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Jezahna Jones: ‘My imagination sometimes feels clearer than memories’

Beautifully crafted imaginary worlds are what makes Jezahna Jones’ work a pleasure to absorb yourself in. We discovered her as part of our ‘100 Days. 100 Commissions.’ project and spoke to her about how she came to be a master of digital art.
Tell us about yourself and how you got started as an illustrator and concept artist?

I live and work in regional Australia, sharing my space with my partner and a fairly grumpy yet lovable cat. Like many artists I have been drawing since I was young, being primarily introduced to illustration as a career path through artists I admired online. Most of my work revolves around humans and fantasy themes, which are two subjects I don’t think I could ever get bored of illustrating. When I had the opportunity and stability through part-time work to begin dedicating more time to illustration, there was really no question that I was going to do just that.

I started to draw characters when I started writing my own stories. I remember having such strong visions of the characters and scenes, and that describing a character, a weapon, or environment could only go so far before overcomplicating my storytelling. My imagination sometimes feels clearer than memories and my lack of ability to capture that clarity in words was what lead me to draw my characters; albeit initially nothing like my imagination at first given that I had never seriously practised before then. From that point on, I almost enjoyed the process of drawing the character more than writing their story. Eventually, I gained more interest in the visualisation aspect as I studied more anatomy and painting. The stories themselves are still in my imagination for the day when I am next ready to take on a big personal project.

What equipment do you use in your creative workflow?

Most of my ideas will get sketched out on any art pad available with a mechanical pencil, colour pencils, and/or Pitt artist pens. I have had multiple sets of artists graphite pencils, but they usually end up collecting dust because I prefer sharp pencil tips.

“I actually learned to paint digitally before I learned traditional techniques.”

Given that I actually learned to paint digitally before I learned traditional techniques, I spent a long time trying to find a medium that felt similar to my digital workflow. I’ve found that with some practice, watercolour and gouache feels most similar to the experience that I have when I digitally paint. I believe It’s something about mixing the low opacity of watercolours with the high opacity of gouache, giving me a greater feeling of control and the ability to rework areas whilst being easier to clean up than oil painting. Therefore if I intend to work traditionally my preferred materials are usually watercolours and gouache. I still enjoy experimenting a lot and will often switch up mediums.

Speaking from a digital standpoint, my Huion GT-220 is my main work tablet which I have been using for a couple of years now. It was my first non-Wacom brand graphics tablet and I am still very happy with it! I also purchased an iPad last year for digital sketching on the go and for cold mornings when I want to start drawing but do not want to leave the heater. In terms of software, I often go between the Affinity suite, Clip Studio Paint, and Procreate depending on what the project needs are.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your illustrations usually develop?

I usually start with traditionally sketching rough thumbnails to generate ideas. I try to have an idea in my head early as to what style I will be using for the piece, generally picking my painterly styles for my more polished or illustrative work.

Unless I’m working from a specific brief, I find that the most important thing to do when I’m generating ideas is to draw whatever comes to mind regardless of how silly it seems or whether it makes sense. This is particularly useful when I’m stumped on what to draw as it gives me something get the ball rolling; my ability to go on a creative tangent will most likely kick in after I’ve done a couple.

Once a thumbnail is selected, I may also do multiple iterations of the same thumbnail concept to fine-tune the idea or angle. I will then create the final sketch, which will be either traditional or digital depending on the purpose of the artwork, client requirements, or what direction the wind is blowing (meaning my personal preference on that day).

From there I will either go into line-work or go straight to painting. When I am choosing colours, I will go by what I intuitively feel will suit the piece or character, or I will choose colours based on colour psychology which I learned through my degree in design. If I am working traditionally, I will put a lot more thought into colour given that choosing the wrong colours will permanently affect the work and are not easily modified. So in this case, if I am unsure of what scheme I want to use, I will usually create photocopies of the work to try out different colour variations in coloured pencils, or play with a few colours digitally using a multiply layer.

After the colours are laid in, I will then work on defining the areas of light and shadow in the piece. Skin is my favourite thing to light and usually the first thing I will start shading and rendering. After I have all the lighting mapped out it is then usually just a case of rendering my little heart out to an end result. Toward the end of a painting, I will make colour adjustments and paint in any of the lighting effects that need to be added to complete the painting, such as the glow on orbs or fire, or a vignette to frame the painting subject matter.

Which other Illustrators/designers do you admire the most?

There are so many artists that inspire me and my work! In recent years I’ve become more fascinated by artists that have interesting semi-realistic styles, but of course I still really enjoy realistic work. Some of the artists I currently admire include Xavier Durin (Naïade) and Ryan Laukat due to their beautiful work in boardgames. I also realised I was a fan of Rebecca Guay’s work when I discovered many of the Magic the Gathering cards I had collected for their art were illustrated by her. In terms of all-time inspirations, I have always admired the work of Lois Van Baarle, owning one of her books, some of her prints, and her art even being on my favourite mug.

Your art has a lot of amazing fantasy influences, have fantasy films and books been a big influence on you, and if not, what attracted you to that style?

I would say fantasy films, books, and games have definitely been a huge influence on my work. I have always been incredibly intrigued by historically inspired visuals and magical stories filled to the brim with daring heroes and morally questionable antagonists. I grew up with Avatar the Last Airbender and Ghibli films which both have such a fun and whimsical approach to visuals and fantasy storytelling. I’ve also always played a lot of different fantasy MMOs/RPGs and loved to read and write stories based in fantasy worlds.

As an adult, I am still a big fan of animated family-friendly films and TV series, and these are probably the largest influencers of my recent work. It’s incredibly hard to name a few of my favourites without being inclined to list everything, but I would say recently I have definitely been drawing inspiration from series like The Dragon Prince, Kipo and the Wonderbeasts, and Dreamworks Shera as well as games like Skyrim, Nino Kuni and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I feel like in most of these game and film series there is a great sense of adventure and wonder which is something I strive to include more within my own work.

What does a typical creative day in the life of Jezahna Jones look like?

I will usually start my day with a tea and a proper stretch routine. Having struggled with tendinosis (a chronic tendon injury) in my drawing arm a few years ago, I really can’t stress how important it is to stretch and take breaks! Not looking after myself in this way set me up for years of recovery, but a lesson was definitely learned and now I am very strict on healthy art practices.

In the mornings after my stretch, I then complete a quick art study before I move on to working on a project for myself or a client. If I am in the ideas stage I will most likely be sketching in my own space or sometimes meet with the other artists in my family for a sketch session. Although I am an introvert, meeting with my family to draw is often really inspiring and fun as we all have different styles and ways of approaching our art.

If I am more in the rendering stage of the painting I’ve been recently using this as an opportunity to try out streaming my art on Twitch. I find this the best time to be streaming as I can more easily speak with an audience or online friends without losing concentration (which I learned tends to happen during the idea generation phase).

I will then usually keep drawing or painting until around dinner time, while of course taking breaks for stretching and lunch. Sometimes I may be so inspired I will only briefly stop to go for a jog and have dinner, and then get straight back to drawing until the late hours of the night. Other times I might decide to stop in the afternoon and use the rest of the day to practice music, spend time with friends and family, or even take a mental break with a game or Netflix.

What is the creative scene like in the area where you live and how has it inspired or influenced your work?

Although I still feel rather new to the area, for a small regional city I believe we have a fairly well-developed arts community. I volunteer at one of the local galleries and so far I have met some lovely creatives through doing so. Although at the moment the inspiration for my work would more likely be drawn from online sources, visiting local artists in their studios and speaking with them personally was one of the most motivational experiences of my life. Artists within my community certainly helped me to realise that although pursuing art can be a difficult path, it is not always synonymous with poverty and can be an immensely fulfilling career.

How did you discover Affinity and what appealed to you most about the apps?

About a year ago I discovered the Affinity suite through Twitter when an artist had posted an infographic on alternatives to Adobe software. Having used Photoshop and Illustrator for years I was initially hesitant to buy anything on that list given that I was always told by other artists to use Adobe for any professional work, being that is the industry standard. However, I personally really love to experiment with software and I don’t believe as artists we should have our tools restricted to what is most popular, particularly since these days the quality of alternatives is becoming indistinguishable from the bigger name in art software which is getting more and more expensive and inaccessible to professionals with lower incomes. A few months later once I bought the Affinity suite I not only discovered it performed perfectly for my personal and professional needs, but that the features unique to the suite such as the ability to use personas supported my workflow.

“I don’t believe as artists we should have our tools restricted to what is most popular.”

I love the fact that without leaving Affinity Designer, I can work with vector line art easily and then lay down paint and blend in the program through the Pixel Persona! That feature alone allows for a lot of convenience and flexibility to my work. I also found the user interface quite intuitive to navigate and the brushes that come with the software are just perfect, the rougher brushes and watercolours being my favourite at the moment.

I use Affinity Designer for all of my vector artwork and graphic design, Publisher for my Zine layouts, edit traditional artwork and photography in Affinity Photo, and go between programs for my digital painting.

What has been your proudest moment as an illustrator/concept artist?

One of my proudest moments was my first stall presence at my local arts fair. When I had people approach me and tell me they liked my work I was incredibly humbled and honestly a little surprised. As most of my previous networking had been done online I was accustomed to networking in a fairly competitive and media-rich environment, as a result, it was sometimes hard to see how or if my work was impacting others. This event gave me a real insight into what people thought of my work and let me know I was going the right direction!

What advice do you have for upcoming illustrators and concept artists?

As someone who is still fairly fresh to the illustration industry, what personally helped me was to change my mindset from ‘maybe one day I will be an artist’ to ‘I am an artist’. I understand for new artists it feels a little foreign at first; but for me, changing my point of view this way has stopped me from passively waiting for my career to happen; and now I have no reservations with putting 100% of my mind, body, and soul into my goals.

“what personally helped me was to change my mindset from ‘maybe one day I will be an artist’ to ‘I am an artist.’”

I personally also stand by keeping organised with a schedule or calendar to run by whether you have work or not; I do have artist friends that think planning like this is a little overboard but I personally find that it keeps me on task.

What are your hopes and ambitions for your future creative career?

Although I enjoy working on a large variety of subjects, I can definitely see myself getting more involved in illustration for tabletop gaming as I feel like my work is aesthetically quite suited to the platform. I collect hobby boardgames myself and I really enjoy them as a way of spending time with people, and my hope is to one day have my artwork featured on boardgames that my friends and I can play together!

I have also been working to start up a collaborative YouTube channel with my sister who is also an artist. One of my personal creative ambitions is to have more content on that channel with our art-themed fun and resources, as we both really enjoy working together and making videos about art.

You can see more of Jezahna’s work on her website, Instagram, Twitter and Artstation.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

Images copyright of Jezahna Jones and used with permission.