JK Bleeg is an artist and freelance writer who enjoys studying simple pleasures — a pot of tea on a chilly day, a bouquet of tulips just opening up, a perfectly ripe peach, a summer meadow — and capturing their beauty on canvas.
Colour, light and shape inspire her art, as does her food writing work. A visit to the farmer’s market in her neighbourhood often generates an idea for both an article and a painting. A native New Englander, she currently lives in Bristol, England with her husband and two sons.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt the importance of art in my life.
It started out with being very drawn in by colour and shape — as a child, I could spend hours with my Lite-Brite and Spirograph set. As I got older and had the chance to travel and see art in museums and galleries, I began to see how art could evoke a full range of emotions, how it had the power to transport me to a new place or way of thinking.
Art is also a great tool for me nowadays — when I need to relax or recharge or feel inspired, I look at images of art I love. I’ve accumulated a big collection at this point, and looking at it always seems to set me back on track.
Carrie: How would you describe your art?
My art tends to use vibrant colour, light and shadow to create mood — whether in a landscape, a simple still life or an abstract painting. In whatever I’m painting, I like to create a little escape for the viewer, to a soothing location, a happy memory or to a place in the imagination.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
It really depends on where I’m living! When I lived in rural New Hampshire, I had it really good: a proper studio with storage space, lots of natural light and a big picture window that looked out onto a forest.
Now that I’m living in a city in the UK and have a much smaller space to work with, my easel and paint consume a corner of our kitchen. But that’s also kind of nice in that my painting is woven into everything else that way. I can start work on a still life, then take a quick break to chop vegetables for dinner or help my son with his homework at the kitchen table. I’m not saying I don’t miss that New Hampshire studio, though!
Carrie: What do you hope viewers take from your artwork?
I hope they can find their lives within my work. It’s so rewarding for me when someone tells me they have my art on their wall and when they look at it, it brings them back to a happy moment or reconnects them to an object or a ritual that brings them joy. That is the best feeling for me.
Carrie: What strategies do you use to help yourself when you feel “stuck?”
As I’ve painted over the years, I’ve often found myself getting frustrated by the ugly phase of a painting — that point where your idea is starting to take shape but it’s not there yet and looks like garbage.
I used to take that phase too personally, like it was a statement about my skill and not simply a phase any artist must push through. This was especially difficult for me when making larger pieces. Making more art more quickly has helped with that. I’ve also embraced working on smaller, more forgiving pieces at the same time I’m working on larger ones.
Carrie: What has been one hurdle you’ve overcome as a creative and how did you navigate that problem?
I’m someone who takes comfort in having a plan but making art has changed that in me.
A few years ago, I was getting into analysis-paralysis mode trying to think about the end point for my art, how I should market it, where I should sell it. It was preventing me from actually making more of the art I intended to sell! Again here, making more work (and creating more community around my art practice) has helped me see the best path for it.
Carrie: In 2018, you participated in my mastermind program The Circle. What drew you to joining The Circle? What did you learn about yourself and/or your art?
This year, I joined The Circle in an effort to create art more regularly. My two young children and writing work also need my time and focus, so if I’m not disciplined about making art, I don’t make as much of it as I’d like.
The Circle helped me get into the habit of making art every day — and also helped me stretch my skill by tackling new subjects and practicing fundamentals. The Circle community encouraged me to share work in progress as well, and their input helped me improve.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I love playing with light and the absence of it, then showing its effect on the colours I’m painting. When I’m considering different ideas for a piece, I’ll look at some photo references through the Enlight app. It helps me dissect an image into lights and darks, and that often sparks some ideas before I start painting.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I am hyper-inspired by colour, so whenever I see vivid combinations of it, I feel the urge to start painting. That includes places like candy stores, farmer’s markets, and even hardware stores (you can find me in the aisle by the paint swatches!).
When I visit a gallery or museum and connect with an artist’s work, I usually collect a postcard of the piece and add it to the idea book I have at home — or bookmark a website that shows the artist’s work. These are the first places I look when I need a little jolt of inspiration in my own practice.
Carrie: What does the word artist mean to you?
Artists help us see the world and ourselves a little differently and more deeply. Some make us question why we do what we do. Others encourage us to escape the everyday for a moment or connect with a memory or a feeling.
When I was in New Hampshire, I lived right around the corner from the MacDowell Colony, which has long attracted accomplished artists in a diverse range of practices. On the one day each year when the colony was open to the public, I would visit and witness a broad spectrum of artists in action — composers, poets, painters, playwrights, digital artists, makers of musical instruments — all working away in rustic little cabins nestled among towering pine trees and rolling hills.
When visiting each cabin, which served as a temporary home, studio and retreat for each artist, we could get a glimpse of not just the artist’s final product but also the process of getting there — the conflicts and questions, the brainstorms, the mess of notes tacked on the wall that led to the first draft of a memoir.
For me, it was always a transformative experience. I would return home, full of questions and ideas and inspiration, and also more relaxed and focused than I would have been after a massage or a yoga class. I love that artists have the power to impact people like that.
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Find me on Instagram @jkbleeg