Janet Eskridge studied early childhood education at St. Andrews College in NC. Her first (and only) teaching job was in a rural elementary school next to a cotton field, her first-graders coming from homes with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing.
She loved watching her students discover the joy of making a colorful masterpiece and noticed that regardless of their challenges at home, many were incredibly creative. This was the beginning of her deep interest in creativity and wellness. She earned a master’s in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and developed a creative arts program to provide experiences to patients facing life-altering health challenges at the Children’s Hospital And Medical Center in Omaha, NE.
Now, Eskridge devotes full-time attention to creating encaustic assemblages from her studio in Lincoln, NE.
How did you get started as an artist?
I have always been interested in art. I grew up in a family that supported the arts and encouraged my interest in art. When we traveled, we visited museums and galleries. I took lessons at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I always had some sort of creative project in process, from drawing to painting to creating something with fibers. In 1990, I began a master’s program in Art Therapy and Creativity Development at Pratt Institute in New York City. An integral part of my studies, the art I created at that time related to my inner life and was very personal. When I completed my degree in 1992, I continued to make art and began to experiment with a variety of materials and techniques. I was especially drawn to collage and assemblage, and later to encaustic.
In 2006, I finally got the courage to apply for a juried exhibition at a local art gallery and was accepted. When I was walking to the opening, I passed a friend on the street who told me both of my pieces had already sold, which was a huge boost to my confidence! I have been making and exhibiting art since that time. In short, I would say that my artistic life started when I was a small child making art on the kitchen table and has evolved into an enormously fulfilling passion.
How does your love of nature influence your art?
My childhood home was in a wooded part of Houston, Texas. I spent hours playing in the woods and arranging sticks, rocks and pine needles into artistic installations. I loved collecting treasures, hiding and re-discovering them. I was especially fascinated by the textures, colors and shapes found in the natural world.
How does your sense of connection between creativity and wellness also influence your art?
Throughout history, people have used the arts in daily life and rituals to generate healing and to foster wellness. I had the privilege of developing and coordinating a healing arts program at a children’s hospital for approximately 15 years. Engaging in creative activities gave patients opportunities to express their emotions as well as to have fun and to relax. So I have witnessed the link between creativity and wellness in very powerful ways among children dealing with major health challenges.
My own creative journey, while less dramatic, has had similar positive effects. I long for time in my studio, where I can get lost in the process of creation. I love taking an empty box and making a world within that space with objects, images and text — a metaphor for discovery and change.
Can you tell us a bit about your technique?
My work contains collage, assemblage and encaustic. I usually work in old boxes, combining layers of paper with images and text. I often use machine and/or hand stitching. I love vintage papers and other old objects. I especially like power tools such as drills and saws, which I use to alter the boxes.
My pieces contain messages and tell stories. Adding encaustic allows underlayers to become visible and adds a sense of the ethereal. My technique has many facets and steps and it is my hope that the outcome is work that engages and touches the viewer. I have an intuitive way of working.
While I may make some preliminary sketches, I do not have a sense of what the finished piece will look like. I allow the images and text to guide the direction of each piece and see my role as an artistic midwife. I always try to include a different technique in each piece. I use glue as little as possible. I attach elements with sewing and hardware, making them durable and strong.
What is a typical workday like for you?
My studio is in our condo, located in a downtown Lincoln, NE. So going to work means heading down a flight of stairs to a converted guest room.
I work best with a schedule. My ideal day starts with exercise, Tai Chi and meditation. These practices are both energizing and calming. At the end of each workday, I make a note to remind me of my first studio task the next morning so that I don’t get distracted.
I work for a couple of hours before taking a lunch break, when I check email and return messages. While I am working, I try to limit interruptions, which often means that my phone stays out of my studio. I try to work for several hours in the afternoon. If I need a break, I take a walk outside. I am involved in a couple of regular volunteer activities that keep me engaged in the world beyond my studio. I am a firm believer in a balance between solitary time and interaction with others. I think balance is essential to a productive creative life.
What’s your favorite thing about being an artist?
I love having the privilege of putting my inner voice into a concrete form. There are stories in my head that are asking to be told. I can’t imagine not having an outlet for them.
I love having the opportunity to share my work with others. Being an artist has helped me to be mindful of details in my world that are inspiring and keep me focused on what is right here before me now.
I also love that each day presents technical challenges to be resolved and no two days are ever alike. Every day is a creative adventure.
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