The mosaic art medium is a laborious and expensive one, says artist Jen Jamē. But the feeling she gets knowing her artwork will be a part of someone’s life makes it all worthwhile.
“Art from department stores is just décor. There really is no story behind it,” Jamē says. “I believe every house, to call it home, needs to hold real art, made by real people with a story worth telling.”
The English-teacher-turned-artist was born and raised in Santa Monica. As a child, Jamē knew she had a creative spirit and established her talent with the help of family and friends.
“I would say I found my artistic voice from a close family friend who was a professional artist,” Jamē says. “She would babysit us a lot, and I remember us always sitting around the dining room table coloring or working on an art project.”
Jamē says her love for mosaics blossomed during a trip to Venice Beach, where self-proclaimed “hippies” were selling handmade mosaic mirrors on the boardwalk.
“I just instantly fell in love,” Jamē says. “I looked at the mirror and thought, ‘Wow, I need to make this.’”
When Jamē was 20 years old, she moved to Arizona and put her artistic dream on the back burner to teach junior high and high school English. It wasn’t until around 2015 that Jamē committed to art full time and began to take her talent on as a business.
“What sort of reignited my passion was a gorgeous fireplace I had seen while house hunting that was completely made up of mosaics,” Jamē says. “That’s when I was like, ‘OK, enough is enough. It’s time to get in gear.’”
For Jamē, the ideas for pieces that come to her are heavily influenced by her personality and life experiences.
“My family and I frequently travel to Hawaii. So, for a while, I was really into making waves and oceans,” Jamē says. “Before that, the focus was big, whimsical, wispy flames to hang over fireplaces.”
The artist is dabbling with pieces inspired by rock musicians. Jamē has already created mosaic portraits of legendary artists such as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash. Jamē says everything from the type of glass that is used to the material of the base is crucial in telling the piece’s story.
“Even the music I listen to while I am creating matters,” Jamē says. “For instance, whichever rock icon I am making at the time, I listen to the music associated with them. It helps me channel them into my piece.”
Jamē begins her projects by sketching the desired image onto a base for the mosaic. The artist says wood is a favorite material to use and can be left raw, stained or even torched, depending on the focus of the piece.
The drawn lines on the base act as a guide for strategically puzzling together fragmented pieces of glass, tile or other materials. Grout is spread on top and between the cracks of the glass to seal the pieces once it is dried.
“Whenever I start a piece, I legitimately believe that every single one is going to be terrible and I am going to have to toss it,” Jamē says with a laugh. “But then I always step back after being up close with it and praying that it is going to turn out alright, and I am taken aback. Like I cannot believe what is in front of me.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of many, including Jamē. Right before the state began its shelter-in-place order, she released inclusive DIY mosaic coaster kits on her website. The kits have been extremely successful and have garnered rave reviews online.
“A family who has members across the country and in the U.K. bought nine kits, and they are all doing their mosaic drink coasters together on a Zoom call,” Jamē says with a laugh. “So, although it wasn’t at all intentional to be selling these during a pandemic, it is amazing to see art bringing everyone together.”
The artist also had plans to host monthly art lessons from her studio and provide mosaic lessons to children and young adults in foster care homes and facilities.
“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” Jamē says. “Children really are the best colleagues, and I hope to be able to bond and mentor these kids by giving them a creative outlet.”
When asked what she would say to those who are new to the art community, Jamē’s advice is simple: just start and play.
“Don’t wait to have all the answers. Ask questions, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Those hiccups could lead you to something you are proud of.”