SmokeLong’s Art Director Ashley Inguanta sat down with artist and illustrator Jessica Gawinski to discuss the creative process and visual narratives.
Tell me about your beginnings as an artist. The pull to create, what did it feel like? How did you nurture it?
Throughout childhood I loved to draw and create, but back then I never thought I’d choose it as a career. Art was always just a part of my life that I enjoyed and never got tired of. The art of storytelling has always been particularly influential to me, and probably what led me down my creative path. I wanted to be a part of that world, to help create a narrative visually, and bring the world of imagination to life. It wasn’t just the finished product that interested me, but also the creative process, how different artists approached problem solving with various techniques and ideas. I owe a lot to my family, especially my parents, because they really nurtured my creativity. They have always supported me as an artist, even if they didn’t always understand my choices at the time. I’m truly blessed that they saw I had a passion for art and encouraged me to follow it.
As you grow with your art, how does creating help you move through the world?
Creating is my response to the environment around me, and often reflects what interests me at that moment. My time at art school has definitely exposed me to many other art practices, and has led me to appreciate different types of art, from the fine art that history venerates to “commercial” art that influences us every day. It’s a wonderful world of inspiration. Sometimes I just get the itch to paint something specific or try out a new technique or style. Even if the result is terrible, I have to get it out of my system, and I always learn something that I can apply to the next piece I create.
Tell me about the most difficult piece you’ve ever created. How did it change you?
The first thing that comes to mind is a watercolor painting I did entitled “Bloom” [the cover art for Issue Fifty-One]. I think from the beginning I was afraid because I wasn’t that experienced with the medium and was scared of its permanence. I couldn’t just erase a mistake or hit that convenient undo button like you can digitally. At first I was really timid when applying my paint. Slowly proceeding with very light washes seemed the safest way to go, but I knew I wanted to create rich jewel tones and dark waters, which would require bold painting and confident brushstrokes. Once I got over my fears and began to paint with more confidence, I realized the medium was more forgiving than I thought, and my hesitant painting style was really hindering any emotive quality the painting had. That piece challenged how I handled anxiety before starting something new, and taught me how to be more confident painting expressively; which I believe is reflected in my more current pieces.
“Witch” is an extraordinary piece–it’s playful, and in that playfulness we have a story. Maybe it’s one of rebellion (it looks like she’s sneaking out of her room at night), or one of freedom. What inspired this piece?
That piece was actually for an inking class I recently took at school. The only parameters were that it had to include a figure. I hadn’t done anything playful in a while and wanted to do something fun. I have to admit I was most influenced by the season as far as the theme, as it was around Halloween time. While I would encourage viewers to create their own story based on what they see in this piece, my own personal backstory for my characters is more or less one of coming of age. I imagined a young witch went out one night with the intention of finding her very own companion (as she had noted that most respectable witches had one). And to the bewilderment of the little black cat, she decided she found the perfect comrade!
If you could collaborate with one person, who would it be and why?
John Howe has always been a personal hero of mine, and if not collaborate with, I would love to be able to see him work in person. While laboring to create works of fantasy and imagination, he takes great care to anchor fantasy with authenticity. He’s not only an amazingly skilled artist, but he also has an incredible knowledge of the medieval world and Norse mythology, both of which I find fascinating. He is a high-energy designer and that is reflected in his work. Fantasy and mythology are subject matter I enjoy and want to incorporate into my future career as an artist. His work has greatly influenced me and I would love to learn from him in person.
Jessica Gawinski is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration at Kendall College of Art and Design in Michigan. Her artwork has been displayed in various exhibitions, including the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Exhibition, has been auctioned off at charity events, and can be found in several private collections.