We had a great chat with internationally acclaimed artist, Jay Alders about his artistic process, career, and his recent adventure in Brazil with Donavon Frankenreiter, and more!
JA: Well, I was raised in Howell, New Jersey for the better part of my childhood. It’s a nice suburban town about 12 minutes from the beach. I grew up on my skateboard and always was a water baby. I used to love when my parents would take us to the beach, usually Pt. Pleasant or Island Beach State Park. After getting my own wheels, I was at the beach surfing every day after High School in Manasquan. This is where my love of surfing originated. I went to college in North Jersey at Montclair, which is about 13 miles from New York City, and lived in that area for about 8-9 years. That was an enlightening experience, totally different from my upbringing in the ‘burbs. After college, I moved back down to the coastal areas of Jersey and now reside in a beautiful beach town halfway in between New York City and Philadelphia.
JA: When I was about 3 or so. I really don’t ever remember not liking to draw. My parents have always encouraged my talents and my Mom used to bribe me with art books or supplies when I had to go for my check up at the dentist next door to the art store.
JA: Well, that’s hard to answer, because my “style” is ever-evolving and I truly have a passion for multiple genres of art and various mediums. But since I assume you’re referring to my oil painting and surf art. Here’s a mouthful: I’ll say that it’s a surrealistic culmination of stylized figurative painting with technical inspirations coming from realism, photography, and artists throughout history.
JA: I could write a book on this. Usually, at any given moment, I have a brain full of inspirational moments, feelings, and visuals from which I draw upon at some future point. I’ll carry that arsenal of thoughts with me at all times until the trigger is ready to be pulled. Each new piece is an intensely emotional, psychological, and spiritual journey. Often a concept comes to me when I least expect it and at that moment I am overtaken by my subconscious mind.
A painting of mine generally goes through various phases:
A free-flowing sketching process. Sometimes with a ballpoint pen in some random location, sometimes crayons when hanging out with my nieces, sometimes on my couch with pastels. Whenever it happens. As the idea radiates through me, I work out the lines, shapes, angles, and flow of the piece. Sometimes (usually) this goes nowhere. Hence, I have tons of sketchbooks of thoughts. I once read advice to overcome writer’s block and it advised me to “write for the trash can”. I try and do the same artistically. But when a drawing is meant to pursue to the next level, I know it.
This is like the blueprint. I go back into the pencil or pen sketch and rework the lines, make it work better visually, try out different angles as if I was shooting a photo of the imaginary scene. Make it as final as possible.
At this point or sometimes beforehand, I will create a wood panel to size. This process for me is the painter’s version of shaping a surfboard. It’s an intimate process, for which this blank slate shall soon hold the visual manifestation of the energy in my mind. It involves cutting the panel and supporting beams, sanding and applying gesso several times, and toning the panel with a neutral shade of brown, gray, or earth tone. My current piece I am working on is for a surfboard model I am coming out with, so I decided to paint it virtually to scale.
I then sketch the finalized drawing on to the panel and rework and tweak out the details.
This leads me to the monochromatic underpainting, working out the tones and shadows, light source, reflected lights, highlights, and accents. I try and make the painting pretty refined in this stage to prepare it for further layers.
I use many techniques of the old masters, usually working from background to foreground. I’ll introduce the mid-tones and initial semi-opaque colors followed by multiple transparent glazes of colors, letting each layer dry completely before reworking it and gradually working in the darks and opaque lights and fine details.
Depending on what I am painting, I will work wet into wet, or dry brush colors to blend them smoothly, sometimes I will allow brush strokes to show, other times, I enjoy blending more thoroughly. The painting dictates to me what needs to be done. I try and utilize any technique as needed. I have been experimenting with various oil mediums for years. Choosing the right type of oils and in what combination really impacts the way a painting will look. It’s not always an exact science, I try and paint most of these middle stages by feel and intuition and try to be one with the painting. It sounds hokey, but it’s true.
I also will often paint with the panel being upside down. Since I paint by feel, it helps me have the painting make sense. If I am not focused on what it is always but rather make sure that the light, shadows, tones, and colors all work. Painting with the piece upside down flips your perspective around, literally. I also will look at the piece in a mirror a lot for the same purpose.
Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster for me. Doing a new painting is similar to being in a relationship. It’s that initial excitement and intrigue, the passion, the mystery, the analyzing, the overthinking, the comfort, the frustrations, the mental anguish, and confusion. I go through insecure phases where I feel completely hopeless and then go through this extreme euphoria where I feel like I am in the painting and it’s all coming together. I have moments where I view the painting as an engineer or scientist and then go to the trance state where I am a mere witness to my own brush.
When it all comes together and the painting is done, I am relieved, exhausted and completely stoked, and ready for the next one. It is a true lesson in patience and taking a couple of weeks break afterward is usually needed to recover from the ride I was just on.
I know that I could easily take shortcuts and produce 10 times as many paintings if I was not so particular but artists are remembered for the work we create, not the time it took to create it.
JA: Being so close to the coastal seas of New Jersey, I grew up loving the beach culture and was on a skateboard since I could walk. The ocean has always inspired me. Learning to surf when I was a teenager changed my life. I have become obsessed with surfing ever since.
I love everything about surf culture. Watching the waves undulate towards the shore, the colorful reflections of light skimming off the surface of the water, the birds soaring overhead and the aquatic life hidden below. Climbing on the jetties, the sound of seagulls, sand stuck between my toes, the color temperatures in the foam, the transparency and opacity of the water, the movement and flowing lines of the curling wave.
Then in addition to that, having a figure of a surfer added to the mix with a creative surfing style. Unifying these elements creates an intense subject matter for a surf artist to attempt to render in a unique way.
JA: I smile just thinking about that trip. Alma Surf Magazine treated us like royalty and I owe them a lot for that experience. It was almost two weeks with some of my favorite musicians and some incredible surf artists and photographers. There’s no way you can be around Donavon, ALO, G. Love, Matt, and their crew and not be in a good mood. They all have been friends for a long time now and have toured together so many times, that it felt like being on a family trip.
I roomed with my good friend and legendary surf photographer, Sean Davey, which was an experience all in itself. Sean is such a great human being and quite the character. It was like being in summer camp each day, being goofballs together.
Each night of the musical performances started with our surf art exhibit, and from my standpoint as a featured fine artist there, this trip was epic. I got to show my work in three cities across Brazil and connect with some amazing people along the way. I don’t speak Portuguese but my limited Spanish and their limited English and our smiles said it all. Brazil is full of warm-hearted good people who made us all feel at home.
I’ve nurtured some great friendships with the talented folks on this 2007 voyage and have had some outstanding opportunities and memories since then.
JA: Perhaps one of the highlights of our tour was in Rio. One of our local friends and quasi tour-guide, Bernardo, took us to his house in the hills of Rio de Janeiro for an impromptu jam session with the musicians after a Brazilian TV interview.
The night consisted of good conversation, intoxication, and the best jam session most of us have ever witnessed. Even the musicians afterward told us how extraordinary it was.
It felt like we were in the presence of a musically significant moment that years from now we could tell our grandchildren about. Sean and I shot hundreds of photos and videos of the night and halfway through, I put down my camera for my sketchbook and started sketching Donavon Frankenreiter on guitar in front of me. I had felt a wave of inspiration flow through me and I knew when I got home, that it would be my next painting.
To make a long story short, after I finished the painting, I emailed it to Donavon and he called me up on the cell the next day to tell me how stoked he was. It made the couple hundred hours I worked on it all worthwhile. It’s since become a painting that I am quite proud of and it reminds me of that magical night of music in Rio with friends.
JA: We all spend so many hours out in the water being one with Mother Nature and taking from her so much enjoyment and inner peace. Organizations like Surfrider and SurfAid are working really hard to make our beaches cleaner, safer and improve our world overall. I think it’s really important for us all to give back when we have the opportunity.
JA: These sites are awesome. They allow me as an artist to connect with friends and fans around the world. I am rather candid and open on my pages online, it’s nice to be able to share my views and thoughts and personal memories. It gives me a chance to see my fans, read about them, and share my artwork with a growing global network of nice human beings.
JA: Absolutely. Thanks for the plug! 🙂 All of the talented artists and photographers on Club of the Waves are pursuing their dreams and taking a path less traveled. The best way to support your favorite artist, whoever that may be, is to go out and buy a print. I have an online store, which has a large selection of my giclée prints and canvas reproductions available for sale. I also sell clothing, stickers, and other merchandise. Check it out!
JA: Speaking artistically, I am on a mission to improve and adapt my artistic style and keep it uniquely my own. I never want my techniques or style to be static. I am working on some exciting new projects; such as putting out some surf art surfboards and other rad licensing deals that vibe with my lifestyle.
I want to be extremely successful so I can have the ability to give back to my family and friends and enjoy each day to its fullest. I want to constantly learn, improve and never cease to impress myself. I want to express myself through my art in a way that moves people emotionally. I want to make a long-lasting positive impact on the global art and surfing scene. I want to have exciting opportunities continually manifest themselves in my world because so far, it’s been awesome. I want to be more aware and content and help others to realize their potential. I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I want to continue to use my talents to help humanity, animals, and the environment. And I want to always be appreciative and grateful for what I am blessed with.
Thanks again, Jay for this insight into your life and work.
Curated by Andrew Couldwell on Jul 15, 2008