Amber Jensen has had some amazing experiences in her life all that have made her into the talented artist she is today. From sewing to illustration and the book arts, her aesthetic shines through in all the mediums she gets her hands on. Amber also received the Jerome mentorship and grant from the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in 2008.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from?
Amber: I grew up in the oldest suburb of Milwaukee called Wauwatosa.
Secrets: Tell me about your skill set.
Amber: I studied drawing and painting at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, graduating with a BFA in 2004. My last conversation at MCAD was with Amanda Degener, my paper-making instructor at the time who told me that I have had time to experiment and develop concepts and ideas that are important to me…now is the time to hone in and develop my craft. I think that conversation indirectly is what led me back to the home I grew up in at the end of 2005. After traveling to New Zealand and working on a sheep farm I had fallen in love with wool. I felt compelled to and learn from my Mother and books the craft of being a seamstress.
Sewing and tailoring has given me patience I never knew I had. Learning to sew gave me the skills to begin my own handcraft business in the spring of 2006. Working almost exclusively in wool, waxed canvas and leather I have slowly been learning all that the beautiful qualities these materials possess. When I was not busy sewing in 2008 I received a Jerome fellowship at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts where I was able to spend a year working with master bookmakers, learning letterpress, woodblock, and screen printing processes.
Working in the book format was a completely new and exciting way for me to work. After working at the Book Arts center I began taking classes in intaglio printing and fell in love with the process. I learned that sewing and this printing both have a lot in common. I felt an immense amount of gratification after spending hours and hours developing one image or object. It made me happier than working in any other way I had in the past. In fall of 2010 I received my first residency at the Women’s Studio Workshop in upstate New York. I spend a month and a half in an old general store that was converted into an intaglio printshop. I worked alongside some of the most talented and hard working Women Artists I have ever met.
It was at WSW that I began experimenting with mixing sewing and printmaking. In New York I was able to build a whole new body of work that included 29 pieces. Currently I am working with a consulting company in Prato, Italy. They are creating a lookbook for a wool distribution company and have hired me to make large wool cases that will house 20 lbs. of notebooks and samples. It is exciting and challenging for me because it requires me to be very conscious of my design and adapt what I already know to what the project requires.
Secrets: What is most important to you about the process?
Amber: There isn’t one part of the process of making that is more important than another. What interests me is the links that are made between each part. For example, when I am designing a bag I usually think about how I want that to function before I actually conceptualize the design. Many times I just have to get started cutting and sewing so that I can see how a flat piece of fabric will look when manipulated into a 3 dimensional object. Each decision is built on the next eventually reaching a finished product. While finishing the product is always rewarding, I can’t help but always feel a little disappointed that the process is over and am always anxious about starting something new. That is why I usually have a few projects going at once. It helps me to bounce from one thing to another. When I get stumped on one thing sometimes jumping to another project is just what I need to figure out the solution. Art making is a constant puzzle and that is why I love it.
Secrets: How does your visual/graphic work correlate with your soft goods?
Amber: Like I was saying above, I think it is important to be working on a few things simultaneously. Each medium informs the other. This question I must confess I think about constantly. I feel like I am always relentlessly searching for the relationship my print/drawing work has with my textile work. The best I can come up with is that when I was in school before I learned to sew my drawing was very impulsive, loose and gestural and in retrospect seems unfinished to me. Sewing taught me how to slow down and respect craftsmanship. Now to me each line whether it sewn or drawn is intentional.
Secrets: What was your favorite part in your travels to New Zealand?
Amber: While it has been over 5 years now since my trip to New Zealand I still think about it often, as it was a defining time for me on a personal level. This was my first time overseas and traveling alone. When I got to Auckland I met up with a family that I had contacted me before I left about teaching drawing to their four young girls on their farm. Meeting the Rose family was a truly special experience. The Rose family immediately welcomed me in as part of their family. I learned how to shear sheep with Simon, how to feed the baby lambs with the children and to harvest Calla Lilly’s with Wallis.
After traveling on my own for some time Brad, my now partner of 9 years met up with me in Christchurch and we began WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) meeting a very special woman named Deb. She was tough single woman living out in the middle of nowhere growing Current plants and selling the concentrate at harvest. We helped her pull rocks out of the ground, weed and plant. It was some of the hardest work I have ever done but in the most beautiful of surroundings and with great company (Deb, Oscar the cat, and Prin the Goat).
Secrets: What is the best part about Minneapolis?
Amber: The best parts of Minneapolis to me are the people that I have met here. You don’t have to go very far to find people who are passionate about creating. The craft movement has been infectious here and I meet people all the time who want to get on board.
Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
Amber: Caffetto Coffee shop. The owners and my friends, Tami and Brent are some truly special folks. I worked for them through school and they allowed me to come back later on in order for me to pursue my dream of creating my own business. This coffee shop is unlike any I have ever been able to find around the country. There is a sturdy crew of regulars that have made this place more like a family than anything else. We can owe that to both Tami and Brent who have never got into the business with their number one goal being the money. Their goal has always been to create a place where you can listen to good music and make new friends all while enjoying a superb cup of joe.
Secrets: Childhood dream career?
Amber: Growing up my mother was an interior designer and being creative was always emphasized. I guess I always wanted to be an artist but do not have any direct memories of imagining my future. I think it was because I was a kid and all I wanted to do was be a kid and do kid stuff!