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Meet Jess Velarde

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Velarde.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have always known that I wanted to paint. In fact, I cannot remember a time when the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was anything but “Artist”. Growing up on California’s Central Coast, I had the immense privilege of regular access to the stunning natural beauty of the Monterey Bay as well as a vibrant and long-established art scene. So I spent much of my childhood free-time exploring, drawing, and creating.

In adolescence, that pursuit shifted as I began to explore photography – following the footsteps of my dad, who is an excellent amateur film photographer. I immersed myself in learning the craft and quickly began taking clients. Over the few years following high school, this led to a full-time career in portraiture and wedding photography. Despite the success of this work in many ways, that dream of being a painter was still alive and biting at my heels. So when my husband and I relocated to a small town on the East Coast for a job opportunity for him, I took the leap and returned to school to complete my BA in Painting in 2014.

Following graduation and one more cross-country move back to California, I began to paint regularly – selling work and participating in a few group and solo exhibitions at local venues. When we eventually settled in the Bay Area for a season, this momentum halted as I took up professional opportunities in Environmental Branding and Design work. I loved learning this new field but found myself once more pulled towards an alternative creative path that – though perhaps an excellent opportunity – I now recognized as a detour from where I really wanted to go. So when our organization restructured and we moved yet again, I took the leap. I enrolled in the MFA in Painting in the Fall of 2017 at the Academy of Art University and for the first time actually committed to pursuing a career as a Fine Artist. I was terrified.

I had allowed myself to be pulled away from Fine Art because those were the easier options. I wasn’t afraid to fail in those fields, because I never loved the work as much as I loved painting. The beauty of these detours however, is that as I ran away from what I enjoyed most, I collected an eclectic set of skills and experiences that would better equip me for the journey to return to it. My work will be forever informed by a love of light, the figure, and how people experience art and environments. Perhaps more importantly – through these many changes of place and profession – I began to believe that Painting was not only a worthy and valid pursuit but that I could be afraid and do it anyway. That perhaps my journey would in fact be even more beautiful for the bravery it’s required.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’ve had to overcome a lot of transience, change, and disruption in my personal life in order to carve out the time and energy to build an art career – something that I’m sure we can all relate to in 2020. But looking back, rather than overcoming one specific setback or problem, these have been more like rhythms of wrestling that helped me establish a deep sense of consistency and commitment to the process. Regardless of the way a painting turns out, how well sales are going, or what interruptions come up, I’m constantly learning the importance of my perspective and mindset around the work I’m doing.

Please tell us more about your art.
I paint representationally in oils on canvas, linen, or wood panel. As a traditionally trained painter, I’ve worked in a wide array of subjects. But my first loves are figures, foliage, and florals – all of which are clear repeating themes in my work today, where I aim to capture a lifelike sense of light with bold and energetic brushwork.

More akin to poetry than to scientific study, these loose interpretations of nature capture the feeling of connection to something beyond ourselves that we do not entirely understand. To a beauty that we cannot keep. Inherent in this connection is the reality of loss and hope for new life that comes with changing seasons. The rough edges, loose brushwork, and visible paint that show up in my work reflect a parallel truth about our own lived experiences – that life is full of rough edges and things in progress, and there is beauty in that, too. This visual exposure of process leans into the importance of awareness and presence over perfection. Because, rather than either striving or escaping, nature invites us to remain awake to the entangled paradox of suffering and beauty that comes with being human.

It’s this feeling of transcendent communion with beauty that I hope to give to people when they engage with my work.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I paint because it’s what makes me come alive and keeps me awake to the present moment. The more my career facilitates time in this state of flow, the more successful I consider myself. As I continue to grow, I’d love to see this overflow and extend to others. One day success might look like teaching courses and creating content. Eventually, it may mean running an arts collective and a shared studio gathering space, who knows! I hope my definition of success is always evolving.


  • Originals and commissions available from $225-$3,500

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Studio headshots by Stacia Hiramine

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