Have you ever wondered what's behind the scenes of your favorite artist's business and in their minds? I am fascinated by learning from other people's experience, so I started the smArt Talk interview series to pick the brains of these smart artists and women.
You may have seen Jamie Alexander's art before--she's a Minted artist with many successful cards that have even been carried at Target. She's also had two fabric lines with Hawthorne Fabrics, and is a Skillshare teacher. She's a creative powerhouse who is going strong while raising twin babies (they're adorable). She has a straightforward, generous attitude with a willingness to provide help and support to those around her.
Without further ado, here's Jamie.
Can you tell us about your background and how you first became interested in design?
I have been an artist since I was old enough to hold a pencil. My parents tell me I was drawing Ninja Turtles at age four, complete with biceps and triceps. I opted to pursue a BFA specializing in Graphic Design at Wayne State University in Detroit in order to have an artistic career but still be able to "earn a living." Thankfully, my degree required all sorts of painting, drawing, sculpting and design classes in addition to the graphic design curriculum.
In graphic design class, I fell madly in love with typography. After university, I worked as a marketing manager and in-house graphic designer for a barter company for three years. In 2009, I moved to France for the adventure and to improve my French. Securing a visa was tricky as an American, so I became an English teacher at a university in Toulouse, while maintaining a freelance graphic design business and watercolor painting as a hobby.
I always mourned the fact that I couldn't pursue my first love, drawing and painting, until I discovered Surface Design. In 2021 I joined Bonnie Christine's Immersion and started creating pattern collections for fabric.
Tell me about your art practice–what got you started, what tools or techniques do you use, what makes your work special?
As a surface pattern designer and stationery artist, my work is very illustrative. It probably goes back to my love of drawing and painting and desire to be an artist in childhood. I'm very influenced by botanical elements, folk art, fairy tales, mythology, human rights and current events. My work is known for incorporating whimsical themes and lots of florals. I love detail and elements that are entwined or fit together like a puzzle.
Originally I started out as a watercolor artist, and the past few years most of my illustrations are done in Procreate on my iPad Pro. Thanks to my graphic design background, I'm quite at home working between Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign (sometimes all of them for a single project).
I prefer Procreate for illustration, Illustrator for stationery design, logo creation, pattern creation and vectorization of artwork, Photoshop for modifying artwork or photos, and for placing my artwork in mockups, and InDesign for multi page documents like journals, books or laying out my art portfolio.
You've done a lot of cards with Minted. What has you drawn to cards in general?
Every year since my parents got married, my dad has hand painted Christmas cards in acrylics to send to family and friends. He always begins in September, and has a sort of assembly line, painting each step 40 times. When I was a kid, he gave me the scraps of his paper to paint my own cards to tuck inside his . I was hooked ever since.
Greeting cards are an emotional way of connecting for both sender and recipient. I love sending and receiving them, especially now that I live abroad. There is nothing like receiving a beautiful card with a heartfelt message inside, which you can keep not only for sentimental reasons, but because it stands alone as a work of art.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist! Oh, and a ballerina, but that didn't work out! haha!
Who Inspires you?
I'm really inspired by so many painters, designers and illustrators. I'm a huge fan of the work of Marc Chagall, William Morris, Lindsay Butterfield, Saul Bass, Paula Scher, Dinara Mirtalipova and Ouizi just to name a few!
Surface design educators like Bonnie Christine, Liz Kohler Brown, Bärbel Dressler and Gia Graham have also been instrumental in my journey.
What has been harder than you anticipated?
I struggle with the slow burn. Over the past few years I have taken a number of surface design courses and worked tirelessly on my portfolio, newsletter, creating designs, pitching and developing my website. When you want something very badly, it can be incredibly frustrating when it takes so long to achieve meaningful success.
Rejection (or the absence of response) from companies is discouraging, and it takes a lot of effort to proceed undeterred. In my head, I imagined that if I could get a fabric collection licensed, I would be able to say that I have arrived! Well, now that I have licensed two collections, I still don't feel that way.
I am not yet earning enough income from my art to leave my day job. I realize how far I have to go. In addition to that, I just gave birth to twins, which has significantly slowed my productivity. When I start to feel down about where I am on my journey, I try to remind myself of my accomplishments over the past few years.
I have had the pleasure of selling multiple greeting cards at Target and Trader Joes, collaborated with Disney, licensed fabric and published a Skillshare class. The me from two years ago would never have believed such things were possible. It's a bit of a rollercoaster.
There are times when my efforts seem fruitless, but there have been some very exciting opportunities as well. I remain dedicated to the slow burn, slowly advancing and keeping the faith that it will work out.
What has been more rewarding than you anticipated?
The human element is by far the most rewarding part. Connecting with sewists and makers all over the world and seeing their amazing creations with my fabric is one of the most beautiful experiences. I love seeing pictures on social media of little girls twirling in beautiful dresses made from my fabric, and all the pillows, quilts and bags.
I have become friends with a number of amazing creatives this way. The same goes for my stationery and cards. It is so exciting to see someone use my design for their holiday cards and post about it on social media. From time to time, people who buy my cards reach out to me to tell me how much a design meant to them, and it just makes my day.
What’s next for you? Where do you want to go next?
My goal is to continue creating patterns and illustrations, and continue diversifying my income streams by developing more relationships with companies. I also hope to publish another Skillshare class this summer.
Finish this sentence: Wouldn’t it be cool if…
We all had a supportive community to lift us up? I have been so fortunate to belong to a few buddy groups with other creative women in surface design and stationery design. We communicate regularly to ask advice, critique artwork, offer support, vent about our difficulties and celebrate victories.
We are scattered throughout the world but are connected via Whatsapp, Voxer and Slack, and meet frequently on Zoom. I have even had the opportunity to meet a few of these remarkable ladies in person, and it's done wonders for my creativity, self confidence and morale.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your work?
When starting out in art licensing, it's important to find the happy medium between staying true to your artistic self and taking direction. At times, pride of authorship can stand in our way. Often, manufacturers have insight into what sells and what doesn't, and may request changes.
My suggestion is to be open to these suggestions. In both fabric and stationery, there are projects that I poured my heart and soul into, and criticism felt personal. My work feels like an extension of myself. However, when following these suggestions, I am often surprised by how they elevate my work in a way I would never have imagined.
However, if there is an element or detail that I feel is extremely important, I will stand up for it and give my reasons why.
I love how she just puts it all out there so honestly and holds nothing back.
Thank you so much, Jamie, for sharing with us! You can find more of Jamie's work here:
Skillshare classes: www.skillshare.com/en/r/user/jamiealexander?gr_tch_ref=on&gr_trp=on