Inside the Swoon-Worthy Studio and Shop of SF Artist Jenny Lemons
Playful prints, a bowl fulla lemons, and positive vibes are three key components of any creative experience that involves artist Jennie Lennick, also known as Jenny Lemons. A shop-owner, curator, teacher, and designer, describing this creative woman as a go-getter is a definite understatement. In this week’s edition of Creative Crushin’, we hit up Lemons' shop/workshop space/studio to learn all the ins and outs of being both an entrepreneur and an artist, and we can’t wait to share her story with you.
I first met Lemons a few years ago when I took a macrame class at Workshop SF. I was immediately struck by her down-to-earth charm and quirky design aesthetic. Lemons is one of those creative people that truly loves sharing her crafty skills with others and helping them find their own unique voice — teaching clearly fuels and invigorates her creative process.
Since that macrame class, Lemons has been a regular in the Brit + Co family — from teaching workshops in our shop space to selling her wares as an artisan at our Re:Make events, and now here in a downright inspiring installment of Creative Crushin’.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wishing Lemons could also tell *your* 17-year-old-self that everything’s going to be okay ;) Read on for more about this artist’s story, what inspires her day in and day out, and what advice she has for creatives who ready to take a chance on themselves.
Brit + Co: First, the basics. Where are you from? What did you study in college? Tell us all about your beginnings.
Jennie Lennick: I grew up in Minnesota and making crafts was always part of my upbringing. Winters are long in the midwest and I loved to spend them curled up with my embroidery hoop and sewing machine making things. My mom and grandmas are very crafty and encouraged me to be creative. I ended up studying studio art, photography, and art history in college. In 2010, I left Minnesota for San Francisco to attend graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute where I earned my MFA in painting.
B+C: Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional artist?
JL: I didn’t really know it was an option until I was a senior in high school. I had a great art teacher who really encouraged me. I didn’t know what to study in college, so I decided to focus on my favorite thing, art. In college, I had a professor who said, “if you are going to be an artist, art has to be the only thing you want to do.”
B+C: What types of day jobs did you have before you were able to focus fully on art? Tell us about your career path.
JL: For years after grad school, I worked at a non-profit preschool as an administrator and a teacher. I loved working with children and families. Kids are so imaginative! I also taught creative workshops to adults at DIY workshop spaces, galleries, and shops in the evenings. Back then, I would work all day at the preschool, and then hustle around town teaching my workshops.
B+C: What was the turning point like when you realized you could dedicate your time wholly to your artwork?
JL: The hustle was really getting to me, so in late 2016, I applied for a small $7,000 loan from KIVA. That money allowed me to quit my day job, purchase an industrial sewing machine, and focus wholly on my art. By then I was working part-time at the school and full-time at my business. Beginning January 1, 2017, I started working solely for myself and it was amazing! The first month, I spent marketing my brand to retail shops across the country. By February, I was in several shops and beginning to not feel so nervous about finances.
B+C: Was it scary taking that leap? What’s been the toughest part about being a full-time artist?
JL: Of course it’s scary! Once you decide to work for yourself, you have to rely on yourself completely for financial stability. The toughest part is time management. There are so many things to do all the time, and it can be really difficult to prioritize tasks. It can be really easy to turn into a workaholic and spend every waking moment focused on my business. It is also tough to not work all the time and take breaks!
B+C: On that note, when did you decide to take the plunge and open your own store?
JL: 2017 was a huge year that moved insanely fast. In late summer/fall I found out that the studio space I was working out of was evicting half of its artists. I decided it was time to start exploring other options. I began working with a business consultant and she helped me define my goals and dreams. I realized that, more than anything, I wanted to have a store where I could sell my art, the work of other local artists, and host workshops. Things happened quickly. I found a vacant storefront on 24th street in the Mission, secured a $50,000 loan from the city of San Francisco, and began renovations on the space in November 2017. We opened to the public in January this year!
B+C: What do you love about making things? Tell me more about that intangible force that drives your work.
JL: I love taking an idea, working through it, and making it exist. I’ve always thought of making art as a way of making magic — you can create something that has never been seen before and share it with the world.
B+C: How did you hone in on your particular aesthetic?
JL: I love bright colors and simple designs. I like to take a recognizable item, like a watermelon, and break it down into the most basic shapes and colors. My aesthetic is directly attached to my life experience. I went to art school for seven years and am inspired by contemporary art and design. In my early 20s, I made a lot of zines and comics — which to me is all about drawing fast and simply to get a story across. I spent my childhood making crafts, so I am inspired by those traditional techniques.
B+C: Tell me more about the garments you make. At first glance, they are distinctly YOU, which is awesome. What goes into each one that makes them stand out?
JL: All of my garments are block printed or screen printed by hand. Plus, we use really high-quality materials to construct the clothing, like organic hemp, linen, and raw silk. I think the combination of my super simple illustrations with the more "rustic" nature of the natural fabrics make it stand out.
B+C: Where do you turn for inspiration?
JL: Several places! I love taking DIY workshops as much as I love teaching them. When I learn a new skill, it makes me so excited to create things! Along that note, I am most inspired when I rest. I like to travel, spend time at the beach, look at art, go to craft shows, cook, and decorate my home. My work and designs are directly connected to my favorite pastimes.
Favorite Quote: Henri Matisse: “Creativity takes courage.”
Trivia About You: I am celiac and spend most of my time asking if things are gluten-free.
Go-To Karaoke Song: “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac
Favorite Art Tool: I love my baren! It’s a tool that helps me block print.
Late Night Snack: Popcorn
Currently Reading: I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for the first time and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
B+C: I know that teaching is a component of your creative work. Why is art education important to you? What do you love about teaching people to make things?
JL: It’s empowering to learn to make things with your hands. I am really lucky to have found art at an early age, and want to share my skills with others. People have so much fun in workshops because they are making themselves vulnerable while learning something new.
B+C: Printmaking, sewing, macrame, weaving — it seems like you like to experiment with a lot of different techniques. What’s your most recent art/craft exploration? And what’s your favorite that you always come back to?
JL: I just learned leatherworking! I made a hand stitched leather backpack in one of the workshops in my shop and it was so fun and easy! I am excited to make experiment more and add leather elements to some of our sewing classes.
No matter what my craft obsession is at the time, I always return to embroidery and sewing. There are times in my life in which I work on an embroidery project every single day. I love the meditative nature of stitching and the tactile material of fabric. Plus, all those colorful threads! It’s just so fun.
B+C: How do you manage your time? Do you come up with set hours for yourself or just go with the flow?
JL: It’s incredibly easy to work 24/7. I typically try to not work on the weekends and spend time with my family, unless there is some sort of craft fair or event. My shop opens every day from 12-7pm and we host workshops in the evenings from 7-10pm. I work from home in the morning and make it into the shop in the afternoon. It’s been really helpful having employees to manage the shop so I can concentrate on other aspects of the business like designing my line, planning workshops, and taking care of my wholesale clients.
B+C: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
JL: When I’m burnt out, I try to get out of the city and relax somewhere else! I am so lucky to live in Northern California because it’s beautiful and just a short drive can bring me to a secluded beach, a quaint town, or a fun winery. Spending time away from my shop and my email allows me to relax and makes me ready to accept creative ideas.
B+C: What advice do you have for emerging artists who are considering taking a risk on themselves and going full-time?
JL: Take a workshop from the Small Business Administration in your town and talk to others who have done it before. When I was just getting started, I took a business planning workshop that made my path a lot more clear. I learned what I needed to do to actually make a living making my craft. Knowledge is power — it can be really overwhelming trying to navigate all the aspects of running a creative business to make your art full-time. Learning what tasks you need to take care of to manage your money, marketing, licensing, manufacturing, and more is so important.
B+C: If you could give younger you a piece of advice, what would it be? Or rephrased: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
JL: When I was younger, I constantly doubted myself. I felt that I would never be able to make a living as an artist. I had a goal that I wanted to be a full-time artist by 35. If I could, I would tell myself that it’s possible and I did it, but by the age of 29, not 35 :)
Can I please spend every Friday morning in the joyful and colorful glow of Ms. Jenny Lemons? If you’re in the Bay area, be sure to stop by Lemons’ shop in the Mission to check out her pieces as well as a whole collection of items curated from local makers. And if you’re not a local, here are some of our favorite pieces also available online.
For more, follow @jennylemons on Instagram to ogle all her beautiful things from afar. Possibly the most meaningful moment of our morning spent together was when Jennie insisted on perfecting what she called “the blogger squat.” I had never heard of such a squat, but I’m pretty sure we nailed it.
Creative Crushin' will be back next week with yet another swoon-worthy story to share. Until then, keep on creepin' on.
Author: Anjelika Temple (Video: Michael Sullivan, Photography: Kurt Andre)