Jen Corace knew she loved to draw, but she didn’t know that her creativity would lead to the life of an artist. “Originally, I wanted to become a marine biologist,” Corace reminisces. “So much of what I did in biology was creating diagrams of the different sections” – art at its most technical.
But through her mother’s steady encouragement and support of the arts from an early age, Corace felt comfortable leaving behind a STEM career and applied to art schools. She was accepted by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and fell in love with Providence.
Originally from New Jersey, Corace had a long-distance love affair with the city as she, like many young people and hopeful artists, moved around the country after graduation, working odd jobs to pay the bills and submitting her work to various galleries. It was in a Seattle gallery where her work was noticed by an agent for children’s book illustrations, launching her 20-year career as an illustrator.
Using only by-hand processes like pen and ink, Corace creates images of familiar spaces that have a “fairy tale, surreal quality” and “feel rather isolating or a bit haunted or uncertain.” Deliberately avoiding the digital art world, which she believes would take away the consequences of making art, Corace explains, “It’s about learning to let things go, or how to work with the problem that you’ve created.”
With the success of having an agent, Corace was able to move back to Providence and thrive in the city’s art scene. “All the people who I knew doing art and working were here,” she says. “It’s a much more supportive artistic community.” Community was what roped her into helping Craftland transition from an idea to a pop-up back in 2002. Her friends needed handmade goods from artists to sell in their store, so Corace rose to the call. Today, Craftland is a well-known brick-and-mortar on Westminster Street, and continues to support regional makers.
Support is key, a lesson that has been prominent in Corace’s life, from her mother’s death while she was still at RISD, to finding her community in Providence, to adjunct teaching illustration at the University of Connecticut, where many students who take her classes have never been exposed to the arts at all. Her goal is to provide encouragement and instill her own artistic philosophy into her students: make art better, not perfect. Let go of mistakes; make problems into something beautiful. Growth, not flawlessness, is the truest success.
This philosophy is what carried her through the past few years of challenges. While working on her own children’s book, Growl (out this past June), she had to learn the intricacies of balancing a story in visuals, words, and sound. When she became burnt out with the art-as-work mentality and from the stresses of the pandemic, she turned to a ceramics class at the Steel Yard to connect back with her roots; working with clay reminds her of her grandmother’s clay room, and when anything and everything can go wrong in the process of clay creation, ceramics is a tangible reminder to let go, rehabilitate mistakes, and grow.
“It’s a process of letting things be how they progress and then responding to it, not reacting to it,” she says. “Perfection is overrated.” Learn more at JenCorace.com
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