Jordan Ann Craig is a Northern Cheyenne artist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in the US. She received her B.A. from Dartmouth College. Her work includes painting, print, collages, textile prints, and artist books. In 2017, Jordan was awarded the H. Allen Brooks Traveling Fellowship as well as the Eric and Barbara Dobkin Fellowship at the School for Advanced Research. In 2019, Jordan was an artist in resident at Institute for American Indian Arts as well as the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program. Currently, she is painting and printing in Pojoaque Valley, New Mexico.
"My paintings are painstakingly planned with no room to be messy or relaxed."
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your art practice?
My mother is Northern Cheyenne and my father is Norwegian, both born and raised in Montana. I'm a painter, printmaker, designer, textile and artist book maker, and my Indigenous background greatly influences my work. Currently, I study Cheyenne beadwork and make large-scale hard-edge paintings.
Do you remember the first art material you were given or bought for yourself? What was it and do you still use it today?
My earliest memory of playing with art was when my sister and I were given a massive set of art supplies for Christmas. The set included pastels, crayons, watercolours, and markers- everything a three-year-old artist would be ecstatic about. Ironically, I do not use any of those mediums anymore in my daily practice, but there is something very nostalgic about cheap markers and crayons.
Having recently completed a residency, the "Gift of Time" on the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program in New Mexico, how did you find that experience? How did the residency impact your practice?
The Rair Program was definitely the gift of time, space and focus. This opportunity was huge for my growth as an artist, and as a young adult figuring out my career in the arts. I painted beyond the restrictions of what fits in my car, and I made art that was bolder and better than ever before. This was a life-changing year for sure, and I am so grateful for my time in Roswell as a fellow on this grant. I have done many residencies, and I take away something special from each experience.
Can you tell us a bit about the origin of your art books, what inspires them and how you came to start making them?
I was lucky enough to attend a university that has a book arts program. I took a printmaking class that required making a handmade artist book. I quickly grew fond of this way of working. I love making narratives and experiences with works on paper. I am a perfectionist too, so working in a medium that requires a great deal of care and structure suits me well. My books are inspired by so many different things. For instance, I once thrifted a bunch of old placemats, inked up the textured mats, and made a book titled "Placemat." Some prints even had old food stains embedded in the paper.
Your books appear more experimental, especially SNOO, but they all seem to be a more open way of working, how does that part of your practice relate to your paintings?
SNOO was my first artist book ever. I drew blind contour drawings of my sister Bailey over video chat calls when I first moved away to the east coast for college. A blind contour drawing is basically making drawings without looking down at the paper. It is a fun activity! These are all the rough sketches from those calls. It is a loose, vulnerable, and in-the-moment art piece, completely different from my typical practice. I love having these opportunities to explore spontaneity in my art since my paintings are painstakingly planned with no room to be messy or relaxed.
Your work uses such vibrant colours in complex patterns, how do you make your colour choices and do you have a favourite palette?
Sometimes I make a painting based on colour. For instance, I wanted to make a painting titled "Baby You're So Blue" so I made a baby blue painting. Other times, I have no clue what colour combinations I will end up painting. I work in Photoshop to sketch out the painting before I touch the canvas. Using technology, I can play with infinite colour possibilities. Sometimes I honour the original colours I am studying in Cheyenne beadwork, and other times I come up with combinations that are unique and surprising. I love colour relationships, and how colours change when they are with other colours. Sometimes I feel like monochromatic black and white, and other times I feel like a ugly green or flaming hot pink.
What is your process for making a painting, is there a digital step in the patterns before they become analogue paintings?
Ah, yes: I completely rely on technology to plan my paintings. I use Adobe Photoshop to make my colour blocked designs. After I know and feel a design is complete, then I go analogue and translate the digital design to canvas with acrylic paint.
Since your practice covers a range of materials and includes collage, paint, and printmaking, are there any materials you use in a way they weren't intended and/or any special techniques you have developed as you experimented with materials over the years?
The first thing that comes to mind is q-tips, or cotton swabs. I feel like q-tips were in each classroom from middle school through college. They can be used for the obvious (cleaning one's ears), but also a great tool for painting, printmaking, charcoal drawing etc. I use them as a stamp to make my dot paintings. I cover the entire canvas with dots using this special unlikely tool.
Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that are special to you? How do you use them and why?
I have this one long stick that is 8 feet tall. Nothing special, but I use it to make nearly all my straight lines. My sister Bailey calls it the "magic wand."
Which historical artists do you consider influential in your work, and which contemporary artists do you also look to?
Historically known: Agnus Martin, Yayoi Kusama and Anni Albers. Contemporary: Jeff Kahm, Dyani White Hawk, Jaida Grey Eagle, Marie Watt, Tschabalala Self and Jeffrey Gibson to name a few. My greatest influence would be the Cheyenne makers and artisans, and other Indigenous peoples making art long before our time.
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given, and do you have one piece of advice to share with an artist just starting out?
Senior year, my professor walked me over to the window of the studio and told me simply to observe. Look at the colours, shadows, shapes, architecture, etc. What do you see? At the time, I was making extremely abstract work with little concept and meaning. He advised me to study real concrete objects, and ultimately make work that I care about. To this day, I am an avid student of observation making work that I truly love. I would tell artists just starting out to seek out as many opportunities for you to grow your practice. Whether that is continuing your education or making artwork at your kitchen table; make lots of work, fail often, and explore.
Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?
I recently had my debut solo exhibition at October Gallery in London, UK, and now I am excited to focus on settling into my life and practice in New Mexico.
To learn about Jordan Ann Craig and see more of her work, please go to her website www.jordananncraig.com.
All images courtesy of the artist.