Everyday Icon: The Painter

Painter Jenny Vorwaller shares with us how coming back from a life-threatening condition influenced her work and her daily life.
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Amanda Carter Gomes
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Painter Jenny Vorwaller shares with us how coming back from a life-threatening condition influenced her work and her daily life.

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image credit: Valeria Spring

Second chances can be a catalyst for new beginnings or opportunities to reinforce something we always knew to be true. After a near-death experience, Seattle artist Jenny Vorwaller knew "things [in her life] had to change"; she returned to pursing her artistic career after an extended break and has been creating stunning work ever since. Today, she gives us a glimpse into her creative process and her philosophy for living an intentional and inspired life.

Can you tell us about your evolution as an artist?  Have you always painted, or was it a natural transition found through other mediums?

I always knew I would be an artist, specifically a painter, since kindergarten. There was a pivotal time in my life where a lot of really big obstacles came in the way, and making my art didn’t feel safe anymore. I just didn’t have the support I needed to break through that phase in my life, and unfortunately, that phase lasted a really long time. I didn’t ever truly stop painting or drawing, but when I did, it was in a small, safe, non-threatening way.

It wasn’t until about five years ago, I was rushed to the hospital under life threatening circumstances after the birth of my second baby. Things escalated very quickly and I endured through a dramatic race against the clock for my life. That is when I knew that if I did make it through, things had to change. As soon I physically recovered, I painted every single day since and I’ve never stopped.

Are you willing to share a little about your process: where you find your inspiration, how long it takes you to complete a piece, and how you decide to "part" with something once you have invested so much time and energy into its creation?

The "how long" question I find impossible to answer, because I work on many pieces simultaneously and I spend a lot of time with each one. Each work session builds on the next, so it’s a long process. The "when is it finished" question is interesting because it’s a mystery even to myself. Each piece has a teaching moment of it’s own. Some paintings need to be done before I let them go. I’m still learning that the hardest worked piece is not always going to be the best. I part with a painting when it has taught me all I can learn from it.

Your studio is stunning!  How important it is for your workspace to be separate from your home?

Thank you! It’s so vital to me to have a place to go to without interruptions. I find that working at home to me has become such a distraction, and even though I’m totally guilty of still doing smaller works at home, the same amount of concentration that can be reached in my studio can’t be matched there. I’ve had a lot of different studios over the years. Some in my home, some separate, and many many years at the dining room table. So I can say from experience that there is an incredible benefit to having a distinct workspace if you’re like me and sensitive to your physical environments. I absorb everything around me; in typical artist fashion, I’m a sponge. And that doesn’t always equal garbage in, poetry out! So I do my best to come home to a place that isn’t matching the clutter of the mind. This truly helps my work, even when it’s being made in another location. And I truly love the studio building I’m in now because it’s comprised of many artists, so there’s a sense of community in such a potentially solitary day. When we need some feedback, we just visit with each other. Or just lunch together when someone is having a birthday. I also make such an insane mess, so it’s a beautiful thing to just close the door and allow the pleasures of engaging in privacy.

What do you like to surround yourself with while working (both aesthetically in your studio and perhaps musically, since you mentioned this plays a big part in your creative process)?

I need my music on! It’s a hook-up device to getting absorbed into the work, it’s very meditative. Occasionally I will have podcasts going, if my work has gotten to a stage where that won’t be distracting. Good light is essential, I have cozy seating to rest my head and neck, and the space to get some literal distance from my paintings is great. Various books and a place for tea or coffee for those rare breaks. All I can say for what music I’m into at the moment is find/

follow me on Spotify

, because I have so many songs on my playlist it’s impossible to go into the subject of music without having a very long conversation!

How do you maintain your inspiration?

I feel like a collector because I never stop observing and researching. What good story is going to feed me? What little pieces do I want to put in my pocket and bring out later in my work? I can’t work in a total vacuum, but there’s also something to be said about not being too overly concerned about what everyone else is doing. I tend to stay isolated in this way…not intentionally, but I’ve noticed it lately and seen how it protects me. Seattle has a very “non-scene” art scene, which I love and flourish in by not having to worry about being noticed and just being able to do the work. I like to be very conscious about what I bring into my mind and life, because I really believe that we are sums of what we surround ourselves with. On the best days, I hope it’s a prism that refracts all I love onto my work. Films, books, essays, conversation with those outside of my field. It’s my hunger for seeing what feeds me.

What are 5 everyday items you cannot live without?

Spotify! Stumptown coffee, my bike. I discovered “le pen” pens at Peter Miller’s bookstore and I can’t go back to anything else for taking notes. And felt tip black eyeliner for cat eyes--it's the warpaint for greeting the day.

Clementine Daily’s mission is to live a simplified, intentional and authentic lifestyle while celebrating the simpler pleasures of our days. How do you relate to this mission?

Back full circle to the first question/answer… there is nothing that makes you want to life more than having a very real experience with death. One thing that happens in a situation like that is the total clarity of what really matters--it’s so heightened. You walk away from that and suddenly realize that as a survivor, you feel a marked difference between you and everyone else who is still taking for granted that they have till old age to figure their stuff out.

That urgency fades back into normal life, of course, and I fall line line with that pack, “knowing” that I have till old age. But I’ve never been more intentional. There was an urgency to unwrinkle dysfunction, drop the toxic, to live and love and to embrace being loved. Looking back, there was something so cinematic about it. It was certainly an event that completely changed the trajectory of my entire life. The message I got from living after was so simple, that it’s almost stupid how it all boils down to one thing: our relationships with others. So for me, spending the day in the studio, making my mark, and ending it with a good meal shared with family and friends are everything.