Jenna Russel-Smith is a self-employed artist illustrator and stationary designer. Painting with ink and watercolour, her style is fluid, lively and playful. Alongside caring for two pre-schoolers she runs a freelance business, selling on Etsy and via her website. I spoke with Jenna to find out about her work, how she learnt to paint, and the challenges of running a business.
Tell us a little about what you do?
I am a self-employed illustrator, artist and stationary designer. I have an Etsy shop which has existed for a few years but which I’ve really started to focus on this year after finishing having babies. I create customisable stationary and house portraits, with art prints and greetings cards emerging from the design process.
How did you discover art and design?
I studied Art throughout school, even though I didn’t think it was something I’d ever use. The feeling was very much that, apart from the sacred few, most people would never make a living out of art and it wasn’t realistic to pursue it! Then, as so often happens, I became busy with life only did the odd bit of sketching or drawing when on holiday or bored. I found myself in a very uncreative job and feeling the need to have something else in my life. So, I started a blog, documenting my creative pursuits. Gradually the arty side of things took over, and I found myself spending more time on it, learning and improving.
What materials do you like to use?
I like ink. Drawing with pencil is too risk averse for me as you can always rub it out and start again. But with pen, you’re immediately committed to what you’ve done and I find it gives me a bolder line. I use Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink with either a Noodler’s Ahab or a dip pen. The ink dries waterproof so I can add watercolour on top without it running.
What inspires you to create your work?
It’s developed over time. I went through a stage of drawing people and did a ‘self portrait a day’ project until I filled an entire Moleskin! At the moment I tend to be inspired by nature. Plants, flowers, the odd animals. I also love drawing buildings, so spotting beautiful houses is always inspiring.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
My house portraits, as it has been a labour of love to get to a point where I’ve got a style and process I’m confident in and know I can reproduce quickly and consistently.
Can you describe your creative process?
I start with an ink and watercolour sketch and hone it as much or as little as required. If I am creating a portrait, I tend to do a first sketch to get all the features in the right place and use that as a guide with a light pad to draw the final line work before adding colour. Because my style is fluid and sketchy, some of my final pieces look a lot like the first sketches as I think too much development can loose the ‘life’ of the illustration.
What is your work set up like?
I have a little studio at home with everything squashed in, which is where I work most of the time. If I’m doing ‘admin’ work rather than art, I like to decamp to a coffee shop for a change of scenery.
What has been the most challenging part of working freelance?
Time! I have two pre-schoolers at home with me most of the time, so carving out time for my business can be tricky. Then the realisation that making art isn’t enough, you have to spend so much time on all the other stuff; photography, social media, writing listings, chatting to clients, and everything else.
And what are the best bits?
Time! Being my own boss and being able to be as flexible as my life requires. I love knowing that every success and milestone my little business manages is entirely down to me – it’s my third baby.
Have you ever lost passion for your work? How do you keep going?
Frequently, especially when I am plodding through a big list of admin tasks or when things are not quite working as I imagine them! To be honest, I just keep going. Take a few minutes to make a cup of coffee, or do something else, but come back to it and keep going.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Keep drawing! It really is a skill that improves massively with practice. I think another excellent piece of advice is not to worry too much about creating your ‘style.’ Just keep creating and it will appear on its own.
What are you currently working on and what’s next?
At the moment I am working on a pile of house portraits, which I love. I am listing my new range of notecards that can be personalised to create your own range of custom stationary. In the long term, I’m excited about launching my new Wedding Collection next Autumn.
All images copyright of Jenna Russell-Smith.