“My philosophy about a lot of art is that there aren’t a lot of rules. There's supposed to be, but I think, if it works it works.”
INTRO: For Jason, the medium follows the idea. The execution follows suit to the initial source of inspiration. “I apply whatever sensibilities I have to anything I do: photo, video, design.” His process is playful, energetic and distinctly his own. As one of the creative voices at MailChimp, his sensibility can be seen in everything from their dashboard graphics to their billboards. Outside of his duties at work, he pursues his own photography / design projects, plays in the band Sealions, and collaborates with fellow artists in and outside of Atlanta. He specifically seeks out projects where he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. I struck up a conversation with Jason back in the spring, and we set up an interview and studio visit for June. He showed me around MailChimp, shared sketchbooks, talked philosophy and even created a mini photo project:
DAILY PROCESS + RECENT WORK:
As far as Jason's daily process goes, it begins with coffee. In fact, before our conversations began, he made lattes courtesy of the MailChimp coffee station. Jason consistently documents and shares clips from his adventurous projects. He finds it essential to always be taking a step back and looking at the work he’s producing. It’s a good process of re-evaluating, and it keeps him “jazzed” and pushing forward. "What you do during the week feeds what you want to do on the weekend - and vice versa."
He graduated with a Design degree from Georgia State University in 2007 and hasn’t stopped since. Work and life balance is something he’s been “glancing” at more recently. “Some days are all process. Some days are all creation.” He has to remind himself of balance often. “You have to take breaks, and I don’t take enough of them.”
Almost everyday, Jason takes some sort of photo with whatever device is available. Whether that’s his iPhone, point and shoot or DSLR. It’s not so much about the format for him. it’s about documenting the moment, making the art, creating the visual.
This philosophy comes to life in Jason and Troy Stains' collaborative zine, "Salute." They each dug through their archives and picked images that meant a lot to them. It didn’t matter how they were captured. The guiding thought being, “for some reason this has meaning to me.”
They used Newspaper Club to print the zine, which was then released by Atlanta's one-stop-shop, Dear Bear Wolf. It was a one-off project and something purely for fun. They printed a sticker and decorated a table at the Atlanta Zine Fest. The experience was a blast for them and that was all that mattered.
Sealions released their new EP, "Number One Lover," in early September. When I met with Jason, the album artwork was still in progress. He had a bag of records in tow to spark inspiration. The finished album art, which turned out beautifully, features design by Jason, photography by Troy Stains and type by James Victore. "Music is only one side of it. Art and how you present yourself is another part of it."
Jason enjoys bouncing ideas off of other “compadres” and “art bros.” One of his most recent collaborative experiences was as a participant in Phoot Camp 2014.
Vacations are when he gets some of his best stuff. Seeing fresh things with fresh eyes. “I think the biggest thing I look for while traveling is not trying to capture a postcard view, but trying to capture an interesting view or something that people might not necessarily see.”
Click through the gallery below for some of my favorite pieces of his work:
GETTING STARTED + STAYING MOTIVATED:
"At the beginning, you have to let yourself be wide open." A professor used to tell him, “Take it to corny town.” If the first idea seems corny, just do it and get it out of the way. It could become something better. “Things are going to fail. They just do. Not everything is going to be a winner.”
He tends to multitask a lot, and having a day job creates structure. At one point, he was freelancing and found it hard to keep a momentum going. When you have a full time job, you're not solely relying on yourself to stay motivated. “You have these other things that have to get done. You have people pushing you.” All of his work is interconnected. “I’m always thinking about things. My brain just shuts on in the morning and just goes, and it just crashes at a certain point.”
Burning out on projects, seeing enviable work and experiencing self doubt can all be temporary distractions. “You’re just like, is this any good?” Priorities like laundry and eating can also get in the way. “I’m of this mentality of making everything worthwhile. Life is short. If I have a paycheck, I might as well eat something that’s good for me.”
Being an active contributor to the art world means it's easy to become over-saturated by everything that's out there. Jason reiterates the importance of branching out and seeing different styles of art. "The world regurgitates, but also elaborates.”
Jason constantly tries to push forward what he does everyday. When looking back on old projects, he can recognize the growth and improvement.
He has also found that creative directors, art directors, producers, etc. can sometimes push you in a more interesting direction. His creative director at MailChimp doesn’t try to put him a specific role of photographer or designer. He considers Jason an artist because he tries to make something out of everything.
Sometimes it's about getting back to the core of the idea. Jason often asks, “What does this not have that the original sketch had?” In his case, sketches have even functioned as finished posters. “It didn’t need to be over-thought.”
Being a multi-disciplinary artist, his photography, design, illustration, video and music all feed each other. "The unexpected is what drives me. The kind of not knowing." Experimentation is a common thread throughout Jason's work. "When things don’t always work out, you don’t necessarily have to show anyone. It’s always about learning something.”
Jason likes to keep his definition of art open-ended and sees the line between art and design as a blurred one. “Anything can be art depending on how you look at.” He then rattled off a list of hilarious terms, which I hope are one day made into a line of t-shirts:
"Art is almost like a religion. What do you believe in? What do you think is the truth? I hope everyone has different views. Art isn’t one specific thing.”
Jason grew up 30 minutes east of Atlanta, and has been inside the city limits since 1999. Jason has found a lot of great experiences and people in the south. “It’s very spread out here. You can kind of find whatever you’re looking for.”
If he were to move elsewhere, his eyes are predominately set on the west coast. Los Angeles, specifically. He likes the weather and the attitude. “I love most places that I’ve been, actually.”
"There’s a lot of safe and there’s a lot of risk and life’s worth taking risk. Challenges are what forces you to grow and learn. You can get stuck. You can live the same day over and over again. It’s a matter of how you want to choose to live your life.”
With his photography, Jason keeps exploring, breaking new ground and breaking new boundaries.
His energy and enthusiasm are defining traits. He seems to have an insatiable appetite for exploring new disciplines. For future endeavors, he's considering woodworking, oil painting, surfing, juggling and countless others.
When he has a specific vision, he sometimes thinks it's easier to collaborate with other people who are masters at those things. “You want to try new things, but it’s hard when you know you’re going to be really shitty the first time. You sometimes just have to let that go."
The avid multi-tasking has clear value in his work. Bouncing to different projects provides new perspectives and skill sets. He isn't afraid of uncharted territory.
I asked Jason what life lesson's he's learned by being an artist. He had a lot of great one-liners to share:
“The best idea usually isn’t the first idea and you just have to keep digging and searching.”
“Learn from your surroundings.”
“Play well with others.”
“When you’re a kid, you do a lot of playing, and you just have to keep playing.”
“Don’t be afraid of your failures.”
“Don’t be too worried about what other people think - don’t get wrapped up.”
“There’s makers and there’s haters.”
Check out this mix of jams for a glimpse at what Jason listens to when he's working and adventuring.
He occasionally goes through generational kicks and consumes any and everything from a specific time period. He is currently going through a 70's / 80's movie kick: Taxi Driver, Dirty Dancing, Mad Max, The Breakfast Club, Alien, Valley Girl, The Terminator. “It gets into your bones somehow.”
For even more inspiration, here are some of Jason's all-time favorite websites: