Jen Hewett // Print maker and Designer // San Francisco, CA
Jen Hewett is a printmaker, surface designer, textile artist and teacher. A lifelong Californian, Jen combines her love of loud prints and saturated colors with the textures and light of the California landscapes to create highly-tactile, visually-layered, printed textiles.
She is the author of Print, Pattern Sew: Block-Printing Basics + Simple Sewing Projects, and has recently collaborated with Cotton + Steel on a line of fabric.
1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?
I had a stationery company in the early 2000s, so this is my second time running a creative business, and the internet has changed everything. In 2000, websites were expensive to create, social media didn’t exist, and the incubation period for trends was much longer. I really felt like I was alone back in those days; I didn’t a large creative community.
Social media and Etsy were huge game changers. The early social media sites and blogs often fostered a sense of community. I found other artists and makers on Flickr, read and commented on their blogs, went to their gallery shows, and met up with them at craft fairs. Many of the artist friends I have now are from those early days of social media. And then Etsy came along, making it possible for us to sell our work online without having to create fancy websites with shopping carts.
These days Instagram is the second biggest driver of traffic to my website and shop (my newsletter is my first), and is often the place where conversations take place. I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. One the one hand, it is great for business, and I continue to find many other artists through it. On the other hand, many of our photos have essentially replaced print advertisements in magazines. We work hard to take the perfect photo that conveys exactly the message we want to get across, and write good copy that is engaging but not too wordy. A large company with deep resources is usually behind a print ad; a lot of us, even those of us who have significant followings, are often solo entrepreneurs. Styling and taking great photos is a lot of work, as is constantly monitoring comments and responding to questions. I suppose it’s all still marketing. It just feels as if the pace has changed and the demands have increased. I’m not nostalgic for my early, pre-social media artist days. I’m just trying to find a balance between the demands of having an art practice with the demands of social media in marketing that art.
2. Where do you find inspiration for your work? In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?
I have lived in California most of my life, and the landscapes and flora that surround me play pretty heavily in my work. The weather in San Francisco (where I live) and Los Angeles (where I grew up) is very mild, so I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors. Also, there’s a quality of light and color that is just so different here than any other place I’ve visited (for example, I can often tell if a painter is from Los Angeles, or created specific work in LA, based on her color palette).
I do use the internet a lot for research, though I try to go to the original sources. Pinterest can be a good starting point sometimes, but scrolling through all those images without any context is exhausting! I’ve found so many new-to-me artists online, and often fall into deep rabbit holes going through their bodies of work, or learning about different movements (I was an English major in college, so I’m still getting caught up on my art history). Inspiration is part of an ecosystem, and the internet is only a small part of it. I think it’s important surround myself with things I like, to go offline and read books, go to museums and galleries, pay attention to my surroundings, go for long walks every day.
I am active on social media, and try to post something every weekday. That can be tough because much of my printed work takes a long time to create, and I don’t want to overwhelm people with boring process shots, especially since a lot of printmaking is pretty technical, and an individual shot wouldn’t make sense without a lot of context. On top of that, I’m doing more client work than ever before, and I can’t share those projects until they’re released. I do feel pressure to post daily to keep my followers engaged, but I don’t want to create work just to feed the social media machine. And I’m a fairly private person, so I’m not interested in posting too much detail about my personal life. I haven’t yet found the right balance.
3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?
Anyone who follows me online or reads my newsletter knows that I have opinions! Even though my tastes are constantly evolving, I know what I like and don’t like at any given moment. Through a lot of looking and making, I’ve developed a critical eye, which means looking critically at everything. I think this comes both from being an artist and a woman of color who is often an anomaly in a lot of situations: I am constantly aware of my own reactions to objects, to my surroundings and to other people, and of those other people’s reactions to me. I break down what I see, think and feel in all aspects of my life.
On a more practical level, this internal critical discourse would mean nothing if I didn’t actually make the work – and a lot of it. There is a point when I’m drawing or printing when intrusive thoughts stop, and my hands take over. I call this “thinking with my hands.” I will make something over and over again, becoming so focused on the work that is in front of me, almost unconsciously experimenting with small changes until I have something I like.
4. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?
I’m fortunate that I haven’t had any major knockoffs of my work – yet. I just discovered that there is someone who is selling blatant, but badly-executed, copies of some of my repeat patterns on Shutterstock, so I’ll try to work with Shutterstock and the “artist” first to get those images removed.
It’s just a matter of time, though, and I’ve been mentally preparing myself for it.
5. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?
Being an artist means playing a long game, and understanding that you will be doing this work for a very long time. Overnight success doesn’t exist for most of us, and artists who appear to be sudden successes have likely been working in obscurity for quite a while. Also, this work isn’t financially rewarding right away, so keep your day job as long as you can, and make art when you’re not working your day job. I worked as an HR consultant for five years while I tried to get my art career off the ground. During that time, I was able to develop a voice and a body of work without worrying about whether or not that work would pay the bills. You have to love your chosen career enough to make sacrifices for it, which will sometimes mean being broke, having to work a day job you don’t love in order to pay the bills, and take on the boring administrative work that goes along with being an independent artist.
6. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?
I love to sew my own clothes, so most of the blogs I still read these days are sewing blogs. I turn to Grainline Studio, Colette Patterns and its sister site Seamwork Magazine for sewing inspiration as well as technical tips. I adore Jasika Nicole’s blog. Not only is she an expert sewer, she weaves social commentary into much of her writing about her work.
I still read Design*Sponge regularly because it continues to evolve. Grace has done an amazing job of amplifying diverse voices in the art and design worlds, and has managed to stay relevant as the blog world changes.
I’m also obsessed with Mimi Thorisson’s blog and Instagram (@mimithor). I’m sure that her online image is hyper edited to make everything look just so lovely, but sometimes I need that kind of escapist loveliness (and Mimi’s delicious recipes) in my life.
I interact the most with my friends’ Instagram accounts:
And some artists I’ve recently started following whose work I really like are:
All images provided by the artist