Jamie Forbes, an extraordinary American artist, possesses a remarkable talent for transforming drawing into an alchemical journey of fascination. Nestled in the artistic enclave of North Carolina, Jamie masterfully crafts captivating artworks, infusing surrealist elements with the essence of animals. While predominantly employing colour pencils, her creative repertoire extends to include gouache, sculpture, and even woodwork. Each piece she conjures emerges from the rich tapestry of the natural world, pulsating with vibrancy and meticulously crafted detail. Behold, as her creations drip with a prismatic presence, casting a spell of enchantment upon the viewer. Within Jamie Forbes’ gallery, one encounters a bejewelled bear, an android elephant, and pastel unicorns, all brought to life from the depths of her wondrous dreamscapes.
Uniquely, Jamie Forbes’ artistic journey encompasses a background in tattoo artistry, adding an intriguing layer to her creative narrative. Surprisingly, she highlights the contrasting nature of tattoo artistry as it grapples with the restrictions of the canvas, demanding a delicate balance to prevent overcrowding. Nevertheless, this parallel pursuit has served as a wellspring of inspiration, informing her approach to colour and composition while cultivating an awe-inspiring attention to detail.
Despite the soft and beguiling hues that adorn her artwork, Jamie’s creations often tread the delicate line between beauty and the macabre. If one were to liken her style to a flavour, it would undoubtedly be bittersweetness.
In this exclusive interview, Jamie Forbes shares with us some of her stories behind the pencil.
What is your earliest memory of art?
My earliest memory of art is watching my grandpa work and create things in his garage. He could work in many mediums, drawing, sculpting wood, and painting. He was a major inspiration for me, drawing me into art’s pursuit. I always enjoyed watching him work and learning what I could in doing so.
When did you first decide to become a professional artist and what has your journey been like?
There was no defining moment when I decided that I must be a professional artist. Creating art has been something I inherently enjoyed doing ever since I was young. As I indulged more and more in arts creation, I eventually found that I thought of myself as an artist.
As for the journey, I’d describe it as gradual. With each work building new skills and helping to evolve my perspective. I’ve also picked up a few extra mediums along the way.
Walk us through your daily routine.
Coffee and time with my dogs is my formula for the start of a successful day. After the morning, I’ll often get a quick workout in. Much of my day, outside work, still involves drawing for work or working on my projects – with frequent dog-time breaks and the occasional bird-watching thrown in for good measure.
Creating art has been something I inherently enjoyed doing ever since I was young. As I indulged more and more in arts creation, I eventually found that I thought of myself as an artist.Jamie Forbes
As a tattoo artist, does this practice inform your more traditional artmaking? Is it different or similar in some ways?
When I first began to tattoo, it actually led to some artist block for drawing. At first, it was hard to reconcile the two mediums because they are very opposed in some aspects. Tattoo artists must be weary of overcrowding a design. And yet my drawing could easily employ over-crowding and often did. So that took some getting used to.
In the end, I think the two both benefited. I take colour theory more seriously now, and I’m a bit more deliberate with the concepts within my colour pencil work.
How would you describe your artistic style?
A mixture of surrealism and low-brow art, with the occasional tendency towards the macabre, absolutely drenched in colour.
Do you think your tastes have changed over time? Is there something you are interested in exploring now that you weren’t a few years ago?
My tastes have changed, with each subsequent work a stepping stone to where I am now. Over time I’ve explored many more mediums, although I find myself drawn back to colour pencil and sculpting in the end.
Describe your connection to animals. How does the natural world inspire your creativity?
The natural world can be brutal in its pragmatism. Existence can be violent and short. And yet this cold reality co-exists with the moments of tenderness animals share amongst themselves and the unconditional love they often show us. Animals are a muse with a broad range of experiences from which to draw upon.
Do you use reference material in your work or draw entirely from imagination?
Sometimes a, sometimes b.
Explain the steps involved in creating a new work. For instance, do you start in a sketchbook?
I will start by sketching out my concept and then creating a photo collage for reference. This base will usually change as I am working on the drawing itself. If I am unsure of my next move, I will take images of my work and draw on top of them using Photoshop or Procreate, creating and evaluating different directions.
Talk us through your new work, ‘Mountain Life’. What is the story behind this piece?
This was inspired by my move out of New York City and into a more rural area in the South. The amount of nature that I am now surrounded by is mind-boggling for me. Since moving, I’ve been twenty feet away from a bear and see them often. I also have a daily hummingbird visitor that will eat from a handheld feeder.
Moving was one of the biggest changes I’ve gone through, and I wanted to capture it in my work. The gems that are decorated on the bear in my work are inspired by the berries they eat. And I wanted to incorporate the birds because they bring a whole lot of joy in my new life.
The natural world can be brutal in its pragmatism. Existence can be violent and short. And yet this cold reality co-exists with the moments of tenderness animals share amongst themselves and the unconditional love they often show us.Jamie Forbes
What mediums, beyond pencil and paint, have you experimented with?
I have done sculpture, starting with paper and construction paper sculptures, wood, and eventually moving into clay. I also tattoo.
Can you share some of the challenges you’ve encountered over the years?
I’ve struggled with letting go of my work and selling it. I am always grateful to sell work, but I have a difficult time parting ways with it.
Describe your studio space.
Now that I moved, I have a proper art studio and a full wall of shelves for my most used mediums. However, because I’ve always just set up camp on the floor in the past, I still prefer to work that way today.