One of the best parts of editing each artist profile for the Fiber College blog is that I get to know the artists before I meet them in person this September. Jen Appleby is not only a fiber artist but also a positive person who encourages others to explore themselves and their world as they express themselves. AND…she’s suspicious of rules! According to Jen, there’s never just one way to do something. (My kind of person. I could have used her when I recently dabbled in a new art form.) I can’t wait to meet her in person! Bet you’ll enjoy meeting her, too…here and then in September. Enjoy!
What does this year’s Fiber College theme “Do It Your Way!” mean to you as a fiber artist and teacher?
As a firstborn of three, my siblings would probably tell you that they regularly heard that we were going to do it “my way,” whether that was a neighborhood art show, a kickball game, building forts, or creating and playing imaginary games. For as long as I can remember I have had a compulsively visionary kind of brain. Luckily, over the years I have learned to temper that with a recognition that there are many folks out there who have a good way, and my way has evolved into a collaboration between tenaciously pursuing my vision, and recognizing the guidance and gifts that others offer along the way. I love the adage that we are all students and we are all teachers. My way would also be evidenced by a recognition that there seems to be a divine plan of sorts and that I can either be open to joining in that creative force or I can hamper it with doubts and too much control. I have also been moving from a love of product to a love of process over the years and feel that my way works best when I recognize that shifting this focus allows for greater satisfaction, if not, ironically, a greater product.
How did you decide to become an artist?
It would be cool if I could remember a pivotal and decisive point for becoming an artist. I wonder how many artists can actually do this. It seems far less like a decision and more like the way it has always been, despite whether I wanted to or not. As a child, I naturally turned to any activity in which I could exert control and express myself.
How do you develop your own style?
Be vulnerable to being moved by things in your environment. Style is a personal response to the world. Do not over-criticize yourself in the early stages of the process. Look at a lot of other artists and intentionally think about what resonates and what does not. Don’t copy them, but allow yourself to be inspired by them.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
One pattern I have recently appreciated is that of how Fiber College organizes my fiber projects into a yearly ritual. I tend to start thinking about what one thing I’d like to enter in the fashion show; what one project I want to try that I can share with mentors who are so gracious and generous with their praise and feedback; and what 1 or 2 classes I might propose, and I do this on my drive home! Given that I have a full time job, two small children, and a “Mindful Movement” business, I need a scaffold to help organize my fiber creativity. Then I can work through the year on these various projects and feel happy knowing I have a home for them to land in.
You’ve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, “What do YOU do?”
I would tell them that I’m an LCSW working with traumatized kids. I would also note that I have a “mindful movement” business called “Wingspan,” and teach hoopdance and kids’ yoga. I would probably then launch into my vision of a private practice space that would include frequent therapeutic and creative workshops, overlooking a river, or perhaps in a yurt.
As an instructor, what would be the best advice you could give to a student?
Do not let anyone tell you that there is only one right way to do anything. Art is about exploration and personal expression/transformation. As soon as someone starts dictating how something should or should not go, the process loses its potential for something brilliant to happen. Good teachers should create platforms for inspiration, curiosity, and skill. Good students will use these platforms to create something that pushes concept or practice to a new place. Be suspicious of “rules.”
Who has had the greatest influence on your work as an artist?
Anyone who clearly forges their own path and fearlessly puts something new out there. I have recently been completely enamored with movement artist Brecken Rivara. I also continue to be inspired by Susan Barrett Merrill’s arresting masks and Katherine Cobey’s approach and unique materials. My good friends and husband also influence my work by allowing me the space to externally process what I’m thinking and feeling. I use a lot of metaphor in my speech and I find that this then often translates to something I need to create as I want to see and touch it.
How do you ensure plenty of time to be an artist?
Do not delineate between time to be an artist and time to be a human. It’s all fodder anyway, and living life well is an art.
What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned as a fiber artist?
Don’t get too hung up on what you think you are making, because something even better may happen if you follow your curiosity or deviate from the ‘pattern.’ Be willing to make mistakes.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I love to champion others. It is one of my motivations in life to try to see something in someone that they haven’t yet seen in themselves. It is an honor to help tease that out and watch what happens. Our world spends a lot of time telling us who we should be. Fighting this cultural message in a creative way is sacred work.