Friday, April 15, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series: Jude McConkey

If you have been reading the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey blog for the last couple of years you've probably noticed the superb photography and artwork we have used to illustrate our articles and reviews. Jude McConkey is one of the contributing photographers who has been with us right from the start.  Allowing us take a peek of the world through her eyes and imagination, Jude's unique, insightful and hauntingly beautiful images with a twist, keep inviting the viewer back again and again.  We hope you find Jude McConkey's work as magical and extraordinary as we do!    ~ diane fergurson

MBS: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started as a photographer?

Jude:  I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I've always been artistic- drawing, painting, writing and I concentrated on art when I was in high school. When I had my four children in 5 years I had to put everything away because I was just too busy. By the time my kids reached high school age though, I was craving that need for artistic expression and really wanted to get back at it.  So, I experimented and tried a lot of things.  Painting, painting on silk, batik, jewelry design.  Although I was good at it, I thought most of the things were hard to do and I did not enjoy doing them. I did not enjoy the process but liked the outcome.

Strangely enough my father was a photographer, and even though I had been in his studio and knew how to use the enlarger, etc... I was never really interested in taking pictures. It wasn't until 2003 that I decided to try my hand at it.  My motivation was pretty unusual. A friend and I had decided to get Glamor Shots taken just for fun. They were so hideous, and I kept wondering why the photographer "didn't do" this or that with poses. I kept thinking I would have done a much better job because I believed there is something beautiful about every woman - be it her eyes, her smile, etc.. and that beauty didn't have to be what the masses think it is.

So, I got my first point and shoot camera and joined a site called where I started a project called PAD (photo a day). It taught me how to see something from nothing sometimes because I HAD to post a photo regardless of anything amazing coming into the view of my camera.

Soon after that I realized that photography was something I was successful at it and that it was so easy for me. The "easy" part scared me and it probably took another year before I realized that it wasn't a fluke... that I could actually take good photos. I have to say photography is the first and only time in my life that I've never doubted myself or what I was doing.

Under the Cover of Queens
MBS: What kind of equipment do you like to use?

Jude:  I love my camera - a Canon 50D. Besides that I have a few crappy lenses and 2 wonderful ones, including my new 60mm f2.8 macro lens... very yummy. It's also great for taking photos of my wearable art up close. My favorite piece of "equipment" though is Photo Shop - it is a creative person's gift from the gods! When I take photographs I see what I imagine, which isn't necessarily what is actually in front of me. But I know what I can do to make it become that way through Photo Shop magic.

Memory of Roses
MBS: One of the most striking things to me about your work is that it creates a mood and is so atmospheric. I don't know how many times I've seen a group of photos and I can actually pick out your work from all the others. That's a real compliment because so many photographers strive for that signature look and it's not easy to achieve. Is that something you seek in the subject matter, or is it an effect that you create after the photo is taken? (or both) How did your "look" evolve?

Jude:  It's funny about my "signature" look. When people first started saying "Oh, I knew that was your photograph" it bothered me. I kept thinking I was being redundant in my photography and doing nothing new. I was worried.  Then I realized it was the "essence" of my photograph that had my signature to it. I not only accept that it is what it is, but I also love that my style is my own and can be recognized.

Through Frosted Glass
You know the old saying "necessity is the mother of invention"?  Well, my subject matter often stems from that. I live in Michigan where winters are usually long and hard. There is nothing "new" to shoot at least a few months at a time. Because of this, I learned to find a story in everyday things and expand on that by trying to make the viewer see what I did. I find a story in most things I see - an emotion. I think that's the highest compliment I've ever received from people is that there is huge emotion in my photographs,  regardless of what the subject is. I like it because that is what I'm all about.

I am drawn to all things quirky and dark (Tim Burton is my hero). That style developed early but I was a bit afraid to use those photos. A gallery owner had told me that people want normal photos so that's what I was decided to show. One day I thought "I don't want to be known for doing the kinds of photos that everyone else does.. I want to do what I do." I took those photos out of the gallery and replaced them with my more moody, unusual photos and I began to sell.

MBS:  That's interesting about Tim Burton and the season of winter being such a big influence on your work. Are there other things that have impacted you as an artist?

Jude:  Well, just about everyone has heard about "The Secret".  I have always been someone who searches out self-improvement, knowing that I'm a flawed person. I watched the movie and it just clicked with me. It's all about the law of attraction and how you bring to yourself what you put out or think about the most - that the Universe gives you exactly what you want or focus on.

Some people scoff (husband and grown children here) but I know it's true. I know it because the only thing in my entire life I've ever had total confidence in has been my photography.  I always knew I would be successful even though my friends used to say to me "Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a camera nowadays, what makes you think anyone will buy your work" ... my answer? "I know what I know - I will be successful." That was it, PERIOD.

Beach Memories
I've never worried about it, never wondered, never been afraid about it. I just know. And I believe that the law of attraction has a lot to do with the success of my work - true belief in oneself never fails. And it draws others into your belief.

Because of this, I knew the law of attraction was a real and viable thing and tried to embrace it into the rest of my life (which I'm not so confident in). It's worked very well, although I do still have times when I forget the teachings and lose my way. But all I do is watch the movie again and I'm fired up. Oh, by the way, if you want to rent the movie, make sure it's the correct one. I came home with "The Secret" starring David Duchovney the other day.. no exactly the inspiration I needed..:)

Valentine Kiss
MBS: Good to know, although David may not like to hear you say that!   lol
Back to photography... most of the photographs I've seen of yours revolves around images of landscapes and still life settings, not too many shots of people. Do you prefer one over the other? 
Jude:  My earlier work consists of a lot of portraits - self and otherwise. I don't do as many now because of the lack of subject. I have a large family but none of them are into posing any more. I don't have friends who really like to either. One of the problems is that people want photos of themselves to be a certain way... not necessarily my vision.  I usually want something a bit dark or mysterious and most people just want to be pretty in photos. I do love doing portraits, though. It's not a preference of one over the other, really. It's a matter of what I have at my fingertips and, luckily for me, trees can't run away.

Racing the Dogs

 MBS: Didn't you work as a photographer for a newspaper too for awhile? What was that experience like? I'd imagine it's a whole different mindset.

Jude:  I worked as a newspaper photographer for almost 6 years until last October of 2010. The style of photography is totally different plus the fact that photo shop is only allowed to be used to size, crop, lighten, or sharpen photographs. So my photography was in two totally different directions. While a lot of the assignments were boring giant-checks-handed-to-charities, etc., there were some things I'd never have gotten to see and take photos of otherwise. From spending an entire day on a U.S. Coast Guard Ice Cutter breaking ice in the middle of winter for large ships, to meeting Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" fame, to being at a KISS concert where I got to take amazing photos up close and personal.

Necklace:  Separation in Color
MBS: In addition to your photographs and prints, you also design and sell a line of jewelry that actually incorporates your images into the pieces. It really is stunning. You've managed to marry the design of the jewelry pieces so well to the photographs. How did this jewelry line come about?

Jude:  About 2 years ago when the economy pretty much collapsed, a gallery owner told me that no two-dimensional art pieces were selling. So, I was trying to figure out a way to use my art in a way to make it more "usable" than just being on someones wall. I decided on jewelry, started with necklaces and I have to say it took me a good year before I got the resin correct and was pleased with what I was producing. It's been highly successful in shops, my Etsy shop, and it sells well when I do art/craft shows. I think what people like about it is that they are a unique piece of jewelry for them to wear - a great conversation piece.

I would love to design my own bezels someday and have just now started to actually draw out my designs for the jewelry instead of just playing with pieces. It, of course, is more time consuming than photography and sometimes I have to remind myself to get out of the house and take more photos..

MBS:  What is a typical work day for you? Do you work every day on your photography/jewelry, or are you less scheduled about it?

Jude:  Up in the morning about 6:30 or 7, get some coffee and off to my computer to check to see if I've sold anything online or answer emails. Usually I resin jewelry pieces overnight so they are ready to be put together in the morning. I try to get some pieces done before 11 a.m. because the light where I shoot (I use natural window light) isn't great after that time. I then download the photos, work them up, and start to list. I work on photographs after that and try to list a few new ones. Order prints if I need them, etc. The rest of the time is spent doing something I dislike immensely - marketing. Online selling depends on it, so I list photos on my Facebook pages, make treasuries.

My friends and family joke about me being a lady of leisure and smile knowingly when I tell them I have work to do. My husband, though, has been telling me I need to take time off at least one day a week. It's constant work for me, but I can do it in my pajamas :)

MBS:  I know many artists who are very hesitant about selling their work online. I've noticed that you are quite active online and have sold quite a bit of work that way. How has selling online worked out for you as an artist? Any advice you can give to other artists who are thinking about selling their work this way?

Jude:  I highly encourage anyone who has confidence in their work to sell online if possible. It opens your art up to a whole other world - how else would someone from Israel have ever bought a very large photograph from me? How else would they even know my name? In fact, last fall I sold two photographs to the set designer for the hit sitcom "Modern Family." If I hadn't been online they would have never found me. And I think that's a wonderful thing :)

My advice would be to remember, the work doesn't sell itself. You have to market, promote, get the word out there. The other advice is to stick to what you believe your work is worth when it comes to pricing. I know photographers who sell their work for quite a bit less than I do and they sell way more. But I still know what I put into it and I still know that it is worth what I charge.

MBS:  Care to offer up any advice for those who wish to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?

Jude:  For those who wish to pursue an artistic path the most important thing is to just do what YOU want to do. And you'll know what that is by how you feel inside. People have told me to crop my photos to standard sizes in order to sell more and I can't bring myself to crop a composition I worked on just to make a few dollars. You have to be confident in what you do and love it .. and if you feel that way, others feel it too.

Thank you Jude!

~ ~ ~ ~ 

You find out more about Jude McConkey and her work by visiting her stores on Etsy:
judemcconkey    (photography)
wearableartbyjude  (jewelry)

or you can email her at:

From our Mind Body Spirit Odyssey Artist Series, you might also enjoy interviews with:
Joanne Miller Rafferty
Laura Milnor Iverson
Emily Balivet

Follow our daily updates at the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace on Facebook


  1. This is the hands down best interview I have ever read about an artist/photographer. Kudos to MBS. I have admired Jude's work ever since I discovered her on Etsy two years ago. Her skills are at the top of the class!

    Thanks Jude for sharing.
    Julie Magers Soulen Photography

  2. Wonderful interview with an incredible visionary photographer!! Great Job!

  3. what an awesome interview! I love your photos.. congrats :)

  4. Terrific interview, I enjoyed every bit of it. Jude is so very talented and passionate!

  5. so amazingly talented you are, and I get to call you friend!

  6. fabulous interview with a wonderful artist-- jude's eye captures amazing and evocative landscapes.

  7. Wonderful! Loved reading about Jude and her history behind her amazing photography. Keep up the good work! :)

  8. Beautiful art and terrific interview.



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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design