FK talks to Melbourne based artist, Jessica Stewart. When you Escape will be making it’s market debut in Melbourne this weekend!
Tell us a little bit about When you Escape, and how would you describe the style of your work?
My style of work is very illustration focused. The whole concept is based around escaping from your current situation, even just for a moment. I like the idea that someone may look at one of my pieces and it gets them wondering about the character in the piece, or relating to it. I’m a bit of a dreamer so I am constantly drawing these characters that are looking for a mental break, a bit of imagination or a distraction for a short while. Since I grew up next to the ocean and my family has such a beach life (My dad surfs just about every day and my sis is a sponsored surfer) I tend to relate the idea of escape to nautical related objects, mainly ships and birds, sailing through dreams and such.
What is your background and how did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in the costal town of Torquay and studied Graphic Design at TAFE in Geelong. Thankfully I had a great few weeks of work experience at some amazing studios and companies, had some nice offers when I finished the course and ended up with a job at Rip Curl in their Girls wear graphics team. Working there was a great experience for me, I had an amazing Senior Graphic Designer that taught me everything I know and also managed hone my illustration skills into some really fun prints along with getting practice at the same time! After sometime I realised I needed to move on to further my career as an illustrator so I left Torquay and came to Melbourne. Here is where I’ve really just submersed myself in everything art orientated that I could. Street art was everywhere and has a constant source of inspiration, along with some great local illustrators. I freelanced design for about a year then was offered a position with a great fashion company that really supported me and allowed me to focus on my love of drawing. I was invited last year to be part of a group show at Brunswick Street Gallery, it was my first real gallery experience and I learnt alot from it and had a blast. Since then I have been part of a few more shows, including the new Please Welcome Gallery, along with having a mini range of my art be part of a collaboration with Rip Curl, which has been very very exciting.
This whole time I’ve been practising practising practising at really finding my style and discovering where I wanted my illustrations to go, so its really exciting at the moment that its started to take off and I’ve been able to start making a living from it.
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
Most my inspiration comes from my friends, family, surroundings and fashion. Since I grew up next to the ocean my pieces are very nautical themed, I draw so many ‘dream sailors’ as they relate to alot of my friends or even just people I pass in the street that seem in a bit of a daze.
Since I’ve worked in the fashion industry my whole career as a graphic designer, fashion has also played a huge role. The designers that create haute couture are incredible, then you have set designers and photographers that really bring these pieces to life and give them character, it just blows me away. Melbourne is also just great in general for inspiration as you just have to walk out of your front door and get surrounded by the people and the street art.
What mediums do you like to work with and what would you like to explore or develop in your work?
The main medium that I work with is grey lead pencils. I’ve drawn with them since I was little so I’ve always felt most comfortable using them.
In the last few years I started to experiment more with other mediums to try and add more colour to my pieces subtly. Mainly with a mix of watercolours, pastels and paints, but I’m still working on perfecting how best to use them. Pencil lead is great because you can make it as subtle or as strong as you like, its also great for putting fine and delicate detail into pieces that you cant get from alot of other mediums.
What is your creative process?
It basically starts with a few notes scrawled on whatever I have on me at the time which then turns into a rough sketch of a piece.
I then research into the objects I want to put in the artwork, anything from flowers, people, to birds or other objects I’m not familiar with to really see how to best draw them as I like having a realistic feel to my work. I do a mock collage of all my different objects that looks like a mess but gives me a good direction on how a piece will flow together. Then I start my final drawing, first with pencil and finish off with slight colours and spray paint.
How has your creative style developed and how has your Melbourne surroundings influenced you?
Melbourne has influenced me mostly through street art. I love the work of many local artists, especially around Fitzroy where I live.
Something I find great is the natural decay these pieces have as time goes on. It dosn’t seem to diminish them, if anything they gain more character and really become a part of the history to the wall and surroundings. You can stumble across these characters in small little alleys and corners, or when you least expect them and they can make you think and smile (or scowl lol). Recently I’ve started adding alot of texture to my pieces or even drawing street signs and houses with graffiti on them and small characters wondering about, so Melbourne has definitely had a strong influence on my work of recent.
What other artists inspire you?
Oh gosh there are so many. Top of the list would be Vania Zouravliov. He is just a insanely incredible illustrator. But up there would be others like David Choe, James Jean, Hush, Ghost Patrol and Miso, Herakut, Aubrey Beardsley, David Foldari, Rik Lee, Sam Weber, Chris Benens, Alexander McQueen and Da Vinci.
What aspirations do you have for When you Escape and what would be your dream collaboration or project?
I would love nothing better then to spend all my days drawing away at home with my cat T Rex sitting next to me (I’m a crazy cat lady in the making here) and if others like my work then thats great, I love when viewers find some sort of attachment to a piece that maybe reflects something of themselves or someone they know. My dream collaboration would most likely be with Vania Zouravliov. Even just to spend a day with him and see how he works would be amazing. His attention to detail is incredible and the characters in his illustrations are so silently beautiful in a dark and slightly unnerving way which I just love.