Iana Quesnell, born and raised in Tampa, has been an artist all her life... except for those times she was a weather mapmaker for a Tampa TV station; a satellite communications technician in the U.S. Army; a horse-whisperer, groomer and barn manager at a foxhunting ranch in Reno; a maker of custom bronze doorknobs in Escondido; or a cashier at Trader Joe’s in Encinitas — one of three local jobs she held at once so she could keep on trucking, that is: keep the Dodge pickup she often called home in working order.
All this — and more — was part of a 15-year hiatus between a BFA at Tampa University in 1991 and acceptance into the MFA program at UC San Diego, from which she graduated in 2008.
Best known for her large-scale, microscopically-detailed pencil drawings of things like neighborhoods she’s lived in, the American flag, and her grandmother’s tablecloth, she has been part of major exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla; San Diego Museum of Art; and Tijuana’s CECUT. Besides drawing, she has a background in painting and sculpture and is now experimenting with animation. A 2006 San Diego Art Prize-winner, she also won MCASD’s coveted CERCA award in 2007, which included a solo show and the $10,000 purchase of one of her drawings, after museum director Hugh Davies saw her work at UCSD Open Studios Day.
“Everything I do is about what I own and the spaces I occupy,” Quesnell said. “It’s all a process of self-discovery. I learn about myself, and the ideas transcend the personal.”
After living in Tijuana for seven years, travelling back and forth to jobs on this side of the border, she now has a small studio in Encinitas, in a large art-space called The Artist Odyssey (TAO). Inside the studio, where she uses the floor as a drawing-board, is her bicycle, good for exercise and local mobility; outside, there’s a motorcycle, for longer-range distances, and a Hyundai SUV, her current live-in vehicle, a recent upgrade from the worn-out old Dodge.
Last month, she had a pop-up exhibit at TAO, a retrospective of over 100 pieces — more work than she’s ever shown in one place — including four supersized drawings and several hand-drawn animations. Unfortunately for local art-lovers, her work, after a grand but little-heralded opening, was only on display for a few days, and photos hardly do her drawings justice.
“Every single inch is a drawing in itself,” said Quesnell, whose tiny pencil strokes give extraordinary texture to her pieces. “That’s what makes a good piece for me — I can just get lost in every inch of it. And the only way to do that is spend hours and hours doing it. When I’m showing my work, I’m really showing my time.”
She has taught art at USD, UCSD and Cal State San Marcos, and is currently an adjunct professor at Mira Costa College. Earlier this year, she started offering free, pop-up drawing classes, open to all ages, on local beaches.
“I love teaching, I love watching students evolve from feeling they can’t do anything to a feeling of confidence that makes them light up, but it’s difficult to wait each semester to find out if I’ll be teaching the following semester,” she said. “The pop-up school is a way for me to have a sense of ownership and control over my teaching and offer the artist and the community direct access to each other.”
Sundays at the Shores with Iana
Free drawing classes for all ages: 2 p.m. until sunset Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28 Meet at La Jolla Shores, on the beach, in front of the showers. (Look for the orange buckets.) All drawing materials provided. Bring your own beach supplies: water, snacks, sunscreen, chair, shade, etc. Register in advance for each class: IanaQuesnell@hotmail.com