by Josie Gereszek
Triple-majoring senior Janessa Marquette has a lot going on, but that hasn’t stopped her from picking up a new hobby.
“I’m surprised I even found the time to draw,” Marquette said. “It started off as a joke.”
Her boyfriend was having a bad day, she said, so she drew a picture of a dog to cheer him up.
“It turned into me drawing pictures of fat little pugs,” she said. “I got really into it.”
She said she’s not sure what she’s doing, but she knows she gets a kick out of it.
“I’ve never taken art classes,” she said. “I’ve never drawn.”
Marquette talked about her art, flipping through pieces she created on her iPad through a free app called Paper by FiftyThree. The software digitally emulates art tools through a Bluetooth-connected stylus.
“This was the piece I did for my boyfriend,” she said. “It’s our spirit animals — a fat pug and a goat. Goats like to eat everything, and they’re loud and obnoxious, so I feel like that’s me.”
Marquette recently signed a contract with Fargo craft store Unglued and opened her own Etsy shop to sell her work. It’s hard being new to the craft, she said.
“It’s really confusing going to these Etsy shops and stores where people sell their stuff. They talk about all the different weights of the paper and the ink, and I have no idea what they’re talking about” Marquette said, laughing. “I don’t know how to explain what this is. I’m not an artist, and I don’t know what’s happening.”
Still, come mid-March, Marquette’s simple prints will be making their way to Unglued’s downtown storefront. She said she thinks they’ll do best as cards.
“I do this in my spare time,” she said. “It’s not like it’s taking time away from my real job, so I might as well see if I can make it at Unglued.”
She said she’s still surprised when people recognize her pieces as distinct art.
“I personally think my work looks like it was drawn by a talented 7-year-old,” she said. “You see art that’s done by people, and they’re so amazing and detailed, and I drew this pug. It’s approximately four lines. But people like it.”
They like it so much, in fact, that her art’s come to serve a more practical purpose than she ever expected. Marquette works at Stepping Stones Resource Center in Fargo, a space dedicated to providing shelter, basic needs, life skills education and advocacy services for disenfranchised youth.
“The youth that I work with will come over and watch me draw in my little app,” Marquette said. “They’ll give me ideas, so I draw things. Then they’ll start talking, and that’s good. It’s a good ice breaker because they’ll see me drawing and sit down and talk.”
Marquette said her art helps her personally as well. She describes herself as “all or nothing” and said getting creative has given her an outlet for anxiety.
“When I start to get really worked up over school and all the stuff I have to do, it’s easy to just take out my iPad and start drawing, even if I’m just drawing a random blob-of-fur-sort-of thing,” she said. “It distracts me from myself because I’m just so focused on my goal of graduating and being done. When I look at some of the dumb things I’ve drawn, even looking at these weird critters makes me feel better.”
Those aren’t the only reasons drawing has found a special place in Marquette’s heart. Decades ago, her grandfather attended and graduated from MSUM when it was still the teachers college. He left with degrees in music and art.
“He was an incredibly talented artist,” she said. “I always wanted to be like that. I wanted to play the piano and draw, but I didn’t have the patience as a child.”
When Marquette received Unglued’s email with her commission contract, she couldn’t wait to tell her mom.
“She told me my grandpa would be proud,” she said. “He was such a good artist.”
She said taking up art has connected her to her family in a new way.
“I was adopted, so I was very confused about life when I was younger because I was super attached to my family, but I wasn’t related to them,” she said. “There was this weird disconnect. Everyone in my family who was born into it has this amazing artistic ability — every single one of them.”
Her grandfather’s talents, she said, have been passed on through the generations.
“His artistic intelligence and musical ability was so powerful that everybody gets it,” she said. “I like that I have some form of artistic ability, even though his is way better. I would love to be able to show him because he would love it.”
Marquette said she’s eager to improve her work. Lately, she’s been practicing using the app’s watercolor tool.
“I look at watercolor work that other people have done, and it looks like something that should be on a canvas — beautiful stuff, and I’m like, ‘I drew this sea otter that’s supposed to be my dog.’ But to my credit, some of that stuff is drawn with my finger,” she said. “Literally a finger painting not done by an 8-year-old.”
She said she wants to get better at drawing things from real life, especially since finding a new muse.
“I just adopted a pug named Kirby,” she said. “I just want to squish his little face and draw little pictures of him, but I can’t draw things from real life … When I draw the stupid pugs, it’s a line and a line and here’s the dog, but when I have to draw something that’s an actual thing, I can’t do it.”
Still, in the meantime, Marquette’s enjoying what she does.
“I like it. I have fun with it,” she said. “I know my stuff is kind of goofy and weird, but that’s okay. That’s what I want it to be.”
Marquette graduates in May with degrees in sociology, criminal justice and women’s and gender studies. She plans to attend graduate school and study public health at the University of Minnesota next semester.