For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. I spent many hours of my childhood creating, drawing and imagining. So it was not surprising that I ended up studying visual art at Simon Fraser University (SFU) soon after leaving high school. I have always been primarily a painter but have experimented with everything from inks to acrylic paints, airbrushing to oil paints, mixed media installations to ceramics.
Shortly after graduating from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts in 2001, my work was show cased in venues such as Artropolis, Diane Ferris Gallery and BC Festival of the Arts. Despite these early successes, I was faced with the age-old dilemma of an artist: how would I make a living making art? I didn’t want to be a starving artist – I wanted a bit of fiscal security – no easy feat in the world of art. Right out of university, Fine Arts Degree in hand, this was a daunting situation. I quickly landed a job with a paint store. There I taught faux finishing classes, helped customers choose colours, mixed and matched paints and was introduced to the word of décor.
My contemporary art education had directed my art making; I had learned to create art that asked questions and explored ideas that were important to me. I knew that I always wanted the luxury of creating the kind of art that was important to me personally, art that would hopefully move others not just by being visually compelling but also by starting a conversation. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I needed to pay the bills.
I started a muraling and decorative painting company, Artista Murals and Decorative Painting, in 2002. As the years passed, my commercial art practice grew. I spent many days painting murals in care homes, luxury houses, restaurants and businesses. I spent even more days covering walls and ceilings in beautiful faux finishes – faux marble, faux wood, swirling metallic glazes. I spent my evenings figuring out marketing plans and book keeping. My business grew in the building boom of the last decade. But as my business flourished my art career faltered. After a long week of painting other people’s homes, the last thing I wanted to do was spend a weekend locked in the studio. Although I loved my job as a commercial artist, I yearned to make art that was meaningful to me, not purely decorative and palatable to the general public.
In 2008 the recession hit and business waned. Meanwhile, my husband and I decided to start a family. Climbing ladders and high scaffold became nearly impossible for me as my belly swelled. But this was the opportunity I needed. Working only minimal hours, I could start my art practice anew. While my baby napped, I painted. Always deeply moved by nature, my work investigated ideas of urban and natural settings, regeneration, gentrification and development. More broadly, I started to explore the devastating but beautiful dance of renewal and encroachment in our environment. I worked many in oils on panel, incorporating some of the techniques I had learned as a commercial artist. I worked at my muraling part time but my art career started to reform and take shape.
In 2012, my family unexpectedly had to move from the Lower Mainland to the Kootenays for my husband’s work. For now, my commercial art business has been firmly delegated to the back seat, and that is fine. I find that times of transition are also important times for creation, renewal and discovery. Once inspired by what I call the lush “pocket oasis” of the city and suburbia, I now find myself inspired by the rugged rural landscape of the East Kootenays. I have the luxury to work on art that is meaningful to me and to work also on sharing that art with others.
After a decade of working in the arts I now want to teach others how to enjoy their creative side. This spring I will be teaching number of art workshops in Kimberley and Cranbrook through the College of the Rockies Continuing Education. I’m also expanding my art business online – I just relaunched my website www.jennifermcauley.com and am learning how to use Facebook (Jennifer mcauley art), Twitter and Pinterest to get my art out into the world. For the moment, I am exploring new ways to answer the same question I was faced with so many years ago: how do I make a living as an artist?