By Tony Hooker
To hear Libby Neathery tell it, she’s been an artsy type since birth. So, it made sense that after working in all different types of art media, she and her equally creative partner Derrick Roy would find the idea of creating their own space for art and expression ideal. With their recent purchase of the former Dale’s Jewelry space on Villa Grove’s Main street, their dream, Libby Jo Art Studio, has started to become a reality. I sat down with the exuberant artist to find out a bit more about her and about her latest artistic venture.
How long have you been an artist?
Oh gosh! My whole life! <laughs>
Did you grow up here, locally?
No, I’m from Deland, Illinois.
You went to Deland-Weldon. Was there an art teacher there that fueled your artistic side?
Probably quite a few. I want to give a shout out to Jean Blazek and my art teacher there.
Are you trained as an artist?
I am. I went to Parkland College and got an Associate’s Degree in Art Education, and then I graduated with a bachelor’s in 2-dimensional design from Eastern Illinois.
Is there a medium that you prefer to work in?
I have a lot that I like to work in, but I prefer drawing and illustration, and painting. 2-dimensional ink, graphite, paint. All of the above! <smiles>
Pardon the bad pun, but how long have you had designs on opening an art studio?
<laughs> In my mind, I would say for quite a while! I don’t want to say that this was an impulse decision, but the right location came along and we jumped on it. I’ve had the model and process in mind for about the last five years, wanting to get back into instructing and teaching.
You’re a partner with someone in this venture?
My fiancé, Derrick Roy, and I own this space.
You were telling me earlier that you plan on having art for sale in the front of the space. Will you be offering space to others to sell their art?
I’m not opposed to that idea, but I’m not at the point where I can give you an answer right now. <smiles>
How long do you think it will be before you’re in operation?
Probably about three months. Some time into the new year. We’ve got a lot of changes in mind for the space before we are ready to open to the public.
How did you come to Villa Grove? Fate? <laughs>
Probably! <laughs> My fiancé has a son here in town, and I have a niece and nephew in Tolono so it was just natural that we follow family and end up here.
What sort of art are you going to be selling?
A lot of prints and drawings and paintings. Frameable work that you would want to display in your home. I do a lot of custom work for people too, if they want paintings or portraits done. We’ll just have to see what our audience wants, exactly.
Do you have a feel for price points on the art that you’ll be selling?
I don’t. I think it will vary. The mediums that I do, not being large scale, grandiose oil paintings, a lot of them being smaller scale, I like to think that they’ll be affordable or something that people can budget for. That’s my goal for the classes, as well, to keep them attainable. To keep people interested and to serve as a resource for the community?
Are you thinking about something like wine and draw evenings?
Yeah! Wine and paint nights. Absolutely. Then coming up with seasonal concepts and ‘parent and me’ nights to get the community involved. I’m also looking into doing independent lessons. One of the rooms in this space will be set up as a classroom, and we’re going to do individual lessons.
Will you be offering things for kids?
Yeah, that’s what ties into my education background.
We have nothing like this here in town. Obviously, you think there’s a market for it, right?
I think there absolutely is. I think everyone needs an outlet to come and be creative, and that’s for adults and kids, alike. We’ll give them a chance to create, even if they don’t know they want or need to! Derrick and I joke that with both of us being artists (Derrick is a member of the excellent band, Feudin Hillbillys) our son will either grow up to be very creative brained or he’ll be a rebel and be an accountant or something very left-brained. <laughs>
What else do you see for the future of Libby Jo Art Studio?
I think it will kind of evolve as it goes. I’ve worked in a lot of retail settings before and you have to roll with the punches and see what your market is. I see having a retail space, having a studio to work out of for custom designs and things, but I also see continuing with lessons and education if there’s a market for those types of things.
Are there any other different aspects to opening this space?
We also own the apartment upstairs, so we have tenants now, and that’s a new endeavor for us. Derrick works in building materials, so he’ll be utilizing some of the space for that work.
Are you going to be hiring a contractor for the remodel?
We have remodeled a couple of houses, so we’ll be doing the majority of the work ourselves. By nature of his job, we do have a lot of contractor friends that will help. My dad is also a contractor so he’ll help as well. You always want to recruit help when you know they can do the work! <laughs>
Is it expensive, initially for someone who wants to become an artist?
That’s a little subjective. It just depends on what you want to do with it. You can just buy pencils and paper and get started and I encourage everyone to at least try. There are so many outlets and facets. I was a landscape designer for a very long time. I was a jewelry designer and you get into certain materials like that and it can become a very expensive hobby very quickly because you’re buying metal and other materials. It doesn’t have to be.
It sounds like you work or have worked in all different media?
I have worked in all different facets. I worked in marketing, so I’ve done digital design. I worked in jewelry. I was a florist. I’ve done a lot of creative spectrums. It (the cost) really just depends on what you’re interested in. The costs can vary depending upon what you get into. But, it doesn’t have to be an expensive habit. I think that detracts from some people’s interest because they believe you have to have a studio or you need all these expensive things, and you really, truly don’t. I’ve operated out of my home for a very long time, and you don’t have to have a studio and all the bells and whistles to enjoy creating art.
We talked about Derrick’s day job a little bit, so of course we have to mention yours, right?
<laughs> Shameless plug! I work for the water department here in Villa Grove. I started back in March. It’s funny, but this sort of relates back to the diversity of talents and experiences I’ve had. I’ve got the numbers and the art.
You mentioned three months before opening, so are you looking at a February start?
That’s the target goal. We moved to Villa Grove in March, so maybe we’ll line it out with our anniversary! <laughs>
Is there anything you would like to add? Are you planning a big grand opening?
Depending on what we’re allowed to do by that point in time I would love to have some sort of Gallery opening night and maybe an introductory event.
Did the pandemic play into your thought process at all? Wasn’t it scary to start this during this time?
It did. It’s definitely not a time one would think to buy a business or a commercial space, but we’ve been very fortunate through the pandemic, and both of us have continued to work, and the time and place were right. We think that people want to see a thriving downtown, and now we have the photo studio and we’ll have the art studio, and we’ve got great restaurants downtown. What else do you need!?!