Our guest artist is Jenn Avery, her gourd art is just beautiful and I am so happy that she has shared it with us!
Jenn was born and raised at the Jersey Shore and now lives with her husband in Lancaster County, PA Amish Country.
Jenn met her husband while at art school in PA. He used to paint beautiful large landscapes, but has been on a painting hiatus for 10 years now! He always says he only went to art school to meet his wife! Well that worked, since Jenn stayed with him! Jenn hope’s he will someday find his love for art again. They have one daughter; who is not all that impressed with gourds! However, she is very creative in her own way; she is a musician (violin and Irish fiddle) a writer and loves to act in plays.
Jenn say’s “I was practically born with a pencil in my hand. Always drawing and sketching little illustrations of stories I would make up; my mother would frequently ask me to draw her something, a way to keep me occupied with something constructive when I was bored. For that I am thankful for it gave me lots of practice.”
Jenn is not the only artist in her family. Her mother used to draw and paint, she is now a quilter. Her father is a woodworker. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was a cartoonist and her grandmother on her father’s side was an avid crafter and painter.
Her time at art school was originally to train to be a children’s book illustrator however, she soon discovered illuminated manuscripts and she has been smitten with them ever since. They influence much of her work. At the time her medium of choice was watercolors and oil paint. It wasn't until more than 10 years after going to school that she was led to my her medium, gourd pyrography.
Her grandmother being a calligrapher was the person who first planted the seed of becoming interested in medieval manuscript. She introduced her to calligraphy and wood burning. She gave Jenn an old burning pen to experiment with on gourds.
Jenn say’s “the only thing I ever did with the burner at that time was burn my fingers! “
After getting hooked on gourd art, she joined the American Gourd Society. From there, she began a chapter here in PA. It has since grown from 15 people in 2003 to over 100 currently. In June the PA Gourd Society holds a Gourd Festival at a local Amish gourd farm. Many of the gourds Jenn uses is grown on the Amish farms.
Jenn say’s “I am inspired by God’s creation, stories and songs. I am at heart, still an illustrator. My work is generally telling some sort of a story, or a frozen moment in time. My subjects might come to me from song lyrics, or an old fable, or seeing a certain bird dashing across a trail while I am hiking in the woods. I cannot imagine not doing some sort of artwork. It is what I must be called to do, since it is how God “wired” me up. I only hope that I can glorify Him in doing the very best I know how and developing my skills, being honest in my work and never cutting corners.”
There are two recurring subjects in her work, which she is always trying to find ways to make them work together. Jenn has an affinity for animals and wildlife, and she has been smitten with medieval art, especially the art of the illuminated manuscripts from such sources as the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels. Sometimes she will focus on one or the other, but her favorite pieces are the ones when she can marry the two in one piece of art.
Her research for the wildlife involves taking many photos of animals and birds. She will do lots of drawing from those photos; she also draws from her own live models, 2 cats and a house rabbit. Ever since she was a little girl she loved watching animal shows on television (a favorite was Marty Stouffer’s Wild America) and reading all kinds of animal books. She still loves this!
Jenn looks at reproductions of ancient texts for the medieval and Celtic art she creates. Of course, she likes to visit museums where you can see these things up close, under glass, but finds this a bit limiting. She finds it more advantageous to use the Internet where she has the ability to find many texts where she can turn pages and zoom in on certain areas so she can see the tiny details she needs for her art.
This has all been internalized and what comes out of her pen is her own creations, of course there are going to be similarities,that cannot be helped, but she tries to make every piece unique.
Jenn say’s “I would not say I am doing any technique that is different from anyone else, but I can say I did arrive at this level by the grace of God. I took no classes, did not learn it from anyone, just trial and error. I began working on gourds by painting them, and doing little borders with the wood burner around the paintings. Slowly I began doing more burning and less painting, and eventually I came to burning. My technique is to burn slowly, and not to rush. That is all, very simple.
Jenn teaches several classes at gourd festivals. She has taught at the PA Gourd Festival and has also taught with the Maryland Gourd Society.
These are generally done on one day and she only has about 4 hours to teach. Therefore, she must teach a project that her students can finish that day, and hopefully they will learn enough technique that they can take that to their own work in the future.
She enjoys teaching and meeting her students and loves how everyone interprets the same project a little differently,” it just demonstrates to me how unique and special God has made every person, even how they approach their art.”
At this point, she has not had the opportunity to travel teach but says she is open to that if it is not too far from home
In addition to gourd art, Jenn does crochet and needle felted animals. “Having varied creative outlets helps in not becoming “burnt out” excuse the pun!
I have been teaching myself Irish fiddle, and Irish tin whistle. My Daughter helps me with it, when she isn't frustrated with how bad I am! We also home school and are involved with our local home school group.
This probably makes me sound a bit busy, but the truth is, we do make time to relax, and to be still and be refreshed.
To reach Jenn:
The Gourd Society:
Pyrography, scene continues around gourd
(Maine Coon, side 1 of 3)
Pyrography with Tiger Eye gem inlay
Celtic Cats Purse
pyrography, carving, inlay
Pyroengraved (wood burned) gourd bowl, with crushed stone inlay on the animals. The Hound chases the Fox, the Fox chases the Rabbit and it goes round and round
Selkies....the shapeshifting creatures in Celtic folklore, seals in the sea, women on land.
This scene was inspired by many evenings out on a boat watching the wildlife of the lake. This gourd vase entitled King Heron is subtly and delicately pyroengraved (wood burned) by hand.
Dolphins Purse" is made from a sturdy, thick, organically grown canteen (hardshell) gourd.
Little shelf sitter gourd, completely intact. Shake it- it rattles! The seeds are still inside. Lovely little gourd will look nice on a bookshelf or a desk. The Rose is delicately freehand drawn/pyroengraved (wood burned) on the gourd, with gold metal leaf in the background.
Pyrography, gilders past
Isaiah 11:6 Peace on Earth" view "
Pyrography and Coiling
Preparing gourds for crafting
By Jenn AveryGourds are closely related to cucumbers and melons। They grow on a vine that can reach upwards of 100 feet long। Interestingly enough, most varieties are not edible. However, God had a different plan for these vegetables.
For the hardshell gourd, Lagenaria Siceraria, with white flowers that open at night; a curious thing happens to them. In time, they will harden and turn brown, they actually resemble wood and can be used as containers; and as many creative people throughout the centuries discovered; many other items as well, like birdhouses and musical instruments.
In order for these gourds to go through this transformation, they first need to be cared for properly. Gourds will grow profusely during the hot summer months; you can actually watch them grow. As lovely as they are, they must not be harvested before the appointed time.
They will continue to gather nutrients and mature through the fall, and only until the vines are completely dry; usually after the first hard frost; can they be cut from the vine.
After this, they can be allowed to dry. Gourds are 95% water and will take 6-10 months to dry. Keeping them outside is a good idea for their outer skin which acts as a waxy barrier on the shell, will keep the water trapped, thus as the skin deteriorates will develop mold.
Rain and snow falling on them is a good thing, it will make it easier to clean in the spring. An alternate way to dry the gourds is what is referred to as green cleaning. This is a process that I have just begun having success with, but it is a risky business. After the gourd is mature it is possible to scrape the skin off the gourd, thus allowing the water to evaporate much easier and faster.
This will sometimes cause the gourd to shrivel. However, when successful the gourd will dry within 3 weeks, and to a creamy yellow/brown color. When the gourd is dry, it will last as long as any piece of wood. It’s danger of rotting is now passed.
Only when a gourd is completely dry can it be crafted. You can tell it is ready by the weight, it will be very light, and the seeds inside may rattle. The color will be brown, no longer green. This is where the fun begins! If the gourd has been left outside to dry, it will have to be cleaned before use. Cleaning the remaining epidermis and mold and mud off the gourd is a dirty job, however it reveals the beauty of what lies beneath. Patterns will be uncovered, which were caused by that nasty mold.
Now that the outside is clean, the inside must also be cleaned if it is to be used as a container. Of course, it can be left whole and uncut if desired. To cut, safety measures are taken as the gourd dust can be harmful to lungs. I use a small hobby jigsaw to cut my gourds.
If you have ever carved a jack-o-lantern you know of the mucky mess that is inside. Imagine that same mess now, but all dried and hardened. This is what you will find inside the gourd. It takes a bit of elbow grease to get that out, I use special tools and some household utensils that I claimed for my gourd cleaning toolbox. Once the inside is scraped, I sand with a course sandpaper, and then with a finer sandpaper.
I coat the inside with acrylic paint to seal it. The gourd is now prepped for the art. When I have my design ready, which generally means I have some rough sketches in my sketchbook and a clear idea in my mind; I will draw my design directly on the gourd with pencil. Then I use my wood burning pens to burn in my design, erasing as I go, and if there is any carving to be done I usually do that last. Although, there has been times when I do everything backwards!
If I decide to add color or dyes, that will be done and then I coat with several layers of polyurethane. The type I use is formulated to shield from UV rays, which can fade the burning if left unprotected. Even so, I caution my customers not to display their gourds in direct sunlight.
A question frequently asked is “How long does it take to finish one of your gourds?” And it is a tough question to answer. If you take into consideration the growing, drying, and prepping time, and then add to it the time for the concept to come into fruition, and the actual art work, they can take up to a year.
For the art itself, it generally takes about 10-15 hours on a medium size gourd with a lot of burning and some carving. It really depends on how intricate the design is and how many techniques are employed in one piece.
Each one is treated a bit differently because each gourd is unique!