Artist Spotlight 01: Lochlann Jain


Lochlann is one of those people who intrigues. A quick Google search clearly highlights her academic accomplishments in studying how stories of injuries get told and what that means to a society. Very heady stuff. I, however, first came to know Lochlann through her Things That Art series of small illustrations (each painting is approximately 5'x7') that are at once quirky and profound. She would be a lovely person to chat up during cocktail hour. Till that time comes, I hope you enjoy our first Artist Spotlight with Lochlann Jain!

Tell us a little about yourself. What makes you tick?

My name is Lochlann, and I’m a professor of anthropology. I live in San Francisco and moved to California 20 years ago from Canada. I love/hate to travel and I’m actually writing from a café in Phnom Penh where I am for two weeks working on a project on urban mobility. I can’t say that it is exactly beautiful here, but it is a fascinating place. Things that make me tick – that’s a big question to which I wish I had a witty response! But really just the usual things: white water kayaking and climbing, lots of friends and family around all the time, getting absorbed in projects, learning new things. I think I’m addicted to that fatty substance our brains produce when we are learning new skills.


Your public profile depicts you primarily as an accomplished academic. Why create?

I definitely consider my academic work a creative endeavor – I did my PhD in an interdisciplinary program and I specifically chose my advisor, Donna Haraway, because of her approach to, and attention to, writing as a creative medium. At the time I went to graduate school, I was also working in an art studio and practicing art daily – if Professor Haraway had not accepted me as a graduate student I would have gone into art and architecture. Almost certainly as an artist, I would have approached issues, questions, and impulses similar to my intellectual work. My unique academic training has given me, I think, a way of approaching issues that would have been difficult to get any other way.  

A few years ago, while I was studying poetry as a way to expand my writing and find ways of making my academic work both more accessible and literary, I also started to draw again. Now I draw regularly and see it as a critical aspect of my daily practice and negotiation with the world.

Where do you draw inspiration?

I’m currently at a stage when I have a particular self-consciousness about my art practice, and so I’m drawing inspiration from everywhere I can think of: friends who are artists, art classes and life drawing sessions, my reading, and noticing different approaches to the world and ways of synthesizing and expressing reactions, information, emotion, and so on.


What medium do you work in?

Just now I’m working in pen and ink, felt pen, and charcoal. I am also working on a series of collages I made from graphite rubbings I did in London last summer.


As someone who works in the creative field, we often say that the quickest way to make something cooler is to make it really big or really small. Why do you choose work small?

Aaah, that’s funny. I didn’t know that, but I do have an artist friend who is encouraging me to see what happens if I make one of my small pieces really huge. When I started drawing again a few years ago, I made one rule: I would draw in pen, and whatever happened, happened. I wouldn’t judge it, or make rough drafts – and I drew on postcard sized water color paper. I now have about 60 drawings that are more or less souped-up doodles, if you will – images that started with a line or two and took on recognizable forms or designs. Some are a bit creepy, and no doubt Freud would have a heyday. For example, when I was in Europe I drew a card of a statue with hands coming out of it, and when I returned, I saw that the statue in our neighbor’s yard had hands coming out of it, which I had never consciously noticed before. But the short answer to the question is that I like the intimacy, privacy, and convenience of working small. I can do it anywhere, discreetly. It also forces a kind of intimacy with my audience – if they want to engage the work they have to look at it quite closely, and so my contract with them is that I make that close attention that the cards demand pay off.

What is your creative process like?

As I mentioned, I didn’t do sloppy copies until recently – basically what I drew on the card was how it stood. But recently I’ve started taking notes on things that I think might make thought-provoking “things that” cards, I now have about 80 things that cards, and ideas for perhaps 30 more. I’ve also been working on responses – aesthetic verses intellectual, and when and how each of these responses appear in others and in myself. 


What projects are in the pipeline?

At the moment I’m continuing to work on my “things that” series… I feel that there is more to tap here in working with under such tight restraints (each card has a title beginning with “things that” followed by 6 or so images of things that fall into the category. I’m aiming to provoke ideas about categories, of course, but also to push the idea of category itself as far as I can through word and text. Each image and concept has to in itself be small and accessible because of the size I work in, so the story of the work becomes the accretion of items in the category and what the reader might also add. I think I’ve just begun to scratch the surface, so I’m figuring out new ways “in” to the project. I like the paradox of making people think through a seemingly simple form of an annotated cartoony drawing, but I don’t want them to be just clever or cute anecdotes.

In other news, I am working on bringing my visual arts into my current academic work, which investigates urban planning and mobility, and I’m bringing arts into my classrooms as a promising new method of social science research.

Share something about yourself that may raise eyebrows.

Well, how about this: I make a really good Negroni, but aside from that --and raita and boiled eggs -- I’m a terrible cook.


How might people contact you if they’re interested in seeing more of your work?

The best way to reach me is by email, at or my website that is currently being built,