Jenny Gray, an artist based in Monroe, Oregon, divides her time between her graphic design business and creating her own art. Coming from a family of artists, when she was young Gray would “help” by washing brushes while spending time in the studio. She became immersed in the art world after attending openings and going to museums with her family. Gray finds peace in pastoral settings, whether it is sitting outside underneath an oak tree or going camping with her husband and dogs.
Mood of Living Q&A
JG: Newport Beach, CA
MoL: Current location?
JG: Monroe, OR
JG: Designer and Artist
MoL: Occupation description?
JG: I split my time just about in half between my graphic design business and making art. I have had “Gray Design” opened for 15 years with mostly regional clients. I do everything from brand identity, print design to web design. On the art side of my life, I make large abstract oil paintings, collages, assemblages and prints.
MoL: Before your current occupation you were…?
JG: Well, during high school I worked in retail but I have been a graphic artist and designer most of my working life.
MoL: What and/or who inspired you to become an artist? Please elaborate.
JG: When I was young my mom had a friend who was an abstract painter and I would “help” by washing brushes. My grandmother taught art, my mother and step-father were both artists, so being an artist always seemed like a very real possibility. Family outings often consisted of going to openings, museums and other artist’s studios.
MoL: Where and how did you learn your craft?
JG: I got a good grounding in basic art techniques and design principles from San Jose State University. I also did independent study with Oregon painter Adam Grosowsky. I learn best from doing, so I have spent and still do spend a lot of time just playing around with materials and ideas.
MoL: What medium do you like to work in?
JG: My favorite medium is oil paint.
MoL: How would you describe your artwork? How would you describe your creative process?
JG: My work is abstract contemporary. When I am painting I start out with an image, idea or emotion directly onto the canvas. I try to plan things out too much. I am always trying to infuse my work with life. I am trying to bring the painting to life, giving it weight, a personality. I work on paintings for a long time, with many painting sessions changing it and forming it as I go. As I work, I am adding layers and layers, allowing some images or information to show through. These layers are part of the “personality” of the painting. The layers allow for different facets of the painting’s personality to be apparent. I want the viewer to see new things as they spend time with the work.
MoL: It says on your personal site that your most recent artwork focuses on “small bits” or “fragments of information.” Why choose to create abstract fragments, rather than depictions of entirety, in your work?
JG: I have a series of work based on “bits” of information. I see these bits of information as cells, DNA, etc. They are parts of the whole but they have a huge impact on the larger whole. I guess I am fascinated by the fact that these microscopic things determine the health and future of every living being.
MoL: Many of your artworks are filled with a variety of lively colorations. Does color play a big role in your artistic process? Do certain fragments in your artwork speak to particular color hues?
JG: Color can really influence my mood, so sometimes I gravitate towards certain colors like yellow and orange in the dead of winter when it is so grey outside. Color seems like it can be a creative crutch for me sometimes, so lately I have been working more monochromatically or with black and white plus one color.
MoL: Where do you look for inspiration?
JG: I look a lot at the rural landscape around my home. I like the angles/shapes of mills, factories and barns around me too. I also love to zoom-in on seedpods, leaves etc. for inspiration. I also have many typography books and vintage biology books I look at quite often.
MoL: What is your favorite quote?
JG: “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
I use this quote in my Etsy shop. I think it really sums up the way I feel when I am making art and hopefully the people who have my art in their homes can relate to it too.
MoL: How do you achieve a peace of mind and spirit?
JG: Nature. I love just sitting outside, looking at the oak trees around my house or going to the coast during the winter and watching the storms.
MoL: What is your favorite hobby?
JG: I love camping with my husband and dogs.
MoL: Who is an influential figure in your life?
JG: My step-father Jack Welpott was a well known photographer, so when he encouraged my painting it meant the world.
MoL: If you could have a conversation with any artist of the past or present, who would it be and why?
JG: I would love to talk to Richard Diebenkorn about his change of styles during the 60s and 70s.
MoL: What period of art do you most admire?
JG: I really like the abstract expressionists of the 50’s.
MoL: It says on your personal site that “a theme that has run through [your] work for years is the act of covering, layering, hiding, censoring, and the control [you] have to only show part of the story.” Why choose to “only show part of the story?”
JG: Well, I would never presume to know the full story about anything, but I am mostly thinking about people’s stories. Even people who you think you know really well always keep certain things private. People control what they let you see.
MoL: When was the moment you realized you could really do this?
JG: When the first show I ever had just about sold out (my prices were super low).
MoL: What is the message you hope to project through your artwork? What feelings do you hope to convey?
JG: My paintings are about being human; the need to create that is human. My paintings hopefully express freedom, hopefulness and positivity.
MoL: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JG: I hope I am able to continue to do what I am doing right now; splitting my time between art and design really works for me.
MoL: What advice can you give to anyone interested in becoming an artist?
JG: Be realistic about the fact that you probably will not make much money from fine art—just be prepared to have a “day job.” Otherwise, I would encourage anyone to go for it. They will be happier in the long run for exploring art in their life.