Jasmine Becket-Griffith: An Interview with a Strangeling

Jasmine in her studio

Not many artists can claim they turned pro at just five years old, but Jasmine Becket-Griffith is not just any artist. Her large-eyed, often fantasy themed paintings are instantly recognizable – regular readers will no doubt recognize her work from the back covers of Gothic Beauty. Her artwork has been turned into coloring books, posters, figures, pins and amazing Perpetual Calendars. She has collaborated with big names including Disney and recently begun art safaris in Africa!

While it is true that she began selling her artwork at just five years old, Jasmine started as a full time freelance artist in 1996. Winning a National Spelling Bee prize in her early teens gave her the money she needed to buy professional art supplies and soon she realized she was making enough money from her art to live on. After twenty years Jasmine’s imagination is still producing gorgeous and inspiring new characters. “The world is a big place and my imagination has always been diagnosed as overactive. I am a museum addict and a nature lover – I spend almost 70% of my life on the road traveling, so I am always finding new inspiration. I keep a running document (it used to be a physical notebook but in the past several years I have morphed it into a computer text file) in which I continually write down my ideas and thumbnail sketches for future works. At the rate I’m going – I add sometimes half a dozen new pieces to the list each day, and it already numbers in the thousands – I don’t know if I’ll even finish it in my lifetime and I’m still only in my 30s! Whenever it comes to the time I’m deciding what to paint next, I have a pre-made list of specific ideas and I just pick one that strikes my mood that day.” Fans of her brand Strangeling needn’t worry about running out of new characters it seems!

bosch princess by jasmine becket griffith
“Bosch Princess” by Jasmine Becket-Griffith

Jasmine always believed that people would love her faeries and dragonlings with their magical eyes and familiars close at hand. “I think if somebody genuinely throws their whole self into a project then success will eventually be the result. I believe in Magical Thinking (which, unfortunately, is also classified as a psychiatric disorder but hey, it works for me!)” The name Strangeling is also very personal to Jasmine, something that would make her teen-self swell with pride too. “‘Strangeling’ used to just be the nickname my husband gave me in high school, back when we were dating (a combination of the words “Strange” and “Changeling”) that I kind of randomly selected as my website URL back in 1997. It was the name I used for my D&D characters, or for when I needed a moniker for a computer login! It is kind of hilarious to me to see it trademarked on labels and boxes and stuff It feels like I’m doing my nerdy-teenage-self proud!”

Her younger self would certainly be proud to discover that her future self would be so popular as an artist that she was booked for commissions for the next three years! “I used to say YES to every project that came my way, as there is a strain of uncertainty in any self employed creative field where you think “Hey, what if next month nobody hires me but I still gotta pay all my employees and cover my taxes and health insurance and all that good stuff?”. That mentality can hold a person hostage and make you forget why you chose to run your own business in the first place, so a few years back I decided to limit myself to just a few commissions per month as guaranteed projects (but only ones I really think I will enjoy painting, or big exciting corporate commissions from Disney, etc.) and then also set aside personal works for the bulk of my time. It’s a delicate balance.”

releasing fireflies by jasmine becket griffith
“Releasing Fireflies” by Jasmine Becket-Griffith

So how does a new painting come to life? As you might imagine it starts with an idea and then a plan, which as it turns out can be the part that takes the longest time! “I have planned paintings up to five to ten years in advance before I have even busted out my paint brushes. When I have a piece adequately planned out in my head (I have a lucky brain chemistry where I have a personal eidetic visual memory, so once it is in there, it is IN there) I start on the sketch. Typically I don’t sketch out first with paper and pencil, instead I begin with a paintbrush right on a gessoed panel – usually using a lot of water so that if I don’t want something or change my mind at the last minute I can wipe it off with a rag – and sketch the layout with a Script Liner Size Zero brush (roughly the diameter of a mechanical pencil). Once I like the layout and it’s a usable sketch to paint on top of, I start in on the underpainting. I use the Old Masters technique of doing a reasonably shaded monochromatic piece, like a verdaccio or grisaille, and once it is to my satisfaction I begin adding color. I water my acrylics so they are very thin, with many, many layers (I use a hairdryer to make them dry faster!), and I use cheap-o golden taklon brushes since I’m a veggie girl and avoid animal hair fibers.”

One of the largest non-painting projects Jasmine has been involved with is the aforementioned Perpetual Calendar, which consists of around a dozen statues, countless tiles and a display shelf – the idea being you can set the calendar up yourself and reuse it (theoretically for up to 500 years before it became inaccurate!) “It’s a great idea because it is both functional and a fun way to collect a bunch of little hand painted figurines of my fairy characters. Artistically it was a very fun project to do because some of my darker”imagery (like the Zombies, etc.) will be acceptable to everybody around Halloween time but on their own might have creeped a lot of people out. You can order it from the BradfordExchange.com or eventually from BurningDesiresGifts.com (just search JASMINE).”

The Nightingale and the Rose by Jasmine Becket-Griffith
“The Nightingale and the Rose” by Jasmine Becket-Griffith

As a popular artist whose work is internationally recognized, there comes a point where Jasmine’s work was being reproduced by others illegally.It began to happen so often that Strangeling had to get serious about it “A few years back I had to give in and hire a full time legal dude, Leonard (a retired lawyer whose daughter loves my artwork and snuck up on me on a Disney cruise once!), he is the guy who handles that as a nearly full-time job. I’ve been to conventions where bootlegged versions of my artwork were being sold left and right, sometimes with the infringer offering to ‘autograph’ the artwork right there! We’ve had to stop boatloads of pirated Chinese merchandise in shipping containers at international ports and statues coming in past US Customs. They were later incinerated. They were cute but weren’t licensed and had not passed the lead content restrictions making them possibly dangerous. And then there are lesser infringements involving mashups where people copy my characters into slightly different (but still illegal) backgrounds or outfits. Some people have mistakenly fallen prey to the Copyright Myth (google it) of thinking if they change something 10% they can sell it legally. Also artists who stalk my Instagram, Patreon or Facebook and try to snipe / friend a potential buyer by offering poor quality re-prints of my genuine artwork at a lower price. Really? C’mon now, that’s just tacky.”

The legal stuff aside, Jasmine’s art has allowed her to travel the world and collaborate in some amazing projects, but what she loves more than anything about her job is the freedom to paint. “I want to paint all day, every day without being interrupted, without having to go back to work at Dairy Queen! I have a fulfilling way to express myself (which is sometimes hard for me) with my own visual imagery. Not only that, I’ve been able to provide half a dozen of my family and friends with full time employment working as printing / shipping / manufacturing or order processing jobs with flexible hours enabling them to raise their own families the way they want and that is a damned hard thing to do.”

Jasmine on her art safari in Africa
Jasmine on her art safari in Africa. Photos ©Paul Andrews.

If it wasn’t enough to be booked for the next three years, running art safaris on the other side of the world and being commissioned by Disney, Jasmine wants to challenge herself further. “I like each painting I do to be more difficult and more skillful than the last. I’m a big proponent of dedicated intentional practice, where you do not fall into a rut and rather personally challenge yourself by doing things you purposely consider difficult. I’m focusing more now on gallery shows that reach a wide strata of the public and on merchandising lines that I am proud of and art that reaches little girls I would have identified with as a kid, as well as what grownup people consider ‘art’. I don’t like the way art is categorized into high-brow ‘real’ art and lowbrow ‘mass market’ art. I’m not a fancy person and I like what I like, so more than anything I want to paint things I like myself and just hope that enough other people out there are enjoying it on some level and that I can pay my bills at the same time. On the urging of musician/artist Amanda Palmer, I have also jumped up on Patreon which I personally think is the future of non-advertisement-driven social media where patrons & creators can connect in a one-on-one dialog that is not determined by algorithms. Whether you are an artist yourself or somebody who enjoys and supports the arts you love, I recommend checking it out!”