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Jen Jacobs is a smart and creative woman with diabetes with an innovative concept for World Diabetes Day called “Diabetes Declarations.”

Q: Where did the idea for this collaborative art project come from?

The first seed was planted last year when Jessica Apple interviewed me on A Sweet Life. After the interview, we exchanged a few e-mails about creating an art project for World Diabetes Day 2011. The timing was short, so I didn’t move ahead with anything, but I kept it in the back of my mind because I liked the idea of involving the diabetes community, and making something for WDD.

In addition to making art about diabetes, I write about it, too. I think of writing as another art medium. So I wanted to literally fuse the two together by making an art piece that involved text – and I thought that maybe I could put something together for WDD 2012. I knew right away that I wanted the art piece to be on a large scale because for such a big day, the message would have to be big. And I felt it would be more meaningful if the messages came from people all over the world, rather than just me. So there you have the Diabetes Declarations project.

Q: Can you explain the concept to me, what do you see happening with the text or “declarations” people send to you? Will you create a visual image from the text?

I know that the final art piece won’t be a busy collage of words. I want to use the declarations to create a scene or an image. I’m also planning to use other materials like paint and wrappers from discarded diabetes supplies. I have a few ideas in mind for the final image, but I don’t want to say yet because I want to be inspired by the declarations. I think once all the declarations are submitted, I’ll just know what to go ahead with. I guess it’ll be a surprise, even for me!

Q: I’m having a hard time coming up with a statement that summarizes my experience with diabetes. What is appealing to you about ‘declarative’ statements?

Diabetes is so many things. It’s hard to strip it down and declare just one thing about it. (Sorry everyone, for making you do that!) But I’m intrigued by what people come up with when they make their final declarations. I’m excited every day when I open my e-mail because there are new declarations waiting for me and each one is a surprise. Some are funny and some are serious. And some you can just tell that the person is a diva and others you can sense that the person is sad. I like the fact that everything that diabetes makes us – sad, spunky, serious, funny, etc. – it all comes through in one simple sentence.

Q: You were diagnosed when you were 12, were you creating art and/or wanting to be an artist before then? Which came first-the diabetes or the art?

 I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 12, but I didn’t think of myself as an artist at that time. I began identifying as an artist when I was in high school, at about 15. I majored in art in college, but I didn’t make “diabetes art” until my senior year of college. So I guess the two paths – diabetes and art – had been running parallel and finally collided at that point. I think it was the mixed-media class I was taking that jolted the diabetes art out of me. Thank goodness for that because my diabetes art is full of meaning and I had been searching for that.

Q: And…how has the process of making art been healing in your journey with chronic illness?

Diabetes art is my outlet. Whenever I feel the need to express something about my diabetes, I turn to my artwork. It makes me feel better. It’s like, once it’s out of my head and transformed, I can move on.

Q: Tell me about your artwork, you paint and create mixed media pieces am I right? Can you describe your creative process for me?

When I make art that isn’t about diabetes, I usually begin with a sketch or a photo I’ve taken, and turn it into a painting. I like how paintings tell a story. My diabetes art is different. It’s darker. More raw. Diabetes is often misunderstood, so one of the themes in my work has always been tellin’ it like it is. An idea will come to me and the next step is figuring out what materials to use. For me, diabetes art is almost always mixed media. It’s as if the smooth texture of paint cannot speak for diabetes. It’s not enough. I’ll pass collage paper in the art store and it’ll remind me of the gauze-like material on my pump site, so I’ll buy it and see where it takes me. It’s this combination of traditional art materials and diabetes supplies that makes diabetes art.   

Q: You are an art teacher as well, correct? How does teaching inspire or feed your work? Or does it take time away from making art?

Both. In some ways, planning a new unit feels like planning a new art project. It’s a similar creative process. Except, instead of figuring out how I’m going to do it, I have to figure out what steps my students will need to take to be successful. Student artwork is always full of surprises too. Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist about a personal project, I’ll go to work and see something one of my students made. It’s not perfect because they are so much more forgiving than adults are! And I’ll think it’s great! It reminds me that art doesn’t have to be perfect. The flaws are what make it interesting. Teaching also inspires me because even though I’m incredibly busy during the day, I’m always in a creative environment. But you’re right, it does take time away from my own art. I guess that’s what summer’s for! 

Thanks Jen for this great idea, I will comes up with a declarative sentence soon! I have to add that I think what Jen says about art is a great metaphor for diabetes= art (and diabetes) don’t have to be perfect. The flaws are what make it interesting.