jess brooks is living the quintessential artist life. her light-filled DTLA loft sits just above skid row and really is a photographer’s dream. she found the spot seven years ago when she moved to los angeles from the midwest and the space has served as the perfect area for the evolution of her artistry – dance, music, and most recently painting. I was greeted by her two adorable pups and some wonderful jazz spinning on her record player. she is a kind and genuine soul, laid back and exploring new mediums with confidence and humility — I think all of these traits are clear in her interview below. enjoy the studio tour and be sure follow jess on Instagram for some lovely behind the scenes, and stop by night palm in silver lake to see her paintings in person (including a killer new mural on the outside).
were you working elsewhere before leaving to start your business?
Before I started painting full-time, i had a pop-up vintage store and sang jazz gigs to get by. Before THAT, I had so many weird and funny jobs, I could write a book. I originally moved to LA as a dancer in this pretty epic cabaret show on the west side called The Toledo Show. During the days, I was a state caregiver to a shaman who had recently been in an accident — I was his hands and feet for a few months. He had a 7-ft boa constrictor named Diabolito that went with us everywhere in a pillowcase. That snake lived freely in the house and one day “disappeared” until years later, a friend of mine sent me a photo of a massive boa constrictor crawling into a Silverlake sewer grate. I mean, I’m not kidding, I could write a book. But I’ll stop there.
was your new path motivated by a particular creative need or personal goal?
I didn’t mean for any of this to happen! I hadn’t touched a brush in like, 12 years. One day I just started doodling again. I didn’t really kick it up until my dog passed away last year. I was a wreck. The only thing I could do was work manically to keep myself sane. I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up all night and woke up at sunrise, all the while painting. It turned into something. I guess it’s my legacy to her. I miss her so much. She was my soul mate.
did you receive any particular advice that stood out when starting your own business?
I never received any advice, none that I can remember. Sometimes I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’ve always been an intuitive learner. I’m good at finding things in the dark.
where do you gain fuel that inspires your creative endeavors?
Coconut oil bulletproof coffee! Ha. I have no idea where the energy comes from. My need to MAKE things appear. I’m obsessed with working. It’s hard for me to stop. If the idea is there, I won’t stop until I make it. Sometimes I fail and I get really down, but it doesn’t stop me from trying again. Perseverance. It’s the key to everything.
top three things id say to someone starting their own businesses: 1. be generous. and spread that shit everywhere! 2. be your sincere and authentic self. 3. never ever, ever stop.
what kind of vibe did you have in mind while designing the new studio space?
Well, I’ve been living in my loft for the past 7 years. It was raw space when I moved In, so I built the walls, put in a bathroom, made a kitchen- all of that. It was a feat, let me tell you. I could write a book about that, too. I didn’t have hot water for 3 months, so I bathed at an SRO in skid row (that’s where my studio is). Ugh. Haha — I’m laughing about it as I’m typing this. As far as the vibe goes, I am drawn to mid-century treasures, Victorian treasures and anything I can find that inspires me and tells a story, really. I don’t have a drain in my kitchen, so my dirty dishwater ends up in a bucket under the sink, which ends up watering the dozens of houseplants I have growing around here. I guess the vibe is “resourceful storytelling.”
what are some of your work tools that you can’t live without?
I cannot live without sunlight. I’m lucky because I have windows facing east and west so I have SO much light. I also love my Prang charcoals. They’re the pencils that you peel instead of sharpen. I don’t know what it is about them that I love so much but I can’t start my day without them.
• photography by lily glass for sfgirlbybay.
Studio Tour: Painter Jess Brooks.