We met Ashley Jessup a few months ago at the ValleyCrest Art Show, where she was one of the featured guest artists, and loved her work. Read our Q&A with her below, check out her work, and then keep reading for a bit of her background and to find out where you can view more of her work.
TreeHouse: Your work incorporates great use of rich colors and a lot of fine details, but what really seems to make it stand out is the shadowing built into it. Much of it gives off a dark vibe, regardless of the subject matter. Is that contrast something you strive towards when setting out or is it more an aspect that tends to emerge during the creation process?
Ashley Jessup: I think it’s both, really. Because I feel like the subject matter I work with is often so simple, I take extra care with black paint and titles to help establish the tone. But I also think that contrast derives from how I’ve approached drawing: since with graphite everything is monochromatic, I’ll try to put more distinction between the light and dark values and I’ll push the dark values further to really dramatize the image. So I suppose when I began painting, that characteristic from drawing transferred. Now I usually start a painting with focus on the shadows, and then I’ll work in the detail and color.
TH: Speaking of the creation itself, tell us about yours. Do you have rituals you follow or is every piece different? Why do you choose the mediums you use?
AJ: When it comes to paintings, I usually follow the same process for each work. I prefer to stretch my own canvases, a practice that was instilled in me by my college painting professor/mentor, Ben Bridgers. I think I’ve stuck with canvas for the most part because wood panels are a lot heavier, slicker, and temperamental.
Once I have the canvas ready and my idea finalized, I’ll make a few small final sketches and gather reference materials if necessary. Then I’ll start with a monochromatic underpainting and build up from there. I think I’ve stuck with oil paint because it’s really flexible and easy to layer. It’s such a limitless material. Plus the consistency is great.
I think the only other ritual might be the presence of music—I love music and have to have something playing while I paint that fits my mood.
TH: Most of your work that we’ve seen focuses on inanimate objects. How do you pick your subjects?
AJ: For the most part, it feels like my subjects pick me. I’ll usually have an image, idea, or phrase come into my mind and I’ll quickly sketch it out or write it down. Then if it’s something that I can’t stop thinking about, I’ll give it a space in my head and contemplate the image or idea for a little while more until I think I understand it. My subconscious mind can be very persistent in this way—sometimes relentless.
As for the focus on inanimate objects—there’s probably a few reasons for that. I really found painting to be a way to deal with problems, anxieties, or questions I was working through, so I think I’ve mostly focused on inanimate objects or more suspended still life imagery in the past because it’s easier for me to use objects as symbols to convey an emotion or idea without actually being literal. Personal metaphors, you know? Which has led to certain objects showing up again and again; reinterpreted symbols in a new context. Therefore I don’t have much practice in painting people, which has probably perpetuated their absence.
TH: Tell us about your start in art and where you see yourself as an artist and your work heading.
AJ: I’ve always been interested in creating things. When I was little I took art, sewing, and woodshop classes. My mom bought me calligraphy, origami, hand-lettering, and miniature item books; cross-stitching, painting, and flower-press kits. If there was a craft at school or in clubs, I was the last one working on it. I really cared about them. I was (and still am) really shy, so this was a way for me to express myself. I took drawing classes in high school, and when I got to college I decided I wanted to major in drawing—but painting was also a requirement. I was really nervous about trying a new and unfamiliar medium, but I quickly fell in love with oil painting. I still do graphite and ink drawings, too.
And as for now, I feel like I’m in a transition phase—in life and in my work. I think I put a lot of interests like painting and stuff in my life on hold for a few years when I was dealing with some difficult situations, and I’ve finally decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’m getting back to creating things. It’s a big step for me and I’m excited. I want to make larger and more intricate pieces—both paintings and drawings. I might take back everything I said and incorporate figures or portraits, too.
TH: How do you envision a finished product? With design and colors? Or does the work change and evolve during the process of creating it?
AJ: I usually begin a drawing or painting with the finished product in mind. Like I mentioned before, I have to really understand what the final image will look like and mean to me before starting. This involves everything from composition to color. If I don’t have a well-thought out idea, I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to abandon the project. It’s funny though—as I create something I always find that it contains many more layers of meaning for me than I originally thought. So, although the content may remain the same, I really go through a second process of understanding and unveiling.
TH: Some of your works almost remind us of tattoos. Is that intentional or a coincidence? Have you considered turning your work into body art?
AJ: I have actually had a number of people say that to me before—that they could see some of my work being reinterpreted into a tattoo. I don’t have any tattoos personally. I did have one friend ask me to draw a tattoo for them before, but we never got around to it. I’m not opposed to the idea, though.
TH: Any advice to budding artists that you would like to share?
AJ: I’m a very budding young artist myself! So I guess the advice I have to offer is the advice I give myself: stop over-thinking and just work. I know not everyone has an issue with this, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. I tend to dwell on a lot of things, especially the concept or role of “art” in general, but if you’re going to be productive you have to just keep moving forward and creating work you’re passionate about. As people, I think we get in our own way too much. Don’t let your love of creating get overshadowed by your fear of failing. Maybe you won’t be proud of everything you make, but don’t stop.
Ashley Jessup grew up in northern Orange County, CA. She graduated from the University of Redlands with a degree in both Studio Art: Painting and Drawing and Managerial Studies, and a Spanish minor (although her Spanish is completely out of practice). She currently resides in Costa Mesa where she paints and works for Trellis Works (trellisworks.com).
Some of her portfolio can be found online at ashleyjessuppaintings.tumblr.com, and you can follow her various escapades on Instagram @ayenjay. She also has a painting in the Irvine All Media 2015 juried show that runs August 22-October 24, 2015.