For the first segment of The Social Project I feel so blessed to have been able to sit down with local artist & author Jenna Stewart, and lifestyle photographer Stephannie Nicole. It was incredibly humbling to watch us come together as individuals [each sharing something we love to do]; learning, creating, inspiring and supporting one another outside of an actual “work” environment. Below is the full interview from our day as we bonded over wine, Harry Potter & our favourite rap songs, learning how to paint with Jenna, all while SN Photography captured some photos.
Jenna, how did you get into art?
I was always an artist as a kid. We used to live in a neighbourhood with a bunch of kids and I just remember in the summers we would sit on the front steps and just draw. Art was always something I loved but it never felt like a legitimate option to pursue as a career, so I thought maybe I wanted to be an architect – its arty, I could be creative – but I realized in grade 11 that math was not my friend, and you need math to be an architect. I will never forget the day a career in art became a realization for me. There was one semester where I had art twice in one day – an art period in the morning, then a spare, then an art period again before lunch. During that spare the art room was empty and I literally would spend my entire morning just in the art room for an entire semester. I had failed math that year and while spending one full morning in the art room I just remember thinking, “why can’t I just take art.”
Steph, what got you into photography?
I did a little bit in high school, some dark room stuff, but it was actually when I was in school for fine art – I didn’t really excel with drawing or sculptures – but in third year we could use any medium we wanted to. My partner, Harrison, had bought me a camera and I just started photographing people and playing around. Then a friend of mine said, “oh I’ve got someone who is going to have a surprise wedding at a church and people are donating things. You’ve never photographed a wedding would you want to do this for free?” I decided to do it to get experience and since then I have built up a cliental and really enjoyed myself. I do mostly family and weddings, but I am expanding into boudoir.
What is it about boudoir photography that draws you in?
I have always been interested in working with women. It started back in art school when my models for painting and drawing were female; it was this that lead me to want to capture women with film and digital photography. Women empowerment is my passion. I love supporting women and watching them grow and empower themselves. In my full time occupation my work has always been in supporting women by working in violence against women shelters, women’s centres, etc. In boudoir photography the experience can be so transformative. I work to lift women up and see their true beauty both in and out. I love these powerful moments, where I flip the back of the camera towards my client and scream – yeah literally scream, you can ask past clients – “Look at you!! You’re rocking it!” Boudoir is so much more than a gift for a partner or fancy lingerie. It’s about owning our bodies and our womanhood, increasing self-esteem, and above all having fun in a safe environment.
Jenna, after that realization moment in high school, did you pursue art as a career?
Growing up I figure skated and during high school I was also teaching skating. I liked teaching, I liked kids, and I decided I could be an art teacher. After I went to teachers college I kind of dropped art and honestly didn’t touch a paint brush for a really long time. When I graduated I went to England and taught overseas for a year, where everyday was an adventure and I lived at this heightened experience. Because of that heightened and fast pace adventure, when I came home my world crashed and burned – I couldn’t get a teaching job, I didn’t have a car – and it was in that misery I decided to pick up a paint brush again. I painted four paintings, one for my husband [who was my boyfriend at the time], for my mum and my dad and for my brother. They were my Christmas gifts because I couldn’t afford to get them anything else. Around the same time I decided to go back to a book I had written in teachers college as an assignment titled, There Is This Place. I figured out how to get it published and created more artwork for it. The book launched this little art world for me where I realized I could be a teacher and an artist; in fact I became more of an artist than a teach for a long time. And now my end goal would be to be balancing both teaching and art.
What was the driving force behind your career as an artist, author & teacher?
There is this quote about the tiny flower being simple yet still lovely.
“The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the purple violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose spring would lose its loveliness.” – Thérese de Lisieux
I had to make another book for teachers college – kind of like a journal of thoughts – and on this one page I used daisies, which were my Nanny’s favourite flower and are really important to me because of that. I wrote this quote on the page, for I really felt like it was saying, “sometimes the most beautiful, is the simplest”. Over two years later this became the tagline for my business and my brand. And actually, last year when we were so busy and just overwhelmed with life, one night this art book fell off the self and open landed on this page. It felt like a little sign from Nanny reminding me about what is important, and reminding me about why I started this in the first place.
Can you tell me more about your book, There Is This Place?
The book is about seeing magic in the simple things, basically taking real life things and comparing them to magic. So the trees are the giants, the wear-wolves are simply a pack of wolves, the wizards are Mother Nature rolling in the dark storms. In the end it sort of says this place is magical but it doesn’t have real fairies, the fairies that live here are the chickadees in the trees; you can see magic anywhere if you look hard enough for it. It is really encouraging people to appreciate the simple things, which takes me back to my business/branding tagline.
Would you say it a children’s book?
It’s funny, people ask me this all the time. You can read it to children, but children are funny because I have read it to them before and they often say, “what do you mean not real magic?”
So it’s almost like a children’s book for adults?
Yes, you’re right! I would say it’s a coffee table book.
With writing being such a big part of your life, and really your art career start, would you consider yourself to be both artist and author?
Yes, I don’t know why that ended up happening ‘Jenna Stewart Artist Author” but it works because I love to write, and I wish I blogged more. I would love to write a novel, I would love to write and illustrate more because there is something really thrilling about being involved in the creation of a book – an idea, a story, coming to life.
Steph, what is it like to photograph a business owner, someone so passionate about what they do?
I love supporting small business owners. I enjoy being part of that community, especially female business owners. We all have our own struggles but at the end of the day, we are there to support and cheer one another on. I love capturing women in their element, seeing the passion in their eyes for what they do. It’s inspiring!
Jenna, how do you feel art can play a role in the wedding industry?
I had honestly never imagined it until you came to me with your idea for this wedding in October together. Originally, getting involved in the RTS group in Barrie, it was so wedding based and I had a really hard time fitting myself into the wedding world. There is all this calligraphy art that is so huge right now, so following that path I thought maybe there is a place for art in themed weddings or small bridal party gifts. I actually had a photographer order one of my paintings as a backdrop once. She ordered it through Society 6 and I remember thinking that was an interesting avenue, but I never really looked in to it further. I’m excited about the opportunity for another avenue of work, and to make different relationships with people. It’s kind of a whole other world of art that I never knew existed.
To end our chat I want to ask one of my favourite questions; what kind of animal would you compare yourself to and why? I am a huge animal lover, so I always find it interesting to know how others see themselves.
Steph: I’ve always admired cats laid back attitudes – I also enjoy lying in the sun and afternoon naps
Jenna: I think if I could choose which animal I could be, I’d want to be a bird … to be able to fly on the clouds that my head is usually floating in would be brilliant! That being said I was compared to a doe and elephant for their combination of gentleness, playfulness yet fierce loyalty and protective nature… which I guess is pretty accurate!
At the end of the day we were full of inspiration and gratitude for one another. Our paintings didn’t get finished, but what felt so honest about that was Jenna would never normally do a painting in one day. So it felt like we were staying true to her process. My heart was so full, I had an aching side from belly laughing all afternoon, and I gained a better understanding of who these two incredibly talented women are as people, girl bosses, and as creatives. I learned about washing techniques, building your painting up, and how to create the perfect water ripple effect, but I left with so much more.
I highly recommend you all pick up a copy of There Is This Place, it is a beautifully crafted piece that will bring a smile to your face every time you look through it. The book is available right here, and I am giving away a copy this week on my Instagram feed, so be sure to stay tuned for details on that!
Thank you so much for following along with The Social Project. If you’re interested in being a part of it, please reach out to [email protected] And don’t forget to follow Jenna & Steph on Instagram