Open AIR; A Residency That Inspired Dreamy Interpretations of Montana’s Wildlife

“Montana Treasures”

In April of 2019 I was awarded an artist residency through Western Montana Creative Initiatives and Open AIR Montana.

I primarily work with pen and ink, colored pencils, and graphite. I enjoy creating intricate surreal illustrations often featuring opulent animals as the subjects. I find most of my inspiration in the natural world and the human condition and really enjoy marrying the two concepts together to create visual storylines.

My aim when producing my work, is to cause the viewer to take a closer look, examining the fine details as well as the deeper interpretations of the piece. My artwork is often referred to as emotional and profound by viewers.

Posing next to my piece “Delicate Posterity” part of the ZACC mini show benefit auction

I’ve shown my work in places like Radius Gallery, and the ZACC based in Missoula Montana.

Art has been such a huge part of my life even from a young age. It’s something I’ve always considered as a main driving force in my life. It has helped me through some very dark moments growing up. It has helped me branch out into the world, and it even helped me meet my husband (We were married in the gallery where we had first met and where we became engaged).
It has always been my life’s purpose to create art. Since art was a part of my life before I had my daughter right as I was graduating high school, and before I met my husband, it’s something I have had to learn to balance with my everyday life and Day Job.

My life goal as an artist and human being; is to be financially independent through my artwork alone, and Open Air has been an experience that has helped me take another step closer to that goal. So, I just want to thank Stoney Sasser, and everyone who works with Open AIR and Montana Creative initiatives for giving me this opportunity because this residency was such a special and unique experience.

Work Space

My residency was at the Montana Natural History center; you can see in this photo that I had my drawing station set up in the middle of the exhibit hall. During my time there I was allowed access to the back-storage room filled with all kinds of skulls and other animal parts. I could pull taxidermy pieces from the walls in the exhibit area, I essentially could pick whatever I wanted anywhere in the building to use as a reference. Taxidermy as well as skulls, and skeletons make some of the best artistic references because they don’t move.

This is a photo of me and my daughter, this was my very first day at the residency. I got to bring both my kids during a couple of my days there. My daughter was more interested in their play room because she’s incredibly active. My Stepson however wanted to look around and see all the exhibits. He’s quite curious and loves learning new things, I’m happy I was able to bring them so they could enjoy the museum.

Studio Visit snapped by Stoney

When Stoney came for the studio visit, I was telling her I felt like I needed more time and didn’t want to leave, because there are so many specimens and sources of information to utilize at the center. The residency was scheduled to last for one week.

When I create new works, I enjoy researching my subjects thoroughly and compiling enough accurate information to create dreamy profound/narrative work that honors the subject. For example, I was able to find the eggs of the western meadowlark pictured next to the taxidermy mount of an adult meadowlark. I would come to learn later that meadowlarks build their nests in the ground.

For this particular piece titled: “Blessed is the Busy Beaver”, I was inspired by this display they have featuring a very chunky taxidermy beaver, along with its skulls, pelts, and these pieces of wood that beavers had chewed through. As you all know beavers create their homes from the trees they chew down with their long orange teeth, so I ended up including imagery pertaining home. What really makes the natural history center such an awesome source of information is their library, where I was able to check out several informational books and research my subjects, like the beaver, even further.

While I was working on this sketch one of the buildings scientists stopped and said hi to me. I unfortunately dropped the ball on trying to sit down and interview any of them, I think I got a little wrapped up in trying to draw as many things as I could, as well as participating in the community events we were implementing at the museum

The Community events were such a fun experience. Throughout my residency I had my drawing station set up in the middle of the exhibit hall so visitors could sit and draw the specimens with me. I think over the course of the week I had about 20 or more people join me. There were so many great interactions! I asked one little girl if she wanted to be an artist when she grew up and she shook her head shyly as her mom informed me that she wanted to be a dentist. 

One special experience was on the last day of my residency. It was my last drawing with the public event. I was all set up and mentally prepared to be working with preschoolers, because the museum was hosting their preschool class that morning. and this young girl who was 13 years old, showed up bright and early at 10 o’clock to draw with me. The preschoolers ended up not being interested in the drawing activity, so I spent the whole morning working one on one with this really sweet girl. We talked about process, drawing tools, tips on how to become a successful artist. It was such an endearing moment, I’ve had similar experiences to this one, that feel really inspiring and intimate. It’s these moments that really fuel my drive as an artist. Knowing I’m inspiring people to pursue their artistic passions that they’ve felt from a young age like myself, when I didn’t have anyone to really reach out to or inspire me, is just such an incredible feeling. Its life affirming.

At the end of the residency I told the museum that because of how amazing the space was I wanted to create an extensive series based on the specimens there. They gifted me a membership on the spot, and I will be working on creating my own personal series inspired from their collection over the course of the next year!

Truly when I say thank you to Open AIR I mean thank you. I never knew about the Montana Natural History Center until I applied for this residency program, and I don’t know if I ever would have without this connector.

Both finished works pictured in this blog; “Montana Treasures” and “Blessed is the Busy Beaver” are currently on display at the Gallery of Visual Arts until this Thursday October 3rd 2019. Check out the Facebook event page for more information!

“An Artist and her work”
Photo snapped of Jessie during the closing reception