Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview - Jackie Case

Jackie Case is a Melbourne visual artist who specialises in very detailed, often quirky and always amazing pencil drawings. I was fortunate enough to come upon her work at Art Melbourne and was thrilled to meet and chat with her on the day. I was, quite frankly, awed by her incredibly detailed pencil work. I actually had to go back to have another look at her stall before I left the show because I had to see her work one more time! So it's my great pleasure to bring you this interview today. Welcome, Jackie!

The elephant in the room by Jackie Case

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.

I’m a trained graphic designer (B.A Design RMIT) but a few years back I was longing for something more tactile, so I picked up a pencil, an eraser and a sharpener and I started drawing.

Later, I saw an advertisement in a local gallery window looking for artists' work. I’d never seen anything like it (or since), so I plucked up the courage to go in and show them my work. To my surprise they loved them and took several to sell. To my disappointment they were placed in plastic sleeves at the back of the showroom and I didn’t sell a thing.

It was only later at my then-local café, Dench in North Fitzroy, did I think maybe this is a better space to show my work. After my first hanging (on the Thursday night), I’d “forgotten” (a little on purpose as I was so nervous about people knowing it was me behind the work) to bring the blurb to hang with the show. John Dench insisted, so I brought it the next day. To my complete shock I had sold half the show by lunch time.

From very humble beginnings, I have since had many more sell-out café shows around Melbourne. Most recently, I again plucked up the courage to show at Art Melbourne 2012, which went… well, I guess it went pretty well…I’ve had several galleries ask for my work in both Sydney and Melbourne, and Rebecca Hossack has invited me to show in London in September! I’m still in shock. 

L-R: Little girl giving the bird / Tattooed babushka / Line tree by Jackie Case

When did you know you wanted to work creatively (from a young age or did you come to it later?) and what steps did you take to make it happen?

I had always harboured dreams of pursuing a creative life but I was pretty terrified about starving. For work experience I spent a couple of weeks with Jeff Hook. This had a profound influence. He was focused and smart and could draw beautiful witty cartoons coupled with long lunches – perfect! This looked promising but, at the time, what did I know of politics or anything for that matter? He also gave me some wonderful advice which I still remember to this day. “I could wallpaper a room with all my rejection letters”. It was soon after I learnt there was an actual creative occupation called graphic design. This crossed the bridge I was looking for, but it was equally difficult to pursue. At high school I used to sit in class and using a calculator I would work out the probability of actually getting in – it wasn’t high.

I came from a pretty academic school, so I had a good base in theory, but I was lacking a bit in the practical department. We didn’t even have graphic design as a subject. So I trolled the universities and discovered it was rare to take students straight from high school anyway. I was, however, accepted straight from high school into the Bachelor of Fine Art (Drawing) at Prahran, but my heart was overruled. I wanted security. I decided I needed to take a year and focus solely on building my folio for graphics. I ended up doing a year of TAFE. It was busy but I was extremely motivated so worked my hands to the bone and ended up getting into a few graphic courses so I only had to decide which one. I completed my BA. However, to be honest, I was a bit disillusioned after working so hard for four years and I packed it all away and decided to travel.

Lost dog at Princess Hill by Jackie Case

I remember having a strong desire to be creative but just not knowing what I wanted to say. I think travelling really opened my eyes as I quietly observed the world and where I could fit in. Drawing was this almost secret thing I could do. I never talked about it. I mean, yeah great I can draw, but I had no motivation to. I hadn’t found anything to say.

So I came home after several years and slid back into life behind a computer making graphics. I am very tactile and my computer screen was always filthy. Slowly I found the confidence to pick up a paint brush and a pencil and I began to experiment. I’d also grown up. I discovered I now knew a couple of things. 

The idea for the black and white drawings grew from a seed planted by my TAFE teacher when she asked us to all draw a black and white pencil drawing for an assignment. I remember she told me mine was the “best one she had ever seen”. True or not, I really took that to heart as no one had ever been that kind in describing my work before.

I guess the biggest step I had to overcome was my own lack of confidence. Even at school I would get my friends to hold my folio as I was embarrassed to be ‘arty’. I have often thought: where did this lack of confidence come from? And I’m not sure. Friends and family have always been so supportive, but I guess deep down I never believed them. I think just being brave and taking a chance was a huge step. The first exhibition was truly terrifying. Having a wonderfully supportive partner helped the most. He’s given me the confidence not to be scared to fail.

Jackie Case's desk

Could you describe a typical work day? How do you balance art, administration and family?

Work revolves around dropping off the kids and picking them up from school. I get a few hours in between. I also like to work late at night. Late television is my companion. It’s quiet and uninterrupted. I don’t have one eye on the clock as I do during the day so I can really get in to my work.

What inspires you creatively?

Everything inspires me. I often get asked, how do you come up with so many different ideas? And I don’t know. I just open my mind and see what sticks. I don’t stress about it, there is always something going on if you look closely enough. It’s also nice to just sit in front of a blank piece of paper. These are some of my best drawings. I just see where it takes me. 

Surely he must realise we can all fly by Jackie Case

How do you go about developing ideas for new work?

I always have a notebook with me and just jot down whatever I’m feeling inspired to remember. Then if I’m happy about exploring that idea I might source some images by either going to the library or looking online. I used to never be able to draw from memory but the more I draw the better I can do it. To draw from memory also frees you up to make the line more of your own.

And how long does it take you to complete a piece and/or series?

It really depends. Some I can do in a day, others take a few days and I have spent weeks working on others. I like the monotony of a large drawing. So many times I might want to give up, but I just have to see how it turns out. Sometimes you are so sure something will work and it just doesn’t, and other times you struggle through to see it’s actually turned out better than you thought. 

I can erase out a drawing. It does leave a mark on the paper, but I can then go back over it. I don’t believe you make mistakes, it’s just extra texture on the paper, and extra richness to the work. It’s perhaps an irony that I now make less of these ‘mistakes’. I think it’s because I’m not threatened by them or worried about ruining a piece. So what, try again, no harm done. 

Work in progress for Melbourne Fringe Festival August 2012 Art of the Cuff

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating?

I do enjoy painting but I’ve always had a soft spot for pencil drawing. Finding a good quality strong black pencil really changed my world. I’m not a great fan of graphic greys, they just don’t give the depth of darkness I want. I also enjoy the immediacy of pencil. You have to commit to your line and just mark it. If it’s wrong you can rub it out or start again but you haven’t wasted much time fluffing about with it. So many people have asked why I haven’t done prints, but I’ve found it really hard to reproduce the line, scanning or photographing my images never looks as good as the original. The line is so fine and takes such a soft touch. I also love the fact that every drawing out there is 100% original. Many people have told me that my work is the first piece of original art they have ever bought. I love that. Art can be daunting and unapproachable and of all things I sincerely hope mine isn’t like that.


Thank you for this wonderful interview, Jackie. Your work is amazing and your story an inspiration.

Please see more of Jackie Case's work at her website.