Jennifer Ahern runs and operates her business out of her historic Saint Charles home. Her studio is brightly lit, super organized and inviting. A large scanner and printer line one wall, her work desk and easel sit across the way. Her dog, Mick is always by her side or curled up under her desk as she works. Printed and painted whimsical works lay in protective plastic bags ready to be shipped. Jennifer Ahern, owner of Jennifer Ahern is warm, friendly and incredible talented.
What kind of work do you produce and sell?
I sell original watercolor paintings and archival quality prints of my work. I primarily create whimsical, colorful, and nature-inspired works of art, and I love to make bright and cheerful paintings that fill rooms with joy and happiness!
Why did you decide to start a business?
I have enjoyed making art as far back as I can remember. I actually dreamed of being an art teacher or an artist growing up, and I made art whenever and wherever possible. As an adult, I knew that I wanted to use my love of art to help others. I received a Master of Science degree in Art Therapy, and I went on to become credentialed as a Registered Art Therapist (ATR). As an art therapist, I currently work with students who have autism at a special education school. However, for a number of years, I had previously worked as an art therapist with adults who had various stages of dementia. That being said, the time that I spent working with adults who suffered from dementia ultimately helped me with the decision to pursue my art business. I dealt with existential life and death issues every day while working with clients who had dementia, and it made me realize that life should be lived to the fullest. The clients 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 already 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. As a result, I now am pursuing two of my passions by working as an art therapist while also running and operating my own freelance watercolor business.
How do you juggle to being an art therapist and a business owner at the same time?
There are always hurdles and struggles to overcome as a business owner, but I think that the greatest hurdle that I experience with my business is time. Since I also work as an art therapist, my watercolor business runs as a part-time operation. I have a limited amount of time per week to devote to my business, and, as a result, I have learned (through a lot of trial and error) how to be more strategic about how that time is spent in order to maximize my productivity. One thing that has largely helped me with this issue has been learning that it is okay to say no to endeavors that are not going to be productive for myself or for my business. It took me a long time to realize this, but it overall has made my business much more successful.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
My art is often inspired by the words of the great impressionist artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who once said “Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” I have that quote hanging in my studio to remind me that art is a powerful tool that can be used to showcase the wonder, joy, and beauty of the world. In addition to Renoir, I am moved by the works of many of the creative innovators of their time, especially in the realms of impressionism and abstract art. Some amazing artists whose work I find quite inspiring include Charles Burchfield, Camille Pissarro, John James Audobon, Pablo Picasso, and Wassily Kandinsky. I am also moved by the world around me and the simple everyday joys that come with it. I like to think that inspiration can be found almost anywhere if willing to look for it!
You have 2 distinct styles, your illustrative animals and your abstract paintings. Is it hard to switch between those two modes of painting? Did one come before the other?
My illustrative animals and my abstract paintings are quite different in style, yet they lend each other to my creative process quite well. My animal paintings are often guided by a strict idea of how I want the painting to look in the end, so my process is calculated from beginning to end. My abstract paintings, on the other hand, have a much more open-ended process, where I do not always have a set end product in mind. I see where the paint takes me and that helps guide the direction of the painting. Oftentimes, after I have been working in one style for a while, I will feel the need to switch gears and either tighten or loosen up my brush strokes. Thus, I will often float between working on an illustrative animal painting to working on an abstract painting. Alternating between these two modes of painting might seem odd to some, but for me this approach actually helps to maintain and even elevate my creativity!
I honestly cannot say if one style came before the other, as I have been using this approach to art-making for most of my professional art career!
What are your favorite tools that you use in your process?
I enjoy painting with Arches cold pressed watercolor paper (this brand creates amazing watercolor paper, and I rarely paint on anything else!) and Winsor and Newton watercolor paints. I also prefer to have a wide variety of watercolor brushes on hand to work with, as I often like to switch between multiple brushes while working on a single painting. A few other things that really help guide my art-making process include utilizing natural sunlight whenever possible, listening to music, and having my dog relaxing near me while I work!
What about your business are you most proud of?
I try to convey a sense of joy, wonder, and happiness about the world through my art. Through the use of color choices and imagery, I try to create artwork that is overall happy and uplifting for others. I am grateful to be able to use my art to bring a little bit more added joy into this world. When a customer shares with me how happy my artwork makes him or her feel, I know that I am accomplishing this goal.
What is your favorite part about selling your art?
I have had a lot of positive interactions with customers, and I always appreciate it when customers go out of their way to share their stories with me. I do not think that I could narrow this experience down to one favorite story, as each interaction is meaningful in its own way. Someone once shared with me that he got a tattoo inspired by one of my paintings. Another person recently shared with me that she and her husband purchased one of my paintings as a symbolic reward after successfully making it through a recovery program together. It is incredibly rewarding to hear stories like these about how my art has been able to impact others in meaningful ways.