by Sheila Julson
Watercolor artist Jessica Menzel believes the eyes are the windows to the soul, expressing a gamut of emotions ripe for immortalizing onto paper. As an avid reader of fairy tales during childhood, Menzel has over the years developed a captivating style that skillfully depicts human sentiment and animal attributes.
Menzel’s father served in the U.S. Air Force, causing her family to move frequently. From third grade on she was home-schooled, and during her free time she loved to draw and color. While her family lived in Ewing, New Jersey, she participated in art competitions, including a historical buildings contest where she won first prize for a colored pencil drawing of a beautiful stone church.
When Menzel was 14 years old, her family moved to Texas. It was there that she met watercolor artist Rebekah Zeimann Walek, who influenced Menzel to pursue that medium. “I just fell in love with watercolor and wanted to learn to paint,” Menzel relates. “I can picture the first flower painting I did, a coral-orange rose with a purple background.”
After dabbling with watercolor paints, Menzel developed a unique style of painting people and animals, based on the whimsy and imagination of fairy tale classics. When her family moved to Oklahoma, she enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma to pursue a studio art degree, specializing in painting. “That’s where I first played around with oils and acrylic,” Menzel says, “but by the time I got to my third year, I told my professor that I wanted to stop using oils and move to watercolor. I was not having a good time with the oils. Watercolors really come naturally to me.”
Menzel created a series of paintings inspired by fairy tale classics, beginning with Snow White. “That fairy tale series was the moment I found direction as an artist to create a body of work,” she says. Although the fairy tale series helped her define her way, she feels she’s still developing her own techniques. “Some artists I follow on Instagram or Facebook have a honed style, but I haven’t quite found that yet. Maybe I never will, because I enjoy exploring all forms.”
More recently, Menzel has pushed her own boundaries by doing portrait commissions. “I just painted a commission piece for a woman who sent a photo of herself with three of her four brothers, along with a separate photo of their fourth brother that wasn’t in the first photo, and I had to paint him in. I completed the piece and sent it to her. She later sent a gracious email letting me know that their mom absolutely loved the painting because the brother I had painted into the picture died over a year ago,” Menzel emotionally recalls. “It was the first time in over 10 years the adult children had been in a picture together. I’m honored to be able to do that for people.”
Menzel has recently explored dream interpretation, a move inspired by her own recurring dream about whales. She wants to guide others into weaving spiritual aspects into art by teaching how to transform a message or feeling into a picture. To accomplish that, she will host Conscious Canvas, a wine and palette night, beginning August 25 at Energetic Wellness, where she works full time.
“I’ve been learning about art therapy, and I want to teach people how to make those interpretations and use art as a form of release,” Menzel explains. “I’m just happy and grateful to be painting—I’m loving this.”
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazines throughout the country.