Our podcast guest today is Artist Jason Chambers who recently quit his job to become a full-time artist. Something I am sure many of us dream of. Jason is a US-based artist who specializes in abstract cubism.
Jason always wanted to be an artist, but life took him in a different direction. After selling a few of his paintings online a friend encouraged him to try selling his art as NFTs. NFTs are a way of selling art digitally, with proof of ownership. Although he was initially reluctant as he liked to paint by hand, Jason decided to give it a try. Find out what happened in the podcast
Have you always drawn from a young age?
I have, ever since I can remember. When I was about 10 years old it really stands out to me, when I really got involved with art. My father was an editorial cartoonist for our local newspaper. I remember standing over his shoulder watching him draw these cartoons and being in complete awe. And I think I knew from about 10 years old that I wanted to be an artist. So from then on, I pretty much drew non-stop. And I copied all kinds of drawings from comic strips to cartoons that were on TV.
Do you believe artists are born with talent or can it be learned?
I think that some people may be more inclined to art. There may be a genetic aspect to it. But I think that practice is the key to anything. And I think that anybody that wants to get into art, if they have that drive and that desire, they can develop the skills they need to be a good artist.
Did you go to art school? Or are you self taught?
I am 100%. self-taught, I think that I would have liked to have gone to art school, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I got married very young and had children very young. My entire life has been about my family. You know I do this full time. But I had to wait many years to be able to do this.
Did you always imagine you would go back to art?
Oh, yes. Always it was that daydream of doing this full time and living this glamorous life (tongue-in-cheek), covered in paint and going to art shows. It’s a dream come true to be able to do this now.
How did you teach yourself art?
I copied everything. I mean, really, that’s how I taught myself any kind of technique. Especially in the age of YouTube and all this other great stuff. Copying is a great way to learn.
So you do a lot of Cubism? What drew you in particular to that as your style?
That’s a really good question. And it’s something that I think about a lot. Why do I stick with this particular style? And I think when I first discovered cubism it was a very abstract way of thinking or an abstract way of looking at an object or a person. You’re looking at it from multiple sides, multiple perspectives. I think that’s what drew me. My own work definitely leans towards Cubism. But I think that I’m a little more abstract cubism, more than traditional like early 1900s Picasso and Bosca cubist works.
You said you copied artists, were you copying cubist artists?
Oh, yes, most definitely. Most notably, Picasso. From my high school years on I would copy anything from his Guernica to the most famous of his works Sylvette. That was probably my favorite painting by him. I pretty much copied any of those big artists.
I mainly focused on drawings, I did do a few paintings, but I cared more about the draftsmanship of it. In order to be a good painter you have to be a good draftsman to begin with.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I do keep sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are probably my most prized possessions. I mean they’re my whole life and I constantly refer back to my sketchbooks to gain inspiration for different pieces. My artwork and my sketchbooks are very close to what I create as my finished pieces.
I have two sketchbooks. One that I will show people, those are the pretty ones. And the ones that are marked up and I have notes written and they’re just for my eyes only. No one will ever see those, but I do have ones that I have no problem showing other people.
What kind of materials do you use for your work?
I love pen. I am in love with that particular medium but I do venture off. I create in various mediums. I create in acrylics or oils. I use pastels and charcoal, but I love pen and ink.
I usually use Micron pens or uni pens. I do also have some dip pens and I do use some brushes where I dip into an ink well. I will go to an art store and I will buy crap that I do not need. I will buy it and I will stick it in my closet. I pulled out some Posca markers yesterday for the first time and started using them on a really large watercolor paper and I just I love them.
What’s your process for creating a piece of art?
Oh, it’s very intuitive. It’s very organic, I like to start off with these scribble drawings. I don’t know a better word for it than that. But I start off with this random continuous line all over the entire page or canvas. Then from these random lines, I start seeing shapes that I’ve formed and maybe I’ll see eyes, or I’ll see a nose or I see a mouth or a hand or an arm or something. And I look at it how a sculptor takes a piece of clay and they mold it into something and at the very end of it, you’ve got this beautiful sculpture. That’s how I look at creating my work, like chiseling away at these different lines and shapes until I have some kind of composition.
And will you do that in a sketchbook and then replicate it on a larger piece? Or is that straight in there on the big work?
Everything I used to do was completely organic. Whatever I did in a sketchbook I wouldn’t replicate it. But now, because I am working on much larger pieces. If I have a sketch that I really like, I’ll actually take that and transfer that onto a large piece. The piece that I’m working on currently is completely intuitive. It’s just let me throw some lines down and see what happens with this Posca marker.
I think most artists remember when they sold their very first bit of art. When was that for you? And how did that come about?
It was like a life-changing moment for me. I’ve always created art and I would sell little bits and pieces every now and then. But when I started selling the style that I create now, I want to say it was in 2019….So to backtrack a little bit when I first started creating this artwork, I started creating them in little three by five-inch sketchbooks, little small pocket sketchbooks, doing these little drawings. They were little doodles that I would do. And I was at my job and I was bored. And I would sit there and do these little drawings and my co-workers took note of what I was doing. They were like, these are really cool, I was like, thanks. So then I got into this habit of creating one of these little small drawings and then passing my sketchbook around to my co-workers and they would all ‘Ooh’ and ‘Ahh’ over them.
So I decided to take the same style and translate it onto a bit bigger piece. Within just a few months, I sold this first piece to a collector in Texas. I was showing them on social media by the way. So that’s how they found me on Instagram. Shortly thereafter, I sold another piece to a collector in Paris and then I was like alright, I’m selling stuff to France now, this is great. So from then on, I was kind of consistently selling pieces here and there.
Did you have a really big social media following then?
Not really, I think that I had maybe four or 500 followers. This is really before I figured out how to boost engagement and how to gain more followers on social media. I think now, not to come across as bragging but I have around 11,000 followers after two and a half years of consistent posting and engaging with others. So my sales picked up as my following has grown. We’re probably going to segway into NFT’s, but it was NFT’s that gave me the opportunity to go into doing this full time.
Were you in a creative job before?
I worked in manufacturing, I worked for a factory I worked 12-hour rotating shifts, and I was a shift worker, so definitely not creative at all.
Could tell us a little bit about how you got into NF Ts and what exactly NFTs are?
NFT stands for non-fungible token.
All that really means is it’s a digital contract that lives on the blockchain. It’s a place where you can sell anything from music, or in my case, I sell art. You can pretty much sell anything as an NFT, which is so cool.
So could you tell us a little bit about how you got into NFT’s how you go about it?
I was very resistant to getting into NFTs because I am very much a traditional art snob. I like to sling paint on canvas or on paper. And I was very resistant to getting into them because I didn’t really understand what they were. A friend of mine. he’s actually pretty big in the NFT world Gabe Weis. He had mentioned to me about getting into NFT’s and I was like, yeah, man, that sounds great, but just not really for me. This was around April of last year. I think around May, he started having a lot of success, he was selling nonstop. And I said what the heck, I’ll just go ahead now. I’ll take some of my physical work, I’ll digitize them and I’ll, I’ll put them Opensea and see what happens. And nothing really happened until the end of May when I finally had a sale.
It was roughly a month later and I finally sold an NFT. I think I sold it for like 100 and something dollars. But I was ecstatic. I just sold a digital piece of work, you know, a JPEG for you know, a couple of 100 dollars. And so I was over the moon and then nothing else sold again for about another month and a half. Then within about a month and a half I had a collector that I didn’t know, but they saw something in my work and they bought my entire collection. I think it was 15 pieces that I had in there, but they bought everything in one swoop. That gave me the momentum to go further. I was able to get on Twitter and say thank you so much, you know yada yada yada, for buying my entire collection. When I started dropping more NFT’s they would sell right away and this just continued up until I was featured on Opensea’s homepage. If you guys aren’t familiar with Opensea or being featured on the homepage, that’s like getting a golden ticket. That’s where everything takes off from there, so life-changing.
Can you only sell an NFT once?
Once you create that NFT, that digital piece you can sell it as multiple editions, which is cool. But if you sell it as a single as a one on one you only sell that one time on one platform.
The learning curve seems huge?
And that’s the hardest part, like you said. I’ve got a lot of people that I’ve helped onboard into the space and they were trying to have this big strategy and this big plan. And I’m one of those where I’m just gonna jump in. I’m just going to go ahead, I’m going to create it. If I sit here and think about it too long I’m liable to back out.
I was scared to death when I first tried it. What about you (Tara)?
Yes, I was definitely that way. In fact, I had a hard time with Opensea. You pay that one-time gas fee to list your first item. But of course, I didn’t understand how it worked. And the gas fee (transaction fee to open the account) at the time, I think it was l $150 or something like that. And to me, that was like a lot of money to be able to lay down on the off chance. That’s something that I put out myself. But you know, it’s paid for itself many times over since then. So it’s definitely a worthy investment. But yeah, it was a little worrisome in the beginning.
And there’s all this weird lingo like Minting?
You can look at minting just like what a Treasury Department does when they mint coins. They mint the coin you mint artwork. It’s pretty much interchangeable.
Note: Minting is uploading and putting your artwork up for sale
So along with trying to market your physical paintings and prints. What about your NFT art? Do you market them differently or as one thing?
My marketing primarily consists of social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but yes, pretty much all done the same way.
I’ve been told that Twitter is the place to be if you want to sell NFT’s at the moment. Is that correct?
Oh, yes. Twitter is the NFT hub. That’s where you’re going to find the community. You’ll find a few of them on Instagram, but mostly as traditional artists on Instagram. Twitter seems to be the place to be and you also have Discord and I think they’re even branched out too. I’m too old for this, but there’s Twitch TV, where you can live stream stuff. That’s another place that I see NFT creators branching off to.
Are you actually bundling in some of your original artwork when you sell Nfts?
Yes periodically, I will. In fact, I just sold two NFT’s with original art to a collector that lives on the Isle of Man. So I just decided to lump those in. And I do periodically as an incentive, like, buy this digital work, and you’re also gonna have something to hang on to. When I include a physical piece I will increase the price a little bit for that.
If the buyer decides to sell your NFT do they also have to sell the original art with it?
They don’t, no. And I’ve actually been asked that question quite a few times. And I always say that once the artwork leaves my hand, it’s entirely up to what the collector wants to do with it. If they want to pass the artwork on, that’s great. And if they don’t, that’s it’s entirely up to them. But I do make sure that I put disclaimers in my descriptions that if they’re getting physical artwork, they have so much time to contact me to arrange shipping. Otherwise, that original reverts back to my collection so that I can do whatever I want with it. And also that once it leaves my hands, it’s up to the new collector to either pass it along or whatever. I’m big about disclaimers.
What happens if you do limited edition prints of something? Can you then still sell that as an NFT digital piece?
I have, in fact I have two limited edition prints on my webs, they’ve actually been sold as NFTs. And then I have some open-ended prints that are also NFT’s. So I don’t really see a problem with it, because I look at NFT’s and the physical art as two separate entities that are collected by two very different sets of collectors.
So how much time do you spend, say making art versus doing more of the business side of things?
I spoke on this earlier, I had this little dream, this unrealistic dream of what I thought being an artist was right. I thought you paint or draw for 80 or 90% of the time. And then the other time you’re going to art shows and exhibitions. And the sad reality that I think that most artists experience is you really paint or draw for maybe 20 or 30% of the time and the rest of it is dedicated to websites, marketing, social media, to all the packaging and shipping. You wear all these hats as a full-time artist. I wish that I was able to put in 60 or 70% of the time. Really it’s just 20 or 30% of the time dedicated just to creating and it’s really hard for me to protect that time. Because there’s so much going on. I actually have to turn my phone off when I create because I have that impulse to check what’s going on on Instagram? Or maybe I need to share myself creating this or what’s going on on Twitter or…
I love your newsletter, you write so well
Thank you. I wrote a few blog posts in the past and then I decided to jump on this writing kick and put out several newsletters a month. And I really found another creative outlet that I really enjoyed. And I’ve got a lot of good responses from readers on how much they look forward to reading these and, and how helpful they are and insightful. So it’s something that I’ll continue to do.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got several large scale paintings that I’m working on and some large scale works on paper. I’ve got a small exhibition coming up in April here in my hometown. So I’m trying to get prepared for that, but I am a procrastinator. So what will happen is I’ll probably wait till about the month before and then I’ll power through and create a whole ton of work, but I’m trying to be organized this year to get the bulk of it done so that I’m not panicking about it a month before.
I had my first solo exhibition in 2020. So that was an experience. And I’ve done small little group exhibitions since then. But this is this one and April is going to be a solo exhibition as well. So wow, it’s kind of exciting.
As well as selling your art, you also created an adult coloring book. Can you tell us a bit more about how that came about?
Yeah, absolutely. That was a passion project for me. And it’s something that I spent almost a year working on and thinking about and wanting to put out. I’m a huge proponent of mental health awareness and how art can be used as a therapy to help combat anxiety or depression. It’s not a cure-all but it can definitely help combat it.
One of the reasons that I got back into my artwork and into this particular style is I had a massive panic attack. I’ve got horrible anxiety that presented itself back in 2015. And I would draw in my sketchbooks, these are the sketchbooks that I don’t show anybody. I would sit here and I would do these drawings and stuff, and that’s when I branched off and jumped into a more refined sketchbook that I show people. I was doing these drawings and they helped clear my mind and helped keep my anxiety at bay. And I thought if, these drawings help me maybe I can take these and do something with them to help someone else.
Read Jason’s Blog Post – Coloring Books and Mental Health
That’s when I got the brilliant idea to create an adult coloring book. So I took these line drawings and put them on my iPad and cleaned them up digitally. And I created this coloring book called Calm the Noise. And it’s got 30 cubist illustrations that are super intricate. I’m just so so happy I was able to do this and have the means to do this. You know, before you had to have a publisher and a publishing house that would stand behind you. But now in today’s world, you can self publish, and it’s wonderful.
I did it through Amazon and used their Kindle Direct Publishing service, which is super user friendly. And I’m going to have another coloring book coming out at the end of this year. And I’m also having an art book, a collection of my artwork, a coffee-table book. But it’s not going to be through Amazon, I’m using a different publisher. But I’m going to have a huge 250 something page art book coming out in April.
I’m going to Crowdfund this, I’m probably going to use Kickstarter. Once I get the bulk of it finished and see exactly what it’s going to cost to publish I’ll run a Kickstarter programme and we’ll go from there. But I’m super excited about that as well.
Apart from Picasso what other artists have inspired you along the way?
Picasso is definitely big on the list. Also Matisse, Monet, Dali. Some of the current artists, like George Kondo, there’s an artist named Christopher Mudgett. There’s an outstanding artist named Alexandra Nechita. I’m constantly finding new artists every day that inspire me. I talked about Gabe Weiss, a good friend of mine, definitely inspired by him as well.
So what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being able to do this full time. I mean, I know that sounds like a cop-out. But being able to follow this dream and to do this full time has really been the highlight. And I think also, once I got into the NFT’s being able to interact with the amazing art community has just been wonderful.
How do you balance art, business and time with your family?
My wife is outstanding. She’s completely on board with what I do. And I work nonstop, I work from the time that I get up until just about time for me to go to bed and I do this sometimes seven days a week, I try to take Sundays off, but normally it’s seven days a week. And I’ll work in the evenings. You know, I try to try to finish my work by about eight o’clock. And then we go into the family room and watch TV for an hour to try to spend time together. But even then I’m on my phone answering messages, because I have messaged other artists that have large followings, and they just don’t respond to you. If someone takes the time to send me a DM or comment on a post, then regardless of how long it takes me, I’m going to respond to them. I think that’s just the right thing to do.
Do you have any tips for artists who want to make art their full-time career as you have?
I would say that if you’re going to pursue this full time, you need to go into it with a plan. You’re never fully prepared when you finally take that plunge and you see what doing this full time actually looks like versus what you thought it was going to be.
How did you balance your time when you were still working and had to make art and market it?
It was very difficult. I will say though, I think that I was more productive when I was working a full-time job and creating artwork because I had such a limited amount of time to actually get into the studio and work. I was creating like crazy. And then the days that I wasn’t in the studio, or I was at work on my breaks, I was doing the marketing and a social media aspect of it. But it was very difficult, because I worked 12 hours a day, in between traveling and everything I was out of the house for 16/17 hours.
You said that Twitter is the place if you want to try and promote your NFT’s. Were you on Twitter already?
I wasn’t. I didn’t get on Twitter until I actually got involved in NFTs. I think I joined Twitter in April, last year. And I started going through hashtags like #NFTcollector #NFT #NFT’s. And you can find people that are creating or collecting NFT’s that way to help build up your following. And you definitely want to engage, you definitely don’t want to what they call “shilling”, you don’t want to, you don’t want to try to directly sell to people in their comments or through direct messages. That’s bad form. But you can definitely get in there and interact and comment on their artwork. And I will say also on a side note, if you’re going to be if you’re going to sell NFT’s, you really need to look into not only selling them, but also collecting them. Because if you look at the majority of the NFT collectors that are out there right now, a lot of them are other artists. So you definitely want to give back to the community as much as you take from the community.
So do you wait until you’ve sold so many and then you’ll buy an NFT?
I think I sold three or four. And then I went in and then I bought an NFT and that’s what I would do. What I still do now is I sell a couple and I buy one.
So where can people find out more about you and your art?
Website, blog and online shop jasonchambersart.com
Instagram – @JasonChambersArt
Twitter – @jasonlchambers
Colouring Book – https://jasonchambersart.com/books
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