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Artists Push Onward Despite Challenges

Project Onward artist David Jarmon says art helps keep him busy and is fun for him to do.

“Sometimes I have bad days all of the sudden and can’t focus,” said Jarmon. “I just try to not talk to anyone and do my  work.”

Jarmon is one of  30 artists in Onwarda gallery dedicated to displaying artwork by adults with mental and developmental disabilities.

Founded in 2004 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. in the downtown Loop,  the gallery provides a workplace for the artists.

Jarmon, 23, was working quietly and passionately Thursday on his newest piece. He sketched away on a creature named  “Wolfman,” drawing from memory a shaggy, furry face with long fangs. Jarmon uses his love for monsters and mortal combat as inspiration, but admits he enjoys sketching portraits of people in his free time.

“Man, [David] is a funny dude. He’s super fast at drawing portraits, too,” said Project Onward artist Fernando Ramirez. “He drew me in like 15 minutes tops.”

Jarmon said he prefers to sketch people standing up because it’s easier and gives more character to the person. He creates humorous pieces by combining some of his favorite horror characters into one. One of his latest includes a cross between Frankenstein‘s monster and Freddy Krueger.

Jarmon joined the Project Onward staff less than one year ago and has created dozens of funny yet realistic pieces based on horror characters and professional wrestlers. He is quick at sketching funny, witty pictures.

In the first-floor gallery, interaction between the artists and consumers is encouraged, and all visitors are free to roam and talk with working artists. Artists at Project Onward receive 70 percent of the profits from all artwork sold; they also earn commissions by doing live portraits.

“[Jarmon] is one of our quietest and newest artists here,” said gallery director Mark Jackson. “He’s very talented though and draws some funny stuff.”

Jarmon has a form of autism, and like most artists at Project Onward, he uses art as a form of expression. He enjoys using pencils and colored pencils to create his pieces. He said he watches TV shows such as “Friends,” “My Name is Earl” and popular wrestling matches during his free time.

 Although Jarmon has never formally studied art, he said he has been drawing since he was very young. He said he likes to draw because it allows him to focus on the horror shows and creatures that fascinate him.

 He lives in the suburbs of Chicago and works at Project Onward three or four days a week.

 “I tried painting once, and it just didn’t turn out good. I didn’t like it,” said Jarmon. “I don’t like crayons either because they can get too messy.”

 Most of Jarmon’s work is done on sketch paper and is organized in two piles of artwork — monsters or wrestlers. “I like working here,” said Jarmon. “It’s good, and I get to meet a lot of people.”


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