New Interview in VoyageLA Magazine!
Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Main.
Jennifer, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I began to discover my love for art as a young girl growing up Las Vegas. I had a lot of different interests like piano, gymnastics, and dance but began to realize that when I would draw or paint it made me feel alive more than anything else! I realized I had a true passion for making art.
One of the memories of passion being sparked early on is when I would visit my grandma who lived in South Pasadena. She’s always had some natural artistic talent and I remember watching her draw as a kid. I was amazed as a scribbly looking thing on a white sheet of paper would develop into a beautiful woman as she effortlessly moved the pencil around. It was magical! Something clicked in me and I knew I had to be able to do the same.
In grade school, I greatly enjoyed art class and would win some awards, but I didn’t really consider becoming an artist. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, a mailman, or a veterinarian! Haha!
By Jr. High I was experiencing all kinds of new intense emotions, thoughts, and desires as those beloved hormones kicked in. I wasn’t sure how to process it all, so I began to draw what I was feeling. People on the school bus would take notice that I was drawing all the time and they’d ask to see. I was surprised by how much they liked what I was doing and as a bit of a shy girl I felt that I had just been given a way to openly communicate deeper things without words. I absolutely loved having the freedom to use my imagination and emotions. I loved creating something out of nothing and having the freedom to express myself however I wished. I loved that there are no rules and to me it was a form of communication I felt much more comfortable with than simply speaking.
By now, I was finishing up Jr High and with this new found love for art, I wanted to pursue it further so I excitedly but nervously auditioned for a magnet arts high school and was accepted to the Las Vegas Academy as a fine art major. I was able to learn a lot of the basic techniques, grow in my talent and during this time my style began to emerge. One of the key things for me was to take a sketchbook everywhere I went and I would draw whatever came to mind. It helped me get feedback and find my artistic voice. I also loved sitting for hours in the ‘art section’ at bookstores and libraries just soaking in the work of my favorite artists starting with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Keith Haring, Frida Kahlo and Marc Chagall.
In highschool I grew in technique and my own style began to develop. I loved participating in our highschool art shows where I would get the chance for people to see what I had created. There was something thrilling, so scary, and vulnerable about it… and I was realizing I loved it! At 16 years old, an opportunity to show my paintings in a popular spot called Mermaid Cafe opened up and that’s where my first art sales began. By the time I was 17, I had made up my mind that I was going to be a full-time artist (which I think freaked my non-artsy parents out a bit! Haha!), but I had a big dream and a clear vision of who I would become one day. It’s like I was possessed by art. I was so focused and driven to create AND to succeed. I believe God planted this vision & drive in my heart and I have never lost sight of it. All I can say is it was much bigger than me but I believed it was possible with God. I had no clue how it would all come together but I began to step out in faith and got started right away!! With the help of my mom I bravely but nervously made an appointment to show my work to a local gallery called Art Encounter when I was a Junior in high school. My portfolio was made of two yellow poster boards that were stapled together with my various works tucked inside. They took a look at my work as my heart was pounding…and luckily they decided to take a chance on it even though they had nothing like it in their gallery. I was THRILLED to say the least!
Within the first week my art began to sell and continued to sell more and more. I was working hard to keep up with schoolwork and create new art for the gallery. To me this confirmed that I was made to do this and I was on the right path! I made up my mind that I would not go to college but instead open up my own art studio and pour myself into being an artist. This went against what everyone thought I should do. I was told I should get some type of degree and have a backup plan but I was determined to listen to what was in my heart. If I wasn’t going to go to college it also meant that I was cut off financially from my parents at 18 so I had to make this work! I got the keys to my own art studio just before graduating high school with the money I was earning from the art sales and devoted myself to creating art. My work continued to sell well and I became the gallery’s best-seller that first year with about 125 paintings sold! The owner of the gallery, Rod Maly, took notice and became my exclusive agent and began to market me and my work all over the country, especially in my hometown of Las Vegas. There was a lot of great press and things were moving quickly in the right direction! I was one happy hard-working young artist!
I have now had the honor and blessing of living my dream as a full-time artist over the past 20 years. I have shown my work in galleries all over the country and in Canada with collectors continuing to grow from all over the world. In 2002, I opened the ‘Jennifer Main Gallery’ in Las Vegas, moving to a few different locations over the years as I had the opportunity to expand. In 2011, God kept impressing on my heart that Los Angeles was to be our new home and to “Go forward” (and Yes, I pray and ask God about everything! He knows what’s up! LOL)…so I trusted his word and in 2012, my husband and I took a big risk and moved everything to downtown Los Angeles. I have always loved busy city life and I had quickly fallen in love with DTLA as we researched where we might live. LA has been a unique exciting journey to say the least! I love living in Downtown LA with my husband! It’s been a mix of experiences; we initially opened our gallery in a trendy live/work space on Main Street and then moved to a storefront gallery in the business district at Grand & Wilshire and now we’ve gone back to a live/work situation to give us more flexibility with our time.
For now my work is primarily available through my website and I participate in some local gallery shows. Often times I travel back to Vegas for various Charity events I paint live for. For a while, I would set up at the DTLA Art Walk out on the street which was a fun way to meet people, but I learned it’s not the best way to make sales. Other times I just set an easel out on a street corner and begin to paint which has been a fun and interesting experience and a good way to introduce myself and my art. My current focus is to turn our live /work space into “The House of Joy” where various creative classes and fun gatherings will happen. It’ll be part gallery, part classes, part art studio. I just want a funky eclectic environment that people can come together and leave inspired, empowered, and full of joy!
It’s been an exciting journey to see where art can take you. It definitely hasn’t always been easy and it takes a lot of steadfast faith, hard work and persistence but I would never have it any other way and I LOVE what I do and can’t wait to see how the future continues to unfold! I feel it’s still only just the beginning and I am deeply thankful to all who have supported what I do over the years!
Has it been a smooth road?
Overall I would say it’s been a smooth road partly because I choose to see it as a smooth road and I look for the good in everything, even when things don’t seem so smooth! I have a deep trust that God’s got my back and he causes things to work as I keep stepping out and doing the best I know how. Some challenges that have come up as a full-time artist are those periods where sales get slow and I freak out a bit. I’ve had to learn to keep myself encouraged and to keep creating anyway because I remind myself for 20 years that it’s all worked out and it’ll continue to work out!
Some challenging things about starting out here is that LA can be very expensive. The cost of living was a huge increase for us compared to Las Vegas so to have a gallery and an apartment was a financial challenge at times and that’s why we went back into a live/work space. The fact that there’s a large amount of artists here who all want to ‘make it’ could be seen as a challenge, but I never want to let that be an excuse because that’s where I know faith, focus, and hard work payoff and that nothing is impossible. I just gotta stay in my lane and as they say ‘you do you boo’!
Specific challenges from when we had our retail gallery open on Wilshire and Grand would be that sometimes it would get vandalized. The windows would get tagged, things would get broken, homeless would be at our door front sleeping, and once we began to give to some of the homeless they would take advantage of the kindness and we had a whole crew of them coming into our store everyday so we had to continue to help out but set some boundaries. Haha!
One of the very first memories when were brand new to town and we opened our loft gallery on Main street & 7th is that we put a sandwich board sign out on the street and we got a call from the leasing office to let us know someone was licking our sign!!! Hahaha!!! That’s so DTLA!!
Even in our current place we’ve woken up to our big windows being tagged overnight and someone broke in and took some of my supplies. City life might not be for everyone, but I absolutely love it along with all of it’s “crazy”!
Some of these things are just part of being in the city and it’s really no big deal, but I’m encouraged to have seen lots of improvement on cleaning up DTLA and making it feel safer. There’s been significant improvements over the past years and I am so excited to see it transform!
Overall I would not say LA is not easy but anything is possible if you go after it with a bulldog persistence and stay flexible. Be open to trying new things to find what works and what doesn’t.
Personal challenges have also been very much a part of my journey and have also been where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I have learned from experience that some of the best art can potentially come out of the darkest or hardest times. I secretly struggled with anxiety, depression, and alcoholism for a chunk of my life and being able to put that struggle on the canvas or in a sketchbook was often a life-saver for me. Ultimately as my struggle with those things increased in my mid-twenties I asked God to help me find the purpose and joy in life and for the short story he met me in my darkness and took me on a journey into so much freedom and healing. Now a lot of my work is inspired by the joy he’s given me and I want others to know how good and real Jesus is!
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am an artist living & working in Downtown LA with my husband. My work is currently available online or to be seen by appointment at my studio in the DTLA Jewelry District. Some exciting news moving forward is that soon my DTLA Studio will be called the “House of JOY” and it’ll be open to the public. It’s going to be a funky inspiring space that’s part gallery, part studio, and part creative space. I’ll be offering a mix of classes and gatherings with the hopes of leaving people inspired, empowered, and full of joy! Watch my website for updates.
My work is known for its bold vibrant color and bringing people into my whimsical world. I like painting exaggerated abstract figures from my imagination and use my work to illustrate the ups and downs of life’s beautiful journey. Much of my work is also inspired from vision God shows as I sit with him, so then I get to paint the unseen spiritual side of life as well. My goal is to share my heart openly and stay vulnerable on the canvas because I believe it keeps it real and relatable. My paintings are less about decoration and more about a message or deeper story. I have always been drawn to the duality of everything and enjoy themes of good vs. evil, happy vs. sad, light vs. dark, and pain vs. pleasure. You can’t have one without the other and it intrigues me. With all my work, I hope to encourage, relate and inspire.
As an artist and entrepreneur, I believe it is so important to give back to the community so I do a lot with painting live at local charities and giving my work to be auctioned off. Other times I will speak or teach to inspire others to know they can live out their dreams and to help unlock the creativity in people!
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I do feel like Los Angeles is a good place for a business like ours. As an artist I love that this city is filled with artists so there’s a lot of value on the arts and an overall understanding in the community that art matters. I came from Las Vegas and didn’t have any roots or connections in LA so at first the hugeness of the city with all its options seemed overwhelming, yet exciting. I had to do my research about what areas, places, and events to connect to. If you take the time to research, be proactive about finding what you’re looking for and then go out & meet people in the community it gets the ball rolling. In LA, I feel that it’s a great place to start if you’re willing to go after what you want. You can’t be passive or you’ll get lost in the mix.
Some challenging things about starting out here is that LA can be very expensive and there’s a huge amount of artists who all want to make it but at the same time I never want to let there be an excuse because that’s where I know faith, focus, and hard work payoff and that I just need to stay in my lane and do my thing!
One advantage is that with so many people living here that means it’s just that many more people who can connect with what you do.
Overall I love LA. I love all the opportunity and the variety of people, cultures, and places. I think it’s a great place to start if you take advantage of what’s available…and sometimes to stand out you need to take a risk and do something different. Trust that weird idea inside you that you’re kinda scared to do and DO IT!
Check out more inspiring stories at VoyageLA.com