Jessica Ball

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Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

Jessica: I would describe the art I make as lyrical abstract expressionism. Non figurative. Instant gratification, impulsive, therapeutic, peaceful and bright. Highly influenced by music.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Jessica:  I sort of gave up on art when I moved back to the midwest in 2004. I began painting again in 2011 and vowed to never stop painting, no matter where I am planted. To live a full, creative life, on the daily.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Jessica: I couldn’t survive without music. Music drives me to see and create so freely. I am in a perfect place when I have music and paint. I have a whole other language going on here.

Project 1612: Has your studio practice changed since closing The Art Garage in 2017? How so?

Jessica: Closing The Art Garage has been a good transition in my life. I have had time to enjoy my studio, create some really fun pieces and show a lot of artwork this year. The best part of this transition is being able to spend quality time with my husband, Kevin and our eleven-year-old daughter, Olivia. I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into life and sharing it, in color.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Jessica: Problems in the studio are mostly with inspiration and motivation. I combat them both with music... good music. I’ve also had to move to a larger studio this year. I’ve enjoyed making large scale paintings lately, especially with room to move around while I work.

Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

Jessica: I am currently creating a diptych for the Emerging Artists’ Collective Exhibit in February 2019. The main idea behind my next few works are bravery with freedom of expression. This process is both valuable to my mental health and my painting practice.

Project 1612: What artistic movement do you most connect with?

Jessica: Abstract Expressionism

Project 1612: Do you have anything coming up that readers should be aware of?

Jessica: Yes, I do! Studios On Sheridan Resident Artist Group Exhibit at the Sunbeam Building until December 31st and I’m currently the Featured Artist at Images Salon until December 31st. I’ll also be the Artist Of The Month at Identity Salon in Peoria Heights now until January 11th and have work in Piece of Mind: An Exhibition on Mental Health by the Emerging Artists Collective in the Peoria Public Library Main Branch from February 6-28, 2019. The reception for that exhibition is Saturday, February 9, 1-3pm

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Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Jessica: Although I love to create in solitude, my art is deeply enriched by interactions and support from the art community. My advice for aspiring artists is to get out there and support others. Your practice will grow from learning about all types of art and all types of people. Get what you can out of being wherever you are.

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Jessica: I have had my ups and downs while being an artist in Central IL. I try to soak up all we have, but honestly I crave an even more populated and diverse art scene like that of other large cities. I will say, the artists here are AMAZING! They definitely outnumber their opportunities.

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Jessica Ball is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of her work can be found on here

SJ Boyd

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Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

SJ: Narrative Figurative: I feel all human beings art hard wired to have an emotional response to the images of other human beings. The mind strives to create a comfort zone by comparing an image with its perceptions that are developed in the “Nature” aspect of nature/nurture, that our egos and identity are developed from. With that comparison a story or narrative is born. My work also takes a lean toward Neo-Surrealism. Sometimes whimsical and sometimes taking a slightly dark or dreamlike turn. Either way, I strive to start a story and leave it up to the viewer to take it the rest of the way.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

SJ: Good questions. I vividly remember being surrounded by old office papers covered with a five year olds masterpieces, in my grandparents living room, and proclaiming that I was going to be an artist. Maybe it was then. No matter what direction life has taken me, my inner foundation has always been art. I’ve been in many different studios of the years but with my recent retirement from the “Real World,” I have made it a priority to focus on being a full time artist. Heck, maybe its just now I have finally truly taken myself seriously.

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Project 1612: What drives your practice?

SJ: Dreams. I receive images through them and it’s like I have been charged with the responsibly to bring it to life. Some images will stay with me for years until I find the appropriate medium to tell the story. Then on to the next dream and story to be told.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

SJ: Time management due to a never ending flux of ideas flooding my mind. When I come close to completion of a piece I find myself wanting to move onto the next story. Making it difficult to manage my time efficiently, because sometimes I start on the next one. I overcome this with plain old work ethic. Head down and get it done. An unfinished piece doesn’t speak.

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Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

SJ: Currently, I have focused on large scale pieces. The stories vary but the scale seems to be the drive. It carries a whimsical tone or a subtle social or spiritual reference.

Project 1612: How important are your reference images to the final pieces?

SJ: References are extremely important, since I am a studio painter primarily. I mix and match images that I have photographed with antique photos or even bits of magazine references. I pick our one small piece from a shot and use it to complete my stories.

Project 1612: Besides painting, what other mediums do you work in?

SJ: Graphite and charcoal and colored pencil. I was deeply involved with black and white photography years ago, so I love to create drawings that are in gray tones. Colored pencil is like painting to me, so I love the challenges it brings me. I also sculpt in oil based clay and currently have plans to create a large public piece to be cast in bronze.

Project 1612: How long has your studio been at The Mill?

SJ: I have been in The Mill for the past couple years and have been truly blessed with an incredible space. I have been many places in the area over the years and I feel I have hit a real groove in this studio.

Project 1612: Do you have anything coming up we should know about?

SJ: At this point, I am compiling a large body of work in preparation of a solo show at the Peoria Public Library in downtown Peoria, IL in July of 2019. It’s a space traditionally used for group shows, so I am needing enough work to look like a group but its all on me. There are a couple group shows I may participate in, the one that is the closest is the Emerging Artist Show in February of 2019.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

SJ: My advice to all artists is, if the muse has chosen you and you have excepted the call, do so with all of your soul. There will be situations and people that will do their best to direct you away from the callings. If an artist is younger and starting out keep in mind you have the resilience to preserve and by the time one finds themselves at my age they will have lived a good life and probably also created a financially sound like. The good life is probably most important though. Art is business, so work at what you love and it won’t seem like work. You just LIVBIG.

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

SJ: The art community of Central IL has become the poster child for how a grassroots movement and the wealth of talented artists can get things done. The only thing we are missing right now is a legitimate gallery space to represent all of those talents. This area has so many master level artists that it more than rivals the large metropolitan areas of this country. And the rest of the country is just getting their first look at what Central IL has to offer. There are many, many good souls creating here. I think the world needs to look out for all of us!

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SJ Boyd is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of his work can be found on here

Patricia Whalen-Keck

Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

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Patricia: I have always been concerned with how, as societies we seem to build and destroy in the same breath. I think of myself as a figurative artist with an interest in the environment and ancient cultures. My work is about individuals and how they navigate through life. I model my figures in wax or clay and cast them in bronze because it is a material that connects us to past cultures, an idea that is important to me. I model both male and female figures in positions that are either standing or walking. The upright posture of the unadorned individual is by far my favorite and I have been told they embody the duel nature of vulnerability and strength. The core of my work is the isolated standing individual which is the most natural and direct posture that people take. Concerns with subject matter and choices of bird imagery add to the visual interest and content.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Patricia:  Taking myself seriously as an artist was at first difficult and took much longer than expected. I started pursuing a graduate degree in sculpture late in life. While in graduate school I recall listening to a critique of my thesis work given by a visiting artist whose interpretation did not match my explanation. What I knew to be the story behind the work, what informed the piece, was not what he saw, simple enough, but for me profound. The genesis of my ideas come from my life stories, for example, the memory of doing dishes at my grandmother’s while her parakeet was perched on my shoulder was the source for The Pedestrian. I take myself seriously each time I approach a new idea.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Patricia: A number of things come to mind, first, the actual physical process, then researching for imagery. Recognition is always important but not what drives me. The love of art is in my DNA, the need to experience what artists have created and to create my own works. Identifying my life experiences and then connecting them to the themes that interest me drives much of what I do. The back and forth decisions that come with problem solving and of course the completed work can be very exciting. I have been in awe of artists, those who are working at a high level, thinking about and making unexpected aesthetic choices that move me intellectually and emotionally. Another aspect that drives me is my research, the search for ideas, a form or a line, and the connections with ancient works. For example, The Black Heron of South Africa was made using the direct wax method where I cast wax cylinders from discarded Pringles containers. I joined them together to create a column three feet tall, modeled a black heron and attached it to the top, and appliqued dozens of lizards on the surface. The theme became one of predator/prey. Later, while doing an online image search I discovered two miniature versions of my heron piece; one was a Udu West African musical instrument, the other a Benin bronze bird sculpture, the form of each was a cylinder showing a bird perched at the rim.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Patricia: My biggest concern is having enough floor space for future sculpture work, scale has become an important element in my sculpture, I don’t want to be restricted in what I can do. My new studio is a little over 520 square feet with a twenty-foot ceiling, a cement floor, and no windows. I use one wall for drawing and have plans to build a modest workbench on the adjacent wall, dedicated for printmaking. This leaves the remaining two-thirds of the space for sculptural work. The challenge is to make use of this area so that my tools and materials are easily available but the floor space is left open. I have limited the size of my work tables to smaller rather than larger and … so they can be easily rearranged, equipped them with casters. The only shelving will be on the wax wall, the area set aside for heating and modeling figures in wax. I visualize the remaining space open and filled with sculptural works in progress. I plan to keep the remaining two walls open and free of clutter.

Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

Pat: My current body of work, in its simplest form is about drawing, exploring composition and the decisions that accompany these activities. I took a three-month hiatus from sculpture to allow myself reflective time and to process the work done as a graduate student. I am a figurative 3-D artist first but also understand the importance of learning through other disciplines. My current body of work consists of drawings of bird images and portraits of people whose life work I admire. I view the drawings as preliminary works studies for woodcuts and larger works on paper. Bird imagery shows up frequently in my sculpture so I decided to do drawings of birds that are of interest to me. I am exploring two compositional arrangements, one linear changing the proportions of a grid the other circular laying down a spiral as a starting point.

Project 1612: Can you talk about the bird imagery that shows up frequently in your pieces?

Patricia: Much if not most of my aesthetic choices originate from an actual experience or my reaction to something I heard or read. For example, In Picasso’s famous anti-war painting Guernica, Picasso placed a bird in the top left corner appearing to land on a table or, it may have been fleeing from the carnage. I taught this work to young people for many years and wanted my students to understand it as a piece of art, as well as a visual document of an actual event. The Spanish town Guernica, had been obliterated by the Nazi German Air Force, the Luftwaff, prior to the start of World War II. Picasso’s painting has been studied and written about extensively, I came across an article that had been written at the time of the bombing, the towns people were afraid to return to the village until the birds returned. I shy away from talking about the symbolic meaning of birds and why I use them though I acknowledge they act as a signifier. Other memories that inform my use of bird imagery include that of growing up with parakeets, not caged but allowed to fly freely through the house, the flamingo deco in my grandmother’s house, my mother’s romantic interest in swans, my sisters’ talents as musicians, to sing and to play the piano. The choice of what music I play in my studio drives my thinking.

Project 1612: You are a sculptor, but have also been exploring printmaking, drawing, and collage. How do you connect the 3D and 2D aspects of your work?

Patricia: Yes, I have been exploring printmaking, drawing and collage. I find similarities in the processes, the research and of course the subject matter. Working in multiple disciplines helps to keep my thinking fresh, to not become predictable. I truly enjoy the challenge that comes with using different materials. And, of course, casting a work in bronze is very expensive, it requires hours of time and physical labor to complete. At this stage in my live I felt it important to explore activities that are physically less demanding.

Project 1612: How long has your studio been at The Mill? And how does this studio space differ from previous studios?

Patricia: I have been at The Mill four years. The owners were just beginning to develop studio spaces for the art community when I rented a small space. I was looking for a quiet area to read, do research and eventually write my thesis paper. I was one of a handful of artists to first locate in the building. This space was located on the second floor and well suited for quiet reflective work. Upon completion of my degree, I needed a larger studio to do sculpture, fortunately a ground floor studio became available. Though still small for a sculptor the new space has been ideal for me. It is still quiet, with the same finished white walls and solid wood beams, and easily accessible from the parking area. I am now located at the back of the building directly across from a local pottery.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Patricia: I would advise aspiring artists to know the what, the why and the where.

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Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Patricia: My art community experiences are limited to towns I have live in or lived close too; Decatur, Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, and Champaign/Urbana, the latter two, university towns. While living in Decatur, and now in Peoria, I had the good fortune to meet, work with and learn from two highly accomplished artists, both long-time residents of Central Illinois. Both artists are connected to the larger art communities of Lithuania and California, and the current art community in Chicago. My work practice includes looking at art, museum quality and contemporary works. It is an easy drive to Krannert Art Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois to view their graduate shows, current exhibitions and collections. I often travel by train to visit Chicago; University Galleries is located next door to the train station so I visit it as often as possible. The Contemporary Art Center of Peoria was founded in 1998, areas for artists to work, exhibit and sell are continuing to increase, and the Peoria art community is engaged in exposing young people to the arts. From what I have experienced the arts are alive and well in Central Illinois. I have managed to find in Central Illinois what I require to work, but frequently seek the energy of a metropolitan environment.

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Patricia Whalen-Keck is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of her work can be found on here.

Barbie Perry

Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

In-process piece in Barbie's studio at the Prairie Center of the Arts.

In-process piece in Barbie's studio at the Prairie Center of the Arts.

Barbie: My art is contemporary, mostly abstract, occasionally autobiographical. Other times it is completely experimental in a new process or medium.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Barbie: I am new to the physical process of art-making. In 2014, I began creating colorful abstract and textural compositions using unaltered digital photography. By 2016, I had developed enough confidence to make the transition to creating work with my hands. I liken myself to a sophomore in college. This seems to work in freeing me mentally to continually explore several mediums. I may, at some point, decide upon and stick to a particular medium, yet I am loving the discovery process of determining which mediums and especially processes I am loving best. Currently, I am digging into silkscreen monoprints. I have many experiments and projects planned for the next 12 months culminating in a two-person show, in October of 2019, with Sarah Nesbit in Peoria. 

Barbie showing a newer piece while standing in her studio.

Barbie showing a newer piece while standing in her studio.

Project 1612: What drives your practice? 

Barbie: I have a weird kind of need to do it. I think about art every day. I dream about projects and compositions. My life is steeped in art. I look, see and think about my world through this lens. It’s a pleasant way to live.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

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Barbie: Asking for help in how to do something. One of my personal challenges is letting down my guard to trust others to not think less of me because I do not know how to do something, or that they don’t mind giving of their time to teach me. At a young age, I strove to be completely independent. I still work on embracing asking for help from others and tamp down the feeling I should be figuring it out on my own and not “bothering” others. Another challenge has been confidence in my work. Having a studio in an open environment has been critical and helping me to become less sensitive to others just seeing my work, much less in getting critiqued or feedback. I work on building compromise and relationship with both my inner critic (where everything is s***) and in my inner rebel’s defensiveness (I don't give a f*** what you think.) I know these are protective, extreme, unrealistic and untruthful perspectives that are not helpful. My reality just lies somewhere on that continuum, and really much closer to average than I care to admit.

Project 1612: What is your current work about?

Dioramas of significant rooms in Barbie's adult life hanging on her studio wall.

Dioramas of significant rooms in Barbie's adult life hanging on her studio wall.

Barbie: I am currently working on two major bodies of work. The first is experimentation with paper and silkscreen monoprints, while learning the boundaries and process of printmaking. The second is work using dioramas to depict significant rooms in my adult life. These are dealing with mental illness, decision making, struggle, opportunity, accepting help, overcoming and creating a successful life. 

Project 1612: How long has your studio been at the Prairie Center of the Arts? And can you tell us about your role at the PCA? 

Barbie: I have occupied my studio at Prairie Center of the Arts in the Warehouse District since March of 2017. The Prairie Center accepted me into a 6-month residency the year prior, yet, my father became very ill and passed away in September of that year. Fortunately, Joe and Michele Richey gave me time to grieve until I was ready to move forward. I accepted their invitation for my residency. I have now been here for nearly a year and a half. My nature is to take care of my surroundings and integrate the people who intersect with my life. I help with activities and community building which has resulted in a good working relationship. I am a volunteer.

Barbie's work table filled with artwork, newspaper clippings, and notes and artwork from other artists.

Barbie's work table filled with artwork, newspaper clippings, and notes and artwork from other artists.

Project 1612: You also just started an arts meeting called ‘The Bimonthlies.’ What is the purpose of this meeting? 

Barbie's desk with knock-knacks and gifts from artists.

Barbie's desk with knock-knacks and gifts from artists.

Barbie: The Bimonthlies is to provide a platform for the many visual arts organizations, groups, and galleries, educators, and artists in our region. We come for an hour meeting every other month to learn about and further integrate with each other. It was created with enthusiasm and vision of one of the co-creators of Project 1612, Jessica Bingham. Jess and I pitched to Kate Schureman of the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Jenn Gordon of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois who also enthusiastically came on board to explore the possibilities. The meetings are held at the Peoria Riverfront Museum and ArtsPartners assists with promotion of the event. 

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Barbie: Be fearless. Step out of your comfort zone. Surround yourself with people who are positive, trustworthy, and motivated. I practice defining what I want to create in my life and then put together a loose strategy of how to achieve that. Then, with risk and persistence, I pursue those goals. Another key component to success is to assist others in the pursuit of their goals. This is where I learn a great deal about art and life. 

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Barbie: I believe the Arts community in Central Illinois is strong and vibrant. Frankly, there is so much to do and participate in that it is impossible to do it all. And this is just talking about the visual arts, it does not include the other thriving Arts happening in our area. 

However, I also see a need for community building and higher levels of cooperation between our artists and arts organizations. These stronger relationships and alliances are what will bring our Region to the next level as a destination for the Arts. We have done a really good job of creating a foundation for the arts. However, my professional experience in community and tourism development tells me is that we collectively need to change our strategy and build momentum move forward. Our strategy needs to focus our activities on becoming a larger destination or we will continue to perform only foundational results. I believe we have the resources, talent, and people to get there. We just need to do it together. 

Of importance is that incredibly diverse offerings we have: museum, park district, retail, ArtsPartners, Heartbreaker Studio, Project 1612, The Peoria Art Guild, Persimmon Lofts rts and events, Collecture, Prairie Center of the Arts, Illinois Art League and the other awesome art organizations, Bradley University, Illinois Central College, a vibrant First Friday started up by CIAO and the spinoffs throughout the month. I could go on and on about the good stuff happening here the incredible, wonderful artists and supporters we have here. It’s a really good time to be into art in Central Illinois.

Barbie standing in her art-filled studio.

Barbie standing in her art-filled studio.

Barbie Perry is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of her work can be found on here

Alec DeJesus

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Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

Alec: Initially I would describe my art as a combination of abstract and surreal figurative; however, as many artists would say it tends to be more than that. More often than not my work is very intuitive even to the point that I don't always know what I’m going to paint, nor what it will become. I try to just turn off and clear my mind when I paint and let the subject flow through me. It’s very meditative in that way. My figures and the objects around them tend to include a lot of hidden symbolism as of late, so the longer you look at my work the more you are rewarded. The subjects themselves all display a sort of pride and power through struggle; which is something myself and many others relate to.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Alec: In short: A view of a better life. I  started to use art at an early age as a way to escape a rough upbringing and in doing so I was granted this fulfillment that I couldn't get anywhere else, and that's a feeling that's always stuck with me. In the good times along with the bad, art is something I've always been able to turn to. I’ve never had things easy so I built up this “fiery” sort of ambition and luckily that has been key in helping me take this escape and turn it into my “better” life.

Project 1612: You recently moved your studio to your apartment, which has a very bohemian feel I must say, and are painting in the kitchen. Was this an easy transition for you?

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Alec: It’s definitely a move someone should REALLY consider if they have a studio and are wanting to fully immerse themselves in their art by means of bringing their creative workspace into their home. I tend to work big so at times it can be a struggle to fit in all the ideas into a smaller space, but at the same time, it creates a lot more opportunity to paint without having to commute. While I have drastically reduced my space I have been able to eliminate a lot of the excuses and distractions that would keep me from making the trek to my former studio. This works for me, but I know for some it’s almost like going to the gym in the sense of needing a designated space away from home in order to “work out”.

Project 1612: Can you talk a little about the meaning behind your work? I notice that imagery of children show up often and am curious if there a reason for this?

Alec: Something I mentioned previously is using art to escape a rough childhood, and it certainly has shown in my adult work. In a way lately, I have been reclaiming my childhood through my paintings by using a childlike figure to show a power in youth who strive for great things. I had to grow up really fast and wasn't able to enjoy being a kid for very long. This in a manner of speaking allows me to revisit the wonder of being a kid and celebrate the importance of allowing creativity to flourish at a young age. Another common theme in my work is showing figures who have an air of strength and pride. Souls that have had to work hard and have had to really earn their place in life through overcoming their obstacles and persevering have always seemed to hold more meaning to me and I try to relay my appreciation for that strength in my paintings. It’s something I can relate to, and I really think that those things are important to take a long look at.

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Project 1612: I know you just completed a public art project with a few other Peoria artists. Tell me about that project and how has public art has influenced your work?

Alec: I won't speak for everyone in the group, but I know for me it was chock-full of learning experiences. It was different from working on my previous murals because I was working with other artists, and not students. We all have our pros and cons which is important to consider when joining a group project, along with all of us having different skills and styles. It really pushed me to think more as a whole and less as an individual. When I’m working on public art I have noticed how in small ways my method and style has changed. When you're in a studio painting away, the piece doesn't have to look “good” until it gets hung on a gallery wall. When you’re creating something that's out in the open world you almost have to put on a show and try to leave it aesthetically pleasing by the end of each session, because the general public will look at it every day and you want to give them eye candy and not an eyesore.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Alec: My biggest problem is getting a good block of time to work on paintings. With having a full-time job, being heavily involved with multiple art organizations and life in general; my life is hectic, to say the least. Sometimes I have to edit my plans or meetings just to try to get time to work on my own practice. Something that I am currently working on is balancing my community efforts with my own personal ventures and making it so I prioritize my own art career more often. I tend to try to take on most projects that get sent my way, but more and more I am learning to not spread myself too thin and be ok with turning down opportunities that might push me away from my personal goals.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Alec: At all times you need to feed the fire that drives your passion. You really have to love what you do and remind yourself why you do it in the first place. Those things can be forgotten and neglected way easier than one may think, and you can fall out of love with your chosen path and be driven to give it up. I’ve been there, and it's incredibly hard to come back from. If even in those low moments you push through, you can reignite that drive and accomplish way more than your doubtful mind may lead you to believe.

Hank, the best studio buddy ever.

Hank, the best studio buddy ever.

Project 1612: Do you have anything coming up you would like everyone to know about?

Alec: Currently I am working on what will be my last local show in Peoria; which will be at Ear In the Envelope for their September First Friday. I am really trying to throw myself into this one so I encourage everyone who can make it to come out.

Project 1612: My last question is typically “What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?” But it is my understanding that you are moving to Texas in the next few months. So I’ll ask instead, what do you think you miss most about the art community in Central IL?

Alec: I think what I will miss the most will be some of the people I have met through this journey as an artist. This is where I decided to become an artist and will always be a defining chapter in my life. This ride hasn’t always been good or easy, but I owe everything I am to the experiences I have had here and to walk away from a community that I put so much of myself into will be a big yet necessary move in order to further my career as an artist.

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Alec DeJesus is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of his work can be found on here