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Exclusive Interview with Actor and Artist Jenna Rose Simon

Jenna Rose Simon is a 28-year-old actor who has also been drawing for most of her life.  She recently began working on series of drawings to help raise awareness for victims of abuse and neglect, as well as to help teens suffering from depression and other mental illnesses to not feel so alone.

One of her images of verbal abuse went viral once it was posted to the internet and ABC News reached out to Jenna for comments.  It was through this experience that Jenna realized that she wanted to shed more light on her art and to discuss her experiences as well as her mission with a wider audience.

Jenna reached out to us here at Talk Nerdy With Us and I was blown away by her drawings.  Jenna is able to put more emotion and make more impact with one picture than many people can even when given and unlimited word count to work with.  A number of her images spoke to me personally and the range of her work is such that there is probably something that every one of our readers can identify with.  You can view Jenna’s drawings here.

Jenna, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me today.  Your graphic interpretation of verbal abuse is very powerful and as you’ve discussed with ABC News has gone viral.  Why do you think this one image has had such an impact?

I think this one had such an impact because the message was obvious.  I did the drawing based on an unknown verbal abuse campaign that had the child and the hand, but no parent attached.  I changed the words to match things I’ve heard and added the mother in for the effect.  I think the message was obvious, and more than that, I think when people see a drawing, they are just more moved sometimes then a digital piece of art.  They know someone put their heart and soul in that artwork and did it by hand.  For some reason, there’s something very moving about that.

Art certainly does carry with it the spirit of the artist and you’re right in thinking that it is this spirit that can link people through artworks.  I know you’ve received both positive and negative comments in response to the drawing.  Will you share some of the comments with us and as someone who has struggled with her own issues, how were able to process the more negative comments?

One of the most ignorant negative comments on the ABC News article was “a kid who can’t even eat, as basic necessity of life, she sounds like a peach.”  There was also one saying something about how I draw about these issues but am I even going to be there to help the kids? They assumed I wouldn’t.  I deal with negative comments differently depending on what they are.  The first comment I shared with you I kind of brushed off because I could tell it came from an uneducated person who knew nothing of eating disorders, therefore, I found her “opinion” irrelevant. 

The ones who comment about my character without even knowing me bother me more.  It often makes me feel as though I have to defend myself to those people, and sometimes it’s hard to just be quiet and not retaliate back.  Sometimes you just have to realize that in order to make a positive difference, there will be negativity involved as well.  They go hand in hand.

It is said that we can’t appreciate the light without the dark, although the dark can be difficult at times.  It sounds as though you’ve got a healthy attitude toward your critics.  I understand you’ve been drawing most of your life.  Did the subject of your art change over time or were you always drawn to graphically representing what was going on internally?

Yes, I have been drawing most of my life, but I didn’t really start drawing concept art until a year or so ago.  To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you how I came to the idea to draw my first self-portrait, the one where a crying version of me is removing a happy mask.  It was over a year ago, and I was doing work to better myself, and somehow, I decided I needed to draw that (image).  It helped. 

I then continued to draw self-portraits that depicted what was going on with me internally.  Someone very special to me named Allison saw my art and said I needed to share it with the world.  So, I created an art Instagram (account).  When I realized it was helping people, I continued to draw self-portraits about my own struggles but also began drawing concept pieces about mainstream issues that kids could face today such as bullying, harassment or gender profiling.

It takes a strong person to reach through their own pain to help others. Did you attend art school at any point or are you entirely self-taught? Were other students able to identify with your drawings?

I did initially go to school for art.  After suffering a serious injury at the end of my dance career, I decided to go to school for fine arts, with a focus on art therapy.  After one semester in the art program, I left and studied Psychology pre-art therapy instead. 

I just didn’t like the art program and felt it was all subjective.  I would get lower grades than other people because the professor would say I was “capable” of spending 30 hours on a homework assignment where 8 hours was required.  It was not for me. 

The only thing I really learned in that semester was how to use a blending tool! haha.  So now, when I draw, my shading doesn’t look “scratchy” and is more blended and fluid.  Definitely needed that lesson, so I regret nothing!  But no, no one really identified with my drawings because, in that semester, all I drew was whatever was assigned… pots, plants, flowers, chairs, etc.  Nothing “interesting.”

You very rarely incorporate color in your drawings, why?   Alternatively, why is there color in certain drawings?  Do you people notice this and make comments?

I must humbly admit that the reason I rarely incorporate color into my drawings is because I do not know how to draw with most mediums that give color! 🙁 I have recently started trying to learn colored pencils, but I have trouble blending them, so I feel if I did a whole piece with colored pencils, I would get the skin tones and hair wrong, and it wouldn’t look as realistic. 

When preparing for college, I did put together an entire portfolio (some pieces with color mediums such as paint and pastels) but I had help from a teacher and it was 10 years ago, so I don’t remember how I did it!  I guess I find it easier to see shadows and make smooth transitions in graphite pencil, so that’s what I always use. 

In one of my pieces, where I am wearing a target over my heart, I added a slight bit of red to draw attention to that target.  Similarly, I did the same thing with the self-portrait where the word “ENOUGH” is written across the face, using the mouth as the O.  That little bit of color didn’t require any blending or transition from color to color, so I felt “safe” doing it!  People have told me my work would be “better” or “more interesting” in color before.  Since I’m not really confident using those mediums, I use it more rarely, and for practice… mostly on images I never post because they are learning experiments!

I’m not at all sure your work would be better, just different.  Also, I think that there is something quite startling about the black and white you use that reaches out to grab people’s attention in its starkness.  It also seems to go quite well with your subject.  Are you willing/able to share with us what you experience personally that led to these images? 

I am able to share, to an extent.  I’m still really coming into my ability to not feel that my situation is my fault, and therefore, expressing it is difficult.  Basically, I suffered a childhood trauma, which led to a very long-term eating disorder.  I only recently began understanding my need for control and how it was projected onto my body, as well as how to control more healthy things. 

I have found a love for acting and drawing, and the ability to express myself through those art forms, which has helped me along the way.  I think with acting, it’s just fun to me to get to be other people.  It’s like living in someone else’s life all the time, which is a great get-a-way from your own struggles when you need a break.  I’ve also found one person, Allison, who understands me better than anyone else has, and I have utilized her to help me get past everything.

I can identify with any number of your sketches and in my case I know my parents thought that the way they spoke to my sisters and I was just ‘good parenting’.  The fact that none of us were able to develop any sense of self-confidence without therapy proves that they were wrong.  Do you find that your drawings are having an impact with parents or other adults who are perhaps the perpetrators of the verbal beat-downs?

It’s funny you ask that because it seems that most of the negative comments on my art are from parents, particularly with the “viral” drawing.  Parents will comment and say “she clearly does not have children,” or “When she has 5 kids running around and is pregnant with a 6th, let’s see how she feels.”  I think the ones who say that are the ones who are guilty of behaving the way the mother in that drawing is! 

They try to justify their actions because the drawing stirs something up for them, and they don’t want to deal with it.  I know from personal experience how easy it is to scapegoat when you don’t want to deal with something; I did it with my behavior rather than trying to deal with my childhood experiences.  At the end of the day, I know why they are making those comments, and I have to tell myself that I didn’t do that drawing for them.  I did it for myself, and for every other child who has been through something similar.  I don’t expect to change the parents who believe that (their) behavior is appropriate and therefore, I can’t expect them to comment constructively.

That’s a good way to look at it, a healthy way to sort through the comments you receive.  Using this interview as your podium, what do you hope the people reading this article and viewing your drawings walk away with?  What would you say to people who have not experienced this type of verbal abuse?  What are you hoping they learn from your drawings?

I think the biggest message I would say is that no one struggling, no matter what kind of struggle they are going through is ever alone. 

It is so hard sometimes to not feel like you are alone, and I still feel alone myself a lot more than I’d care to even admit, but the truth of the matter is we really are never alone.  These kinds of things happen way more than they should and as unfortunate as that is, it means that there are other people who understand what you are going through. 

(Even) if you’ve never been through a trauma or something depicted in any of my artwork, I hope that you can understand from a distance what a friend of yours, relative, or anyone else you may interact with may be going through; and maybe you can provide a guiding hand, or even just a compassionate ear to them after seeing the depth of the impact of their experiences. 

Moreover, maybe you can be the person who doesn’t judge someone who’s experiences you haven’t been through, and maybe you can stand up to those who do judge.

Do you exhibit?  If so, where can people go to see your art in person? 

I don’t currently do galleries, but it is a long-term goal.  I am currently working on other things within my career that are taking up my time (one of which does incorporate my art).

You are also an actor, have your drawings had an effect on your acting? 

I think my drawings affect my acting in the sense that they have kind of “released” me, if you will.  Getting feelings out while drawing has help me remove the guarded fear I sometimes have when a camera is on me, which I feel has improved my acting. 

Where can people see your work?  Do you have any projects on the horizon?

I wrapped filming a new feature film called The Art of Confession last year, where I played two roles, Lucy and Arla.  Arla is a real life person, but Lucy is a figment of another character’s imagination.  It was a lot of fun! 

I also have an album of audio plays out on iTunes called Fun Stories With Jenna Simon, which is all family friendly stories, and I have another album of audio plays dropping next week 🙂 Right now, my work can be found on iTunes and Amazon (The Fun Stories audio play, as well as two others that I co-star in).  All updates for my new film and the next audio play album will be put on my official website when I am allowed to share!

 

 

You can follow Jenna on social media and see more of her incredible art using these links:

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

Website

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