Truth is where you find it: Construction & Discovery with Julie Jeanseau
Have you ever received an email out of the blue, from some weirdo stranger who says they're new in town and don't know anyone, but saw you had a studio and wanted to know if you could use any help with anything?
Because I'm a weirdo, and when I was new in town and didn't know anyone, I saw she had a studio and wondered if I could help with anything.
And because Julie is an exceptional individual, she agreed to meet me and talk about it.
And that's how I made the acquaintance of Ms. Julie Jeanseau- Artist, Educator, and Community-Builder. Since my awkward email introduction, I've had the pleasure of working with Julie on her summer art camps for kids, and watched her transition her studio from one location to the next... to the next... to the next. Julie's work itself is also very much about space. Making space. Creating space. Discovering space. And since I love to ask makers about their creative spaces, I thought Julie would have some interesting insights.
A teacher, a mom, and an artist, Julie studied Arts Education at the University of Oregon. She went on to earn a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction from Portland State and has been teaching for over 25 years. Whether she's in a classroom of kids, working on-one-one with adult students, or hosting workshops in community centers, Julie works to create a space for people to meet, share, and "surrender to the process." She cultivates a setting where her students can feel safe to explore, reflect, and contemplate. In fact, she even named her studio The Abbey, to evoke the place of "reflection, solitude and creativity," she hoped to create.
Julie challenges her students to go beyond looking and try to truly see the world around them. "I tell my students that there's no such thing as a brown tree. They go out and they look, and come back with their observations. And they're so excited to share that the trees they saw are green, and bluish, and reddish, and yellow-tan. Trees aren't brown."
In the just the short time I've known her, Julie has had to transition her studio space a number of times. From her spacious Abbey Art Center in the heart of downtown, to the light-filled back room of a church in the suburbs, to an extra bedroom in her apartment, Julie has had to pack-up and rebuild many, many times.
"I always carve out a space for creating, be it a corner in the room, an extra bedroom, a space in the garage, or a studio elsewhere." She says that creating the physical space allows her to create the mental space her ideas and pieces require to fully develop. While she's no stranger to working on the go (she showed me a little mixed-media accordion book she was keeping in her bag to work on) she did confess that the constant transitions have had an impact on her work.
With all the moving around- not to mention the stressors of everyday life in COVID times- Julie admits she's had to find a way to work with a decreased bandwidth. The need for practicality in the chaos has forced her to lean into mediums and projects that are grounding, serving as an anchor when she's feeling adrift. Nowadays, she finds she works less on birch board with oil paints, and more on paper with ink, pastels, and watercolors. She mixes things up with long-term and short-term projects, easy ones and more complex pieces to both keep her creativity flowing, and keep her sane when things get overwhelming. I admire the way she's accepted her "seasons" of creativity as changes take place in the world, and in her life.
Okay, so how does one keep organized when working with so many different mediums (Julie paints, draws, stitches...) and having to pack-up and move?
"It's been a bit of struggle," Julie admits. While she says she'll never be one of those artists with an organized and Instagram-ready studio space, she keeps her messes manageable. The important thing, she insists, is that among the clutter, "I know where to find things." A recurring nightmare she has is looking through boxes and being unable to find what she's looking for (and this makes me simultaneously laugh and groan at how relatable an artist's stress dream can be.)
When she's not doodling on the go, Julie works in a variety of mediums. Her sketches and line drawings, watercolors, and textile pieces, in addition to her oil paintings, keep her creative mind (and fingers) nimble. Much of her work features natural themes, with a strong architectural line running throughout. When I say her work is about spaces, this is what I mean. Natural and manmade structures, both literal and abstract, building them, discovering them, cultivating them. She explores ideas of sacredness and memory and home- places constructed, or found. Discovering meaning. Attributing meaning. Being a part of "the conversation."
About her approach, Julie explains she "work[s] from my happy place between realism and abstraction, and in the familiar spaces of the West Coast, as I push and pull the Duplexity of life. They are spaces of meditation, solace, foundation and history. They are spaces of Grief and Joy, Anxiety and Calm, Strength and Weakness."
She uses her work to explore her relationship with the religious structures she grew up with, and the natural beauty that nurtures her spirit. "I am fascinated by these buildings and religious structures we create, trying to define Mystery and get it right, only to watch Nature overcome and wear them down."
The Pacific Northwest forms the foundation of many of Julie's starting points: color, lines, and emotions are frequently lifted from her experiences in the natural landscape. "The light on a leaf, or the sound of a creek will forever capture me," she explains. "I grew up on the side of a forest outside of Oregon City with the river in the front and the smell of trees everywhere. As I walk and hike around my home I am taking pictures, looking, and sketching."
Julie's paintings consider the "conversation of finding the divine voice within nature," of looking for Truth wherever it should reveal itself- even in the most unexpected of places. "There is so much to hear if we will take time to be still and listen."
A healthy dose of humility allows us to look and see and accept truth wherever it lies, is central to Julie's practice.
"Truth is truth, no matter where you find it."
In 2022, Julie hopes to begin putting down roots in her new home studio.
To learn more about Julie Jeanseau's work, you can visit her website at https://www.juliejeanseau.com/
She's also on Instagram: @julie_jeanseau and on Facebook at @TheAbbeyArtCenter
And if you're lucky enough to be local, Julie's works are currently available at Greenspace Design by Jude.