My name is Jean Mackay and I’m an artist, naturalist, educator, and writer, but not always in that order. I’ve lived in upstate New York most of my life, but recently moved to Connecticut, which means I have a lot of learning and exploring to do. Two years ago I created a blog, Drawn In (Follow me by clicking here!) to share my art more widely—and it has taken me much farther out into the world of art and artists than I ever imagined.
I’m best at drawing, but I also love watercolor. I took art in high school and college, but couldn’t see my way to making it a career. So I first became a social worker and then traveled around the country and got a Master’s degree in environmental education. At that point, art became a way for me to study nature and record what I saw.
Years later, I took a watercolor class to learn some basics and taught myself from there. As you can see, I also like adding text to my artwork. I think that stems from many years of making holiday and birthday cards as a kid. By 5th grade, I remember wanting to make my letters fancier. I picked up books on calligraphy, tried out all sorts of pens and inks, and have had a fondness for letters ever since.
One thing that has had a major impact on my artwork is my lack of time for drawing and painting! I’m married, have two sons, work full time, do volunteer work, and occasionally do housework. So I have to really work at finding time for art. That’s not ideal, but it’s my life. So I’ve have to do a few things to compensate:
First, I need to work fast. Sometimes I only have ten minutes or half an hour. So I have taught myself to get my lines down quickly and without much fuss. Second, I’m patient. I don’t mind if it takes me a week of stringing together 20-minute sessions to finish a page. The most important thing I’ve done is to make my artwork portable. I’ve been keeping an artist journal for more than 25 years. I carry it all over, working in all kinds of settings, from tide pools to farm fields to museums.
My supplies fit in a small backpack, sometimes my handbag, so I have them on the go. I use a fairly basic kit: primarily Stillman and Birn sketchbooks, Micron pens for both drawing and text, and Winsor & Newton artist grade watercolors.
I mainly sketch directly in ink and then add watercolor. If you’ve sketched in pen you know that it forces you to really look at what you’re drawing because you’re going to commit on paper. It also keeps the momentum of drawing and seeing going—no erasures, no critique, no stopping and starting. I sometimes paint right in the field, sometimes back at home. I rarely work from photos because I like the direct connection that comes from working from life, though I do sometimes take photos for color reference.
From the start, I’ve used my journal as a tool for learning about nature. But over time I’ve expanded the subject matter to include the art of everyday living—travels, meals, seasonal cycles …almost anything goes. For me, the best pages capture an honest impression, experience, or moment in time. Page by page, they are sometimes jumbled, sometimes cohesive, sometimes beautiful, occasionally messy. And so my journals have become a record of my life—and my life as an artist.
There are so many fascinating things in the world, so many places, so many experiences…and so little time. As artists, we must seize the day—or the ten minutes—and allow ourselves to be drawn in, and to draw and paint. Thanks for being part of that greater world of art and artists!