For many of us creatives, the idea of stepping away from our computer screens and connecting to what we’re doing is something high on our wish lists, but is not always practical with looming deadlines and other commitments.
Fine artist Jessica Ford (who also works as a illustrator and has designed everything from children’s books and packaging to advertising campaigns and fiction covers, as well as this year’s Valentine’s box for Godiva Chocolatiers!) has done just that and carved out time in her schedule to focus on her paintings.
This ‘happy hobby’ has become not only a creative outlet, but also become another business - with her work now hanging in homes across the world (including in the home of social media influencer Zoella).
We chatted to Jessica to find out how she creates her abstract work, divides her time and tips for starting a new venture.
Hi Jessica! Why and when did you decide to become a professional artist?
I’d been working for ten years as a commercial illustrator (and still do, for half of the time!) but was dying to get away from a screen and get back to physically making art. I love having a varied working life, and still really enjoy the buzz of illustration commissions, but there’s something really exciting about making art for yourself, and not to a brief.
Can you tell me a little about your work? How would you describe your style?
My paintings and colourful, abstract pieces. When I started painting, I was really conscious that I wanted to have a happy experience in the studio, and I wanted the paintings to feel joyous and light - and not depressing. I’m not interested in digging around my soul for melancholy! I want the owner to feel positive when living with my paintings in their home. They’re very easy to live with.
The whole process for me started out as a happy hobby, that wonderfully evolved into something much bigger.
That’s so lovely to hear! How do you go about creating your work?
I like to work on quite big canvases. Strangely I find working on smaller canvases much more challenging! I use acrylic paint, gouache, and graphite pencil. I achieve the different textures by using different mixing mediums. I’m a big fan of a palette knife! I’d probably make a great plasterer!
Which paintings have been your most popular? Why do you think that is?
I have three prints that sell extremely well: ‘Brood’, ‘Lark’ and ‘Dusk’. I’d say the number one favourite has been ‘Dusk’. I’ve had so many enquiries about that painting, I could have sold it ten times over. Ironically it was on sale for over 6 months, appeared in different galleries, and then as soon as I sold it, the enquiries came piling in. Always seems to be the way!
Doesn’t it just? Hard question, but do you have a favourite?
My favourite is ‘Brood’. It was such a favourite that I decided to keep it and it now hangs in my bedroom at home. Again, I’ve had so many offers from people wanting to buy it, that it’s been quite tough to stay firm and not sell, but I’m glad I haven’t. Some things are worth more than money. I’ve lent it out on photoshoots on various occasions, so it’s travelled around a fair bit, and even appeared on one of the room sets at The Ideal Home Show this year.
That’s exciting! Where do you create? Does your location inspire you?
I have a little, cosy studio in Hove, East Sussex. It’s pretty teeny, but it has a big window, which as all artists know, is the main consideration with taking on a space! I’m very close to the sea, which is always really inspiring! And I love Hove. There’s such beautiful architecture everywhere, and lots of creative people live here.
Unfortunately I will be leaving this studio soon, as the developers are moving in and turning the workspaces into flats. I do fear for the creative people of Brighton and Hove, as this is increasingly happening, and it means there’s no longer affordable studio space left. A lot of my artist friends have already left the area due to the rising costs, so the future is looking a bit uncertain.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I divide it up doing my illustration work half the time, and then depending on what my deadlines are looking like, I’ll disappear downstairs to do some painting. I’ve been really lucky that my painting studio has been in the same building as my illustration studio all these years. I can pop between the two, often when I’m waiting for a layer of paint to dry!
So handy! You use Instagram for your business - how does this work for you?
Instagram has been amazing for me. It’s the only social media platform I use for my painting, as I only really use Facebook for personal use, and Twitter... I’ve never really loved at all!! I’ve sold lots of paintings directly to customers through Instagram, and then it’s been such a buzz to see the paintings in situ, popping up on my client’s feeds. It’s brilliant to be able to communicate directly with your audience. One of my paintings has ended up in a home in Australia, so I’m thrilled the reach of social media travels so far.
With already having a successful career in illustration, what tips would you give to those of us looking to start a new venture?
Just start! I talked about painting for years, tentatively planning, dreaming, wishing. Two years ago, I made the decision to properly carve out time in my schedule to commit to it, starting with Friday being my ‘official painting day’. I really believe that it was that New Years resolution that propelled me forward. Sometimes these things just need proper time to grow and to be able to get off the ground.
What's been your highlight so far?
It was pretty exciting when Zoella bought one of my paintings. It frequently pops up on her Instagram, or in her videos.
Last year I had a lovely feature in Breathe magazine, and I’ve had loads of lovely support from fab interiors bloggers, such as Sophie Robinson, Little Big Bell, and Emily Dawe. They’ve been so great at featuring my work and helping to raise my profile, which has been such a gift.
That’s so fantastic! So, what's next for you?
In my dreams I’d actually love to move into interior design. Perhaps own a shop. Be a stylist. Why are there not more hours in the day! I’m such a career glutton! Haha. I’d love to create a lifestyle brand that brings together my love of painting, colour and interiors.
Describe your work in three words:
Colourful, abstract, bold.
What are your making rituals?
Change into my painting clothes, pop on my favourite podcast and make sure I have a cup of tea by my side!
Tea or Coffee?
Mountains or sea?
Night owl or early bird?
I wish someone had told me...
It will all work out! I remember the deep seated fear of leaving university and heading for London to kick start my creative career, armed only with an art degree and not able to do anything else (I couldn’t even work a computer!), and thinking "NOW WHAT?!!" I'm so happy that my creative career actually panned out and I'm able to create art for a living. I feel really lucky.
See more from Jessica at www.jessicaford.co.uk.