Graphic work and illustration are just a couple of talents artist Jess Smart Smiley has adopted. He’s also dabbling in animation, comics, cartooning, and many other forms of drawing, dedicating most all of his time as a full-time freelance artist. I think I’ve also heard him sing a song once. Regardless, he’s spending the majority of his time impressing the absolute hell out of me.
Multi-talented to say the least, Jess Smart Smiley graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in graphics design and has been finding work ever since. In between his comics, cartooning, and constant portrait work, he allowed some time to talk to Mass Appeal about his efforts.
Mass Appeal: Who are you?
Jess Smart Smiley: My name is Jess Smart Smiley and I’m an illustrator and graphic designer.
MA: How did you first know you wanted to start illustrating?
JSS: When I was younger I liked to invent things. I forget how old I was, but I came up with this invention for a pair of glasses with pencils for earpieces. My dad would take his glasses off to take notes, so I figured it would be handy if the sides were made of removable pencils that he could take out and use to write. Anyway, I drew a kind of diagram of the invention to show how it worked.
After that, I started paying attention to other drawings and how they described things visually. How they communicated certain information with color, light and line. From then on I was hooked!
MA: Then you decided to make a career out of it?
JSS: [Laughs] Well, from then on I knew that I wanted to draw for the rest of my life. It’s something that always pays off for me.
I’ve gone through different phases of focusing on different aspects of art–animation, cartooning, comic art, illustration, graphic design, etc. — but drawing has always been central to whatever I’m doing.
MA: Which aspect are you currently most into?
JSS: From 8-10 am it’s illustration. 10-4 it’s graphic design. 4-10 pm it’s cartooning and comic art. That’s kind of a joke, but that’s about how I use each of them on a daily basis right now.
MA: So you work on multiple things every single day?
JSS: Oh, yeah. I have to. I work full-time as a freelance illustrator/graphic designer, and I’m also doing my own projects and developing new things, so I end up starting, finishing, and continuing projects every day. It’s a pretty natural way of working, though. Just when I’m feeling stuck on an illustration, I can turn to a website design and feel refreshed. From there, I can go back to developing a new character, or inking a comic page, or adding color and texture to a book project.
MA: What are some recent projects you’ve just wrapped up?
JSS: I just wrapped up a four-page mini comic with Dave Scheidt for Aw Yeah! Comics, some album artwork for Corey Mon, a giant look-n-find coloring poster, a handful of websites, an illustration for a magazine, a single page comic for an anthology, and two rough drafts for children’s books. Oh, and a bunch of portraits and prints. That’s all in the last month, month-and-a-half.
JSS: Yeah, and that’s on top of everything I’ve been developing and getting out to conferences, festivals, symposiums, and school/bookstore/library visits!
MA: And you still have time for leisure, or do you consider your job almost the same?
JSS: I get a lot of pleasure from my work, but I also get out with the family a lot. I love to bike and go for hikes (the mountains are a 10-minute bike ride away), and I’m always looking for another good book to read. I also like long walks on the beach…
MA: Personally, what are you trying to accomplish right now?
JSS: I’m trying to push my writing and dig a little deeper into the comics medium. Good writing entrances me and it’s time I took a stab at it. Same with comics. It’s like I’m seeing them now for the first time!
MA: Do you like working on comics the best out of everything else, or is that just for the time being?
JSS: Right now, I’m just really receptive to comics, so I’m trying to pay attention to what I read and see. I’m noticing so many strengths in how comics work and I’m just excited to try some of these things out in my own work. All those things I mentioned (animation, cartooning, illustration, etc) are all just different parts of the same thing. With comics, I get to draw a bunch – which I love – and they allow me to design characters, create illustrations, consider movement within panels, and use what I’m learning about design to compose pages.
MA: I saw you did a mural for your city. How did that come about?
JSS: Yeah! Such a fun project. A friend of mine got word that the Provo Police Department was looking for an artist to paint these tunnels along the Provo River Trail. He mentioned me and my work and I met with the committee just a few days later to pitch some ideas.
In the past, the tunnels have been pretty sketchy, so the city wanted to clean it up and make a friendlier, more inviting trail. I came up with all of these scenes we could do–fish from the river, facts about the city, people walking/biking/jogging, neighborhoods. Things like that. They liked the idea and I spent the next three months and 200 hours, priming, painting and sealing the walls and ceilings.
There was a high school art class that came and helped with the base coats in the larger tunnel, and the police department helped clean and prepare the cement walls, as well as paint some of the larger areas. I should mention that I painted my family and friends into the mural. I grew up not too far from the trail, so it was a great experience for me to pay tribute to my home town.
MA: Do you consider that your proudest work?
JSS: I don’t know, but it’s easily one of the highlights! It’s really satisfying to put paint on a wall and know that it’s going to be there a while, encouraging people in a fun way.