Artists ~ Jason Freedman ~ Cumberland

Artist’s name: Jason Freedman
Shop name: Uncle J's Monsters
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1. Tell us about your work:
I draw Monsters who don't know they're monsters.

Currently I'm offering limited edition prints and prints mounted on wood panels of over sixty Uncle J's Monsters monsters, plus open editions of:
- framed/matted prints
- prints on metal and canvas
- 25 designs on men's, women's and kid's tee-shirts and onesies for infants
- cell phone cases
- throw pillows
- shower curtains...because, y'know, shower curtains.

2. Is there a story behind the name of your business?
I’m a stay-at-home dad. Among other parental duties, it’s my job to get our kids ready and off to school each day. That includes packing their lunches. I put a hand-written note with our son’s lunch when he started first grade – a little love from home. That was all good ‘til a few months into second grade when he admitted, “Dad…they’re embarrassing.” Well, just because his young brain got a bit agitated, I’m not done telling him I love him. So, I began sending along a little sketch instead. That was November 2009.

Those early, two-minute drawings – my first since I don’t know when – always on plain 3” x 5” index cards – evolved from pretty rough geometric shapes and single-color stick figures, to bright creatures colorized with magic markers and then, with a fortuitous birthday present, colored pencils. Now, each day’s hand drawn monsters become the basis for digital portraits of Uncle J’s Monsters. My wife is the youngest of four siblings and as long as we've been together, I've been known as Uncle J to the next generation of her family.

3. How did you come to be a professional artist/crafter/designer?
It's cliché -- I've always done creative stuff. When I was in elementary school I was constantly drawing, coloring, building with Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets. Aspirations for a career in architecture kept me focused on and thoroughly enjoying mechanical drawing classes in grades 7 through 12. However, I missed a tremendous opportunity because of that somewhat misguided focus. I was crushed during my senior year when I was applying to colleges only to find out all the architecture programs expected to see a "creative portfolio" along with admission essays, not the drafting work I'd done. I would have loved to have taken art/painting/photography classes, but I didn't because I thought I was doing the right thing to prepare by taking drafting courses.

Music performance was a big part of my life. It included playing the trumpet in middle school and then baritone horn and euphonium through high school. In college I was a member of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band (UMMB) low brass section. The Men's basketball team was a rising force nationally while I was there in the early 1990's and I picked up trombone to play in the Hoop Band (I was pretty stanky...last chair...but it was easy enough to follow my buddies' slide positions I learned).

Some sort of camera always ends up in my hands, beginning around the time I first started going to Summer camp as a kid. Then there were tons of crazy fun times making 8mm movies with high school friends. They typically involved aliens or death or both. Except for this one time when we had chickens. Next, I got introduced to video production while in the UMMB. We created documentary-style video yearbooks starting in 1989. That led to a 20-year career for me; ten years with marching bands and drum corps activities followed by a decade of corporate video. I was primarily a camera operator who also edited. I got my first digital still camera soon after our son was born. I manage to shoot a couple tens of thousands of images each year for the past dozen years. A few hundred actually turn out to be keepers, too!

Uncle J's Monsters came to be as I mentioned in the origin story. It kind of happened accidentally during the Fall of 2009. Drawing something different every day has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of Monsters from all those years of school lunches.

4. Where do you draw your inspiration?
Though it can be said my work has a cartoon or comic vibe, I don't really watch cartoons or read comics. The very broad category of Visual Arts serves up lots of inspiration and encouragement for me: Mid-Century Modern design, Street Art, LowBrow Art, stone Sculpture, Ceramics, Independent Films, Architecture, Custom Car building (especially Hot Rods and Rat Rods) and Pre-1960 Automobiles, Photography, Abstract painting, Artist Books and plenty of amazing Tattoo artists. I really appreciate works that demonstrate an artist's unconventional thinking. As in comedy, it's the surprises that make an artwork work for me.

5. What’s your favorite item to create?
Well, right now I pretty much regularly do one of two artistic things: draw Monsters and take photographs. Both of them make me happy! However, I do not take photos of Monsters nor do I draw photographs. Though I suppose I'd draw a picture of a Monster taking photographs. Stay tuned!

6. What’s your best seller?
People seem to be connecting most with my "Gentle Giant" and "Omti + Itmo" creatures. At the same time, collectors often say something like "They're all so cute, I can't decide!" as they check out my stuff at my art fair booth.

7. How long have you been in Rhode Island?
I settled in Rhode Island in the Spring of 1999.

8. What do you {heart} about Rhode Island?
I moved here all the way from Massachusetts. I grew up in the western part of The Bay State, thinking [sarcastically] "Rhode Island? Who the hell lives in Rhode Island? It's so far away." What I love about Rhode Island is that it's the center of my universe. But I didn't know that until after my wife and I moved here. Our family and friends are scattered around New England and I soon realized it was really pretty easy to drive just about anywhere from our home in Cumberland. Since moving here, I've also found the amount of artists and art-related events and opportunities to be tremendous.

9. Any advice for new/wannabe makers?
Make stuff. Experiment. Learn to know when to say when...sometimes that one extra line is too much. But don't sweat it. It's just a line. You're creative. Find a solution. Do NOT compare yourself to other artists. Every one of us has a unique voice. If you don't find and express yours, then you're just a robot on an assembly line cranking out copies. Oh, and dig up some confidence sooner than later, call yourself an Artist and start showing your stuff in public. It's scary at first, but amazing when total strangers actually look at -- really look -- and admire your work. Some of them even buy stuff!


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