The RAWards is the biggest independent arts show in the world with an annual, two and a half month long competition and judging process. There are nine award recipients out of over 15,000 eligible RAW artists.
Many may only dream about winning an award in such a large and competitive industry. But for San Francisco born and American Canyon native Jennifer Hansen, that farfetched dream soon became blessed reality.
On Dec. 16, 2013, the RAW: Natural Born Artists, independent arts organization, announced their winners for the fifth annual RAWards. Local painter and Academy of Art University alumnus Hansen was chosen as one of nine finalists and the winner for the category of Visual Artist of the Year.
On Jan. 19, 2014, she was honored at the RAWards ceremony and show in Los Angeles, CA.
“I am definitely still shocked that I actually won. It’s crazy to have been chosen out of the 15,000. That’s a lot of people! It is definitely an honor though,” Hansen said.
Originally having no intention for entering the competition, Hansen first showed her paintings with RAW in Oct. 2013. There she was asked if she was interested in being a highlight for the San Francisco show that took place in Dec. 2013 and officially entered the competition shortly after.
“I was like ‘Sure why not.’ I didn’t really have anything to lose,” she said.
The first round of the RAWards is the online voting process by the public for a candidate to be nominated into the top five artists (per category) per city. This is then followed by another round of online voting by a panel of judges to make it into the top three semi-finals round.
By the time Hansen had made the final decision to enter, there were only three out of nine days left for voting in the first round. The odds of her earning a spot were, in her mind, nearly impossible.
“I wasn’t expecting to even move past getting into being a semi-finalist. But crazy enough, I ended up winning the semi-finalist round. I racked up enough votes,” Hansen said.
From there, she was chosen out of 50 visual art semi-finalists around the country to receive the 2013 RAWard for Visual Artist of the Year.
The prize package for Visual Artist of the Year includes consultations with art industry professionals, a $500 gift card to Blick Art Supplies as well as other perks.
Hansen started her journey to be an artist in June 2008, when she had her first semester at Academy of Art as an illustration major.
She originally had no plans to attend college until she was prompted by her high school art teacher to show her drawings at the AAU portfolio reviews. Her plans were set once she was offered a scholarship for the summer semester after graduating from Vintage High School in Napa, Calif. in 2008.
After having her first foundations painting class, Hansen realized that she loved painting and soon changed her major to Fine Art.
“When I started painting, it was completely different. I had to learn to see shapes instead of drawing lines. There’s something about painting that I loved because I felt like I could be more expressive with it than drawing even though I was really bad at it,” she said.
According to Hansen, the biggest obstacle she had to overcome at AAU was learning how to use paint, which is now her primary medium.
“I remember taking my second painting class. It was still-life painting. And my instructor was very challenging. He would tell us that we were not very good painters or that we sucked at it,” she said. “I just remember having my final critique, and he did not like any of my paintings.”
As her schooling went on and her skills improved, things started to become real for Hansen. She graduated from Academy of Art University in May 2012 with a BFA in Fine Art.
“You have to be prepared to do a lot of work and really live at school,” Hansen said as advice to anyone interested in attending Academy of Art. “Being at the Academy showed me really how competitive it can be. That in itself is motivating because there are people who you can see that are hungry for it. They want to be the best artist or the best at their craft or to perfect it.”
Since her senior year at AAU, Hansen has had over 10 gallery showings, including three during her graduation week alone. She also has a permanent installation in the lobby at Hotel Zetta in San Francisco.
All of her physical achievements aside, she would say that her biggest accomplishment would be her strong faith and expressing it through her work without holding back just to be better marketable to galleries and people’s standards.
Hansen encourages fellow aspiring artist to follow their dreams and enjoy what they do.
“If you’re really passionate about it and you love doing art, then just go for it. Everybody is different. Not all artists will have the same career path. It’s not limited to one thing or one narrow thing. I would just say to step out there because it takes a lot of stepping out of the box and not being comfortable,” she said.