Colourful Expression with Jess Phoenix

Kirsten McCreaINTERVIEWS

Portrait of Papirmass July featured artist Jess Phoenix

Jess Phoenix’s stunning floral work is an exploration of colour relationships, imaginary bouquets, and contrasting palettes. Born in Massachusetts to creative parents who didn’t bat an eye when she decided to attend art school, she earned her B.F.A in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design.

She now lives on the West Coast where she illustrates, designs gift products, and creates exceptional pattern designs. She is constantly looking for new sources of inspiration and ways to create .

We can’t get enough of her bold and rich images!
Subscribe by June 30 to get a print by Jess.


Hi Jess! Tell us about your print Blue Bird.*

I had been making my floral series for about a year when I made this image, but I hadn’t explored any subjects other than flowers. I knew I could draw other stuff, but I hadn’t tried it in my vibrant style yet. This piece came together so easily – it makes me want to do more colourful creatures!

*Not pictured – to be featured in our July issue.
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Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

Describe your creative process.

Every piece starts as a tiny thumbnail sketch – I probably have dozens of little scraps of paper all over my desk with potential ideas on them! When I’m ready to make a piece into a reality, I sketch it larger, then break out the tracing paper and proceed to draw/paint out every individual leaf and petal.

After everything’s drawn, I scan all my tracing sheets and compile the pieces in Photoshop, adjusting colour as I go. It’s a pretty tedious process, but I love having such complete control over every individual element. For the pieces I sell online, I make a high-quality giclée print and then paint on top of it with neon and metallic paint.

Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

What is your typical day like?

I have a day job, where I’m employed full-time as an illustrator/designer. So a typical day looks like me going to work! However, the evenings and weekends are when I get to work on my art. It’s a real labor of love and has limited my free time, but I’ve been so happy with the positive response my work has gotten.

I try to make something new each week, organize two Instagram posts, paint/produce/ship any orders I have – and handle a few freelance jobs as they come up. When I’m not working, I’m usually finding ways to have fun/relax with my husband – and hang with our two cats.

Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

What do you love most about Seattle?

I am from a rural town in Massachusetts, so I spent a little time hanging out in Boston, and I also spent a few years at art school in Providence, RI, but I have never gotten to know and love a city like I have with Seattle. I’ve lived here for ten years, and it’s really become my home. It’s kind of a scary thing to realize that your childhood home isn’t your home anymore, but a few years ago when I was driving through the misty evergreen trees, my soul just seemed to relax at the sight of that landscape.

Seattle is such a beautiful city, and I love the different personalities of each neighborhood. It’s still really hard for me to consider myself a West Coast person, though! I’ll always love New England.

Where do you make your art?

My husband and I renovated the basement of our house into a studio. So, that’s where I design most of my pieces. It’s cozy but lacks natural light. When I paint a piece for an order, I move up to our brighter kitchen where I work by a window overlooking our backyard.

Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

What do you love about your creative space?

I love how the light in our house changes throughout the day. It’s wonderful to be painting a piece with the window open on a warm, sunny afternoon. But because I live in Seattle that doesn’t happen too often! It’s still nice to just be able to pause what I’m doing and look out the window. My husband likes to feed the squirrels and crows in our yard, so sometimes a squirrel tries to get my attention, and I’ll pause to throw a peanut out the window.

What was most difficult when you first started making art?

Fear. I spent way too much time fretting over my Instagram, trying to look “legit.” It’s really hard to not fall into that trap. I still get preoccupied with the numbers game on social media. But my husband (who’s an artist, too) gave me some good advice when I was just starting out. He said, “Make work like you’ve already got 10K followers. Focus on making good work, and everything else will just fall into place.” I try and let the work motivate me above all else… but it still feels good when people have a positive reaction to it!

Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

What theme is central to your work?

Colour, colour, colour! My work emerged from a desire to produce art as bright and as vibrant as I wanted. I love my day job, but sometimes I’m told to change my colours so they “don’t vibrate so much.” I WANT my art to vibrate! Exploring color in my pieces has always been my favorite part. I choose to paint flowers simply because they are an excellent vehicle for exploring colour.

Recently, I have been working with the human figure (to create my ‘Queens’ series). In that series, I’ve gone beyond just colour to draw attention to some important subjects like dignity and diversity.

Papirmass July feature artist Jeff Phoenix

What’s the best thing about being an artist?

When you find a way to make the art you want to be making… and you just do it! For so long I had a deep yearning to create artwork that felt like a true extension of me. I know a lot of very creative people that are still in that holding pattern. They have a desire and talent, but they just can’t make anything they feel proud of. It can take decades to find something that energizes you as you make it, instead of draining you; and you can’t force it, either, which is hard.

When I found something that worked for me, I was ecstatic! I was like, “Hey… I could actually DO this… like, beyond just 1 or 2 pieces!” And then, once you have that, it can propel you down different roads of exploration, because you can’t do the same thing over and over, without some type of variation. But now that I have a body of work I’m proud of, I feel like I can move forward with exploring new things and not be as afraid of failure. My portfolio has got my back – it reminds me that I’m a capable artist!

Papirmass July featured artist Jess Phoenix

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Reach out to people you look up to. Talk to people. Learn about what other artists like doing. Don’t focus on “trying to get inspired.” It will just make you spiral inward. Art is a very personal thing, but that doesn’t mean the whole process needs to be done solo.

Finding friends or a community to “talk creativity” with is so important – not just for making art, but for the health of your soul. And you can always learn more. People from all skill levels have insight that you don’t; so, take a chance a reach out! You may not always get a response, but just the act of putting yourself out there and being vulnerable is beneficial.

Papirmass featured July artist Jess Phoenix

Do you think creativity is learned or innate?

Creativity is innate, but it doesn’t always look how we think it should. My father-in-law is extremely creative… with general contracting and problem-solving! Creativity need not equal artistry. All people have a spark of something in them, where they just know, “Hey, I’m really good with this.” It could be forming arguments, fixing an engine, or folding a paper airplane.

True creativity is like an itch that you LOVE to scratch using your curiosity. You can just keep scratching it; it never gets old! That’s how color is for me. I’m curious about color, which makes me want to explore it and “get creative” with it. Everyone has something they’re curious about, so I think everyone has that innate potential to explore that curiosity and in turn, be creative.

Papirmass July featured artist Jess Phoenix

Jess Phoenix is our July 2017 artist.
See more at www.jessphoenix.com