There’s magical place where gothic fairies run wild in striped tights, colorful witches and Disney villains enchant you, and mermaids shimmer in silver moonlight and pale breaking waves. In the lure of charm and innocence, they dance and play in the wind and wisps of pixie dust. Taking delight in the dreamlike days and sea-stormy nights, each dainty goddess inspires your inner-child.
This is the world of a Strangeling. This is the life of Jasmine Becket-Griffith. Welcome.
Nice to meet you…
Bella: Let’s just start at the beginning. You were born… was there anything from your upbringing that you feel lead to this creative journey?
Jasmine: A lot of things really. My dad was very into art, he had lots of art books – things like H.R. Giger, Frank Frazetta, etc. lying around the house. Old pulp sci-fi & comics were stacked in boxes that we dug through regularly. He always took me to museums, spent Saturday mornings drawing with me. He was a painter too – but the industrial/construction kind – he painted buildings, factories, the insides of water tanks, peoples’ houses. But I think being around paint and all the accessories associated with paint definitely rubbed off on me. My Aunt Pat would spend a lot of time with me as a little girl. She was a portrait artist and would spend hours showing me how to draw human faces even before I was in kindergarten.
Bella: You make a living as a full-time freelance artist. Sounds like a dream come true. Was your career premeditated or fated?
Jasmine: It is a dream come true, but it is a lot of work too. I think a lot of folks don’t really consider the amount of work that goes into it. I started selling my artwork door-to-door when I was five years old and never really stopped. I can’t imagine myself being anything other than an artist. In the early days, I worked at Dairy Queen and stuff like that as a day job, and I’d come home and paint at night, but pretty early on I was able to turn my artwork into a career full-time. It feels both premeditated and fated; I think it was always an eventuality. I’m an extremely obsessive person.
Bella: Your work is everywhere and your designs appear on many lines of licensed merchandise with Hot Topic and Disney. How did you make this happen?
Jasmine: It sounds deceptively simple, but I never did anything other than paint, paint, paint and hope that people would notice it. I’ve never sent a portfolio anywhere, I’ve never applied for a job as an artist, I’ve never sent slides to a gallery. Every licensing deal, publisher, or art director has just typically contacted me via email or phone after stumbling across my artwork online or at a convention, etc. I guess I made it happen by magical thinking. That and just working my arse off. With Disney, they just scouted me after following my work for a couple of years, and several people at the company were fans/collectors of mine. Licensors like the merchandise companies that sell at mall shops and stores usually end up finding me at conventions or by bumping into my website or Facebook. It all kind of snowballs from there (i.e., “hey there – we saw your work at Disneyland – we’d love to have you do some designs for our automotive line at Target” – that kind of thing). I’ve mostly just focused on the actual fine art side of it – the actual painting part of it all – and the business/licensing/merchandising just kind of fell into place around it.
Bella: Self-taught or academic background?
Jasmine: I would consider myself self-taught, as I began my professional career when I was still in high school. Oddly enough, I went to college on a physics/mathematics scholarship. Soon after I enrolled, I began making a living with my artwork, and decided to switch to art as a major since that’s what I was dedicating my life to. Unfortunately, while the university had a good science program, it wasn’t that into art (they didn’t even provide a room for students to paint in) so I primarily did independent study at home and would pop in to show my paintings a couple times a semester for review. I basically just brought in whatever piece I was working on at the time, usually pieces that were destined for shows or were even already sold or were commissioned illustrations. I did however take a ton of Art History courses, which were incredibly helpful. There is a very strong art history dimension in my work.
Bella: I read that you started strangeling.com in 1997. How difficult was that process?
Jasmine: I did, I was 17 then and was not very familiar with computers. I knew though that I wanted to use the internet as a platform to expose my artwork, so I taught myself HTML and created a pretty crappy free website (I forget if it was from AOL or Geocities or Angelfire or something at first) with pictures of my paintings for sale. I later upgraded it slightly to try to kill two birds with one stone and made it a more shopping cart based site for a school computer project (that’s about the time I started adding prints, etc. to the lineup, as it was hard to keep updating with all the new paintings I was churning out).
It was in 1997 also that I met my husband (online, on AOL chat – ha!) – he’s the one who gave me the nickname “Strangeling” (strange + changeling) which is of course the inspiration for the name of the site. Over the years, I eventually turned over the administration of my website to my stepsister Sonya Andrews (Paunya) who is MUCH more skilled at that type of thing.
Spells & Getting Personal…
Bella: Some of your fans may only know the artist side of you. So, let’s unwrap some layers. Tell us a little about what life is like at home, outside of the art studio.
Jasmine: It might sound like a cop-out, but the artist side of me is such a big part of me, it’s really difficult to extricate anything else sometimes. I paint between 8-18 hours a day, and unless I’m travelling (usually for art-related reasons), I don’t take off evenings or weekends. That being said, I do have other passions that drive me. I’m a fitness junkie, every day I start off doing T25 with my husband – that sort of extreme workout at 5:30am every day really wakes me up and puts me in the mood for work. It also counteracts the relatively sedentary career I’ve chosen (which mostly consists of sitting down!). I’m a vegetarian and I love animals and spending time in nature. Every day after lunch I take an hour or an hour and a half and go on the nature trails near my house, bird watching, or to spend some time exercising outdoors.
Bella: It’s always interesting to discover when someone has secret talents. What’s one of yours?
Jasmine: I can cast magic spells that really work! I can’t really go into details or I’ll sound insane, but it’s honestly true.
Bella: Ooh that’s intriguing! Okay, so in the same vein as that question…what are your hobbies/interests outside of being an artist?
Jasmine: I love cooking – I like cooking extravagantly complicated vegetarian meals (I even construct my own vegetarian meat analogues from base materials – I’m very alchemical about it – rinsing wheat flour to extract gluten to create striations of stringy flesh-like layers in my vegan pork chops, etc.). I also like watching really crappy movies (I watch an hour or two of TV before I go to bed), I dig MST3K and Rifftrax, etc. I listen to audio books and music most of the time while I paint. My favorite musician is Robyn Hitchcock. He has inspired so many of my paintings. I love traveling too. I have three houses – my primary one is here in Celebration, Florida, but I also have a secondary home/studio in Kansas City (where I grew up) and in London, England. I’m always traveling in between the three (and dragging my three cats along with me when we drive). I am addicted to traveling, I find it inspirational and I am a complete nut about painting while “on the road” – I have painted in RVs, airplanes, boats – you name it. I love going to different countries and just soaking it all in. I’ve been known to take trains to foreign cities and not even bring a map, wandering out in whatever direction seems to call me. I leave the US at least once a month, my favorite places to visit are the UK, India, Japan, Mexico and Germany. And France and China. And the Caribbean. And probably a bunch of other places I haven’t been yet.
Bella: If you painted a self-portrait, what would it look like?
Jasmine: I think all of my paintings are self-portraits at least to some extent, even though I don’t usually mean them to be.
Bella: Favorite movie?
Jasmine: Wow, that’s hard! I love two types of movies – really awful movies (things like Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny, Gamera Vs. Gyaos, Birdemic) and then I love really good movies (everything by Wes Andersen, Miyazaki, Kubrick, etc.). It also changes a lot. I think right now I’d have to say that my favorite movie is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It’s the pinnacle of everything I think a good movie should be.
Bella: Guilty pleasure?
Jasmine: Never looking at price tags at the grocery store. I grew up dirt poor and hated having to count every penny or use free government vouchers etc. I like going to Whole Foods and filling up the cart with all the stupidly expensive produce & groceries, I want. I might be wearing the same pair of jeans I’ve had since 5th grade, we might drive a fifteen-year-old van, but I can spend a family’s grocery budget in a single day on imported mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes. I suppose there are worse vices.
Bella: So true. I had a very similar upbringing in that respect. Definitely guilty in the “overlooking grocery price tag department” too! Hmmm, let’s see… oh, cat person? Dog person? Both?
Jasmine: Cats! Three cats, all rescues. Tigrillo, Sunshine, and Mama Wolf.
Bella: Okay, some might be a bit apprehensive to ask but I’m totally gonna go there with this question. Here goes. Your husband, Matt, works as your assistant… wow, really? Is it ever difficult to keep the stress of work and business from affecting your marriage?
Jasmine: Wow, what an awkward question! Yes, it is EVER difficult! Matt has worked for me fulltime for almost ten years now. It became obvious I needed an assistant, and he was the obvious choice. Since then I’ve also hired several additional employees (to handle printing, packaging, and shipping, order processing, etc.) but it’s still definitely Matt who carries the biggest weight. It is extremely hard to indicate to him whether I’m yelling at him as “his boss” or if I’m yelling at him as “his wife”. I compartmentalize the two roles very separately in my head, but I am notoriously bad at interpreting the emotions of other people around me and I tend to be clueless when it comes to picking up non-verbal communication. I consider myself to be a pretty laidback and liberal person, but when it comes to my business and my art I’m an unabashed dictator. I have to be. There is also the issue where many people seem to think that Matt (I’m guessing because he’s a male and I’m a female?) is my manager or agent or somehow runs the company. A lot of new business contacts skip over me and try to just talk to Matt (they’ll honestly say things like “oh, he must be the brains behind the operation” etc. – wtf?). But he’s really just my assistant; most of his job consists of carrying boxes, stretching canvases, etc. It’s really frustrating that there is still such a gender bias in business and in art sometimes, but I try not to let it piss me off too much. I certainly don’t hold it against Matt, he mostly just wants to be a writer (he is very good) – he just got roped into the whole art thing. As the years go on I try to pawn off a lot of Matt’s duties to my other employees, so that he can pursue his own creative endeavors as a writer.
Let’s go inside the studio…
Bella: In five words, describe your studio.
Jasmine: Home, world, me, tea, cats
Bella: What would you say is your artistic ethos?
Jasmine: Primarily aesthetics and mystery. I paint things I find beautiful. I paint things I like to look at, things I find interesting and things I find mysterious. Even more than wanting to show the rest of the world, I paint for myself and for the sheer drunken joy of painting. I want the world to have more beauty and mystery. I also am very obsessed with increasing my skill as a painter. I am very hard-core traditional when it comes to my art, I don’t use computers or things like airbrushes, just my hands, water, paint & board. I like to try to push things like colour and technique as far as my current level of skill allows me and I immediately try to improve with the next piece.
Bella: What or who influences your art the most?
Jasmine: It depends on the painting. Stylistically my artwork is probably just a mixed up muddle of all the things that influenced me as a kid – cartoons, art history classes, Dungeons & Dragons, comics, the Pre-Raphaelites, contemporary surrealist movements, Hieronymus Bosch, etc. all blended together and poured out on canvas. Thematically and aesthetically, I am pretty much my own influence; I paint things I think would be fun to paint and things I’d like to look at after they’re finished. Of course, a lot of my artwork (when created as an independent contractor for the Walt Disney Company for example) is commissioned and with those pieces, I have guidelines I need to follow, but I always inject a lot of “myself” into each piece.
Bella: I love your sweet fairies and storm chasing mermaids! Sometimes, with my own work, I incorporate a ‘surreal doll’ aesthetic and the progression of each painting feels very magical. What’s it like for you? How do these ‘Strangelings’ evolve and come to be?
Jasmine: They very much started as self-portraits. My own features exaggerated in little drawings & comics I’d do in school. Caricatures almost, but as time passed my skills increased the level of realism and treatment of the figures in my work. For years when I was younger, all of my paintings pretty much looked a lot like just me, but I’ve definitely branched out a lot more as an adult. I’ve got big weird eyes, a small mouth, and a stubby little nose so my paintings all tend to as well. I pretty much exclusively paint female characters, I’m not very interested in painting male characters (at least not at the moment). Probably some deep-seated psychological issues, or maybe I just like painting flowy hair and sparkly makeup. I dunno.
Bella: Do you have any specific painting techniques or an adapted go-to style?
Jasmine: I go about most of my paintings in the same way. I gesso the board and begin sketching with paint. I often do a very detailed monochromatic sketch/under-painting in neutral tones before I even start thinking about color. I then build up many thin layers/washes of paint, letting some of the under-painting show through, covering up the stuff I don’t want visible. I rarely draw or sketch beforehand, I prefer just jumping in and sketching with a little skinny paintbrush with paint & water right on the board.
Bella: Favorite medium to work with?
Jasmine: Definitely acrylics. Just about all of my work is done with acrylic paints, usually on wood or on masonite panel. I just mix them with tap water. I buy cheap synthetic brushes (I don’t use animal hair brushes since I’m a vegetarian) and run through them like crazy, I’ve ruined half a dozen brushes in a single painting before, I’m very hard on them. I do sometimes do small pastel pieces or studies for larger pieces in pastel, usually when I’m on the road or if I’m working on a travel easel, preparing to do a larger work later. But for finished work, I pretty much stick to acrylics.
Bella: One painting at a time or multiple?
Jasmine: Usually just one painting at a time. The only instances I have more than one unfinished piece are when I’m doing a commissioned illustration or a custom painting that requires approvals at early stages. With the paintings I do for Disney for example I have to send in early color roughs, works-in-progress, etc. and each step needs to be approved by the company before I can continue on with the next step, so I usually start in on another painting while I’m waiting for design approval. Mostly though, when I’m painting for myself, I just have one piece going on at once. I don’t like having things incomplete or it makes my brain start looping in the back of my head and I can’t properly relax or think about other things.
Bella: Do you have any ‘secret’ rituals that you can share? (For ex: certain music, favorite jeans, or need your pet nearby)
Jasmine: Yes, secret ones! And non-secret ones too. I drink lots and lots of matcha (Japanese green tea) either iced or hot. I place it prominently by my desk so that I remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. I very compulsively put my brush in my mouth to make it pointy, almost in between each brush stroke. At the end of the day, my face and mouth are always covered with paint. This is the primary reason I don’t use oils and I use non-toxic acrylic paints, I can’t stop putting my paintbrush in my mouth and I don’t want to die or go crazy from poison. My cats are usually nearby, and I keep my windows open right next to me almost regardless of the weather (I get rain splattered often).
Looking to the horizon…
Bella: You recently attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live show, what was that like?
Jasmine: I did indeed! It was the third one I have attended. It’s held in Kansas City, Missouri, where I am originally from. For me it is an interesting show because it’s held where all my family still lives – all sorts of my relatives drop by and see me there, which is unusual for me. It’s neat to get to show off what I actually do for a living. The venue it’s held in is Bartle Hall, which is also very odd for me because it is the location of my very first public convention – when I was in elementary school I fancied myself an inventor and would regularly get a booth there at the Invention Fair to try to sell my inventions to investment companies. I was a strange little girl. So it’s kind of neat to now do a convention there nowadays as a professional artist. It’s not a very big show or a very busy show, but the amount of talent there being showcased is phenomenal. I don’t think Kansas City has quite come to appreciate yet what a gem they have there at Spectrum, I hope it continues and that more local people come out to see the international array of amazing artists who show there. I like buying artwork for myself there too – I bought an original Paul Bonner and an original Annie Gerard there to hang in my own home.
Bella: So far, what has been your most memorable career milestone?
Jasmine: I think the biggest milestone so far was when I was approached by the Walt Disney Company to create art for them. I’m a big Disney fan and being a Disney artist was a dream of mine as a little girl. When I actually got a phone call from them proposing just that, it really did feel like a dream come true, and I am not exaggerating.
Bella: What projects can we anticipate?
Jasmine: This is by far my busiest year yet – I have so many things going on. August has me doing some fun Disney events. Firstly I’m doing a meet & greet event the evening of August 8th at Disney World’s Downtown Disney in Florida – at the WonderGround Gallery inside Disney’s Marketplace Co-Op. Then the following week I’m going to be a celebrity guest at Disney’s biannual “D23 Expo” on the other side of the country in Anaheim, California. September brings me to my annual showing at the Dragon*Con Art Show in Atlanta, then off to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival for a few weekends. Later this autumn I’m doing a solo show in Seattle at Eight and Sand Gallery in Georgetown called “Birds and Beasties” which is going to incorporate my love of animals and my birdwatching into a new collection of original paintings I’ll be debuting there on October 10. October 24th I’m doing a signing event at Hoypoloi Gallery in Chicago (very excited about that, I love Chicago and this will be my first art event there). Then I’m finally back home to Florida – this time at Disney World’s Pop Gallery Orlando for my “Four Seasons” show this December 12, where I’ll be debuting four paintings – each inspired by the seasons. I’ll also be doing a lot of group shows (Corey Helford, Modern Eden, Sally Centigrade, Stranger Factory), conventions, fun stuff like that. Next year will be even bigger!
‘Take Over’ at Disney’s WonderGround Gallery