An invitation to explore: visiting the Torpedo Factory with Jolie Schlieper

You know the Torpedo Factory as a workspace for artists and as a market to browse and buy art, but there’s another vital reason we open our studios to the public: We’re here to be a resource for artists, from absolute beginners to established professionals. We welcome the insights your questions inspire—and as one recent visitor reminded us, a youthful encounter with artists and art can resonate years later in rewarding, remarkable ways.

Photos and artwork by Jolie Schlieper

“When I was 15, I saved up money from my first job and bought a camera,” says Jolie Schlieper, a college student who recently returned to the Alexandria area. “About a year later, my parents took me to the Torpedo Factory, and I was blown away by all the talent under one roof.”

A biology major at the University of North Florida, Schlieper has spent many a weekday teaching children as an education ranger at UNF’s wildlife sanctuary, but she’s always felt the pull of art—especially when the sanctuary asked her to illustrate a children’s book. Now that she’s back in Virginia, she’s finding the Torpedo Factory a valuable place for a budding artist to learn about technique, materials, and the business side of art.

“A lot of gallery settings feel impersonal because of the artist’s absence, and even during openings some artists interact primarily with their acquaintances,” she says. “But the Torpedo Factory doesn’t have that feel at all. Even those busily working on new pieces have been kind enough to at least say hello.”

As an artist, Schlieper is a jack-of-all-trades. She’s been drawing, painting, and making jewelry since childhood, she taught herself photography in high school, and she somehow found time to study drawing and printmaking in college. These days, she’s exploring candid photography while working on a series of decorated human and animal skulls, a juxtaposition of morbid subjects and flashy colors inspired by Dia de los Muertos festivals and vintage tattoo art.

Schlieper plans to complete her science degree, but only after she fulfills her reason for returning to northern Virginia in the first place: intensive treatments for cancer. “I’m not shy about it,” she insists, making clear that she’ll let illness change her life only on her own terms.

“Before my cancer, I saw myself continuing art in my free time, but not as a career,” she explains. “But now I’ve sold some pieces and have been creating on a semi-daily basis. Art has been so immensely cathartic to me since my diagnosis that I can’t imagine it ever being just a hobby again.”

Whether you’re considering a career in art or just feel a growing need for creativity and craft, we invite you to follow Jolie Schlieper’s example. Come talk to Torpedo Factory artists, learn how to get started, and don’t be surprised to find bold new direction in art.

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