An Artistic Kind of Life with Dirty Eraser’s Jo Allen

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Whoever believes that art and science can’t blend has clearly never met Jo Allen. The artist has intertwined the two paradoxical fields and fused them together; building the foundation for her collective of art, Dirty Eraser. This multi-dimensional, Laguna Beach creative specializes in art, illustration, and design, and has effortlessly mastered a synthesis of nature and science into her artwork — all while simultaneously juggling #momlife.

When Allen went to erase a mistake on an illustration project, she accidentally made a smudge that led to another idea she wouldn’t have had otherwise. “Dirty Eraser has been my artist name since and reminds me that there is no such thing as a mistake in art — or in life!” This paradigm of error spiralling into boundless ideas is the thread that brought Dirty Eraser into fruition.

Backtrack to 1989 when the her family immigrated from Kaiping, China to LA’s Chinatown. With a language barrier and a lack of resources, Chinatown seemed to be the perfect fit. Seven years later, Jo’s father became an exhibiting artist at Laguna’s Festival of Arts as a plein air painter. Subsequently, the clean air and Laguna sunshine kept the family planted in Orange County ever since.

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Like her father, the arts came organically to Allen; something she considers “as natural as breathing.” Her artistic yet rebellious side was fueled by the Riot Grrl movement, feminism, spoken word, and the underground music scene. However, Allen was also driven by the sciences. She immersed herself in the environmental and sustainability world and earned a BA in Geography/Environmental Studies at UCLA and a Masters Degree in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School.

Falling in love and starting a family followed shortly after her studies, but postpartum depression struck after the birth of her firstborn. It was an anxiety attack that Allen believed was her spirit’s call for help and the ultimate nudge to shift her career path. Oddly enough, the panic attack catapulted Jo out of her mental blues and pushed her to seek her true calling: “I started writing and drawing again, met my publisher, published two books, began to practice Kundalini Yoga, and found my community.”

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Laguna Beach served as the ideal launching pad for Allen’s career. Daily, the mountains, canyons, ocean, natural light, and environment foster inspiration and concurrently nourish her love for geography.

“For a science nerd like me, the flora and fauna in Laguna Beach are endlessly fascinating,” she explains with gratitude.

In fact, Jo’s homage to California's wildlife and biodiversity is evident in her educational and fine art book series, The Accidental Naturalist. Her most recent published piece, Exploring the Flora and Fauna of Laguna Beach and Beyond, features 40 of Orange County’s most iconic plants and animals — highlighting the Laguna liveforever, a rare and endangered plant that is endemic to Laguna Beach. These books include original research, field explorations, illustrations, and writing... the perfect blend of nature, science, and art.

Besides Jo’s aesthetic appreciation for Laguna Beach, the community has been the ideal neighborhood to both build Dirty Eraser and raise her family. “The community here is supportive, thoughtful, and spirited,” she says. “It’s been such a joyful and magical adventure that’s created who I am today — an artist, designer, explorer, lover, sister, daughter, and mother.”

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Jo Allen currently resides in Laguna Beach with her two daughters and tech-entrepreneur husband — who she fell in love with at Laguna’s famous Victoria Beach. She is currently working on the third book in her series, “The Accidental Naturalist: Exploring the Flora and Fauna of Los Angeles and Beyond.” You can further delve into Dirty Eraser’s art portfolio and purchase her artwork on her website.

Emily Moore is an LMU summa cum laude graduate of Communications and English studies. She is an avid trinket collector, self-proclaimed poet, trail runner, and lover of all things found in Erewhon Market. She is the project manager at the fullest. Find her at @emmmmillyy or on her website.

Photos by: Grant Puckett.