Self-taught painter from West Orange finds success across artistic mediums

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Two years ago, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, photographer Cassandra Saint-Jean couldn’t do her job the way she normally would have. She and her husband had previously worked together shooting events and clients, but working from home wasn’t possible for them. So Saint-Jean looked to a new creative outlet: painting.

“I was talking to a friend who said she was painting, but I wasn’t really interested,” the West Orange resident said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on June 20. “Then my sister-in-law sent me an online course that was free during the pandemic. It was on still-life painting, which I didn’t see myself being interested in, but I still started painting.”

Saint-Jean then turned to abstract painting, creating her own colorful depictions instead of portrayals of objects in front of her. That unlocked her love of painting and gave her the creative outlet she was looking for. Saint-Jean also discovered that, despite the different medium, painting can be similar to photography.

“When it comes to photography, you need lighting and composition,” she said. “It’s the same in painting. It applies some of the same concepts.”

Since this started as a quarantine hobby, Saint-Jean is a self-taught painter. She watched, she said, “every video on YouTube” to learn technique and style. It became therapeutic for her during a tumultuous time when she needed something to make her happy.

“It’s happy and joyful,” she said. “Eventually I was coming home from work and painting until late at night. After a stressful day, it was nice to come home and paint. I do it to relieve stress.”

Saint-Jean has sold a few paintings, and she currently has a solo exhibition on display at End of Elm, a restaurant in Morristown. The world of galleries and working as an artist is new to her, and she’s learning as she goes. 

“I’ve been doing research, and people have reached out to me,” Saint-Jean said. “I’m a little shy and introverted, so it’s out of my comfort zone. I’ve done some local shows and galleries. Sometimes, if I have enough pieces, I go with a theme, but I don’t always. I want to have a solo show.”

Even though the last couple of years have brought a potential new career, Saint-Jean isn’t going to let her camera start gathering dust. Most of her time is spent painting these days, but she hopes to combine the two at some point.

“I still do both,” Saint-Jean said. “We still take clients and events, but my husband is doing a lot of them right now. Ninety percent of my time has been painting. I’m interested in street photography, so when I paint, I want to try and mix the two. I’d like to mix photography with painting.”

This isn’t the first time she’s tried something new.

“It takes time to figure out what you want to do,” Saint-Jean said. “I went to nursing school, and I hated it. I wanted to find a passion, and I tried a lot until I figured it out. I thought photography was it for me, and I didn’t want to love painting more than photography. But once you find something, it will connect with you.”

Photos Courtesy of Cassandra Saint-Jean; visit Saint-Jean’s website at https://cassandrasaintjean.com

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