How Environment Shapes Creative Work


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Art by Christian Birmingham

Once upon a time, in a far away land, there was a castle. In that castle was a king and queen who had one daughter, Aurora…

What kind of story do you expect to hear when the story begins, “Once upon a time…?” It might include royalty, knights, dragons, a princess and some magic.


Art by Christian Birmingham

But what about the author of this story? What was his life like that inspired him to write such a tale?

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Art by Christian Birmingham

The original origin of this fairy tale was written by a man named Charles Perrault, and called “The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood.” Mr. Perrault lived from 1628 to 1703 and was an author and influential literary figure in Paris at the time. He was instrumental in the construction of the Louvre, designed a guidebook for the gardens of Versailles, and served as a secretary of state. In his upbringing , he attended the best schools, and was born into a wealthy family. One can only imagine that his surroundings: rubbing shoulders with kings, queens, princesses and the explosion of creativity that was alive in Paris at the time inspired him to write such a classic, enduring tale.


Charles Perrault, author of the first version of Sleeping Beauty

I want to introduce the idea of place and environment, and what our environment has to do with what we create as artists, writers, and creators. The author of Sleeping Beauty was influenced by gardens perhaps because of his heavy involvement with designing the gardens of Versailles—if you recall, the palace in Sleeping Beauty is overgrown by a garden overrun—of the happenings of royalty because of his familiarity with queens and kings—and with a romantic tale because of the extreme romanticism prevalent in the art and literature of the time. He let his life’s experiences seep into his writings, and created a new genre in literature derived from oral folktales, the fairy tale.

Ernest Hemmingway is famous for his blunt, bold and strong writing style, something that was developed from his years working as a newspaper writer—and the topics he wrote about: wars, violence, desolation– from his time serving in World War 1. These were all parts of Hemmingway’s environment and life that became part of his stories and legacy.


Ernest Hemmingway

Paul Gaugin was an artist originally from Paris but because of family ties in Peru, spent much of his childhood there. He returned to France for his young adult life, but grew disheartened by the “conventional and artificial” life there. He desired something more free, more natural, so he ended up moving to Tahiti towards the end of his career to create his vision of the life he wanted. Because of his bravery and experimentation with color, his work laid the foundation for the Primitive movement in art and a return to the pastoral. However, if Gaugin had not spent his formative years in exotic Peru, would he have had the same hunger, and made the same decisions?


Paul Gaugin

Edgar Allen Poe grew up as the child of two stage actors and struggled with tragedy in his early life, his father abandoning the family and mother dying the year after. He was taken in by a kindly family in Virginia, and had a brief career in the military before devoting his life to writing and literature. His wife died of tuberculosis shortly after he married her, and he seemingly never recovered. Truly, it was a life filled with tragedy, but Poe turned that tragedy into art, creating haunting pieces of literature that laid the foundation for the developing genres of mystery, horror and science fiction.

But the elements that made him who he was—the artistic temperament of both of his parents, the tragedy and pain he felt, the Southern Gothic atmosphere of Richmond, Virginia…they all were part of his environment that helped create the person he became and the work he made.

There are many more countless examples, but pretty much any artist or creator that you can think of has been strongly influenced by their environment, whether they like to admit it or not. Our experiences help form who we are, as much as the choices that we make amidst those experiences. In graduate school, I began dissecting the kinds of paintings and imagery that I used again and again in my work. I returned again and again to imaged of people lying under trees—picnicking, sleeping, climbing the trees. I realized that some of my best memories from childhood were playing underneath the trees in our pear and apple orchard in the backyard, reading books, picnicking, making forts, playing, These experiences had embedded themselves in my mind so vividly that they kept coming to the surface in my art.  Do you have imagery, sounds or themes that keep coming up in your own creative work?  They may be worth examining to see where they may be coming from, even if you cannot pinppoint the origin of influence.  As Lera Auerbach states in her book Excess of Being, “Explainable doesn’t mean imaginary.”

5 The Reading, oil and gold leaf on board, 16"x20", Jessica Libor 2013

The Reading, by Jessica Libor, oil and gold leaf on panel

Some of us have memories and have experienced environments that we would rather not dwell on. To that I say, art is some of the most cathartic ways of dealing with bad past experiences, and who knows but your creation may help someone who has been through the same thing? It may be the catalyst someone needs to change.

Another thing to consider is, that if environment truly does shape who we are, then we have the power to choose our environment. What kind of art do you want to make? What kind of book do you want to write? What kind of music do you want to play?

Then, put yourself in an environment that supports that idea. Like the painter Paul Gaugin moved to the islands, you can move to somewhere more inspiring, even if it is temporary. I have a friend who lived in Philadelphia for a long time, and worked as a graphic designer. She made artwork here and there. This year, she bought a cabin in the mountains and moved there, still supporting herself part time with graphic design work, but has made an explosion of paintings that stem from the environment that she now lives in: the deep woods, the stars, the pathways and forest animals.

But what you digest in you mind also becomes part of your environment. So in addition to thinking about where inspires you, think of what. What kind of paintings leave you in awe? What kind of books? And music? Listen only to the best, learn from the best, surround yourself by what you truly admire, and your own skill will slowly but surely (yet sometimes quickly!) rise to the level you have set for it.

In my own life, I noticed that as I move into a new house and set up my studio, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, a new environment produces new ideas. A more organized studio begets a more organized mind. A beautiful place makes me want to create something that lives up to its surroundings.

May your art be true and a singing expression of your soul, wherever that place may be.


Article by Jessica Libor

Painting your Dreams


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I woke up for a moment, then immediately went back to sleep because I had to see what happened in my dream.

I was in an elevator riding downward, having just realized that I had left my suitcase back up at one of the floors above. I had to reach it before the time portal closed. I pushed the buttons to bring me back up, and reached the floor where I had left my suitcase. It was there, but a different color. I grabbed it anyway and stepped back into the elevator, which was now full of people. I tried to look inconspicuous. The men had pinstripe suits on, and the women had 1940’s style hats in all different colors. As I reached the ground level, I stepped outside onto the street and walked into another time, this present time.

Around my neck was a camera that I had used to take pictures while I was back in time. I walked into a camera shop to get the shots developed, and somehow recognized that the elderly man behind the desk knew my secret. I asked him earnestly, “Is it possible, to go back and forth? Do I have to choose one or the other? Can I have a life back there, and in this present time?”

He wouldn’t answer me, but silently took my film.

I woke up. There was more to the dream, but that was what I could remember of it.

What did it mean? Does this dream have any insight into my life? Perhaps. Maybe it’s a reflection of my appreciation of other time periods, and an expression that I want to bring the charm of the past into the present. Does it have unexpected, unusual imagery present that I normally would not have imagined? Absolutely. Imagine an elevator full of women all with brightly colored hats. Imagine suitcases that changed color. The artistic possibilities are rich, all mined from your subconscious mind creating images that you would never have thought of before.

I have several paintings that have stemmed from dreams, and they always come out a little more interesting and unfathomable than works dreamt up by my daytime brain.  Artist throughout the ages have also taken inspiration from their dreams.  Take the ones below:


A Carnival Evening, by Henri Rousseau


Max Ernst


Everyone Here Speaks Latin, by Max Ernst


The Furniture of Time, by Yves Tanguy


Woman With an Umbrella in an Exotic Forest, by Henri Rousseau

Attainment (smaller), oil, gold and silver leaf on panel, 48"x72"

Attainment, by Jessica Libor


What practices that have helped me harness the imagery in my dreams into an artistic practice are:

  1. Keeping a dream journal– using writing or sketching, capture the images in your dream as soon as you wake up.
  2. Before you go to bed, only allow yourself to think positively, and go to sleep with the expectancy that your mind will show you something wonderful.
  3. Go through your dream sketchbook periodically and work out more fully the sketches that look interesting to you. Give them color and life, and see which ones might make fully-fledged artworks.

I hope this inspires you to pay more attention to your own dream imagery and helps you add another dimension to your art practice. I would encourage you to even pay attention to the negative, scary or unsettling aspects of your dreams, as they are usually your mind attempting to work out conflicts in your life, and can help to resolve decisions and choices. Often we avoid our problems or get very pragmatic while looking at them in our waking hours—but our intuition really comes out in our dreams and shows us how we really feel, whether we like it or not. I’ve heard that they are the minds way of trying on different choices and scenarios in life as a rehearsal—to show what it would be like, or show us the way. As Lera Auerbach muses wisely in her book, Excess of Being: “A coward is a servant of his fears. A hero enslaves his fears.” May you face your fears and hopes fearlessly in your dreams, and harness them to create more powerful art.

“Ebullience” Art Exhibition


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Dear friends and readers, I would like to invite you to a special event on First Friday on June 2nd, it is an art exhibition I am in!  It is in Old City in Philadelphia at a lovely gallery.  Please see below for details, and I hope to see you there!

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“Ebullience: the quality of lively or enthusiastic expression of thoughts or feelings.”
Welcome to the painting and photography exhibit presented by BlinkArt Gallery featuring the work of Tor Chaykin (painter), Michael Kauffman (photographer) and Jessica Libor (painter).
Please join us on June 2nd for a First Friday opening exhibition for our three person show. Light refreshments and drinks will be provided, as well as mellow live music. There is paid parking across the street, and the gallery space is on the 4th floor. We look forward to seeing you for this lovely evening in this airy, lofty gallery space!
Registration is encouraged by RSVPing at:

Questions? Gallery website is and phone number is 215-588-4445.

You may view and presell some of the artwork in the show by visiting Jessica Libor’s selections for Ebullience at

Thank you and hope to see you there!


Creativity Verses Competition


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When you go to work, make your art or go about your business, there are so many reasons to do a good job. Keeping your word, having a good reputation and being consistent are a few reasons. But even deeper than that, I think there are two main places people come from when they create a project: creativity, or competition.

Creativity is a pure motive. Creativity is unexpected, moving, breathing and fresh. It is unique only to you. When you’re in a place of creativity, ideas flow and you aren’t worried about what people think, or even if what you are making measures up to your standards. You let yourself feel, think and create what comes from your mind. You express your thoughts about the world, your emotions, and your aesthetic preferences without fear or striving. There is a lot of joy in being in this state. Sometimes there is a feeling of “this is too easy” or “I can’t believe that was in my brain”. There is more pleasure in making the art, because you’re in a state of making something come into being that is from a pure state, that came straight from your mind. There is a feeling of calm confidence in this state because you know that no one can reproduce exactly what you have. Your uniqueness is your strength.

Competition has a different feel to it. When you’re creating from competition, it can feel paralyzing. There is a feeling of “How can I create something that will measure up, stand out, or otherwise prove my worth?” There is a feeling of pressure, being overwhelmed, and even anger, or “I’ll show them.” When you’re in this state, you can alternate between periods of intense work, and being burnt out and overwhelmed. That’s because you’re not actually enjoying the process! You’re coming from a place of grinding out work in order to prove worth to the world. However, the world will never give you the approval you seek unless you give it to yourself first. You must believe that the work you create is enough, no matter what anyone thinks, because if you believe your art is worthwhile, then eventually other people will too.

I have created from both states, and speaking from personal experience, the art made from pure creativity is more interesting, flows better, and is a lot more fun to paint than art that is made from a place of trying to impress or show people how good I am. It is the unique visions that we need more of in this world, made with a giving spirit, rather than the work made to build up the artist. And I believe when you create from the creativity state, the goals you desire for your art will fall into place naturally because of the creativity and value you are pouring out into the world.

Below are a few ideas for sparking a more creative state:

  1. Put on your favorite music and sketch for 30 minutes. Not detailing each sketch, just getting as many ideas as you can to suggest themselves.
  2. Take a walk in nature
  3. Take a media fast from TV and consuming social media. The things we put in our mind influence our thoughts, so if you want a more pure state of unique creativity, eliminate excess entertainment
  4. Think about the ratio of producing and consuming. Strive to produce more than you consume. For instance, instead of trolling social media, maybe create an interesting post for your followers and leave it at that. Or instead of watching TV, research some ideas for your next artwork. Producing things, even in a small way (keeping a diary, going for a walk, sketching, giving a friend a call) keeps your mind more active, and stimulates creativity. It also gives you better sleep, because the mind has been more active.
  5. Travel somewhere new. It doesn’t need to be somewhere far—take a new route home from work, visit a park near you, go for a hike by a nearby river. Unfamiliar situations can jog the creative mind as well.
  6. Create a goal for yourself and stick to it. Let it be simple at first, like creating something everyday, even if it’s a small sketch. This is different than competition, because you are just giving your creativity a framework to work with. Don’t go to bed without having ticked off this simple goal for each day.
  7. Take ideas from your dreams. Keep a dream sketch journal and write or sketch your thoughts from the dreams you remember.
  8. Keep it fun! If it stops being fun, it means you’re out of the flow state of creativity. Let yourself get back to making art for the pleasure of creating, and the best, most unique art will come out of that.

I hope these ideas help you in your creative journey, fellow artists and artisans! Go forth and create with joy. As Lera Auerbach writes in Excess of Being, “Angels of daring, I call upon you!”

Speaking of creativity, I have started a new channel for my artwork, a Patreon page. Patreon is a way that patrons and supporters of my art can get monthly, exclusive rewards like prints and original art for being my patron. To check it out, please visit Thank you readers for your support and enthusiasm for my work. I hope this writing was in service to you! I will leave you with my latest artwork, “Magic Garden,” an ink on watercolor paper drawing that was definitely done in a creative state.

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“Magic Garden,” ink on watercolor paper, 9×12″, Jessica Libor 2017


Until next time,


Revelations of Traveling


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This month  I had the great fortune to travel to Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.  This marvelous stroke of good luck was sponsored by a company–sending a friend of mine on business, and me as a lucky and grateful plus one.

Honestly, I didn’t think much about if the trip would change me.  I was too busy tying up loose ends at home and preparing for the trip to think about it.  And finishing a large commission for a restaurant, curating an exhibition, and exhibiting a show of my own at the hospital all had me busy to the point of distraction right up until the night of.

We began the long journey to Switzerland the next day–a taxi ride, and a 7 hour flight, two hour train ride, and another taxi.  We arrived at night, tired and jet lagged, and didn’t get a chance to see the full impact of the city until the next day.  We were staying in Bern, Switzerland,  what is called the city of fountains, for its hundreds of preserved and working fountains found throughout the city.  From where we were staying, you could see the Swiss Alps rising above the green hills beyond the rooftops, the river winding through and reflecting the sky as it has for centuries.  From the rose gardens you could see the red clay rooftops of the city pile up on each other in neat, twisty rows, little tendrils of smoke wafting up into the sky.  It was brisk weather, but enjoyable–I spent hours painting the landscapes from the gardens, and down in the city, the cathedrals.  What I found the most interesting about each of the places we visited was the way that they felt.  Each country, and even city, seems to have its own unique flavor and culture, a mood that you get walking through it.   I noticed how the Swiss acted: they were quiet, but seemed happy, not an especially boisterous people, but with a great deal of personal dignity.  Talking with some of the citizens there, most of the people seemed extremely happy with their life, and happy with thier government.  For all its gingerbread, fairy-tail beauty, though, Bern was a practical city.  People in suits rushed about during the day, and the tourists were not obvious.  It was not particularly artsy, either, at least as far as  I could see.  There seemed to be a celebration of commerce in modern life, and art was mostly relegated to the museums and postcards, a historical novelty.  I did happen across one particularly wonderful exhibition in a gallery tucked out of the way–an Asian influenced artist, Tran Phuc Duyen, who recently died, leaving an attic full of undiscovered works.  He lived in the attic of a castle within Bern for forty years of his life, sponsored by a wealthy patron, working in gold leaf resin.  His early works were detailed and magical, his later works, inspired by meditation, were simple, stunning, luminescent.

Venice was the next stop. When first coming off the train and seeing my first glimpse, I thought I must be looking at a painting, or a movie set.  This place couldn’t possibly be for real.  It was too ornate, to unbelievable, sitting over the turquoise waters with its arches and parapets.   But it was real, and as we rolled our luggage through the puddled streets, I realized that it was ALL like this, not just a small part.  It truly felt like stepping back in time.  A city built starting in the 5th century A.D., it was quite old, and you could feel the ancient history pressing in on you as you walk through: the windows that have seen a million things, good and bad, the revelers, the masked mobs, the wars, the loves, the corruptions.  It was almost eerie how little in the place was modernized.   For the few days we stayed there, I soaked up as much of the city as  I could.  There seemed to be endless things to see.  The museums alone could take up a month of days.  For me, the strongest impression came when  I visited the Doge’s Palace (another name for their government) and St. Mark’s Basilica in one day.  First, St. Mark’s Basilica–unbelievably ornate, with four marble horses perched atop its high balcony.  When I stood inside, I felt as though a thousand years were housed there, in this church, and the heaviness of the feeling struck me.  It was hard to breathe in there, and one felt a certain atmosphere of mystery.  It was dark, the ceilings high and patterned with millions of reflective tiles, and yet the shadowy feeling was strong.  I felt like Indiana Jones–like I might step on the wrong tile and a trap door would open up, or the bones of Mark the Apostle would be revealed (they are housed there on the altar).  I can still go back there to that hushed, heavy atmosphere in my mind.  It was there that I started to realize just how old the city was, and feel the weight of the ages on me.


Inside the Basilica


Etching of the fire

In the Doge’s Palace, I went through the rooms not knowing what to expect.  I went through room after room elegantly carved and painted, reading the plaques of what happened there, what bodies of government, and certain historical facts.  One particularly interesting fact was that with certain jury bodies in Venice, everyone was required to wear masks.  I had always thought of the Venice masks as more of a party, revelry-style accessory for fun, but to learn that government bodies used them for hundreds of years in order to protect the judges from identification, was fascinating.  As I walked through the halls, I came across a small drawing of a fire that happened in the palace.  It was drawn from the square, and showed fire coming out of the windows and buildings cracking and falling, and people running.  It was so detailed and felt, that all of a sudden I realized that THIS HAD HAPPENED, not just in history books, but this city had a history of centuries and centuries before me.  All these people had lived and died here, people like me, who worked and dreamed and loved and fought and hoped.  I realized I was connected, like the people who had gone before me had lived, and had passed the baton to me, to you, to this living generation.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s like my mind and body realized all at once how long history was, how many people had lived, and actually felt and realized it, not just knew it in my head.  It’s as Lera Aurbach says in her book “Excess of Being”, “Time doesn’t change.  Time stands still.  We change. We pass. We are passing time.”



I was still wondering from this revelation as I wandered into the next room, and stared in awe.  It was the most ornate, overly-decorated, mammoth of a room I had ever seen.  The ceiling, even though it was high, seemed to press down on you, because of the amount of gold leaf, carvings, and paintings on it.  I turned around and saw the staggeringly huge Paradise painting by Tintoretto, his last major work.  I stood marveling at the magnitude and quality of the artwork surrounding me, and was humbled by the realization that this was done hundreds of years ago.  Could we, with all of our mobile accessories and distractions and Netflix and computers and technology, come close as artists to the passion and dedication needed to complete such a task as this?  Perhaps, it is because of this lack of distractions, that work like this could be completed with such intensity.  And what will I, what will you do, to bring value to the human race as this has?  The question I asked myself not harshly, but gently, for when much is given, much is required of us.  We are blessed with a more cushioned life than most in the US in this century–longer lives, healthier bodies, more education, easier transportation and workload.  What, then can we give back to others, to society, to make the world even better?  This is the question I ask of myself, and of everyone else alive today, to make use of the time we have been given, while we hold the baton.


At the Teatro de Venice, the oldest opera house



Time boxing


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That’s me with the sunflower on my head with my sister one summer

Once upon a time, in childhood and high school, my days stretched out like weeks and my weeks stretched out like months, and a summer vacation was like a year.  I had endless hours to play with my art and be creative, and time moved slowly in a good way as I discovered the world and my own creativity.  I had little responsibility and that left my mind free as a bird to think, dream, and create.

As an adult, things can get more complicated as you add a day job, taking care of your home, exercising, eating right, making time for friends, family and relationships, paying the bills, not to mention creating art and making time to explore and doodle creatively, which to me is what makes interesting art eventually.  All of this together can be a lot–and at the end of the day, it can be intimidating to sit down and figure out your next great masterpiece.  It’s a lot of pressure!  Not only that, but art takes time, and if you’re already busy sustaining your life, sometimes it can feel like you don’t have the time to make the quality of art you are capable of.

Something that has helped me in particularly busy seasons is the concept of time boxing. Time boxing is the very simple but powerful idea of picking one task, and doing that task with complete focus and attention, for a certain amount of time.  During this set amount of time, you are not allowed to answer the phone, look at your schedule book, do the dishes, text someone, surf the web, look at Facebook, Instagram, fix yourself a sandwich, clean up the room, or do any other interruption.  Your mind is only allowed to focus on that one task.  Here are some examples:

  1. For twenty minutes, sketch out of your imagination in your sketchbook.
  2. For one hour, work on a painting.
  3. For ten minutes, write your artistic career goals and ways to accomplish them
  4. For 30 minutes, take pictures of your recent artwork and upload them to your website.
  5. For 20 minutes, read an inspirational book about an artist or person you admire.
  6. For 20 minutes, take a walk around the block and notice the colors and scenery.

You will be surprised at the amount that you can get done in a short amount of time when you are extremely focused.  The magic in it is that there is a defined time period for the intense focus, which gives your brain a deadline and a goal.  And when it’s done, there’s relief and a sense of accomplishment.  And if you’re an artist at heart, you won’t let a long time pass without having the urge to be creative in some way, even if you’re busy with other things.  As Lera Auerbach says in her book Excess of Being, “True passion does not care for validation.”



Lead with Love


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Spring, by Millet, 1873

Recently I have been thinking a lot about leadership.  In my lifetime I have worked under people, managed people, been a pupil in a classroom setting, been the teacher in the classroom setting, and many variations within.  In all of these settings dynamics of energy are present that make you excited to be there, or dread being there.  As I thought more about it, I realized that this good or bad energy was created not by the ease or difficulty of the workload or the physical environment, but by the quality of the leaders.  What strikes me is that with good leadership, you don’t even notice you are being led–because you are so excited to be on this person’s team, and their good energy is contagious.  So what are some of the traits of someone who leads people with excitement, creates loyalty, and brings out the best in people?

  1.  They are passionate about what they do.  This is a basic first step.  If someone is passionate about what they do, it raises the excitement level of everyone around them.  People are pulled upwards and inspired by the person’s passion–or love–for an idea or project. Even if there’s no technical position of leadership, these kinds of people will be natural leaders because people will gravitate towards their passion.  Everyone wants to feel alive, and if someone it totally awake and alive in what they do, they’ll create a trail of people excited by their energy and wanting it, too.
  2. They are trustworthy.  When they say they will do something, they follow through, no excuses.  This creates a trust, a feeling of stability, and avoids resentment for people who depend on your leadership.
  3. They treat people with respect.  From the youngest student, to the janitor, to the president of a company, the best leaders treat everyone with the same level of respect.  This creates the feeling like you are SEEN when they are in their presence, and this powerful experience of being seen and respected can by the biggest catalyst of growth for people who may have never had it to that level before.
  4. They take responsibility.  They shoulder what is theirs to carry, and hold others accountable in a kind way for carrying their own responsibilities.
  5. They are open to feedback.  You feel like you could go to them with concerns, questions and ideas and they would be receptive, not shut you down.
  6. They retain their humility.  They understand that they are human like everyone else, and the world does not revolve around them simply because they are in a position of influence.  They retain their empathy for people and create an environment of caring.

So how do you measure up?  How do I?  Like most imperfect people, I can think of times where I’m proud of how I led, and other times that  I wish I could relive in order to fix.  Writing this list makes me want to be more conscientious of my actions…but not so conscientious that it paralyzes.  I still believe that THE most important quality of leadership is the passion.  As long as you have that, everything else is the icing on the cake.

As is quoted in Robert Rimm and Clive Gillison’s  book Better to Speak of It, “What we’re really all involved with doing is trying to wrestle dreams into reality.”

A beautiful description of an ideal leader, exciting the people around him with his own vision until it becomes their own.





Art for Justice: a healing tool for prisoners seeking redemption


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In the classic book by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, the main character, Dantes, is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and spends years of his life in solitary confinement with no relief.  I remember reading the passage and imagining the hopelessness of the situation:


Prison, by Giovanna Battista Piranesi

“He descended fifteen steps, and the door of a dungeon was opened, and he was thrust in. The door closed, and Dantes advanced with outstretched hands until he touched the wall; he then sat down in the corner until his eyes became accustomed to the darkness. The jailer was right; Dantes wanted but little of being utterly mad…Then gloom settled heavily upon him. Dantes was a man of great simplicity of thought, and without education; he could not, therefore, in the solitude of his dungeon, traverse in mental vision the history of the ages, bring to life the nations that had perished, and rebuild the ancient cities so vast and stupendous in the light of the imagination, and that pass before the eye glowing with celestial colors in Martin’s Babylonian pictures. He could not do this, he whose past life was so short, whose present so melancholy, and his future so doubtful. Nineteen years of light to reflect upon in eternal darkness! No distraction could come to his aid; his energetic spirit, that would have exalted in thus revisiting the past, was imprisoned like an eagle in a cage. He clung to one idea—that of his happiness, destroyed, without apparent cause, by an unheard–of fatality; he considered and reconsidered this idea, devouring it.”

For those wrongfully imprisoned, or even rightfully imprisoned, I can imagine how toxic it can be for the mind to have nothing to do but think of guilt, suffering and revenge in a solitary cell for days, months and years.  Prison is an unfortunate part of society but a necessary one, to keep people safe, mete out justice and rehabilitate those who can be into good citizens again.  But what if prisoners can learn, be educated and given constructive tasks to rebuild their mindset?

When I heard about the organization Art for Justice, I was fascinated and moved by the idea.  Art for Justice facilitates art classes, programs and exhibitions for convicted prisoners.  All prisoners involved are either self-proclaimed innocent, wrongly convicted, or guilty and seeking redemption.  The organization was started by Anne Marie Kirk, an artist, and Charles Lawson, a prisoner serving life sentence.  When Anne saw one of Charles’ pieces exhibited at a local exhibit highlighting prisoner art, she wrote to him expressing interest in the piece and her desire to purchase it.  From there, the two began communicating, and eventually, Art for Justice was founded as a focused initiative to bring art as a tool for reflection, hope, and meaning to the prisoners.  In Charles Lawson’s words:

“I strive to inspire youth to look at their own talents and turn away from violence which can lead to the halls of the criminal justice system and eventually to prison. If I can inspire just one or two persons, then I can count myself among those who have tried and succeeded.

My second goal is HOPE! I hope that in viewing my artwork you will recognize that even in prison there are individuals who have worth and have something to contribute to their communities. I believe redemption is possible, even for long term offenders. If you see value in my artwork, then I truly HOPE you come away with a determination to see that changes are made so that such worth is no longer wasted, but put to a constructive use.”

Prisoners convicted for serious crimes have hit bottom, coming to face the consequences of what they have done.  But it is when we have no further to fall that often we begin to look to a different way of life.  As Lera Auerbach says in her book Excess of Being, “Sometimes being broken results in becoming whole.”

The organization Art for Justice was founded in Philadelphia in 1997.  To learn more about this incredible organization, click here.

Article by Jessica Libor, 2016


The woman who inspired “Discovery,” Therese Stark Renz

Discovery, oil on canvas, 30" by 30", Jessica Libor 2016 (1 of 1)

“Discovery,” oil on panel, 30″ by 30″, by Jessica Libor, 2016.

This week I finished the first painting in a new series.  This series is inspired by extraordinary women throughout history whose stories are compelling.  I wanted to center around women that most people have never heard of: who are not household names, but whose acts of bravery, and contributions to society have made a great impact or are amazing to think of.  My goal with this series is to awaken the part of the viewer that is brave or has greatness within, and inspire them to greater heights.

This first painting is inspired by the story of Therese Stark Renz.  Therese was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1858.  Her parents were both circus performers, although her mother dearly hoped that Therese would choose a more conventional life for herself.  However, Therese was captivated by the circus life and had aspirations of her own.  She began her training at the illustrious Wulff Circus in Switzerland when she was only 13.  By the time she was 15, she was performing.

Therese became the most famous female equestrian in the land.  She was known for her performances on horses that involved a high level of skill, and her most famous trick was jumping rope while on the horse–the horse jumping the rope!  She was written about in all the major newspapers of the time, and her fame spread.

She soon began working at Circus Renz, a renouned German circus.  While there, she fell in love with the nephew of the ringmaster, Robert Renz.  Soon the two married and she bore a son, Hugo.  After a period of approximately ten blissful years of family life, performing, and fame, this happy period of Therese’s life came to an end.  Her husband died, and soon after her young son died of an unknown heart condition.


Therese Renz performing

Therese was heartbroken, and thought about retiring from the circus life.  However, she decided to keep performing, as it was what she knew and loved.  She decided to start her own traveling circus in Belgium–owning her own company, being her own ringmaster, and organizing all aspects of the business, not to mention performing.  This circus included horses, zebras, great danes, and even two elephants.


The many looks of Therese Renz

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Therese with her two elephants

World War 1 came to Europe then, and Therese sold the circus and disbanded it to keep from starving–during a time when most people could care less about the circus.  Therese was 60 years old by the time the war ended.  Her age didn’t stop her from performing, though.  In 1923, she joined a troupe in Vienna, and continued her performances on horseback late into her 70’s.   She died in 1938 and was buried next to her husband who preceded her many years before.

Therese was interviewed late in her life by a  French women’s journal, during which the interviewer addresses Therese about her interesting life.

 “If you had the opportunity to live your life again, knowing all you know, all the joys and all the anguish that await you, would you choose as you had chosen before?”

Therese slowly sat up, looked one second at her horses – and probably beyond them to the adventurous parade that had been this life – then she looked at me. This little woman suddenly seemed surprisingly large, with a beautiful new face of energy, pride, and passion.

“Before God I swear, knowing all the trouble, all the grief, but also the infinite joys that were my destiny, I would not like to change one line of my life story. Regret, you see, even one regret, is worse than bankruptcy.” 

I decided to paint a picture inspired by Therese because I was moved by her story, which shows great strength of spirit, a strong love story, and fierce determination in all that she did.  I liked her brave and feisty spirit which showed itself by her boldness, courage, and determination to never stop living her life fully, no matter what hardships were thrown her way.

My painting shows a dreamy vision of young Therese on her horse, leveling her gaze at the viewer while displaying an attitude of strength and confidence.

I hope that this story and painting inspires you to embrace the opportunities in your life fearlessly and with confidence, just like Theresa did.  What dreams do you have that you may be putting off?  Dream big.  As Lera Aurbach writes in her book Excess of Being, “I do not stretch my imagination-my imagination stretches me.”

My painting is oil on canvas, with 2″ gallery-wrapped canvas sides, and measures 30 inches by 30 inches square.  If you would like information on purchasing the painting , please visit and click on “Shop” for more details, or send an email to

Jess in Studio, oil on canvas, 30" by 30", Jessica Libor 2016 (1 of 1)

With the finished “Discovery,” and the next portrait of an incredible lady in the beginning stages, below.

Have an inspiring day,

jessica signature

Visual Artist

Source credit for historical facts: Horse Nation, Horses throughout history: Therese Renz, Equine Circus Performer Extraordinaire, by Lorraine Jackson.  Photos: Public Domain.