Artist Spotlight: Jessica Camilli

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The artist: creative, inspiring, and… a businesswoman?

Jessica Camilli, a senior studio art major from Annandale, Va., has been bringing her creative mind to life through art for as long as she can remember.

“Letting out creative energy during the day became a medicine I would need to sleep at night,” said Camilli.

But how do you turn a passion like art into a career?

JMU’s art program gives students the opportunity to gain experience with various art styles including painting, drawing, graphic design and woodshop. But according to Camilli, it’s up to students to make creating art their profession.

“This program gives you a lot to work with, but leaves out the fact that you are your own business manager,” said Camilli.

As an artist, Camilli faces the challenge of learning how to sell her own brand of art and distinguish her voice in the art world.

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“You have to have that drive, it’s not a path that’s planned out for you,” said Camilli. “You have to fight for your place.”

Camilli creates illustrative, surrealist, and realist drawings and paintings. Imspiration for her artwork can come from anywhere, whether she’s having a dream or walking down the street. She describes her art style as things morphing into each other, with characteristics of floating, drifting, and hovering through smoke or steam.

“It breaks the realm of reality in gravity, making it more dream-like,” Camilli described.

One of Camilli’s recent works is of a woman with an big hips and a tiny waist trapped inside of an hourglass jar, trying to escape. This feminist piece reflects her thought of how being a woman can hold you back in life.

“I was growing up and suddenly went from playing football with the boys to having curves and being treated differently,” Camilli said.

Camilli found inspiration for the hourglass piece last summer when she lived in Marseille, France, and felt as though she couldn’t travel and explore the city because she was by herself.

“As women we have to fear things as simple as walking home alone at night,” Camilli said.

The hourglass drawing turned into a collection of pieces that all feature women with exaggerated figures being held back by their womanhood.

“Good art is art that is an honest depiction of you reaction to life,” said Camilli. “It’s terrifying when you’re that honest but I think that’s kind of rewarding.”

Camilli has found that her more passionate and creative work doesn’t appeal to the average person, while “pretty” images and “things you could find on Pinterest” tend to appeal to more people.

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Her key to success has been finding the balance between pushing those boundaries of art and creating things people find appealing.

Camilli advertises most of her artwork on her website and at art shows. Her most recent show was in Richmond, where she showcased realist pieces with vibrant colors.

Camilli has found that classmates criticize some of her artwork that is praised by friends, because the artwork doesn’t surpass those limits artists strive for. She describes how she needs to let herself make “ugly art” in order to challenge these limitations.

“During a critique a classmate said, ‘I like it, but that’s it. I just like it.’ As artists we’re searching for more than that.”

Accepting criticism has been one of Camilli’s biggest challenges in the art program, but has allowed her to grow as an artist.

Being in a college town is a challenge for Camilli when selling artwork, as many students aren’t able to afford the pricing of her artwork. Camilli realized she had to stop giving away her artwork to friends less money because this is her career.

Camilli tries to use materials that are easy to scan and recreate for selling. Her original pieces are sold at a higher price than the copied prints.

Aside from being an artist, Camilli works at Artworks Gallery in Harrisonburg and is a yoga instructor.

“Art is very selfish and all about myself, while yoga is selfless and about helping other people,” said Camilli. “I’ve always loved how they balance each other out.”

A professor once told Camilli only two percent of art majors are still producing art two years out of school.

“I want to be part of that two percent.”