Jessa Lee Rempel is a freelance illustrator from Vancouver, BC now based in Toronto, ON. She has over ten years experience in comic book illustration, over five years experience in professional freelance, and plenty of post-secondary education to back it up.
1. Do you notice any differences between the art scene in Vancouver vs. the Toronto art scene?
Growing up in Vancouver, I did notice that the focus was mainly on the West Coast contemporary style; that is, lots of abstract work and colour palettes reminiscent of the beach or dock. It certainly sets the tone of one's everyday life on the coast, but I find that it's the main source of inspiration for most people there – or at least, the one that's peddled to us most often. I very much value the variety of art and artistic backgrounds in Toronto.
2. How did you get to where you are right now as an artist?
Lots and lots and lots of hard work and dedication, not only to my art but to myself. Who I am and who I have been as a person. My upbringing was messy, to say the least, and I had to completely unravel my psyche and start from the bottom to even begin to figure most of that out. I have taken a lot of risks in order to improve my life and my connection to my art - including removing myself from several very dangerous situations - but every single risk was worth it. That journey of self-exploration that happened during the worst of it has been very inspirational as an artist... and being an artist has been very healing, as a human being going through all of it.
3. What is your typical day like?
I always aim to start my day early, because I've found the early morning sun to be really invigorating! I'm really lucky because my bedroom window faces the rising sun and a big apple tree that's home to lots of little birds. My most productive days start with a bit of time set aside to appreciate these things. Then I drink entirely too much coffee and draw for ten hours.
4. Who or what inspires you?
Expanding on Question 2 a little bit – I'm mainly inspired by my life and the process of figuring it out. I grew up in an environment where healthy emotional expression and communication weren't encouraged but suppressed. I was pressured to keep up this projection of a happy, Stepford-esque family, which was especially hard while suffering from PTSD. I suppose a part of me is making up for lost time, so as a result, my personal work is very emotional and exploratory (when it isn't just a little bit ridiculous). My husband James is also a constant inspiration, as he brings me so much positivity and has helped me so much to be a better person. He's also great at calling me on my bs and really get me to question my motives in a healthy way! I think it's so important to have that person in one's life, and I'm glad that person is my husband.
5. Do you think it is necessary to have a formal education in order to be an artist?
That's something I've thought about pretty frequently this past year. I've come to the conclusion that it really depends on the artist and their learning style. One artist may be better suited for a classroom scenario while another may need to take things at their own pace in order to fully absorb the information. There are so many resources now that - at least for art - the main bonus of school is networking. That in itself is a great bonus!
Personally, I went to college for two years and I really enjoyed it. I feel like it was necessary for me, because I had to be immersed in an artistic world and make that the main focus while I sorted everything else out. There were certainly times when I felt it wasn't necessary, but in the end my skills strengthened quite a bit and I made so many valuable connections.
So the short answer is, I think it really depends because art is so personal for so many people, and it means a different thing to everybody. Choose whatever works best for you.
6. What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?
While volunteering at an animation event in 2016, I happened to bump into an artist who is prominent in the industry. He took the time to speak to so many artists and motivate them to keep at it, and we had a very long discussion about the ins and outs of the industry. We exchanged contact info so I could email him some photos from the event, and he responded to that email letting me know that he had seen my artwork and he was impressed. I'm not ashamed to admit that I YELLED when I read that email... but more importantly, I feel like meeting him gave me the boost I needed to really take myself seriously as an artist and push myself to do what I always felt the need to do. We have stayed in touch and he always seems to pop up during times when I may need a reminder; but, he was a shining beacon at that point in my life particularly and I'm very grateful to him still.
7. What's been your favourite freelance project so far?
My favourite would have to be two projects that I'm working on right now! I'm doing some fun character designs for two different games, while helping flesh out characteristics and names on both. I should be able to show them off a few months from now!
8. What is your dream art project?
The end goal for me is still animation - specifically storyboarding. I dream of running my own animated series! My ideal show would inspire people to really question their surroundings, to analyze themselves, and to be the best people they can be.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creatives?
Yes! Keep going! If you feel like your style isn't good enough, keep going! If you feel uninspired or you have a creative block, keep going! If you aren't sure where you're going - keep going! Sometimes you draw something, or write or sing, and you can't imagine anybody could enjoy your work... but it's so incredibly important to be able to open up to your audience and the people around you and show them this part of you. It came from somewhere, and it has some meaning to you, and if we can all express ourselves and communicate with one another we'll all be a little bit closer. I think - right now, especially - that's an important goal.
10. What's next for you?
I'm going to get my autobiographical comic up and running again. It has been on hiatus since about December 2016, because I just felt like it wasn't the time. I'm more confident in my art style and storytelling now, and I'm very excited to continue where we left off. I hope that people can learn from my experiences. My autobiography can be found at jessasdiary.tumblr.com.
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Interview by Glodeane Brown
All artwork by the artist. All artwork and photos provided by the artist.