We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Fontenot and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Deep down I always wanted to be an artist, but college and practicality took me to graphic design. I was working in agencies and doing corporate web design for a few years. Once I started posting my artwork to Instagram, I began to get illustration jobs and commission requests. There was a period where I was doing both, my full-time web job and freelance art. It was hard work, but I was driven by the desire to work for myself, and be able to make art for people and businesses. I wanted autonomy over my time, which for me really meant autonomy over my brain if that makes sense haha. I wanted art to take up all the space in my brain, so that I could be really invested in my work and hand skills.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I mostly draw buildings, but I also like to draw trucks and words. Back in 2015 I began a project of drawing a building every day for 100 days. I wanted to get better at drawing, and buildings are something I’ve always loved (the way they look and how unique they each are). Towards the end of the 100 days, the drawings were getting so much better, and getting some local attention, that I extended it to a full year, 365 buildings. The project brought me to my current style and my career. The dedication of doing it every day was very challenging, but commitment is powerful. I showed up every day and the drawings naturally got better. The project gave me social credit as an artist, so businesses started hiring me to draw for them, and individuals too. I still kept my day-job for a few more years, and did freelance art on the side. Those two years I managed both I worked harder than ever (and I hope to never work that hard again). When I draw buildings, I document place, which by proxy documents memories. I’m very interested in how we all hold memories that are anchored to a place, like the building where you worked your first job or the place where you met your love. Through the work, I get to meet and talk with people who share their memories with me. I get to see the way they light up when talking and imagining the place as they remember it in their mind. It’s something that connects us all.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’ve been living in Austin for 9 years, so this will be an itinerary for Austin :). I’d take my friend to the greenbelt for a swim in the water. There’s some great shallow areas where you can lay in the water and sun with some beers surrounded by trees, pretty much my heaven. With hungry stomachs and sunburned skin, I’d take them to Polvo’s for tex mex and margaritas. Another favorite spot is The Elephant Room, a basement bar downtown for live jazz music. Another great spot I adore is Buenos Aires Cafe for a lovely dinner and some wine. They’ve got a speakeasy underneath the restaurant that makes you feel you’re not even in Austin anymore, dim lights, pink couches and cocktails.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to a book that was a game changer: Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon. She’s a rockstar in the illustration community, and this book of hers takes the mystery out of being an artist. She lays out tactically how you build a career as an artist, with very real world examples and advice on the business side of being an artist. There’s no fluff in that book. It’s about the hard work, but the very possible work to being able to do this full-time. I say “possible”, because the only version of artist was the myth of making no money and struggling forever. Lisa’s book shows that an artist is a real job, a real career—and it’s attainable.