Jennifer Drinkwater

Fabulous People: Jennifer Drinkwater

Iowa artist Jennifer Drinkwater is an assistant professor of Art & Visual Culture, a community arts specialist for Iowa State Extension and Outreach, and creator of The What’s Good Project, which celebrates the meaningful stories from where we live. “Inspired by the conversations I have with folks around the country, I create original paintings and limited-edition art prints about what’s good in each of their communities. I donate a portion of each art sale back to nonprofit community organizations chosen by the interview participants.” Learn about Jennifer Drinkwater…

Hometown: I was born in Greenville, Mississippi, and we moved to Jackson when I was eight.

First job: In high school, I worked retail at Organizers, a locally owned version of the Container Store. Anyone who knows me at all will find this hilarious because I am the least spatially organized person in America. Think the Swedish Chef mixed with Animal. That’s what my personal spaces look like.

Favorite ways to spend your free time in IA: I adore hiking with my dog, and kayaking with my husband. When the pandemic hit, I decided to visit a new park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. I have a long way to go, but I love seeing new parts of the state.

Your biggest accomplishment and why: When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Other kids wanted to be artists, but I really wanted to be an artist. There was no doubt in my 7-year-old brain. Unfortunately, it took many years for other people in my life, including teachers and art professors, to get on board with that decision. I’m really pleased and grateful to be honoring my seven-year-old self.

The biggest obstacle you overcame: As many other folks, I’ve struggled off and on with anxiety throughout my life. The odd thing is that I didn’t even realize it as anxiety until the last handful of years, and I feel fortunate that it wasn’t debilitating. I’ve been working on recognizing the unhealthy ways I coped in the past and course-correcting.

Someone who inspires you and why: Oh my gosh, I cannot pick one person. One of the best aspects of my life are the people in it, and many of them are lifers, meaning I’ve known and loved them for decades. I admire so many qualities in each of them, like unconditional kindness, a stellar sense of humor, looking on the bright side of life, taking accountability for their relationships, humility, choosing not to gossip, generosity, good listening skills. The list goes on.

Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: How much time do you have? Here are three essential tips I wish I had known as an early career artist:

  1. Recognize (and celebrate) that you are an entrepreneur as well as an artist. This is good news!
  2. Cultivate a regular habit of continuing your education. Read, take courses, talk to mentors – not just in improving technique, but in marketing, business practices and leadership skills.
  3. Embrace and learn to love writing. Many of us visual artists create so we don’t have to write. Guess what? You have to write, and you want to write like a person, not a robot.

Favorite quote: “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” –G.K. Chesterton

Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: Remember that love of hiking? Three days after my 24th birthday, my mother drove me and a giant backpack to Amicalola Falls, Georgia, and dropped me off at the base of Springer Mountain. I hiked 700 miles north on the Appalachian Trail, alone and without a cell phone, to southcentral Virginia.

What makes someone fabulous: Courage and humility, warmth and accountability, curiosity and vulnerability. And the ability to laugh at oneself, loud and often.

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