [expletive delted] can I work with flowers in a way that makes sense to me? So I think I finally found a way that kind of does make sense. So to talk about the show that’s coming up, instead of doing flowers where they’re fully bright, and blooming. I’m just doing flowers, almost partially decayed. So I’ve waited till the flower has started to drop a petal.
Once the petal has dropped I’ll take it and I’ll photograph it. So it’s all these singular petals. Some are quite bright because that’s just how they’ve fallen. Some are a little bit more decayed. It just depends on how it’s fallen from the flower. So yeah, we’re going to be doing the show in a church, and there’s a whole nother element which I won’t even get into. But yeah, the drawings are one part of the bigger concept now. But yeah, I love drawing in series. I love going further into an idea and exploring it, fully showcasing it. And then once a series is done, I never revisit it. I kind of move on to the next thing. There’s so much to talk about and saying so many ideas I have. I just want to kind of get it done, move on. Next one. That interests me, working fast and moving quickly.
Tim: Now when you’re working with series though, do you ever get tired of, I don’t know if monotony is the right word, but when you’re on Pantone chip number 30 or a Rorschach blot number 20, do you get tired of working over and over?
CJ: You know what, No, I don’t get tired of working. If it was just about the drawings, I think yes I would get a bit tired and there was nothing else to it. It was just like, go hang the drawings. Great. But because there’s so much narrative that we build around the drawings, I think that’s what keeps it really interesting. So obviously the drawings is actually the part I really enjoy. Just being on my own and just being able to focus. Honestly, it’s almost meditative in a way when I’m just drawing. So that’s kind of the fun part. I find the really difficult challenging part is building the show around the drawings. It all starts with the drawings. Those are the most important thing. Once I’ve got the idea for the drawing, then I could build the other thing.
It took me a while to figure that out. I always thought I was like, Oh, what’s the concept? And then, Oh what will the drawings be? But no, it actually doesn’t work that way for me. It all starts with the drawings, and what I want to draw, and how that looks and then I can build everything else around them.
Tim: Yeah. That makes sense.
CJ: So the drawings are very important actually. I never fully gave them the importance they probably deserved because I was kind of getting over them. I’m like I’m not impressed by them as I once was, but they are impressive and they actually are the backbone to everything for me. And I’ve only just coming to understand that now. How important they are.
Tim: So I know you don’t do a ton of reflection on things like this, but do you still consider yourself, drawing is my medium, or are you thinking more in terms of, an installation artist now because you are putting on these big conceptual shows?
CJ: Do you know, that’s so interesting. I guess I’m both and I don’t think you need to be, as an artist, you don’t need to just be in one category. I think the artists I admire, there’s so many. There are so many artists I admire in different ways. I don’t want to even start naming names because there are so many wonderful ones out there, but they’re not just one thing. I think just being one thing, is a one-trick pony, and I think I haven’t forced myself to get into these other things. It’s just what’s interesting me right now. I will say though that drawings, like I said just before, it’s the core of what I do, and I can’t come up with an idea unless I know what I’m going to draw first. So the drawings are the start and then I can build this conceptual thing around it.
I don’t think I could even get to the conceptual installation idea without the drawing. I’ve tried it before, but it never fully makes sense. So now I really understand. I’m like, you know what? What do I want to draw, and what interests me from a visual layout perspective, and drawing wise, and composition-wise, and then I can build everything else around that. So yeah, I’m doing multiple things, but I think that’s important. And it’s also important to do what feels right at the time. A lot of people are like, Oh you should learn to sculpt because this is time to go into bronze work. I’m like, I [expletive delted] don’t care about that right now. [expletive delted] off. I’m just going to make what’s interesting to me at the moment. See I’m not really phased about what I should be doing or. Yeah.
It’s just what’s fascinating to me at this stage, and also we live in an age where people want to experience the thing. I want to experience the thing. So I’m sure in a couple of years’ time I won’t be doing . . . I might be doing other things completely. So I think it’s also about the market, and the timing and what’s interesting right now. And then, yeah, it won’t be like this forever. And how boring would it be if it was like this forever to be honest. I see so much of the same same. I’m like, Oh, move on. Find something else. Yeah.
Tim: Now, I know you said you don’t want to name names, but I’m going to name names because that’s just kind of where my mind goes. When I’m looking at art, my mind just automatically makes those comparisons. So with your drawings, especially your older black and white drawings, I see a lot of similarities to Robert Longo. And then with installations like Sandy Skoglund with your Pantone color rooms. Or like Ann Hamilton or even like Christo and Jean-Claude, I thought, with the big inflatables. Are there artists that influence you? Like do you draw a direct influence or does inspiration come from other places with those?
CJ: So right at the beginning, Robert Longo without a doubt was the biggest inspiration in terms of starting the drawing process. He was the beginning of everything for me, and still is and we have conversations just on Instagram. You know what I mean? that’s crazy. I’m talking to Robert Longo, he’s my idol, what the [expletive deleted]? This is not real. Anyway, so he’s a fascinating guy and yeah, he started it all for me to be honest, which is really strange. I think he is the core of why I’m even here. And I think just through… Not knowing all those names you’ve just mentioned, I’m so sorry to be naive. The only person who I’ve really admired, only just come to know about her work is Ann Hamilton. Far out. She was so ahead of her time, fascinated by her.
If she was it coming through now as this young, oh God. She was brilliant but, oh God, she’s amazing. But, I don’t look to artists to be like, what have they done? Because then you just kind of produce the same, or something similar with a bit of a spin. I kind of don’t really even know what other installations have gone on prior. To be perfectly honest. I kind of am just making what makes sense for the work. And then for example, the show that’s coming up for the London show, I conceptualize a thing, we know what the experience is going to be, and then only then I found out about Ann Hamilton’s work. Oh isn’t that crazy? So it’s like, yeah I know some installations that have happened but it’s not really the focus. Yeah because then you just rehash other stuff.
And I think it’s important to kind of know what’s out there. I’m certainly learning what’s out there. But yeah, I think it’s always important to flex and, if you are referencing other artists, you have to build on what they’ve done. Take it, manipulate it, make it your own. I think that’s the most important thing is making your own. I think rehashing someone else’s idea is so painfully obvious and unoriginal. So it needs to make sense with your work and then build on it. Build on something that’s come before and I really hope artists who kind of might be learning about my work can take a concept of mine and take it further. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? That’d be awesome.
Tim: Yeah, for sure.
Tim: I wanted to also talk shop because I love doing colored pencil drawings. So it’s going to be lightning round questions if that’s okay.
CJ: Go. I’m here for it.
Tim: All right. Favorite brand of colored pencils to use.
CJ: Caran d’Ache.
Tim: All right. And how do you feel about Prismacolor?
CJ: I think they are cheap and waxy and they’re a [expletive deleted] brand. Sorry.
Tim: That’s okay. No. Yeah as art teachers, that’s about as high level as we can get.
CJ: Hang on, what? So hang on. Prismacolor’s high level?
Tim: Well for art teachers. Yeah, because of schools and low budgets.
CJ: Oh God almighty. Okay so I’m going to say this. Okay. So no, no, no, no. I’m saying this, I swear to God, and I have not wanted to get into the color pencil business, but [expletive delted] listen, please put all this in. So I am starting, I swear to God. So I am so fed up with the colored pencils that are out there. There’s not enough information in terms of what makes up the pencil, I need to know how much pigment is in there, how much wax, how much oil. I need to know how lightfast they are, what standard I’m working with. And no one’s that transparent about what’s in there. So Prismacolor is super waxy and bloomy, and it just, [expletive delted]. Prismacolor sort your [expletive delted] out. I know your pencils are cheap but make a better product.
Caran d’Ache are beautiful but so expensive. So I am making a colored pencil brand next year. It is coming out. I don’t know when, I don’t know what it’s called yet, but I’m going to be so transparent as to what is in there. I’m going to make a Caran d’Ache level product, better if I can make it, but at a Prismacolor price, and it’s going to be the best color pencil going around.
Tim: That would be…
CJ: And I’m going to be very transparent about what’s in there. It’s artists, professional-level artists material that the lightfast, and everything because I don’t trust what’s out there. And working at the level I’m working at, not to know what you’re working with is just frightening. So yeah, I’m making my color pencil brand, and it’s going to be brilliant.
Tim: Yeah. That would be a godsend. I would love that.
CJ: Yeah because I’m so intense about it. So I’m going to go to the ends of the earth to make sure it’s perfect.
Tim: I love it. I love it.
CJ: I’m super pumped. Actually. Everyone in the studio is like, yes!
Tim: I can tell, this is good.
CJ: Colored pencils, what the [expletive delted]? The pencil business? What’s that all about? But we’ll figure it out. We’re going to figure it out. I’m going to The World Pencil, so it’s called Paperworld. It’s in Frankfurt, in Germany. In January, late January. I’m going to meet with all the manufacturers and suppliers. We’re already in conversations with a few, but no, we’re really going to finalize how it’s all going to work.
Tim: I had no idea that existed!
CJ: Well, look it up. It’s huge. It’s a big old deal. It’s like this big thing that happens. Anyway, I’m going.
Tim: Love it.
Tim: All right. What about paper? What kind of paper do you prefer working on?
CJ: Always cotton paper. Cotton paper is always more expensive because if you look up how cotton paper is made, it’s actually a really fascinating process. I always started off with Arch or Arches. I’m not exactly sure how to pronounce it. The French paper, it’s very expensive but really beautiful and toothy. The cold press, the hot press is still a little rough but still really beautiful. I always use really thick paper. I don’t know why. I like paper that doesn’t bend, and buckle too easily. I’ve recently started to draw on Rising mount board. So it’s actually framing paper. It’s really thick two-ply, four-ply, eight-ply. I draw on four-ply Rising Mount board. It’s 100% cotton, it’s acid-free. It’s all the qualities I need in terms of longevity of… To help prevent anything happening. So yeah, I always use, pretty much now use Rising mount board. It also comes in sizes that normal paper doesn’t come in, which interests me a lot. Yeah. So yeah, Rising Mount board, I use mainly for my color pencil work. It’s really smooth as well.
Tim: Nice. Nice. And then when you are first starting a drawing, I know you work from photographs, you reference photographs, do you grid things out to make sure proportions are correct? Do you just freehand stuff? What does the process look like when you’re first starting out?
CJ: I used to grid things out, and I can grid it out. I just project it now. Maybe that’s cheating. [expletive delted] it. I don’t give a [expletive delted]. Yeah, I just project it because it gives the same result. Even when I grid it out, it gave the exact same result because I don’t know how most people grid it. But yeah, I just kind of do the grid and it’s perfect. So yeah, I can grid it. It just takes longer, and that’s fine, and I can do it. But yeah, I just project it. It gives, for me the exact same result. It’s always really loose outline. So a really loose pencil outline, pretty rough. You can almost hardly see what’s going on. But that’s all I need. I just need a vague guide. And then that it’s almost like a color by numbers from there.
So once you’ve got a vague guide of what’s going on, on the outside. Then you just kind of fill in. Fill it in.
Tim: And how much time, because I know anytime you’re doing colored pencils, it’s layer after layer. How long does it take you to figure out the exact color match that you’re going for and how to layer those?
CJ: It doesn’t take me that long and I can’t exactly say how, but I can kind of get a sense of what I need straight away. So with Caran d’Ache there’s only 76 in the box, which is really annoying by the way, with my colored pencils brand, there’s going to be 250 to 500. Yes there are. I know. So yeah. It is about layering and I’m not even trying to plug here, but the best way to explain it is, I just recently started a YouTube, like I said, and it’s great because if you could be bothered to be honest, don’t. It takes so long, the videos.
I’m not doing the quick time lapses that are two minutes. These are real-time videos, and what you’ll be able to see through that. I didn’t do it as a want to be learning platform, I promise. It’s just this thing that just is quite interesting, and quite soothing to watch, but you’ll be able to see at the beginning it’s more rough than then I build up the layers, as I’m getting closer to the color. So I’m kind of able to identify the color just through my eyes. Also, I read somewhere, I could be making this up that females are better color… At identifying color than males. I don’t know.
Tim: It’s true.
Tim: No. It is. It’s true.
CJ: Are you sure?
CJ: Okay. So yeah, maybe I can just pick it up. I can just see the color that’s needed. And say it’s like a bit too red, you can add a bit of purply to dull. Whatever it is. So yeah, it’s just about layers. So you’ll be able to see really loosely how I do build the layers. Yeah.
Tim: And then once drawings are done, what do you do to finish them?
CJ: Yeah, I use a fixative. If it’s quite a waxy piece, I’ll use fixative. I try to use as little product on the top as possible. To be honest. I think the fact that I’ve used cotton paper and it’s acid-free, it’s like that’s the main core, and I’m using as lightfast materials as possible. And then it’s also framed in an archival way behind UV Perspex or is behind perspex. Never glass. Glass are too dangerous. Especially with shipping these pieces all around the world. Glasses too dangerous. They smash really easily. Perspex is lighter weight, you can hang it. It’s just everything about archival and Perspex.
It’s more expensive, but it’s just a far more superior product. So we work with a really great framer who kind of know. Yeah, he’s brilliant. Yeah. So what was it? What do I do? Yeah. I don’t like to do much. I don’t want to interfere too much with it. When I’m drawing. I know some people use fixative midway through drawing to add layers, I don’t do any of that. It’s a very pure drawing, it’s just paper, just with layers of pencil. There’s no fixative of that’s been used midway through. If the drawing needs fixative on the top, I’ll put it on. But I don’t like to kind of muck around with anything to be honest. I like it just to be pure pigment and paper.
Tim: Okay. And then I wanted to ask too, like how long does it take you to complete a piece? I know you have a lot of small drawings. We also have a lot of just huge, huge drawings. So.
CJ: You know, I don’t really keep a tally of time. I think time is so blended here in the studio. They take forever, they can take any, let’s talk hours. Because day, my days are very long. People like, what? It only takes you seven days. I’m like, yeah but that’s like a long day.
Tim: But you’re working 15 hours a day.
CJ: Yeah. They could take 100 hours, I could take a couple of thousand hours. It really depends on what it is that I’m making and the size and scale and complexity. Some pieces could take five hours if it’s a little micro thing. So, it’s also how focused I’m being when I’m drawing. Sometimes in my day if I’m fluffing around doing other stuff, it can take much longer. And to be honest, pieces are taking a lot longer now because there’s so much in my day. Apart from drawing.
Tim: Starting colored pencil brands.
CJ: Exactly. Jeez. So yeah, there’s a lot that kind of goes on in the day. So they do take a long time. It’s the work I make and I don’t like to compromise on time. I’m not going to rush through something because it has to be done by a certain time. No, it’s when the work is complete, it’s complete. And I never tally my time. It just takes what it takes. But it takes ages, let me say. It takes ages. But I can’t exactly tell you how long. Just a long time. Many hours.
Tim: And then I wanted to ask too a little bit, people love to know about behind the scenes, what it’s like in the studio. So what is your team like here in the studio? How many people do you have coming through? What kinds of things do you have your team help you with?
CJ: Yeah. So Elsa sitting behind you is my studio director. She is brilliant and such a great help for me because I don’t even . . . well I have an e-mail but I don’t use it because you can spend your whole time, you can become just a full-time e-mailer. And I don’t ever use my e-mail or respond to e-mail because it just can take up too much time. So Elsa’s great because she manages, you could almost call her a project manager in a way. She’ll project manage a lot of the shows and the concert and things. I’m like, this is what needs to happen. And she’ll execute the idea. So she’s like my right arm and without her I couldn’t do a whole lot. So we’re a really good team. We work well together. She’s been with me for two years. She’s also Australia. She gets it. Australians get it. Anyway. Yeah. And then I have a full-time studio assistant. So he actually helps me draw, which is a really unusual concept. And I think for a lot of, maybe teachers, maybe this is unusual, but for the art world it’s really not unusual at all. There’s a lot of studios who will have like 100, 200 studio assistants just make their work, and they won’t even touch it.
Tim: Well, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I interviewed Romero Britto a couple of years back, and that’s how it is. He would just go through and just dab colors of paint where he wanted them and then people would have to finish, he’d dab red and then they’d have to paint that section red.
CJ: Wow. You know what, and that’s his practice, and that works for him. For me, I’m also a bit of a control freak, if you haven’t already figured that out. I’ve got one full-time guy, his name’s Chap, he’s amazing. He’ll help me, I almost call it a base coat. So he’ll help me with some base coats, and he’s a very talented artist in his own right. We really enjoy working together because, he doesn’t want to become his own artist, if that makes sense. He’s like, I just, he doesn’t have the energy. He’s like, great, I can work for you. And I pay him, my team really well. For him it’s a great job. And then I have another guy, Marty, who works part-time for me.
So I have one and a half guys essentially who kind of helped me do base coats. And I don’t ever want to grow my studio bigger than that. I think I could, anyone can make more work that’s easy. It’s easy to find studio assistants, but I don’t want there to be too much work out there. I always want that control over what I’m doing. I think if I’m making too much, I lose . . . you can lose focus on the quality and the intensity that I think my work requires. Yeah, so that’s them. What is it, two and a half people?
And then when we’re coming into a show, there’s more people who will subcontract because the shows require so much energy, and team. So we’ll flex out the team when shows are kind of coming up. But generally speaking, there’s always like three people in the studio at any one time. Yeah.
Tim: Yeah. That’s cool.
Tim: And then I guess the last question for you, we talked a little bit about the installations, but it all comes back to the drawing. Do you always see drawing as the center point? Is that always how it’s going to be moving forward, or do you want to diversify things more in the future?
CJ: You know, right now, Like I said, I’ve only just come to understand that drawings are the focus. It’s so strange. I mean drawings of course have been the focus, but I was like, oh, drawings are not important, and I can do the other thing. And then I was losing track and it wasn’t making sense. I was like, well hang on, bring it back. And then I’ve just come to understand that actually drawings are the core and when a show is really successful it’s because the drawings have been the core. And I enjoy it and it makes more sense. So yeah, right now drawings are the core of everything. And to be honest, maybe drawings or the works themselves will always be the core. And then I’ll flex and do other things around it. But that’s right now. I don’t want to assume what’s going to happen in the future because my focus, and I might shift and change a little bit, but right now the drawing has been the core, and the drawing has always been the core.
So maybe that’ll stay the same, maybe things will change. But I really enjoy flexing the shows around it, around that concept. I love that. It’s so much fun. I’m able to deep dive further into the story. I think just showcasing the drawings on the wall isn’t enough for me. It works for some people, but, and it worked on me in the past, but I’m like, ah, just showcasing skill is one thing. Like come on. A lot of people are skill-based artists. I’m not exceptional in that regard, but I’m like, I want to go further. You know, I want to build these other things and yeah, deep dive further into the concept.
But no, I love the installations. It’s so much fun to do. It’s just fun more than anything. It’s just a hoot to build. Yeah. So I think that’s what’s excited me because it just so much fun to make.
Tim: That’s awesome. Cool. Okay, so CJ, thank you so much for inviting me in. Thank you so much for talking to me. It’s been great.
CJ: Thank you for having me. It’s been such a pleasure to hopefully impart some words of wisdom here and there, and if you learned nothing, I’m really sorry. Thank you.
Tim: It’s easy to get into CJ’s drawings. They are beautiful and they are easy to like, but I loved hearing her talk about how there is more there. The drawings can stand alone but they also have a deeper meaning if you care to look for it. And that deeper meaning comes out in her shows and her installations and listening to her talk about that was really exciting. You can tell that is where her passion is right now. The drawings started it all, like she said, but they serve a bigger purpose and they build out to a more complete concept. And I think that’s an idea that’s worth exploring for everyone. From CJ Hendry, to our students who are just starting and just learning, and every artist in between.
Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. As I mentioned, CJ will be the featured presenter at the Art Ed Now conference in February. She’s going to be talking a lot more about her own art. I think she’s going to have some really interesting things to say about artmaking and creativity and inspiration. She will also be available for a live Q and A on the day of the conference, which will be February 1st. You can see more about her presentation and all of the other incredible presentations at artednow.com. So thank you to CJ for inviting me into the studio for this interview and thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon.
The NOW Conference is the world’s largest online conference for art educators! This one-day event (join us live or watch on-demand for an entire year) features 20+ inspiring and innovative TED TALK-style presentations covering topics that are relevant right NOW in Art Ed!