Sister Jody O’Neil is an artist-in-residence with the Sisters of Providence at the Roethele Art Studio on the SP Motherhouse grounds at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Her website is appropriately titled creationsights.org. Working in an environment rooted in spiritual values and eco-justice, it is obvious that she enjoys her work as much as her work environment. Her work ranges in a variety of media from acrylic, oil on canvas, water media collage and pastel pencil on paper to watercolor. I encourage you to visit her website, www.creationsights.org.
Brian: Where did your journey begin?
Sister Jody: My love for art began with the encouragement of my art teacher at Holy Spirit grade school in Indianapolis, IN. Her creative spirit and her ability to allow me to express myself was foundational. I received a B.A. degree in Art Education here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. I had an area major, but I didn’t have any art in High School. I went to a college prep school that had music appreciation but not art. While my degree is in Art Education, I wanted to do printmaking, jewelry and painting. I ended up going to Indiana State University (one summer) for a jewelry class taught by Robert Montgomery, a world-renowned goldsmith.
Brian: Did you become a Sister after you graduated from college?
Sister Jody: No, it was during the time I was in college. I entered the community immediately after high school and started my education, which is not how it is done anymore.
Brian: Did you go on to teach after graduation?
Sister Jody: Yes, I taught art K-8 full time at Saint Ann School in Terre Haute. I did that for about six years and decided if I wanted to keep on teaching art, I would have to work on getting a permanent teaching license in Indiana. A colleague told me about an Art & Spirituality Masters program at Mundelein College in Chicago. So that’s what I did. The degree was in Religious Studies with emphasis in Creation Centered Spirituality. What I really enjoyed about that was that it focused on God as creator, and we are co-creators with God working in partnership helping the world evolve into creative moments. I thought, “Wow this is really cool!”
Following that I was looking for a creative ministry in the Catholic Church and one of my classmates was working in campus ministry in the Rockford, Illinois, Diocese and said they were looking for someone to start a campus ministry program in two of the community colleges. I applied, interviewed and got the job. I moved on to two other colleges in the same diocese in Rockford and also became the co-director of Diocesan Campus Ministry.
My next position was the director of the Newman Center at the University of Evansville, where I worked for five years. Then I responded to an ad advertising a position opening at the University of Dayton where I was hired as the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, oversaw the Residence Hall program and ministered in a residence hall and coordinated the Graduate Assistant Program. After doing that for 10 years, I was tired and needed a break. That is when I took a sabbatical and started doing art full time.
Brian: Were you doing art at that time?
Sister Jody: At the end of my time at the University of Dayton, I had just started doing all kinds of colorful work. I had done some artwork off and on up to that point, but not seriously, because I had so many administrative duties.
Brian: So, 25 years later you started doing art full time?
Sister Jody: After 25 years, I decided I needed something different. When I was offered the opportunity to take the (a) sabbatical, I knew I wanted to move on to something new. I remember at the time, how cold and dark it was and I got to the point where I just had to have color. I went to the library and got all kinds of photos of red poppy flowers. I picked up some oils and started painting all kinds of large poppies. It helped to brighten up my environment…the weather was cold…it was dark…and it was a motivator for me. I found myself waking up in the morning and wanting to paint more.
I thought, “This is saying something to me and I need to listen to it.” That was my transition really from administrative stuff to doing art full time.
Brian: What happened next?
Sister Jody: I had a wonderful chance to do the Creating Sacred Art 10-Day International Retreat in Versailles, France, and that is where I studied and stayed for two weeks. Highlights for me were visiting Chartres Cathedral, Monet’s home in Giverny and Van Gogh’s final resting place.
Following that I went to the Vermont Studio Center for Writers and Artists, Johnson, Vermont, for a four-week art residency. We each had a studio, and speakers came in who did critiques of our work. It was a wonderful experience. I had a chance to meet a lot of writers and artists.
And then, I did a month-long retreat in the Cenacle Retreat House in West Palm Beach.
At the conclusion of my sabbatical I exhibited the work I had done during that time. I then had the opportunity to be the resident artist here and to work out of this beautiful studio, refurbished under the watchful eye of Sr. Rita Ann Roethele, my painting teacher here at SMWC.
Brian: What are the media you work in and how has your art transitioned?
Sister Jody: I started out working with acrylics in college and then started using oils while in Vermont. When I began applying to shows, I switched back to acrylics because acrylics dry so much faster and I wanted to make sure I had enough pieces done for the shows. Not only do the acrylics dry faster, I felt more comfortable with them at the time.
I got interested in texture painting. I started using the “Golden” brand of fluid acrylics because they had the transparent quality and the texture media already with their painting lines. Before, I was mixing sand, cinders and anything I could to create the textures. By using the Golden brand of paint, I didn’t have to spend as much preparation and I could focus on finding stencils and making my own stencils to get the patterns I was looking for in the work.
I was painting with the textures and adding color into the paintings. A colleague noticed one of my paintings was all white before I added the color, and told me how much they liked the white on white. So, I have done an entire series of white on white paintings as well and love their classic quality.
Brian: How did you transition into watercolors?
Sister Jody: I went to an art retreat at the Mercy Center, Madison, Connecticut where I was introduced to what they referred to as “glue painting.” I would put a powdered form of Elmer’s Glue and mix it in a gallon jug of water, forming a clear gel. I would then spray the watercolor paper with water, put the gel down and then put the acrylic paint on the paper and move it around. I would use objects like old combs to create textures and let it dry overnight. The next day I would start the process over again. By working in layers (sometimes up to a dozen layers), the colors underneath from the previous process would get revealed.
Recently, I have been working with watercolors on yupo paper. Yupo is a smooth, 100-percent recyclable, trace-free, durable synthetic paper surface made from polypropylene pellets. It is dimensionally stable and holds ink and paint with razor-sharp precision, and the colors are brilliant. I acquire the fluid watercolors from a shop in New York City. Similar to the glue painting, I spray the watercolor on and let it dry overnight. The result is a cosmic burst of vibrant colors.
Brian: How do you market your work?
Sister Jody: I have participated in a number of art shows and festivals from Penrod in Indianapolis to the 51st Coconut Grove, South Miami Arts Festival. Locally, I am one of the founding members of the southwest Indiana Rivers & Roads Artisan Trail and will be exhibiting at the Clabber Girl Museum and Restaurant. My work was jury selected to be part of a large mosaic of Hoosier artists that currently adorns the south wall of the Clowes Memorial Hall main lobby at Butler University in Indianapolis. I will be exhibiting in the Festival of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Noel Center, Stevens Point and at this year’s Evening of Art & Wine at the ISU Hulman Center.
When I was in Florida, I was exhibiting my new watercolors. I met a couple who had purchased two of my acrylic paintings at Penrod last summer. They live in Miami in the winter and happened to come to the exhibit. They recognized me and looked at my artwork and said, “We’re still enjoying your other pieces.” It made me think, and I said, “Yeh, I’m really into color now.” They said, “They’re nice pieces,” and just walked by. I kept thinking that you just never know. This art journey is like navigating uncharted territory for me, because I didn’t go to art school to learn how to do art shows. I just want to do it and explore ways to market my work, and that is what I am doing now.
Brian: What would you tell someone if they were interested in doing art full time?
Sister Jody: Just do it!