Gina Tew is from the Chattahoochee Valley, but has only just found her place as an artist here. Always inspired by music and the wonders of nature, Tew's work explores the human quest of finding one's place in the world. Her work reflects her inner thoughts on her journey to finding her place - one she recognizes is ever changing with the ebb and flow of life.
A professional graphic designer at the RiverCenter, Tew enjoys the balance of a full time career and the freedom to hone her craft after hours. In April, Tew joined The Columbus Collective for their 2019 ArtBeat show. It was Tew's first professional show, and an experience she loved.
Now, after encouragement from family and colleagues, Tew is preparing for her first professional vendor spot at RiverFest this weekend. Read on to learn more about this blissing local artist as she discusses her journey to finding her creative identity along the way.
Tew in front of work at her first professional gallery show this spring with The Columbus Collective.
Q: How did you become an artist? What was your childhood like? Did it inform your work now?
A: Definitely. I was always creative and artistic as a child. My whole family is involved in the arts in one way or another. My mom and sister love to sing, and my dad is very hands-on and always building things. He is also a doodler, so I think I my love of drawing from him.
I got more into writing in middle and high school though. I'm originally from Phenix City, Ala. and at my school you had to submit drawings to get into the art club, and I didn't get in. So as a kid, I thought I shouldn't be an artist. So I picked up writing and became editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. It was there that I got introduced to layouts, and that's how I fell in love with graphic design.
Q: So is that what took you to Auburn? Graphic Design?
A: Yes. I went to Auburn to study Art with a focus on graphic design.
Q: How was it?
A: It was good. It took me awhile to get into the degree far enough to start getting to take the classes in graphic design. It's changed now, but back then you had to take so many fine art classes before you go to apply to get into graphic design. It gave me a chance to get to try a lot of things I liked before settling into graphic design. I took some screen printing classes which I really liked. Then, when I got into the graphic design program at Auburn, I discovered that I really liked publication design.
At this point in school, I was still really focused on design and stuck in that mentality of "I can't draw." I did more typography stuff. I had an internship with the Auburn Alumni Association, and learned a lot working on their magazine.
When I graduated, I was able to take a step back and pause. I wanted to get out of Auburn really fast, but I worked at restaurant in Auburn and just kind of got stuck. It wasn't until I moved to Dothan that I completely refocused on my art. It was there that I finally had the time to focus on my deign because I got a job at a screen printing shop. They were opening a clothing line called The Southern Nut. It's based out of Dothan, Ala. which is a major producer of the state's peanuts, so they really wanted to play up "the nut" in their designs. This got me back into drawing while I worked for them.
Q: What took you to Dothan originally?
A: My husband is from there, and moved there to explore some career options. He's a chef. He started working down there and then I followed him there because I was stuck in Auburn working at the restaurant and wanted to get back to doing what I loved. I needed to get back to doing something artistic with my life.
Then, we got married and had our daughter. When I got pregnant, I immediately knew I wanted to work toward a higher paying job. That's when I started working for a law firm. It was fun and a lot of publication which I loved. It got me back into typography as well. I was there for a year and a half and then I got a job at a magazine. I loved that as well, but I wasn't there long. Maybe only six months? I loved working there, but Corey and I still felt as though we wanted to be in a more artistic place. We both love the arts.
While I was at the magazine, I saw a job positing in Columbus working in marketing for the RiverCenter. I just sort of went for it, and because Columbus has grown so much, I knew that it would be a better opportunity for Corey to be in the bustling food industry here. RiverCenter's whole focus is bringing cultural arts to our community, and I absolutely loved the idea of being a part of that.
Q: So did you get the job?
A: I did. I applied and got the job and I love it. I grew up here, but most of m friends are all spread out now, so it took me awhile to get reconnected with the artistic community here.
Q: How did you get connected?
A: Well, my coworker Amanda Rae saw my drawings and illustrations one day. Remember, at this point they were still only for myself. I kept them hidden in my sketch book, but she was the one who started telling me they were good and to really put them out there.
Q: That's awesome. What happened next?
A: (laughing) Well, then I met you and you said the same thing and kept encouraging me to start putting my work out there.
Q: But there were more of us than just Amanda and I, weren't there?
A: Yes. Everyone I began meeting in the various arts disciplines here was saying the same thing. I began to meet and network with other designers, theatre professionals, etc. Everyone was so supportive and I decided to go for it.
Q: Was your family supportive of that decision?
A: Oh yes. They've been telling me this for years, but it's one thing when it's your family, you know?
You kind of feel like they have to say that, and if you've dealt with rejection of your art in the past, it's hard to break through that barrier. It took me getting genuine encouragement from other artists to begin to feel comfortable putting myself out there.
Q: That's wonderful, and it's the very thing I love most about the creative community in Columbus.
A: Definitely. Everyone has been nothing but supportive, and when that begins to happen, it begins t spread.
Q: What mediums do you work in?
A: Graphic design, digital illustration, and a little bit of wood burning.
Q: When you say digital illustration, what do you mean?
A: It can mean several different things, depending on the artists' process. My process is that I illustrate things by hand, and then pull them into design programs to work on them digitally from there.
Q: How did you get into wood burning?
A: Corey bought me a kit for Christmas one year, and said he thought I'd have fun with it. I really have. It's a nice way to stretch myself and get my hands dirty when I need a break from working with pen and paper or the screen.
Q: Have you considered getting back into screen printing?
A: All of the time. I'd really like to get back into it. It's just a matter of getting the right things together for it to happen. Every now and then, I'll go grab a rubber block from Hobby Lobby and carve a design and print it myself. Just to get back into it for a bit. Maybe someday that'll become something I can do more often.
Q: You were a part of The Columbus Collective's show during Art Beat. Was that your first professional show? What was it like?
A: It was really exciting. It was a learning curve for me for sure. Other than in school, I'd never really done a show. I mean, in college you have all of the time planned out for you. You have studio timed planned out, benchmarks to meet, and mentors to ask questions. Now? It's completely different. It was a big challenge to try to figure out how to be a mom to a two year old, hold down a full time job, and then find time to make new work. It was really, really fun and I got it done. Next time, I'll know more about the process going in and be better for it.
Q: What did you learn?
A: The internet is full of things telling us to "just go for it!" And while there is some truth to that, I learned that I really have to give myself deadlines. There has to be an active structure to work within, or it just gets really overwhelming and you don't have the freedom to enjoy it like you want to. I learned what it means to set deadlines and then meet them. It was really fulfilling.
Q: That's so wise. I certainly understand where you're coming from with that lesson. Work life balance is elusive - especially for creative entrepreneurs.
So, what's next?
A: Next, I will be showing my work in a booth at RiverFest. I actually booked it before I found out about The Columbus Collective show. I found the listing for RiverFest vendors, talked to friends and family about it, and just decided to sign up. This was in early March. Then, life got a lot busier with a pop up show, but I'm so glad and thankful to have done it. Now, I'm ready to show my work solo for the first time at RiverFest this weekend.
Q: What will you have on display?
A: I've got a bunch of illustrations, some framed work, and even some of my woodworking. This will be the first time I've put the wood working products out there, but I feel as though it's a great fit for RiverFest and the type of crowd it draws. I'll have everything packaged up so it'll be really easy to grab and go since it's a festival and everyone is on foot for the day.
Q: Wonderful. We wish you the best of luck at RiverFest and hope everyone reading this stops by to familiarize themselves with you and your work.
Last question. Where do you hope to see your business in a year?
A: I'd love to have more of a presence online. I do have an Etsy shop, but I'd like to have it a little more stocked by this time next year. I'd also like to have a Facebook, Instagram in addition to Etsy. I'll also be making an effort to attend more events like Creative South. Networking is such a crucial part of any community, but it's especially wonderful to work toward building a network of creative people you know and adore.
As for the longterm, I don't think I'll ever want to be fully reliant on my side business instead of having another job. I love working at RiverCenter and being involved in the community impact they have. I also really enjoy having the ability to leave the house, go to work, and then come home and get back to work on my own creative projects. It's a good fit for me and for our family. I'm excited to continue growing as time goes on. ◼︎
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Tew's work is currently found in the following locations, art shows, or galleries. Simply click the link for more information.