Art Nerd New York | Los Angeles

Tibetan Art, Jack Kirby and Getting Lost with Jennifer Jelenski

Jenifer Jelenski’s Let’s Get Lost opens at La Luz de Jesus Gallery on Friday, December 6. We visited Jennifer’s house and studio where she lives with her boyfriend Chad and their dog Bruno.


AN: From what we saw in your studio, your sketches are quite detailed – do you work out your pieces entirely via sketch before committing to paint? You make a lot of notes to yourself during this part of the process – could you give us a glimpse of what happens between the idea / conception of a piece and your final sketch before committing to paint?

I begin with small drawings that grow and develop over months. I’ll have a drawing in the works as I am painting another. The notes I take are in hope to make the best composition as possible. I like to keep it in plain sight, at all times. This way, a random glance may reveal something to add, fix or expound upon that hadn’t occurred to me yet. My fear is that I have spent all this time on a drawing that at a certain angle, in a certain light says, “Eat Shit” or is really a giant vagina. That art has its place, but it isn’t my intention.


A completed drawing then gets transferred with tracing paper to a canvas. I seal that with gel medium (a clear acrylic product) to serve as an under painting. That helps me to begin blocking in colors and when I get lost, I can shine a flash light behind it. That shows me the drawing, even under several layers of paint. A few weeks are needed to achieve the solid, clean effect I strive for. This then receives another layer of gel medium. Next I begin the work that feels like art to me, the line work. The solid, mostly black outline that I adore. I’ll touch up the color were ever needed. When I start to do more harm than good, I have to call it done. A painting is allowed a week or 2 to dry and then it receives a layer of varnish.

AN: Please give us more insight about your layering

These layers started on a Wrathful Deity with eight arms. I needed to know how such a skeleton would work. I made a composition were a magic x-ray curtain showed the Goddess’s bones. Now I just can’t stop. These “ghost images” or layers break up the solid color fixation that I have and make for, in my humble opinion, a more interesting painting.


The layers are there from the beginning. To add them later could be problematic. The color underneath could shine through and ruin the effect I was going for.

AN: Your pieces contain a lot of visual rhythm, are very hypnotic and full of symbolism. One might think you could be in a trans-like state while creating your pieces – what sort of frame of mind do you put yourself in when painting?

I do trance out on those lucky occasions of the creative process!
It’s rare.
Sadly most days it’s work.
I do love to be lost in my process, fixated on the colors, curves, contrasts……..More often it’s brain bending, frustrating and perplexing. Thanx for noticing the rhythm. I strive for that and I think it satisfies that part of me that at one time worked in music.

Hey Jimbo, Acrylic on canvas 30x30

Hey Jimbo, Acrylic on canvas 30×30

AN: What inspirations lead you to your unique direction, and style?

I first started with a strong desire to paint Tibetan Art for my home. I couldn’t afford it, but I could try to make it. Making it required I learn about it. After about 6 years I’d filled my mind and my home with this amazing Iconography! I also admire comic books. Especially old Jack Kirby comics for Marvel and DC. “Pickled Kirby” was originally called “Pickled Frog”. When I finished it, my first thought was I’d gotten a very Kirby like balance of color to the black line work, so I changed the name.

Pickled Kirby, Acrylic on deep paneled canvas 9x9 in

Pickled Kirby, Acrylic on deep paneled canvas 9×9 in

Q: What is the story behind Let’s Get Lost? What is the significance of the lamps in these pieces? The bunnies?

Let’s Get Lost  is a sneaky, off the cuff invitation. My life has been complicated with tons of unsolvable problems. This series is what I’ve done to take my mind off my troubles. I hope they will do that for you the viewer as well.

The gas lamps are inspired by a story I heard about Albert Einstein. The story goes that he was admiring mist and moisture dancing in the glow of a street lamp. From there he began to ponder how long the light took to get from the lamp to him. I thought this was truly beautiful!

The bunnies maybe a power animal or totem of mine. I’ve been drawing them since I was a young girl.
Bunnies are not as they appear.
Cute and fuzzy is just their appearance.
They are a menace, especially to electrical lines and devices.
They bite.
Generally very frisky, not super fond of being held or pet.
Kinda like me!

AN:  That is the finest paintbrush I’ve ever seen – what inspired you to use such a delicate tool and how many of these do you go through during the course creating a piece? Are these brushes hard to find?


I found these brushes in 2002 ish. Before 1998, I hadn’t done much painting. I drew. I’ve been drawing, supposedly, since I was 2 years old. I began painting to decorate my home and because paintings were more achievable than drawings. My drawings would yellow and fade into something repulsive over the course of a few years. These wee brushes seemed small enough to pull off the line quality I get with a pen. They’re meant for lettering or calligraphy.


They are very hard to find! The distributor announced years ago that they would no longer sell them, special orders being the exception. Artists, like me order these monthly! I go through close to 4 dozen a year. This brush is known as, “Princeton Art & Brush Co.’s 20/0 Liner 3050L” they sell for about $8 a piece. A knock off did exist, briefly, but it was inferior.

AN: How many hours a day do you paint? It’s always fascinating to hear how an artist who works at home keeps themselves disciplined. Do you have any particular daily rituals?

I work whenever I can. An average day looks like this:
A bit of painting while getting my day started.
Notes taken as I clean up.
Dog gets a walk and I do yoga.
I take notes while I do yoga.
I get 4-5 hours in of uninterrupted painting or drawing.
Walk the dog and start dinner.
I go back and forth from the kitchen to the studio until it’s time to eat.
I’ll eat and watch a story.
After diner is cleaned up, I’ll paint some more before going to bed around 11pm.

In an average day I get 6-8 hours of painting or drawing in. Weekends I have more time to work. If I’m close to a deadline, I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ve been known to stay up 30 hours and sleep for 4 hours.
I’m very concerned that I just don’t have enough time. My head is full of stuff that I’d like very much to put onto canvas!

Purification Ritual, Acrylic on canvas  Purification Ritual, Acrylic on canvas 18x18 in.

Purification Ritual, Acrylic on canvas Purification Ritual, Acrylic on canvas 18×18 in.

Let’s Get Lost: A series of colorful distractions
Jennifer Jelenski grew up in a sleepy, little mill town in Indiana but her nomadic tendencies guided her to nearby Chicago where she attended the American Academy of Art and Tree Studios then to the mountains and valleys of North Carolina where she spent six years painting Wrathful Tibetan Icons which continued after relocating to California. Her current work is an eclectic assortment of stylized cartoon critters and Tibetan symbolism that comes from a love of Jack Kirby and the more ‘interesting’ corners of her mind.

My wish is that the viewer, upon looking at this series, forgets their troubles.
Falls away from the world we know and into a place more imaginative.



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