Torpedo Factory artist conveys stories through portraiture

Torpedo Factory artist conveys stories through portraiture
Jacelyn Orellana and her children Saya and Nomari at the Oxon Hill Library. (Photo/Ariana Wilson)

By Ariana Wilson |

In the hours that melt from late nights to early mornings, a set of hands reflect the world’s likeness in an array of paint. Paint splayed across wood panels harbors the familiarity of innocence and youth through a mother’s eyes.

Girl sleeping with her dog (Oil on canvas) by Jacelyn Orellana (Photo/Ariana Wilson)

The hands belong to Pro Tempore Torpedo Factory artist Jacelyn Orellana. Born in El Salvador in 1994, she grew up learning both Spanish and English. At age 6, Orellana moved to Los Angeles, Calif. and after several years she began losing some Spanish. When she returned to her rural village in the mountains of El Salvador at age 11, and without books to re-learn the language, she adapted through immersion and dictated her teacher’s lectures into her notebook at home. Two years later she moved back to the U.S. where she graduated from Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, Calif.

Orellana graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco at age 22 in 2015. Not long after, she moved to Virginia pregnant with her son, Saya, with her partner, Kelyd.

Landscape painting was her first love, and she applies the strategies of her origin style when painting portraits. The darker areas like shadows and dark lines frame the subject, then move onto the brightest parts of the face and finally blend the midtones into the neutral glaze base.

Orellana began sourcing her own portrait
and landscape references. (Photo/Ariana Wilson)

Dean Larson, her landscape professor at the Academy of Art University, taught a traditional and rendered approach when creating art which influenced the strategies she used in the developmental years of her career.

After applying to an open call through the Torpedo Factory and completing a rigorous three phase application process, she was accepted and granted a minimum oneyear eligibility. As a freshmen Pro Tem artist she has the opportunity to participate in Art Center public programs and exhibitions. While developing her skills and transposing her knowledge to portraiture, Orellana participated in painting challenges on social media, aiming to paint a portrait or landscape each day.

“I’ve always dreamt about being at this stage where art is my life,” Orellana said. “It took years, but now I appreciate it and just swim in it.”

The call to portraiture began as a need to financially support her family following her graduation from university. Her preference was always landscapes, she explained.

“In art school you are trying to make your painting look like your reference and on top of that you’re learning new skills and making sure it reads correctly,” Orellana said.

As a practiced traditionalist her style evolved from hyper-realistic landscapes with indiscernible brush strokes to “expressive, colorful and loose.”

Consistent commissions from clients and loved ones turned months into years and she began to fall in love with portraiture. Painting emotion in commissioned art requires a level of preservation and understanding, creative liberty is limited to avoid compromising the integrity of the reference and the expectations of the client.

Orellana was inspired by Salvador Dali, a Spanish surrealist artist. She reflected on seeing his work saying, with distance between the audience and the artwork the sequence of brush strokes and colors overlap and blend into a natural nuanced scape.

After years of painting from reference photos she began feeling robotic, like a printer.

“Obviously you’re painting but just copying the references of others. It doesn’t feel creative anymore,” Orellana said.

Inspired by her recent love of film photography and painting, she started sourcing her own portrait and landscape references.

“I want to be involved with every step in the process. When I use someone else’s picture I feel like it is not completely my artwork, merely a copied image,” she said.

In 2019 she began a series of paintings starting with a colorful portrait of her son. Using acrylic paints rather than oils opened the door to an expansive palette and the possibility to cultivate realistic abstraction.

During that period she painted something completely transformative thus far in her professional career in an attempt to “free [herself] from this box of realism and rendered art.”

Orellana has 11 paintings on display at Oxon Hill Library in Maryland. She reached out to the community library upon seeing an availability for an artist gallery this fall. Over the course of a few months she curated portraits and landscapes in oil, acrylic and gouache. For smaller paintings like the ones hanging in the entrance of the library, her preference is wood panels for their smooth, firm surface rather than traditional canvas, which is more malleable and indents when pressed with a paintbrush. A majority of the paintings hanging in the library are from her own film photo references.

Orellana’s paintings are on display through the end of October at the Oxon Hill Library. (Photo/Ariana Wilson)

In April 2020 she gave birth to her daughter, Nomari. Orellana’s family acts as her muse and are the subjects of many of the gallery pieces and her proudest work.

“The art is supposed to be my perspective on life and how I see things,” she said.

It is especially fitting given the pinnacle of the gallery is called “Through My Window” and features her son and daughter at their home blissfully unaware of their portraits being taken.

Many of Orellana’s paintings are oil on wood. (Photo/Ariana Wilson)

The horizontal painting was a last minute entry to the collection at the library. Though, from the cohesiveness of the black borders around every painting to the tedious installation of, “Through My Window,” the relief in Orellana’s smile and admiration in her children’s eyes was apparent when the final piece was hung.

One of her most memorable portraits was by commission for a mother of her newborn baby that had passed away.

“The picture is of the baby being born, the baby passed away about a week after that picture was taken. I felt an [overwhelming] responsibility to make it amazing. A good, happy, warm piece for this mom because I am a mom of two and I couldn’t process what that would feel like and I wanted it to be beautiful,” she said.

When creating this portrait, instead of applying characteristics of realism, she used splashes of pinks, blues and warm tones to create an emotion-filled scene for the family to have.

Orellana believes portraits capture so much about the human condition and subconscious thoughts. Through painting an artist can create a unique reflection in a pair of eyes telling a story that transcends words. She emphasizes the intricacies we overlook in ourselves through conscious strokes of color.

“The feeling you get after you’ve worked for hours on something and you get to see the physical form of it is the best feeling,” she said.