Jen Shewring: Finding and Spreading Joy
Nestled amongst the leafy green trees of her stunning backyard is Melbourne artist Jen Shewring‘s home studio. A lifelong dedication to the arts has lead her to where she is now, beginning in early childhood. “I’ve been creating all my life for as long as I remember right from the imaginary village I built in the sandpit of my back garden at around age 3 using icy pole sticks, flowers, stones and mini little matchbox cars. As a teenager I spent my weekends creating pottery and designing and making my own clothes. We had a makeshift photography studio under our house where I joined my father in developing our photographs.“
Jen kept up her creativity throughout her teens and 20s, working with a variety of Melbourne’s best and brightest. Doing so allowed her to explore a range of styles and mediums before finding her own voice. Her journey through painting’s many forms has been extensive – “Over time I have fallen in love with watercolours, then oils and finally acrylic paints for all their beautiful and endless possibilities in creating colour explosions to enhance the mood of a room.”
However, it was having kids that really cemented painting into her routine. “I found I’d be energised while painting a couple of nights a week after they were all asleep,” she recalls, “I’d grab a glass of red and slip into my studio, play music and paint until midnight. I’d be so excited the next morning to race into my studio to see the new painting in the daylight.”
Since those days, Jen has been lucky enough to expand her practice and paint every day in her gorgeous home studio. Tucked away in her backyard, she works on her signature abstract floral works and continues to develop her eye-catching style. Jen loves to paint large pieces and most of her work is completed in acrylic paint on stretched or loose canvas. She is simply “obsessed with the buttery texture and vibrant colours found in both oil and acrylic paints”, and so they have stolen her heart above all other mediums.
Having achieved Rising Star status, Jen’s work is amongst the top 100 sellers on Bluethumb. Her artwork is a perfect mirror to her warm personality – bright, bold and full of joy. She draws upon her science background to find the magic in small details: “I think [it] has influenced my work in that I tend to look at nature at the microscopic level, I love all the little details, colours and shapes found in nature then interpret them in a slightly abstracted way.”
However, she doesn’t just stop at appreciating the beauty of nature. Like many artists, Jen holds that art should start a conversation. A passionate believer in sustainability, she aims to direct our attention to the impact modern living has on the environment.
As Jen puts it, “we continue to wreak havoc on our environment with the use of chemicals and plastics that will ultimately lead to irreversible damage and possible permanent climate change. I have studied the science and read a lot of research and I’m worried! I’m a strong advocate for less is more: reduce, reuse, recycle and try to make a difference.
“Nearly all my canvases begin with a deep charcoal colour. My background story is that this colour reflects the deep and underlying emotion I feel as we all slowly destroy our planet, it saddens me and I try not to let it overwhelm me but essentially, I am a huge optimist that can also see the immense beauty found in life, such as the colourful flowers or a peaceful landscape.”
Taking a semi-abstract impressionist approach, Jen chooses colour palettes carefully, aiming to either enhance the feelings of joy with bright hues or create a tranquil, meditative space with earth tones. Her canvases often start out with a charcoal base before she adds her optimistic emotional response and interpretation of nature on top.
Jen practices what she preaches when it comes to environmentally-friendly ways of living. “I try to speak out about sustainable living ideas such as reminding people to bring reusable bags to the shop, to say no to plastic, to reuse clothes within a family or ways we can prevent food wastage.” She continues, “I donate to Oz Harvest who work tirelessly to collect and prevent good food from going to waste by delivering it to charities.”
Impressionists such as Cezanne, Pissaro and Monet have left a huge impact on Jen’s creative practice, as have Modern Abstract masters such as Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko. Particularly, their use of colour and how artworks “shimmer off the canvas”. Jen further explains, “I love the Impressionists technique of optical mixing whereby your eye mixes the colours achieved by applying many layers of paint to a canvas and either leaving gaps in the top layers to reveal some of the colours underneath or painting with feather like pressure so that the underlayer shines through.”
Working in a more spontaneous manner like this allows Jen to live in a constant flow state. Never confining herself to working on just one piece at a time, she often has 4-5 on the go at a time “so I can pick one up when the creative impulse emerges which is basically 7 days a week!” Of course, the flow state comes with it’s own downfalls – Jen laughingly admits that “one time I was so engrossed in my work I painted for 10 hours straight! It took days to recover from that one.”
An essential element of Jen’s practice is a pumping playlist. Turning up the tunes, fuelling up with food and escaping into her backyard oasis (which is lush with tropical inspired greenery) combine to create a sense of joyful calm. It’s no wonder such joy shines through in her paintings! Jen has noticed the difference in her life, explaining “you should see me after I finish a good painting session, I come in from the studio dancing and literally floating around bringing joy to everyone. On the flip side if a painting isn’t going well, I can be pretty snappy.”
The life of an artist is not all fun times though, there’s lots of hard work and repeated efforts behind the scenes. Jen’s dedication has paid off with several career highlights, including being a finalist in the 2021 Bluethumb Art Prize, having an artwork featured by The Block contestants Hannah and Clint in their Artist Lane x The Block Shop collaboration and being featured in Grand Designs Australia Magazine.
It took a determined effort to achieve these feats – “All these opportunities did not generally happen by chance or being in the right place at the right time – they evolved from hard work and passion.” Jen continues, “the hard work was the many long hours on the computer each week uploading new artworks, social media posts, organising framing, couriers and preparing canvases and prints but this was not hard work to me! It is totally a passionate love affair and the icing on the cake is the fabulous hours spent creating paintings.”
While building her art career into the success it now, Jen has learnt some valuable lessons. Her biggest one being the importance of believing in yourself. She opened herself to the vulnerability of sharing her work with others, and found that “there is overwhelming support out there from art collectors, galleries and artists. And without this support I really don’t think I could have achieved the level of happiness I now find in my painting.”
Jen has achieved a lot already – but what’s next for the Melbourne artist? “It has taken me a long time to acknowledge myself as being a professional artist and not just feeling like a painter. And I think by going through all these stages I finally feel validated in myself and the Australian arts community. Now when I’m asked what I do for a living, I answer proudly that I’m an artist.” She continues, “I absolutely love portraiture but for now it is on the backburner. Someday soon I intend to pick that up and enter the Archibald Prize!
“For now, I always have a head full of ideas and see the future of my artistic journey is to keep transferring these ideas onto canvas bringing the happiness of nature and colour into our homes.”