Cindy, you do two-dimensional images that combine oil paint, vintage photos and digital images. You also construct “wooden puppet boxes” with photo-based characters inside. Can you give us a general overview of your work and tell us a little about your creative process? 

One constant of my work is a love of portrait photography and the history of photography. The images I want to make (to match the ones in my head) could not be made with a straight photograph, so I'm very thankful for the control that digital imaging offers.

Digital Art, Photoshop

At some point, I wanted to bring the images into the physical world - "cut them out" of their backgrounds. I began to print images I had created in Photoshop, adhere them to wood, saw, then paint. This fellow has jointed limbs.

Digital Art, Photoshop

I also began to make little wooden theaters boxes to house these puppet-like figures. I really enjoy the hammering, sawing and painting. 

Digital Art, Photoshop

My creative process always begins with a photographic portrait.  Sometimes I make them, but I also love old formal portraits of complete strangers. Everything that happens afterwards usually spirals around the eyes and consciousness in that portrait.  When I make the boxes with a figure inside, I generally make a group of them. Most recently the theme was ghost children on rocking horses. The back of the boxes were papered with Victorian looking wallpaper to suggest the children were in their old rooms, riding away, dreaming and dressed as what they wished they would one day become. Yet you can see by the era these images came from, these children and what they became are already gone. You can see past, present and future at the same time.

Digital Art, Photoshop

I continued the ghost children theme in some 2D digital images involving ghosts and human attachments. So the 2D and 3D work goes back and forth.

Digital Art, Photoshop

Since this is a Photoshop book, I have to ask – how is Photoshop used in your working process?

Photoshop is a wonderful tool for all artists! You can sketch, collage, work out your ideas, your colors, your dimensions - all before you've committed yourself in paint or wood or whatever your medium. Obviously I use Photoshop to create finished digital images, and I especially enjoy the "layering" capability. 

You were trained as a traditional photographer. What attracted you to incorporating digital technology into your work?

Nothing will ever replace watching an image eerily arise on paper in a room lit by dim red light. However, I was always interested in a painterly sort of photography that had texture, and atmosphere and mystery - like the beautiful portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron or gum bichromates by Edward Steichen. I also wanted to photograph things that couldn't normally be seen.

You combine digital images with traditional methods. What do you get from this combination that you couldn’t get from either method individually?

An actual photographic portrait automatically suggests a real person and a specific point in real time. It lends a validity and even a history to the event in the image I create. Digital technology allows me a chance at recreating images exactly as I see them in my mind. There is almost unlimited possibility.

Your work, “Visions” was selected by the publisher to be the cover of “Digital Art Revolution”. What can you tell us about this work? How was it created and what’s the story behind it?

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This little girl has visions and that leaves her in a vulnerable position. It's difficult for her to maneuver through the physical world because she is immersed in an interior landscape, and that is why the little rabbits are trying to help her along. The point of the visions is to gain understanding, and the box she carries may hold answers, or an offering though possibly something else altogether - something that should stay locked up. This is my interpretation, but my husband has a different one: he insists the bunnies are not good guys at all and they are leading her to some kind of doom. So apparently, it's open to wide interpretation.

This was the original portrait that I used for her face. I found this old photo at a wonderful local haunt called "Reed Odds and Ends." While I worked on this, I thought about the little girl in Pan's Labyrinth who seemed to me heartbreakingly vulnerable. 

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Her arms, legs and hands were created in Poser. I used kanji I scanned from a discarded Chinese newspaper. (Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing.) I drew the box and the key, then "covered" them with textures. The bunny heads came from Dover's "Animals: 1,419 Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Fish, Insects, etc."

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Where do you find your “vintage” source materials for your work? Are some of them personally connected to you?

I look in thrift stores, Ebay, Etsy, etc. for vintage portraits that reach out to me. Some of the Library of Congress online collections have images in the public domain. There are generous collectors of old photos on Flickr that have scanned in images that artists may use under a Creative Commons license. I don't use images of my family members - I like the fill-in-the-blank Every Man quality of an unknown face.

You were twice awarded a Georgia Council for the Arts Grant for mixed media work. Can you tell us about this and the work that won you the awards?

Sadly this grant is no longer offered, nor is there any grant for individual artists in Georgia. However it was an honor to be chosen when it was available. The first time I created a set of photographic portraits I had made of friends. The prints were traditionally printed in black and white, and then physically reworked with charcoal and paint, then rephotographed. The second time I created my first set of wooden figures from photographs inside wooden boxes that looked like old Punch and Judy theaters.

You also work as a graphic designer. What kind of design work do you do?

My favorite assignments are book covers,  CD covers, magazine covers where I can use my fine art. 

Digital Art, Photoshop

Digital Art, Photoshop

For three years I designed all the covers for Athens‘ Flagpole Magazine. They still have me make the Halloween issue cover. 

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 I also make funny "vintage" animal portraits - this is really the only place I let my sense of humor slip through in my art, since generally I take making images all too seriously.

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You do traditional photography, graphic design, mixed-media digital images and shadow-box constructions. You wear a lot of hats as a visual artist, and yet you have a very distinct and recognizable method of image-making.  What would you say was the common thread among your different approaches? What is appealing about working in different mediums as opposed to taking a single visual approach?

Common threads might be a respectful and formal sort of portraiture and a love of color and beauty.

Sometimes I go around and around the different mediums. For instance, I made digital collages to create an image of a Japanese Goddess which I printed out without color, adhered to wood, and then oil painted and built wooden altars to house the paintings. I really enjoy the physicality of painting, hammering and sawing - putting my hands on a piece.

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Later, I photographed this painting, pulled it BACK into Photoshop, reworking, giving it a new background, etc. Then I made archival prints of this image. I love working in Photoshop because of the extreme control it offers, as well as the ease with which you can experiment without ruining anything. (Bonus: no chance of cutting off a finger with the scroll saw.)

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You live in a beautiful and what appears to be a fairly rural location outside Athens GA. Has digital technology helped to enable you to live in this idyllic setting and still get exposure as an artist? If so, how.

I don't know how I would get exposure without it. And also the current technology allows me to work with writers, musicians and artists I've never met, since I can communicate and send files for graphic design projects. I would like to add that Athens, Georgia is a beautiful college town filled with many supportive and talented artists and musicians, and I love living here.

Are there any particular artists that have influenced your work?

SO many. I have been actively studying the watercolors of Emil Nolde so that I can learn more about color. I like the work of illustrator Dave McKean and admire that he jumps from physical medium to digital medium beautifully. Matt Mahurin, too. I'm always in awe of great painters and I've spent years and years looking at photography books.

Who are some artists that you admire, and why?

I think Irving Penn was the ultimate portrait photographer. I love Tim Burton's dark aesthetic. I love the haunting films of the Brothers Quay. I like Mark Ryden's flawless painting style. Really too many to list!

What projects or shows would you consider career highlights or personally important to you as an artist?

I am very happy to be a part of this book! Definitely a highlight!

What are your current and future projects?

I am very interested in making more work about Kuan Yin, an Asian Goddess/Bodhisattva of Compassion, "She Who Hears the Cries of the World."

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Last year I made a group of the puppet boxes that had moving parts and I'd definitely like to explore that further as well. Below you can see a little bird that moves up and down and the beautiful Kuan Yin swings gently to and fro.

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Digital Art, Photoshop

Anything you’d like to do that you haven’t already?

Make animated films!

My favorite pastime! Cindy, thank you for the insightful interview and thank you for allowing your images to be part of “Digital Art Revolution”.

See Other Artist Interviews


A “Digital Art Revolution” Interview with Artist Cindy Jerrell.

> Cindy Jerrell is an Athens, GA artist that mixes physical and digital images. Her work, Visions” was selected by the publisher to be the cover of “Digital Art Revolution: Creating Fine Art in Photoshop”.

You can see more of Cindy’s work at

Cindy recently had her work reviewed by the Athens Banner-Herald. You can read the article at:

Cover of Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop

Artist Interview