Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I think most artists know how hard the eyes are to represent in any form. Getting them symmetrical, catching those finite details, making sure one isn’t bigger than the other; eyes are just super hard. So I was obviously drawn into Jaime Shive’s work right away when I saw pretty much an entire booth of eyes looking back at me. Shive is an excellent painter whose whimsical portraits bring real life and fantasy together into awesome, fun to look at pieces. But what really pulled me into her work was her series of pendants, jewelry, and ceramic hands that feature eyes jutting out of objects looking right back at you. The pieces themselves are decoratively painted but these eyes that just burst off of the surface really draw you in. Shive’s body of work is extremely diverse but still holds the same style and touch throughout it. I was fortunate enough to get to chat with her about the development of her style, body of work, and all off the different things she does and I think it was an awesome interview. She gave great, in depth answers and we hope you enjoy!
1. So to start off, tell me a little bit about your background in art. What got you started? Any schooling? Big inspirations? Anything and everything that makes you the artist that you are!
One of my very vivid childhood memories is of staying up late, like really late for a 9 year old, 2 AM or so, to finish a Crayola marker and colored pencil drawing I was working on. I can still picture the drawing clear as day. My parents never said no to buying books or art supplies so it was always something I pursued, although I didn’t take it seriously until high school when I had an amazing teacher who pushed me to stretch my boundaries beyond basic portraits and still lifes.
I graduated in 1994 and went on to Tyler School of Art, where for some stupid ass reason I convinced myself I should major in graphic design. To my credit, I lasted until my senior year until dropping out, completely burnt out and disillusioned. For fifteen years after college, I didn’t paint. I did other crafty, creative stuff, but I didn’t paint.
In about 2015, I started watching painting time lapse and tutorial videos on YouTube. One day I picked up my dried as hell watercolor palette I’d been dragging around since college, and started painting along with these videos. I produced the most embarrassing portrait I could imagine, but I posted it on Facebook. What happened was I got more likes and positive comments on it by far, than anything else I had ever posted anywhere ever. And it created this weird feeling of validation I don’t think I ever experienced before. Social media got me back into feeling confident and driven about art, which feels so lame to say, but its really true.
2. Starting off with your painting work, you've got this beautiful style that blends the real with the whimsical and sometimes macabre. How do decide what you're adding into these images? And how do you relate them? Is this process heavily planned out or do you just sort of dive in?
With the paintings, I usually choose a selfie (I take reference pics for later use almost daily) and have an inkling of an idea, and then dive into my elaborately organized Pinterest boards for inspiration. I pull reference from a ton of sources and as I do, they just sort of fuse with the portrait in my head. I will create a reference image, combining Photoshop mockups, Procreate sketches, pencil and paper renderings, color studies, and then grid the canvas and transfer the final sketch that way, redrawing the whole thing so I can make changes in the moment if I need to. I then paint until I’m happy with it, sometimes changing nothing from the original idea, and sometimes transforming the original intent into something completely different.
I always choose my canvas and media before I choose what I want to paint. I like to see the surface and materials I’m going to be painting with in my head as I’m generating ideas so I can visualize the final piece on the actual surface.
I’m primarily drawn to using natural elements in my work - fungi, insects, small creatures like bats and birds, and fusing them directly with me, either crawling on, coming in, growing out of... I like to see it as me figuring out my place in the world, where I fit, how I fit, if I fit. I try not to ascribe too much direct symbolism to the elements I include in each painting as I’m working, working on intuition and going back and analyzing the finished piece like I’m looking at it from outside myself when it is complete.
The naming process is important as well - after reflection on the finished piece I take some time to research each element I’ve included - scientifically, spiritually, symbolically, and wait until something clicks. I’m a strong believer that things name themselves (paintings, pets, and people included) and so I do my reading and research and let the painting tell me its name when it’s ready.
[It’s really not as woo~woo and vibey as I probably sound, but that’s just what works for me.]
3. Next, I'd like to talk about the work that I got to see a lot of in person and that's these eyes and hands. Eyes are no doubt one of the hardest parts of the human anatomy to paint or draw so what drew you towards using this as a primary subject? How did it develop into these pendants and hand sculptures? What is the process like in creating these because it appears there's multiple mediums at work?
Eyes have always been a favorite thing to paint despite how challenging they are (I’m improving gradually!).
For the past 6 years I have been the event planner and online marketing manager for 3 paint-your-own pottery studios. I have a lot of unpainted bisque laying around at my house. One night I just got this image in my head of this hand with an eye in the palm, in a black dress with rose print and lace-trimmed sleeves. I happened to have a bisque ring holder in the shape of a life sized hand, and just started painting it with acrylic paint. And I hated it. It was flat and despite being on a 3-dimensional surface, it was still too lifeless for me. I took some air dry clay I had on hand and sculpted the eye, assuming it wouldn’t work, that the clay would just fall off. But it didn’t. After painting it, I added additional elements to make the hand look as “real” as I wanted - false eyelashes from my makeup drawer, lace trim from my sewing kit. Something just clicked, with the eye, the sculptural form, the incorporation of found elements - I feel like I hit on something that really resonated with me.
I feel like a staring, realistic eye makes any piece more relatable to people. A ceramic box with centipedes crawling on it might not resonate with many people, but when you add an eye staring back at them, I think the dynamic changes. I set up a challenge for myself - how can I incorporate an eye into every single painted pottery piece I create? I love the challenge of creating a little universe and story for each individual piece. And I love incorporating found elements - shells, twine, hand placed gems and flecks of glass glitter, plastic toys and flowers.
4. What are the big process differences in creating standard paintings versus creating the eye pendants or hands? What are the similarities?
With the pottery pieces, I feel like each is part of its own little world, separate from me, like a little stand alone narrative. My paintings, however, kind of all exist together in the same universe, explorations of the same interior landscape of my head.
The pottery goes through a different planning process - find the story I want to tell, gather reference, create a life sized sketch, pull together all the found elements, and then paint. I know exactly what they piece is going to look like in my head, so it’s just a matter of taking the steps to make it happen on the piece.
There has been some cross over as I learned to mount paintings on paper to canvas and wood panels - I’ve started incorporating the same 3D found elements from the pottery into my final paintings.
5. Are there any new experiments or directions that you plan to take your work? What's on tap for future works?
Diving into new mediums including gouache and oil paint has been challenging and exciting, as well as painting much larger than I am usually comfortable with on new surfaces like stretched canvas and cradled wood panels. I am fortunate to have a handy as hell dad with a full in-house wood shop, and we love working on projects together. We have been planning and making custom wood framing for my larger pieces. I’m really enjoying the possibilities that incorporating 3D elements into my paintings opens up - I now have quite the collection of interesting little bits and pieces for use in future projects.
Currently I’m working on a series of large canvas portraits in acrylic as well as some smaller watercolor pieces. I have about 5 projects going on and plans for several more in the works. I show both my paintings and pottery locally in the Lehigh Valley area, as well as Philly and NJ several times a year. I have also been working towards creating some public art pieces in Allentown and Bethlehem PA.
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find you? Any shows or events coming up? Let us know anywhere people can find your awesome work!
I occasionally live stream on Twitch when I paint, and post edited videos of painting and rambling videos on YouTube. Progress pics are usually posted on Instagram, and news and events are on Facebook.
My work (and I) can be found online in the following places:
My website and shop: www.jaimeshively.com
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Twitch: JaimeShive