Jenna Alexander’s life motto is “living” and it’s easy to see why. She is a woman that is always on the move; whether she’s at her studio painting, photographing a wedding, paddle boarding with her husband, playing outside with her two young children, or organizing a beach cleanup day, she never stops finding ways to live life to the fullest. She’s a full-time artist, businesswoman and most importantly, wife and mother. So how did she find a way to make it all happen? She followed her heart without apologies and learned to listen to her own inner voice.
For Alexander, painting and photography go hand-in-hand. She says, “I couldn’t do one without the other,” and for her entire life, she’s been taking pictures and creating art.
At the age of five, she recognized her dream, and when she was eight, she received her first camera which began her passion for photography as well. From there, she continued to pursue art, attending camps every summer, winning awards in high school, and she was even commissioned by her school to do a surprise portrait for the principal when she announced her retirement. In 2006, she began attending Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn., where she started out as a psychology major with a minor in art. Her hope was to combine science and art for a career as an art therapist because people warned her not to pursue a career as an artist. “It’s not stable,” they said.
Finally, during her junior year, one of her art professors recognized her talent and asked why she wasn’t an art major. It was then that she realized she needed to listen to her own voice instead of the naysayers, and became a fine art major – never to look back. After graduating on time, she spent a year in Tanzania teaching art at an orphanage, then returned to the United States to spend a couple of years working as a creative assistant for a nonprofit in Eustis, Fla.
Finally, after paying her dues in the business world, she was about to encounter the opportunity that would kick-start her lifelong dream of becoming an artist full-time. She moved to St. Augustine, Fla. in 2013 to be with her husband Za, taking a job as a creative director for a local stationary company. Three months later, she received an offer to open her own studio as a photographer, Jenna Alexander Photography.
“There’s so much to running a business,” says Alexander. “So much more than I thought about when I started it. There’s never a dull moment. You become a woman of many hats, you do so many different things.”
And for the first four years, she struggled balancing her passion alongside managing a successful operation.
“My studio space was literally 10 percent of our space, it was so tiny,” she says. “I got into the retail side of it. I was having to buy candles and selling my notecards and prints and doing a lot of commissioned jobs… it became kind of a hassle because I shot weddings and had photoshoots in the mornings and evenings and had to keep the shop open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.”
During this time, her stepfather and mother moved to St. Augustine to be closer to their children and grandchildren. One day, while visiting Alexander at her studio, they noticed an old Victorian building for sale a few doors down. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to buy it and renovate it,’ because that’s what they do, and so they bought the building and renovated it,” she says.
It was April 2017 when the renovations were completed. She moved into her new studio and rebranded as Jenna Alexander Studio. With her parents as landlords, she embarked on the artistic journey of her dreams.
She stopped taking the small bread-and-butter jobs that had been providing her a steady income and utilized the freed-up time for working on a new series. She reflects on that moment as both scary and exhilarating. “It was kind of a big ‘ah what am I doing?’ moment,” she remembers.
But the successful release of her Salt Run Series in October 2017, a mixture of oil and watercolor paintings featuring oysters, confirmed that she had made the right decision. “It was really successful, I think I sold 90 percent of the originals that first night,” she says.
This was her defining moment – realizing that, yes, she could be successful as a creative person.
Alexander says that she has finally reached a place where she is satisfied with both her business and her art, and is making the most out of each moment. She’s stopped obsessing over the naysayers’ definition of success and is focusing on defining her own version. “I feel like in this past year I’ve done a lot of self-reflecting and I feel like I’ve come to a place where I could care less about the money. Money is not success to me, it’s about doing what I’m doing for a living and that’s what I love,” she says.
She’s also discovering that her art is so much more than a painting or a photograph for someone to purchase; it is a way of bringing people together.
When Art Speaks to Life
In February 2018, Alexander organized a beach cleanup day at the state park near her home where she and her husband enjoy spending time with their kids riding bikes, playing in the sand, and harvesting oysters. “We had a really good turnout, we had like 50 people there and everyone was stoked about it,” she says.
The project went hand-in-hand with her Salt Run Series, which showcases how art can inspire good things for the environment.
“I like making art and I like bringing people together and then having people feel good about purchasing art,” says Alexander, “I like bringing people together for the good, whatever it is.”
So, what’s next for this dream achieving wife and momma of two adorable little ones? A new series, of course. What else?
“Here’s to Good Women…”
For her next artistic debut, she’s creating a powerful tribute to women. “My series is going to be called Stripes and Buns, and the tagline is ‘Here’s to good women,’ so I want people to reflect on what it means to be a good woman,” says Jenna. Her inspiration came from a piece of art that hung in her childhood home with the saying, “Here’s to good women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”
This spring, she has set aside a few days where anyone can come to her studio and bring in the most inspiring women in their lives for a photoshoot. The only requirement? Black and white stripes and buns, unless you’re a bald baby or you have short hair, of course. She explains, “With stripes and buns, that’s like one little thing that can bring [so many] women together. You know, [lots of women] wear stripes and buns so it’s kind of generic and it brings people together.”
Alexander’s Stripes and Buns series comes at a pivotal time when the “#MeToo” and “Time’s Up” movements have sparked a global conversation regarding women’s issues and the obstacles they face in their professional and personal daily lives. With her latest work-in-progress, she wants to take the conversation to a new level by reflecting upon what it means to be a good woman. “I feel like as women we’ve proven that we’re strong, we’ve done a lot over the past 50 years, and now we need to be good,” she says.
In this empowering moment for women all over the world, Alexander believes that being an artist is more than creating. For her, it’s an opportunity to inspire others toward optimism. “I think as artists it’s our time to raise awareness of what’s going on in a way that’s positive,” she says.
She hopes this series finds its place in history as an empowering message to all future women – one that encourages them to continue to rise up in a positive way and make the world a better place for everyone. “I definitely feel like I’ve reached a place where I can bring more people together to make an impact,” she says.
The Stripes and Buns series is currently set to be released December 2018 and features a compilation of fine art and photography.
You can check out Alexander’s artwork at jenna-alexander.com and keep up with her inspiring journey by following her on Instagram, @jennaalexanderstudio.