You may recall that last year — about one year ago, to be exact — I did the first in a new series on my blog called Interviews with People I Admire. I posted one more interview the following month, and then POOF! No more. You know how these things go, don’t you? You have a great idea and then somehow life gets in the way? Well, I’m back at it, and I’ve decided to pick this series up again, this time in earnest. And so today I present to you Jennifer Orkin Lewis, otherwise known as Augustwren.
This series is really about people who are doing (making, painting, writing, designing, drawing) things that I think are super cool. And Jennifer Orkin Lewis is doing something really cool. She has a sketchbook project which is really unique and pretty much blows my socks off most days. I discovered her work (and her sketchbook) several months back on Instagram, and I am so glad it happened.
Jennifer is an artist and illustrator who lives outside New York City, and last year in 2013 she decided to paint in her sketchbook every day for the month of April. That project eventually led to painting in her sketchbook every day, with a few self imposed parameters (more about those in our interview). You know how I love a good daily project, right? Well Jennifer’s is destined to become legendary if she keeps it up. I’ve since befriended Jennifer on the Internet, and I’ve also found her to be incredibly kind and humble (two qualities I also admire); and I’m also excited to meet her when I am in New York City in a couple of weeks. Now for our interview!
Lisa: Jennifer, I discovered your work on Instagram, and then the following day I saw your work in Uppercase Magazine. You post daily photos of paintings you make in your sketch book, which are so beautiful, by the way! I am so impressed by your discipline and the diversity of what you paint. How and when did this daily practice begin for you? Was it intentional (like you got up one day and decided to start painting in a blank book every day) or something that evolved more organically over time?
Jennifer: Thank you so much, Lisa, I’m so honored to be interviewed by you! I actually have wanted to do a daily project for many years but never quite figured out what that project would be. In April 2013, I decided to do a painting a day for the month. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself and I ended up spending hours each day on them. I finished out the month, but it was stressful. In May I did it again but my rules were that I would limit it to 1 hour and I would only paint food. I finished that challenge as well but I felt too tied down to that theme and I didn’t experiment enough. I picked up the sketchbook I’m using now last October and I started painting in it. Something clicked and I really liked how the paint went onto the paper, its size, the fact that it wasn’t a gorgeous sketchbook. I kept painting in it so when January came it just flowed that this would be my daily project. I decided to post them all on Instagram to hold myself accountable to painting everyday.
Lisa: Since you began your daily paintings, how has your art practice changed? What do the daily paintings do for your creative practice and discipline?
Jennifer: I’ve definitely gained confidence, just knowing I can get up every day and produce something new. I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly disciplined, so I have surprised myself. I have loads of 1/2 finished sketchbooks on my shelves. A great result from the practice is I now have hundreds of pages of personal reference material. I’ve gone into it to look for color combinations for projects, for the shape of a flower, a technique.
I also have to say that all the amazing followers on Instagram and Facebook have been totally encouraging and that helps me keep the discipline up.
Lisa: How long do they normally take? How much time do you spend each day painting in your sketchbooks? How many books have you painted in so far?
Jennifer: It is a 30 minute painting daily. That said, when I start the 30 minutes I usually know what I’m painting, my paints are out and ready and I’ve done a really quick pencil sketch. (3 minutes tops) I usually finish the page in 20-30 minutes, using a timer. When it goes off I’m finished no matter how done I think it is. This is the first sketchbook I’ve ever even come close to finishing. I don’t ever want to stop now, I’m making up for lost time!
Lisa: I am so intrigued by your subject matter, and I love how sometimes you share next to your sketchbook what you used for reference. How do you decide what to paint each day?
Jennifer: This is by far the hardest part. Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I’m going to paint, a bouquet of flowers I just bought, a self portrait, a stylized face, bugs. It could be anything. Sometimes I sit down and pull out a book that inspires me and I look at it for a little while and I get an idea that feels right. I might pull out an old photo or a post card of a piece of art and I’m inspired to paint from that. I definitely have days though where I feel like I’ll never come up with an idea. Then I might pick 2 or 3 oddball colors and just paint flowers. The worst days are the ones where I feel I’m making a mess and I’m frustrated the whole time. I really look at the sketchbook as a place to experiment. It’s not meant to be perfect so I try not to worry about it too much.
Lisa: In addition to sharing your reference, you often also share the materials you use alongside the sketchbook, which helps to how people how little you need to create a rich painting. What mediums and materials do you use in your daily paintings?
Jennifer: I primarily use gouache, but I’ll add acrylic, craft paints, pencil, gel pens. I paint directly onto the paper. Sometimes the painting bleeds through so I’ll just paint the next page a solid color and paint or draw over that. About 1/4 way through I started spraying them with fixative because they were rubbing off on one another. Now they stay pretty clean. The sketchbook is a $4.00 book from the Japanese store Muji. I want to start playing with other materials soon to mix it up a bit.
Lisa: Tell us about how else you spend your days? You went to school for textile design. Do you still do that kind of work? What other illustration projects do you do?
Jennifer: This summer I was very busy illustrating a cake cookbook for Abrams books. It’s really fun, called Sitting in Bars with Cake. The publication date is next March. I’ve also been doing Lilla Rogers Bootcamp and just finished a terrarium piece of art for her Global Talent Search. I also license art for greeting cards and other products. My work tends to be very patterny, not surprising coming from my textile background but I’m not doing any actual fabric at this moment.
Jennifer: What are your dream projects?
Lisa: Hmmm, I’d love to work with Anthropologie, I want to illustrate more books, and do some lifestyle editorial. I’d also love to have a gallery show. There are so many dreams. I also have always wanted to paint on ceramics. I don’t know where I can do that, I need to look into it!
Thank you, Jennifer (aka Augustwren), for the lovely interview and for sharing your work & process! You can find Jennifer’s work here on her wesbite; you can follow her on Instagram (that’s the best place to follow her daily paintings); and you can follow her Facebook fan page here.
Next interview in this series coming soon: designer & photographer Troy Litten!
Have a great Thursday!