We first discovered Atlanta-based Artist Jessica Jewett when she participated in Copic Colors earlier this year. We asked her about her Copic Colors fashion illustration project, other mediums she works within, and the importance of a supportive artist community.
Tell us about your #CopicColors piece for June.
Since I've been using #CopicColors to illustrate fashion from 1800-1920 each month, the decade each month falls on has been dictating my parameters. June landed on the 1850s. That was the last decade in America before the Civil War changed the entire course of our people's history. I decided to depict the 1850s as the last great hurrah for the ruling class of the Deep South and I wanted to show their view of themselves in the moonlight and magnolias ideal. Of course that wasn't reality but I wanted to show what they thought of themselves - gracious, soft, lovely, always going to a party. And the party is what I chose to depict. The two ladies are ready for the last great party before their worlds are completely ripped apart by war. The assigned colors ended up being perfect for my art this month because they look like a garden party.
How did you decide to focus on fashion illustration through the decades? What inspired this project?
I thought I would need a continuous theme to keep me interested in coming back month after month. I have so many projects going at once that I thought a concrete theme would make it easier to slide into the Copic mindset each month, like putting on a favorite coat every winter. Since I'm a lifelong historical researcher for the other part of my life (I'm also an author), I knew I wanted to do something about women in America. I considered doing portraits of famous American women, and then I thought about doing First Ladies, but I discarded those ideas just as quick.
My historical fiction is always about the average woman trying to make it in a man's world. I wanted to do something reflecting more average or nameless American women instead of famous women. Then one day I was watching a film called The Duchess. A man wondered why women's clothes have to be so complicated and the lady tells him, "It's just our way of expressing ourselves, I suppose. [Men] have so many ways of expressing yourselves, while we make do with our hats and our dresses." You can read the social and political climate of any time period by deciphering what women are wearing. My idea came from there. I wanted to illustrate the way women's fashion progressed from 1800 through World War I, just before we got the vote in America. You can almost watch the awakening of women's equality through the way they dressed in that 120-year span of our history. I wanted to document it.
July will hit in the 1860s in my illustration timeline, which is the Civil War and Emancipation. The second half of this art challenge will depict the 13th Amendment, the eradication of indigenous people, Chinese immigration in San Francisco, immigration in the Lower East Side of New York, and the Suffragettes. My aim is to show how the industrial revolution and mass immigration changed American fashion.
What other mediums do you like to work with and what other subjects do you draw?
I started in watercolors before I could read. One of my watercolors that I painted at age six hung in the St. Louis Shriner's Hospital for years and might still be there. Most of my life, however, I've used charcoal, colored, and graphite pencils. My best work is in pencils because they are the easiest for me to use with my limitations, although Copic markers and fine liner pens are opening new avenues for me too. I have done some oil painting as well and I'd like to try more of that.
My subjects almost always revolve around history or my religion (I'm a Pagan, as are many others in my family). Portraiture is where I'm most comfortable, too. That's where I started and that's my artistic home. I have recently been teaching myself landscapes, nature, and flowers, which is much more satisfying than I anticipated. Architecture has really become an artistic passion as well. I've been working on a series of Charleston art in between each month of #CopicColors. Attention to textures, details, historical accuracy, and emotional depth are all things I strive to achieve in all of my art. People respond to my attention to textures and detail the most and I'd like to master those things in more than just different types of pencils in the future.
How did you first discover your talent to draw using Copics in an unconventional way? How long did it take to develop and refine your skill?
I have to do all of my art with the tools held in my mouth rather than my hands because I was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. Basically, that means I was born with joints too stiff to bend, very little muscle strength, malformations like hands bent inward toward my wrists, and various other complications. I use a wheelchair when I go out but at home I prefer lying on my stomach to work on art and writing and everything else I do. Information about my condition can be found at amcsupport.org.
Art came before writing for me. I have no memory of when it began, which means I probably started picking up pens and pencils around my second birthday. A man in a wheelchair that worked with my mother told her to spread a blanket on the floor and let me figure out things for myself when I was a baby because she was worried about me not developing a sense of independence. That was what his parents did for him. I developed a little slower with my baby milestones like rolling over, but my instincts did tell me what to do. My interest in art happened when my family set out different toys for me to explore. I can't explain it any other way than instincts telling me to put things in my mouth since my hands lacked fine motor skills and the ability to open all the way. Drawing became a full obsession by the time I went to kindergarten and helped me learn to write before I entered school. My family taught me letters and numbers in artistic terms and I learned much faster that way.
I started winning local art contests in St. Louis in kindergarten and it went on from there. There are artists in my family who taught me technical skills like one, two, and three point perspective once they realized my interest was real. Art teachers spent extra time with me in school because my lessons had to be adapted sometimes. My brother, parents, and grandparents are all gifted artists as well. It's in my blood, so it's not really surprising to any of us that my instincts showed me the way.
What kind of support have you found in your community online and how do you support others in this way?
The online world has been so huge in me becoming the artist I am now. I watch a lot of YouTube artists and sometimes I try to post art videos when I can. People are very enthusiastic (strangers, even) about my journey and they encourage me whenever I feel like quitting. I gain the nicest followers on Instagram every time I post new art.
My personal goal, being an artist with a disability, is to help other artists with disabilities. If I find supplies that might help someone hold a tool easier, like the oval shape of Copic Sketch markers, then I post about it everywhere. Sometimes brands related to adaptability find me, like a company that makes products for gripping assistance, then I try them out and report my findings. I also try to make myself available for encouragement. I take it very seriously that people are going to be curious about how I do things even though sometimes I'd rather be judged by my talent alone. So I don't mind answering questions or giving demonstrations because the more I do it, the more likely people will stop staring at people in wheelchairs. If more people are public like me, we'll add humanity to disabilities that (unfortunately) some people in this world think we lack. Art is my avenue for being an encouragement to people who live different lives.