Interview with Jasmine Becket-Griffith
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Interview with Jasmine Becket-GriffithArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
I was rather anxious about this interview because Jasmine is the first artist that I've asked to interview whom I don't personally know (personally in the sense of Internet relations). Jasmine was absolutely charming and answered all the questions with no qualms and in a very candid manner. Please, let me introduce you to Jasmine Beckett-Griffith.
How long have you been drawing?
Well, like a lot of folks, I started drawing when I was a little girl. I think a lot of people kind of stop finding time to make art after they grow up a bit, but I never stopped. When I was in elementary school I made extra money drawing portraits of people (teachers, other kids, their parents) and selling them to them. I always sat with a sketchbook and doodled or drew during class. During recess I usually sat against the fence and drew. In high school I'd often cut class and hide under the stairs, drawing. I was about 13 when I started taking my art seriously and teaching myself to paint. When I was 18 I started selling my work online and opened my Strangeling.com website, which I still use today!
How did you decide you wanted to do art professionally? Was your family supportive, or you got the "you are going to starve" looks?
For my 12th birthday I received the "The Art of the Dragonlance Saga" book as a present. I've always loved fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons, etc. - that was my favorite series. I loved all the artwork, especially that of Larry Elmore. I remember reading about how he was from Kentucky, and as a kid from Missouri that left an impression on me -- before that for some reason I always thought artists all were from New York or Paris. I thought it was cool that a "normal" guy could be a professional artist. As an adult I became friends with Larry and we do art trips & workshops together and he has always been very supportive of my career and inspired me to take my artwork to fantasy conventions and shows, etc.
I went to college on scholarship to study mathematics and physics, but partway through I realized I was already making a living with my artwork and I didn't really ever want to do anything else, so I switched to a degree in painting with a minor in Art History. Unfortunately the university did not have a room set aside for painters so I had to do independent study at home, so in the end it wasn't much different than if I'd just continued on without having gone to college at all. I'm very much self-taught. I was thankful for the Art History classes though -- I think one of the best things an artist can do is to learn the history of their medium and genre so that they can see their own work in a better context.
Everybody kind of rolled their eyes when I said I was going to be an artist, and I think if anything that made me try harder, like I had a chip on my shoulder, hehe. I was straight-A's all through high school and college and most people expected me to go into the sciences or some other sort of career path. I remember one of my teachers at school almost in tears, pleading with me not to throw my life away (i.e., be an artist) and that I was young and had "potential" and I still had time to make a life for myself. Most people were pretty discouraging really -- most people seemed to think my art was a hobby, or something I'd grow out of (as opposed to an all-encompassing drive that dictates my every waking moment!). But then I started earning a good living, and then about 5 years ago my husband quit his job to work for me full-time, and then as I started hiring other relatives, people I knew really started to understand that it genuinely was a valid career path.
What are your tools of choice? Can you share your technique?
I work exclusively in acrylic paints! To be honest the brand and type doesn't make much of a difference to me; I buy what's on sale usually. I like the fluid/liquid types the best. I just use tap water for diluting them. I buy cheap synthetic brushes -- those clear-grip golden Taklon ones. Mostly I paint on wood or masonite, or sometimes canvas. Basically whatever I have lying around! I don't really sketch much first -- I have the painting in my head when I begin -- I take a brush and paint thinned with a lot of water and do basic layout sketching right on the panel. Then I begin layering in colors -- I start with darker, more opaque colors and work my way up to brighter more transparent colors.
How did your style evolved into what it is today?
Most of my work is very self-portrait-like in nature. My characters are all loosely based on my own face, kind of like little caricatures of me -- in fantastical settings. I've gotten better, smoother, more technically proficient over the years, and have developed a wider variety of facial types I enjoy painting. I've incorporated more historical reference in my paintings over time, and different cultural contexts as well as I travel the world more and gain more experience. Whenever I visit a new country or city I always hit their art museums and galleries and gain a lot of inspiration. I'm also working more on other elements of my paintings beyond the basic figure -- landscapes, settings, lighting, mood, palette, etc.
Most of your fairies look like they are up to mischief… does that reflect some of your personality?
Ha! I'll just have to "plead the fifth" on that one!
What is it about Alice in Wonderland that you like so much?
Oh my, many things. Firstly it has a very personal/nostalgic basis for me. Growing up with my two sisters we had a double-copy of Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass and we read it SO much. It had so many wonderful illustrations. I like the idea of Alice because in her universe almost ANYTHING can happen. It is the opposite of the mundane world. I was always envious of her when I was little, when we'd go on nature hikes I just KNEW this would be the day I'd find a magic cave or secret glade or some other rabbit-hole-ish escape from the boring "real" world.
I think I could even paint Alice themed pieces for the rest of my life and never get bored since I enjoy them so much. Lewis Carroll's work very much resonates with me. Even when I was studying mathematics I wrote a paper about Lewis Carroll in his logician/mathematician capacities.
Also, you seem to like New Orleans and voodoo culture.
Most certainly! I live down south, here in Florida, and I love the swampy environment and lushness of the flowers and vegetation of the southern states. New Orleans is such a beautiful city, I have disks full of photographs I've taken there for inspiration. The architecture, history, hidden gardens, crumbling mansions -- there is an intoxicating feel of permanence mixed with decay and beauty there that I find very inspiring. I am very interested in voodoo and similar themes both artistically and personally, and that definitely pops up in my paintings.
Are you ever in the situation in which a not so favorite work becomes a big favorite of other people? Why do you think that happens?
Sometimes indeed! I think it's difficult for artists to view their own artwork objectively. I don't even bother trying. Some of my more popular paintings are my favorites too, but other favorites of mine don't get as much attention, even though I think they're great. I think it's most likely because often my personal favorites tend to have some sort of emotional or other subjective elements that appeal to me, Jasmine, specifically and won't necessarily strike a chord with the general public out of context. If I do a painting that is self-referencing for me to a certain time or place in my life, it's obviously a lot more meaningful to me than it would be to a random viewer or licensing agent. And then there are paintings I did just for fun, maybe just to experiment with some new colors or maybe a painting I just did for aesthetic enjoyment rather than any sort of deep personal meaning, and those become highly merchandised, very popular images. There's enough of a balance though, and since I paint for myself being my own target audience, I don't take things like that very seriously -- at most I find it amusing when that happens.
Who were your influences and inspirations?
Oh my, so many! Larry Elmore I already mentioned, then as far as fairy art goes I've always been a fan of Brian Froud (as a little girl I had his "Faeries" book and I totally drew all the pictures from it when I was a kid!). Walt Disney is a huge influence on me, I love what he did with his life and how much of an impact he has made -- more than almost any other artist I can think of, actually!
I see that you are now working with Disney. How did that happen? Isn't it absolutely thrilling?
I just got an email out of the blue one day asking if I'd be interested in creating a double-licensed Jasmine Becket-Griffith/Disney line. And of course I said "Yes!" I'm a huge Disney fan -- I live in the town of Celebration, Florida -- for those who don't know, this is that was built and designed by the Walt Disney Company about 12 years ago. It borders Disney World (which I love, and always find an inspiration). It truly has been thrilling having the license to create Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Snow White -- classic Disney characters in my own style. I'm very excited about some upcoming projects with them!
Some people say that you have trapped yourself in a certain niche and have ceased exploring artistically. Have you? Do you still experiment and have fun with your art?
Lol -- if somebody said that, they probably don't really pay much attention to what I do, especially lately. The past year in particularly I have drastically been branching out and experimenting with many new things in my artwork. I do get emails from folks sometimes complaining that I shouldn't be "wasting my talent" and that I should paint "real art" or "serious art" (whatever that is). There is a stigma that sadly goes with fantasy or illustrative art that some people just can't seem to wrap their heads around.
At this point in my artistic career I'm having much more fun painting than I ever have before. I finally get to paint more of what I truly enjoy now that I have reached a level that I don't have to constantly do commissioned pieces. My favourite thing to do in the world is paint, I am thankful every morning I wake up because I know I have a long day of painting in front of me.
When or how you realized that you had hit success? How did it feel?
It happened so gradually I didn't really notice! It was all so grass-roots, and happened so naturally. I guess a turning point would be maybe 5-6 years ago when Matt (my husband) began working for me full-time, and I realized that I was the sole income source for the family -- it was a little scary but very satisfying.
Obviously, you are not only an artist, but also a business woman (something that a lot of artists lack). What advice can you give to those artists that would like to have high selling rates?
The most important thing is to just be relentless. Make a niche for yourself, don't just jump on the bandwagon or paint what you think other folks want to see. Paint what YOU like to paint, and just keep doing it. Working hard is obvious - I don't take off evenings or weekends even now. I always like to tell people, too: Focus first on the art side of things -- developing your own style, building up a large body of your best work, gaining technical proficiency, actually doing the ART part of it for a few years first, and THEN worrying about promotion or business stuff is the way to do it. So many times people try it backwards -- they go about setting up a business based on art they haven't even really done much of yet. You need to have a solid foundation to try to building an empire on -- don't jump the gun!
Other advice I have is to keep as much control over your business as you can. I'm a self-representing artist, and I am the one who makes decisions regarding the use of my work, licensing, etc. I read every single contract I sign, and if I don't understand something -- I find out what it means before putting my name down. I have known too many people in artistic industries (visual arts, music, etc.) who have been jaded and manipulated by bad deals that can really take the fun and creativity out of things.
This is a difficult task for many people, artists and not… How do you go about pricing your own work?
For my original paintings, I began back in 1999 by auctioning them on eBay. I wasn't sure how much to ask, and pricing was very much secondary to the fact I just painted too many paintings to keep them all, lol, so I put them up for a penny. Ten years later and I do the same thing! I figure if I start at a penny, at least everybody gets a chance. That way the collectors & market completely determine the value. When I am in situations where I must put a fixed price tag, I base it loosely on what a painting of similar size and complexity would typically go for at auction, and then I add in cost of materials and framing, etc. -- voila!
Do you find that this economy has affected your business?
To be completely honest, this past year has hands-down been my most financially successful. If anything, I think that many people are looking for an "escape" and that fantasy art can really provide that escape. I have always said that my goal is to bring a little magic to people's lives and I think if somebody is going through a hard time, sometimes a bit of beauty or whimsy can be a better investment than most things.
People have the idea that the art environment is abundant in envy and ill-willed competition. Do you think it is?
Not that I have noticed! Most artists I have known have been very caring and thoughtful people. I don't think the art world is something that could ever be that competitive or has the potential to be over-saturated as long as everybody is bringing their own unique ideas and creations. I guess sometimes I stumble across message boards or online grumpy folks who do seem to be negative, or grumbling about how their careers aren't going anywhere- and my first thought is, "I'll bet if they spent more time actually painting rather than complaining on the computer, they might be better off!" and that's my attitude as well.
Where can the readers find your art?
Oh yay - shameless self promotion! Well the best portal to find everything is my personal website - www.strangeling.com. That is where I sell my prints and canvas prints, link to my original paintings for sale, tons of links to all the various merchandise for sale, etc. You can find your way to everything there. As far as my original paintings go - I mostly sell them on eBay. My seller ID is "Strangeling" there. I'm also up at Etsy (wonderful website - fantastic artists there!!) selling under the name Strangeling. If you'd like to see my art in person - I do art shows & conventions - I'm always at Dragon*Con, FaerieCon, and MegaCon (in Orlando), as well as various art shows & festivals - my appearance schedule is on my website. For merchandising there are so many stores that sell my stuff now I can't even keep up. Lots of the big chain stores sell things, like Targets and Hastings and even Wal-Marts, etc. A lot of the mall stores like Spencer's and Hot Topics will carry things sometimes too. The Bradford Exchange & Hamilton Collection do a lot of my collectibles for direct mail order & online sales. Online you can find a wide assortment at my Zazzle store - www.zazzle.com/strangeling too. Your best bet is to just go to Strangeling.com and look at all the links!
Jasmine's art teases the boundaries of cute and creepy with her character's large winsome eyes, adorable costumes and edgy subject matter. You just want to snuggle them, though you might get bitten if you do.
I've always thought Jasmine's work was a wonderful and unique take on the realm of faery.
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