Jonel Scholtz | Illustrator Interview | Drawing From Observation
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Interview: Jonel Scholtz

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Getting to Know Jonel Scholtz

In this interview, we get a glimpse into the world of a seasoned artist who has been painting since 1988, Jonel Scholtz. From her beginnings as a biochemistry graduate, Jonel was mentored by American artist Louise Goudemond for eight years, and since then, she has been perfecting her craft as an artist.

In this interview, Jonel talks about her creative process, love for photography, and how she translates her life experiences and feelings into art. She discusses her unique style, evolution, and being a successful artist.

We also delve into the impact of art on society, the importance of marketing oneself as an artist, and the value of hard work and resilience in pursuing one's dreams. We hope this interview inspires and motivates young aspiring artists. Follow your passion and create your unique voice in the art world.

DFO: It seems like you've been an artist for quite a long time. Can you please introduce yourself to our audience? Tell us about your background as an artist. What do you stand for?

Jonel: I started painting in 1988. It's something that I enjoy doing. It's a passion of mine. I've been doing what I love, and making a living from it makes it even more heart-warming because it's a challenging career.

I think all artists form part of the social conscience of society. We paint what we feel works for us and what we believe is right in our hearts and soul. I love that.

It may not always be correct, but it's what we feel. It might not sit well with society, but it’s our way of expressing our voices. We paint because we feel.

DFO: Have you received formal training to become the artist you are today?

Jonel: I never studied Fine Arts; I did a B.Sc. degree at RAU, now known as the University of Johannesburg. I shadowed American artist Louise Goudemond, who mentored me for about eight years.

DFO: Proving creatives can come from all walks of life. That was a short and sweet introduction. Reviewing your Instagram profile, it’s evident–you enjoy painting. What’s your style, and where do you draw your inspiration from?

Jonel: I was very into American Burton Silverman when I started painting. I’ve always loved figurative art, and his ability to express himself is unconventional. His paintings tell stories. I like impressionism, but more in a contemporary way.

Silverman’s work woke up something in my soul. I knew straight away that I wanted to be able to paint like him. That's where it all started.

DFO: Let’s dig a little deeper. Describe your creative process from concept to the final framed piece.

Jonel: I love photos. I adore them. It's a huge part of my muse. I love looking at pictures. I follow a bunch of photographers that inspire me. I look at their work in detail to find something that catches my attention. Specifically how they’ve utilised their lighting and emphasised shadows.

I like to incorporate that into a painting because what usually makes a painting is the shadows. So that is how I’ll start the process. I then, obviously, like most artists, incorporate my own experiences in life. So, whatever happens in my daily life, I would use that as a reference, and I'll build on that.

This allows me to push my art in a specific direction. Play good music that matches my mood, and I can get stuck in my painting for hours.

DFO: Music, don’t we all love creating to the beat of a rhythm? What is your favourite album to listen to?

Jonel: Recently, cigarettes after sex. I love their music. I love Chris Stapleton. You know, it's very soulful stuff, and I love jazz. I'm really into jazz. So I think it depends on how I feel. Sometimes Leonard Cohen can drive you up the walls and make you sad and depressed, but that is also fine.

DFO: You’ve clarified that your environment plays a big part in your creative process. Using photography and then incorporating how you feel while listening to your favourite artists to draw inspiration. Tell us more or less how you know when a painting is done and how long it takes you. More or less.

Jonel: That's such a difficult question. I know that when a painting is done, I start to overwork it. That’s when I know, drop the tools before I mess things up, you know? I think most artists overwork their paintings –we fall prey to overthinking. So it’s done when you look at the painting and feel, “that’s it”. It needs that ‘it’ factor. You make a connection with your painting. It's funny, and I tend to stick to one painting and finish it.

Sometimes, I will even work through the whole night till the following day, and then if I wake up after I've slept a few hours, I will go back, and I'll see, Oh, no, this is not good enough; and I'll start again.

These days, it's like my norm. I do it all the time, and I think it's become part of my creative process. I will work at it till I feel satisfied. It's like a math problem to me. I want to solve it now and make sure this works.

This can be problematic when I do commissions; sometimes, it can take me three weeks and still no ‘Ahaa moment’. Other times, commissions can take two days, and it's finished.

DFO: Obviously, redoing work is a waste of hours spent. However, knowing this is ‘not me’ and deciding to start from scratch is bold and admirable. Which leads to our next question, how has your art changed or evolved in your career?

Jonel: I’ve always said creating art is like raising children, and you have to be able to connect to your children emotionally. That's precisely what you do with your paintings. If they're not good, you teach them a lesson and start over again.

In the early years of my career, my work was more detailed. I needed to figure out when enough is enough and when to leave out a specific detail, you know? I painted everything in detail, which you can see with evolving artists.

New artists will paint everything meticulously, only sometimes sure what is really needed. They overwork their paintings. When you become more experienced, your art starts telling a story, not simply copying a picture.

DFO: To become a great artist, you must get to that phase where you almost get comfortable creating. How important is it to develop your unique style that tells your story? Translate your voice tone into a new format in whatever medium you prefer.

Jonel: Exactly. As an artist, you must evolve and create your style –that's how people will start to recognise, ‘okay, that's your painting’. So it’s very important to be able to do that.

DFO: Lovely. We now understand your process and how you've evolved to become your own custodian of critique and detect if you’re going in the right direction or whether there is a need to start from scratch. Do you have a piece or a body of work you are particularly proud of? Please give us more insight as to why.

Jonel: I was asked to be part of the Sentiment exhibition. It was an exhibition held during COVID in London at the Bickertongrace Gallery. Discovered on Instagram, I featured among 100 global artists presenting work as part of collectable puzzle pieces.

My submission, titled Just Say Something, influenced by the gender-based violence we’ve experienced in our country, especially during COVID. It depicted a young woman with a flower in her mouth. Little Colibri birds can be seen hovering around her, symbolising the things she loved dearly. As soon as she speaks out about the violence experienced, the flower falls out of her mouth, leaving the birds flying off.

Everything she loves would disappear. She was a close friend of mine ­­­­­­­­–but I know numerous women suffering from similar circumstances, living on a farm where her husband is the provider and always has the final say. She mainly cares for the kids, and her husband emotionally and physically abuses her.

She couldn’t talk about it because she knew that should she dare, her husband would chase her away, and she'd potentially lose her children, unable to provide for them. That touched me significantly. I had to tell that story with this painting.

DFO: Good on you for addressing these issues, as uncomfortable as they might seem. It’s great that you are raising awareness and sharing your thoughts and feelings regarding GBV through your art –certainly something to be proud of. Have you been able to exhibit your work anywhere else in the world?

Jonel: Yeah. I’ve been fortunate to travel and receive exposure to multiple internationally recognised art scenes. I've exhibited in New York at the Agora Gallery, Miami, Netherlands, Mauritius, France and Italy at the Catello Estense –a beautiful medieval castle.

DFO: Thanks to your love for art, you are well-travelled. This is inspiring and aspirational for our younger artists, so we're honoured to have this chat. We aim to inspire and educate young African artists and challenge them to acknowledge and realise that as an artist, you don’t necessarily need a fancy degree to become an artist. You need the drive, hunger and passion to create.

DFO: Help us define what being a successful artist means. As an artist, when can you say, “I’ve made it? I’ve arrived” We all know artists look at success differently.

Jonel: Yeah, I think success is so relative. I think I could be a better artist.

We can always be better. There's always, you know, more places to visit, better awards to achieve. If I answered with my left brain, I would say a successful artist is an artist that can live off their work. To me, that's true because –you still have to eat, and you have bills to pay—the business side of art.

If I answer with my right brain, I’d say creating a piece that the onlooker can look at and say, ‘I Identify with this piece’. It touches me. I love this piece, you know, So I think that a successful artist is somebody that can do that. And we don’t do that with every painting we paint, unfortunately.

DFO: That’s a powerful way to look at success. What's the best advice you can share with young aspiring artists pursuing the arts industry in South Africa?

Jonel: Put in the hard work and know how to market yourself. I know plenty of incredible artists whose skill level is so high, but they can't sell themselves. It’s sad, but you must be able to market yourself constantly. And that's why social media is so significant.

You must remember that if you are an artist, your skill level has to be mastered. That's the only way to expose your soul on the canvas involuntarily.

To be the best, you’ll do everything possible to make it work. That happened to me; I studied something my father felt was appropriate then. I worked in that field for a while, and I felt miserable.

If I wanted to pursue a career in arts, I would have to go out and market myself –in those days, we didn’t have tools like the Social Media platforms we have today. I walked the streets of Joburg with my art from gallery to gallery, and I heard so many ‘No's’ and then eventually that one ‘Yes’.

DFO: Inspirational. Eventually, your efforts will tip the scales and play in your favour –summarised, be resilient. How important is the role art play in our South African society?

Jonel: You get artists exploring racial issues and others not really into that. I think there's a space for all artists. Art is necessary and can be a beautiful thing. It's something that can make you feel good, you know.

I see this in the art classes I teach, which women predominantly attend; they almost see it as three hours of escapism. It can be therapeutic and a way to forget our problems and release tension.

DFO: And in closing, what can we expect from Jonel, the artist, soon? Any projects? Any special exhibitions.

Jonel: I will also exhibit at the Dickinson Grace Gallery at the end of the year. I would love to keep broadening my horizons, explore a bit of sculpture, and perhaps exhibit more overseas. That would be very nice. And obviously, I want to sell more paintings. So buy my paintings.

DFO: It sounds like you have quite a few milestones ahead, and you're still planning which you'll tackle first. It's been really lovely talking to you.