Jessica journeys back to her roots

Artwork from “An Unexpected Journey” on display in the College of Arts and Letters Riles Gallery, Jan 29.

Assistant professor of practice for the School of Art’s interior design program, Jessica MacKenzie, brings viewers on “An Unexpected Journey” through her vivid wildlife paintings currently on display at the College of Arts and Letters Riles Gallery on campus.

Gradually built over the past decade, “An Unexpected Journey” is MacKenzie’s first solo exhibit and her second art show in total. MacKenzie along with Kristen Harris, program coordinator of community outreach for the College of Arts and Letters, helped bring the exhibit to life.

“The colored pencil drawings have all been the last two years, the acrylics ... about the last five,” MacKenzie said. “One of them is from 2010.”

She also credits coloring books for bringing her back to her artistic roots. Her passion was reignited after her mother gifted her a “Game of Thrones” coloring book for Christmas two years ago, and she was inspired by the animals in the book.

“I’ve been a lover of animals and an artist since I was a little girl,” MacKenzie said. “I stopped drawing animals when I went to college because I was training to become an interior designer. I was having so much fun that I gave it a shot again with animals, and I sort of took off from there.”

Viewers were able to see MacKenzie’s work at the exhibit’s opening reception Jan. 27. Senior Cheyenne Nichol stood in admiration and said that the exhibit brought her feelings of relaxation and peace.

There was no shortage of visitors taking in MacKenzie’s work. Junior Lauren Scott said the exhibit left her feeling reflective, as she attempted to venture into MacKenzie’s creative mind to understand the artistic process.

“Viewing art makes me try to understand what the artist was trying to convey,” Scott said. “It makes me reflect on my own life.”

That sense of reflection is just what MacKenzie said she hoped to send to viewers. MacKenzie’s love for animals and passion for her craft is clear throughout the gallery.

“We get so caught up in our daily lives that we can forget what beauty is, especially in animals,” MacKenzie said. “I love showing the personalities of animals. It’s my way of honoring them.”

From the subject matter to the organization of the gallery, MacKenzie was purposeful in her decisions. She said the pieces were deliberately placed in chronological order so the viewer could see her journey from start to finish.

She also included short descriptions about each animal she drew. MacKenzie said this is how she aims to establish a connection between the animals drawn and the viewers of the exhibit.

Nichol expressed a shared interest in learning how to be a better artist after viewing the exhibit. “An Unexpected Journey” left Nichol with unexpected inspiration.

“Seeing someone else sharing their craft and do it well is really awesome,” Nichol said. “It makes me want to make art, too.”

MacKenzie advises and encourages those aspiring to make art to simply start creating. She said people often fear incompetence, but art is a skill that can be developed. Everyone has to start somewhere. Her personal learning experience relied heavily on studying others.

“I used Facebook and YouTube to find other artists,” MacKenzie said. “I started studying their technique and learned a lot from observation and practice.”

Even as developed in art as MacKenzie is, she still surprises herself.

“Each piece has taught me something about art and myself,” MacKenzie said. “There’s definitely a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I finish a piece. Truly, if you put your mind to something you can accomplish it.”

Her latest work, “The Octopus from the Deep,” is one she views with great pride. With lots of obvious time and effort, MacKenzie said the piece is a culmination of everything artistic that she has learned in the past two years.

“An Unexpected Journey” is currently on display at Riles Gallery until March 13.