Jasmine McMasters: From Fine Art to Jasbo
Jasmine McMasters and I overlapped a couple of years at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design where we got to know each other and inspire each other's art work. She was a mentor to me when I applied to the New York Studio Residency Program, a semester that changed my life and ultimately led to Pink Things existence. She is also a painter, tap-dancing queen, and a polymer-bead making gem. I interviewed Jasmine over email while she was traveling for work about her latest project, Jasbo. It's a unisex jewelry line that came from a desperate need to create and be in the studio post-college. Read on for more on her inspirations, experiences with craft vs. fine art, and building an independent company out of creativity.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your art, influences, childhood, education, anything relevant really!
Jasmine McMasters: Howdyyy! So, my name is Jasmine McMasters, I’m 23, a Sagittarius, and currently living in Milwaukee, WI. I grew up in Texarkana, TX before my family moved to Arlington outside of Dallas, and ended up in Milwaukee after attending the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and earning my BFA in Painting. I also attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts for pre-college and participated in the New York Studio Residency Program as a junior at MIAD. I love school and learning. It’s also a fantastic excuse to travel.
My childhood is still in progress. I grew up in a big family; I have 4 sisters and 2 brothers, ranging from their 30’s down to my baby sister, Izzy, at 9 years old. They are the funniest, smartest, best looking group of people I know. My little sisters make these little polymer clay creatures – TBH they’re better than any of my work and maybe they’ll partner with me on Etsy one day.
PT: I am so excited about Jasbo. Is that the official name of the brand? It’s obviously inspired from your name, which I love. What made you decide to land on Jasbo?
JM: It took me forever to pick a name and it was the biggest hurdle to starting my Etsy. I couldn’t find anything that would stick, and then all of a sudden it hit me that I should call it Jasbo. Jasbo is my mom’s childhood nickname for me that she still frequently uses. My dad, brother, and I are all named after the same dude – my great uncle who died when he was a teenager. Their names are James, and similarly, mine is Jasmine. My mom calls my dad Jimbo, so growing up she called me Jasbo.
I get a little self-conscious of the name because I know that not everyone else knows that back story and it’s a silly, awkward word to say. There’s nothing like telling someone your serious business endeavor is called Jasbo. But! I also knew I’d never get tired of that name since it has sentimental value.
PT: What inspired you to begin your own jewelry line?
JM: I made jewelry when I was younger, like around 7th and 8th grade I was really into it. I’d take apart pre-existing jewelry and reconfigure it into new pieces. I’ve always enjoyed it, but didn’t have the time to pursue that side of my interests while in school. I was very focused on what it meant to be a “fine artist” and breaking those traditions to make something more in a “craft” realm was intimidating. Once I graduated, I needed something to get me in the studio daily. Making the jewelry was a studio exercise that developed into a larger project.
PT: Can you tell me a little bit about the Jasbo journey? What has it been like? Have you met cool people?
JM: It’s been fun! I don’t know if I’ve met a whole lot of people just yet, but maybe in the next year. I started just doing it for myself and eventually ramped up to starting my Etsy. It was hard to get started because I’m the kind of person that if I’m going to do something, it’s not gonna be half-assed. I have to fully commit. Therefore, by the time I started my Etsy I’d already been making the pieces for a few months.
PT: You’ve participated in a few craft fairs and what not, can you tell me about that?
JM: It’s very fun but also weird! I definitely get to explore the entrepreneurial side of the arts a lot more directly. Craft fairs are a neat environment where my craft and presentation as a business are taken seriously. I’m still more accustomed to the fine art side of things, but it’s been good to be exposed to a commercial domain. I think it will help me represent myself better as an artist. Those situations force you to present yourself very confidently, even if you really don’t know what you’re doing.
PT: You studied painting at MIAD, did you ever see yourself taking a route like this? How does Jasbo factor into and influence your fine art practice? And visa versa?
JM: Actually, I totally did. After graduating, I didn’t so much feel a period of “What the heck do I do next?” but more of a “How do I choose what to do next?”. Graduating was really liberating because I re-gained control of my education and was like, “Wow, there are so many things I could still learn.” I spent about 6 months not really making anything. Then all of a sudden, I realized ALL the things I could be doing. I became absorbed in things I’d enjoyed as a kid. Jewelry-making. Story telling. Tap dancing! I started trying to figure out how to incorporate these things into my studio practice. I’m still really interested in the idea of self-education.
But, back to Jasbo. I think it fits really well into my painting practice. Each bead is like a little color study, and then the jewelry becomes a composition. Wow, that sounds cheesy, but it’s how I see it. I’ve also started adding them into my paintings and creating flat clay pieces that function as 2D works.
PT: I view you as a curator of sorts, a curator of jewelry, your Etsy shop like a gallery. What do you think about that? Do you see yourself this way?
JM: Hmmm…tricky to answer, but yes I suppose so? Building on my response above, I definitely feel like I’m curating when I’m putting together pieces and color schemes, but I guess that’s more self-curatorial.
On a wider perspective, I do follow and look at a lot of craft-based artists, fellow jewelry-makers, zine presses, fiber artists, general makers that don’t fit into a traditional “fine art” practice. I’ve always had an affinity for craft and find it very satisfying because it relieves me of the pressure of heady concepts and the weight of contemporary art history and trying to formulate my place in that. I think craft arts are JUST as valid as all that and are a part of contemporary art, but there’s something that feels a lot more natural for me about crafting that keeps me from getting too inside my own head – if that makes sense. Anyway, to approach your question more directly, I definitely consider myself a curator in the sense that I would love to work with these other artists and bring craft into a gallery setting.
PT: Could you walk me through your process? When do you decide when a piece is complete?
JM: My process begins with the beads. I use polymer clay, which is a really cheap, easy medium that you cure in the oven so it doesn’t require any specialized tools. I use red, blue, yellow, white, and black to mix all my colors. That is the step that ties my craft and fine art practices together really closely. I’ve always preferred to mix my own palettes from the basics. I use my hands to shape each bead and then roll them out and poke holes in them with a variety of weird tools – knitting needles, tooth picks, nails, whatever. I actually use my palette knives from painting to mix the clay. I got started doing this from a very DIY stand point and haven’t seen a reason to complicate it further.
I enjoy making the beads the most. Weird shapes and various sizes and tons of colors and patterns. I have like, 300+ beads probably? Some of them are really ugly and are never going to be used.
From there, I just marvel at ‘em all and start to arrange them into different combinations. There’s this really childish satisfaction of sitting in my studio with boxes full of beads and just organizing them by shape, color, pattern. It’s VERY toddler-esque, but whatever. It’s fun.
PT: Jasbo, as written on your instagram and Etsy bio’s, is “Unisex Handmade Clay Bead Jewelry.” Jewelry is typically marketed for women, and I think it’s so awesome that you’re going for unisex. After all, plenty of dudes wear jewelry and in the age of recognizing differing and nonspecific gender identities, why limit yourself? Was this a conscious decision and what led to it?
JM: Yeah, it was definitely a conscious decision. I belong to a community of very supportive young people who have taught me through my years at MIAD and in Milwaukee what it means to be queer, gender non-conforming, and accepting of your identity and of others. I have a lot of love in my life because of my friends, and I’ve never felt safer to be myself.
When starting Jasbo I guess I didn’t really question that it would be “unisex”, but after exposing it to Etsy I knew it would be necessary to include that in my general business approach. Etsy is primarily female-dominated and most of the other clay accessory artists (and just accessories in general) are geared toward females. From a business stand point, it totally makes sense to try to market to all genders. From my own personal views, it’s assumed that I would.
What’s really driven this point home has been that many of my male/non-binary friends have been attracted to my Jasbo work, and that’s made me really excited. When I’m making a painting, I’m not making it for females to look at. Same goes with Jasbo.
I’d also like to mention that Jasbo is also not made for a particular age group. I’ve had kids design their own necklaces as well as adults. I think my work attracts a broad range of people because I don’t place limitations on it either.
PT: Do you have any thoughts on the color pink and how it relates to what you do, in art, life, or Jasbo?
JM: Oh jeeze, before when I said I use the primaries and black and white to mix all my colors – I left something out. I cheat. I buy copious amount of neon pink polymer clay too. I use it too much to not just buy it pre-mixed. I personally really enjoy pink and various shades, and have to remind myself to expand beyond.
Pink is an interesting idea – it’s been politicized especially in recent years. Within that politicization it’s jumped from one stereotype (pretty pink “It’s a girl!”) to another (feminist war paint). I don’t know if that makes sense, but what I’m trying to say is I don’t want Pink to hold one ideal. It seems to always be assigned as a female attribute or conversation – fuck that! I’d like to see Pink transcend from the femme arena, even if it means it becomes equal on the spectrum to like, I don’t know, yellow.
PT: What has been the greatest outcome from Jasbo so far?
JM: I started this project in March, and I’ve been floored by the amount of support. I’ve made 50+ sales and I didn’t expect that to ever be a thing. That feels very satisfying, especially since it has become a self-sufficient project.
PT: What have been some of the greatest challenges?
JM: The HARDEST thing is being consistent. I am not one for consistency. I like to flip flop and I cycle through themes, colors, patterns, materials, styles, whatever very fast. One day I could be making all black and white mono-tone marbled beads. The next I could be making all neon squiggly shaped beads. I don’t limit myself, but I do recognize that what I list on my Etsy and present at craft shows should possibly have a consistent style so that I can be profitable. I have to look at everything I’ve done and then say, “Ok, what will sell”. It’s all trial and error.
PT: What advice do you have for someone hesitant about starting a business like yours?
JM: Start with what you can afford. If that’s $20 of supplies and a few hours a week, good for you! That’s similar to where I started. I took baby steps until I felt confident. I’d make a sale and then go buy more clay. I eventually spent $10 to get a toaster oven for my studio to bake beads in – Woah big step! Not really, but it took me months to commit in that way, y’know? To say, “Hey, I enjoy this enough to dedicate my a portion of my studio practice to it.” I think you should start from a place of curiosity and passion, and worry about the business side of things later. Give yourself a few months to just have fun.
PT: Who/What inspires you the most right now?
JM: HMMMMM. That’s the most difficult question ever for an artist. So many things. I’ve been traveling a lot for work and each hotel and airport has its own out-dated 90’s carpet. That’s one visual that I look at each day. I also go to a lot of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and I’ll wonder: What would that waitress want to wear? Or Who the heck designed this menu? I don’t know, I always have a narrative going in my head that influences my work.
A more straightforward answer, these are artists I’m really digging right now: Elizabeth Ferry, Kari Cholnoky, Peggy Noland, Michelle Wanhala (awesome Chicago tattooist/artist), Hein Koh. I also follow like a million artists on Instagram. I’d say I follow 70% artists, 29% meme accounts, and 1% people I actually know.
Oh also, every single one of my studio mates at After School Special inspires. Holy shit they are all literally fucking geniuses.
PT: What’s next for Jasmine and Jasbo?
JM: I will be participating in Hovercraft in Milwaukee this December!! It’s my first “real” craft fair. I’ve also applied to be a vendor at a couple more fairs, so fingers crossed. I’m also in a group show with A.S.S. at Little Berlin in Philly this December, and am working on a series of zines and painting that will incorporate clay works into my fine art practice. WOO!
Be sure to check out the Jasbo Etsy Shop and follow @shopjasbo on instagram! You could also follow Jasmine on her personal account.
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.