Happiness for her is creating with colour, and she can’t stop won’t stop with her lovely landscapes.
For Auckland’s Jen Sievers, creating colours and applying them to a surface to see what will emerge is the embodiment of happiness. She describes the act of painting as a soulful expression of pure joy, one that lets her lose herself in her colours for hours at a time.
So, Jen, tell us about the pivotal moment when you really engaged with painting… It came about five years ago, just after I’d moved up into the Waitakeres with my husband Jorin and our daughter Mila. I hadn’t really painted much since dropping out of art school in 1998 and had been working as a graphic designer for 15 years. Mila was two at the time, and one spring day, after spending a lovely morning with friends, I took her home for a nap. As she went to
sleep, I had an overwhelming urge to paint. I found a piece of ply, some house paint and a few craft paints, and started swishing paint around in the sunshine. Even talking about it makes me feel quite emotional — I felt like I came alive.
You weathered a health scare in 2019 — how did it affect your passion for your practice? My breast cancer diagnosis was a big shock, and for a while it felt like my future might be slipping away from me. It’s crazy how life works, though, because at the time I was in the thick of painting for a solo show, one depicting goddesses, so my painting not only provided a place to feel joy and be present in the moment, but also allowed me to reflect on some of the world’s strongest female archetypes right when I needed it. I was very fortunate that my cancer was treatable and, in the end, one of my life’s greatest blessings.
Was this what led you to become a full-time artist? There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to give you a good wake-up call — the whole ‘life is short’ thing becomes very real. I’d been mulling over the idea of going full-time for ages and had made deals with myself like: ‘If you make the same amount of money from your art as your day job for a year, then you can quit the job’ — but I’d reach these goals, freak out and hold onto my job, just in case.
It didn’t help that I actually loved my role and was working with a wonderful team of people, but I was exhausted. I was working three-and-a-half days a week, doing the school runs, and running my art business in the evenings, on Fridays and in the weekends. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue that level of work with radiotherapy coming up, and I absolutely couldn’t quit painting, so I had to let go of my job. That was in February 2020, and it was the best decision I ever made. I think if I hadn’t had cancer, I might still be worried about quitting, so I have it to thank for this magical life I’m now living.
Can you talk us through your creative process? At the moment, most of my pieces are landscapes, and this process is always a play between freedom and control, intuition and planning. I start by looking for beautiful places online or in my own photographs, listening for a specific feeling to guide me to the correct pic; I need to get butterflies in my tummy when I see it. Once I’ve picked the reference scene, I usually look for a few more pics of the same place, so I can get a better feel for it, then patch together a few photos in Photoshop to create my composition. When I’m happy with that, I draw over it in Photoshop, mapping out the main shapes, picking colours and forming a basic plan.
Then the fun starts! I paint my underneath layers, always starting with my fluoro coral outlines, which bring a vibrant aliveness. I then paint without thinking too much, layering until I’m not sure what to do next, then photograph the painting, pop it back into Photoshop and sketch some possible next steps. I repeat this until the painting is done, using my intuition to guide me.
What inspires your use of such bold hues? Colour is the reason I paint and one of my most powerful tools for creating the sense of joy I’m after. I just love how it makes me feel and how changing the hue of a colour by one or two percent can completely change the outcome of a painting.
What’s coming up for you? It’s a strange time to plan anything, but I know I’ll definitely be painting more landscapes in 2021. I’d like to host some workshops in my new studio and I’m hoping to pull together a new solo show. A long-held dream of mine has come true recently too: a linen collaboration with artist collective Greenhouse Interiors.
I truly believe that art, particularly original art, holds the energy of the artist and passes an emotion on to the person who views it. I hope that my work will continue to spread joy around as many homes as possible.