Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Swallowfield ... Maine, USA

Artist: Jennifer Judd-McGee
Business: Swallowfield
Web sites: swallowfield.etsy.com, swallowfield.typepad.com
Location: Portland, Maine

What do you create?
I make a little bit of many things. Right now I'm mostly doing mixed media collage, drawing and gocco prints.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
Anytime and anywhere that I can squeeze it in! Technically, my studio is (for the moment) in my basement, but I draw at meetings, waiting for my kids on the playground, and in the middle of the night if I can't sleep. There are sketchbooks, pens and little scraps of paper all over the house.

Do you have another "day job"?
I worked for Planned Parenthood as a women's healthcare advocate for many years, but I left my job in June to pursue my art and be more involved in my children's school. It has been a big scary change! And it's making me really happy, and I know the kids like having me around more.

Where and what did you study?
I went to College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. I did a fair number of wonderful art classes there – 2-D Design, Printmaking, Ceramics, and that was my only formal training. I also studied political science and women's studies.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! Maine is an especially beautiful place. I find myself noticing the subtle patterns in nature a lot right now, and loving things like lichen, moss, pinecones, sea urchins, bark and wild flowers. I love looking at natural light and shadows. I adore mid-century modern design, lovely old fonts, and dreaming of new ways to look at older objects. I get a ton of daily inspiration from Flickr, where I am lucky to be pals with some incredible artists and craftspeople.

What motivates you?
Knowing that my art makes people smile is a huge rush for me. Up until recently it has only been something I've done for family members or friends, and I was actually very shy about it. It was a pretty big leap for me to put myself out in the public domain on Flickr and Etsy. I feel like it's helping me grow a lot to keep on putting stuff out there. I'm getting braver and more confident and that feels good on so many levels.

When did you start doing this?
I opened my Etsy store in late March of this year, after getting some encouragement from Flickr pals to try it out. I had a booth at Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn last summer and made some great connections there. And here we are!

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
Aside from being handy with the play-doh fun factory, not really! I always thought of my sister as the artist in our family – she is very talented at everything she touches. I got into it more in college.

How did you choose the name for your business?
Swallowfield was the name of the old farmhouse where my mom grew up, and I've always loved it.

What do you love most about creating your work?
I get a kick out of the fact that I never know exactly what the end product will be. I'll have an idea, but I often come back to things and keep adding layers here and there until I think they're really done. I love the feeling of surprise at the end, where I scratch my head and think I can't believe I made that.

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I am a big fan of Portland, Oregon. All of the lovely bridges and green spaces, the art+craft+diy movement, great local food and crazy wonderful architecture – it always blows me away. I love bungalows. If I were to live anywhere else, it would be the 'other' Portland.

A book you love:
Oh, it is so hard to pick just one! I am a book nut. To make it super simple, right now I am loving Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco. It's very relevant to what I'm up to right now, and I love the interviews with the different designers and craftspeople.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
Oh dear. I'm not terribly interesting. I can touch my tongue to the tip of my nose. I'm proudly left handed. I can do crazy math in my head.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Well, I am pretty tickled by the fruits of my loins. (Do all moms answer this way?)They are incredible, interesting, funny, artistic little people who keep my on my toes for sure! I'm trying to do my best job with them and hopefully minimize whatever they'll pay for therapy down the road. I'm also proud of quitting my day job to pursue my hope of making art a career.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
I recommend spending as much time as you can ahead of time studying the business side of what you want to do. Don't quit your day job until you're burning the candle at both ends doing your new business idea and it's going well enough that sleep is starting to seem like an evasive proposition. Ask for feedback and be open to hearing it. Put yourself out there in ways that might make you feel shy.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Finding the balance between work and home is very tricky, since my studio is at home. It's easy to wander off on another tangent. I am also a messy, spread-it-all-out worker, and spend a lot of time dreaming about the ways I might organize myself.

What do you love to do in your free time?
I have really great friends, and I'm always happy to get the occasional night out with them to catch up without the kids. I love to read, explore on the beach, go to thrift stores and yard sales, and to try new recipes. I read a lot of cookbooks. Getting regular exercise clears my head and helps me sleep better. I'm going to take an encaustic painting class this fall, and I'm pretty jazzed about that.

What are you working on right now?
I am working on a couple of commissioned illustration projects and working on collage, drawings and gocco for my first solo show for Edith and Edna in Portland, which will be up in November/December. I'm pretty excited about it. I am also working on a limited run 2008 calendar.

What do you hope to achieve next?
I'm super excited about learning encaustic painting. I think it is a medium that lends itself well to collage, and will combine a lot of my skills and push me in a good way. I also want to learn some web design this year, and to get more familiar with Photoshop.


  1. Wow, I just love your work! Especially the collages with the houses, and fields. Your work is unlike anything I have seen before! Just beautiful.

  2. Beautiful quirky stuff. I am very glad that Jennifer took the leap and is sharing her work with the world. There is so much going on in this work. Love it!

  3. Jen, so interesting to hear the background on your journey to where you are now. I'm sending this link to my siblings (and looking forward to receiving my swallowfield etsy purchase!).

  4. I love Jennifer's work. Thanks for this feature, I hadn't seen her work before and the interview was really super.