An Interview With Jennifer James

I had the honour of sending artist Jennifer James some questions about her work:


1.  Tell us a bit about yourself….

I am a New Bro or Pop Surreal artist living in Philadelphia. I love being positive and helpful to everyone I come in contact with. I am currently in an artists collective called “Splendor Device” it’s an all female group based in Anaheim California founded and headed by the artist Kelly Castillo. I love to experiment with different styles and I have a lot of different inspirations that I comb through daily to appease my curiosity, Beyond that I basically live in a fairy tale where I sing to myself and am constantly surrounded by my animals while cleaning all day. I’m sure those last 2 things are mutually exclusive.


2.  Did you study art or are you self-taught? Do you think that a degree helps towards having a sufficient career as an artist?

I went to art school for 4 years and did receive instruction, however they did not allow oil paints and digital painting was not really a “thing” yet in my school at least. I started losing interest my 3rd year in and began teaching myself oil and digital on my own time which was much more exciting to me. I should say I didn’t go half of the time, so no I son’t think a degree is absolutely necessary for an artist to have a career, it really all comes down to your own level of passion and knowing exactly where you want to go with your art. The internet now allows artists to connect with galleries and buyers and events as well as there being so many instructional sources to teach yourself. If your art is of a professional quality and you’re driven to get to where you want to go, you’ll get there. It’s really all up to you.


3.  What artistic medium do you use and do you think that it is important for an artist to experiment with using a wide range of materials?

I use oil, acrylic and digital as my mediums. I think it is VERY important to work with different materials, to keep the artist and the viewer interested and excited. There is no limit to the expression of our minds and our experiences, and getting in a comfort zone promotes a rut. I do think that having a routine does help the artist feel secure in starting a piece however, as the creative process can be a bit erratic at times and even disheartening if you don’t have confidence in what you do. It’s good to have a base your familiar with to start from.


4.  I’ve noticed that most of the women you paint seem to be looking at the viewer. Is this something you have done deliberately to make the viewer connect more with your images? Do you think that if the subject of a painting is looking at the viewer, that it gives the viewer a different experience as opposed to a subject that is not looking at the viewer?

I paint a straight on view because I think I, myself am trying to connect with the viewer. I tend to be on the shyer side and tend to avoid eye contact so in painting these women, they are offering a part of themselves that maybe I can’t at certain times. They have a deeper understanding that connection from one person to another is the most important thing we have as humanity. They are also very receptive in this pose, and so ultimately, yes I do think it invites the viewer to take a closer look.  I do think it gives the viewer a different experience to view a subject face on in comparison to an averted gaze, but both are positive. An averted gaze also invites the viewer in I think to almost want to comfort to subject in the piece, or it entices the viewer to see something, like an emotion that is almost maybe being hidden or is mysterious.


5.  How much research is involved in creating an image? Do you have a place where you compile interesting imagery, such as a sketchbook or a folder on a hard drive?

I do a lot of research. I get sucked into information spirals more than I would like to, but just for productivities sake. I LOVE reading about different eras, spirituality, psychology, cartoons, art, everything really. I don’t necessarily research for a particular piece, I am just always gathering information and then I just sit down one day and paint what feels good. I do have multiple folders on computer filled to the brim with beautiful images, color schemes, and portraits. I have an external hard drive, 2 macs and a server that holds everything. It is probably an addiction at this point, which would explain why my house is filled with pretty dolls, nic-nacs and paper ephemera. I love to surround myself with inspiration.


6.  What percentage of time do you spend marketing your art and what percentage of time do you spend creating work?

I spend probably about 30 hours a week on marketing myself, mostly online, but also through friends who have friends who have galleries, or events where they think my work would be awesome to showcase. I also walk into galleries I think fit my style and they have all been very receptive to work with me. I was told that nowadays it really is just all becoming online based, when I approach galleries, they tell me to just submit through their Facebook page! I use Facebook a lot, I think it has given me the most opportunities, especially my own facebook page. The more you post, the better. Instagram and Tumblr are also important.  I have my work on a bunch of different sites and they have all contributed to spreading my art around. Flickr is also excellent, and Blue Canvas, as well as Society6. I used to go on Deviant Art a lot as well, but I stopped going on there, I’m planning a comeback though.


7.  Could you survive as an artist without social media?

I think it would be more difficult, but doable. There are a lot of people behind the scenes and we are all invaluable to one another. I like to look at is equal opportunity. It also gives the artist a lot of extra time to be at home or their studio to create work, so it’s pretty priceless. For me it’s hard to say because I grew up with computers and social media, so I can’t imagine the full scope of what it was like going out into the hustle and bustle to get your work seen, parties, workshops, shmoozing. I know these things still happen and I do some of them, but I heavily rely on the internet. More and more people are on it, it’s just a natural path to take at this point. It used to be books and animated movies were the major source of getting art out to the masses, but we’re changing and always will. Artists have been thriving without social media for years, so there is always a way. It takes being creative, which I guess that’s what artists are good at right??


8.  Do you think that the internet helps or hinders art?

There is so much more information available which is amazing. We can learn about something we never new existed and open up our worlds even further, but it can be hugely distracting as well. In some ways I think if there wasn’t  internet there would be less of an influx of new artists. It can be a difficult climb (it always kinda has been anyways) but there is a lot more crazy amazing art to compare yourself to. Ignore that. Just be inspired by it, be grateful for it, because it means there is a way for you. Others have done it, so can you. Art is not meant to be competitive. At times though, I do think the “market” is a bit over saturated, which can bring the value of art down, but also help exceptional artists stand out. Overall I love that more people are being creative and following their hearts. Pop culture and cartoons have heavily influenced this generation, so it seems natural that there are more people expressing themselves in this way.


9.  Do you paint from your own photographs, stock images or from memory?

I paint from all three, reference is invaluable. The more the better. hi-res images are the best, but some painting from memory allows a certain personal touch.


10.  Are there any particular messages you try and portray through your images?

Lately it’s mostly about love, and to be still. My work also shows an uncertainty of what to do next, where to go, but something big and important is simmering right under the surface.


11.   Have you ever created a video showing the process of painting one of your images from start to finish? If not, would this be something you would consider doing or do you think that showing the process would take away from your work?

I haven’t yet but I have been getting requests to do this. I actually want to make a few videos, I love watching other people work, it’s fascinating. I don’t think it would take away from my work, but I also think my process is very personal and I’m not sure it would be as helpful to others as it necessary to me at this point in my own learning.


12. Who and what inspires you?

I am inspired by pioneers, mostly women, but also men, I really became inspired by Joni Mitchell and her desire to express her self in all ways she could, true to herself, through music and painting, and also Mary Pickford for being a headstrong woman in a world dominated by men at the time, (early 1900’s) to create her own film company and standards and advancing what people thought women were capable of. Chris Thile from the group Nickel Creek and now the Punch Brothers is a great inspiration to me as well because you can just see how passionate he is about making sure the quality of music is upheld in a sea of mediocrity and he always pushes himself to make the most unique but relatable music he can. I am also strongly inspired by  beauty, but there is beauty in all things and it is very subjective, so personally I enjoy charm, kitsch, and the mystical. Spirituality is very important to me and I paint to enlighten myself to life’s mysteries and my own inner being. I have a lot of interests so I do enjoy black and white cartoons, dolls, tarot, ancient and modern history, musicals and of course video games. I just finished Bioshock Infinite and now my life is complete! hehe.


13.  What kind of music do you listen to and do you think that it influences your art?

I listen to a wide variety, but my favorite group right now is the Punch Brothers. They are reshaping the way pop and indie country music is with a way more thoughtful perspective and appreciation for other genres of music. They would be classified as a “bluegrass” band because of their instruments, but I don’t think they identify with themselves in this way. Chris Thile is just an absolute genius on the Mandolin and it is such a beautiful sound. His voice is pretty dreamy on top of that, and I have been following him since his days in Nickel Creek. Just pure inspiration. I love dreamy, lilting music. Mountain Men is also another beautiful group, just lovely. I also love being nostalgic and listening to things that always stuck with me, Fiona Apple is superb, Elliott Smith, India Arie, Feist, Radiohead, just to name a few. My music plays a big part in keeping me in a positive state while I work and I have a whole list on my Spotify account of what I listen to while I paint if you search for my name.

14.  How important is photography within your art?

I wouldn’t say it is that important to my process as it is right now, but I do love a beautiful portrait. Skin softness, beautiful eyes, sincere and inviting, a certain mood or air about the subject. I adore Photography. I see pure creation in women, as we all do I hope and beyond that I see all women as mother earth and all her natural gifts as being vital and abundant, vibrant. So if a photo shows this to me, I snatch it up, it’s a treasure to me more for my own well-being than for a painting, but it does end up trickling into my work.


15.  Is there anything you don’t like about being an artist?

The uncertainty can be paralyzing. The need to make something substantial creeps in sometimes, and I can’t imagine doing anything else right now, so I have to push through it and trust myself. My thoughts get in the way and I have to ignore them and just do the work. There is always learning going on! Which I adore. There’s plenty of time.


16.  Do you have any advice about how to find a gallery to exhibit your work in?

My advice is to connect with artists who have a similar style, Facebook is great for this, you can send requests to your fellow artist friends and see where they show and make contact with that gallery, either through their facebook or by just walking in, as painful as that seems! also research your area online, google all the galleries near you and just go through them and see if they match what you do and read their guidelines and get organized and go from there. Also becoming a member of an artists collective will land you a lot of chances to show at multiple galleries where they will make the decisions of places to show.There are a lot of opportunities for artists, don’t get down if you get turned away, there are endless chances, just keep working.


17.  On average, how long does it take to complete one painting?

It can take me a week to a month to 3 months, It just depends how much I am blocking myself. If I think too hard about a painting it gets drug out and agonizes me. If I am really inspired I can pump it out almost thoughtlessly. Giving paintings as gifts inspires me the most.


18.  Do you sell prints of your work or original paintings? How do you determine the value of your work?

I do sell prints on Society6 right now, and soon to be on my Etsy. I have a lot of prints in the works. I also do sell my original paintings, and I price them respectably. I want anyone to be able to buy them, but I do work VERY hard on them, so there needs to be balance. I determine the value of my work due to the fact that this is my only income right now and that I put all of my time into researching and perfecting my work. I want to make sure that the viewer knows I really love what I do and that I hope they do too.


19.  Describe your art in one sentence…

Look at your life and yourself more deeply.


20.  Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

If you love it, do it. Don’t worry about what others think. In fact, don’t worry at all. Stay happy, take care of yourself and be the best person you can be, help others and you will always be lead in the right direction if you listen and trust yourself. The internet is your friend, use it, all the answers you need are there as well, there is a goldmine of opportunity if you take action. Don’t think about it, do it. You will fall, that’s great, you learn more and more from the mistakes you make, don’t stay down and really make a list of what you don’t like, that will lead to you discover what you do like, and then you can start making clear decisions on what to do. You deserve to be happy and to love what you do no matter what everyone else around you says. Your thoughts create your reality, remember that!!


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