My name is Jenny Kroik. I was born in Russia, grew up in Israel, and now live in New York City. I started painting very young. I always felt that painting was a great tool to communicate my point of view with the world. I think the biggest struggle I had (and still have) is to find a meaning or purpose in what I do. When I was younger, I felt that you should only do things if they benefit society in some large, heroic and long-lasting way. That idea brought a lot of aggravation into my work.
It also took the joy out of it to some extent, because no matter how I looked at it, my paintings seemed smallish in the great scheme of things. I went to grad school hoping to resolve some of these conflicts relating to my work, but even though my degree was in Painting, I found that I was making art that I didn’t like to please others. Lately, I’ve found that, ironically, as an illustrator, I was making art that was more pleasing to me, and felt more like it was for myself (even though there is a clear “client” and “market” involved). It was an important re-discovery, and I became more confident about the things that I produce now.
I started to take painting lessons when I was about 13, and I started with watercolors (because my mom deemed all other paints too toxic). I’ve used watercolors a lot, and it is still my go-to medium. I think that as a kid, I felt that the watercolors were missing a bit of solidity to them, so when I tried gouache paint years later, it all clicked. With gouache, I could use the paint in the watery-style that I am used to, while adding opaque tones and solid layers. I think it fits how I feel now, that I’d like the painting to be more like a statement rather than a suggestion, or something in between those two.
I use Yarka St. Petersburg for watercolors. This was the first set I used, and my mom actually brought it with her from St. Petersburg. Sometimes, when I run out of a color in my set, I squeeze some M. Graham watercolors or Winsor & Newton, whatever I happen to have around. The most important colors for me to have are sepia, cad orange and ultramarine blue. Besides all the basic colors, these complete my color palette and I have trouble painting without these.
For gouache paints, I use Holbein, they are my favorite. Their colors are very solid. I found with some other brands, when you open the tube for the first time and squeeze out the paint, lots of liquid comes out, this doesn’t happen with Holbein. If you pre-mix them in little tubes with a few spritzes of water (like I was taught by my art mentor) then they last for a long time.
I like to use brushes that are on the cheaper side, because they are usually stiffer. They are not quite as stiff as acrylic brushes, but not as soft as the nicer watercolor brushes. The softer ones are not as precise for me. Maybe I used crappy brushes for so long that I got used to them, and when I paint with a fancy sable I just don’t like it.
I can’t really name any particular brand of brush. I used to love these Princeton Art Advantage brushes that I would always get at the $2 bin at the university bookstore in Oregon, but I haven’t been able to find a good substitute yet, I’ll let you know when I do.
My current favorite for paper is Fluid 100 paper, hot press, 140lb. I also use Arches hot press paper a lot, and sometimes Arches cold press for portraits and quicker paintings. (the cold press absorbs too much, and for longer paintings it just eats all my paint).
I also like to use “mystery paper”- I have a stack of paper I’ve collected throughout the years, and I have no idea where it’s from or what it does. some of it is for printmaking, some for markers, some of it rice paper.I pick a sheet from the stack and paint on it, and see what happens. It’s always most stressful when it works out really great, because then I don’t know what this paper was and where to find it again. But it’s good to be a little bit stressed about your art sometimes.
I use palette paper (any brand) and the paint tub with two sides – one with a scrubby side. That is perfect for cleaning the brush and avoiding running to the sink every 4 minutes. Also, a cotton rag is crucial. If I forget my rag I feel lost. Paper towels absorb too much and I don’t like to pollute the planet.
I used to use a lot of waterproof pens, like the Winsor & Newton pens or Microns for sketching and doing a wash on top, but I haven’t been working with line in a while. Maybe I should go back to it a bit. I also like Pentalic sketchbooks.
Learning meditation really helped me and my work as well. It’s similar in many ways to the artistic process, and learning and reading about mindful meditation helped put into words the things I was always struggling with at the studio. For instance: how can I sit down every day and make painting after painting, and still find new possibilities in the work? Or how can I reconcile the painting I planned to make with what actually came out (including spills and dirty fingerprints)? And one of the hardest things: how can I sit down to paint when my mind is constantly filled with noise, judging voices, criticisms, endless comparisons to other artists and their successes, and just random static?
Meditation definitely made my time in the studio not only less torturous, but also more productive: It gave me the framework to study unpleasant emotions like an objective observer, and I find many treasures in the icky moments that I would normally try to push away.
After moving around a lot in my life, I now live in New York City. This is probably the favorite place I’ve lived in so far, and also the least comfortable, dirtiest, cramped with jerks, and most aggravating at times. But I feel most comfortable in the city, and I feel like being around so much creativity and energy has really given me an artistic push. I can let my inner jerkness out and be pushy and demanding. Things that were absolutely not allowed in Oregon, where I lived for 8 years.
Oregon was quite the opposite of New York. it was quiet and calm on the outside. There was one museum in the town I lived in, and the art scene was fairly small. I developed a practice of mining for inspiration in daily life. Going out and looking for interesting things, applying a “filter” on the world, trying to see everything as an interesting or funny painting. Instead of museums, I roamed around thrift stores and antique shops, sketching what I saw. Finding visual interest in an army of white older ladies that all wore the same khaki pants and Patagonia fleeces. Going back to the same place or person, and painting them over and over again.
Oregon was maybe a quiet, and lets face it, boring place, but it was an awesome place to really figure out what I’m into as an artist. It’s a great place in general where one can fall apart and reconstruct oneself. (If you’re looking for such a place, I recommend it.)
The way I developed my practice came from all the time I spent thinking about what “inspiration” is. It started from this damaging idea I had that inspiration is something that comes to you like a vision from outer-space: I had a vague memory from some time in my past, maybe high school or when I was working on my BFA, that art ideas would just float into my life like a religious experience, and I would see the painting in its entirety in my mind, accompanied by a strong emotion that made it feel like it’s going to be the most important painting that ever existed.
This was my idea of what inspiration is, and I had no way to go back to this magical past memory and confirm or deny that this is actually what I felt, but I was left with a strong belief that, at one point, I was inspired, and painting was easy, and now I’m all tapped out. It was a very upsetting feeling. There’s nothing more damaging to your practice than to become convinced that once upon a time you had a sack of magic art beans, and now that they’re gone, you have to live out the rest of your life being uninspired.
Finally I’ve decided that, even if I did have magnificent magic art beans and now they are gone forever, then those beans were bullshit, and I didn’t need them anyway. They were crap scam beans. Instead I’m going to develop a sustainable practice that won’t fail me. It’s going to be with me on good days and bad days, when my art is pretty and loved, and when it’s just an undefinable mess. When I’m in the middle of New York surrounded by hordes of amazing drawable people, or if I’m in a deserted industrial truck-depot.
And, honestly, without such a practice, I wouldn’t have known what to do with all the amazing visuals I encounter. I probably would have “saved them for later”, too intimidated to approach them.
My practice consists of doing something hands-on, art related on a daily basis. Ideally, I would paint/draw at least an hour a day. It could be anything from sketching or doodling from life, drawing silly cartoons, mixing colors, cutting papers into little compositions (I haven’t done that in a while, that sounds like fun right about now!) .
Sometimes on an unproductive kind of day, I count collecting imagery as part of my daily practice, but I don’t think it exercises the same parts of my brain that keep it playful. Taking photos or looking for reference material online is important to plan a solid illustration and keep concepts sophisticated and fresh, but this process can become too mechanical if you make that your only prep work before a painting.
Doodling and playing with actual materials brings the lightness and fun into my work for sure. That said, I work from photos and think it’s very important for my paintings to have a variety of really solid photo reference. Sometimes, one blurry photo is all I have, so then I have to supplement it with studies of my own anatomy, or search for pictures online of someone holding a certain pose, a material, a detail, a machine or animal I don’t quite know how to paint, etc.
While working from photos, the biggest challenge is to stop it from becoming flat, or just a copy. There should be a point to why this is better as a painting, something that you’re trying to show with it. A lot of it is about editing and color. I want to stop the world, remove everything that isn’t important, and shine a spotlight on a little moment, a beautiful expression, a funny juxtaposition, or something that tickled me in the right way, but I’m not sure why.
The painting process for me is definitely a way to reexamine a fast-moving life and slow down time in order for me to think about my experiences, but do it in a form of indirect conversation with whoever looks at my work.
I think I have been slowly bringing together all my styles and interest, and distilling them. All my interest: abstraction, figurative art, concept, color and a journal-style practice, where I draw very fast what I see that day, I have been cooking these down into a nice reduction of all the sauces of my previous practices. The test of what a “successful” painting is to me is that I actually love looking back at my work over and over, and I feel like it’s “me”.
In this past year of living in New York City, I realized that painting people was something I really love doing more that other subjects. A big part of my work has been loitering around town. This is a practice I revived back form when I lived alone in Boston when I was working on my BFA.
I used to spend a lot of time walking around thinking about what I should paint. Now that I’m older and bolder, and also shameless, I incorporate into these walks taking pictures of strangers and also sketching them, when I can.
One of the things I felt most deprived of in Oregon are museums. I made it a point to go to all of the museums in New York City. (So far I haven’t even seen half! There are so many!) One thing that I discovered is that museums are a great place to look at people. Not only do they walk slowly, they are also usually well-lit.
I can sketch and photograph them, and if I miss a cool person, I can snake around the displays and catch up with them in the next gallery! (I’m not creepy at all). There are also a ton of tourists in museums who take a thousand pictures of everything, so I blend in well.
There are a few museums that I found people dress up for more than others, for instance the MOMA. I love it when people dress up for a museum, it makes me hopeful that art means something to people. It’s almost like the artists themselves were there, and people want to honor them with their best clothes. The recent fashion exhibit at the MET (Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garcons: art of the in-between) brought out the most amazing people. My head almost exploded trying to capture everyone I saw. So many interesting people!
I still have a huge backlog of ideas for paintings on my to-do list. Since moving to NYC I probably shot about a Terabyte of photos. I probably did about 70 paintings of people in museums so far. I really enjoy it, so I hope that people aren’t sick of seeing them! This is a fun project, and maybe it will evolve into something more in the future.
In the next step in my art, I would love to continue evolving my composition style, making it more sophisticated, and also developing concept further in my work. I would also love to work in animation again.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second feature from Jenny Kroik who was one of the very first guest artists on Doodlewash back in August 2015. The format has changed a lot since that time. If you’re a former guest and would like to share your latest story with the community, please contact me!
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!