Renée Jacobson: Artist in Rochester. A recovery story.

April 25, 2018

Meeting this amazing artist in Rochester is probably one of the most interesting and meaningful connections I’ve made since my return to the states (and to Rochester) and the stories that have spawned from this encounter are plentiful and ongoing!

It was my birthday and my daughter and mother and I attended the amazing “It’s a Wonderful Life” handmade market in the South Wedge in December of this past year. I loved this particular event, as does my daughter while she walks around and soaks in the music, art, festivities, everything.

After bumping into some old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while, I rounded the corner in the basement of the church and I specifically remember gasping as I approached Renée’s corner. I didn’t even know what to look at first as I was so captivated by her work. Being an art teacher for as long as I was and having constant exposure to visual arts as I traveled the world, I must explain that this ‘gasp’ rarely happens to me.

My eyes are quite particular. My mother watched in excitement and quickly realized she found the spot she had hoped for to gift me something on my day. I bought this amazing little, red-headed, hippie ‘possibility’ girl as I knew she must be right in my home. My life had just taken a very large, unexpected turn and I felt like it couldn’t hurt to have a sweet reminder like this! (image by Renée)

And then I knew…

In talking to Renée, I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph her and even asked her on the spot. After further conversation, I found out she has recovered from a brain injury, just like my father. Her stories seemed endless. She was very moved by this connection as well! I love meeting fellow artists, making a true living doing what they love.

After our meeting, I got a little lost in Renne’s writing. If you haven’t had a chance to read a bit about her story, it’s fascinating, yet complex, sad and motivating all rolled into one. She talks about her injury, her struggle with an opioid addiction, her recovery, her divorce, her artwork and path to becoming an artist in Rochester, her empty nest as her child leaves to begin life and much much more. She’s really amazing to read about!

I feel so fortunate that I was able to visit her home studio and watch her work and hear/see/learn more about her process.

The home of this artist in Rochester, NY

Renée lives in a bright, crisp home filled with color and artwork, which is in view from every angle. She’s clearly a plant lover and only plant lovers tend to notice another’s love for plants. I speak of this, yet, surround by these amazing pieces of artwork, I was not at all compelled to take images of her lovely plants!

Reneé’s artwork is thoughtfully placed, from the Giraffe in her bathroom (completely fell in love with this piece) to the …

… “wall of me” down her main hallway. Ok, this MY name for her wall, but it fits as it is a long line of portraits other people have created of Renée.

One little girl drew her while she was sitting in Border’s & Books and noticed her every little detail, down to her bracelets (it also takes a bracelet lover to notice another bracelet lover!)! Amazing. (This is when I first realized that I wanted my daughter to somehow spend time with this funky, amazing artist).

Entering her bedroom there is an immediate giant of a presence of 2 beautiful, melancholy eyes staring right at me. She spoke of this piece representing the moment she realized she “might have some talent”… When an artist she admires “wanted to trade a piece with me. ME!?!”

Renée said every one of her pictures has a story. That story may come from various places. This really resonated with me, seeing as every one of my photographs comes with a story as well.

Imagine all those stories…

We discussed her noticeably different styles, two at least. She admitted that she has one for when she is painting from a photograph vs. another painting from her head. Yet both contain a very similar, bright and airy color pallet.

While explaining this, she started to really enjoy one of her other favorite paintings hanging in her bedroom (those eyes). She was touching it and admitted that never understood galleries who don’t let people touch artwork. Some artwork, this one in particular, should be touched! Renée spoke so lovingly about this piece.

The process…

And now, off to the dining table where she prefers to work.

I am not sure why the first thing I noticed in her home studio were the tops of the acrylic paint pieces! Maybe it’s because I so knew those well from my classroom? For those of you who didn’t know, I myself am an artist in Rochester and was an art teacher for 16 years so documenting this artist creating her own work felt very comfortable.

When she began her piece for today, she read a poem that someone has posted earlier that morning. 

“I heard buttons… I heard life… and I had a vision for a painting.” and she wrote her vision down. Oh wait! No. This wouldn’t be today’s painting. I loved listening and watching her creative process. She says that her ideas mostly come from people she follows posting either poems, stories or scriptures. Her work is not religious, despite where the origin of the inspiration might be. 

Her amazing base coats contain a mixture of paint, water, brushing with a towel, her fingers and her brushes. She uses torn paper for some texture and colored pencil to bring in more color as she works.

I tried very hard not to get distracted by her brand new, sparkling Prismacolor colored-pencil set.

Oh… then she picks one up and uses her left hand! This amazing artist explains how that sometimes, although she is right-handed, she uses her opposite hand if she needs to keep things moving or is feeling blocked in any way. 


Renée works at a very deliberate speed, paying close attention to every drip and detail, in a meticulous way, but at the same time, also very spontaneous. 

She wanted to pick a paint color to highlight some of the edges. In my mind I said the words “purple” over and over and … yesssss… she said purple! 

A few seconds later a large blob of said purple fell onto the table.

She quickly opened another canvas up as not to waste a single drop of paint (something I can completely relate to) and explained to me that she always has 2 paintings going at the same time for this exact reason.

And just like that, she began to lay out the base for a new painting. Some beautiful purple and blue tones were created right before my eyes. It was quite magical.

I continued to watch her paint while also taking photos of all the amazing details throughout her home and while the paint was drying in between layers, we had a bit of a portrait session and she shared more stories.

Reneé meets my daughter…

Our time together was finished for today, but soon, Instagram told me she was creating artwork with people for the show 6×6 Exhibition in Rochester, I HAD to see if she would paint with my wee gal. And she, of course, snagged that opportunity right up because who wouldn’t want to spend time with the best little human ever!?

Honestly, I have never seen my 3-year-old so engaged. For nearly 2 hours they sat there and created artwork together, Renée guiding her and teaching her new techniques, while I tried my best to keep my hands out! It was really an amazing time for all involved!

I know this isn’t the last that Renée and I will create together!

Renee’s blog is quite captivating.
She is a true artist in Rochester.
I highly recommend reading and following!

Learn more about Renée

This is a really lovely interview that WXXI and Arts in Focus did locally on this amazing artist in Rochester. 

Renee’s blog is quite captivating. I highly recommend reading and following!

Photography by
Jess Kamens Photography

Artwork creations by
Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson

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