JS: I would say that it falls under the umbrella of commercial illustration. Most of my work is accompanying an article or story. That label “commercial” has certain stigmas, so it’s difficult to feel like that fully summarizes what I do. I put a lot of effort, love, and emotion into these images. I think of my art as an extension of my thoughts and feelings toward any given subject, and I think that intent can exist rightfully in a commercial strain of art.
CH.89: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JS: I mostly draw conceptual inspiration from symbolism, myths, and existentialism. I like to incorporate symbols and meaning into my art. I always hope that the themes come through in some way to the viewer. But then even if it doesn’t, it’s still fun to have hidden meaning in a piece. I also draw inspiration from other illustrators and artists, but that’s to be expected. I’m a big believer in tradition, so I try to study those who came before me.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about what your creative thought process is like when starting a new project/ piece of artwork?
JS: Well if the work is personal, I find a subject or theme that interests me and pursue that. In a commisioned piece, I have a subject given to me. With either of these I just brainstorm and knock ideas around until I have something that really grabs me. The rest of the process goes as you would expect, but I just try to improve upon the piece as much as possible while I work on it. It’s good to have a formula, but it also helps to change things up so you don’t fall into lazy tendencies. I keep plenty of books around for inspiration. A lot of times, I’ll just flip open to random pages of books on symbols and myths, then I’ll just get swept up in it. Anything that keeps you interested in a project will help. When you’re bored, you have a huge problem on your hands.
CH.89: Is there anything in particular that you would want people to take from your artwork?
JS: I would like for my work to provoke thought, but that’s a lot to ask for. I try to make beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting artwork. So if someone can find something they like about a piece, that’s great.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle as an artist and what that is like?
JS: My lifestyle is odd, but very free. I make art for most of my free hours. It’s easy to get obsessive about making artwork. I try to get out whenever possible so I don’t become a dry sponge, in relation to life experience.
CH.89: When starting out an artistic task, do you think it is better to have a particular direction/set plan guiding your way? Or, is it better to act on impulse and go from there?
JS: I believe that you should always have a plan going in, but it’s good to keep thinking and injecting energy into the piece as you proceed with it. Sometimes I’ll make a piece that I came up with in the morning, and it’ll be finished by the night. Sometimes I’ll have to really marinate on a piece for days. Deadlines definitely decide whether this is possible or not, but each new piece is a new problem to solve.
CH.89: What is one major lesson you’ve learned as an artist thus far?
JS: Check your ego and be true to yourself. Life is about being happy. If you can’t be happy AND be an artist, then there’s no point in pursuing art. I know of too many miserable artists, treating it like a prison sentence. Have fun with with what you’re doing, and understand that you’re not alone in any endeavors you pursue.
CH.89: Do you regard personal style & taste to be of highest importance?
JS: Personal style is a difficult subject. It’s something that you should pursue, but you can’t worry about it. As long as you stay honest and work hard, it will come to you. I’m not sure what “artistic taste” even really means. I guess everyone has preferences, but it’s always good to keep in mind that art is subjective. No style of art is better than another. This was a hard concept to combat when going to a traditional drawing art school. Most people there dismiss anything that isn’t conforming to that aesthetic. Big mistake!! It’s good to respect all styles of art, and not to get bogged down in comparing art.
CH.89: What do you consider to be the hardest thing about being an artist?
JS: The hardest thing would be that you’re never pleased with your work. The thirst is never quenched. This is good because you’re constantly improving, but you might just do so while being miserable the whole time. Maybe. Hopefully not. It’s hard to appreciate the whole process and realize that you’re living the dream even without money, awards, and praise.
CH.89: What is one thing you love about being an artist?
JS: I love that I may make something that could entertain, and possibly inspire someone else. I adore art, and I think we all know what it’s like to pour over the pages of your favorite work. I would die happy if I could provide that for someone else.
CH.89: Is there anyone in particular, any artist’s that inspire you in any way?
JS: There are a few artists who I always refer to and study. I love golden age illustrators like Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell. I’ll keep their art in sight while working on any piece. There are more modern influences that do the same for me. I’ll often look at the work of Tomer Hanuka, Frank Stockton, Jillian Tamaki, and others to find inspiration. I also keep a big folder of certain pieces that mean a lot to me, and I’ll scroll though them when I’m in a rut. I have to say, also, that my artistic peers are a big influence. They are constantly inspiring me, and sometimes making me feel very fearful. It’s a good motivator. Even non-visual artists inspire me. I have a lot of friends who are musicians, writers, poets, film makers, etc. They make me look at art in a different way. Also people who aren’t involved in the arts at all can be great company. They’re possibly the most valuable company to have, since they’re not all wrapped up in the whole thing. They have a fresh view on something that I’m possibly too immersed in.
CH.89: What do you think of technology in terms of being a useful tool for artists today?
JS: As far as being an illustrator with tight deadlines, technology has transformed what the lifestyle is like. I’m very fortunate when you consider what a hassle it was to deliver and create illustrations decades ago. It’s also changed the look of illustration. It’s great, but all eras of art are great.
CH.89: Do you think being an artist allows you to view the world differently from those who don’t follow creative paths?
JS: I’m sure it does, but that doesn’t mean that an artistic view is more valuable or insightful than another person’s view. In all, my view on the world is probably more similar to any other person’s view.
CH.89: Do you enjoy traveling? If so, do you have a favorite city?
JS: I love traveling, and I hope I can spend more time doing so. I don’t think I have a favorite city. Visiting a new place really frees me up mentally. It makes the world feel exciting and new. I’ve lived in major cities for the past 5 years, so it’s nice to see different settings whenever possible. I’d like to visit the southwest soon. I live in Brooklyn now, and I love it!
CH.89: Do you have a favorite author or book?
JS: My favorite author is probably Kurt Vonnegut. He’s a genius, and his books are so much fun. Lately I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell, and I think it has been good for me conceptually. It’s really some mind blowing stuff.
CH.89: Any future goals or plans for your artwork?
JS: I don’t set many plans. I guess I have long term goals, but I don’t think about them much. I just try to focus on daily goals. I’m trying to get more work and explore my artistic possibilities. I’ve been producing an online zine called ZAFTIG with some great artists. I intend on doing that for as long as possible too.
CH.89: What does being an artist mean to you?
JS: Being an artist doesn’t mean much to me, honestly. I come from a working class family, and I think being an artist is no different from any other lifestyle. (In the big picture)
CH.89: Any last words on the aesthetic of your artwork?
JS: I’m trying to pursue my own unique look in my art. I think everyone has their own “fingerprint” that is evident in their work. I’m hoping that if I tend to that, it can blossom into something bigger than me. As I expected, this is turning out to be a lifelong pursuit. I hope the pieces produced along the way look nice.
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