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Life & Work with Jennifer McBrien

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer McBrien.

Jennifer, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I began as a painter in the early 80s. I studied painting at Towson State University where I met an amazing group of artists and thinkers!

I became a major part of the punk rock movement in Baltimore and took those DIY and creative energies into my own work. I showed my paintings throughout the Northeast region of the US from the mid-’80s to the early 2000s.

I finally won a Maryland State individual Artist Award in painting in 2005. I had my last painting show in 2007 and then I just stopped. I had started sewing to honor my grandmother when she passed away and started to make creative decor pillows and aprons. I sold them out of a shop my first husband and I had in Fells Point in the 90s.

I started to teach art in Baltimore County in 1987 in an Elementary School. I moved up to High school and to being a department chairman by the early 2000s. I started my fiber business as a way of finding some sort of completion each day, then I would work on it when I got home from teaching each day. My walking birds had an adolescent attitude and people began to fall in love with them.

I put them on zipper pouches, eye glass cases, pillows, and handbags. I started to do craft shows and opened up my Etsy shop in 2007. MY business grew as I continue to do shows throughout the Mideast region. I became a core member of the Baltimore Etsy Street team and found a wonderful community of supportive craftsmen. I am now a member of the Charm City Craft Mafia.

I am now also happily retired from teaching and working towards going back to my fine artist’s path. I’ve been doing more high-end craft and art shows. My mission now is to find gallery representation.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Its been a challenge, first with developing my business while teaching full time.

Then it’s the economy that gets to be a challenge with its ups and downs. Now I struggle because I don’t want to make my low price point wares anymore. I am finding a new audience that appreciates and can afford my work.

While I get my other audience upset when I don’t make the products they want.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a fiber artist. I draw with my sewing machine in a way that mimics ink drawing. Many people are amazed to find that it’s thread not ink when they see my work in person. I turned in my paintbrush for my sewing machine and I haven’t turned back!

My stitches tell a narrative about the fragility of our world using birds, plants, and figures as my subjects. I choose a fragile medium of embroidery to emphasize its delicateness, as well as a medium in which the connection of hand and material are constant. Whether I am freehand machine or hand stitching, my hands are guiding and manipulating thread and fabric.

My process begins with my ink drawings from observation or photographic references. I translate the ink with the stitched line. Color and form are added with overlaying threads, either by hand or by freehand machine stitching.

I get very excited about finding vintage and up-cycled fabrics that have scenes that my subjects can interact with to tell a story. I am drawn to overlay and transparency leading me to experiment with a variety of fabrics from felt to organza.

I have a beautiful studio in the Mill Centre, which is a historical mill building in Hampden that used to be used to make cotton duck fabric for ships!

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
My uniqueness. I am always thriving towards being as original as possible. I want to be as honest as I can be, in my life and in my work. I want my weaknesses to show though.

Pricing:

  • Handbags: $150-$235
  • Pillows: $135-$200
  • Hoop Pieces: $800 – $4500
  • Wall Pieces: $125 _ $450
  • Bird Portraits: $45-$420

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Patrick Lears

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