Jess Egan is an artist based in South Somerset, who has been reunited with her love for art in recent years, and takes inspiration from local landscapes and seascapes. Here she talks about the importance of family, her connection with the local area and her brave leap into embracing a new life as an artist and connecting to the local art scene. It’s a truly inspirational story and a privilege to learn about Jess so do read on!
So we both grow up in the South Somerset village of East Coker. What things are you grateful for in terms of growing up there and how has it helped shape your creativity?
The first thing that springs to mind here is my grandparents, we moved down here to the area where they had chosen to semi retire and their influences on me with art and nature, gardening and books and learning are absolute cornerstones of everything I do.
Then of course East Coker itself, we had moved from London when I was seven or eight and I thought I was going to hate the countryside, of course I fell in love with it and found adventure and beauty in everything; building dens and climbing trees and running around fields. I remember loving the September afternoon sunlight across the playing fields of our village school so much that I wanted the image permanently ingrained in my mind and it is. There is so much of this that I now understand feeds into the motivation behind my work.
I love your art it seems to embody simplicity and complexity at the same time! How do you keep motivated to keep creating?
Thank you, that’s a really interesting perspective and I’m pleased to hear it. There is so much beauty and interest to be found in the landscape’s details and intricacies but I am also drawn to the calm to be found in simplicity, sometimes in something like a horizon line, it really makes me pause and it’s like pressing an emotional reset button.
In the last couple of years I have realised how integral making art is to who I am, and how I maintain a positive mental health, this is a really strong motivation to keep going. Making art, figurative drawing, abstract marks and exploring materials really calms and centres me and like many other people, I also find that exploring our beautiful British coast and countryside is really important to my wellbeing; attempting to translate this through my art feels very natural.
Another strong motivation for me comes from having put my creativity to one side for so long and not finishing my art ‘education’ at university, I feel like I have a lot of time to make up. I want to put the effort in and I’m excited to see what my work is like and what I learn in five or ten years, but I recognise the work I need to put in to this.
You have a very unique colour palette inspired by the natural world and in particular the Dorset coast, which we are so close to here in South Somerset. Did you consciously develop this colour palette or are these simply the colours you love?
Colour was really opened up to me with a watercolour palette I inherited from my Grandpa which I started to use in my sketchbooks a few years ago, these had previously been quite monochrome. When I started painting on canvas again a few years ago my first piece was from Hive Beach. I find the range of colour and form along the coastline absolutely hypnotic.
The palette I use is instinctive, it absolutely starts with what I see in the landscape and yes particularly down by the coast, and then on the canvas I think it becomes like an amplified version of what I have seen on my travels, it’s what I remember and what I feel and often people think of nature in art as being muted and toned down but it’s not, a blue sky green grass kind of day can really shout at you.
I’m actually really keen on muted natural tones for example like you would see in a Ben Nicholson painting, but when I get started I just can’t seem to help myself, my eye leads the way and it becomes part of the process. I think a lot about tonality/opposites and balance but I am becoming very aware of the meaningfulness in the palette I choose and what I can mix to produce depth and atmosphere, I’ve still got a long way to go.
Which artists are you inspired by? Your picture themed on “time, learning and togetherness” reminds me of Marc Chagall in the dream like quality. I do love Chagall and remember vividly seeing his America windows at the Art Institute of Chicago years ago.
Yes definitely Chagall! His work is poetry and I think his subject matter and particularly his compositions influence my more surreal works like the one you mention, it surfaced in a half asleep summers day moment and I was compelled to get it down on paper. I absolutely adored studying Art History and am into a range of artists and styles. Paul Cezanne has been a firm favourite since my Grandpa took me to the Royal Academy when I was ten, I was blown away by the mark making in his still life and his colour palette and the landscapes he painted. We visited his studio in Aix en Provence a few years ago and I felt like I was walking on air just to be there, it was an extraordinary experience. I also love John Piper, the St Ives artists, the Surrealists, and the Abstract Expressionists. At the moment the more contemporary artists I look to in the South West are David Atkins, David Mankin, Frances Hatch and Emily Powell amongst many many more.
Tell me about the “anxiety drawings” and “mark making to ease my anxious heart”. Anxiety is something I also experience from time to time, how does art help you cope?
I find that when making art (most of the time) I find it easier to process my internal monologue, I become focussed on hand to eye coordination and breathing, it is a mindful experience. That isn’t to say it is easy or relaxing exactly but it helps me to change gear and in the bigger picture this can stop me spiralling. I started drawing again just after Max was born, I was experiencing a new period of depression and anxiety and straight away I felt the benefit.
The anxiety drawings came about last year because being the mother of a small child in lockdown my time for drawing went almost entirely out of the window, I didn’t feel like I had control over anything and this, as for many other people, was/is very difficult. If I had just five minutes here and there to add a few marks to an abstract piece of work, a few scratchy scribbles, dots or swathes of ink, that seemed to help me feel more me.
The “mark making to ease my anxious heart” piece came about specifically when I took some of the motifs from the abstract anxiety drawings and put them on a plaster heart mould which had come from an art organisation in Lancaster, ‘The Heart of It’ and it has gone to back to them to be in an exhibition. In a silver lining kind of way I have found networking and finding opportunities much easier in the last year as everyone moved more online and this was just one of those wonderful projects to be involved in.
What mediums do you use -acrylics and watercolours?
At the moment yes and ink, I love using ink to draw there’s an immediacy to it and an expressiveness that I really enjoy. I take a lot of photographs and experiment with pencils, pastels, pens and all sorts. I’m on a couple of courses at the moment which I hope will open up my skills again in a variety of media but really I find true freedom in paint.
Tell me about your career highlights including being awarded the Creative Pathways Bursary.
Being awarded the Creative Pathways Bursary has been a major highlight for me as an artist, I am early on in my career and it just felt amazing to be given this award which felt like encouragement and validation to keep going, a license to take my practice seriously and pursue new avenues of exploration, I am hoping to be linked up with a mentor as part of the project this year and I am very excited about this.
The other huge highlight was being accepted to work with the ArtsLink Fizz project in Sherborne in Autumn 2018, for such a long time I wanted a job which has meaning and creativity and I have been privileged and overjoyed to be involved with wellbeing groups Art for Memory and Art for Parents since then. I just couldn’t believe I got the job and in some ways still can’t. Our groups were put in hold last year but we are hoping for a Summer Term this year.
You are very much involved in the local art scene – what’s going on?
I am beyond delighted to be so involved with Yeovil Art Space and the Yeovil Creatives Network. I became a member of the Creatives a couple of years ago and it has opened up so many conversations and opportunities for me. It came along at just the right time and has given me experience and confidence ever since. And now I am a trustee for the Yeovil Art Space, which has huge potential for artists in the area, and for the community generally. Yeovil has an artistic heritage in both the visual arts and music and it’s about time for a resurgence. Zoe Li is the driving force, she is an inspiration and a fountain of project ideas and connections. The arts charity’s current project is ‘Together We Are Stronger’ led by artist Natasha Rand and I thoroughly recommend checking out the website to see what’s happening as well as the Yeovil Creatives website to see what we’re up to.
Tell me about your qualifications and work experience how has it lead you to where you are now?
This is a relatively complicated question, as a child and teenager I knew that I was here to be an artist, I wanted to paint, end of story. But life stuff intervened, I lost my Dad at 18 and a lot changed, including my confidence. I got into university to study Fine Art Painting but I wasn’t in a good frame of mind and returned home before the first Christmas. I drifted into a couple of places and ended up in a comfort zone office job which served me wonderfully for many years, it was only having my son that really made me realise I needed to make a go of this. When he was two years old, having sold some artwork and regained some confidence, I quit my job of 15 years as a Finance Clerk, this led to a few shaky months of unemployment and temp work until I saw the job at Sherborne ArtsLink and I didn’t look back. I now want to catch up on some of the education I missed and have found a few brilliant online opportunities for art study which I am managing to squeeze in somehow between parenting, working and painting etc.
Does your little boy love painting too? How do you balance motherhood and work?
Well, we live a fine line between my little boy loving painting and/or saying ‘Mummy you draw it’. He does enjoy it and often instigates a creative project but his attention span doesn’t always last. I don’t want to pressure him though and honestly his imagination for stories and building stuff and numbers is where he runs free and that’s great. We do have good painting sessions though, one particularly memorable last summer in the garden with a huge piece of paper and old fairy liquid bottles full of paint and he loved it, the results were fab and the painting is still up in our house.
The balance or ‘juggle’ for motherhood and artist or any job is real, however, I only really took my passion for an art career seriously after Max was born so in a way I don’t have that before and after effect.
Thank you Jess! How can we all keep in touch on social media and link to your Etsy shop
Wonderful, this has been amazing thank you so much for asking me! You can find me most frequently on Instagram @jess.egan.art , meandering along, documenting and sharing my art and my website is www.jesseganart.com, it has all the links including to my Etsy shop JessEganArt. Most of the work I share on social media is ultimately for sale and I welcome enquiries and commissions.