by Christy Peters
Jennifer Hannaford is a contemporary artist and forensic scientist whose two seemingly dissimilar careers have on occasion overlapped in rather spectacular ways. In her painting Counting Clouds, a figure wearing a brightly colored swimsuit appears to have just broken the sunny surface of the water as light and bubbles dance around her. Jennifer's extensive knowledge of skin and the refraction of light are on display in this large painting as they are in all of her underwater figure portraits.
Born in California, Jennifer received her BS in Forensic Science from California State University, Sacramento. She then began her career in forensic science as a latent print examiner analyzing evidence for ridge detail left behind by people’s fingers and palms. Before she started painting, Jennifer combined her passion for art and forensic science while completing her Master’s Degree at Boston University with her thesis on using imaging to find ridge detail left in the imprimatura layer of oil paintings. Jennifer has since used this research and her forensic skills to assist in art authentication. Finding shared ridge detail in two different pieces of art could assist in confirming the artist who created the work. This method is more effective if there are records of the artist's fingerprints on file or documented in an authenticated artwork like the handprints in Jackson Pollock’s painting Number 1A, 1948.
After nearly two decades in a career where policy and procedures prevented creativity, Jennifer began to release her own inner artist with a nod to her forensic science background. Inspired by LargePhil/fingerprints, 1979 by Chuck Close, she created portraits of celebrity mugshot photos using only her fingerprints and ink. Having spent years identifying people by the unique ridge detail on their fingers and palms in forensic casework, Jennifer was now using her own ridges to make original, pointillistic portraits. Black ink allows the delicate shapes of friction ridge skin to be transferred onto white canvas in small, crisp details and creates depth and shading when touches to the surface are multiplied and grouped. Jennifer has recreated mug shot photos of multiple celebrities, including David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, along with historical figures like Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The somberness of these black and white fingerprint artworks feel fitting to their seriousness and serve as additional snapshots of important moments in history.
After gaining confidence from her fingerprint artworks, Jennifer began experimenting in color with oil paint. The California girl’s love of water features prominently in her work through her ongoing underwater portrait series and naturescapes. Whether she’s painting figures, flora, or fauna, Jennifer uses thick layers of paint to vividly capture moments in time. Crisp details intermix with loose brushstrokes in colorful, light filled paintings. In ‘Smith Point Beach Sunrise’, waves are hypnotically crashing against the shore as the sun rises in a technicolor show across the ocean. Looking at this painting provides the calm of nature as if you were experiencing the beautiful sunrise on the beach in person.
Jennifer’s artwork has been featured in galleries across the United States over the last ten years since she freed her creativity. A large triptych of her underwater oil paintings is installed at the South Lake Tahoe Ritz-Carlton. Commissioned ridge detail ink portraits of multiple fingerprint pioneers by Jennifer are on display in the collection of the Chinese Fingerprint Museum (Nanjing, Jiangsu Province). Jennifer can be found most days painting in Port Jefferson,New York with her dog and adorable studio assistant Max lounging nearby.
How has your art practice changed since dedicating yourself to art full time?
I continue to be surprised daily. In 2022 I rented an art studio and now I have an entire space dedicated to my practice. This has allowed me to work at any hour and all hours of the day. It has also allowed me to close the door and go home and rest from my artistic pursuits and recharge. Actually renting a space has allowed me to grow in ways I did not think possible. I now have a space to meet clients, make a mess (a necessary part of my process), and be alone. Picasso is credited with saying “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” I feel like I am finally getting to the really serious work!
Do you have any tips for artists looking to make this shift?
Do not quit your day job! Not right away. Be willing to put the time in. This is not always an easy transition. It is more likely than not, if you are supporting yourself, that sacrifices are required. Those sacrifices may take the shape of long hours and working an extra job to support the art business. Most galleries take 50% of sales and emerging artists are probably not selling art at prices they can survive on. I continued to work in forensics for about eight years before I made the leap to leave the field and rely on my paintings to make a living. This required a better understanding of the business, the sales of my paintings to reach higher price points, and patience.
You have a gallery and private studio now. How do you manage and create in these spaces?
It is becoming difficult to pursue both. I am at a point now where I do not have a lot of original works available anymore. That means the gallery may not be necessary or possible to maintain. So, I am going in the direction my growing business takes me. Most of my income, of late, are commissioned works. Thus, it is not possible to fill wall space with new works available for sale.
Your gallery in Port Jefferson, NY has partnered with a local business, Shop Simple Good, to promote environmental consciousness. What are some eco-friendly practices you have incorporated into your work?
When possible, I have stopped using harsh mediums that are not good for the environment and frankly, not good for me either! I used to go through a ridiculous amount of paper towels, daily. Reusable paper towels and old towels are now repurposed and reused to reduce waste.
Your gallery also features work by other artists. How is showing other artists and local artisans important to you and your gallery space?
It is important to me. However, I got serious about what my time and resources looked like. I came to the conclusion that I needed to focus on managing my own work versus many other artists. I have to be realistic about the time I can devote to my art, and these days my commissions are requiring more of my time.
You have also collaborated with artists to create local murals. Have you enjoyed these new artistic challenges and how do you recommend other artists get involved with their communities?
What a blast painting murals has been. I have collaborated on about six pieces in Port Jefferson. It has really changed the landscape of our little village and people really appreciate the original works and attention to their space. I would recommend artist contact merchants or business owners to see if they are interested in changing things up on the exterior of their buildings. Your Chamber of Commerce is also a great contact.
Your art began with a strong connection to your first career as a forensic scientist and has since diversified greatly. Do you have a favorite subject matter or style to paint?
Oil painting is my passion. I am still painting my swimmers, as they are now being requested by clients who want their own portrait done. This past summer we had photoshoots in pools from NY all the way out to CA. Though I love painting the underwater portraits, there are new things I am eager to try, and I will be making some shifts in the very near future.
What currently inspires you and influences your art?
Believe it or not, instagram. There are incredible artists everywhere and they are accessible anywhere, anytime. These artists are sharing their techniques, progress shots of their work and tips. I have learned everything from how to mix color better to aspects of running my business more effectively.
Do you have any upcoming shows, projects, or new work you would like to share?
I do not have any upcoming shows as of right now. However, I will be looking into traveling to different shows in the next few years as I let the gallery go to free up my time. I will keep this information on my website.