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An Interview with Jenny Vyas

In case you don't know, Jenny Vyas is a painter, and I really admire her art.



Dawn of Ink just interviewed Jenny Vyas, a contemporary fine artist from Chicago. Maybe after reading this, you will be inspired to paint, or to look at more of her art.


Parvani: Thank you for coming. My blog, dawnofink.com, is exposing kids to news and culture. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?


Jenny: I'm a fine artist based out of Chicago. I'm also a muralist, who paints murals on walls in private and public spaces.


Parvani: And what inspired you to be an artist?


Jenny: That's a complex question. I am self-taught, about six years ago I felt like I needed to paint. I had this inspiration from maybe the universe, I don't know, somewhere, but I couldn't stop thinking about painting, so I decided to teach myself. And that's basically how I started painting.


Parvani: Okay. At what age did you start really getting into art?


Jenny: It was late, I was thirty-eight, I think. I could always draw, but I never really painted or drew in life. I took a couple of classes in college, because my degree is in graphic design and you have to take Drawing 101, Painting 101— basic classes. But, graphic design eventually just gets you into brand building. You create logos, letterheads, brand build for companies, and stuff like that. It's very, very controlled. And I didn't want to do that. So, I went into eCommerce. eCommerce is basically online marketing. And that was my first job out of college. I never really got into painting until I was thirty-eight, and that was when I decided that I would start painting for the first time. It was scary because that late in life, to learn something new was really hard. But, I'm so glad I did it because six months later, I sold my first painting. It was great, because like I said, it was important to me that I didn't care about people. And that's really what allowed me to be successful. I was painting because I just wanted to paint. Initially, I wanted to paint my pain, but then I started painting happiness, and the learnings that came from pain. That was so important to me, and now my work is really about that: that space where growth happens, where change happens which is so important because when you accept that growth and change, life is beautiful.


Parvani: How did you really teach yourself how to paint?


Jenny: It depends on the style of work you want to do. I wanted to do figurative work, so I wanted to learn body proportions, faces and bodies, and exact physical proportions. There are a couple of methods to learn that. One is the Loomis method and the other is the Reilly method. I taught myself the basic construction from those methods, because there is a math to figurative work. And both methods teach you that. And then, I just practiced. I'd say one of the easiest ways for kids to start learning figurative work is if you like cartoon figures, draw those out. Just getting the proportion of Minnie Mouse's face, for example, isn't easy, so one of the easiest exercises would be— if you took a cartoon character, and then sketched it the first time. And then sketch it again, and again, and again. The same one. For ten days. And see how good you get at it. And that's basically how I taught myself. I sketched the same thing again and again, until I knew that I was getting the proportions right. As far as abstracts go, it's whatever works with you. Understanding how colors blend is necessary, because with abstracts, that can be the tricky part. If you blend too many colors too much, everything turns brown. Like, literally. If you're interested in abstract work, the best thing to do is look at different artists who have done abstract work, and see which one you like. And then start from there.


Parvani: So, when you work on a painting, how does the original idea change as you continue?


Jenny: That's a good question. A lot of times, I'll start with an emotion that I want to capture in the painting. As I'm painting it, those emotions kind of shift, because I like telling stories through my art. If the storyline changes a little bit in my mind, or the person or the concept that I'm painting, that's when the concept will change.


Parvani: Can you talk about a few of your murals? What did you do?


Jenny: I painted the #HowWillYouRISE Phoenix mural in Uptown, Chicago with some kids from a homeless shelter where they splatter painted the wings of a Phoenix rising from ashes that I painted. I wanted to inspire people to rise from pain and adversity in life from that mural. The other mural that I just painted was a mural for the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was more of a community mural. It's inspired by a book called Be The Bridge by Latasha Morrison that inspires people to come together and be a symbol of unity. I painted a group of people standing in a line, and you can see their backsides — they're all holding hands in the back — and you can see them looking at the Earth that is glowing with all these colors. And then, all these splatters are coming out of it which were painted by kids from the community. Basically, they're celebrating unity and solidarity. For me, this mural is really important. It was done as a temporary installation next to a church for the summer, but I was then invited to paint it as a permanent installation at the Westfield Old Orchard Mall in Skokie. Again, community kids helped splatter paint the background for this one as well. So, this is a special piece that I did this year. There's another mural I painted at the same Old Orchard Mall a couple of years ago. Again, kids helped me splatter paint on that one as well which is something I love doing with my murals. With most of my work I like to talk about inner joy, and happiness that only you can experience from inside of you, right? There's this happiness that's in you, if you choose to explore that. That's what my work is about. I've also painted some Indian murals, obviously, because being Indian— there are some Indian restaurants that have invited me to paint cultural, progressive Indian murals. My most popular mural is the Federales Wings one, which are basically these huge black wings on a wall that people can stand against and take photos. You can see their shares with the hashtag #FederalesChi which has basically gone viral on Instagram. There's this moment of self-reflection of celebrating life, and happiness, and milestones in life that they celebrate against these wings which is my favorite part about this mural.


Parvani: Got it. And I see a lot of Indian influence in your art. Can you talk about how your background plays a part in the making of your art?


Jenny: As a culture, I feel like it's not as common for Indian people to choose this as a profession. So, for me, being free-spirited, being a modern, progressive Indian, it just became such a beautiful place to celebrate our culture, and marry my love for art with our cultural heritage. I really wanted to bring that all to life through my paintings.


Parvani: And, what would you say is your favorite work that you've done? What are you most proud of?


Jenny: So, I would say that the murals that I paint with kids, when they help me splatter paint on it, those are some of my favorite works, like the mural #HowWillYouRISE. It's in uptown Chicago and it's really amazing. I painted it with some kids from a homeless shelter, which I really love. They helped paint all of those splatters on that mural. I'd say that's my favorite work.


Parvani: Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to say about that mural with the kids?


Jenny: I'd say that the earlier you can get into the creative world at an early age — as far as painting and sketching as a child goes — it's really important because it creates a space and outlet for kids to express emotions and feelings. It's not easy for a child to understand emotions, and I think that it's very necessary at that age for children to learn how to paint, or draw, or just find some way to create art. And it could be anything, you know? Like writing poetry, writing a book, drawing, sketching, writing music, start a blog! Anything that you can do from a creative standpoint is really necessary for you to excel in life, because it allows you to make a sort of a creative diary. If you can find a way to express emotions through any kind of art, I think it's really important. Those children who helped me paint that mural, I think that was their happiest moment, because they got to splatter paint on a wall that they get to see almost every day when they walk out of that shelter. Those moments will stay with them, you know? You remember those special moments in life. And art is a way to create those memories.


Parvani: Got it. Well, we talked about your favorite mural, but which is your favorite print?


Jenny: I have a painting called HORIZON and it's my version of a phoenix where these birds are coming out of her. I'd say it's one of my top three favorite paintings. I started painting after a painful experience in life, and when that experience ended, I really wanted to learn from it. And I started documenting that experience through paintings, because I don't journal. I don't write a diary. And this became my diary, of sorts. When I started documenting it, this painting was that moment of happiness that I found from all these learnings. That's why I'd say that's my favorite print. Again, it's called HORIZON. I want to paint that as a mural one day!


Parvani: I've also seen that you have some very abstract prints. Could you talk about those and what they mean?


Jenny: I don't strictly do abstract. I have this signature black and white silhouette style with the figurative work, and I blend that with my abstracts. I will paint some layer of abstract construction behind my silhouettes, or underneath or above my silhouettes. The process is pretty organic. There's usually a story that I like to tell, and most of my abstracts kind of capture this inner chaos and inner emotions that are complicated. I blend them with this story of a person or the emotion that I want to capture, and I put that on top of the abstracts, or underneath the abstracts.


Parvani: And they're all named after emotions, right?


Jenny: Correct. I really spend a lot of time on the titles of my paintings which are named after the complex emotions I try to capture.


Parvani: So, what else do you do besides paint?


Jenny: I love reading, I love hiking, I like mountains, so I try to get away to the mountains as much as I can. This year has been hard for me, because I can't travel and I'm usually in Colorado three to four times a year. So, that's my favorite thing to do. Instead, this year I'd say I've done a lot of reading, apart from writing. Oh, and I also write!


Parvani: Got it. And during the pandemic, you probably have had a lot of free time. What did you do when you had extra time on your hands?


Jenny: I wouldn't say I had a lot of free time, because I do have a digital marketing business that I also run. That's something that I do from a professional standpoint. My background is in e-business and I manage digital marketing for clients, so I was busy working on that stuff. But, in the little bit of extra time that I had this year, I really took the time to understand and read up on the history of Black Lives Matter. That was one of the more important topics for me, because I'm Indian and I didn't grow up in America and learning about this topic really helped me understand what was happening in our country. I also really just wrote a lot. I document a lot of emotions that I like to paint about. So, for me, I wasn't inspired to paint as much, but I decided to kind of write it down, and then I go back to it. And now I'm able to paint all of those emotions.


Parvani: Okay. So, is there anything you've been working on recently?


Jenny: I just placed my first painting in a gallery which is a really special time for me, because getting placed in a gallery is a big deal for an artist. Especially as a fine artist, because your work is exposed to collectors, and that's not easy to do for an artist. I am working on a few other pieces, because as a muralist— I think one of the challenges is that you don't get to work on paintings as much in the studio. So this year, that's the change. I think the pandemic helped me go back to the studio a lot more, which really, really was helpful, because I'm excited to paint from the studio again. And these are all non-commissioned pieces! Commissioned pieces are basically when someone hires me to do something specific that the client wants to talk about, but these pieces from the studio are about the things I want to talk about. They have the emotions that I want to discuss, or the stories that I want to tell. That's basically what I'm working on — more work from the studio.


Parvani: I've seen you do shirts, too, right?


Jenny: I just did my first shirt with my art. Actually, that's something I worked on during the lockdown! I just released my first t-shirt with a Michael Jordan painting of mine. (I released that painting as a print on a t-shirt.) And I'm working on a couple of other t-shirts right now. That's something small I'm getting into next. It's wearable art, basically.


Parvani: And, as an artist, how do you come up with what materials you use in your paintings?


Jenny: My favorite material to work with are acrylics, mainly because acrylics have a lot more control and a lot more flexibility as well. Acrylics dry quickly, and if you want to layer your work, they are really easy to work with. Oil paints are beautiful, but they just take forever to dry. If you want to layer your work, you just have to wait months for oil paint layers to dry. Recently— I'm getting into alcohol inks, and it's basically a new medium I'm teaching myself to work with. How? I'm watching a lot of YouTube videos, I'm reading a lot of articles and a lot of books on how to perfect that style in my way, and then create work from that.


Parvani: Okay, so what would you say is the one thing painters mess up on most?


Jenny: I'd say, trying to copy somebody else's work is where people mess up the most. Try to do an original piece of work. Try to learn from other artists. If you like someone's work, get inspired, see what you love about their work. But then, create original work, because when you don't do that and you're just copying someone else's work, you really don't love your copied work as much as you would love your own work. I think that is a recipe for failure for a lot of artists. It's not easy to come up with a painting, it's really not. And the longer and the harder you work to come up with original work, you really will respect yourself and value your work. So, that's where I think a lot of artists fail these days.


Parvani: Okay, and are there any artists you look up to?


Jenny: I look up to a lot of artists. I mean, back in the day, there were so many. DaVinci, Gustav Klimt...I love Rothko's work. Rothko is one of my favorite abstract artists. I tried to recreate one of his paintings when I first started painting— just to learn. It's not easy in any shape or form, because while it looks simple, it's very, very complex work from a technique standpoint. I think he developed his own technique that isn't easy to recreate. I really love his work! From those who are alive, there are so many different artists that I admire. I follow a lot of artists on Instagram who are incredible, and they work so hard creating original work. Ultimately, those are the artists I love. The ones who create original work that's so unique, you know? They have their own unique style and technique. And that's something that I really, really, truly admire.


Parvani: How long does it normally take you to make a painting?


Jenny: So, it all depends. I have some work that's been sitting in the studio for three years now. It's work that I've started and never finished. But then some works will come together in a week. It all depends on the emotion I'm feeling at the time. There have been pieces that I've painted and I've sold in one week. There's really no perfect time frame for my work that I paint in the studio. I paint when I feel like painting there without a deadline. But for murals, I'll get a time frame. Clients will tell me something like, "Hey, you have two months to come up with the idea, and to paint it." So the mural's time frame would be anywhere from one to two months in that case.


Parvani: Got it. And as an artist, has there ever been a day when you felt like you just couldn't do it?


Jenny: Oh, it all the time. I mean, when you make this a business, and you have to do commissioned work— you don't always get to do what you want to do, you sometimes have to make the client happy. Even if I have very strict rules that I will not paint something that I don't want to paint, there are times when I do have to change some things around because the client just wants a specific color or style. And those are the days when it gets really hard. So, yes. Those are the days when I don't want to do this anymore. When you start painting for others, things change. I think you lose a little bit of the love for doing this, which is why I'm excited that the pandemic allowed me to start creating work again in the studio, because that's not for anybody. That's just work I want to create. I think that's where my heart is. But you have to make a living too! So, you have to make compromises.


Parvani: And what advice would you give to kids who are interested in painting?


Jenny: If you're really interested in painting, I think one of the things that you're more scared of is what people will think about your paintings. I wouldn't worry about that. The less you worry about what others think, the more successful you will be, and the more love you will have for your work. Just work hard, that's the first thing. Don't worry about people too much, just paint, draw, sketch. Whatever you want to do. The second is: nothing comes easy. Every artist will tell you that they practice so much, and that's when things get better for them. Everybody who starts sucks at the beginning. People aren't always born as natural artists. People practice a lot to become artists. The harder you work at any skill, you will get better. Especially with sketching and painting. If you want to become a serious artist, practice almost every day. As much as you can. After practicing for about ten or twenty days, you'll see the difference in how good you get at that skill.


Parvani: And what would you tell a kid who didn't like the way they painted?


Jenny: I didn't know I could paint, but I wanted to paint. When you try to paint at first, it's a scary moment, because you don't know if you can. But, if something tells you that you really want to, listen to that. It's called a gut feeling. I truly think that this gut feeling is an inspiration from nature, or something out there in the universe that is telling you to do it. Listen to it! It's never going to be easy when you first start— you're probably going to hate everything you create. It's okay. Or you might love one or two pieces and not like ten pieces. That's okay, too. Because as you get better at it, as you get good at your technique, you will learn how to do it better each time. If there are kids that get frustrated, I'd say to keep practicing. Paint maybe, ten minutes a day, thirty minutes a day, whatever you can. Just treat it like it's homework, and trust me— you will love it. Eventually you will love everything (or almost everything) that you create!



Parvani: Thank you so much for coming. Goodbye.


That was Jenny Vyas, a self-taught painter/muralist whose work is scattered around Chicago. You will find Federales Wings at 180 N Morgan St and you will see #HowWillYouRISE at the Clifton Avenue Street Art Gallery. For other art information, go to jennyvyas.com.

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