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La Montanona Chalatenango, by Jess

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Jess' instagram: @starsewage

A Conversation with the Artist

We interviewed Jess on their views and artistic journey

The Full Conversation:

The Abridged Version:

Timestamps next to each interview question correspond with the audio version. If there are certain parts of the conversation you'd like to listen to in full detail, feel free to skip around. 

So to start off, what inspired you to join the zine? [0:04]


Jess: Uh, yeah, so I actually self-publish zines and I just thought it was a really cool concept to be a part of a collective zine and just be able to see other artists outside of my little circle and the different kinds of art around the world. 


Interviewer: So you self publish zines?  For how long? 


They're not that big of a deal — just little eight page zines. But yeah, I've been really passionate and interested in Zines for a while just because I have been making them. I think it's been like a year ever since I started doing art.

So with your zine entry, what was the creative process like making it? Was there a specific approach you took or obstacles you faced in the process? [1:45]


Yeah. So I read the prompt, I looked at the references, and what I saw was a kind of cozy vibe. I wanted to go back and think of the places that made me feel the most comfortable and safe. I also really intertwine art with music, so I listened to the songs that make me feel the most comfortable. Most days, I also have a place that I specifically go to when I want to be in that certain type of mood. 

I just kind of started off by drawing myself laying down because I enjoy being outside, and then I just felt the imagery of being on a mountain. The stars in the image were a pivotal memory for me, in my childhood, just experiencing that kind of peace. I wanted to convey that with my art. 



So, this next question is something I think about a lot. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always associated specific music or songs with pieces of artwork. I was wondering if you ever connect music with art, and if so how? [3:42]


This is a little embarrassing, but I’m very inspired by the Twilight soundtrack. I also really like Bon Iver, in particular Lump Sum and Woods,  just songs that feel like you're in nature. My work just has that kind of vibe.



Speaking more broadly about your art, are there particular artists, concepts, or colour palettes that inspire your work? [5:41]


I've only been an artist for about a year, so I don't have a lot of actual artists that I thought- oh, wait, I'm so, okay. Yeah, I like Rebecca Sugar and that kind of vibe — Steven Universe, Puppy Cat, Adventure Time. Those are inspirations for my art. 

I also just like really soft, very pastel-y colors, and I also like colours that are vibrant. I don’t have a good way to explain it, because those are two opposing things. But like, I just really like color.


Austin: Cartoons are definitely something I found to be helpful. Are there any specific moments in cartoons in the past that kind of stick out to you? 


Yeah. So in like Steven Universe, like whenever they would transform, those- that would be like, oh, and also in Sailor Moon when she- so I'm really inspired by Sailor Moon too- when she would transform just like the sparkles and like, just like the mystical feeling like I don't know, like the warmth of like- it's not like in Steven Universe, it isn’t transforming. It's like, yeah fusion, but just like that, warmth and, like you know, like that feeling. And then in Adventure Time, I'm actually very inspired by the apocalypse side of Adventure Time, like Ooo. I know the specific, like the ones where Marceline and the Ice King were like in the apocalypse or like the post-apocalyptic world where they were like searching and like Ice King was like going crazy or whatever, I actually have a lot of themes of like post-apocalyptic, like earth, like being like earth, reclaiming what's hers. And that is definitely inspired by, like, the entire concept of like Ooo and stuff.

What are your earliest memories involving creative expression? [9:49]


That is a very interesting question because I actually started making music first, but I made music a lot more when I was a kid and in high school. I’ve also explored almost every single art medium; I'm not very good at a lot of them, but I always like trying. I think the only thing that's traveled along mediums, and even in my search for new mediums, is that I'm just so entranced by nature — forests, meadows, flowers, just all that kind of imagery has always been something super prominent with me. And as I've developed as an artist, I’ve found that the juxtaposition of nature and the life we live now, with capitalism and our man made stuff, is something that I've been trying to hone in on. I think that a lot of my artwork is rooted in escapism, but with a touch of the idea that we're still grounded on Earth and here, you know? 

And for the question about the memory — when I was a kid, I thought I could make the trees move. Like, I thought I had secret nature superpowers. That was something really prominent growing up; I would be outside all the time, and I would just sit and sing to the trees and like, dance around the trees and try and make them like, try to make them dance back and stuff. That was something I remember as really fond memories of my childhood. And that's kind of like, I feel like my art is just like my inner child, craving that bliss and happiness, you know. 


I love that you used to like sing to the trees! hahahah.


 I actually would sing at the window and then my mom would get annoyed. She'd be like,
oh my gosh Jess!” and like she would send me outside because I was like really loud. But yeah, I was a weird kid. 


How have people in your personal life influenced your art journey? [13:40]

So, the first person is my partner; we've been dating for three years, and they’ve been really supportive. They’re also an artist too, so I’ve also been able to pick up a lot of the techniques from them — they have influenced both on the technical side and the confidence side. Like, I've been more confident because I've picked up these skills, but also because they're always rooting for me. 

I’ve also always been kind of a teacher’s pet — I was really close to my writing professors — and they’ve been another influence on me. I had a particular teacher in sophomore year of high school who was also my best friend's mom, so we were really close. She always loved reading and uplifting my work, which I really appreciated. That’s about it I think. I'm actually a STEM major, and I’ve always been a stem kind of person, sp that's been the default type of friends and people I’d surround myself with. Not that it's a bad thing, but it’s just that I’ve only opened up my art to people I'm really close to. 


Are there any specific memories that come to mind with those people who supported you?


Yeah. So, with my writing teacher that I was talking about, she asked us to interpret an Emily Dickinson poem any way we wanted to. I was one of the few people who picked to make a song,  and she let me sing it in front of the entire class; she’s told me that she still raves about it to people even now. That was the first time I ever got validation like that because I've always been very inward with my creative side until a year ago. So, I think that turned a switch in my head — it gave me the confidence to continue my creative journey. 


That's awesome.. It's really cool to see how much teachers have been able to help you along your creative journey. 

In general, are there any themes or topics that inform your artwork? [18:56]


TW: eating disorders, depression

Yeah. So, I've been dealing with an eating disorder since I was in high school, and I’ve actually tried to end my life in high school, so that is a lot of where the escapism aspect of my art comes from — the kind of emptiness I feel because I'm still here. It's weird. It's weird because I'm genuinely happy with my life right now, but I still sometimes feel like I'm just floating in a place I shouldn't even be in because, like, I don't want to try and take my life. And so, I think my art kind of has themes of trying to escape and go to a place that’s nicer, quieter, safer. And with the eating disorder, It's also the sense of control — being able to escape to somewhere that no one can judge or hurt me from. I make the spaces in my art so I can fantasize about that kind of freedom without having to actually go and do it. I guess it’s a coping mechanism that's a lot healthier than actually going and doing the negative things that I used to do to myself.

(End of TW)

On a slightly lighter topic, two themes that are really important to me and my art are climate change and being from a lower income bracket. Alot of my imagery can sometimes reflect those kinds of thoughts, and I actually have a piece that intertwines both of them. So, it's a calculator that's been reclaimed by nature — my favourite calculator I wanted in high school. The two ideas that I wanted to convey was the fact that I couldn't afford that calculator (I can’t afford to do a lot of STEM person things), and the fact that the calculator can’t be used again. I also often intermix the two themes with the idea of overconsumption, rich people, and my resentment towards them because I’ve never had the privilege to over-consume, and it really damages the earth.  


Do you ever feel obligated for your work to have a “deeper,” or more profound, meaning? Do you think that “deeper” meaning makes artwork more valuable? [27:10]


Oh no, definitely not. I kind of paint whatever I want. In general, my art journey has been me taking off that pressure of always feeling like I need to be this ‘woke artist,’ or in a state of dread, because sometimes it isn’t that deep. And even if your art doesn't have meaning, or doesn't have as deep of a meaning as other people’s do, you’re still a good artist — as long as you're having fun or putting your feelings into it (because that's something too: an artists’ piece is a reflection of how they’re feeling). I just kind of like going with the flow in terms of how I'm feeling because I don't want to overexert myself. It takes a lot of energy and emotional work to think about things.


I love that. I agree with you when you say that art is just as valid, and beautiful, whether there’s a “deeper meaning” behind it or not. I also like what you said about taking away the pressure to inculcate meaning behind everything; I think many artists, myself included, have to go through that learning process in their art journey. 

Do you ever feel hesitant to tell people the meaning behind your artwork, if there is a deeper, more personal meaning, especially with the themes you talked about earlier? 


Oh my gosh, yes. Whenever I get scared of speaking about some things, especially if they're really personal, I make up a different, more surface-level, meaning to say about the work. The thing about my art is that I think it’s very surreal — it's cute — so it’s easy to pass off as something that's more surface level. I always have that default in case I don't feel safe  saying what I really feel about it, because I’ve had situations where it’s gotten me into a state where I feel unsafe. I do think I need to work on being more honest with myself when I am passionate about something to just speak on it. But yeah, it is very hard to speak about my art. 

How much do you think creative ability is an innate talent? Versus a skill, you can work at over time? [32:48]


I still don't think I'm the most technically advanced artist, but I've always been creative. I think an artist can be defined as someone who has always had creativity regardless of the medium — just the ability to take a medium and turn it into something with meaning.  I haven't gone to art school or anything like that. I just work with what I have, and I don't worry too much about whether I've always had talent. I just kind of hope that whatever I'm thinking at the moment is what's going to fulfill me. 

I think I'm good at being bad at things because I've tried so many things.  Like literally like a month ago, I started making EDM music — like it's just all over the place. I don't think that talent is inherently something that you're born with, and you can definitely build it.

Yeah, I agree. I definitely think it's something you can build upon. I mean, Perhaps you start from somewhere that's more innate if you're drawn to creative mediums. But then from there, I really think it's skill. 


Going back to your creative process, what role do you think emotions play in it? [36:26]


Yeah, my art is all emotions. I don’t think I've ever made a painting that hasn't directly reflected how I'm feeling at the time of making it.  My paintings reflect that humans experience a million different emotions. 


Our last question — what’s something that’s made you smile this week? [39:49]


 My cat! Oh, my gosh. Actually this morning when he was sleeping, he was curled up and had a little blep, like his tongue sticking out. It was the cutest thing ever. It started my day perfectly.


He had a blep?


Yeah. Like his little tongue was sticking out while he was sleeping.


Oh man, I have a dog, and when he's asleep I wish he was as cute as that. When he sleeps, he's like on his back, his tongue is like all the way out. It's adorable, but it's not like a cute little blep. That’s awesome.



Jess' interviewABFA Zine
00:00 / 40:31
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