Jennifer Ahern is a watercolor artist form Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has a Masters of Science in Art Therapy and she worked as an Art Therapist for adults with dementia. Working with these adults and learning about their inspiring life stories motivated Jennifer to follow her dreams. Read her story below:
What did you like about being an Art Therapist?
I truly enjoyed working as an art therapist, it is an incredibly rewarding and inspiring field. Art therapists work in many different settings, but I choose to work in a nursing home setting with adults who have various stages of dementia. In this role, I used art-making activities and prompts to help patients with dementia work through issues by giving them opportunities to express themselves creatively. Getting to work with this population was such an honor, and some of the artwork that these residents were capable of creating was simply amazing. Oftentimes people with dementia are forgotten about or are seen as not being real people who lived full and unique lives, so I really liked being able to show the value and importance that these residents still had both to themselves and to others.
Was it difficult juggling being an Art Therapist and an Artist?
My art business started out as a small side business, so for a while working simultaneously as an art therapist and an artist worked fine. But as my art business began to grow, it became increasingly difficult to manage both jobs.
Was there a definitive event that made you decide between the two? If so, please explain.
I wouldn’t say that there was one definitive event that made me decide to focus full-time on being an artist. As it became more difficult to juggle both jobs, I knew I was going to have to make a choice. It was an incredibly difficult choice to make, but overall the timing became right for me to focus on my art business. And since I had my ATR (making me a registered art therapist), I knew that I could get back into the art therapy field again if I wanted to do so in the future.
I also think that working with the dementia population ultimately helped me with the decision to pursue my art business full-time. I dealt with existential life and death issues every day as an art therapist, and it made me realize that life should be lived to the fullest. The residents that I worked with all lived such incredible lives, and it made me want to honor that by living my life incredibly, too. Although in many respects I was living a rewarding life as an art therapist, it was always my dream ever since I was a child to be an artist. I realized in time that I owed it to myself to pursue that dream.
Tell us about your current watercolor series.
I am currently painting all of the U.S. state birds. I have always loved birds but never thought I was any good at drawing them, so this series came about as an attempt to learn more about birds and how to draw them. There are 29 total state birds (some state have the same state bird in case you were wondering), and I am currently painting my seventh in the series.
Tell us about your creative process. For example, how do you decide which bird to paint.
It has been a really great experience so far painting these birds. I feel that though the process of researching and looking at tons of pictures of each bird, sketching birds, etc. I am learning a lot and developing my own unique style for painting birds. Also, based on my interpretation of each species, I have had fun giving each bird its own personality!
In deciding what birds to paint when, I started by going alphabetically through the states. However, the response to these paintings has been incredibly positive, and I have gotten a lot of requests from people along the way! So right now the birds I choose to paint are really being determined by my list of requests!
What is the creative community like in Milwaukee?
The creative community in Milwaukee is quite wonderful! I have to admit that I have been very focused lately on developing an online presence for my work, so I have not taken advantage of the arts community here nearly to the degree that I should. But Milwaukee is a very lively and artistic place, so the arts are very much alive and appreciated here (where else can you find an integrated brewery/art gallery)! We also have an amazing art museum with some outstanding exhibits, and I go there whenever I can for inspiration!
Thank you Jennifer for sharing story and photos!
Jennifer is currently offering 15% off of a purchase of $15.00 or more. You can take advantage of this offer by using the coupon code JANUARY15 in her website or Etsy Shop. The sale runs through 1/25/2015.