With knife and paper, artist creates compositions

In her small shop, besides her own creations, artist Jennifer Judd-McGhee shows artful mobiles, handmade greeting cards, original women’s clothing, Japanese art tape and numerous other one-of-a-kind items made by artists whom she admires. PHOTO BY LILY CUSACK

From a distance, Jennifer Judd-McGee’s designs look like intricate drawings sketched with a fine-point pen. One piece depicts stick-thin trees on a green background. In another, finely detailed cottages pop up among trees and flowers.

Up close, these framed drawings turn out to be elaborate paper-cuts in which the artist uses an X-Acto knife to create compositions on medium-weight drawing paper. The patterned works vary from fanciful scenes to simple motifs, say, a word, wave or leaf.

The delicate white silhouettes are glued to a darker color paper illuminating the designs and their complexity. The process adds an element of mystery and intrigue to the artworks displayed in Judd-McGee’s retail shop called Swallowfield at 104 Main St. in Northeast Harbor.

For this paper-cut, Jennifer Judd-McGee selectively glued the intricate piece on a red acrylic background. When illuminated, little shadows emerge behind the white paper and add a 3-D dimension.

“What I love about it is that it has a bit of a 3-D feel,” the paper artist said. “I glue it selectively, so that when light comes on it, you can see little shadows behind the white paper.”

McGhee’s combined skill and the imaginative scenes that she creates have a universal appeal that has spurred design projects for major companies from bedcovers for the Land of Nod retail company to subway station posters for the New York Transit Authority and book covers for Storey Publishing Co.

At Swallowfield, Judd-McGhee highlights the work of artists she admires from all over the country. Her own pieces also are carried at Bar Harbor’s Spruce & Gussy, Archipelago in Rockland and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.

“I had always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to open a store because there’s so many… other cool, small businesses doing really interesting things,” said Judd-McGee, who moved with her family from Portland back to Mount Desert Island in 2010. She and her husband, Sam, have two children, Ellie, 17, and Chase, 16.

Cloth napkins are among the many household goods that feature McGhee’s original designs.

As an artist, Judd-McGee draws inspiration largely from MDI and its wildly beautiful landscape where she spent her childhood and attended College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

“I’m really drawn to doing stuff about Maine, but in the less stereotypical way than a lot of people think about Maine,” she said. “I try to have a more whimsical, handmade feel of the elements in Maine that I love, the flora and fauna around here.”

Her artistic work began as way to relieve stress during her college years. She studied art, political science and women’s studies, eventually forging a career in women’s health care.

“Art was really a passion I didn’t think I could do as a career for a long time,” she recalled. “Between all the different little revenue streams I had from selling prints and originals here and there and then licensing artwork… it ended up being a living.”

She began with mixed-media collage and painting, but turned to paper cutting with X-Acto knives when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“I figured out by trial and error that holding an X-Acto knife felt more comfortable than a pen, so I started just playing around with that,” she related. “I ended up loving it and just feeling like it really felt like the right medium for me.”

Judd-McGee keeps her shop’s doors open at least one day a week during the winter when all the summer tourists have fled to encourage town activity.

“My husband is a seventh-generation Northeast Harbor guy, so even though we moved away for a while, we still felt pretty connected here,” Judd-McGee said. “The town, the community is great, and it’s been fun to be back and be a part of it.”