Steph Van Doren

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

 Various finished and in-progress oil paintings. 

Various finished and in-progress oil paintings. 

Steph: I consider my current paintings abstractions of Midwest nature. I shoot photos of plants and trees that I can see in my immediate environment. Using cropped areas of branches, leaves and shadows, as reference, I reduce each to the bare essentials of line, color, shape and light, independent of visual reference to the real.  

Project 1612: What drives your practice

Steph: An absolute passion for the process.  

Project 1612: What role does photography play in your process?

Steph: Photography has always been an integral part of my life.  My grandfather was a photographer and I grew up with a camera in my hand.  Until recently, photography and painting were separate processes in my artistic practice. With this current body of work, I am using my own photographs to inspire my paintings, merging the two for the first time.

Project 1612: Tell us about the connection between your sculptural pieces and your paintings?

Steph: My earlier sculptural work was also inspired by local nature. They were based on seed pods and regional colors.

Project 1612: How do you factor color into your works, and what influences the color choices?  

 Steph showing an older painting that has been stored behind her painting station. She explains how her past work has influenced her current body of work. 

Steph showing an older painting that has been stored behind her painting station. She explains how her past work has influenced her current body of work. 

Steph: I reference colors I see around me. I love the play of light on objects during different seasons. 

Project 1612: Explain the role shadows play in your work.

Steph: Shadows can be evidence of an object, without actually seeing the source. I love that it is an additional step away from the reference to the real.  

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

Steph: The biggest problem I face in the studio is time. I recently left one of the many jobs I worked to support my practice, to focus more on my art.  

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

Steph: My advice to aspiring artists is:  If you can do anything else, do it.  But if art is who you are and there isn’t anything else you can/want to do, then make art.  It may not always be great art (some of it will be really bad), but make it anyway.  

 Many plants hang in Steph's studio right beside the huge windows in The Mill. Her plants often show up abstracted in her paintings. 

Many plants hang in Steph's studio right beside the huge windows in The Mill. Her plants often show up abstracted in her paintings. 

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

Steph: I will be exhibiting at Ear in the Envelope (Peoria, IL) in August 2018.

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

Steph: The art community in Central Illinois is more diverse and larger than most people realize.  I am constantly amazed at the depth of creativity, the quality of artistic practice and collaboration opportunities available in Central Illinois.

 Steph sitting on her studio table surrounded by paintings and plants. 

Steph sitting on her studio table surrounded by paintings and plants. 

Steph Van Doren is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More work can be found on her website here

Jaci Musec

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

 Jaci's studio wall filled with various abstract paintings. 

Jaci's studio wall filled with various abstract paintings. 

Jaci: My work is abstract, intuitive, colorful and bold. The focus shifts and bends naturally with the rhythm of my life. As I live I create. My process is an exploration and expression of my emotions. I choose to work with acrylic paint and mixed media to explore themes of Infertility, Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety, Human Connection and Self- love. There is a portion of my work that focuses on conveying specific messages, whether that be a  storytelling abstract, or a piece in my “I AM ENOUGH” series. All of my work comes from a deep longing to connect, to be understood and to express myself.

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

Jaci: The shift began in 2014. I started actively working on the way I thought about myself. I would say that I fully embraced my identity as an artist early in 2015. However, there are still days I find myself needing validation.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Jaci: Some days, I wake up and I feel in my bones the need to create. The need to paint and sing and write and make and move. Other days it is further from my grasp. My practice is really at its core, for me. I am not working to produce, or to “succeed”, I do it because it makes me feel alive. And I have found that using my artistic expression touches lives, empowers others, brings joy and healing, which helps me to recognize that I am exactly where and who I need to be. Who I was created to be.  And it’s fun, I really enjoy what I do.

 A view of Jaci's studio table with watercolor paintings and canvas paintings stacked. 

A view of Jaci's studio table with watercolor paintings and canvas paintings stacked. 

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

Jaci: My problems in the studio stem from my humanity. It’s too hot, I arrive and I am hungry, I need a nap, I have more stuff than space to put it or they are things that are out of my control... a seeping wall that leaks when it rains. I try my best to shift my perspective so that these issues become opportunities.

A year ago, when I took a leap of faith and moved in, I worried that the cost associated with having a studio outside of my home would be a huge issue, luckily that hasn’t been a problem. But I am human, so I worry and I don’t enjoy being uncomfortable. I try to adapt. I bought a love seat for a cozy place to rest and reflect. I bring fans in and adjust my studio hours when the heat is too much. I clear the area near the seeping wall. I try not to put too much pressure on myself if depression or anxiety has me away from the studio too long. I actively work to be gentle with myself and to remember that it is a joy and a privilege to do what I do.

Project 1612: Can you talk about your first series, Healing Collection?

Jaci: The Healing Collection is a compilation of work that I created from the beginning of my art journey up until my first solo exhibit in fall of 2016.  It was during this time of my life that my husband and I were several years into our Infertility journey and I had come to a point where I needed to actively work on ways to pull myself out of a despair. I was struggling to cope, dealing with depression, anxiety and the trauma of undergoing treatment.  Each of the paintings created space for healing. Painting became a new path of coping with the struggles I was navigating. It was a safe place for me to allow myself to explore all of my emotions. It was also a safe place for me to have a reprieve from the stress and uncertainty of my life. When preparing for my first art exhibit at The Art Garage, I reflected on the work I had been creating. As I looked back on that period of time that I created these pieces they were truly all little lifeboats of healing for me. I didn’t intend for them to become a collection, but they were so obviously a documentation of my healing journey that they took on the name.

Project 1612: You recently started a new collaborative project, can you tell us more about that?

 Jaci's studio is located in Studio's on Sheridan. This window is a view into her studio where she hangs smaller works for passers-by to see. 

Jaci's studio is located in Studio's on Sheridan. This window is a view into her studio where she hangs smaller works for passers-by to see. 

Jaci: I am so excited about this experimental project. It is a live/recorded video collaboration series called “In the Company of Mavens”.  I have a core team of local female artists that are working with me to launch this idea. Our goal is to collaborate with one another and other local artists to create a community of female-led creative content that will inspire and connect the community of emerging local artists and the community of Peoria. Each episode will be a combination of recorded content and live video streaming from my studio in The Sunbeam Building.  The idea is to invite viewers behind the scenes of our creative collaboration, allowing the viewer to see the ways we each express ourselves, our creative process and how we interact with one another. The first episode will be released early April 2018. It will feature myself and Sarah Nesbit as well as, two local female musicians Sarah Marie (Dillard) Mooberry and Jessica Wilson. We intend to release no less than 8 videos with the hope of having a special art exhibit featuring the work created during the filming of the series later in 2018.   

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

 Her studio door is fantastic. Jaci painted it in the style of her paintings. 

Her studio door is fantastic. Jaci painted it in the style of her paintings. 

Jaci: Start. Do. Create. Work to quiet the voice of self-judgment. Explore. Remember that you are in charge of how you feel and think about the work you create. Be patient. Things may not fall into place as quickly as you hope, but working on the things that make you feel alive and energized will, over time, become a body of work that will speak to your authentic self. The act of creating, the process of it… will change and lead and shape you, let it. And when you feel scared, lean into that, life is so scary and putting yourself out there is a risk, but it is the only way worth living.  Lastly, believe in your voice, your unique perspective, your story… only you can tell it.

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

Jaci: I am thrilled to be a part of the art community in Central Il.  It has been so welcoming and encouraging to me to take my biggest leaps here.  I am amazed and encouraged by the sheer number of talented artists living and working here. I feel like the community is growing and I hope to see it become an even MORE valued, vital and vibrant asset to the region.

 Jaci sitting in her studio with her dog Ellie. Behind them is a wall full of abstract paintings. 

Jaci sitting in her studio with her dog Ellie. Behind them is a wall full of abstract paintings. 

Jack Musec is an artist based in Peoria, IL.

Yonni - aka Infinity

  Unravel Me  - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Unravel Me - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Project 1612/Hanna Offutt: How would you describe the art you make?

Infinity:  I would say it’s feminine and edgy, Abstract and Surreal.

Project 1612/HO: What is your medium?

Infinity: I paint on drywall, and I use acrylic paint and Tempera paint. I use a lot of mixed media to make my abstract pieces.

Project 1612/HO:  What drives your practice? 

Infinity: My emotions, how I'm feeling at that time and music are a key factor, but my family and goals also drive me. When I have creative blocks my daughter and I will create some pieces together.

Project 1612/HO: Do you have a favorite artist(s)? Why are they your favorite?

  Dead or Alive  - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Dead or Alive - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Infinity: An artist I admire is my friend Tiff also know as Teedeecreations. She has given me great advice since day one. And our visions are kind of similar. She's also a great artist. Very feminine and sexy. She lives in Texas and she has her own black-owned shop called Art Body and Soul. Check it out. 

Project 1612/HO: What are your artistic goals?

Infinity: I want to be a well-known artist. I want people to see a piece of my art and say “Yea, that's a Yonni piece.” Or “I know her work.” I also want to give back to the youth. I have goals to someday have a business that reaches out to high schools through the arts. But, that's all still in the works. 

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

Infinity: Don't stop. There will be days where your creative juices aren't flowing like they were the day before and that's okay. Take breaks and go in at it again the next day. Don't forget it's about doing what you love and this isn't a race. It's about accomplishing your goals and doing what you love no matter how long it takes to get there. Ride your own wave. Constantly, trying to keep up with the next can be stressful and divert you from your actual goal: winning and being you.

Project 1612/HO: Do you have any thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Infinity: While I was here I wanted to help Illinois grow in the art world and I did by being with a group of wonderful artist in a group exhibition called February Flowers. The diversity is starting to grow in the art community and I am overall excited about that and being able to be apart of that is amazing.

  Mixed Thoughts  - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Mixed Thoughts - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

  Recieve  - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Recieve - Tempera and Acrylic on Drywall, 2017

Yoni is an artist based in Peoria, IL.

This interview was conducted by Project 1612 and Hannah Offutt