Artist Interviews 2024

Jeff lavinsky  
By Julia Siedenburg

Jeff Lavinsky’s work can make the brighten up the greyest of days. His artworks are so fun, so vibrant and so fantastical, you can’t help but smile and feel happy when you see them. Each of his maps that is used as the background for his paintings is carefully chosen to fit the theme and/or differently dressed animal that is portrayed. Each of his animals tells an exciting mystical story. As his map paintings are not present enough, he also works with nonprofits and organizations that focus on helping the ocean and marine life.

I discovered this amazing art creator at the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, which is a famous annual Art Festival located by the canyon on the outskirts of this famous beach town/ artist hub. Talking to Jeff was so easy and so insightful and I immediately knew, I had to ask to be part of this issue so you dear reader, can experience the joy that his work brings. So please enjoy this interview:

Why do you think art is so important for the people?

I think that art is important for people because it can be so magical. An escape into your own personal world of feelings and emotions. It is so transcendental and can be a gateway into a different state of consciousness away from the everyday worries of life. It can uplift you, and inspire you, and make you feel things just by a glance. Art has made me a better person by allowing me an opportunity to express myself without any limitations and reach my own fullest potential. I feel that my work is important because it recognizes people's love for their animals and also enables them to connect to the various areas depicted on the maps and charts I utilize in my paintings. Similar to the feeling of your dog’s wagging tail. Or cats purr when you arrive home from a long day. I strive to create a feeling of wonderment and nostalgia in each piece.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the art world and outside of it?

I’ve admired the artwork of Jeremy Fish for many years and the way that he brings in elements of animals morphed into his creations blending with his sense of humor. Also, the work of Greg “Craola” Simkins with his Whimsical approach, and Mike Giants effortless line work have inspired my technical approach to creating crisp lines and clean-looking work. Wes Anderson’s work has been a big inspiration to me lately. I love the anthropomorphic depictions of animals in his movies like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs.

What moment in your life made you want to pursue an art career?

I can vividly remember as a child taking trips to Huntington Beach near Golden West Street where the city used to allow street artists to paint large Murals. One clear image stands out in my mind that I would spend hours admiring that had a graphic depiction of Alice in Wonderland. I would sit there jotting down sketches and wishing that one day I might be that talented. I also began skateboarding around this time in my life and the boards would always have the coolest artwork which would spark my imagination and excitement. The art culture movement surrounding skateboarding and street art was a huge part of my passion for art and inspired me to draw and paint daily. I believe those moments had a huge impact on the trajectory of my life. Large public art installations and exposure to art are so important to our communities and can have a wonderful impact on our society.

I simply love the fantastical animal portraits, that you have so beautifully crafted. From the Mariachi Donkey to the Golfing Otter, each creature is so incredibly detailed. Where do you get your ideas from?

This is a very interesting question for me because I cannot with any certainty say where the ideas come from. I usually have a certain chart/map in mind that I would like to utilize than I think of an animal I may want to work on. Then I do some sketches and sort of ponder on it for a bit and almost like a dream, images start to appear in the mind. I usually know it will be a success if I am laughing out loud while working on it. Like, “oh, this would be super funny and what if I add this wacky element.” I try to do what makes me happy and carry that energy in my heart while composing the piece. THen I hope that the same energy and feelings are felt by the viewers of my work.

Can you walk us through your process a bit? How long does it take to create one piece? Under what criteria do you choose the maps?

Each of my paintings are started off in my studio with a piece of raw lumber. I’ll cut it to the appropriate size I would like and then I go through a process of sanding the top and routing the edges. I have a large collection of nautical Charts and Maps I’ve acquired and think of them like old vinyl records. I have a bin that I dig through and the smell and patina of the old charts are so pleasing to me to work with. I’ll find a map that I think people may connect with or an area that I know a species of animal that I want to create exists and then I’ll mount the chart using glue and tools very similar to putting up wallpaper. Once it dries I’ll sketch the images and begin painting using acrylic paint and pen and ink. The whole process usually takes about a week or two.

Next to your Map creations you also have been successfully trying your luck at sculptures.

I have a mentor in town that I admire and she has a ceramic studio where she creates whimsical dog bowls and sculptures from her paintings of animals. We thought it could be a fun way to create some of my popular pieces in sculpture and I have done a few pieces. She would like me to create more to enable me to make them into plush toys and other areas of marketing material in 3d. It is a fun process and I’m still slowly pursuing it.

Please tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing. How has that experience been for you, and do you think you will continue to try out different mediums?

My childhood upbringing allowed me to be very independent and artistic from a young age. I always had amazing art teachers in grammar school into high school and due to circumstances, I moved away from home on my own around the age of 16. I began working as a tattoo artist around this time and had some other creative gigs but never studied art traditionally or had any formal training. Being a self-taught artist has been rewarding and I owe a lot of my success as an artist to an amazing artist herein Laguna Beach who I worked with for a few years. He taught me about the business side of art and how to make reproductions of my artwork for sale at festivals.

Besides your great work, one other thing that I admire about you is your work with Marine life-focused Foundations and Organizations such as Surfrider, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and Aquarium of the Pacific. Can you please elaborate a little more on why those collaborations have been so important for you?

Working with these types of organizations has been a huge blessing in my work and allowed me to create some very amazing pieces from their animal patients. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center was very kind, allowing me to photograph and paint some of their rescued animals and we worked together to create many memorable pieces for their gift shop including T-Shirts and Giclee prints. I hope to continue to work with more organizations of this kind in the future.

You have been showcasing your work at many great Art Fairs in California, one of them being the famous Sawdust Festival in the art hub Laguna Beach. How was your first-ever showcase experience and why do you think there are so many people so in love with their Sawdust experience?

The Sawdust Art Festival is such a magical place and I am very grateful to be part of it. There is something for everyone there and the atmosphere is laid back and family friendly. Each booth is hand-built and has its own feel and they allow us to decorate it pretty much however we’d like so it allows me to be able to express myself to my fullest potential. I believe that people love these aspects and combined with live music and fun art activities it truly is the perfect destination for any art lover.

What are your ideas for the future? Where would you like to see your art exhibited?

Moving forward I would like to open my own art gallery here in Laguna Beach and continue to create whimsical and fun art pieces and hopefully develop my characters into books or even animated films. I would love to see my work exhibited in Japan and around the globe and continue to do shows anywhere that my work would be appreciated.

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