Words and photos by Jenni Mazaraki
If you sat down at Jodi Wiley’s desk to get work done, chances are you’d have to work very hard not be be distracted by the books on the shelves. Then there are the chooks, and the dog and the glorious view into her garden…
Artist Jodi Wiley paints books. To be more accurate, she illustrates curated piles of books.
“I’m working on a series of book stacks because I have a deep love of books and reading. I also enjoy writing,” said Jodi.
Jodi’s two young children happily agreed to share a bedroom so that Jodi could have a room of her own. As a dedicated studio space, the former bedroom of the brick home in Melbourne’s north is flooded with a gentle light on the day that I visit. The wall facing the desk is a mirrored cupboard, bouncing back the glorious bookshelves in reflection.
“I just love being surrounded by books,” said Jodi.
A cosy armchair sits in the corner of the room. Shelves are bursting with books including novels, reference books, picture books and Jodi’s sketchbooks. The sketchbooks capture moments in her life such as trips to the beach, a day out sketching and sentimental objects. Jodi’s sketchbooks can instantly transport her to the time and place when the image was drawn.
“When I look back at sketchbooks I have all these memories that flood back to me about who I was with, the weather, the conversations I had. Sometimes I’ll find a little sketch of one of my children’s shoes and it just brings back that flood of memory. That’s a really important process for me to keep that going along with my studio practice which is quite different.”
We chat and my coffee goes cold. Jodi shows me a current work in progress – another stack of books, almost completed for a new and exciting commission for Blarney Books and Art.
Jodi has exhibited widely and received awards for her paintings. Her work has also been featured by The Jealous Curator. “That was very exciting!” said Jodi, “I woke up one day to find that I had a lot of new followers on social media.”
A love of books
Jodi’s illustrated stacks are reminiscent of the pile of books beside the bed, the ‘to be read’ pile. Those who enjoy reading will be familiar with the exquisite torture of wanting to get through the pile and the subsequent disappointment when the pile keeps growing instead of shrinking. She groups her books into related titles. Alain de Botton’s book sits atop a pile of travel books in the artwork entitled, “The Art of Travel.” “Now Write!” features books by George Orwell and Joyce Carol Oates in a teetering pile that focus on the craft of writing.
One of Jodi’s favourite books is Catcher in the Rye which she loves for its use of colloquial language and unreliable narrator. “I think there is something about books that you read at a moment in time, or in a particular period of your life, especially when you’re a teenager, and that stays with you for whatever reason.”
Jodi is sentimental about her books. “All of the books I choose for my paintings are books that I either own or I’ve sourced from family and they’re all meaningful in some way.” Creating stacks in themes which remind her of particular moments in her life enables Jodi to recall specific memories. “The book stacks are interesting for me because they tell my own story.”
Whilst Jodi does de-clutter and let some books go from time to time, she said that it’s not a straightforward process. “I did think that painting my books would allow me to let them go, however, it just adds another layer of meaning.” This makes it difficult for Jodi to let books go when they’ve been in a book stack painting.
The importance of space
Jodi initially worked on the dining room table but didn’t want to continue packing her work up at every mealtime. Purchasing a table for her art allowed her to keep a designated work space until finally her current space became her own. “I became much more focused about my art practice…it was also a sense of allowing myself this space, sort of, validated my art practice in a way,” said Jodi. “So it was the next step from being hobby to being something I wanted to pursue a bit more vigorously.”
“I think as long as you have some kind of space that’s just yours, even if it’s a table in a corner is enough psychologically.”
From writer to artist
Studying English and History at university, Jodi said, “Drawing and art was something that I loved to do as a child, like many children do…but I dropped it.”
Before developing her art practice, Jodi was a writer and English teacher. Intending to use her maternity leave as a time to write, Jodi found writing impossible. “After I had kids, I couldn’t string a sentence together!” Caring for a new baby meant that time for creative work was only available in small moments.
“I still needed a creative outlet, I needed something for myself.”
Whilst pregnant with her first child, she began creating artwork for her baby’s room. “I didn’t make art before I had kids. I only started painting after I had my first daughter.” Painting reminded her of the pleasure of making art when she was at school. Working in acrylics meant that she didn’t need a large space or a large amount of time to work on her art, enabling her to paint while her daughter napped. It sparked something.
Undertaking a workshop with illustrator, Dawn Tan, Jodi learned to paint with watercolours. “My passion is painting,” said Jodi. Jodi had always wanted to try watercolours but felt intimidated by the traditional methods of watercolour painting. Jodi credits Dawn’s workshop as the motivating factor for her to work in watercolours, adapting methods for her own enjoyment and painting style. She still uses the same brush and palette recommended by Dawn.
Whilst Jodi makes a concerted effort to connect with people who are drawing and painting through social media and the Melbourne Urban Sketchers, she enjoys the quiet and solitude of her home studio,
“I’m your classic introvert where I’m quite happy to be alone by myself all day long.”
Art practice and family life
With two young children to care for, Jodi brackets her time to balance her art practice. At the end of the work day, she finishes her work and doesn’t return to it until the next day. She rarely works on her art when her family are home, unless she has a particularly tight deadline. Her husband Kim is also creative, making cigar box guitars which Jodi paints designs for.
“I’m particularly attracted to artists who are mothers because I’m curious about how they do it and any tips that I can pick up,” said Jodi, being interested in others who are able to balance their demands and live a full, rounded life.
Now that her daughters are both in school she is looking forward to working on her writing as well.
Jodi currently has a special sale of some of her prints until July 31.