Today’s guest is JJ St. James from the wonderful print store The Love Shop. I’ve featured her work on the blog previously and today we get to meet the woman behind the inspiration. JJ was gracious enough to share her creative process, the story of her career as an artist and most importantly the story of how she turned her personal struggles into love, love, love. I was truly touched and inspired by JJ and I know after meeting her you’ll feel the same.
JJ St. James of the Love Shop
Note from JJ: Firstly I’d like to say a big Hello to all your lovely readers! It’s great to be here and thanks a bunch for having me :)
1) I love to hear about the career paths of artists. How did you end up working as a full-time artist?
I guess it was pretty inevitable that I’d do something creative. My father has been a professional artist for 50 years (he’s responsible for many of the portraits on our Australian money & stamps). My grandmother was insanely creative too, as was my great grandfather. My family tree is just a long line of artists, musicians, fortune tellers and actors. So not wanting to break with tradition, after high school I went to acting school, and while there, landed a job on a T.V show Countdown (Revolution) as a dancer.
So I danced for a while, had a truckload of fun, but then began to feel a bit lost with all the free time I had outside of shooting the show. Answer: get a qualification girl – in something other than shakin’ your booty :) Art seemed like the next logical step, as I liked to draw and was pretty good at it – the only problem was I didn’t have any work to show. So I spent a few months creating my own “folio” of work from scratch, hoping I was doing the right thing (as this was pre internet I couldn’t simply Google schools and examples of their folios. Bummer.) Anyway eventually it was done and I ring the school to make an appointment for an entrance interview – and low and behold they tell me that entries have closed for the year as they’ve picked all their students. Whoah. What?! Basically I was a big nitwit and had missed the submission date. But never say die! Somehow I managed to convince the headmaster to see me (an embarrassing amount of tears will sometimes do that) and by some miracle he liked what he saw. Once they let me in I became part of the furniture, staying 5 years learning everything about designing and art. After graduating they got me back to teach, and I worked the rest of the time at a prestigious Design Firm with a bunch of soulless people (harsh but true). I hated it SO much it was an easy decision to leave *runs screaming from the building* the corporate world behind and return to the land of the living and teach full time! Yippee! (With the occasional design job such as a CD cover or two to keep the design skills sharp).
2) What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but these are some things I’ve learned along the way. Number one is: Just go for it! Research and learn as fast as you can, but act fast. Get the wheels in motion. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission and don’t wait for the so-called perfect moment or place – it rarely comes, so just get going from wherever you are. Do what YOU love, not what you think people might love etc. Ignore the naysayers. Draw inspiration from everywhere. Don’t just do work on the computer for example, try using a photocopier, painting, photography…. and read, read, read. Get quiet to “hear” what the next step should be for you. Also – do huge amounts of work. It’s by doing that you really learn. The rest is only theory. Be willing to make awful art too – meaning, be willing to take risks and make mistakes. There are often seeds of something exciting in those so-called ‘mistakes’. Find out who you are through your work. It’s the you that’s in the work that makes it interesting and unique.
3) How did the Love Shop come about? Why the focus on love?
Good question. Well very simply, because I believe there is really only one truth. And that truth is love. Everything else is a form of fear, and fear is simply our resistance to love. Emotions such as anger, depression, hatred, jealousy etc are the fear based energies – they resist what Is and what always will be – LOVE. On the flip side, if you’re feeling, love, joy, peace, happiness, gratitude etc then you’re living in truth, you’re energy is resonating with Source, or Spirit, or God or whatever you would like to call it. The important thing I’ve learned is that being in either camp is a choice. And this is key, because this means that in any given moment, you can choose fear or you can choose love. You have control. When the truth of this really hit home with me, that I have the power to choose – that I am not at the mercy of events – that I can choose to find the good in everything – or rather the love in everything – this is when I decided I wanted to live in love as much as possible. So I choose to focus on love – even with my business, because the more time I spend choosing love, the happier I feel. And the happier I feel, the more happiness I have to give. And that is a whole lotta fun!
4) In your shop bio you say that hard times in the past years have pushed you to hold on to love and share it with others. Do you mind sharing more of that story?
Sure :) The times were hard; we (my daughter and I) were days from living on the streets, saved only by the wonderful generosity of family and friends that I am forever grateful for. To cut a long, messy story short, due to the sudden break up with my partner of 15 years, I was suddenly left financially destitute, without a job, half a million dollars in debt, with no money for bills or food and the sole parent to a beautiful daughter. I mean they were desperate times, like I was trying to scavenge for a stray $1 that might be under the car seat so I could buy two-minute noodles for dinner. There are only so many times you can hope to find money! We had no heating in winter and no fridge in summer. And forget paying bills. I lost an extreme amount of weight as whatever food we got I would give to my daughter. I could go on and on but you get the picture. It was stressful to the max and very challenging to see any light at the end of the seemingly endless dark tunnel. But even through it all I was grateful. Grateful for that $1, grateful for my daughter’s smile, to still be able to hear music and dance, even when you’re broke you’ve still got dancing! I was grateful for the softness of my bed, for water coming out of the tap, and many, many, many other things. I would lie in bed and force myself to focus on the good, the beautiful and the things that I do have – rather than what I didn’t. I mean don’t get me wrong, the panic about our future wanted to devour me. At any moment I could’ve burst into tears or screamed, but still, there are always, no matter what, things to be grateful for. And I realized if things got worse I still had the choice as to how I would react. And the power to choose how we act and react I believe are an unbelievable gift. It was my focusing on the good, and the love in my life that got me through. Gratitude changed my life and kept me from living on the streets. So, as a way of continuing to be grateful and give back is why I started The Love Shop.
5) What is your creative process like to create a print? How do you choose your quotes? Do you hand write the fonts? Give us a glimpse of how it all works!
The creative process is just so much fun! I come up with an idea – usually about 10 – 30 a week (I have approx 2800 designs on my computer that are waiting to see the light of day!), I choose one and create it pretty quickly, anywhere between an hour to a few days. Then I leave it for a bit, and take a fresh look at it later. Often I don’t like it anymore or see what needs to be changed. I then print them out to tweak the colours. I am quite the perfectionist when it comes to my work. When I first started learning how to design, it would take me forever to design something, and the designs were average, but I guess after doing it for sooooo long it becomes second nature. I think having a passion for it helps a lot too!! I am rather obsessed with typography; it is a constant love affair. I am always looking for the most beautiful fonts and if I can’t find them I design my own, or hand draw them. A beautiful font is like art to me. Oh and the quotes? Either from fave lyrics, or usually I just make up the quote myself from things I believe etc, like the Live Simply print, and Love Is The New Black.
6) Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. Seriously. Books, fashion, TV, nature, art, travel, Paris, family, music…. The list is endless, so I might as well say my inspiration is LIFE! I have never, ever been short of ideas. I could not possibly get out all of the ideas in my head. Sometimes I really exhaust myself :) Ha.
7) Who are your favorite artists (can be in any medium, dance, music, painting, literature etc.)?
I love this question! Well I have very eclectic taste.
Fave music is artists such as The Beatles, Etta James, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Coldplay, Blondie, Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Angus and Julia Stone, Edith Piaf, Phoenix, Air, David Bowie, Mozart, Bach, Broken Social Scene, Fleetwood Mac, Cat Power, Daft Punk, U2, Justice, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Joy Division, Sébastien Tellier, Van Morrison…. and on and on and on!
Books & Authors; Abraham and Jerry and Esther Hicks, Harry Potter, Twilight, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Paullina Simons, and a trillion others. I read mostly spiritual, self-help kinda books and the occasional novel :) Note from MLE: Isn’t it so cool that she namechecked Harry Potter and Twilight? Love the honesty!
Artists I would say Monet for his sublime use of colour and capturing that ethereal landscape…ah so lovely, some of the renaissance painters, and on the flip side Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. I love pop art for its fun and immediacy!
8) What drives you as an artist?
Happiness. Doing what I love makes me happy, and giving as much love as possible via creative expression makes me doubly happy. Those things drive me at full throttle :)
9) For you personally what does personal and professional success look like?
Success to me is feeling happy. If I feel happy I know I’m on track. When I receive letters from clients telling me how my work has uplifted their life, or when I discover that a print of mine is on the wall of a cancer ward, I am deeply touched and honoured, and that makes me feel successful. Very important for me too, is being able to finally take good financial care of myself and my daughter – not having to scrounge on the car floor for a dollar is a miracle to me!
Personal success to me is how much I love others. I mean, even strangers. I pass a grumpy looking stranger on the street I smile at them and if they smile back I actually feel lit up inside for a moment, like my spirit is glowing. Sounds crazy maybe, but try it and see! So that’s success to me – how much love I give and how graciously I receive it.
10) Hok Konishi, a dancer and past participant in The Creatives described different types of art as different languages for expression. Do you enjoy other types of art in addition to what we see in The Love Shop?
Oh my, do I ever! I wish I had more time to be involved in all the different areas of creative expression that I love, such as music, photography, dance, painting and film making. If I could wave a wand I would be doing all of them. I think it’s important to have a wide range of experience in different arts, well at least for me I think it’s been valuable. So currently I’m finishing a book on Happiness set for release in 2011, an ipad app, and a series of affirmation, meditation and manifesting CD’s. Really I am always working: always creating something and dreaming up new projects. My family is constantly trying to get me to chill out and stop working but I can’t seem to and don’t want to. I believe if you have talents, no matter what they are, you have a duty to yourself and the world to share them.
11) Please finish the following sentence. “When I see my work printed for the first time I feel….”
Peaceful anticipation and slightly nervous. I guess I want it to come out flawless. I usually like it when I first see it. I feel that rush of pleasure, but then I instantly think how I could improve it. So I go and make changes. Then I like it better. I keep doing this until I think it can’t be improved any more, that it’s at its peak. My customers deserve nothing less that 100% of my effort, and I feel like I’ve wasted my time unless I give 100%. I’m always pushing to be the best, offer the best product and the best service etc etc. It’s exhausting, but really there is no other option if you’re passionate about what you do!
JJ, Thank you so much participating and sharing your story. I have always loved your prints but after getting to know you a bit I see them in a totally different light.