“Art is meant to be shared, loved, and appreciated by others, and that is the best thing about it.” Jake Blaszak
How did you get started as an artist?
I have always had an interest in art from a very young age. I remember loving my art classes in elementary school and enjoying making art at every chance that I got. As I was growing up and beginning art, I refused to use color. I would just use graphite and make drawings in my sketchbook. It wasn’t until my high school art teacher forced me to experiment with colors that I was finally opened up to the wonderful world of colored media.
When did you first start sensing that God was calling you to use your gifts as an artist?
For the longest time, art was something that I created for my own personal use. I would make artworks I wanted that had no religious significance.
When I got into high school, my art teacher was tasked with providing art to decorate the school as well as art to be sold at the school gala fundraiser. For these, I began creating art for others, and I remember one of the first pieces I made that had a religious subject was a portrait of Pope Francis (done in black and white . . . no color!) to be sold at the gala.
At this point, I realized that I loved creating artwork for others and that art with a religious meaning could be so beautiful. Nowadays, I rarely create art for my own use, and it is almost always to be given away or shared with everyone.
The first wood-burned icon I created was actually for my brother-in-law. He graciously asked me to be his confirmation sponsor, and I wanted to get him a personal gift with his confirmation saint and something that was unique, so I made an icon of Blessed Giorgio Frassati.
How has your faith affected your art? How has your art affected your faith?
My faith has been positively impacted by my art in the few years since I began working on wood-burned icons because I have had to create icons of some saints I had never heard of.
When one of these projects comes up, I always find it interesting to learn about the saint I am creating an icon of, which any saint’s story inevitably brings those who know it closer to God. That is why saints exist, and I have the unique privilege of furthering these saints’ veneration through the production of a holy image of them.
Who or what has been influential in your art?
My elementary art teacher was the most influential person in my progression as an artist. I began going to Catholic school in fourth grade and had the most amazing woman as my art teacher. Her name is Carla Quigley, and she always had such a positive attitude and made art feel like it was the most amazing and important thing in the world.
After having her as a teacher, I began telling everyone that I wanted to become an art teacher when I grew up. Though that idea would change as I got older and entered middle and high school, I suppose it never went away because I can proudly say that I am now an elementary and middle school art teacher at a Catholic school.
My influences continued as I went through college. Because I went into teaching, I almost feel a need to know and understand a variety of media and styles, so I wouldn’t say I have been particularly inspired by the styles of a specific artist. Still, I am drawn to a wide variety.
That being said, I also don’t feel as though I have my own unique “style,” but rather try to use a wide variety of styles and make something different depending on the media being used.
My time at Stephen F. Austin University studying Art Education really helped me to be exposed to artists, styles, and media that I would not have otherwise been exposed to, and I learned so much about each one of the media I was able to use.
Tell us about your favorite medium as an artist.
When I went to college, I had to choose a medium as a concentration. I knew that I was good at painting, but I also knew that it wasn’t my favorite form of art to create, so after taking just one ceramics class, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. Something about the tactile nature of the medium combined with (when done correctly) inherent symmetry and perfection really spoke to me about throwing (clay) on the wheel, and I immediately fell in love.
Unfortunately, despite having my own personal pottery wheel, I don’t have much time for pottery throwing anymore.
The other medium that I would consider my favorite would be woodworking. I have always enjoyed math and geometry and the intricacies that come from using them within art. My dad has always been an extreme handyman, problem-solving through building, and I would try to help him whenever possible with these projects.
What do you most enjoy about creating works of art?
My favorite part of creating art is being able to share it with others once I am done. As I mentioned, I used to create art for myself and did not share it with others often, but now I rarely hold onto anything I make. Art is meant to be shared, loved, and appreciated by others, and that is the best thing about it.
What challenges do you face as an artist, and how do you overcome them?
At this point in my life, the main challenge I face as an artist is time. I do not have enough time to do all the projects I want to. I suppose that is what happens when you have two children who are, at the time of writing this, four weeks, and 17 months old. That being said, it is a tradeoff that I am always willing to make because even more than the art that I love to create, the thing that brings me the most joy in my life is my wife and children and having the time to be with them.
What projects are you currently working on?
As always, I am working on commissions for wood-burned icons.
However, as far as personal projects, I am very slowly working on a few different things. As a gift to my oldest son, after he was born, I decided to draw and watercolor a portrait of each of our family members in a small sketchbook.
I am also trying to draw a self-portrait in a new style at least once a month, ideally for the rest of my life, though I have already missed a few since I began this project in January 2022.
My final major ongoing project is a family portrait of our family that I gift to my wife, each Christmas. Obviously, this project only happens once a year, but it is something that I am proud of and love doing. If you can’t tell by now, my favorite subject to make art of is people.
Any advice to budding artists?
My advice to any budding artist would be to simply keep creating!
One of my favorite artistic motivators is the YouTuber Christian Scott Sava. He has a lot of advice for new artists and is generally an incredibly positive person for the artistic community. He often says that there is no such thing as perfect art and it’s okay to dislike artwork that you make, just keep creating, and you will inevitably improve.
Where can others purchase your work and learn more about your work?
I sell wood-burned icons on my Etsy shop, which you can find by searching JTB Art and Design on Etsy. Custom Handmade Wood-burned Religious Icon Religious Décor – Etsy
If you have a specific request or something that isn’t exactly like the product described in my shop, feel free to contact me through Etsy, and we can work together on a specialized piece for you. As examples, I have made triptychs and a litany of saints as custom orders.
I am terrible at social media and have not kept it up to date, but I have a lot of previous work on my Instagram, which you can find @jtbartanddesign, or my personal work @mr_b_artroom.