Storytelling on Canvas

Curtis Park artist narrates with paint

By Jessica Laskey
May 2020

Jill Estroff will say her art career “just sort of happened.” But the truth is, the Curtis Park painter has worked very hard to make that career happen.

She started as a writer, editing a weekly paper in Florida, traveling for PBS, then freelancing for local publications when she moved to Sacramento so her husband could take a job at the Bee.

But it was her job as the marketing director for the Crocker Art Museum—which she held from 1986 to 1993—that was responsible for the blossoming of her painting career.

“I realized if I was going to have this job in an art museum, I needed to know what I was talking about,” Estroff says. “So I took art history classes at Sac City College with Chris Daubert and drawing classes with Fred Dalkey.”

Those classes came in handy in 2014 when Estroff was diagnosed with a serious illness and forced to reckon with how she truly wanted to spend her time. She took an art bootcamp with painter Leslie Toms and, in celebration of completing chemo therapy, Estroff held a backyard art show in which she sold 14 pieces.

Fortified with her sudden success, Estroff submitted a painting to this very paper—which Estroff chalks up to “pure chutzpah”—and landed the first of many covers.

“Cecily Hastings believing in me opened so many doors,” Estroff says. “Getting the cover and being exposed to so many people got me my first show (at Robert-Jean Ray’s Red Dot Gallery).”

Estroff quickly realized how much she’d missed being part of the art world since leaving her job at the Crocker in 1993 to raise her two daughters. She started volunteering everywhere she could—including Beatnik Studios and the now-defunct Alex Bult Gallery—and submitting her work to galleries and public forums like the KVIE Art Auction. She also continued her consulting career for clients such as McClellan Air Force Base and West Sacramento’s Bridge District.

“Painting and consulting are both about visual storytelling,” Estroff says. “That’s why my paintings have a narrative feel—and why I started adding figures to my landscapes. Though I love strong landscapes, I like to populate my images with people to help tell a story. If I can paint something that speaks to someone, it’s so rewarding.”

Estroff’s work has clearly spoken to many, if her exhibition success is any indication. She’s shown at places all over town, including the KVIE Art Gallery, Tim Collom Gallery, CK Art, Crocker, Red Dot and Beatnik. She also did brisk business both years she participated in Verge Center for the Arts’ Sac Open Studios.

“I was unsure at first about the open studio component,” Estroff admits. “There are much more important things to me than having a tidy house—I have friends, I need to walk, and painting always wins—but participating the first year was wonderful. People were genuinely interested in the art, so it felt like a party where I didn’t have to clean up my house.”

In fact, that festive feeling is what keeps Estroff going.

“I always want to learn and grow—I don’t want to repeat myself,” she says. “I don’t want to keep my style the same for the next 40 years. I want my art to evolve, to stay fresh and interesting. And I don’t want to ever take the joy away from it. That’s why we do it.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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