Chicago native Jen Hodo is a fashion illustrator, curator, and photographer currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
After receiving her B.A. in Fashion Business from Howard University, Jen ascended the corporate ladder holding numerous sales, marketing, and management roles for several global brands.
This career has provided her opportunities to travel the world and immerse herself in unique cultures, engage with diverse audiences, and garner a deep appreciation for nature – all of which serve as inspiration (or, “Jenspiration”) for her work.
A self-taught artist, her preferred method is analog drawing using traditional media – pens, colored pencils, markers, and crayons. Her more recent works incorporate a combination of these techniques, along with integrating fabrics and her own photographs using digital elements.
Heavily influenced by the strong female role models that raised and empowered her, Jen’s art is bold, vibrant, colorful, sexy, and meant to celebrate the style, strength, beauty, dynamicity and diversity of women.
N’DIGO recently sat down with the multitalented artist to learn more about her upbringing and artistry.
N’DIGO: In your own words, who is Jen Hodo?
Jen Hodo: I’m a creator, culturalist, marketer, seller, researcher, historian, student, teacher, fashionista, photographer, liver, and lover striving to stay thirsty for life and be the best global citizen I can be.
As a child, what did you originally envision yourself doing as an adult?
I dreamed of moving to New York City to become an artist/fashion designer/actress. However, as I got older, that didn’t seem realistic or financially feasible. I’d always been an excellent student and during high school, I was influenced to take on a more “serious and stable” career trajectory, so in 2002, I entered Howard University as a pre-med major.
Thankfully, I soon realized that I had no interest in the medical career path nor the debt and decades of schooling required, so I settled on fashion merchandising/business administration, which I thought was a great blend of creativity, security, and stability.
Since then I have worked for several fashion brands and companies in various roles and now I consider myself a “jack” of the fashion trade with experience in product management, sales, marketing, sourcing, operations, and creative.
How did you discover that you were an artist and how did you go about finding your voice as an artist?
I’ve been practicing art since I can remember; it was something my mother also nurtured by enrolling me in art classes in places like the University of Chicago and the Art Institute. I also think my mom’s unconventional career in modeling and entertainment had a huge influence on my subject matter: women, beauty, fashion. That first vote of confidence from Mom encouraged me to continue drawing and she has kept an archive of every last one I’ve made her since age four. At this point I’m sure it’s in the thousands!
I wasn’t very popular as a kid and had to self-entertain much of the time and immersed myself in pop culture. Realizing that I had the ability literally at my fingertips to create whatever I could see or dream of was extremely freeing and allowed me to flex my imagination and build my own universe.
Throughout school I had some recognition for my drawing ability. With maturity has come more travel, exposure, and experience, and now I use my artwork to interpret the things I am inspired by and incorporate those elements into my overriding theme of beautiful, bold, bodacious, confident, curvaceous, sexy, expressive superwomen. Art has always been a form of personal therapy and I am still thrilled and gratified that other people like it as well.
Who are three of your all-time favorite artists of any genre or media and why?
1. Bjork – She is a weirdo in the best ways. Her sound and style are undeniably unique.
2.Patrick Nagel – One of my favorite artists growing up. He was able to express a strong mood with very little color or detail.
3. A tie between Naomi Campbell and Grace Jones – Different women I love for the same reasons: Black, bold, beautiful, iconic, unapologetic.
What is “Jenspiration”?
This is any element that I am inspired by that I incorporate into my artwork – whether that be people, places, colors, music, mood, a conversation, a workout or anything else that gets my creative juices flowing and gets pen to paper! It can also be the positive creative energy – or “Jenergy”! – I am exuding that inspires another person. As a marketer and a general goofball, I have actually developed a whole “Jen”-centric vocabulary that I use, including Jen-fluence, Jen-telligence, Jen-novations, etc., and the list goes on!
Do you agree with the legendary Nina Simone’s assertion that the duty of an artist is to reflect the times?
Yes, but only in a way that is natural and organic to the artist, their theme, and their vision, as opposed to a contrived manner that is trying too hard to capture and capitalize on the zeitgeist.
How did being born and raised on the South Side of Chicago inform your artistry?
Since my youth I’ve appreciated the arts as a universal language and way to express, create, and escape, even with limited resources. Chicago is filled with so much innate culture, and a lot of it tells the story of people making the best of what they have.
Growing up, I was surrounded by many great, strong Black role models that empowered me to pursue my dreams. The first artist I recall was my Uncle Jon. I remember looking forward to watching and learning from him drawing. He had a unique style of animated expression with personality that jumped off of the page.
I wanted to emulate those qualities, but in my own way. His mastery taught me that with a pen in hand, you can make anything you can think of come to fruition. I also had a lot of great visual references – my mother kept a huge archive of family photos and while in high school, through my grandmother, I discovered a treasure trove of thousands of personal family photos dating back to the 1800s.
I also discovered my father’s side emigrated to the South Side of Chicago from the Caribbean in the 1910s. Referencing these vintage images of my family not only provided reference and inspiration for my art, it also helped to instill a sense of pride and motivation to pursue my dreams and not take for granted the sacrifices of the generations before me.
Also learning of my Caribbean background encouraged me to travel abroad to learn more about that, my history and culture, which has added a colorful and tropical bohemian flair to much of my work.
If you had to name a single book that changed or really impacted your life, what would it be?
Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. It’s a simple philosophy classic that has guided me through many phases of life, highlighting the power of positive critical thinking and “keeping it moving” when things get tough.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
There are a few things. I speak some Cantonese. I’ve researched my ancestry back 10 generations. I modeled for a hair bonnet package when I was 14, so you may find me in your local beauty supply – a friend actually found one a few years ago when she was visiting Japan!
Best advice to aspiring artists?
Stay true to yourself. Stay inspired and fill your mind and space with people, things, places, thoughts that allow you to do so. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want. Don’t dwell. Research solutions. Adjust and proceed.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
“Procrastination is like masturbation; it’s all good until you realize you’re screwing yourself!” – Unknown
“Never take no for an answer!” – Mom
What’s next for Jen Hodo? Future project? Dreams? Goals?
Currently I am expanding the product line in my Etsy shop (JenergizedHodo) with more artwork and additional categories like accessories and greeting cards. My dream is to continue to travel the globe and complete location-specific artwork for each place that I’ve been and continue to build my business.
(For more information on Jen Hodo, you can reach her via Instagram @jenergized_hodo.)