Jennifer McBrien

Jennifer McBrien

This tote bag is made by Jennifer McBrien, a new artist being showcased at String Theory. We have three styles (to hold different size projects), but each bag is a little different. And look at the pockets inside:

Since Jen is a new to String Theory. I asked her a few questions:

What made you start JennyJen42?

I was a frustrated painter and a High school department chairman of art. I moved from a very urban area of Baltimore, to the first planned neighborhood of Baltimore that had beautiful tree lined streets and wooded lots created in the 1930’s. I had a mulberry tree in my back yard that hosted many bird parties once the berries were ready for picking. I became obsessed with viewing new birds in my yard and started my bird party pillow series. I needed a little relief from my days of teaching and needed to see some form of productivity. The pillows grew into new functional products that reflected my midcentury aesthetic that represented my happy childhood.

Jennyjen42, my business, started over a decade ago, became a unique line of handmade gifts that are fresh, practical and have a fun sense of spirit and nostalgia to them. The “jenny” of my business name refers to my childhood self. The cut felt birds and fabrics that play with whimsy as well as the “Vintage Inspired” organic cotton fabrics. The “jen” of my business is the serious birder and observer that proves I know birds and plants with my observational drawing skills.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

There are many favorites to my creative process. First of all, the inspiration that I find when going to see art exhibits that WOW me. A very recent one happened this week when I went to see the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim in NYC. Her colors, compositions and beautiful line work just amazed me for the period she painted! Since I started my art career as a painter, I tend to go back to that medium for my inspirations.

I also love figuring out how to construct and make each of my products. I tend to only use my own patterns. Unless I get stuck, then I take a pattern and adjust it to make it mine! I am also inspired by the act of drawing with my sewing machine. I only draw with my pen now to get my confidence in my craftsmanship. All my line drawings start with an actual ink drawing. Then I redraw using my quilting machine, which is a Husqvarna Platinum 16.  I am very inspired by nature, mainly birds and plants that tend to get overlooked or ignored. Weeds, edible plants, nuts and seeds are my favorite.

How do your values impact your business?

One of my favorite artists, Margaret Kilgallen, said it once in an interview that truly made an impression on me: she had a “love of things that show evidence of the human hand”.  I have only had one official class in sewing, and that was in Jr. High, in the mid 1970’s. So I pretty much have taught myself how to manipulate the sewing machine to do what I want it to do. I want to present a product that shows the love of the human hand. Not the look of a machine made, factory produced product. That saying, I still value the quality of craft that I am constantly striving for. I want to make a sustainable product made of sustainable materials. I use recycled and organic cotton fabrics.

What are two interesting things you do that aren’t fiber related?

I love to travel. Since I live in a city, I need to have some periods of my year that I am in wide open space. My husband is from Norfolk, England and most of his family still live there, so we explore the UK on numerous occasions. I am an old punk rocker from the early 80’s. I feel like I became an adult in a very profound DIY movement!

What question are you never asked, but would like to answer?

Hmmmmm…good question. How did being a painter compare to being a crafts person? I love trying to melt my past artist painter life into my current craft life. I was a somewhat established painter from the 80’s to the 2000’s. I thought I would never stop painting. I exhibited my work throughout the mid-Atlantic region and won several artist grants as a painter. Diving into the craft world has many similarities but with more exposure to other crafters and artisans; When you do craft shows, it is not only your work, but YOU are on display in your booth. Painting was just your painting for the most part on display. I am so grateful that my teaching career of 30 years took my shyness away. But it also made me a little snarky, due to spending most of that time with high school students!

AS a craftsperson, I have crossed the artistic world on a few occasions, getting my sewn portraits into art exhibits. My favorite piece is titled “The Genealogy of My Imaginary Family”. A series of freehand machine stitched bird portraits that were arranged to reflect a family tree. My goal was to find birds and expressions that reflected my family members. The show it was in was titled “Birdland and Anthropocene” which was at the Peale Museum, Baltimore, Md.

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