Photos by Collin Richie

The Creatives: Artist Jennifer Ward

Jennifer Ward

Hometown: Baton Rouge
Age: 31
Artistry: Digital illustrator, abstract artist

Jennifer Ward’s strokes across the canvas would make a particular, peculiar sound; the low, soft scrape announcing a shortage of paint on a timid brush. This would unnerve her instructor at the LSU School of Art every time. A real teacher’s pet peeve. 

“She taught me color theory and ripped my work to shreds,” Ward recalls of her strictest mentor. “I loved it.”

At the time, the Baton Rouge native had finally embraced her artistic leaning after a stint on a nursing track left her thinking about drawing all day long. She learned to take constructive criticism well, soaking up creative inspiration through art classes, motivational books and Google, like a bright new sponge feeling right at home under the faucet. 

“You can’t take negative feedback personally,” says the 31-year-old, who has two young children and a growing, multi-streamed art career. “Often, you’re working to bring your client’s vision to life, too. Work as an artist is like any other job in that way.”

From austere, hand-rendered family and pet portraits to wild 8-foot abstract works, Ward has explored it all. She’s finalizing a set of Pixar-esque character drawings for a new children’s book and recreating her mother and other relatives working in their kitchens for a whimsically illustrated family cookbook.

New clients come to her with an idea, and she makes it happen. “I don’t like turning people away—I like figuring things out,” she says. “I still feel like a beginner.” 

But unlike her first art classes, Ward has learned to use more paint—a lot more—embracing an impasto technique of thick arcs and swirls of layers, like ocean waves. 

“It’s like icing, it looks much better in person,” Ward says. “Step one is destroying the canvas, and then I can get to work.”

She used the bold technique effectively in a monochromatic white for the “Pantone Theory” exhibition at The Healthcare Gallery & Wellness Spa over the summer, and now one of her impasto works, inspired by coral reefs, is hanging in a hotel in Saudi Arabia.

Her notebooks are like archeological scavenger hunts, plastered with sketches, inspirational song quotes, color studies, cutouts from magazines and swatches of random patterned materials. But permeating all these disparate details and ideas is a strong focus. “Routine is essential,” she says. “I have to have one.”

And yet, Ward stresses the value of flexibility and artistic wandering. 

“Don’t force your creativity, and don’t worry about having one specific style,” she suggests. “Many successful artists have several different styles. And those differences are useful.”