You’re probably noticed Jen May’s spare, elegant collages on Ohio Edit, illustrating poetry as well as Jessa Crispin’s terrific “Reading the Tarot” column. Jen also illustrates Madame Clairevoyant’s horoscopes for The Rumpus as well as the blog StrawberryFieldsWhatever.com.
Jen, your collages are amazing! We feel very lucky to have your work on Ohio. Can you tell us a little about the evolution of this work? Have you always done collage? Also, where do you find (or make?) the materials you work with?
I started really making collages about 5 or 6 years ago. I’m an ephemerist at heart and my foray into collage definitely stems from hoarding lots of scraps of paper and tiny things. I was previously doing a lot of drawing, as well as making sculptures made from used objects, like crocheting audio tape, or braiding plastic bags. Eventually I started mixing the two, and it seemed to make a lot of sense for me to be making collage.
I have a stockpile of imagery I’ve saved over the years. My last studio was flooded in Hurricane Sandy and sadly my precious box of scraps was sitting on the floor in a cardboard box. A lot of little images I had amassed over the last 10 years or so are gone. I’ve been slowly rebuilding my arsenal and trying to be a little more organized about it. I have a big filing cabinet filled with files like “flowers”, “skeletons”, “outer space”, “celebs” , “colors” etc.. Since losing it all I have discovered the magic of collections of fair-use imagery. There are tons of books and archives of copyright free images and I started there. A lot of these can seem cheesy but there are definitely some hidden gems. I save envelopes I get in the mail if the color/size is right. Cards. I’ll rip out something I see in junk mail, magazines, newspapers. I spend a lot of time at copy shops copying pages from books, changing sizes & colors. I know all of that can be done on the computer but I’m more interested in paper. I take screen captures of movies or seek out specific stills. I save little pieces of string and cloth. Pretty much anything is fair game.
I feel like there is so much movement in your work and I love how you get that out of so few elements. Do you think this is related to your time spent weaving/braiding? What happens when you sit down to put images together–what is your process for figuring out if something works?
Previously working with a lot of soft, fluid materials like fabric, tape, string etc could be informing the movement you’re talking about in some way. I think another part of it is that I seem to be somewhat incapable of making true straight lines. Even when I try to hang something on the wall it is always crooked and slightly off. My process is mostly fueled by self doubt and Fleetwood Mac. I listen to the album Tusk a lot in the studio. I don’t have a great answer for how I figure out when something works – I move pieces around and photograph different versions. In the end I glue/tape whatever “feels” right, and looks good to me compositionally. I’m never just arbitrarily placing pieces but I also don’t have a real clear criteria for what works.
Tusk! Now that is an interesting choice! Widely considered at the time to be a bloated self-indulgent experiment and deemed a failure by the label that released it! And now it’s viewed as genius and possibly their best work! I assume you are a Stevie fan? What’s your fave Stevie song, on Tusk or no?
You have some Stevie-ness about you as well, being the official illustrator for Jessa Crispin’s “Reading the Tarot” column, as well as the Madame Clairvoyant’s astrology column on The Rumpus. Are you a big believer in astrology and/or tarot?
I do love Stevie! I also love Christine, and their friendship. They were really supportive of each other and lived together while recording Rumours. I love that there was a strong female friendship in the midst of all the cocaine and heartbreak.
It’s very hard for me to pick one favorite Stevie song. My favorites all happen to be from Tusk: “Sara,” “Storms,” “Angel” and “Sisters of the Moon.”
I do genuinely believe in astrology and the tarot. I read my horoscope monthly and weekly. I have been slowly teaching myself more about tarot by puling daily cards. Claire, who writes the Madame Clairevoyant horoscopes wrote this really excellent thing about astrology that I agree with completely and I’m going to quote it rather than trying to weirdly rephrase it:
“What I love the most about astrology, what I love most about really any field of knowledge, but especially the ones that lots of Serious People dismiss (astrology, magic, ghost stories, even religion), is the specific structures and vocabularies they give us for understanding our realities outside of common sense or linear time or the rules of science or whatever, the tools they give us for understanding the actual weirdness of our lives. “
Astrology and tarot writing is so often paired exclusively with astrology and tarot images. Is it daunting to try and make a new image for this very image-intense subject? How do the images come to you?
I make the horoscope illustrations independent of reading them. There’s not really enough time from when they are written and posted to do something specialized for each week. I try to create images that will work with the tone of Madame Clairevoyant, which is both light hearted and serious, poetic, hopeful, sweet, and maybe sometimes creepy. When I first started working on them, Molly, the editor of The Rumblr, gave me the direction of something like “spooky, woman centric, outer space etc”, which sounded like a dream. I try to include astrological imagery in some- the moon, charts, planets, and calendars. I have been using a lot of flowers and planets since they are so beautiful, delicate, strong and resilient, which I feel reflect Claire’s horoscopes perfectly. I am trying to stay vaguely seasonal, too. I think in the winter there will be a lot of barren trees and ice.
For something like Jessa’s tarot column I try to find themes, or instances in the text that resonate with me visually. Sometimes it will be something super specific while other times it’s an overall feeling. I tend to jot down notes and ideas while reading the piece over a few times and go from there.
Where do you see your work headed?
I’m not sure! I never really thought I’d be doing illustrations – I don’t know why that just never occurred to me as a possibility for myself. I’m enjoying the opportunity to illustrate writing and music that I love. I’ll keep making collages and drawings. I have a few ideas for art books/zines I’d like to actually make real. I’ll keep collaborating with inspiring friends. Maybe some videos? Online projects?
We would love to see you do a video collage! Dear Readers, stay tuned! In the meantime, a new installment of Jessa Crispin’s “Reading the Tarot” column–this one on The Devil!!–will post Friday, featuring a fab image by Jen! Check back!
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.