Q & A with Illustrator Jess Rotter

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Jess Rotter is a wildly talented illustrator with a vintage flare and a keen eye for rock and roll composition. Her colorful and narrative pieces frequent the Washington Post, and she has worked with clients ranging from Natalie Portman to Quest Love.

Alexis: What was your very first job ever?

Jess: My first steady job out of college was doing music PR for a firm called Girlie Action based in NYC. Needing a steady gig and just armed with a painting degree, this was a magical fit because I LOVE talking about my records just as much as art. It's a theme that has always been in my work. That job was completely an extension of school as it taught me so much about culture, music and incredible people. I stuck with PR for over a decade as it was a natural position, doing press for bands like Spritualized, PJ Harvey, Best Coast and Dungen. The excitable rush of getting a great album reviewed or featured in a magazine was so different then. That time (the early 2000's) also felt like a special energy for rock and roll that just hasn't felt the same in quite a while.

What do you collect?

My collect-em-all addiction has definitely been a problem since I was young. Currently I collect vintage rock shirts, records, certain designer pieces. I love collecting Trademark of Quality bootleg LPs with fan made cover art. There's a special sense of passion that soars out of those DIY made recordings, but I mostly dig them for the artwork. Especially the ones drawn by William Stout.

What kinds of art or artist do you enjoy?

I love the illustrative and comic work of Milton Glaser, Amsel, R. Crumb, Oz Magazine, and was blown away by the Hilma at Klimt exhibit at the Guggenheim last year and Kerry James Marshall's exhibit the previous year. Obviously the Muppets are a major life influence always.

Did you always know that you were going to be an illustrator or did something shift for you at some point?

I always wanted to be a painter, but I realized the power of connecting with people via illustration became more enticing. I love the down to earth ethos of creating things that people can keep with them, like album covers, books and tee shirts, rather than creating something that is only to be seen at a select space.

What kinds of clients do you like to illustrate most for?

I love when the client brings something challenging, like the Questlove Mixtape Potluck piece I recently worked on. I had to draw 50 contributors in Questlove's apartment all having a dinner party together as a tableau piece. It was super hard to tackle, but a really rewarding experience! I like doing work that teaches you something new in the process. Always want my work to expand and grow visually and not be the "same show, same channel."

There are so many dynamic aspects to running your own business especially when your art is the product, what is the most challenging aspect in your experience of being a working artist?

I think as a freelancer those quiet weeks are beyond brutal. There is so much self doubt and financial fear, but you have to have a level of knowing that things will bounce back. Sill learning to handle this roller coaster life, but I am a New York Jew; we are paranoid people by nature! The benefits of working for myself far outweigh the stressful moments, so for that I am grateful.

What keeps you motivated when you start to feel the pressure, is there a mantra that you tell yourself or an activity that helps you blow off some steam?

I listen to records, hike, vent to family and friends to blow off steam. LA is a great city for embracing calm with nature at every corner, so I try to utilize that as much as I can. 

To check out more of her drawings at @rotterandfriends & her Matisse Criss-cross slides can be found here.


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