Interview with artist JeffJag

I first met Jeff (aka JeffJag) about a month ago at our Redbubble meetup in Denver. As we were setting up, in walked a friendly-looking guy wearing a brown jacket, and a t-shirt that had a large caricature of a face that looked remarkably like its owner. In his left hand he carried a print. On first glance, Jeff looks like a friend you’ve known forever. Maybe a big brother or your favorite local bartender. On second glance, the print in his hand was so exuberant it practically shouted at me. It was brilliant, complex, and colorful. During the event, I had a chance to ask Jeff a few questions about his work and the creative process. I have no idea if he is a big brother or ever was a bartender but, he most definitely is an artist. Find out more about the Artist behind the Art, in his own words.

What inspires your work?

Interestingly enough, I recently wrote an essay on the ideas of inspiration and originality on my Artblog. I only get the writing bug around once a year, and I’m very wordy, so that’s my long-form answer for academic purposes.
Science, nature, technology and space are what get my mind going. More specifically, I am very fascinated with Hubble Telescope images and APOD for their intrinsic abstract qualities, while being completely natural and real. I read a lot of articles about astronomy and technology and it usually gets me on a few tangents in Wikipedia. I’m also a big film fanatic, from epic sci-fi blockbusters to indie dramas and comedies, so that’€™s always been a source of inspiration for me. I especially love the classic “Cosmos” documentary series by Carl Sagan.

How long does a work typically take to create?

It depends on the media and the scope of the project, but on average, smaller sketches usually take 6-12 hours. Larger watercolors typically take me 25-35 hours, and my largest acrylics take even longer. My current pencil project is 22″ × 30″€ and will take upwards of 170 hours. And I have a digital piece I’€™ve been going back to, on and off, for over 6 years. I think it’s worth it.

How has your work developed over the years? How long have you been painting/drawing?

I got serious about art at around age 8, so it’s been 25 years. When I started drawing, it was in pencil and pen. I worked exclusively in black and white for the first 8 years or so, doing figure studies and drawing things like ninja turtles and making up my own comic book characters. In high school, my goal was to become as technically proficient as possible and to grow my skills. That’s when I branched out into using color and started working intensively with media such as pastel, watercolor, airbrush, acrylic, oil, ink, chalk, digital art and some sculpture.

After I graduated, I went to the Art Institute of Colorado to study Media Arts and Animation, where I learned things like 3D modeling, animation, rendering, character design and development, video editing and production, as well as 2D hand-drawn animation and motion graphics. It really opened me up to new creative possibilities so I had a lot of tools and methods to choose from. My personal art, which was mostly representational up until that point, grew surreal with more of a focus on design. Eventually, I chose to embrace a more aesthetic look and it turned completely abstract. I remember at the time being bored of realism and seeing that I still had room get better at it, but that the returns would be diminishing. In the end, I could only ever approach the quality of a photo, and that made me feel like a skilled, human copy machine. I didn’t want to be doing tedious copies of photos. I wanted the act of making art to stay fun and adventurous. Since graduating college, I’€™ve continued to actively develop my style by switching between different media every few years. Usually it’€™s after reaching certain goals, so I can force myself to try things I learned in acrylic on digital painting, and try things I learned in watercolor on pencil and pen, and so on. This prevents me from hitting walls in my work and keeps it interesting enough to make me want to push further and keep trying new things.

Besides Redbubble, what is your approach to using the Internet to share your work?

Recently, I’ve changed the way I interact and share my art with the world by showing and offering much more of my work online, rather than saving it for art shows and letting it pile up in storage. I now sell original paintings and drawings on Etsy rather than just at art shows and out of my home studio. I also recently began live-blogging my drawing/painting sessions on Facebook and my Artblog which is on tumblr. I used to just experiment with time-lapse animations of my painting or drawing. Now it’€™s more of a staple than an exception and I post frequent updates to my YouTube page. I enjoy the feedback and the audience gets to watch how I create. I have some examples of time-lapse videos I’€™ve made, which also happen to be on Redbubble as prints. One is called Tubes of Wonder, and another is Super Glow.

Which of your works is your favorite?

I’€™m still very particular to the enormous digital work I completed in 2006 called This Page Intentionally Left Blank. The digital file allows for high resolution printing upwards of 42" square, which makes it easy to get lost in the detail and let your eye wander around the image. I’€™m also excited to finish my current project, a crazy detailed pencil illustration called Amazing Realization. I recently successfully funded a Kickstarter for prints of this work. It’€™s still in-progress and I anticipate another 2-3 months of work left to go as it’s large and extremely detailed. It’€™s quite monumental for me. This is the pencil drawing I’€™m live-blogging on Facebook and Tumblr. ‘Amazing Realization’ will be offered on Redbubble at some point in the future, though there will be an exclusivity period for the Kickstarter backers.

What do you call your style of work?

I don’€™t think it’€™s the right words, exactly, because of how wide a net it casts, but ‘Abstract Art’ is what I call it. My work has been described by others as geometric, psychedelic, and even similar to graffiti/street art. People have said it reminds them of things like circuit boards, satellite imagery, microscopic cellular views, and a sense of nature.

I want to create imagery that’€™s aesthetically pleasing, complex, and detailed but not just splatters of loose paint and accidents. I’m open to working with accidents, especially in watercolor, but my artwork is not accidental by nature; it’s intentional. It can create a visual noise pattern, but the detail in my work allows for deeper viewing at varied distances which I think is more fun for the viewer, particularly at larger sizes. I wanted to do your question justice, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called because it’s Art. In general, I prefer when Art speaks for itself.

What is your preferred method and why?

I like to work in abstract by charging in quickly and figuring it out as I go. It’s more fun that way, and it’s a more freeing feeling. Each decision I make leads me along a path which I treat as a form of problem-solving. After I figure out where I’m going with a piece, each work starts to form its own set of rules and patterns based on that initial seed. Then it evolves as it goes.

I’€™m a graphic designer by trade so I’m not a stranger to designing and planning a piece from the start, with meticulous attention and focus paid toward achieving a specific goal.

Is there an artist you relate to?

I relate better to engineers, scientists, mathematicians, writers, programmers, IT professionals, and comedians, than I relate to other visual artists. I tend to gravitate toward analytical and technically-minded people. All of my friends are creative in some way, though I have a few friends who do great work in photography, and a few others who are amazing illustrators. But they’re friends first, so we don’t dig into talking shop too often.

I’m not isolated from other artists’ work. I appreciate art as much as I enjoy making it and I often attend local art events here in Denver, CO. I think there are plenty of artists that I look up to, or I think they’re doing something cool, but they might live in East Asia, the UK, or somewhere very far away, and I only see their work on a social network, blog or forum somewhere. I just tend to be fascinated more with work by people outside the realm of what I do.

Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

Practice. I want to see skill oozing off your work, not shortcuts, tricks, or gimmicks. Set your standards high and set focused goals so you not only get better, but you feel that sense of accomplishment when you do. Set your ego aside and seek out constructive feedback from people who will be honest with you, not just shower you with praise like family and friends. Don’t show the Internet everything you do when you’€™re starting out and don’€™t expect everything you do to be a masterpiece. It’s tempting with the availability of social media and instant gratification, but it’s important to groom your portfolio. When you put things online, they stay there for a long, long time. With that in mind, my last tip is: never stop learning.

Our sincere thanks to Jeff for offering us this amazing insight into his life and art.

- Jen, the Scarlet Samurai

Journal Comments

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