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Face Time: Jeanelle Demers — painting the world

First she painted 200. Now, it’s time to take on the world.

Auburn native Jeanelle Demers finished her 200 Faces project in 2015, painting more than 200 portraits as a way to blow out her college debt and build an impressive portrait portfolio. (Done and done.)

For the next step, she’s just launched the World Faces Project.

Demers plans to paint a 30-by-40-inch portrait of one woman from each country in the world, 257 in total, telling their stories in a blog as she goes and eventually hoping to turn that blog into a book. She’ll base each portrait on a photograph and estimates it’ll take eight to 12 hours to finish each one.

She’s not aware of anyone ever undertaking a project of this type and scope before.

Her paints are at the ready.

Name: Jeanelle Demers

Age: 30

Lives: Worcester, Massachusetts (recently moved in with my fiance, who is from central Massachusetts)

What inspired the World Faces Project? I have developed an enduring love of portraiture and I want to create a body of work that will provide opportunities for me to learn and grow, as an artist and as a person. I feel drawn to do something meaningful through art, and I see this project as a way to explore different topics pertaining to women, to connect with people and create an experience in which others can share.

It sounds so ambitious! How long do you think it’ll take? I expect it to take several years, although it’s difficult to estimate. It may take quite a long time just to find all of the subjects, especially in more remote areas. I want to make sure I’m taking the time to appreciate each portrait, the process and the stories that I uncover. So it could take 5 years, 10 years, potentially the rest of my life!

How’d you find Yanina, the woman in your first portrait? I found Yanina, a resident of Bulgaria, through a former employer of mine, who moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yanina has spent much of her life working in nonprofit organizations. She started two businesses focused on helping women empower themselves and on helping local organic farmers expand their customer base. She is an example of someone who values the traditions of her country and is also moving forward to progressively embrace and shape positive change.

How will you find the next 256 women? In the initial stages, I hope to draw on personal connections to friends, family, former co-workers, etc. who have ties to other countries. I imagine from there it will grow organically as I exhibit the paintings and the project gains momentum. I encourage anyone who has an idea for a portrait to contact me — I would really appreciate help with this part!

As you find them, what makes that woman feel like “the one” for that country? That’s a good question, and right now it’s not clearly defined, which is part of what makes this such an adventure. I’m trying to keep the parameters as open as possible, to see who shows up and if any themes emerge.

Lessons you took away from 200 Faces that you’re applying to the World Faces Project? 200 Faces taught me to embrace large-scale projects and be intentional about setting goals. I learned much about patience and the power of action — to set my dreams in motion by simply beginning, staying productive and painting even if something doesn’t get completed. One painting at a time, a larger purpose has a chance to coalesce.

It’s Sunday night at 8 p.m. You’ve had a busy weekend and absolutely don’t feel like picking up a brush. Instead, you:  You might find me trying new recipes and doing meal prep for the week, or looking at photos of Huskies online because I really want one! 🙂


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