Illustrator Ann Jasperson talks about her extensive experience in the world of illustration; digitization; fundamental skills and art as a way of life.
Ann Jasperson, with a BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art, is a toy designer and innovator; a food illustrator, and a floral illustrator, having thus donned many-a-hat through the years.
Ann Jasperson: I received a scholarship to a private art school when I was just 11. Since then, I fell in love with Bosch and Beardsley and that’s what started me on my journey as an illustrator. I painted and showcased my work throughout High School and then attended what I jokingly refer to as the Marines of BFA programs (a 5-year course of study) at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Besides lifelong friends, the very classical curriculum taught me a great deal about how to be a working artist (while I worked my way through school too) and even gave me a depth of knowledge when it came to the technique that is valuable to me to this day.
After getting my degree, I moved to New York City and became a freelance artist. Because of health challenges, I went from designing literature for everyone from National Geographic to Chemical Bank to designing toys with a college buddy. I was working with special licenses (Disney, Marvel, Colorforms – you name it) and learned a great deal about manufacturing toys. I had supplemented my print and illustration work with toy design for a while but, since it paid a whole lot better, I changed my business and eventually started inventing toys with a group in New Jersey.
It was a roller coaster of a ride selling products to every major toy company (Kenner, Hasbro, Mattel, and Spinmaster to name a few) but, over time, I started painting again. Then I started to license my art the same way I sold my toy ideas. So, although I still invent odd games or products, I now make art the way I’ve always envisioned since long ago.
Kindly elaborate on your intent and efforts to “paint, digitize and create environments that would never happen in reality.”
Ann Jasperson: I can still be found with a brush in my hand, though I started bringing those paintings into the digital world by first scanning and then using those paintings as elements in collages for puzzles and other licensable pieces of art. The digital world holds so much promise and depth – it is fantastic. So, whether on Hardboard or my Huion tablet, I love being able to use technology to create places of fantasy in and around my paintings.
In this 10-year-long journey, which works, or projects are you most proud of and why? Please take us through one or two of them from start to end.
Ann: I am very proud of the packaging illustrations I made for a pet’s shampoo line from IBASA. This project was a challenge from the beginning as it would just be one illustration to crop for three different packages. So, the illustration needed to have some scenes happening in certain spots for the advertising agency to make the bottle designs.
Please tell us about your involvement and experiences as a ‘recovering toy designer and inventor.
Ann: The world of toy-inventing has changed greatly over the years. It became more about layering a license onto an invention than about the invention itself. It also became much harder to cut a deal that made financial sense as many of the bigger entertainment companies insisted on huge guarantees from manufacturers, thus cutting margins that inventors had traditionally used to generate royalty income. Big movie franchises and social media further eroded the inventing platform, and over time, it became important to be flexible and change. I love the realized 3D idea, but it just became more important to me to go back to the 2D world.
Please tell us about your floral works. What does it distinctly involve technically?
Ann: I use heavy body acrylics and centuries-old painting techniques to create as much color and energy as I can get on the hardboard. Then I do a high-res scan (usually at 600 dpi) and bring the art into Photoshop. There I mix digital flowers with painted flowers to create art.
What got you into illustrating food, and what skills does it practically and otherwise demand?
Ann: One of my oldest friends is an amazing cook and, during the Covid lockdowns, we started working on a cookbook together to stay sane. Strangely, a very long time ago, I did talk with a rep about doing food illustration full-time but let the idea pass since I had other interests. Now I can just do all the work in the digital world, using photos for research and creating multi-layered Photoshop art that has the same zing as my paintings. It is great to not only style the food but to illustrate it as well. I am a foodie cook and I love tasting the recipes but then, illustrating them is the icing on the cake.
What techniques, methods, tools, and qualities must an illustrator master in today’s time?
Ann Jasperson: You’ve gotta be digital. I was taught the old-fashioned way – life drawing, type rendering, classic graphic design – and I still use that today, even though you can’t communicate your work the same way in absence of the digital component. I will admit to hating Illustrator, but I use Photoshop every day and miss it when I am away from it. When it comes down to reality, you need that deep foundation in drawing – it makes getting to your idea so much easier. Even while skills in the digital world are key.
How do you achieve realism and an acute sense of symmetry in your works?
Ann Jasperson: Realism is in the eye of the beholder, and I wish I could explain how I got there but, over time, I learned to know when to stop to just look and know when I was finished. The symmetrical quality of my work is a part preference but, the amazing thing is, nature often creates itself that way. There is nothing like a flower to show you that – and, once again, Photoshop can do wonders with layering color over color incrementally. Baby steps can get you places; allowing the illustration to grow organically is vital to my process.
Which are some of the major projects you’ve worked on? Please highlight your work process through one of them.
Ann Jasperson: The Cookbook I did is characteristic of my process. The recipes and the way the book grew were like growing a garden. Each flower and flavor had its place and dictated how the book would end up looking and functioning. We wanted it to be user-friendly, innovative, and a feast for the eyes. Now we have a growing online community of home cooks who love to entertain at www.toughesttable.com. The actual book and social media have to come together to make it happen.
What contribution or legacy would you like to leave behind in your arena of work?
Ann Jasperson: I would like to be remembered for pointing out the beauty in every day. We are surrounded by the most amazing things on this earth. I hope to make people stop for a moment to notice the colors that surround us.
What would be some advice you’d give to other artists from your journey so far?
Ann Jasperson: Work hard; think less; cherish your gifts and be flexible. I just get up early; get in my art canoe; paddle hard and enjoy the journey every day. Art is not just a living but a life.