Jessica Mahan

Tell us about you!

I grew up in rural Northwest Arkansas, surrounded by farms and the Ozark mountains, which continues to inspire my art today. After graduating from college in Missouri with a double major in Art Education and Secondary Education, I taught art in public school in Missourifor 7 years. Midway through my teaching career, I began putting a lot of focus on my own art, dedicating nearly every evening to creating. Commissions and art sales took off quicker than expected and before long I had a full time art career combined with a full time teaching career. In 2017, I made the difficult, yet exciting decision to pursue art full time, something I never dreamed would happen only a few years before. Although it was a whirlwind at the time, these experiences have largely influenced the art I create today. I joined Best of Missouri Hands where I made connections with other artists, traveled a lot and participated in juried shows around the country. We moved to Memphis in 2018, where I got involved with Tennessee Craft and became a board member for our local Southwest Chapter.

Can you tell us a little bit about your artwork?

My work is a healing practice, reflecting my love of escaping into nature through painting and travel. I keep a sketchbook full of notes and sketches, later creating a visual story on canvas with acrylic paint. Symbolism is often found in my work and reflects my interest in my Cherokee and Irish heritage. My acrylic paintings show beauty and relaxation in nature and stresses our responsibility to care for our environment, a source of personal renewal and energy. I often escape in my converted camper van to seek out national recreation areas. Beautiful views have the ability to wake up my mind to the present moment to spark ideas and insight. The resulting paintings are vivid, colorful, emotional, playful and dreamlike versions of reality. I love using acrylic modeling paste along with combs, lace, bubble wrap or an etching tool to create interesting texture and depth.

Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you were an artist?

As a child, I was interested in the natural world around me and creating in all different mediums. I used to sew clothes for my barbies, built forts in the woods, drew everything and everyone around me and had odd collections of items I found fascinating -- like a rock and pressed flower collection. I always knew I was creative, but I didn't realize I could make a career out of my art. Teaching art to young students renewed my own need to create art for myself. In 2013, three years into my teaching career, I began a series that started my career as a working artist. I didn't have a studio or a space dedicated to art, yet. I was renting a small room in a house owned by the counselor that worked at my school. She was nice enough to let me take over the dining area. Every evening I would come home from teaching and would put a few hours into a painting. Eventually I had a small series and a hip salon that participated in First Friday art walks asked me to display my first solo series. I was unsure and nervous for my first show, so I underpriced my art, but I nearly sold out at the reception. That first show gave me the confidence I needed to experiment with the idea of my art being a source of income.

How did you learn your necessary skills?

I originally trained in oil from a great professor that encouraged and challenged me. Later, when I transferred universities, I switched to acrylic paint, which is my current medium. I learned most of my painting skills from consistent practice, pushing through obstacles and following my curiosities.

Are there specific opportunities or challenges that focused your career?