So I’m riding around Bellevue with this very high-energy 27-year-old painter, and I’m starting to think, “Well, maybe I should take up painting.” That’s how infectious my companion is. She makes it sound like so much fun.
Jordan Swain ’00 offers me a warm diet soda from her emergency stash of supplies she keeps in the back of her car because she often doesn’t have time to stop and eat. We pull into Children’s Village, a safe haven in Renton for women and children who have been homeless, refugees, or victims of domestic violence. Swain and other artists donated their time and talent to brighten the rooms of the shelter with murals. Swain transformed one large playroom into a jungle. A friendly-looking leopard reclines on a tree branch directly above a nonplussed monkey. Across the room, an equally nonthreatening lion emerges from the underbrush.
Her work here, as well as other venues, is donated, but excellent publicity for her business, Jordan Swain Fine Art, an intriguing blend of fine art and children’s art. Although she paints children’s art on canvas, most of her work is murals, many of which are in children’s bedrooms.
At last count, 63 of her murals enliven walls of various habitations around the area. Much of her business comes about by word of mouth, and much of it is repeat business.
Although she says the murals are her passion and she exudes little artist’s angst or torment, she admits to a certain tension between her “fine” and children’s art.
“It’s almost like a crisis,” she says. “I want to be an artist, on the one hand, and be taken seriously. But some people think all I do is little kids’ murals.”
But shortly after, she tells me that sometimes she’ll stretch a canvas, not knowing which direction her imagination will take her. Each requires a completely different mindset, she says. I suspect the choice is more anticipation than crisis.
She avoids the conflict to some extent by generally avoiding copyrighted images such as Teletubbies and their ilk and trying to raise the mural images to a fine-art level.
“Children are a lot more sophisticated than we think,” says Swain. She also teaches art to children, through private lessons and at the Kirkland Arts Center. Children appreciate things like color, she says, and often ask about the meaning of things. Regarding the murals that are proposed for their rooms, she says that she has yet to encounter a child who’s not known what he or she wants.
She’s witnessed some battles, though, recounting in particular one little boy who insisted he wanted the Death Star on his bedroom wall.
Deciding on a theme involves some creative psychology on Swain’s part. One recent commission, for example, was for a girl who wanted unicorns and mermaids. Swain knew that she’d outgrow those ideas in about six months and persuaded her client instead to go with a Parisian theme.
Jordan’s grandmother is a painter, who taught her progeny to “never stay between the lines.” The creative impulse seems to permeate the whole family. Jordan’s sister is a musician. “I don’t think my parents ever told us to be doctors or lawyers.”
Although her painting at Washington State University tended toward the moody and symbolic, the seed of her interest in murals was planted by her advisor, Ruben Lira, who informed her that the Research Park was looking for some art.
“I said, well, I can show them some paintings.” But Lira suggested she propose a mural.
Which she did, even though “I had no idea what I was talking about.” But evidently, Lira did, and Swain figured it out, as her rainforest mural still resides at the Research Park, a visual legacy that students rarely enjoy.
Jordan’s husband, Clifton ’00, is a manager with Automatic Data Processing and an avid promoter. They met at the Homecoming game when they were freshmen. See jordanswain.com for more about her art.