This month we sat down with Jessica Elder, artist and owner of J Studio, a new interactive art space where visitors can get in touch with their inner artist. Read on to learn more about Elder’s artistic practice, background, and hopes for J Studio.
Jessica Elder with her 3-D printers in J Studio, her space at 52 O Street Studios
Jessica Elder is goal-oriented, organized, creative, and very good at math. This unique combination of skills, through a series of events, has allowed her to open up J Studio, a new space at 52 O Street Studios where she makes 3D-printed art and holds open hours for guests to make their own art using her wide range of materials.
Elder visited the Art Room, a pop-up space in Union Market, in July of 2023, and was inspired by the possibility of opening up a similar space. She submitted her application to 52 O Street Studios in early October, signed a lease in November, and opened J Studio in December- from inspiration to inception in less than five months. “I’m a pretty impatient person,” she laughs.
Alongside running J Studio, Elder also makes her own art: she 3D prints geometric and organic shapes, paints them bright colors and finishes them off with a shiny resin glaze. The main thing that drives her practice? Play. “I like to focus a lot on texture- my art is very tactile- and color. To me, texture and color are the two most important things. When I'm picking my next piece, it's always what color am I feeling today? And basically, do I want it to be a blob, dome, or spike?”
Denim Daze. 3D-printed plastic, acrylic paint, and resin on canvas, 2023. 12"x24"x2"
As a kid, Elder was a whiz at multiplication tables, so she always knew she wanted to do something with math in college. “I got started with 3D printing back in college. I studied mechanical engineering for my undergrad, and I found that people were 3D printing a lot of gadgety stuff and a lot of boyish things. But I sort of found that it didn't have to be used for that. It could really be used for anything. So I thought it would be great to use it in a more feminine and aesthetically pleasing way.” After studying mechanical engineering for her undergraduate degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Elder went on to complete her Master’s in nuclear engineering at Berkeley. Her goal was to land an analyst job in DC, which she did, but art was always in the back of her mind.
Elder sees her day job as largely separate from her artistic practice and running J Studio. Both are similar, however, in that they are very formulaic. “With government work, you have to keep it very sterile, very formulaic - following steps. My art is very similar: plug it into the 3d printer, paint it, cover it in resin.” She admires artists who are able to iterate, working with a few constants while constantly innovating; keeping things simple allows her to do that.
Mega Blob. 3D-printed plastic, acrylic paint, and resin, 2023. 11.5"x10"x4"
Her work also in a roundabout way inspired her to name her space J Studio. “At my job, we can’t bring in our phones so people can’t listen to their own music. I thought it'd be really cool if I created a blog that had music playlists for people to listen to, because it's easier to do work when you have good music. I was able to get it onto our computers, and it blew up really fast - all of a sudden I was getting hundreds of people listening to these playlists - I called it J Radio.”
“It was short lived; my managers didn’t really like it, and they asked me to take it down eventually, which is so fair,” she laughed. “But I always thought the name J Radio was catchy, and then when I came up with this idea, I thought: J Studio.”
J Studio Toy Blocks, pink and green. 3D-printed plastic, acrylic paint, and resin, 2023. 8"x8"x7" each.
Elder’s focus on play, color, and texture come through in the mission of J Studio. “I want them to feel a similar sense of reprieve from their daily lives that I feel. And I want people to just feel very calm and to not worry about the outcome of the art and to just make something that they can relate with and something that is a form of self-expression.”
As a place where guests can come and make art as a social activity, J Studio might be compared to a paint and sip, where visitors can enjoy refreshments while following along with a teacher to create a work of art, often a painting or sculpture. The main difference is that J Studio provides more creative freedom: “With paint and sips, you’re copying a piece that’s already there,” Elder explains, “but with J Studio, I want people to make their own art and their own concepts.”
Since there is no singular guided activity, Elder’s role is less teaching than it is moral support. “I give people advice when they ask for it. I think people need a lot less guidance than they might think, and that's been cool to see. Sometimes I'll just say, ‘Hey, these colors would go great together.’ Other times I just tell them where the glue sticks are.”
Elder encourages her guests at J Studio to have fun and to not be afraid of taking risks. “Don’t be afraid to give the 3D art a try! A lot of people are playing it safe with collages, which always come out beautiful, but I’d be excited to see more people doing the 3D art.” Elder provides a range of pre-printed 3D shapes, and she will cover in resin afterwards. As far as materials go, her 3D printed shapes are unique and certainly not something a guest would find at a traditional paint and sip experience.
The walls of J Studio are adorned by work from local artists. As Elder shares, the mission of J Studio is to lower the barriers around art, from creation to display. “Everybody wants their art to be seen, so I thought this would just be another great platform.” Showing work by other artists also has the upside of setting the tone for a creative environment, providing inspiration for visitors.
Still relatively new at 52 O Street Studios, Elder is excited for all of the possibilities the space has opened up for her. “Now that I have more space than just my dining room table, I have been so excited to start making larger pieces. My next piece is going to be two feet by four feet and about a little under 250 domes.” She showed me a large paper bag with hundreds of colorful domes.
Immediately, a childlike instinct kicks in. Elder’s shiny 3D printed pieces are reminiscent of toys - blocks, legos, or puzzle pieces - in the best way, encouraging the creativity and freedom that many people may not have felt since childhood.
“One thing I’ve been finding with pursuing my passion is that cliches are really true, which is kind of annoying: If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Follow your dreams.” If your dreams include being more creative, then J Studio might just be the perfect place to get started.