Spotlight: Jenny Fillius, Metal Collage Artist
Growing up in a family of artists, Jenny Fillius took the creative path as well. Using what others toss away, she creates colorful and whimsical 3-D works of collage art from cookie tins, soda cans, metal trays and more. Taking care with sharp edges (and bandages always nearby), she cuts and pounds and reimagines what these artifacts from the past can become.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
When I was 4 years old, lying on the kitchen linoleum, drawing on a big tablet of newsprint while my mother sewed costumes for the local theater.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I was born to a family of artists (Both Grandmothers were painters, mother was a ceramist, father a craftsman and uncle a fine cabinet maker) so partly innate. (I had my first solo show of ink drawings when I was 13 at the Richmond Art Center.) But working in tin for over 10 years now I have learned and developed a lot on my own.
How did you learn to create with repurposed sheet metal?
I had a two day tin workshop at Pratt Fine Arts Center that was taught by Bill Herberholz.
In what way do you connect with the material as an art medium?
I had many tin toys that I loved as a child, so nostalgia is part of it. I also like breathing new life into a material that has lived its original life and now comes to me dented and scratched and needing to be reinvented.
Is there something different that makes you and other tin artists tick?
I’d have to say that it’s the tin itself that we love. I started a secret group years ago on FB for Tin Artists and the strongest thread among us is the love for the material. There are 30 of us and one lives in the UK and another in South Africa. So we share our work and talk tools. Sometimes we ask each other for tin.
Where do your ideas come from?
Everywhere. I can hear an expression or see something and it percolates in my mind and then gets sketched out and eventually comes out as a tin piece. Or sometimes it’s the tin itself that inspires a piece. After returning from a month in India, color and pattern turned me on so much that I couldn’t wait to get into the studio and start new work.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
LOVE and humor (sometimes dark humor) and sometimes death.
How does that affect your approach?
It doesn’t, the approach is basically the same, it’s the tin that affects the outcome.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
I keep a sketchbook nearby at all times.
What do you do differently?
My work usually has a 3D part to it or pieces attached with Erector Set pieces or shelves created from metal napkin holders.
Do you have a signature technique?
I’d say that would have to be the teacups with little animals poking their heads out.
What makes your work stand out as yours?
The humor and the way I assemble them.
Tell us about your tin birds.
I looked at a coke can one day and wondered what I could make with it. My father moved us to Mexico when I was 14 and I saw how ingenious all the locals were at making and repairing things. So I wondered what they would create with a soda can. After some trial and error, I came up with a solid pattern for making spinning coke can birds with cookie tin wings.
How did that start, and were you surprised by how well they (pardon the expression) took off?
I was surprised to have them “take off”, be in the Seattle Times and at the Bellevue Art Museum Fair.
What should I know about tin art before trying it myself?
GET A Tetanus SHOT! Know that you will need lots of tin and wear work gloves and have bandages and rubbing alcohol on hand. Seriously. I used to get cut all the time but now not so much. Also get your hands on the second edition of Bobby Hanson’s book The Fine Art of the Tin Can. Lots of good info and inspiration for the beginner.
What does your studio look like?
It’s a converted one car garage, 8ft x 17ft, with a decent heater, skylight, okay sound system and a holy mess because tin is everywhere.
Where does the magic happen?
In fleeting moments, here and there.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
When I find out I’ll let you know.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio?
Oh YES! I love my metal shear, and I’m very attached to my hammer.
So how do they improve your work?
The shear saves my hand from the repetitive task of cutting straight lines. The hammer just fits my hand nicely and is a good weight.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade?
A knife sharpening steel – it quickly removes the burrs that are on the edge of metal.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal?
Yes, it helps me keeps track of ideas that I may forget if not written down and gives me time to figure things out before cutting the tin.
How does that help your work develop?
The process, then figuring out the piece.
How many projects do you have going at once?
At any one time, usually 3 or 4.
What is your favorite part of creating your work?
I enjoy being alone and the outcome.
How does that speak to you?
While being alone, I can hear my thoughts more clearly and completely without interruption.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Favorite music from Petty to Puccini on my iPod, and Saturday morning Public Radio is great, too.
What will we find on your new YouTube channel?
People will learn how to make one of my birds. They will also learn how to begin a tin art project of their own, and way more in the future. I’m just starting to learn this whole YouTube thing.
Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope visitors will find there?
I started the blog in 2007, and it has a lot of photos and stories. One recent story is about working as a Removal Technician for an After Care Center. I tagged and bagged dead people for 10.5 hours then quit the next day. The idea of the blog is to round out who I am so people can get a sense of me beyond just seeing my art and reading a boring bio. As for my website, it’s the hub. From there they can link to videos, other tin artists, a podcast interview, Instagram, the Pattern and Supply list for making a bird, my blog and of course, my tin work and resume…JennyFILLIUS.com.
Browse through all of our Spotlight interviews on Create Whimsy.