By Christina Whiting
Andy Sjodin first felt the pull toward drawing when he was in the fourth grade.
“I remember sitting at the coffee table with a Looney Tunes character coloring book and drawing the cartoons,” he said.
While his mother recognized his natural bend, his father took a more pragmatic approach, steering his son toward what he viewed as a more practical career path.
Sjodin took art classes throughout junior and senior high school, dabbling in a variety of mediums. Even after winning awards from the junior high art department, he approached his creativity as a hobby, not allowing himself to consider it on a deeper level.
“I recognized early that I had a natural talent and my creativity was a very fulfilling outlet for me,” he said. “At the same time, I saw it as a hobby that I really loved, but couldn’t take beyond that.”
Sjodin began taking his art more seriously while he was studying math and philosophy at St. John’s University in Minnesota.
“College was a revolutionary time for me,” he said. “I hadn’t yet ventured out on my own ethically and intellectually, and it was during this time that I was encouraged to ask questions and think about things critically.”
This experience laid the groundwork for him to become his own person. After college, he volunteered with AmeriCorps and spent two years in Washington State at a youth enrichment and education-based program. The following year, he taught English in Thailand. When he returned home, he was lonely, broke and exhausted.
In the summer of 2007, Sjodin and his friend Matt decided to spend a year in Alaska. They packed their car and drove north, heading for Homer. It was a place Sjodin had visited with his grandparents when he was 13 years old.
“I remembered that of all the places we visited in Alaska, I thought Homer was the most beautiful and seemed like a cool place,” he said.
The boys lived in tents on the Homer Spit for a month, then found work at Boardwalk Fish and Chips and rented an apartment. In the off-season, Sjodin worked at Captain’s Coffee and tutored at the Boys and Girls Club.
The course of Sjodin’s life was forever changed when he took a painting class through the college taught by Asia Freeman. He walked into the first class feeling nervous and excited, having little experience with painting, but curious to explore the medium. By the end of the class, he was disappointed in his lack of skill.
“I couldn’t manipulate the medium, and mixing colors didn’t do what I wanted; I was overwhelmed,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, OK, I tried it, and it was probably the end of my adventure in painting.” I thought I would stick to drawing.”
Freeman encouraged him to keep trying.
“Early on, Andy demonstrated devotion to the act of translating the world into paint,” Freeman said. “He could make an egg carton as beautiful as an architectural study, or turn a wine bottle into an aria. He was exploring his craftsmanship, getting color notes right.”
Further into the semester, something clicked and Sjodin began to figure out how to manipulate the paint. By semeter’s end, he was able to admire progress in his work. To his surprise, Freeman suggested he pursue painting seriously.
“Her comment took me aback,” he said. “I knew I enjoyed painting and I was flattered that she saw potential in me. Friends and family had always encouraged my creativity, but that didn’t hold the same weight in my eyes as it did coming from someone with the professional and academic background she has.”
Freeman’s encouragement gave Sjodin the permission he had not been able to give himself: to pursue his art more seriously. In 2010, he walked through the doors of The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art in Minneapolis, and for the next four years, he developed the technical skills needed to execute his work in such a way that he can paint however he wants to paint, and express his art in whatever way he needs to.
Sjodin graduated this spring and is ready to produce the paintings and images he has dreamed of. He’s eager to explore himself as an artist and find his own voice.
His work comprises interiors, portraits, still-life, landscapes and figure work. He loves the gesture of the human body and the emotions it communicates.
“I’m not as concerned with specific scenes as I am in the subtlety of bodies, gestures and facial expressions,” he said.
He considers his greatest strength as an artist to be his work ethic, which he says he got from his father. However, he considers the drive to work hard and push himself to potentially be his greatest weakness as well, as it compels him to be very self-critical.
Since first coming to Homer, Sjodin has spent his summers working at Boardwalk Fish and Chips on the Spit, and his winters in Twin Cities, Minn. He and his wife Rachel are planning to travel abroad next year.
This winter, he plans to develop his skills, as well as a working method as a watercolor artist. His watercolors will be studies for his larger oil paintings.
Sjodin’s long-term goals include continuing to develop his own voice, building his portfolio, making gallery connections and creating solo exhibits.
“I am curious and excited to see where I am going to fit, and what part of the artist’s dialogue I’m going to be a part of — and if I will be relevant,” he said. “I am still a burgeoning artist with a lot out in front of me.”
Sjodin will teach three, three-hour classes on painting still life with oils on Aug. 26, and Sept. 2 and 9 at Homer Art and Frame. Students will be instructed through lay-in, development and finish of a small, simple still life oil painting. Registration is $180. Class size is limited, and registration closes Aug. 20. Register in person at Homer Art and Frame or by calling 435-3999.
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