Thanks to the Coast Star for running this multi-page feature and interview with me. Article by Adriana Shashaty.
Fine artist, photographer and designer Jay Alders finds inspiration within himself and from all that surrounds him. Since childhood, he has found ways to pursue his passion forart, specifically painting. In kindergarten, Mr. Alders said, he discovered that if he drew an image backwards on paper with a specific type of marker,the image would rub off while wet. So he sold these “tattoos” to his classmates who simply had to lick their hand, press on the tattoo and, like magic, see the image appear on them.
Instead of setting up childhood lemonade stands, Mr. Alderssaid, he would sell his drawings on the corner of his street. Eventually his talents gained the attention of schoolmates, who asked him to paint images on their clothing or shoes.
In high school, Mr. Alders got a job at Six Flags Great Adventure, in Jackson, drawing caricatures, followed by a series of “odds and ends jobs” that always involved art.
“My dad was a salesman growing up, and he'd sell all these little knicknacks, like things you'd collect and put on your mantel,” Mr. Alders explained. “One day he came home and said, ‘Jason, I pitched this company and told them you're a super talented artist, that you do sculpture, and they want you to do a figurine series of sculptures.’”
Laughing, Mr. Alders explained that at the time he was only a teenager, and that he had no idea how to do sculpture, so he purchased several books on the technique and taught himself everything from the type of material to use, to the actual art of sculpting.
“Then I got to college, and I was like, ‘All right, you need a college job, you're going to be a barista, or a server,'” Mr. Alders said. “I was like, ‘Well, no, I'm not going to do any of those things, that's not me.' So I started doing caricatures and air brushing at parties.”
This college job was the start of a business Mr. Alders would go on to grow and nurture for years to come —but not until he conquered the “shoulds” of life.
During most of his time spent at college, Mr. Alders was focusing on ways in which he could become an illustrator, like those he came across in various trade journals he enjoyed reading. He would cold call these artists, asking for tips — queries that turned into interviews.
After graduating college, Mr. Alders found a job in Fort Lee doing web graphic design. After about two-and-a-half months, he quit.
“I had this commute, the whole zombie shuffle back and forth from work, and I realized I hadn't seen asunset in quite a while, in about two months, and I just said to myself, ‘I'm out of here,’” Mr. Alders said. “It was one of those moments, when you're in your early 20s and you realize, I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life.”
He had no safety net or backup plan, but his leap of faith decision turned out to be the right one for him.
“My dad taught me to always be diverse, don't just be one thing, learn as many things as possible because then you'll have that many more opportunities,” Mr. Alders said. “Like if you can airbrush, cool, but if you can airbrush, do this, this and this — then all of a sudden the world opens up a bit.”
At the time, Mr. Alders found his caricature and airbrushing entertainment business to be most marketable. “Quickly I learned that I had to advertise, even though I didn't have the money for it, so I was like, ‘OK I only have x-amount in the bank, but I'm going to advertise big,’” Mr. Alders said. He began advertising in New York Magazine, and taking a gamble, made a huge commitment to advertising in several Yellow Pages. As his network grew, so did his business, so much so that he was booking out in New York, Chicago, Miami and other major cities.
All the while, Mr. Alders also kept painting, day or night, whenever free time presented itself. “To me, painting was the ultimate end goal, I was like ,'Someday I want to be a painter,’” Mr. Alders said. As his entertainment company grew, Mr. Alders started up other companies, partnering with friends, a professor of his and others. He and a partner from Belmar started a company designing the graphics for a skateboard company they branded “Seed.”Working with a manufacturing company based in Canada, the skateboards that Mr. Alders, his buddy and ateam from California were marketing sold out to well-know shops like Zumies and other skate/surf related retailers.
The success of Seed was thrilling for a while but when the economy tanked after Sept. 11, 2001, so did the company. Soon after, he moved to Belmar, where he was featured in several small local art shows. He started surfing again and, having reconnected with that world, he began painting it.
LONGBOARDS AND BRAZIL
His work drew attention online, through MySpace, and a former business partner reached out to him, asking if he'd be interested in having his paintings featured on longboards. The result was his first licensing deal. “That got me a bigger audience within a couple of months, and then that just branched out even more,”
Mr. Alders explained. “And then I ended up meeting a photographer [from Hawaii, originally from Tasmania, Australia] on MySpace, who reached out and said, ‘Hey mate, I have this great opportunity, it's a tour in Brazil, they want to pay for you to come down there and show your art.’” “And it wasn't by design, I just did it,” he said. Mr. Alders' future wife, Chelsea, then 23, took over his entertainment company, building it in to what is now, Sun Dreams Productions LLC.
The Brazil tour put him together with some of his favorite musical artists, including G. Love, ALO, Donavon Frankenreiter and Matt Costa — all whom were part of the well-known musician Jack Johnson's world at the peak of his career. “Out of nowhere I was on tour with four of my favorite musicians,” Mr. Alders said. “We got along really well, had a lot in common like surfing and skating…and each of those guys liked my work, and helped me get into their world and their audiences, which are huge.” Brazil’s Alma Surf magazine named Mr. Alders “Surf Artist of the Decade,” and invited him back in 2010 for another art, music and surf tour, this time with John Butler Trio and legendary surfers.
THE FAITH TO ‘LET GO’
“And that's kind of how everything launched,” he said. “I once heard this quote — it's like faith is not holding on dearly to something, it's to actually let go and have faith in what will be,” Mr. Alders said. “I feel like if you have a safety net, or you need a safety net, you can never fully just let go and have the faith that you're going to be okay.”
In August 2015, Mr. Alders opened Sea Zen Art Gallery & Experience on Main Street with his buddy Jason Soares, owner of Stay Gold Cafe & Lounge, in Belmar. Now he and his wife operate three successful businesses — Sea Zen Art Gallery & Experience, Alders Studio and Sun Dreams Productions, all while enjoying the full-time job of new parents to Summer Emerson, 2, and nine-month-old twin boys Judah Kai and Greyson Dutch.
Mr. Alders, a spiritual man, said he has balanced life and work through yoga and also enjoys rock-climbing, snowboarding, skateboarding, along with surfing.
Stylistically, his art is inspired by renaissance or impressionistic painters. “For me, painting is a process, and a lot of the process is not necessarily comfortable or fun,” Mr. Alders said. “Typically creative people feel like what they're doing is supposed to feel magical all the time, when really a lot of the time you feel really doubtful and critical of yourself.” But when he does get into that space, where he can remain for hours on end, he said it feels as though the paint brush has taken control, causing him to wonder what will happen next while remaining confident that he cannot make a mistake since it's not actually him painting. These are the moments artists crave, he said.
“It's the same with being a parent, it's these moments where you're just completely connected and it justfeels so real and it's so awe-inspiring that you just want to live in that space where you can be in for hours and hours…” Mr. Alders said.
“It's surreal having a career doing what you love. A lot of days it feels so normal to me, so much so that I often forget it's cool…it just becomes normal, no matter what your job is. You realize it's just work, good or bad, it's just normal,” he said.
“I had no idea how I was going to do it when I quit my web design job, I just had no choice but to do it,” Mr. Alders said. “So you do whatever it takes to make it work, and for me that meant being very obsessive, being a workaholic… I have three businesses and three kids under the age of three — no idea how I do it,but the answer is ultimately, when you have no choice, you have no choice, so you do it.”