Featured Artist Jody Bergsma
By Sumara Love
Internationally acclaimed artist, Jody Bergsma is best known for her fantasy figures brought to life in vivid color and detail along with evocative watercolors depicting wildlife with subtle cultural imagery and symbolism. She is also a successful writer and illustrator for popular children’s books as well as the CEO of her own international business. In this exclusive Celestopea Times interview she gives us a little insight into her success, her philosophy and her vision.
Jody, I understand that you began painting as a child because you had nightmares and your Mother told you that if you painted them, they would no longer scare you. Did it work?
So did it work? Did the nightmares go away?
Yes, the nightmares went away.
Well then I guess we have your nightmares to thank for your initial inspirations as a painter.
Not only that but when you try to draw from your dreams or nightmares, you are actually being asked to do something different than what most people are asked, which is to draw from non-reality. The path that leads to a developed imagination is a much different direction than what most children take.
And your paintings have always been very imaginative, which I’m sure is why they have always had such broad appeal. So you were already painting on a professional basis by the time you were a teenager. Had you any formal training at that point?
No. I think what I would recommend for parents with artistic kids is just to make sure that you get good art supplies. My Grandmother bought me my first set of professional water colors when I was 8 and I remember it being a very big event. I didn’t realize at the time though that I was actually seeing my future.
You trained in college as an engineer. That would seem to be a profession internally at odds with the free-flowing creativity of an artist. How did you reconcile the two and what helped you to finally make a commitment to solely being an artist?
Well, I think that the uniqueness in my personality is that I have the ability to do something like engineering and also be creative. Some people only work inside the box and then others are very creative and open to inspiration. For me this is something that has always been equal in my psyche. Living in more of a right-handed world I think has helped to bring both of those aspects together within me.
I went to Engineering school because I didn’t want to be poor. The situation was, when I was going to school I had gone to my first art show at the age of 15 and made $60 and then that escalated rapidly so that by the time I was a senior in college I was making over $10,000 a month selling prints of my work. However, being Dutch and very practical, I believed that I needed to be an engineer because I would be broke as a painter. In spite of myself, I became an artist.
How long have you had your gallery in Bellingham?
You know, it will be 20 years. I will be closing it right around the 20th anniversary.
Why Bellingham? Is it the area that you grew up in?
I was born in Bellingham and once you get a business started in an area, it is very hard to move with all of the employees. And then I had to face the fact that I would to have shut down the business for a time if I moved, so I just stayed in Bellingham.
I notice you use a lot of symbols in your art. Do symbols have a special meaning to you and are there significant or subtle things you are trying to convey by including symbols in your art?
You have to go back to the fact that I was an engineering student and take a look at the impact of geometry in my education and it all makes sense. I also like aboriginal symbols because I think they are very beautiful and when you think about it, the Judaic Christian culture is pretty much devoid of symbology and sacred symbols because they just have a very negative take on what they would call graven images. In Christianity you don’t have many accepted symbols and yet all these other cultures are just ripe with them. Geometry as a symbolic language has a strong foothold in older cultures around the world. Many actually called it Sacred Geometry, the secret language of creation. So you see, symbolism has touched me deeply which is why I use them in my pictures. If anyone would like to find out more about a particular symbol in my art, they can send me a question by going to the Symbol section of my website and clicking on the Q & A link.
On your website you allude to “your philosophy”. Can you fill that in a little and give us a fuller picture of some of the ideals and beliefs that guide you and perhaps inspire your art?
I think that one of the things that makes me different in our culture is that I really see divinity in all of nature. So if you want to go looking for a spiritual life, it is always right there in front of you. I take those animals that are a part of nature and bring them close to people by painting them. I think that a lot of people connect with nature quicker through the animal kingdom verses inanimate objects like rocks. To immerse oneself in nature is to become “One” with all that is and that is what my art is subtlety trying to convey.
I usually start doing drawings at the beginning of the year. I used to go into total seclusion but I’ve had to quit doing that because I just have too much work to do at the office. My new routine is to spend the early morning until about noon working on artwork. Then sometimes I’ll take a few weeks to devote solely to painting and not go into the office at all. I do approximately 25-30 paintings in a grouping.
In your non-art time, what do you like to do?
Well, if I am not doing art, then I am doing business.
All work and no play?
Well, I actually rode horses yesterday. I have a little ranch where I have some horses. I like skiing and hiking and things that take me out into nature.
Do you ever have classes outside of the Bellingham area and how would someone find out about them?
Yes I do. My new website doesn’t talk specifically about the classes at this time because I am building a new building and the classes will be held there. The new site will open in 2006. I have been giving water color classes, which consist of a day-long class where I provide the food and the paints for about $100. It’s about 7 hours of activity so it’s a full day.
Yes. Like I said though, it is at least a year out and the list is getting quite long so if this is an interest, let me know and I will add you to the list in the order I receive your name. The new classes will be held in a beautiful setting and they will be fantastic!
After all these years you are closing your Bellingham gallery and consolidating your business to your ranch in the mountains. What prompted such a dramatic change?
I’m closing the gallery so I can focus on my internet business, which is going very well. I am also focusing on licensing and my wholesale business. Retail is very costly because the square-footage in rent and overhead is high.
Reading viewer’s comment on your website, I was touched by how many people have incorporated visits to your Bellingham gallery as part of their family traditions from one generation to the next. How has it affected you to know how much your work has enlightened the lives of others?
The situation with the gallery is that it is a place where people feel that they can connect with me and the artwork on a personal level. People tell me that my work inspires them and I’m glad for that. I’m hoping a new generation of people will enjoy that same experience and inspiration online.
Your work touches people. It touches their heart, or a place within them that inspires them. Is that relationship ending?
I’ve been available to the public for the last 20 years and it’s just been part of doing the artwork and I’ve enjoyed it. But, it takes lots and lots of time. Last year I read the book, “Learn How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci” and one of the things that I realized now that I am in my 50’s is that I have 10-15 years of good time left with good eyesight, spunk and coordination, even though you know you can have great health for years and years if you make good choices, but the situation is, I realized that I need to think about making changes. I need to make changes away from continually being involved with the public and take these years that I have left and try to make the best art of my lifetime. This book revealed that he (DaVinci) painted the Mona Lisa at the age of 56. But it points out that you can keep improving yourself and upgrading your talents. The only person that can make that decision or choice is you. So I’m moving away from spending as much time in public and in the future I will be open to meet with people on Friday afternoons at my new location or at signings. (Check the calendar on my website).
Most artists don’t like to meet the public. A few high level professional artists that I know won’t even go to their own openings. But to finish with this question, I just would like to be able to spend more time doing my art.
In addition to being an incredible artist, you are also a talented illustrator and writer. Can you tell us a little about that?
My introduction to illustrating began in the 70′s in Canada. I worked for a large publishing firm from Toronto doing children’s educational readers. After illustrating other people’s writing for many years, in 1999 I decided to pitch my first story to John Thompson at Illumination Arts. He accepted my idea and published my first book, Dragon. I’d like to do more stories but writing is very difficult and I will just have to wait until my next inspiration.
What advice can you give to aspiring artists seeking to more fully develop their talent?
The most important thing is to find a place that you can really dedicate yourself to doing the very best that you can, which means that you need to set aside some isolated time where you can really open that inspirational gate. For me, it often starts out when I first start drawing. It’s all very difficult at first, but eventually you get into the “zone.” Native Americans have actually identified it where they talk about opening up an inspirational gate and it’s like a portal. When that happens, you move beyond your conscious mind and access what some call your super-conscious mind. So an extraordinary case would be Einstein; his super computer (super-conscious mind) was totally engaged and he was getting information far beyond what most people could come up with in their everyday existence. So if you can get into that space, then all of your work becomes much more brilliant. Most people don’t ever take the time to learn how to open that gate. That’s why the arts for young people are so important. It starts to ask them to be inspired instead of just regurgitating information. If you want a child to do something that is greater than want the conscious mind is capable of, then you need to ask him to do something that will encourage inspiration or genius by asking them a question that there is no absolute answer for, or create in picture or writing something beyond mundane experience. This will expose them to creativity and becoming inventors in their own right.
There are many artists already producing quality artwork but at a loss in how to market it and make a living as an artist. Any advice you can give them to help them on the road to success?
One of the things that I found early on was a lot of people create artwork for themselves. It’s almost like a personal journal. Now if you want to step outside of that realm and start creating images that are universal, you will find a greater audience. As an engineer I was trained to find out what products were needed in the world, which is a very different thing than just doing a product for yourself. I’ve had lots of years of painting things for myself, but while doing art shows, I recognized that many of my paintings were also symbols for other people. If people want to make it as an artist then they have to become aware of the buyer. Even though you can create images for yourself, they can also relate to other people.
Most people can’t even imagine getting a painting done every week but that’s what I do. It’s like being a musician, you just do lots of songs and maybe one of them is a hit. Then you do more and pretty soon you have a collection of great songs. It’s the same for me. Not all of my work is popular, but the consistent working over the last 35 years has created a core in my archives of images that inspire people. For others to succeed, I can not stress how important it is to dedicate yourself to doing the work. You will always get better. You will keep learning and the person who will best benefit from all of your efforts is yourself. That is the best reward of all. I wish everyone good luck and may you continue to follow your dreams.
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