CONNECTING THE DOTS AND STARS WITH ARTIST JENNIFER PROBERT By Sandra Castillo

The muse can strike at lightning speed. Whether it unleashes itself from the well-spring of one’s fertile imagination or from a song that embraces the listener and reels him in to that perpetual state of nirvana, for an artist, the inspiration to create is just as vital and necessary a function as breathing, in order to survive.

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If one is still not convinced about this notion, then one search no further than Jennifer Probert, who has surrounded herself in lights and shadows and brilliant hues to birth wondrous works of art. Whether she is applying pigment to goalie masks worn by NHL players or placing thousands of dots on parchment to create life-like visages of world-famous icons, she embodies the true meaning of the word “visionary.”  

Born in Wilmington, Ohio but now residing in Pittsburgh, PA, Probert was gracious enough to speak with RG Magazine when contacted by the publication to find out more about her connection to the National Hockey League, her art and how a certain international superstar from Pinner Middlesex England transcended the fray and became one of the main center points of her work. Here is what she shared with us… 

Let’s go back to the beginning, when you first became interested in art.

When I was five years old, I knew I was going to be an artist. I have a sister a year older than me and a sister a year younger. We would go visit my mom’s best friend who had a son a few years older than us, and while the adults played cards, the four of us kids would have coloring contests. When we were all finished with our page, we’d tear our pictures out of the coloring book and take them to the adults to “judge” the winner. Those contests made me realize that I loved creating art, and I clearly remember thinking that I wanted to color forever. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than an artist.

Where did you receive your art training?

I taught myself to draw for many years. Every Elton John album I bought-and I bought them all-I would draw the covers and any photos that were included. I’d draw them over and over until I got my drawings as close to the original album art as I could. 

When I graduated from high school, I immediately enrolled in The Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s Fashion Design and Illustration program, where I learned to draw human figures. In 2000, I was living in Tampa, Fla and enrolled in the Digital Graphic Design program at Tampa Technical Institute. In 2011, I graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division with a bachelor degree in Web Design and Interactive Media.

Describe the process involved in creating your art.

For my free-hand art, I generally use photographic references, sometimes my own photos and non-copyrighted photos, but I always check for a copyright. Sometimes I draw from my imagination as well. My favorite technique is black-and-white pointillism or line art done in marker or pen and ink. Sometimes I use a Bic pen, too. 

For my digital artwork, I use a photograph as a reference to start; again, sometimes my own photos and sometimes non-copyrighted photos. Sometimes I’ll do compilations using several images, but I always draw the complete image. None of my digital illustrations have any part of the original photograph in them; I always delete the photograph and finish the illustration by eye and feel.

My custom-painted goalie masks are all original designs. I’ll do a pencil sketch of the requested theme to get proportions and perspectives exactly like I want them, then transfer the design to the mask. I use enamel paint, because it’s highly pigmented, UV and water-resistant. The painting is rendered using a combination of free-hand brush work and airbrush. The mask is then finished with a three-part automotive clear coat.

Apparently, there’s a book in circulation which instructs one to successfully tackle the language of “Pittsburghese” and you were the artist assigned the task of illustrating the images for it.   

Yes, I illustrated the first edition of the book “How To Speak Pittsburghese,” which was a pocket dictionary of the meaning of many of the words and phrases Pittsburghers use but don’t make a lot of sense to out-of-town visitors. For example, “red up” means to “clean up,” “Yinz” means “you, guys,” and “jeet jet” means “did you eat yet?” And yes, people really do use those words here.

The world of hockey is certainly in a “league of its own” and you’ve successfully managed to incorporate your art in its realm.  

True. I started painting ice hockey goalie masks around 1988. I was the only woman in the world painting them at that time-at least I never found another woman in the world who did, and my friends in the hockey world never heard of another woman painting masks, and at that time, there was only one guy in Toronto painting them. I became known in several states as “The Mask Lady.” I don’t know how they ever heard of me outside the Pittsburgh area, but I had commissions from all over the United States and one from Canada.

I painted a mask for two NHL goalies-Kenny Wreggett of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Kevin Hodson of the Detroit Redwings. I never got to see either goalie wear their masks, because Kevin was in Detroit and Kenny got traded two days after I delivered his mask. That made me really sad, because my dream was to see an NHL goalie wear one of my masks. 

I painted goalie masks for Dick’s Sporting Goods for a couple years, too. They commissioned 10-12 at a time, wanting a theme based on the local NHL team and shipped my masks all over the east coast. I even traveled to do a couple of “guest appearances,” where I did live-painting demos in the hockey departments of their stores. I had kids ask me for my autograph! 

You’ve harnessed an amazing collection of Elton John-centric art. What, specifically, led you to focus your creative energies on the performer as the centerpiece of so much of your work?

I was 10 years old, when I first heard “Your Song” on the radio, and I loved it immediately, because Elton John’s music was so different from anything I had heard before. Up until then, I was listening to Elvis Presley and some country artists, but even at such a young age, I could hear the difference in the quality of his music compared to other musicians, and something about him just spoke to me. It wasn’t until recently that I understood that pull. 

I was captivated by his music, and when “Border Song” was released, I was hooked for life, it turns out. The first album of his that I bought was Tumbleweed Connection. Until then, he was just a soulful but disembodied voice on the radio. I loved him based solely on the sound of his voice and his piano playing, but when I saw him on that album cover, I thought he was the most beautiful “boy” I had ever seen. I thought he was perfect, and he was the first crush I ever had.

It wasn’t until I saw “Rocketman” that I recognized the similarities we shared. I think there was always a part of me that subconsciously recognized his shyness, his sadness and the insecurities he felt, and I think that was what initially drew me to him and his music so strongly. It’s why I feel like I formed such a strong bond with someone I’ll never even meet. To this day, I love, adore and admire him, and I always will. It’s this strange bond I feel with him that inspires me to focus my creativity on him.

To view more of Jennifer Probert’s art, please visit- www.jenniferprobert.com 

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