Meet Jilly Frances, an artist with a keen eye for life’s subtle wonders. She shares her deep connection to the skies, words, and lines that inspire her artwork. Learn more about how she captures the ephemeral beauty of everyday moments.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been highly sensitive to sights, sounds, feelings, colours, textures and words. I was a “noticer” of the banal bits of everyday life around me – the shape a shadow would make on the wall, the way that the sun could make skin glow when it was almost dinner time, the specific curve of a stick on the ground.
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With this deep attentiveness and curiosity, I think I always felt like a bit of a misfit with those around me.
Kids in elementary school would be running and playing on the playground and I would be rubbing a dandelion on my arm to watch it turn a specific shade of yellow.
In university when everyone wanted to party, I just wanted to paint. I was the 2nd of four kids in my family, and I think I held a lot inside. It was from a very young age that I discovered art as an outlet for myself, as a kind of self-expression. Thank goodness!
Skies, words and lines. Why these?
All of these forms of making are my way of paying attention – practices of presence. I suppose I’m always searching for the magic of being here, trying to capture it just for a moment, even when the magic is hard to find.
It started with skies. I’ve always found comfort in them and how they feel ironically grounding. They are somehow simultaneously always there and always changing. I feel this metaphorically, too. This idea of the balance of stillness and motion; ever-present and in flux, never the same. Painting the skies in a 6×6 inch dimension, there was an intimacy taking something so massive and holding it in my hands.
As an artist living in a busy city, I was working full time doing things like set design and styling for brands and designers, and my poetic spirit was just missing creating for myself. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. I started painting the sky inconsistently, whenever I could find the time, and it was very meditative for me.
Then when I became a mother, my days were filled with these endless small doings and it was overwhelming. I missed those creative pieces of who I was and wanted to remember myself. Days were extremely hard and supremely beautiful, and here was the sky showing up for me every day, just as I was showing up for my boy. We were a witness to each other, in all these big and little moments. I decided in January 1st of 2020 that I was going to paint the sky every day, a tiny daily gift to myself. And I never stopped.
My other art forms, poetry and line drawings, came as a natural response to these little noticings that made up (and continue to make up) my days. I’ve found a way to foster a relationship with time, and to find my place in these spinning days. Quick gestural drawings, giving a voice to my way of seeing through poetry, and capturing the light are all my forms of holding the ephemeral nature of time, giving it a sense of permanence, and letting it go.
What motivates/inspires you artistically?
Such a mix of things. Of course nature is a huge source of breath for me. The smell of an old book, found furniture, cutting into fresh fruit, honest music, scraps of paper. Things that are bound for the garbage make me very excited because it feels like there is so much potential to give them another life – to see them in some new profound way.
I also find that other art forms that are completely different to my own disciplines are really inspiring, spilling over to inform my own themes or processes. Film, music, comedy, magazines, fashion – in the Venn diagram of different artistic practices, it’s really fun and fuelling to feel the overlaps.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I wouldn’t say I plan. I’ve never been much of a planner, I’m much more intuitive. I’m always mulling over what I’m taking in and filing ideas in my brain for a new series or poem. My creative energy is usually spurred on in response to something in the moment. The way the light is hitting, the features on a face, a feeling I’m working through.
Describe your creative space.
Chaotic! Ha. I’m a mom of 2 little boys and I’ve turned much of my house into one big art studio. I decided to be less conventional about what a home is “supposed to” look like and so I’m not afraid to tape up some drawings to a random wall if they are inspiring me in the moment.
The rooms are always being switched around with different artwork (either mine or some Cy Twombly-like scribbles from my boys). Art materials are everywhere. But my favourite place to think and work, is from the floor.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do keep a notebook with me for sketches or ideas, but I’ll admit I often use the notes app in my phone to write down inspirations, like a line of a poem that I never want to forget. (It feels very vulnerable thinking about someone getting a hold of my notes app. Here’s an excerpt, with no omissions: “morning peels towards us – work: new dropdown menu – august 8 and 9 print –rosy mind – nothing fades to dark forever – send photo of tape”).
A lot of my painting/drawing/ink work is done in a ‘plein air’ kind of way, so I don’t have a big need to sketch things out ahead of time, I feel more connected grabbing hold of a moment as it is happening.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I do find I’m working on a couple different series at the same time. I enjoy it, actually. All of my series are visually quite unique from each other but the heartbeat of all of them is the same. To me, they are very connected. I really like exercising different parts of my creative brain – colour field paintings, line drawings, and poetry all feel like branches from the same tree.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Often the process becomes the end product in itself. And for me, that feels important – that there hasn’t been a contrived plan to a piece. Over the years, I’ve realized that for me, it’s about the long and scenic walk home and not jumping to an arrival point.
The skies, for example, wasn’t an idea to market, it was a small daily doing that felt like a meditative practice. And after amassing a series of these little things, it became Something. Line drawings were the same way for me. Simple doodles that felt right in the moment, capturing the energy of a line. My Shadow series (that I haven’t released yet) also felt really special to stumble into. All of my work, for me, is more about a feeling than a composition.
By their very nature, the skies are created as the sun moves and the earth spins, capturing a moment in time that is beginning and ending all at once. I work to find ways to connect and re-member myself (and by that I mean, put back together) with what is around me. Taking the background and making it my foreground for a while has a way of untethering me to space and integrating me with time.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
The act of being in a mess on the floor creating is my favourite. Being in a creative flow alone with my music and my materials opens me up internally. Discovering new shapes and techniques and seeing what lights me up along the way, has me hoping the work will eventually do the same for others.
I do find a hard part of the process is sharing the work. In one way, I mean the marketing aspect – it feels cringy to have to market your own work in this age of social media etc, but I guess it’s part of the job. Also, dealing with the logistics of technology, website upkeep, shipping, delivery, ordering prints, framing… It’s all a lot when you’re a one-woman show (with little boys at home).
And in a more emotional sense, it still can feel very exposing to share work. It’s a vulnerable thing to take something that once only lived with you and through you and share it with the world. I feel that way uniquely about poems – words feel scarier to share because my voice is more ‘out there’. Abstracted visuals can feel a little more open-ended, I guess. But words are more obvious, which feels all the more intimidating to share (especially for an introvert).
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
I’ve started working large events (like launches or parties for brands) where I create live line-drawings as a kind of activation. This was initially a bit nerve-wracking. It felt akin to being a live performer, but the more I’ve done it, the more I can feel the living breathing magic of creating something in real time for people. It’s a special experience. I get to witness hundreds of people, pay attention to the nuances of their faces, and capture their energy in tandem with time and space.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I really have flip flopped about my art education over the years. But now, as an artist without that close-knit community of my undergrad BFA program, I find myself missing (and grateful for) all those critique sessions and exposure to so so so much art. What a dream!
The way my brain thinks about my own work, conceptually and aesthetically, has been shaped by really generous and challenging professors and an endless curiosity that was encouraged in me throughout school. I have their voices in my head when I ask myself questions constantly as I make. (And I do ask myself so many questions.) At this stage, it can feel lonely working in a silo, not having a studio mate next door to look at your process work and get feedback along the way. When you need it, there is nothing more beneficial than other artists’ perspectives.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
I suppose I feel really drawn to themes of transient light, time, and space. By creating capsules of moments that change or disappear even while we witness them, the work does its best to capture energy that is both present and fleeting. I’m intuitively finding ways to integrate with the existing moment, imbuing ephemera with a kind of permanence.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
The act of paying attention is usually the impetus for my creativity – so the environment around me is everything. Finding the quiet within the noise, natural light, and a good sad song will always get me going.
How has your work changed over time?
I think I’ve become less precious about things, in a really good way.
I used to be too careful. I was a big perfectionist in school, and it was kind of debilitating to be honest. Nothing was ‘good enough’, and at the same time, it was all pretty void of any kind of point of view.
When you’re young, so much of art class is replication and honing skills. But it’s all pretty voiceless. For me, that was the missing piece. I always loved art and could make art, but never felt like an artist.
I think knowing who you are and what you want to say is what shapes you as an artist. Creating very intentional work with a stronger heartbeat and a sure voice behind it has been really liberating and expanding for me. And I think this is what makes it resonate with others.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Know what you want to say. If you make a mistake, add more mistakes. Believe in what you are doing as confidently as a child makes their marks. Pay attention to the little things. There is room for everyone.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
My parents (clearly seeing something different in me) put me in a one-on-one art class as a really young kid. It was there that I had a major ‘aha’ moment of feeling like I recognized myself. Finally, someone who marched to the beat of her own drum, brave, and completely herself was showing me I could be those things too. She had a shaved head, was decorated with piercings and tattoos, had a dog the size of a horse, and spoke with a soft voice layered over the loud Enya music playing – and I was set free there, every Thursday from 4:00-5:00pm.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
It has to be both. I think there is the capacity for creativity in everyone. But it’s a muscle you can work to strengthen, or ignore and let atrophy. Getting to be around people or classes or places that nurture creativity has been vital for me.
I think you have to mess around. If you like cooking, simmer a few things on the stove, if you like music, bang around on something.
I think people need to feel more at peace with making bad work. It’s the only way you get to the good stuff.
And it’s really special in today’s world to give yourself space and time to be bored. That’s when the door opens and the creative magic can spark.
Where can people see your work?
I have a web gallery and shop at www.jillyfrances.com, and my skies and lines series are at Stylegarage on Ossington. I’ll be at the One of a Kind Show this winter, and some local markets here and there too. Come say hi!
Interview posted October 2023
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