This month UART has a chat with master pastelist Jen Evenhus. Jen is a nationally recognized, award winning artist. She has exhibited work in New York City at the National Arts Club; Denver, Colorado at Carol Siple Gallery; Sacramento and Redding, California; New Orleans at the World Trade Center; Coos Bay and Bend, Oregon and Seattle, Issaquah, Everett, and Anacortes, Washington to name a few. She currently lives in Wenatchee, WA. 

UART: Can you tell us more about yourself and your background?

Jen: Gosh, I’ve been painting forever. I started out pretty young and, by the time I was 22-23, I went into selling and that type of thing. I have basically been a professional artist all my life I enjoy painting a lot more now. I still work at a part-time job three days a week and do a lot of painting in my studio. I try to paint a little bit more plein air and do quite a number of workshops across the country, which is a lot of fun. So yeah, it all keeps me busy and hopping!

UART: Why did you choose pastels as a medium?

Jen: I had a child in my twenties and was working with oils pretty much exclusively. Being a mom with a child and holding down a full-time job at that time didn’t leave me a whole lot of time to paint. I left a lot of oil paint on the palette drying, and that was not very cost effective. I told myself that there’s got to be a better way. I picked up pastels and immediately fell in love with them. And you do not have to spend an hour mixing the paint, you just grab a stick and go for it. I do still paint in oils, but pastels have kind of taken over now. That’s basically why it has just been a medium I love. The brightness and the way you can layer them, make marks and all that kind of stuff. You nowadays have way more options obviously with the different brands of pastels and paper. I pretty much use UART paper exclusively now. And it’s a great medium for spontaneity. I am known for my bold colors and your paper is perfect for that.

UART: Can you describe for us a typical day in the life of Jen Evenhus?

Jen: (Laughs) It might start with checking emails, checking into social media, Facebook, do a little bit of Twitter work, and just kind of see where everything is and check in with people. Depending on the day of the week I like going to the studio and work on some quick sketches. One of my favorite things to do is 10 minute sketches. I do my 10 minute studies, and a lot of them turn into finished paintings because they are so much fun to do. A lot of times I paint during the evenings. I mentioned that I work part-time, so the evening hours are usually mine to work in the studio. There isn’t really a typical day, every day is different, and this is one of the reasons I love being an artist. It’s just different every day. Right now, I’m in the middle of scheduling workshops for next year, and that’s quite involved, between contacting the venues and arranging and getting all the different themes ready for the workshops. I start out with my trademark theme “beauty of imperfection”. I then add a subtext of a sub-theme to it for each workshop, like “less is more” for instance, to focus on. So I am basically working on getting all those workshops ready for the next year.

UART: You have a distinctive style, with broad stroke and stark contrasts, and are known for doing quick paintings. Was it in an effort to stand out from say the usual landscape or still life artists or is something that came naturally?

Jen: Early in my career I kind of worried about having my own style and standing out from the crowd. And the more I focused on it, the more I realized that you cannot create your own style. It will just find you and low and behold it did find me. I think part of my personality is that I get bored very easily, so I don’t like spending a whole lot of time on any one painting. It just kind of came natural to me to do things quickly, and in doing things quickly, like finishing a painting in 10 minutes, I created my style right there. And that style is all about bold strokes, mark making and using a lot of different types of underpainting. I would easily go for a bold pink or even a very dark underpainting on UART paper. And I would intentionally leave a lot of that showing through so that the painting has good harmony. I guess that my style just really found me and I am really having a good time with it. People seem to like it and the different pastels that I use are conducive to creating that style too. I use a lot of the Terry Ludwig and square pastels. I really love that sharp edge. I love doing the 10 minute painting concept and in my workshop I utilize that theory in a lot of the exercises. My students are often kind of shocked and say, “what, we are doing a painting in 10 minutes?” (laughs). But after we do it several times, they are always amazed at the results they can get.

UART: What do you find the most challenging in using pastels?

Jen: That is a good question. I don’t think it has to do with the pastels but more with the stigma of pastels with galleries and the challenge of framing the pastels. I know a lot of people who are now framing without mats and I’ve done that several times in the last year. I like how simple it is to frame without a mat, but I still prefer the look of a pastel painting that got a nice white mat around it.

UART: How does your mood affect your paintings? do you ever get up and say no painting today or do you force yourself to work?

Jen: I really do not take into account whether or not I feel like painting because if an artist waits until they feel like painting they would never go into the studio. I have been painting for so long that I am thrilled to death to go into the studio and see what happens. You never know what is going to happen until you get in there and start putting those pastels on the paper. I am one who totally believes that if you show up good things will happen. You cannot wait until you feel like painting, to have something happen, because it will never happen. I am very disciplined to paint and to get work done. I know that if I only have half an hour, I still have enough time to paint, because I love to paint quickly.

UART: If you had to mentor someone who is brand new to pastels, what advice would you give that person first?

Jen: It’s funny that you ask that question, because I have been mentoring an artist who was a teacher for 30 years. And in 2013, I convinced her to take one of my workshops and that took her right back into it. And she is doing very well. But the first thing that I would suggest for someone that I am mentoring is to draw a lot. Being able to draw is so important. And one of the most important point that I make with my students is to learn composition. Composition for me is number one. To know how to draw and to know composition are the most crucial steps to creating good art. If you can’t draw, you can’t really paint. Especially with pastels. You can obviously do abstract work and what not, but even drawing in abstract work is huge. You also have to work often in order to get better. So working often, drawing and learning composition would be the first things I would teach the student that I am mentoring. Once you are getting good at it, all the other things will come along. And get into the studio. Even if you do not have a studio, just sit down at the table. Draw those salt and pepper shakers, draw those apples. Get your pastels out, and if you have 20 minutes, you can do a 10 minute painting.

UART: Was there a “aha” moment in your career when something clicked?

Jen: About 4 years ago I was painting a picture of one of our cats, and the style just kind of happened. And it is very indicative of how I work today. Very loose, with a lot of mark making and very imperfect. So at that point, I was thinking, “oh, my gosh, this is beautiful, this really feels like me, this is how I want to paint!” And ever since then, I have been refining that style and that is how I finally came up with this trademarked phrase “The Beauty of Imperfection”. I use that in all my workshops. And when I talk about my work, it’s imperfect and has an unfinished feel to it. And I still have that painting. I think it was actually in one of the Pastel 100 competitions. I will have to look back, but there definitely was a moment that made me say, “gosh, that’s it”.

UART: What is your take on the pastel industry today? where do you see it going?

Jen: I am thrilled to see all of the different pastel manufacturers coming out with all those new and vibrant colors. I am very excited about UART. I probably started out using your paper about 4 to 5 years ago. I was painting before on the Sennelier La Carte, which I love, but it has its limitations. You basically cannot get it wet. So seeing people come up with different grounds is wonderful, and now you guys are coming out with the dark version, which I cannot wait to see and start using it. As far as the whole industry is concerned, I know that a lot of the people and companies are promoting the pastels to galleries and educating people. It’s just a constant struggle to convince people that pastels are as worthy as oils. I hope we all keep up the fight.

UART: What is the next step in your career?

Jen: The next step for me is to get into more galleries and to quit my part time job. I am hoping to do that this coming Spring and I am looking forward to that challenge. Because I truly know that art is what I want to do the rest of my life. To cut those dependency strings from that part-time job is going to be huge for me, and once I do that, then I will have the time to create the amount of work I need to put into galleries. This is what is holding me back right now. I have to take the next step, jump off that cliff and fly. I’m looking forward to that.


Lisa’s Rapid Fire Questions:

Favorite food: It’s gotta be pasta.

Favorite drink: Soy chai with white chocolate and coconut, hot and grande!

Favorite movie: Out of Africa

Favorite city: Wenatchee, Washington where I live.

Most amazing place you’ve ever been: Tuscany, Italy

Are you a morning or night owl: Night owl, totally

Next thing you are going to splurge on: A small printing press

3 things you cannot live without: Family, UART paper (laughs) and my cell phone. I use my cell phone a lot

Best gift you ever got: When I was young I got a horse for my birthday

First thing you do in the morning: I walk out to the living room, look out of the window and enjoy the beautiful view I have. Checking out the day and seeing what day it is


You can find more information about Jen on her website: