Thursday Spotlight: Jon Lezinsky

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Connecticut and received a BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating, I found my way into the world of freelance illustration. Unfortunately, it was also at the same time when the illustration market was dramatically changing and slowly drying up. I worked a lot of different jobs in order to keep working as an illustrator. Eventually, I made a decision to learn software, skills and whatever else it would take to find work as a designer. I currently work as an art director doing advertising, print design, web design and animation. I enjoy experimenting with all of these different mediums, but doing illustration is still what I love most. I am currently working on a new body of personal work.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

There are so many things that I come in contact with each day that has an influence on my work in one way or another. I have always been attracted to textures, whether on a canvas or on the side of the road. When I walk down the street, I love to see the random marks and scars of the world. Decaying walls, graffiti stained signs, abandoned buildings; all this stuff is constantly influencing my work. I am always absorbing these textures and then slowly letting them slip out into my work. I look at other people’s art as often as I can, checking daily blogs, searching for new websites or flipping through magazines to find new painters, animators, photographers and other cool stuff that really moves me. I love to find new work that excites me and makes me want to get into the studio and start working right away. Early on, when I was in school Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, Romare Bearden, Fred Otnes, and Greg Spalenka were huge influences on my work. I also had a couple of those amazing teachers that touch you and change you as an artist, leaving a permanent mark on your work.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

Inspiration is a bit elusive when working on a commercial assignment. The phone rings and instantly you are on the clock. The theme is already determined (and unfortunately in some cases an art director has already thought up an idea for you). Sometimes the topic is interesting and other times it is something you would never have imagined learning about. Either way I try to spend some time with it, thinking, sketching and researching the topic a bit to find some way to make the work a bit more personal.

As for my personal work, the approach is a bit more abstract. Ideas are always coming to me usually as reactions to things. Recalling parts of dreams, watching weird off beat movies, listening to good music or just quietly observing people usually gets me thinking. I keep sketchbooks filled with all sorts of sketches, images, words, phrases, poetry and stories. I go back through the books looking for a starting point or something to spark an idea. I usually start with something abstract, a vague idea or even an emotion that a word causes. Listening to music is also a huge part of my working process and it is just as inspiring as seeing a great piece of art. And of course standing in front of a real painting in a museum or gallery is an instant shot of inspiration.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical process.

My process is a bit chaotic. I rely heavily on intuition, chance and faith. It sounds crazy, but because I use so many textures and objects to make marks, I rely on accidents and discoveries that happen as I am exploring and building layers of texture on the board. I use just about everything in my work, so mixed media is usually how I refer to it. I collect junk, scraps of paper, metal, and all sorts of found objects. I keep them organized in plastic bins so that I can find what I am looking for when I start to work. When I start a painting, I usually work on a wood panel and slowly build layers of acrylic and gesso with paper, tape, bits of magazines and scraps mixed in. Most of the time these beginning layers are completely painted over or scraped off. I tear up layers as quickly as I put them down. Then, at a certain point the painting begins to feel right emotionally and compositionally. This really is the starting point for building the details of the piece. Sometimes I will continue to work on the actual painting and sometimes I will scan what I have and bring it into Photoshop. With extremely tight deadlines for most illustration assignments, the computer has become an essential tool in my process. I try to use the computer the same way that I paint, layering elements and forcing it to create accidents and unexpected mistakes that sometimes become a major part of the finished piece. The other advantage to working digitally is that I scan all sorts of objects on a flatbed scanner and use parts of their textures and combine them in a way that I simply could not if I were working traditionally. I keep exploring and experimenting with different techniques between traditional and digital media taking advantage of the best the both have to offer. Working this way opens up an unlimited amount of possibilities. However, the only downfall to a digital piece is that in the end there is nothing tangible to touch.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?

The best part about being creative is the process and how it consumes me and is exhausting and challenging as it takes me along a spiritual journey. I love all of the thoughts, emotions, fears, memories and other stuff that gets stirred up and revealed while I am working. It’s a dialogue I get to have with myself that is extremely necessary for the soul.

For me, the most difficult part of being creative is doing commercial work and still finding time to satisfy the personal work that I need to do. Unfortunately, there are not to many true creative outlets within the commercial world. There is a lot of compromise and different skills needed to survive, ones that usually conflict with being a true artist. No matter how much time and energy I put into my design work and no matter how satisfying it is I still need to do whatever it takes to do work for myself.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

I read a quote once that said, “Denying one’s creative impulses can lead to sadness and depression.” Making art is about satisfying a desire, a need within you to create and express yourself. You have to put your heart into everything that you make and you have to love what you do. Don’t question your work, just do as much as possible. Try new things, experiment constantly and make plenty of mistakes. You have to trust your intuition because creating something is truly an act of faith.

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