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Interview with Artist Jackson Tjota

Hey Folks! Those of you familiar with Heroes of Ravenford have seen those magnificent covers. Well, today we are going to meet the artist behind them—the one and only, Jackson Tjota!

Arma and Iria

I first met Jackson’s back in 2015. I was perusing Pinterest and came across this picture of a bad-ass female elven warrior (in actual armor) side-by-side with a female spellcaster. It was beautifully done, and led me to check out the artist’s deviant art page. I was thinking about a new cover for Ruins, so I contacted the artist, and began a friendship with one of the nicest, most talented artists on the planet.

Anyway, without further ado, here he is, the incomparable Mr. Tjota himself:

The man himself

Hey Jackson! Thanks for stopping by. So, let’s start with the basics. What first drew you into the artworld? Have you been drawing since a young age, or did you find your “calling” later on?

I have always loved comic books when I was a child. My siblings would get me titles like Tintin, Donald Duck, and Marvel comics especially Spider-Man and Wolverine. But then it stopped as I grew up. Like most kids, I like drawings but never really got into it. Some friends urged me to buy a sketchbook and post things to DeviantART website, and that's when things got serious. I found people with sky-high amount of effort with super-realistic pencil drawings! Because of them, I realized I have been approaching it half-heartedly. I really liked hyper-realism penciling and that's what I started with (I was around 18 years old).

Hyper-realism Penciling

A housemate of mine introduced me to digital drawing tool (back then it was a Wacom Intuos 2. Similar to the tablets today, but bulkier like an LCD screen… I got myself a smaller one. The goal: to be able to draw my own desktop wallpaper! I never actually intended it to go anywhere. I painted to please my niece and to impress ladies. I got my first Daily Deviation award, and that was when people started asking for requests to draw their characters. Then it was as simple as following the current from there.

Wow, that pencil art is phenomenal! Hyper-realism describes it aptly. So, you were on DeviantArt and getting requests for character drawings. When was your first big break? In other words, when did you think, “Wow, I can actually make a living at this?”

I didn't, at first. People asked for free requests, and even Point-commission (a DeviantART currency). Then it started rising—a $50 portrait commission. Slowly it went up to Trading Card game illustrations. At that point I didn't even notice that I was already fending for myself. I like the idea of working because I'm happy with the nature of the work, so I never think of it from a financial point of view.

Early “Madness”

What’s the old adage? “Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life.” Sounds like that really applies to you, my friend. So, now flash forward X number of years and you are an experienced artist. Take us through your process—a typical drawing.

First, I would try to understand what the client wants. Yes, it's such a banal thing to say, but some artists don't really do that. I think respecting the clients' wishes is the most important. Second, I do sketches based on what I understand. If the client is specific, it takes longer to digest but easier to draw. If the client is open to suggestion, I would do multiple choices or even suggest things that are not part of the request. When we get into an agreement, I will start rendering it in more detail. I will still show progresses every once in a while, especially if I'm not sure how to go on. Once I finish and the client is happy, I get paid, then I send the print file.

Step by Step Process

That turned out beautiful! I love watching those progressions. I must admit, I get very excited when I see the first draft you typically send me, and then watch it fill in bit by bit. You’ve had quite a lot of commissions now over the last few years. Tell us, across the breadth of your work, what has been your most challenging to date? Are there any you are particularly proud of?

Every drawing is a constant challenge, I'd say. Even if it is a simple portrait, I can always do a better skin tone or lighting than the one before. But I must say, ever since I started doing book covers and actually got them published by the author, see them in various book websites, or see them physically (or at least, a picture of the printed books), I'm really happy! 😀

Full Book Cover Art

Every time I see that drawing, it takes my breath away. You really outdid yourself there, my friend. Okay, moving on, what inspires you—what keeps you going both in and out of the artworld? Favorite artists? New techniques? Hobbies? Fantasies?

Drawing has this destressing effect on me and I often remind myself that this is one thing I'm quite good at and that people are satisfied with my work. I'm not about to drop it and swap to something I have no knowledge at, of course. But seeing other artists the really good ones, it doesn't extinguish my spirit. Instead, it lifts me to be better!

Favorite artists? Oh, where to begin? I like realism to begin with, so I always admire artists doing this with great detail. Laura Sava, Mario Wibisono, Anna Podedworna, Bryan Sola, Zeronis, Ryan Meinerding, and lots more.

I spend some time exercising 4-5x a week. I think it's a good habit for artists since we sit in front of the computer all day. I have heard artists having problem with their hand muscles due to overwork. A good prevention is to strengthen them, of course. I suggest strength training. Will solve a lot of your physical problems!

That is such a great attitude. I also love how you couldn’t pick just one favorite. Anyway, what’s next for you? Where would you like to find yourself a year from now? Next week? Tomorrow?

At the moment, it looks like the book cover industry is as strong as ever. People always love to read, and so authors always love to write. There's no shortage in books that need a bit of decorating. I'm not retiring anytime soon. But who knows where it will take me. I'm fine with a lot of things as long as it is happy, healthy and honest work! 😀

That’s great to hear, because I’ve got a whole ‘nother series coming… but I digress. Any advice for aspiring artists? The ups, the downs, the bare-naked truth?

Practice makes perfect. Too many people think that capable artists know some sort of magical secret that others don't know, that once you know it, it will turn you into a professional immediately. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. It doesn't matter if you have tons of tutorials or ask for many advice on drawings if you do not practice. It only works if you are disciplined, not talented. And of course, it will take years and many hours of practice each day before anyone can be good enough to sell their services. It will be slow, so just enjoy the ride, and never give up!

Very sound advice, and not just for the artworld. Last, but not least, how and where do you like to be contacted by potential customers, fans, groupies…

Groupies? 😀 I get the most exposure through DeviantART, but of course I can be contacted via Instagram or Facebook, both of which contain artwork as well as some aspects of personal life, occasionally.

Well there you have it folks—the one and only Jackson Tjota, a veritable prince among artists. I hope you enjoyed this month’s blog entry. Thanks for tuning in and hope to see you all back here next month!

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