A middle school art teacher and a mom: Meet imaginative mixed media artist Jeanette Odom

Jeanette Odom is a middle school art teacher, a mom, and an imaginative mixed media artist. She uses a variety of media and styles to bring her colourful works to life. The energy in her pieces as well as her subject matter is something that everyone can recognize. This allows a wide range of viewers to appreciate her art and support her view that “art is a universal language which gives a voice to what we can’t find the words to say.” Her passion for teaching art provides the future generation the skills and outlets to find their own voice, while in turn motivating Jeanette to create every chance she gets.

Jeanette, I understand that you began studying art at the age of 12. What training have you had and why did you first become involved in art?

My parents said I was always doing something artistic when I was a toddler, such as drawing in the dirt or weaving grass together. I was always doodling or making comics as well. In elementary school, I don’t remember having art class. My introduction to art began in the sixth grade. I had a phenomenal art teacher, Helene Lambert, who saw my potential. She took my natural inclination and taught me necessary skills such as shading, blending, and working with various types of media. She taught us how to draw with grids to set us up for free hand success once our confidence was built. I remember looking at my very first completed piece, which were two horses shaded with just pencil and thought, “Wow, I did this?” and from there I was hooked, especially when I saw how other people reacted to my art.

I was a generally shy and quiet kid, so it gave me a way to confidently express myself and have people notice me a little more. I guess you could say it became a solid part of my identity. From that point on, I took art courses; always moving my way up into the advanced levels. I went through the same process in high school, leveling up to the advanced courses and participating in the state portfolio grading process. I had some really cool art teachers in high school too. Kendal Harkey, who is now a tattoo artist, and Patrick Johnson, who still teaches art at that same high school to this day. Really chill guys. They gave us a safe environment to express our art, however we wanted to and build our creative skills. After high school, I received a full art scholarship to Southern Arkansas University. I studied art there for two years, but was generally unimpressed with the quality of instruction we received. I did enjoy a few of the professors there, James Thomas was my favourite, but my experience there made me question if art was what I wanted to do. I took a few years off, became a wife and mother, and just focused on that for a few years to rethink my life. I realized the whole stay-at-home mom gig was not for me, and went back to finish my degree at the same college, but for a Bachelor’s of Science in Education.

You are both an artist and a teacher. First of all, I want to thank you for the important role that you play in supporting and fostering the growth of our future generations. How do you see your experience as an artist influencing your work as an art teacher and vice versa?

My experience as an artist shapes my whole curriculum. I write my own, so it’s a combination of meeting the state standards, and teaching students what I know they need to be able to do in order to be successful. I try and fast track them to being very capable. Within the first week of my sixth grade intro course, the students learn proper sketching techniques, observational drawing methods, and then we immediately move on to shading, colour blending, and the creative process of art-making. Knowing how much art has helped me get through some very painful times in my life, I create their project assignments in a way that facilitates a healthy emotional/creative outlet. I give them choices with themes that range from family, nature, and money, to more complex themes such as racism, broken, and lies. Each student interprets the themes differently, and I have almost 100% student engagement in their art, as opposed to when I was telling them more specifically what to draw and create. Nothing is more beautiful to me than watching their eyes light up with an idea that is all their own, and which means something to them.

As far as the students influencing me, that is a constant flow of energy. I create to show them that I am still an artist, not just their art teacher. They love it when I show them my current projects, and they’ll ask me if I’ve made any progress on certain pieces. It keeps me motivated. I also sometimes get ideas for my own work through conversations with them when we are brainstorming. The energetic flow circles around endlessly between the students and me.

You have grown up with art for a large part of your life and your love for creating has led you to a career educating others in the field. Recently you have started to focus on your career as an artist. What led you to this decision?

It has always been a dream of mine to get out in the public art scene. My marriage was very toxic, so I didn’t create art much during that time. I was just living day to day trying to keep my sanity for ten years. After my divorce, I made a promise to myself that I would start creating art again. It was slow at first, and I experienced a lot of frustration with my art that mirrored my mental state, but the more I healed, the easier my art flowed from me. Once my self-confidence was at a healthy level, I created a website just for fun, to see what it would look like if I was a professional artist. A year after that, I thought “No more waiting. What are you even waiting for?” My attitude shifted from “why me?” to “why NOT me?” and I applied for The Pancakes and Booze Art Show in Dallas, Texas. A few days later, I received confirmation that my work had been accepted. It was a surreal feeling.

I still remember my first show as if it was yesterday. What was the experience like for you?

It was amazing. I got to talk to other artists, which I never really was able to do before. I was able to see everyone else’s journey, and have deep conversations about ideas and inspirations. I was with people who were every bit as passionate as me. It was a hot evening temperature wise, so I was a little drained by the end of it, but I am so glad I participated. Many of my teacher colleagues came out, and my family was there, too. It’s a great memory. I also sold a few pieces and that’s always nice.

You describe your art as a collision of abstract and reality combined with pure imagination. Do you see yourself as a Surrealist painter and where does your inspiration come from?

I still have not labeled my work with any particular style. I would say that some of my art does seem to echo surrealism in the dreamlike quality, but then some of my work is just pure non-objective abstract. I’m always trying new looks and new styles, so who knows what I’ll do next. Maybe one day I’ll settle into a style, but I’m still so busy experimenting, I haven’t identified with one yet. My inspiration comes from many things, from my emotions, my life experiences, and things I see. My head is always swirling with ideas; I have described it to a few as a “mental octopus,” grabbing a few of the ideas at the same time and bring them in to create a unified composition. I’d say currently, my strongest inspiration is female empowerment, mental health, and nature.

How did your particular style develop? Are there certain artists who have inspired you or influenced your style?

At first I was always trying to get everything to look perfect. Every proportion, every detail. That led to a lot of frustration. Eventually I loosened up on my expectations for myself and started creating just for fun. I started playing with acrylic pouring and palette knife methods. Once I realized how much fun I was having, I started to combine my style of realism and abstract. Photo realism was never a goal of mine, so I made sure my proportions were realistic, but the details were kept loose and I experimented with colours. I started to like my work, and that only helps to keep me motivated.

I’ve always loved the work of Frida Khalo, because she created beautiful work from her life tragedies and experiences. While she and I experienced different types of tragedies, I still feel a connection to a woman who was willing to use art as an outlet for her pain. I have known sexual abuse, domestic violence, and I still deal with PTSD from these experiences. Through therapy and my art, I have found a place of deep connection and healing. As far as anything influencing my style, I’d definitely say graffiti and street art. I am in love with those styles.

Not only is your art an amalgamation of styles, but you use a variety of media for your work. You combine acrylic paint, pen and ink, watercolour, and colour pencil. Is there a specific medium that is your preference?

I tend to love acrylic the most because you can work so quickly with it. I love blending the paint straight on the canvas when it’s wet. It’s very therapeutic for me to sit for hours and get lost in a painting. It’s a little ironic because I used to hate painting. Now it’s my favourite medium.

Jeanette, it has been a pleasure learning about you and your art. I do have one last question for you. As an artist new to the art scene is there any message or advice you want to give to those starting out?

Don’t stop applying for shows if that’s your dream. Even when you experience rejection, which I certainly have many times, go right back to applying for the next opportunity. Art can be a very subjective field, and you never know who is going to love your work or not like it at all. Keep your art 100% you. Make it fun. Make it meaningful, because you never know-you could be creating the piece that someone is out there hoping to find. Either way, you are still creating something that has never existed before. You hold a certain power in your hands; to create a world from your mind that other people can experience. Whether you are making art for yourself or other people, never stop creating.

Jeanette continues to experiment with her art, both for the benefit of her students and for her continue growth as an artist. With her wide range of artistic interests and media, the opportunities are endless for this talented visual artist. To learn more about Jeanette and to view her complete gallery you can visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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