According to Psychology Today, the common understanding about the brain—that the left side controls logical and analytical thinking, while the right is intuitive and creative—is a myth. Regardless, lifelong artist Judy Nemer Sklar has made ample use of both sides during her journey through life.
Born and raised in St. Paul, Minn., Sklar remembers starting to draw when she was about 5 or 6 years old.
“It was really cold in Minnesota, and everybody had one of those old furnaces,” she recalls. “My early memory is coming down the stairs with my papers and pencils, getting under the table with my feet on the furnace, and drawing the women from the fashion pictures I had seen in the newspapers. My parents saw my interest and sent me to an art school before I even got into regular school. They always encouraged me.”
Sklar’s father had a chain of jewelry stores, and her mother worked with him. She also has an older sister, a teacher; and a younger brother, an engineer. She remembers her late father as being loving, tender and quiet. Her mother is alive.
“My mom is still very current, and a very happy person. She lives in assisted living, and everybody there loves her,” Sklar says with a smile. “They wanted to give her a kind of ‘make a wish’ gift. She said she wanted to meet (former Minnesota senator and Saturday Night Live alumnus) Al Franken. He actually came and spent a whole day with her. It was wonderful!”
In her early 20s, Sklar relocated to California. While looking for a part-time job, she met Jerry Sklar, an accountant who worked in Century City.
“He had a practice working for entertainment clients and was looking for a secretary who could relate to his clients and be a problem-solver,” Judy says. “He saw my chatty side, and the truth is I loved (solving) all their problems. When we ultimately married, we still worked together, and although he didn’t see my art as a serious profession, he told me to ‘go enjoy yourself.’ For our years together, I was definitely using both sides of my brain!”
Years after completing a year of college in Minnesota, Sklar completed her degree at Chapman University in Orange, in 2010, and ultimately earned her master’s degree in humanities at California State University-Dominguez Hills in 2016.
Sklar and her husband for years had a home at The Lakes in Palm Desert and visited the desert often. After Jerry was diagnosed with cancer, Judy became much more involved with their business endeavors. When their Los Angeles home was damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, they made the decision to settle in the desert.
“Our home had been almost destroyed by the earthquake, but we were still able to live in it until the rains came,” she said. “We had about five minutes to get out (when the rains came); it was destroyed.
“Jerry could still work, and in addition to his L.A. clients, we had developed some clientele here in the desert. Plus, I saw that there was a niche market in business management for seniors here. Although I had to get more and more involved in the business (while also) caring for Jerry, I never dropped out of art; I just had to compartmentalize it.”
It was during her husband’s illness that Judy went back to school to earn her master’s degree. “That is what saved me and brought me fully back to art,” she says.
Jerry died six years ago, after they had been married for 29 years.
While still working with her business clients and producing her own art, Sklar is also sharing her passion for self-expression by teaching classes and holding workshops.
“Although through my work with my husband, I became much more verbal, you need silence to be able to think about what you want to do artistically,” Sklar says. “My workshops are about embracing your creative life. My passion is for people who say, ‘I can’t even draw a straight line.’ I say, ‘Who cares?’ It’s about how to use your creativity to get in touch with who you are. It’s like planting a seed.
“For some of my students, it’s really transformative. They can find their true voice.”
Sklar’s art has been shown in galleries throughout California, and she has won juried regional and national art awards. Her work has been showcased in magazines, and is in selected private collections across the country. She is a past board member of the Artists Council of the Palm Springs Art Museum, was a juror at the La Quinta Arts Foundation, was a member of the docent council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
“When I was a docent at LACMA, I would get in early through the workers’ door where all the art was coming in and the crates were being unwrapped. I saw so many things that inspired me,” Sklar says. “I work mostly with watercolor mixed with collage. Some things I can do in a day; others can take up to eight months. I have an unusual style of working. I rarely draw something out first. I’m always changing it as I go along.
“I’m beginning to show again; I have a group show coming up in Los Angeles. I guess I would describe my work as figurative but abstract. For me, color is everything, especially a rich palette of primary colors. I often sit and watch people for inspiration. I use music and snippets of conversation. I might see something on a T-shirt. I keep a drawing journal where I just jot something down that I will use later on.”
You can learn more about Sklar’s work at judynemersklar.com.
“I’ve been on a transformative journey in my life, and as a middle-years person, I believe whatever we’ve garnered in life is what we have to give,” she says. “It’s important to know what is in you and be willing to let it out without being worried what others will think. If I had a child asking whether they should pursue their passion, I’d say, ‘Just do it!’
“Your goal in life should be to find your own passion, and then your mission in life is to give it away.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.