This month our Artist Feature is Tabitha Jensen. An illustrator with a talent for creating imaginative creatures and magical worlds. She is most known for turning her work into beautifully hand painted trading cards.
Tell us about yourself.
Oh goodness, where to start, what to tell!? My name is Tabitha Jensen but I go by Pabkins. Folks often ask me where “Pabkins” comes from and it truly is my nickname. My older sister started calling me Pabkins as a child and always has to this day. When I found social media years ago I needed a userID and I thought ‘hey what better then my nickname?’ It wasn’t taken anywhere, was a touch unusual, short, and easy to remember. My father was in the army while I was growing up so I moved around almost every year or two of my life. I still get the itch to travel and jump to it whenever I get the chance. That is a lot harder now that I’m married and have 2 young boys. Luckily my husband enjoys traveling too.
I recently decided to leave the workforce to try being a stay at home mom for awhile. It is the first time in my life I haven’t worked or had expendable income (I’m a crazy collector of art and oddities) – but I’m really loving the experience so far. I had my first job at the age of 13 and have always been really independent so not working full time has been a the strangest feeling for me. I’m so lucky to have such an amazingly supportive spouse who’s giving me the opportunity to indulge my art more all while be more readily available for our family.
Unfortunately my parents weren’t around as much growing up and since we moved so much I never had the opportunity to get attached to people or places. But I don’t regret that at all as I’ve seen so many wonderful places and people. Maybe that is where my love for adventure and stories is rooted? I spent 6 years in the active Army right out of high school and went into the medical laboratory field. Doesn’t that seem like the furthest from a creative field you can get? It certainly does to me now. When I was done with the army I moved back to Sacramento, California started college night classes and found a great job. I met my husband shortly after and fell crazy in love with him. Course if you ask him, I’ve always been crazy. I think I’m a bit socially awkward at times and very much a book/anime/video game nerd. So I tried to flirt with him by referencing Monty Python…that makes total sense right? Of course it does! Luckily he’s quite the nerd himself so we were a perfect match. I remember pestering him while we were dating to help me with my college art homework so I could do my chemistry and science homework instead. I just took the art classes for some easy classes to balance my workload and didn’t realize how much art homework they’d actually assign! Oh goodness art is work!! – of course now I think of it as fun. When I realized he could draw so well I was amazed! And yet he doesn’t think of himself as an artist, he says what he can do is all technical skill and that what makes you an artist is the drive and desire to create art. He teases me to this day about how I forced him into helping with the art homework I never wanted to do, and now art is all I want to do.
Your creatures and characters (like the mushrooms and robots) are so cute! How did they come to be?
I have a really active imagination! That and I love stories. Once I learned to read as a child I devoured every fantasy and science fiction book I could get my hands on. In fact I used to think I’d love to be an author. But I know I never had any true desire to write my own stories, but draw them?…now that seems like so much more fun. Plus a viewer can add in other little details to the story with their own imagination.
The March of Robots series was actually accomplished with help from the wonderful interactions I have with the art community on Instagram. I did a live stream almost every day the month of March and would ask folks at the start of each stream what sort of robot they wanted to see that day. Usually I’d pick one of the suggestions that I could imagine a character for right away and created it as they watched. It became such a big motivator for me to complete the series because I knew folks were watching or rooting for me to complete the entire 31 day challenge.
As for many of my other creations? I have all these little stories and characters in my head, but that is usually all they are just little ones that only stay around long enough for me to create a drawing and for them to be seen. Then off they go on their merry way. I love adventure and whimsy and want to capture those things in my art and want it to tell a story to whoever sees it. I smile a lot when I create and I always hope that seeing my art would make others smile as well. I absolutely live for those moments when one of my boys tells me he loves what I’ve drawn. The first time I heard my eldest son say “Mommy I love your pretty pictures” I cried from being so happy.
I often take inspiration from my daily life. The first time my kiddo rode a tricycle I drew a little character on a firefly powered tricycle. I love traveling so hence there are lots of travelers in my art. And one of my favorites is how I love having pen pals. So you’ll often see postal related characters in my art as the art we send to each other from across continents is so precious.
Some of my characters stick around and start to become so real to me, demanding to be drawn again and again. I fall in love with them and the stories they want to tell. I feel like this must be the same for many artists – we call them our “original characters”. That is what the mushi are to me, they aren’t just drawings. I picture them around me and in their world. They are always putting in their two little cents into whatever I’m doing. I hope to someday create a children’s book featuring them, written and illustrated by me. But for right now I only have a book of inktober paintings full of them. I don’t think I’m quite where I want to be in my skills to accomplish a storybook yet but I hope to be there soon.
Have you always loved making smaller pieces? Why?
I used to love drawing in 5×7, 8×8 or 8×10 inch sizes when I first started drawing in 2015! Then I realized I could get an entire TINY piece done each day if I worked smaller by making art cards. Back then I worked full time and my second son was just born so between work and family the smaller art was just more doable. I started making them in December 2015 and I don’t even remember now how I got into them! But by the time late 2016 came around I was absolutely hooked on creating a daily card. I loved that sense of accomplishment I’d get when I finished a piece of art each day. I created 366 cards in 2016 and almost 400 in 2017. I’m a bit behind schedule for my 2018 card count, but that is because now that I’ve left the workforce to be a stay at home mom I am giving myself the time to indulge in larger pieces and projects that I didn’t have time for in the past.
A lot of your work is made with markers, what draws you to them as a medium?
Actually, it’s only been the past year that I’ve been so heavily into using markers, my first love was watercolor paint. But markers are a bit faster and so much easier to carry around and use on the go. I also love how bright and fun the colors are. They remind me of all the cartoons I watched growing up. They look so crisp and clean and professional to me, just like digital art almost! I can grab a handful, shove them in my purse and color anywhere. Of course, I can do that with watercolors too but it’s a whole lot messier and takes more time. Ultimately time and not enough of it, is what influenced a lot of what I did or didn’t do with art these first few years. Don’t we all think we never have enough time? Now I finally do! My husband and I both worked such long hours I was having to sneak in the art whenever I could. On my lunch hour or late at night after everyone had gone to bed. I remember doing speed drawing exercises during my lunch hour, forcing myself to sketch out as quickly as I could and get to the painting or coloring part to have everything finished within that hour. When I discovered markers, they felt so much faster to me then painting that I adopted them into my art supply hoard and fell in love. I still absolutely love watercolors and I’m so glad to be able to relax and indulge in them again now as they really do bring out a different side to my art. I think every medium brings out something new and have been diving more into other mediums as well. I recently took up gouache paint and have really been enjoying that as well.
Any advice for artists looking to get started filming their art process?
Yes! – now keep in mind I’m VERY new to Twitch Live Streaming and Youtube videos, but I am loving it. I have always loved live streaming on Instagram since they added that feature but I moved to Twitch because it offered much better video quality and the videos stick around longer. I would suggest if you’re starting out to make a shopping list of the things you’ll need for your setup. A nice document video camera being the first thing! But just as important is a well-lit area, so find yourself some fabulous lamps for your filming area. Try something that is easier on your eyes, with low glare and that has a dimmable setting. I am still working on improving the lighting in my videos. If you plan to do Twitch live streaming the folks there usually really like to see a face while viewing so snag yourself a nice webcam that has a microphone. And one of the most important things is internet service, make sure you have a high enough upload rate and that your PC has the processing power to be able to run all of your devices via the broadcasting software while uploading your stream to the place of your choice. Twitch, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope are a few of the social media that I know have live streaming. As I said I’m by no means an expert and there is still have so much reading I want to do on how to improve my stream quality. Right now, I use XSplit Broadcaster to do my streaming but another good one I’ve also tried is OBS.
For videos you’ll need a video editing software. There are so many out there but the two I’ve tried are Corel and Adobe Premier Pro. I did try a free software at first but I can tell you it was worth it to me to pay for software rather than to continue struggling with freeware. After that just film away, have fun, be you and post new videos or live streams consistently! By doing that I’m hoping my viewership will slowly grow.
Favorite Bee Paper product?
Ok hands down so far it is definitely the Smooth Bristol. It takes the copic markers like a dream! Ever since I started using markers I struggled to find a quality paper to pair them with. Ultimately I realized “marker” papers weren’t for me and that I preferred to use markers on bristol and often times even watercolor paper, though that sucks the markers dry so fast, beware! So many papers I tried the markers would bleed heavily to the backside of the paper. Markers also have a different topside bleed radius on every type of paper. What I love so much about the Bee Paper smooth bristol is that it blends the ink so smoothly and takes layer after layer without bleeding thru to the backside of the paper! Also, the bleed radius on the front of the paper is perfect for the small format I tend to work in. I even recently used it to bind my own handmade sketchbook and loved how it turned out because I was actually able to use both sides of the paper. Woohoo, you just can’t beat that!
What was the art challenge that renewed the love of art? Why do you think that was the catalyst?
It was the October art challenges of #Drawlloween and #Inktober! I think those are the biggest and most popular art challenges I know of on social media. I gave it a whirl back in 2014 for the first time but I didn’t do so well that first year as I didn’t know much about social media and didn’t interact with other artists. As it’s social media you must BE social and I’d never been great at any kind of social media before, I didn’t even really know why I was supposed to add a hashtag or that you could click on it to see other posts that also had that hashtag on it! Thus, the catalyst actually happened the next year! By then I had learned the ropes of Instagram, what hashtags meant and how to search and find other people to interact with.
When the challenge started that time, I knew how to find art posts by other folks participating, and oohed and ahhed at all the wonderful art. I interacted and commented up a storm as I was so excited by how much amazing art I was seeing. In return I received so many friendly comments and fantastic encouragement from other artists that it made the art challenge experience a million times better! The sense of community and enthusiasm that was being shared by everyone ignited the drive and passion in me to create that was only a small one before. We all want to love what we create. But when someone else likes it or loves it, that is something priceless and absolutely addictive. People were saying nice things about MY art, I couldn’t believe it! I made wonderful friends that I still have to this day and have been lucky enough to meet many of them in person. With their shared love of art and kindness I discovered the joy of creating art on a daily basis. While I have always loved art and collecting it I never realized I had any talent for it until others told me so. Now I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s a big reason why I still love participating in art challenges so often and also why I host an art challenge a few times a year with my friend Jordan Thompson (@badaliceshop) called #ARTitupwithfriends. We hoped to create a positive community environment for encouraging and supporting others to keep making art. Many of us work in fields completely unrelated to art and it’s so common to come home at the end of the day too tired or unmotivated to create. But when you know there are other people there that would love to create with you, it makes a huge difference. And because I was totally addicted to the art cards I also created my own monthly challenge community that functions as a way for artists to collect and share their art safely with others via the #ATCitupwithfriends trade group. Can you tell I have an art addictive personality?
Where do you hope to go with your art in the future?
Above all I hope to improve my skills! As for where it might take me professionally I tend to waver back and forth on. I would love to find some way to make art a career later down the road but I don’t feel my skills are strong enough yet. The cynic in me tells me that art as a career is a pipe dream outside of an art industry field and I think that sort of career would require formal training which I don’t have. I also don’t know if that is something I would want to do later in life but as I progress things might change. But the dreamer in me wants to keep creating and putting my art out there hoping folks will love it and want it for their own. I do hope to make my own children’s book someday and I think that is way more achievable with all of the ways you can personally publish a book these days. I am even currently working on putting together two books Volume 1 and 2 of my arts cards for the first two years I made them daily. Ultimately, it’ll be a few years yet before I’ll be able to devote the time to get myself where I want to be art wise. Until then I will just enjoy creating and pursue smaller projects and definitely count myself lucky at any other opportunities that present themselves.
Thank you so much folks of Bee Paper for appreciating my art and wanting to feature me in an interview. It means so much to me! Long thrive the Bee hive! – haha yeah, I’m a little silly.