GAINESVILLE – At 32, Newberry resident Jessica Gray was thrilled to show her artwork last weekend at the 36th Annual Art Festival at Thornebrook. Gray is a painter and jeweler who uses and re-uses materials in what she calls a “closed loop practice.”

“My work is abstract and heavily influenced by nature and natural textures,” said Gray. When she talks about closed loop work she is referring to using items left over from one project to enhance another. She says she uses an extremely heavy amount of paint and recycled material…sometimes soil with an acrylic paint base.

“I use recycled paint from work surfaces to close the loop rather than throwing it away or washing paint down the drain into the water supply.”

While Gray’s jewelry is unique and interesting, she says she tries to keep it simple. She builds pieces using epoxy and clay along with gemstones. Her jewelry is often electroformed using copper wire suspended in a bath of chemicals connected to a power supply.

It has taken Gray research and trial and error to develop her method. “There is a resurgence in popularity of this method,” said Gray. “You have to troubleshoot on your own until you get it right.” This method is scientific and very “left brain,” she said. “Painting, on the other hand is right brained.” The two different methods help keep her grounded – along with her cat “Remy” who she says is boss of the household.

Gray said she “sort of side-stepped into becoming an artist ” as she studied businesses at Santa Fe College and took a few art classes on the side. She obtained her business degree while at Santa Fe but she stayed on and got her degree in Graphic Design.

“Our family has a creative streak running through it so my parents supported me in taking art classes while working on my business degree.” Gray’s grandmother is a ceramicist, her father and brother are into drawing and photography. Her mother did fiber arts – crocheting, quilting, etc.

Gray worked in graphic arts and marketing for more than 10 years. Over the years she dabbled in art but still kept her day job. “In 2020 I set priorities and knew I’d rather be making art than anything else. I decided to use the skills I had developed over the years to market my own business.”

Using those fun art classes, a lot of trial and error and a certain amount of recklessness, the primarily self-taught artist officially launched her own business. She said she has been selling her art for some time, but this is the first time she has focused all of her energy on these two types of artworks.

“You have to make bad art before you can make good art,” she said. “If you let the fear of a blank canvas paralyze you, you’re never going to make anything.” She launched her website www.andpersestudios.com earlier this year. Using social media and in-person local events in the north Florida area, she has made a name for herself in the art world.

Gray launched a new collection just prior to the festival and visitors to her booth seemed interested in her unique new designs. “In person, the stones just pop, but,” she says, “it’s difficult to photograph some of these stones to capture their wonderful colors. People just have to see them in person sometimes in order to really appreciate the work.”

Another local artist, Archer resident Amber Rust, 43, also showed her artwork at this year’s Art Festival at Thornebrook. Her web, Instagram and Facebook pages are all called “Fluidity by Amber” and show her fluid acrylic pour painting techniques on canvases, wood and other substrates.

The results are abstract, but focus heavily on beach and seashore types of scenes. Rust enjoys adding embellishments with realism such as hand-painted turtles, manatees and other sea creatures.

“I will sit with a finished product until I can envision what completes the scene,” said Rust. Referring to a large turtle painting she said, “I sat with that painting for a year before it came to me what would complete it.”

Rust spent the first 20 years of her working life in management at a credit union. As a teenager she spent time drawing, but a career and family took center stage for several years.

“I was always interested in art,” she said. Once she began playing with painting her interest in art was rekindled from a spark to a flame. “I was non-stop on art after that,” she said. She converted her dining room into her studio and has been going strong ever since.

“I had to focus my attention on one theme and that became oceans and shore life.” She learned that different additives to paint can cause shimmer and other different effects. “I learned how to create an ocean feel,” she said. The addition of resin over paint brings out the colors.

Rust also creates earrings and jewelry using an acrylic pour on a silicone mat. “I cut out the shapes I want for earrings and pendants and seal them with resin, which really makes the colors pop,” said Rust. “They are really light because there is no heavy metal behind the painted jewelry item, so they are very comfortable to wear.”

Rust claims because she is an introvert, she has shied away from YouTube videos. “The process of doing what I do is messy and requires specialized equipment and protective gear. It’s not just something I can easily show in a YouTube video without a whole lot of editing.”

Rust likes art shows for the interaction with her customers. “I have been doing this for two and a half years now and really enjoy talking with people about the work and seeing what they are interested in.

Rust’s art includes wall art, serving boards, trays, coasters, jewelry, occasional bracelets and specialized custom furniture pieces.

Rust will be showing also at the Ocala Art Festival, the Micanopy Art Festival and the Gainesville Downtown Art Festival in the next few weeks.

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