Jessica Contreras: Paper Cuts and Cactus Thorns

Jessica Contreras | Self-Portrait with Goddess Crown

Art is often described as the expression of creative skill and imagination to produce works that are appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Art can also be a potent tool in helping to define a people. It can describe a culture through the visual stories it tells. It can weave a tapestry of lives and narratives—some lighter, some darker— but all forming part of the same meaningful whole. Art Motif Magazine’s next featured artist, Jessica Contreras, has the ability to craft the colorful stories of her Hispanic heritage through the creation of festive paper flowers and intricately designed skull and skeleton art. She skillfully blurs the boundaries between life and death depicting and celebrating both the mystery of our earthly existence and what lies beyond. Enjoy our interview with Jessica and discover the people, places, elements and traditions that continuously fuel her creativity.

Souls | Watercolor on cold-pressed paper by Jessica Contreras | February 2018

What is essential to your work as an artist? I think the most essential thing for me is having a space where I can be creative. Big or small, I just need an area that comforts me. I like being surrounded with art by artists I love, soft lighting, good music, and a hot cup of coffee. Appealing to all of my senses helps me relax and allows the creativity to flow.

What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your art? Years ago I took a trip to Italy and visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Getting to see the Masters’ works up close and personal shifted something deep within me. I came back with a sense of inner renewal and I’ve been creating ever since.

Hedy Lamarr (study) by Jessica Contreras | January 2018

How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? I grew up in a mostly Hispanic household where everything (the music,  food, art, décor) was bold and bright. I naturally gravitate toward vibrant colors and textures. I feel really lucky to have been brought up in this type of environment and my appreciation and need to explore my heritage has just helped boost my love of creating.

How has your artistic practice changed over time? The older I get, the more I want to branch out and experiment with different mediums and methods. I started out strictly painting and drawing, but over time it has evolved into paper crafting, stenciling, graphic design, wood burning, and photography. I’m learning how to solder and weld, and I eventually want to move into stained glass and jewelry making. I’m very curious and I want to learn how to do everything. I strive to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Jessica experiments with stenciling, paper crafting and wood burning.

Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? Celebrations like Día de los Muertos have a huge influence on me. I connect with the meaning and the rituals and I find it absolutely beautiful and deeply spiritual. I love the imagery of the Lotería game, the complicated color palettes of serapes (also zarapes), the designs of Talavera, and I feel like these themes have been a constant in my work.

Do you have a preferred genre, style or medium? I love painting, whether it’s with watercolor, acrylic, oil, or spray paint. I love being able to manipulate the colors and play with the hues. I also love paper crafting, it allows me to produce images using detailed cutting techniques, giving me the opportunity to make something beautiful and unique out of a material as simple as card stock.

Bride and Groom | 5″x8″ on wooden plaque by Jessica Contreras | March 2018

What inspires you? I’m inspired by religious iconography, Mexican and Southwestern themes. I love the imagery and the unique flora and fauna of the desert.

What is your creative process? What does a typical day of creative expression look like for you? There are times when I will have a concept bubbling and brewing in my mind for days and I’ll make small sketches or write down keywords that relate to it. I usually keep a sketch pad near for those reasons and build the idea in layers in my head. Once I begin producing, I find these interesting little details and additions that seem to pop out of nowhere. There are times when it takes weeks to get a work out and onto paper because I’m still constructing it in my mind. I attempt to put it on canvas or whatever material I’m working with only when I’m confident that I can make it happen.

Goddess of Marigolds | Layered stencil, spray paint, 12″x24″ on canvas by Jessica Contreras | November 2011

Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your works? I remember people thinking the theme of my art was a little morbid and strange, but now I think there has been a cultural shift where people are discovering the beauty of celebrations like Día de los Muertos. They are much more open to it and therefore more supportive. They can now see it as an art form.

What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Don’t be intimidated by other’s work, instead let it inspire you. Find the art form and medium that you love and let it take over you and flow out. Your own style will be discovered in those moments.

Swallow the Sun | Hand-cut paper, 8″x12″ on cardstock by Jessica Contreras | November 2017

Who are your favorite writers and/or poets? Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Charles Bukowski and Edgar Allan Poe.

Who are your favorite painters? Shepard Fairey, Caravaggio, Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi, Sylvia Ji and José Guadalupe Posada.

Who are your favorite musicians/composers? David Bowie.

A watercolor in progress by Jessica Contreras. | October 2017

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? David Bowie, Queen Elizabeth I, Frida Kahlo, Nikola Tesla.

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, in the Alien film series and Atticus Finch from the novel To Kill A Mockingbird.

What is your favorite motto? “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” – Albert Einstein

What is your idea of happiness? Happiness for me is being able to create something that I am proud of and something that others can enjoy. I would love to be a full-time artist and put all of my energy into creating and learning.

Various watercolors on cold-pressed paper by Jessica Contreras | 2017-2018

To learn more about Jessica and purchase or see more of her work, click on the following links: