In the Wild With Jess Ackerman

We took a trip to Jess Ackerman's colorful, fun filled studio in Portland, Oregon to sit down and talk art, life, cheeseburgers and karaoke. Check out our interview below and come visit the shop to see her newly painted collection up on our walls.

How did you get into painting?

It was something I always did. I got into painting in first grade and realized it was what I wanted to do. I was raised around the idea that art is a hobby and not necessarily a job. Even in high school my art teachers told my friends and I that art is a hobby and not a job, but 10 years later I finally figured it out. 

What Inspires your funky art style?

I used to do a lot of really detailed illustration work but after a while it didn’t feel right to me so I went back to painting after I got sober. I think mental illness and addiction play a huge part in my style and the shifts it has made throughout my art career. For a while my style was really dark and negative and I think it had to do with being enveloped in a really horrible lifestyle. After I got sober and got my mental health figured out, this was what I wanted to paint, it just made so much more sense to me.

So is it almost like you see it in your brain?

Yeah, and my favorite part about art was always color theory and different colors and how they invoke so many different feelings when you put them together.

So, if you’re ever feeling creatively drained, what lifts you up?

Being outside. Going outside and not looking at my phone with my best friend or partner and shutting out the world for a bit.

What is your favorite place to get out and adventure in Oregon?

I really like any of the high desert areas honestly. Smith and everything out by Bend and Sisters is the best. Or super Eastern Oregon like the Big Sky stuff.

Do you see yourself living in Oregon forever?

I don’t know, it’s hard to say. It’s changing so much. Part of me wants to leave but the community here is so supportive.


You share your studio with your best friend, tell us about that:

I LOVE HER SO MUCH! We just help each other out. I don’t know, she just always pushes me to take big steps for myself and it’s the same with her. We push each other to do things without worrying about what others will think. So yeah, we push each other and she’s the funniest person I know.

This studio seems pretty chill, tell us about the overall vibe and who else is involved:

Well the building is owned by Tom Black, and it is a hundred year old plus building, so if there is an earthquake we are going to die but that's ok. The studio itself is hard to get into and sort of more by word-of-mouth. Nan has been here for 5 plus years and she lives here and works here and has 2 businesses, she designs clothing and makes bags and she also started doing natural dye textiles which has been really amazing. Ashley Hardy and Mica got in here probably 4 years ago and I would just come in to hang out with them and they would always do markets, and the space we are in now used to be a gallery space but it’s usually always femme queer people renting the spaces out. We’re all friends and really supportive. We do movie nights and there is a communal area where we all just hang and kick it.

How did you transition into making art your full time job?

Hugely by having a show at your spot actually. So many people saw my work there and at Never Coffee and in that period of time from October to January that people became really aware of my work and supportive. Having the confidence I had and you being so open to what I was making, and same with Zach at Never just allowing me to be there and show my work helped a lot. Never and Wild Cactus are just so perfect for the audience that I want to make paintings for that it really just worked. Both spots have a clientele that just get it. You made me feel like I could do it, and Mica because she had been doing it too. It was the perfect storm of the people around me being super supportive.


Tell us about the outfit you’re wearing and why you chose it?

I chose this outfit because I am a clown, and I love mixing colors that don’t necessarily go together. Like you might think of purple and green as Barney colors, but they’re not. This outfit is basically a cute trendy clown girl outfit. I think the Lisa Says Gah KJP line has really pushed people to play with pattern more. I think you’ve always carried a perfect balance of patterns that allow people to explore their style boundaries and having really comfortable basics as well. I am immediately drawn to crazy patterns and I love doing something wacky and mixing it with more muted tones.

Robyn Jean in Purple Warp Check



What is your favorite food?

Depends on the day.

What is your favorite food that Sam cooks for you?

Wait it’s actually our anniversary, and cheeseburgers! We are watching X-Files and having cheeseburgers. My dream cheeseburger though, it’s simple with a patty, American cheese, and onions.

What is a daily ritual for you?

Wake up, coffee, tonic with chlorophyll, ashwaganda, ginseng, and turmeric because we don’t wanna get sick, then we take the dogs out, read, and listen to KMHD.


Is your work a 9-5 Monday through Friday kind of thing?

No, it really depends on what the projects are. Being a creative full time does kind of fry me so it really depends on my work load and I kind of work in things on a rotation because I do a lot of color layering in my work. So I will start some projects at the same time as I am finishing other ones. But if I am working on something that is hard for me or that isn’t really working I’ll stop for the day but usually the turnover for a painting is 4-5 days. The days I really push myself when it’s not working I feel like I really fuck it up, and then I have to start over.

Can you talk to us about your process of layering colors?

Right now I am just doing stretched canvas with acrylic and gouache. I almost always do a black primer because when I do that I can add my underpainting and anything else, and it just adds so much more depth.

Favorite go-to karaoke song?

Red Hot Chili Peppers

If you were to choose a color out of a crayon box to describe yourself which would you choose?

Red, because it’s spicy. Like a persimmony orange red shade. 

Any fun future plans you want to share with us?

I am going on my first residency and I am going to make a body of work for Wild Cactus, and then I going to go off to Joseph and paint a pizza oven!


You can shop Jess Ackerman's newest collection at Wild Cactus for the month of April. 

Thank you Jess!