Jennifer Orkin Lewis: The Art of Visual Meditation

By Tanya McKinnon


We’re kicking off our newly designed blog with the founder of the RiverArts blog herself, Jennifer Orkin Lewis! When she started the blog, her goal was simple: to give herself and the community a closer and more personal look at artists in the Rivertowns. “Having an in-depth conversation alongside photos of workplaces brings each artist’s story to life,” Jennifer said. “I wanted to understand how their personal style evolved. Knowing their background and journey helps us have a stronger sense of what their art is about.” Following in her footsteps, we’re taking a peek into her current artistic process. In the future we will be featuring a new Rivertown artist approximately every three weeks.

Jennifer_OrkinLewis_Studio1I met Jennifer on a cool, sunny Friday morning in her atelier, a lovely perch with sloped ceilings on the third floor of her inviting Irvington home. Her workspace reveals much about her. It is full of art books, sketchpads and beautiful objects and, like her, it is warm, unassuming, and lovely. It’s the kind of space that invites you to sit with one of her sketchbooks on your lap and while away an hour or two while Jennifer chats with you about her process. Most recently she has almost 40,000 Instagram followers with her 30-Minute-a-Day Sketchbook Painting. Working mainly in gouache, she creates a colorful and enticing window onto a detail of the day we might ordinarily overlook. A coffee cup, a can of French tea, flowers, an old photograph… each entry has a brightness that refreshes your eye and makes you look again at the loveliness of every day objects all around us and the small details that we might otherwise overlook. Her Instagram posts have become so popular that she’s currently authoring a guided daily drawing and painting journal to inspire everyone to create that will be published by Abrams Noterie in 2016.

After graduating from RISD, Jennifer began her professional life as a print designer for children’s clothing and lingerie. She is now a sought-after freelance illustrator whose work regularly appears in such venues as Abrams Books, Kate Spade Home, Seal Press, Design House Greetings, Up With Paper, and many more.


If you were giving a commencement speech, what would be your most important message?

Say yes to things that scare you. Never give up. Accept failure as an opportunity to learn about yourself and your work. Don’t make anything you do too precious – be strong enough to throw out what you’ve done and start again. There is a bit of magic in each mistake and we bring that magic to the next thing.


What haven’t you done in life or art that you yearn to do?

I would love to live in another country for a year or more.  I want to be immersed in a place that is not familiar to me, so I am inspired to see things in a new way. I would like to learn a new language, immerse myself in a different culture, and see how I would change and how my work would evolve.


What artist, living or dead, would you like to spend 3 hours with, and why?

Matisse. I’m in love with everything he did. He collected fabrics and they inspired his glorious color-filled paintings.  I’d love to see how he worked on his compositions, how he chose the elements of each painting – just to be a fly on the wall and watch him work! I want to know how much was intuition and how much was planned.

I also would love to meet Maira Kalman. I heard her say that she is an essayist who paints. Her observations of the world are incredible, from the smallest detail to big giant ideas. I met her at her gallery opening once, and she seemed so friendly and easy to talk to. I’d love to take a three-hour walk around the city with her, and see the world as she sees it.

palette_s tools

Why did you choose the medium you work in?

When I first started out as a textile designer, I learned to paint in gouache in a very serious tight way: flat color, perfectly matched to a swatch. Moving ahead 30 years, I realized that this is the medium I am still most comfortable using, but now I want to be textural, intuitive and loose. I love the texture of gouache. Holding a paintbrush feels like an extension of my hand. I love how the paint feels as it flows off the brush, and how I can control what happens on a blank piece of paper.


If you could choose only one, what would it be: coffee or wine?

I don’t drink either because of migraines, but no doubt it would be wine!


Find Jennifer at Check out her blog at And allow yourself to be inspired by her daily illustrations on Instagram at

6 Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Millie Hart says:

    Jennifer, I love your blog and your art, Millie H.

  2. janisSiegel says:

    Jennifer Im a new friend of your moms and love your art its so charming and fresh Your bio reminds me very much of your mom who is a fabulous artist who surrounds herself with beautiful things sincerely Janis Siegel in Naples

  3. Dear Jennifer,
    I love to see your artwork , the way you work and I like your approach a lot !

  4. Wonderful interview … I would like to introduce you to my daughter, who is a budding artist. You would be a great role model. Would you possibly be interested to meet a local 15 year old girl?

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *