We had the good fortune of connecting with Jess Engle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jess, we’d love to start by asking you about lessons learned. Is there a lesson you can share with us?
By far the most transformative lesson I’ve learned is how to be an artist. Not just in work, but in every moment. To stop placing value on my output, and orient myself to being fully present in the process of creating. This has meant stopping a lot of the things I thought I had to do to run a business, things like regularly updating social media, that took more of my energy than they gave in return. I’ve learned how to slow way down from the fast-paced life I’d adopted in NYC, to create enough space in my days to be able to see the beauty around me. Tuning in to a different rhythm of life. It’s from this space, this rhythm, that creation flows naturally. I can’t always get there, but usually when things start feeling too forced I know that rather than keep pushing, it’s better for me to step back.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My mission as an artist is simple, to make beautiful work that makes people feel extraordinary. I create modern art in big, bold, simple shapes and neutral colors. Each piece is inspired by all of the things I found beautiful in life and comes from allowing the simplicity of things to reveal itself. I find that stripping something down to its core essence creates this gap between my intention and the viewers’ interpretation and in that gap, there is beauty and connection. To balance that more artistic side of my business, I also create commercial art for a wide variety of uses. From picture books to textiles to home goods to brands, I get to work with so many wonderful people who want to include art and illustration to help tell their story and bring people moments of joy. I never know exactly where I am professionally, I leapt from my corporate gig over four years ago with a meticulous plan and some of that has happened and some of it has not. I have learned to stop setting precise expectations and business goals and instead to focus on creating work that I love and setting myself up to be ready for opportunities when they come. There are many things about running my own business and being an artist that are challenging, but the trade-off in having freedom to create my own art and release it into the world is unparalleled.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, at the moment I’m spending nearly all of my time at home, either in the studio, the kitchen or the garden. But if that were not the case I would probably do the normal Austin things. Go to brunch at Cafe No Se on South Congress, buy some fabulous vintage jewelry and jeans at Feathers Boutique. Take a stroll down the drag, catch the “Hi How Are You” mural by Daniel Johnston and have a cheap beer at Hole in the Wall. Go climbing at Austin Bouldering Project and finish the night with some blues and pool at Skylark Lounge. That’s the Austin that I know and love.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There were two unexpected challenges I encountered in the transition from corporate person to artist. The first was pretty simple, I missed working with people! I missed all of the stuff that happened between work, drive-by chats in the hallways, drinks after work, the camaraderie that comes with shared interests. The second was a deeper dislodging of my identity, which took me by surprise. I ended up finding support, community, inspiration and myself at the Austin Zen Center. I’d been practicing Zen Buddism on my own for a few years. But, showing up at the Zen Center, being welcomed with compassion and acceptance, and finding teachers to open me up to new perspectives has enriched my art practice and my life profoundly. I often can be found sketching botanicals in their zen garden and listening to the water trickling onto pebbles under the ancient oak tree.