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January 12, 2006

Art Beat

The Accidental Artist


I kept getting these e-mails from someone called Jennifer Kincaid. They generally went the way of all e-mails whose sender and subject line meant nothing to me. But as I started recognizing the name and saw intriguing subject lines about an "on-line gallery," I stopped hitting the delete button. I realized this was a local artist promoting her artwork and her gallery via the Internet, which is something different. I checked out the website.

'Messenger' by Jennifer Kincaid. Fumage on paper, 2001.The World Wide Web is the perfect place for artists to market their work. You can, with relative ease and a lot less money then traditional printing, put your work on display to a limitless audience. Jennifer Kincaid's website is a good example the potential: You can view her work, read articles about it and learn more about the artist. If you've purchased a piece from her brick-and-mortar gallery (on I Street in Eureka), you can register it, which entitles you to "first notices of new products, thank you freebies and special promotions and products not available to the general public."

Left: 'Messenger' by Jennifer Kincaid. Fumage on paper, 2001.

Jennifer's fairly new to the area -- she and her husband landed in Old Town, by accident, two and half years ago. She'd been doing art professionally for about seven years, but wanted to build her skills, so she started taking classes at College of the Redwoods. She wasn't looking to improve her art skills -- she felt pretty confident about those. She wanted to build her business skills. In addition to her classes, she got involved with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which helped her put together some marketing tools and offered advice on the design of her website (she had to build it herself).

A lot of artists find the marketing of their work the most difficult part of their business. Creating art is a very personal thing, so taking it around and trying to sell it is a bit like trying to sell your soul. How do you survive someone telling you that they're not interested in buying your soul? It can be pretty crushing. Jennifer didn't like it any more than anyone. I asked what got her motivated, despite the difficulties. Her response was refreshing: She loves her work. "This stuff is great," she thought to herself, "other people will love it too." Now, if you're put off because you think this sounds egotistical, ask yourself why a businessperson who sells a product this way is motivated, assertive, a "go-getter," and an artist is egotistical. I think she has the right idea. You can't sell anything if you don't think it's any good. She loves her work and she loves creating it. She's well aware of the fact that some people won't like her work, but that's of no consequence. She's interested in the people who do.

A lot of Jennifer's work is of the ilk that elicits derisive responses, such as "I could do that!" I love it when people say that. I had an art teacher whose response to such an attitude was, "Great! Go do it!" The point being that while many people mumble about how anybody could do "that," very few people do. But Jennifer does, and she uses a variety of mediums. She's been described (in one of the articles reproduced on her website) as an "accidentalist." Her Fumage works are an example of this. She told me that they came about when she was trying to burn the edges of one of her paintings for effect. The lighter she was using didn't have enough lighter fluid in it, so the paper didn't burn, but she got some black smudges on the paper that intrigued her. She did some experimenting and found out that there have actually been artists who have used smoke marks on paper in their artwork.

The finished product may look easy; after all, she's just waving some paper over a flame. But what the casual observer doesn't know about is all of the trial and error it took to produce the images. She's experimented with different wicks and oils, found just the right distance from the flame and the right papers. The effect is gorgeous, and looks just like you would think it looks, capturing a moment of something as ephemeral as a cloud of smoke.

There's also a line of "special effect" Polaroids of views from various places she's lived. She doesn't explain on her site (and I didn't ask) how she achieves the effects, but it's quite possible that these too came about from some happy accident. To me, the result is a bit ghosty and macabre, but I don't think that's how she sees them. That's okay, there's room in the world for different responses to the same thing.

She also does "action paintings," and these are abstract as well. She's concerned with color and line, interaction and motion. There's a lot of Jackson Pollack-like dripping and joyful Kandinsky-like color and confusion. She says of her work, emphatically, that it is "not about pain or struggle!" She's not into the starving artist role. She couldn't put all of that time and effort into something that wasn't giving something in return. So she works hard in the studio, being wild and creative. Then she comes out of the studio, puts on her business hat and sells the stuff.

You can view her work at her website, of course, at, or visit her at her gallery at 905 Third Street in Eureka.

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