Painter Jess Ackerman On Speaking + Feeling Through Color

Artist Jess Ackerman understands the power of color theory. Their work is vibrant and emotive, and you can feel the intentionality behind each piece. I already knew I was a fan of Jess’s work before asking them for an interview, but learning more about their process and relationship with color has made me an even bigger fan. Jess thinks and feels in colors. I’m so excited to share more about their work and creativity today on Glitter Guide.

Occupation: Painter

Currently Residing: Portland, OR

IG handle: @sleepyjess

Jess Ackerman

photo by Kate Shannon

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Well, hey there. ;) I’m Jess, an abstract and surrealist painter currently based in Portland, OR. My creative practice is truly a huge aspect of who I am. Since I was a whittle baby, I’ve been the cliché sensitive artist, and even today, that empathic approach really fuels my trajectory toward the projects I focus on. My creative and life values really work hand in hand in that way, I believe in mutual aid, raising funds for causes that are important to me and providing accessibility to art as much as I can. Other stuff? I love a good cheeseburger. I’m a big sober babe. My bffs, my partner and my dogs make every day a little bit brighter. I feel pretty damn thankful for them. Oh, and I can’t stop thrifting and collecting vintage T-shirts. Whoopsie!

We’re in love with your artwork, what does your artistic process typically look like?

Dang, thank you! I feel really stoked to be able to paint as much as I do. As far as creative process, solitude really brings a lot to the table for me. I have spent a lot of time alone when working on my practice and I really think it is such a huge source of power and inspiration. Being able to nearly let myself go and focus on the joys of color theory and how I want to express an emotional landscape on the canvas is a really therapeutic thing for me.

What’s your earliest memory of exploring your creativity? 

I must have been 5 or 6 and I LOVED dress up and make believe. I was OBSESSED. It was the first time I felt that creative jolt. Putting an entire character and life together outside of my own felt like discovering I had a superpower or something. Colors, patterns, textures, whole separate worlds completely morphed by donning clothing with a purpose, it felt like so much more than “just dress up.” I was also painfully shy for most of my life, so at some point it transferred into the privacy of sketchbooks.

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You use color in such a beautiful and meaningful way. What is your process when working with color?

I was in visual arts classes throughout high school, and every year, getting to the weeks dedicated to color theory, I would lose my frickin’ mind! A friend once told me about a condition that some folks have where colors have feelings/emotions for them. And I kind of thought that’s the way it was for everyone? Am I wrong? Or maybe I have that? Color just always feels like a conversation for me. Whether it’s an easy talk or a painful divorce.

Do you have any projects that stick out as particularly meaningful?

I had a series of three separate shows over the course of three years at Never Coffee in Portland. This was unintentional, by the way, but looking back, each show was a huge representation of different milestones in my life. The first show was the first body of work I made after getting sober and was musing on the different stages in cycles of grief. The second was during my divorce — feelings of loss, missing the spring of the romance, accepting the stranger in your bed. And the third was after getting my meds properly figured out and having been in therapy for a year. It was full of abstracted blooming florals, optimism, compassion and joyful longing.

What does creative energy mean to you?

I mean, I think it’s everything? It’s the ‘vibe,’ if you will. But it depends on how you want to use it. That also means sometimes it isn’t good. Too chaotic, misguided, forced, you don’t want to mess with that, just call it a day and come back later. Like anything you need to rest that energy and it should be acted on with purpose. But that’s also just my personal approach! I know a lot of folks that are able to hone in on that chaos so meaningfully.

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Photo by Kate Shannon

Do you have any favorite books, artists, or podcasts that leave you feeling more creative? 

Bluets by Maggie Nelson, for sure. Pablo Neruda. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (although I don’t approve of his negations of Native American culture), Helen Frankenthaler. The life and home of Georgia O’Keeffe. Alice Coltrane.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Wake up, coffee, yoga/meditation if I’m lucky, walk the dogs with my partner and head into the studio for anywhere between 8 to 12 hours

Do you have any rituals or routines that you swear by?

For me, yoga makes everything more bearable, and always coffee.

Any artists on your radar that Glitter Guide’s audience should know about?

Mimi Ceramics, Yétundé Olagbaju, Pace Taylor, Nika Kaiser, Dennis Foster, Lane Walkup are all outstanding.

Favorite quote?

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.” — Harry Dean Stanton

Photo by Kate Shannon

Thank you, Jess! Find more of their work available on jessackerman.com and follow along on Instagram @sleepyjess.

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Author: Samantha Welker

Samantha Welker is the business manager at Glitter Guide. She has an Master's in Corporate Finance & Sustainability from Harvard Business School but prefers working in the creative industry. She also hosts a weekly business podcast for creative women called Pretty Okay Podcast. She loves spending time with her husband and her son, Rocky, in sunny San Diego. Follow along on Instagram