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In the Studio | Amy Jean Porter

Amy Jean Porter has an affinity for the natural world and a quirky, cheerful way of expressing it, which we love. Her work has been shown internationally and she's been published by some of our faves like The Awl and McSweeney's, so we know we're not alone in the AJP adoration. We had the chance to talk with the lovely Amy Jean about how she works and lives, so please - enjoy! – Jen & Team 20x200

Studio Speak
Where's your studio?
I have a space in an old brass-hinge factory by a river. There's an interesting assortment of businesses there - metalworks and printmakers and custom car painters, and someone who makes fish lures.

What's your favorite "tool" in the studio?
I really like a small brush, like a scalpel. I'm also fond of my pencil sharpener, a Boston Champion my dad used in architecture school.

What do you wear when working in the studio?
In the winter I wear layers and a hat. In the summer, normal summer things. If I'm making something messy I have a blue button-down shirt that I wear over everything.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
I have a snack and pour a cup of water to drink and another to paint with. (Yes, I have mixed them up.)

What's on your in-studio playlist?
I like to listen to online courses on astrophysics and biology. It's good to know the universe is accelerating and the ants are winning. I also listen a lot to podcasts by Julie Klausner, Jesse Thorn, and Marc Maron, as well as Radiolab and Bad at Sports. I usually get too distracted by music.

What's your favorite way to sweat it out?
I played competitive soccer growing up and through college and loved it so much, but also did a number on my knee. I've replaced it with rowing and have become obsessed. It's fun and hard and you never know what you're going to see on the river. Once it was a great blue heron taking off with its giant awkward body. Another time I saw a snake's face, about the size of my thumb, swimming toward the dock. The little jerk came right up and then disappeared under the water.

What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Instagram and checking the weather have become small rituals. Flipping through old sketchbooks, rearranging things, and staring out the window round out the top five.

Which artists' 20x200 editions do you most covet?
Ann Toebbe! Among many others . . . Amy Ross and Carrie Marill for their birds, Amy Casey for her fantastic buildings, Youngna Park for small moments, Jason Polan for action-life, Robert Garcia for being a little uncanny and also humorous, and Roger Ballen for his wonderfully strange toast.

Amy Jean's wall of hedgehogs - the hedgehogs are mainly ones that have made the news. There's even a video of the one below chewing a doorstop!

Whens, Hows & Whys

When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist?
I have vivid memories of drawing as a kid, so in some ways I've always been an artist. I tried for a while not to be one. I thought I might write or talk about art instead. But it kept coming out and it's hard to ignore. When I was 26 I started drawing hundreds of birds in my basement apartment in Brooklyn. I had taken a few studio classes in college, but mainly I come from a long line of women who painted birds. When I finished drawing the 508th bird, I realized that's just who I am.

How’d you get there? 
I took a couple of drawing classes and an intro to painting (taught by the terrific Laura Newman) when I was in college, but mainly I drew and drew in small sketchbooks for years. I supported my learning curve with a variety of editorial and teaching jobs, all of which taught me a lot, too. 

How do you get over creative blocks?
I keep drawing. Sometimes it's not so great but I figure if I keep going things will come around eventually. I usually keep bad drawings. Sometimes the ones I think are horrible turn out not to be so bad years later. Sometimes the ones I think are great are terrible. Like I said, it's good to know the universe is accelerating and the ants are winning (because everything in between is confusing). 

What do you like best about 20x200?
I love art for everyone. It's everything.

The 411 on Amy Jean Porter
Amy Jean Porter grew up in Oklahoma and Arizona and currently lives outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Porter has drawn more than one thousand species of animals for her ongoing project All Species, All the Time. Individual series within the project include North American Mammals Speak the Truth and Often Flatter You Unnecessarily, Tiny Horses Say What and Freaked Out Monkeys in the Trees. She has presented solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Paris, and her drawings have been published in Cabinet, The Awl, McSweeney's, Meatpaper and elsewhere. Her first book, Of Lamb, a collaboration with the poet Matthea Harvey, was published by McSweeney’s in 2011.

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