Jenny Hutchinson, “Tree Reflection”

Introduction by Mary Kathryn Jablonski

For TQ31, let us celebrate Water, Earth, and Sky with three artists using a variety of subjects and materials as follows: view ceramic artist Courtney Mattison’s large scale coral reefs, Jenny Hutchinson’s colored pencil and mixed media works of trees, and Allen Grindle’s woodcuts and linocuts of birds.

Jenny Hutchinson sees things we do not see in ways we do not see them. To wander through her forests is to experience joy in our world through her eyes, and to want to go out and see these things for ourselves; to make these connections, to discover these colors, to rejoice in nature surrounding us.

An Interview with Artist Jenny Hutchinson

Mary Kathryn Jablonski – Tell us about your formative years and deciding to become a professional artist. Was the desire always there or were there other competing or contributing interests?

Jenny Hutchinson – I have been creating my whole life, my first friend was my crayon box. My mother says “from the moment I could grasp a crayon” I have been drawing with something, and that’s pretty much what I remember too. I gave my colorful new tools their own names since I couldn’t yet read the labels and would spend days eagerly exploring what all my colors could do together on my coloring book pages. As I mastered my crayon box I graduated to other art materials – colored pencil, marker, chalk pastel, paint, plaster, and clay – exploring these materials, each for the first time, forms many of those early childhood memories. I loved creating and was eager to try new techniques and learn new skills.

For as long as I can remember, my dream was to be an artist. It was such a lofty goal, and one that I thought could only be earned with transcendent talent. As a young creative person, I considered artists as prominent, almost mythical figures who were at the apex of artistic skill. A bit of a naive view, but truthfully it was a measure of how much I valued art as a profession, and the artists behind it. Despite being referred to as an artist my whole life by friends, family, and peers, and winning art competitions and going to school for art, it took me a long time to officially refer to myself as an artist. It was something I loved doing and recognized I was good at, but it was not until after attending graduate school that I had the confidence to refer to it as my profession. 

MKJ – Let’s talk about color and nature. Some would say your notions of these concepts are very heightened, to an un-natural, abstract sense. Do you spend time in nature? And if so, what is this experience like for you in terms of influence?

JH – I spend a lot of time in nature, though it took me time to cultivate what that relationship was. As a kid I remember loving spending time in trees and exploring the periphery of the forests around my neighborhood, making forts and such. I did not like camping per say but I enjoyed being outside. My husband introduced me to kayaking about 10 years ago and with that we began doing quite a bit of primitive camping, preferring sites only available by kayak. Being on the water or having access to the water during the quietest times of day in remote areas really launched my imagination to develop many of the water scenes I now create. We have also spent a great deal of time hiking, and his family has recently acquired an off-grid cabin on a small mountain top. I greatly enjoy losing myself in these remote areas and find much inspiration for my art.

I do make some plein air sketches, however, the imagery is largely recorded through photography, because despite my best efforts to anchor my kayak in the middle of a river or lake to draw, or post myself in the middle of the woods, it is not ideal. The discomfort of the set up can be a bit too distracting from the real task at hand of deep observation of something I find incredibly interesting and inspiring. Additionally, when out in these remote areas, I truly prefer to spend my time nature bathing – quietly observing and taking in the scenery with all my senses, ruminating over the most subtle details; how something looks, smells, and feels by influence of the weather. I record in memory and in photographs how light and color shifts throughout the time of day, seasons, and have even recorded some of these subjects for the ten plus years I’ve been visiting them. Recording or paying attention to these subtle shifts of day or time, I believe is what manifests the abstract quality and color of the work. Each work begins as a fully developed ink drawing that then serves as a stencil-like sketch to be reproduced into new imagery and fully reimagined as a new form.

Apart from the initial sketch, the making of my work is not fully planned with any certainty. Like the meditative experience of the outdoors, I follow my intuition and allow the materials and process to guide me. Each piece, no matter the subject, is an exploration of cause and effect. I allow the forms, colors, and materials to influence each step of the process and often cast the original sketch or image aside. To get myself started I will at least have a loose idea of color scheme (often favoring complimentary color systems) and/or I may have an idea for the type of structure or quality of shape or line I’m trying to capture. In short, my experience of nature and how I exist within those moments are something I bring back into the art studio. Out in nature and working in my art studio often feel one in the same. With curiosity and interest, I ruminate an image into existence, and then meditate with my materials to create a new art form. 

MKJ – I love how you talk about being in nature and “nature bathing.” Do you believe trees and plants communicate with one another and with us? If so, how do you convey this in your work?

JH – This question makes me giggle a bit because I have always thought this long before I learned the science behind how this occurs. Outside my childhood bedroom window are a grouping of tall white pine trees, as a young child I imagined faces and gave personalities to these trees, even dreamt up my own conversations they had among themselves. I read the “Secret Life of Trees” a few years back and it absolutely blew my mind. I had no idea until I read that book the expansive way in which trees can communicate with one another and their complex systems of communication with other organisms and ecosystems are all so very fascinating. I look at forests, trees, and plants in much more knowledgeable ways now, fully graduating from my childhood imagination of trees conversing with one another. In my art, I certainly have a way of grouping little tree families together or harmonizing how the trees interact with the space surrounding them. The negative space between trees and leaves is an incredibly important area of the composition, and I can be a bit flexible in navigating that figure/ground relationship between the different shapes.  

A couple of years ago my yoga teacher shared a passage about looking up into the canopy of a tree and observing its leaves, imagining in that moment taking notice and considering how there was so much more to the moment (though beautiful) than the composition of the tree’s leaves. The teacher continued, saying we might consider searching the space in between the leaves to find the light. It was an affirming passage for me because that’s how I have always looked up into trees and this translated into words for the first time a fitting metaphor for the way I aspire to live my life and the process I attempt to imbed in my art. “Searching, exploring, relating, communication” are all words that I feel play an important role in the creation and composition of my work.

MKJ – Do others assist you with your large-scale pieces? Are you a proponent of collaboration? What about public art?

I largely create my works alone, though do get some assistance with the technological components or in moments when an extra set of hands is really needed. My husband has graciously acted as my assistant in these moments. We joke that he’s my art manager, but really it’s me creating the task list, and I’m lucky to have someone who is willing to step in when I need help navigating my ambitious ideas. 

I’m a bit traditional in that I gravitate more to the old-school ways of direct application. I feel most comfortable using tracing paper to plan out the different layers of my pieces or drawing something completely through observation, but I’ve learned time and time again it’s not always necessary because it’s not what’s always most important about the artwork. It’s a question of what processes will help me make my best work? I also recognize and believe technology is a great ally for artists and if you consider artistic practice throughout human history, artists are among the first to adopt new methods of technology into their practice – the printing press revolutionized printmaking and reproduction, traveling paint tubes gave us Impressionism, synthetic colors and plastic materials shaped Modern and Contemporary art as we know it, and today the computer and use of AI is changing the way we make and think about art. Though there’s a learning curve to all of it and much consideration around how it best assists me in my practice, I do not shy away from utilizing technology as a tool to enhance my artistic practice.

I certainly welcome collaboration whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’ve been part of collaborative video projects and group artmaking projects. I find the one shortcoming of drawing and painting disciplines is that they are such solitary activities. I love learning about art processes, so I feel very comfortable and thrive in collaborative atmospheres whenever the opportunity presents itself. I imagine my work on a much larger scale then currently exists, installation is very attractive to me as well as creating more full-scale sculptural environments (perhaps outside) is a future goal of mine.

Public art is very interesting to me, and I greatly enjoyed creating a mural that I just finished at The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls as part of the Muralgarten project. It’s the first I did outside of private commissions inside of homes. It opened a whole new interest of mine, so I am looking for more opportunities and have a couple in the queue that I’ll be working on over the next year.

MKJ – Lastly, in the making of works that deal with the natural world, do the seasons affect your production?

JH – I am more productive in the art studio during colder months, less to be distracted by, though I am an avid cross-country skier and enjoy hiking in the winter. I tend to consider the warmer months as preparation time, given my chosen subject matter, it’s important for me to be out exploring, recording, and finding inspiration. Additionally, I find it’s much harder to feel satisfied by a whole day inside the studio when there’s the great opportunity to be out in the sunlight, observing plants and nature and watching it all grow and change over the course of the spring, summer, and fall. 

No matter the time of year it is important for me to get outside, be moving, exploring nature as it’s such an important part of my creative process and health. I’m someone who is happiest in a room with windows, prefers the natural light of the room opposed to artificial light, needs to be surrounded by plants inside or outside, and is not bothered by the outdoor temperature (cold or hot) if there’s something interesting to interact with or observe out in nature.

Jenny Hutchinson Bio

Jenny received her Master of Fine Arts degree from Clemson University and Bachelor of Fine Arts from Plattsburgh State University. Her artwork has shown in national and statewide juried art competitions; shown extensively throughout the NYS capital region and north east and is part of many private art collections. In addition to her exhibition opportunities her work has been featured in Colored Pencil Magazine and on PBS WMHT’s program AHA! House for the Arts.