Meet Library Artist-in-Residence Jill Ahmann!

Can you speak a bit about your background as an artist and what brought you to Columbia?   

I’ve been drawing since like fifth grade. I know a lot of artists say they were born with a crayon in their hand but my reality is I got into drawing because I liked to draw fan art of the characters from Warriors books– the ones about the cats. I really leaned heavily on creating art as an escape after I started, although I didn’t know why at the time. As I went into high school, however, I began to realize that I was queer, and the best place that I was able to express that was through my art and animations. I even began escaping through animated television, as shows like Steven Universe and Legend of Korra began having LGBT+ representation in them. As I fell into my newfound identity, I ended up winning a National Gold in the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for one of my animations. That animation is actually one of the reasons I was able to attend Columbia, as I got a huge scholarship from it! 

For a while, I didn’t know if I actually wanted to go to school for art. I thought I wouldn’t be able to find a stable job, so I wanted to go into biology. Then I learned that apparently the job prospects for someone with a biology degree (one who doesn’t go into pre-med) are just as poor as someone with an artistic career. Not to mention I’m not super great at biology to begin with, so who knows what I was thinking. Anyways, my senior year of high school, I ended up applying for the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s PSEO program, which is basically a dual-enrollment program where the state would pay for my tuition/supplies and I could take college classes at the same time as I finished high school. It was kind of like a test to see if I was actually good enough to get into things with my current skill; and I got accepted! I ended up loving it at MCAD, but I didn’t want to stay in Minnesota. There isn’t really a huge animation scene there– not to mention it’s exactly as cold as people say. So I came to Chicago! 

What initially inspired you to apply for the Library Artist in Residence Position? 

I’m a part of the Illustration Student Group discord and I heard about the position over the summer. I thought it sounded like a really good opportunity! I found the idea of my own studio space especially appealing so I could have a space away from home to focus and really improve myself!

We were very excited to see that you work in various mediums (visual arts, writing) in your creative practice, especially since we always try to emphasize the Library as a place for interdisciplinary synergy to happen.  How do you feel working across mediums informs your work?   

I love learning new mediums! During the pandemic, I made it one of my missions to try a bunch of new traditional art supplies. I went from gouache, to posca paint pens, to even experimenting with 3D art programs on my iPad! When I first started animating, I used Flipnote Studio on my Nintendo DSi, which is hardly close to anything conventional, so it’s probably just in my nature to enjoy learning different softwares and seeing how that can help improve/inform my art. I’ve also always been a big writer. I was in speech and debate in high school and I always wrote story-based speeches. This is probably one of the biggest reasons it’s really hard to get me to stop talking, now that I think about it.

Can you speak a bit to your experience of libraries in general—school, public, academic–how it relates to both your personal education and development as an artist?  

I love libraries! My mom used to take me to the Minneapolis library every weekend while my sister was in her ballet class. We started visiting even more after I quit ballet myself and had more time on my hands. I was always a reader growing up, so I found myself checking out books more from our local library all the time!

When I was in high school, I volunteered at my local library to help set up summer reading events for kids. It was really cool because it was like my life came full circle for a little bit. I used to go to preschool in the same building as that library and so it was awesome to see kids just like me coming out of that same program. A lot of the programs were creative-based too. Like real macaroni-art style programs, but art nonetheless! I was actually so surprised how many of the activities I helped run had nothing to do with reading and more to do with just promoting community and learning! It makes me wonder how much of an impact my local library had on me without me even realizing. Maybe macaroni-art at the library was the tipping point that actually got me into art, who knows?

What do you hope to gain from your Residency in the Library this coming year?   

My hope is that by the end of the academic year, I’ve got a portfolio good enough to brave professional settings. I’ve applied to a couple of art programs through big animation studios but it was mostly so I could familiarize myself with the process– I knew my portfolio wasn’t at the level it needed to be. I want to at least stand a chance this coming year as I go into my next round of applications. I will also be starting on my animated solo thesis film this coming Spring Semester and so the studio space will be really helpful for me to separate my home life from my project moving forward.

Obviously the studio space isn’t the only thing I’m excited about, I’m just happy to be more involved in the art community here at Columbia and I’m hoping that the Artist-In-Residence position can help me grow to the best version of myself as an artist!

What are your current and future projects?  What should we look forward to from you next? 

I’ve been getting more into comic/zine making recently. I just finished a zine for Shop Columbia’s Dark Market called “My Biggest Secret Is… I’m a Werewolf! Totally Not That I’m Gay..” Which is a mouthful, so I usually just call it Werewolf Girl. It’s about a girl trying to navigate being a popular high schooler while also hiding her werewolfism as well as her queerness. I’ve only finished the first short zine but I’m planning on making at least two more, both as much bigger volumes, so that’s something to look forward to! I’m planning on taking a few copies to Quimby’s, the zine store in Wicker Park, so I can start selling them more widespread. I really love comics, so I’m trying to see if I can make more of them! Other things I plan on doing this year are setting up an online shop and building my character/background/prop design portfolio so I can apply to summer internships in LA– fingers crossed! 

I also mentioned it earlier, but I’m in my third year at Columbia, which means that I get to start working on my animation solo project in the Spring. The actual project won’t be finished until next year, and I’m still not entirely clear on what I want to do for it, but I’ll definitely be posting a lot of work-in-progress stuff when I do!

There’s going to be a lot of weird art this year, that much is for sure! My favorite go-to doodles recently have been video game character Sonic the Hedgehog with rabies and Garfield the cat with top-surgery scars so if that’s any indicator of how my artistic process has been shifting then there it is.

I utilize TikTok a lot (my user is @waxcandles) to post work and let people know what I’m up to, so that’s a great place to keep up with my future projects!


(stay tuned for a spotlight on Ruben Davila, our second 2021-2022 Artist in Residence)

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