Jessie Jean of the Passerine October 28 2020


Jessie Jean is a painter whose studio is based in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria. You can find her listening to 60s–70s progressive rock, exploring the visual boundaries of the New Contemporary genre, submerged in the inspiration of her natural surroundings. Graduating 2008 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Design at RMIT, Jessie has expanded her skillset studying Applied Design, Illustration, signwriting, watercolour and oil painting.

She is a self-confessed 'ornithophile' (bird-lover), and since her youth has been fascinated by the weird and wonderful eccentricities of the Avian world. This is reflected in her exhibition Secrets of the Passerine, which includes detailed acrylic-gouache portraits, that explore the concepts of symbolism, mythology and folklore surrounding The Raven.

Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by Jessie Jean.

Tell us about your creative journey.

Well, that's a big one to answer! For as long as I can remember, I've always found comfort and solace in drawing. Growing up with artists on both sides of the family, all supporting a strong DIY attitude and love for nature, this undoubtedly shaped my interests to this day.

As a child, birds were always the first thing that came to mind when I felt like drawing. When I think back, there was hardly a time when I wasn't surrounded by them! I grew up in the Dandenong Ranges and spent summers on the surf coast in my great aunt's old guest house. It was filled with scary old (illegal) taxidermied birds housed in glass cases, each with its own uniquely frightening expression. Bird paintings and bush landscapes hung all over the walls. It left a long standing impression on me and my imagination. As a result, I find myself drawn to slightly darker and more unusual subjects.

Throughout my school years I naturally gravitated towards art and graphic design, having an eye for fine details. No matter what I was going through, I found it very healing and cathartic being able to express myself. I filled up huge sketchbooks and put all my energy into any drawing or art project I was given – and still do to this day.

In order to further explore and develop my own personal style, I’ve since obtained a graphic design degree and certificates in a variety of different artistic mediums.

In the last few years, entering group exhibitions has also been a huge learning and rewarding experience. I've been able to refine my painting techniques even further and find direction.

Tell us about the body of work for your show Secrets of the Passerine! What is the allure of ravens for you?

When I'm painting a particular species of bird, I like to research a little about their unique characteristics and traits, as I find it helps add to the individual character in the end result. The more I read about the nature of ravens, the more I found myself being sucked into a kind of vortex of symbolism, mythology, folklore and superstition. I was interested to discover that some people believe that the presence of a raven in your life, as a type of spirit animal or totem, can be interpreted as a powerful sign of great change and of facing challenges, dealing with deep personal conflicts and healing.

This resonated with me, especially with the obstacles I've faced working through a pandemic, which inspired me to create this series of small raven portraits. My aim was to focus more on this positive interpretation surrounding change and personal growth. It ultimately ended with a huge creative release for me. I also used colour as an expression to set the mood of each piece.

This is your debut show — what an exciting milestone. How do you feel about this? Did you have any obstacles leading up to the show?

This is an exciting moment for sure! The main obstacle I've had to face and learn has been how to be as productive as possible during a pandemic! I've always known that creating and making art for me is quite an emotional process and very cathartic. I feel very lucky to have had this body of work to focus on. With the Melbourne lockdown restrictions in place and many local business closed, art supplies were limited. I had to become more resourceful and teach myself how to frame all the pieces for this show. I’m really happy with the end result! I have a much deeper respect for the precision and skill required for the art of framing.

Do you have any rituals or routines to get into the right state of mind to create?

Music is a big one for me and often gets me in that ideal creative flow state to paint. I love listening to heavy, moody, instrumentals so I almost feel like I'm in a trance. Then I'll sit and paint for hours at a time in the evenings. I also find it helps me by being methodical with my approach, breaking a painting up into stages. That way I know where to start again the following day. I repeat these steps for every piece I create.

Take us through the process of creating one of your paintings.

Initially I start off by painting the whole background, blending from dark to lighter colours to achieve subtle moody gradients. Then onto painting the edges. I use acryla gouache which is already quick-drying, but I also like to use a hairdryer to speed things up if I'm in the zone and am impatient to apply the next layer. I then select a reference photo from the many I've taken and collected, always looking for something that has good contrast in light and tone. I then proceed to sketch onto the canvas with chalk, using a white kneadable eraser to remove any dust or to clean up the outline. For these series of ravens I only paint them using black and white, mixing the two and using shades of grey to create more of a contrasting profile.

Where do you derive inspiration?

I find so much inspiration comes from the environment directly around me. Some of my favourite paintings often have been created after simply seeing an interesting looking bird and then being witness to a beautiful pink and purple evening sunset.

Outside my studio window there are also some large, gnarly old trees filled with the noisiest assortment of birds. On any given day I will see a murder of loud mouthed crows, the odd raven or two, kookaburras and hungry crying baby birds waiting to be fed. Even while walking my greyhound Olive, I'm unavoidably confronted with the seasonally possessed swooping Magpies. There is seemingly no escape! So I can't help but have them be naturally the central focus of my work.

What would you like to work on next?

It's only recently that I've started working with wood, making the hand cut raven Messenger silhouettes in this exhibition. I've loved the process. Learning to use different tools that I'd never used before was challenging but ultimately very satisfying. I would also love to push myself to work in a larger scale – maybe a mural down the track.

Thank you for talking to us, Jessie – we are so looking forward to your debut.