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Jay Alders interview

Surf art

Jay Alders speaks to Club Of The Waves about his art, friendship, travels in Brazil and his various charity fundraising work…

Jay, thanks for doing this interview and for sharing your work with us.

It's my pleasure Andrew, you've been such a big supporter, and I am honored to give back. Thank YOU for the opportunity.

Tell us about your background, where are you from, where are you now?

JA: Well, I was raised in Howell, New Jersey for the better part of my childhood. It's a nice suburban town about 12 minutes from the beach. I grew up on my skateboard and always was a water baby. I used to love when my parents would take us to the beach, usually Pt. Pleasant or Island Beach State Park. After getting my own wheels, I was at the beach surfing every day after High School in Manasquan. This is where my love of surfing originated. I went to college in North Jersey at Montclair, which is about 13 miles from New York City and lived in that area for about 8-9 years. That was an enlightening experience, totally different from my upbringing in the 'burbs. After college I moved back down to the coastal areas of Jersey and now reside in a beautiful beach town halfway in between New York City and Philadelphia.

So when did you first find your passion for art?

JA: When I was about 3 or so. I really don't ever remember not liking to draw. My parents have always encouraged my talents and my Mom used to bribe me with art books or supplies when I had to go for my check up at the dentist next door to the art store.

How would you describe your art? And has your style progressed much over the years?

JA: Well, that's hard to answer, because my "style" is ever evolving and I truly have a passion for multiple genres of art and various mediums. But since I assume you're referring to my oil painting and surf art. Here's a mouthful, I'll say that it's a surrealistic culmination of stylized figurative painting with technical inspirations coming from realism, photography and artists throughout history.

Describe your creative process, from the idea, to painting, to the finished piece…

JA: I could write a book on this. Usually at any given moment, I have a brain full of inspirational moments, feelings and visuals from which I draw upon at some future point. I'll carry that arsenal of thoughts with me at all times until the trigger is ready to be pulled. Each new piece is literally an intense emotional, psychological and spiritual journey. Often a concept comes to me when I least expect it and at that moment I am over taken by my subconscious mind.

A painting of mine generally goes through various phases:

The Conceptualization
A free flowing sketching process. Sometimes with a ballpoint pen in some random location, sometimes crayons when hanging out with my nieces, sometimes on my couch with pastels. Whenever it happens. As the idea radiates through me, I work out the lines, shapes, angles and flow of the piece. Sometimes (usually) this goes nowhere. Hence, I have tons of sketchbooks of thoughts. I once read advice to overcome writer's block and it advised to "write for the trash can". I try and do the same artistically. But when a drawing is meant to pursue to the next level, I know it.

The Final sketch
This is like the blue print. I go back into the pencil or pen sketch and rework the lines, make it work better visually, try out different angles, as if I was shooting a photo of the imaginary scene. Make it as final as possible.

The Panel
At this point or sometimes before hand, I will create a wood panel to size. This process for me is the painter's version of shaping a board. It's an intimate process, for which this blank slate shall soon hold the visual manifestation of the energy in my mind. It involves cutting the panel and supporting beams, sanding and applying gesso several times and toning the panel with a neutral shade of brown, gray or earth tone. My current piece I am working on is for a surfboard model I am coming out with, so I decided to paint it virtually to scale.

Finalize it
I then sketch the finalized drawing on to the panel and rework and tweak out the details.

The Underpainting
This leads me to the monochromatic underpainting, working out the tones and shadows, light source, reflected lights, highlights and accents. I try and make the painting pretty refined in this stage to prepare it for further layers.

I use many techniques of the Old Masters, usually working from background to foreground. I'll introduce the mid-tones and initial semi-opaque colors followed by multiple transparent glazes of colors, letting each layer dry completely before reworking it and gradually working in the darks and opaque lights and fine details.

Depending on what I am painting, I will work wet into wet, or dry brush colors to blend them smoothly, sometimes I will allow brush strokes to show, other times, I enjoy blending more thoroughly. The painting dictates to me what needs to be done. I try and utilize any technique as needed. I have been experimenting with various oil mediums for years. Choosing the right type of oils and in what combination really impacts the way a painting will look. It's not always an exact science, I try and paint most of these middle stages by feel and intuition and try to be one with the painting. It sounds hokey, but it's true.

I also will often paint with the panel being upside down. Since I paint by feel, it helps me have the painting make sense. If I am not focused on what it is always but rather make sure that the light, shadows, tones and colors all work. Painting with the piece upside down flips your perspective around, literally. I also will look at the piece in a mirror a lot for the same purpose.

Emotionally, it's a roller coaster for me. Doing a new painting is similar to being in a relationship. It's that initial excitement and intrigue, the passion, the mystery, the analyzing, the over thinking, the comfort, the frustrations, the mental anguish and confusion. I go through insecure phases where I feel completely hopeless and then go through this extreme euphoria where I feel like I am in the painting and it's all coming together. I have moments where I view the painting as an engineer or scientist and then go to the trance state where I am a mere witness to my own brush.

When it all comes together and the painting is done, I am relieved, exhausted and completely stoked and ready for the next one. It is a true lesson in patience and taking a couple weeks' break afterwards is usually needed to recover from the ride I was just on.

I know that I could easily take short cuts and produce 10 times as many paintings if I was not so particular but artists are remembered for the work we create, not the time it took to create it.

What is it about surfing and/or surf culture that inspires you so?

JA: Being so close to the coastal seas of New Jersey, I grew up loving the beach culture and was on a skateboard since I could walk. The ocean has always inspired me. Learning to surf when I was a teenager changed my life. I have become obsessed with surfing ever since.

I love everything about surf culture. Watching the waves undulate towards the shore, the colorful reflections of light skimming off the surface of the water, the birds soaring overhead and the aquatic life hidden below. Climbing on the jetties, the sound of seagulls, sand stuck between my toes, the color temperatures in the foam, the transparency and opacity of the water, the movement and flowing lines of the curling wave.

Then in addition to that, having a figure of a surfer added to the mix with a creative surfing style. Unifying these elements creates an intense subject matter for a surf artist to attempt to render in a unique way.

You recently travelled to Brazil for the Alma Surf Festival, exhibiting 6 of your paintings alongside other artists, photographers and musicians, among which were Sean Davey, Céline Chat, Donavon Frankenreiter and Matt Costa. Tell us about this amazing experience…

JA: I smile just thinking about that trip. Alma Surf Magazine treated us like royalty and I owe them a lot for that experience. It was almost two weeks with some of my favorite musicians and some incredible surf artists and photographers. There's no way you can be around Donavon, ALO, G Love, Matt and his crew and not be in a good mood. They all have been friends for a long time now and have toured together so many times, that it felt like being on a family trip.

I roomed with my good friend and legendary surf photographer Sean Davey, which was an experience all in itself. Sean is such a great human being and quite the character. It was like being in summer camp each day, being goofballs together.

Each night of the musical performances started with our surf art exhibit and from my standpoint as a featured fine artist there, this trip was epic. I got to show my work in three cities across Brazil and connect with some amazing people along the way. I don't speak Portuguese but my limited Spanish and their limited English and our smiles said it all. Brazil is full of warm-hearted good people who made us all feel at home.

I've nurtured some great friendships with the talented folks on this 2007 voyage and have had some outstanding opportunities and memories since then.

This tour is something I could talk about from now until next week and still be stoked on it!

Your travels in Brazil inspired the painting "Rio Jam"…

JA: Perhaps one of the highlights of our tour was in Rio. One of our local friends and quasi tour-guide, Bernardo, took us to his house in the hills of Rio de Janeiro for an impromptu jam session with the musicians after a Brazilian TV interview.

The night consisted of good conversation, intoxication and the best jam session most of us have ever witnessed. Even the musicians afterwards told us how extraordinary it was.

It felt like we were in the presence of a musically significant moment that years from now we could tell our grandchildren about. Sean and I shot hundreds of photos and videos of the night and half way through, I put down my camera for my sketchbook and started sketching Donavon on guitar in front of me. I had felt a wave of inspiration flow through me and I knew when I got home, that it would be my next painting.

To make a long story short, after I finished the painting, I emailed it to Donavon and he called me up on the cell the next day to tell me how stoked he was. It made the couple hundred hours I worked on it all worthwhile. It's since become a painting that I am quite proud of and it reminds me of that magical night of music in Rio with friends.

Rio Jam

Tell us about ZIMZALA…

JA: Zimzala, which means, '…a person who finds contentment with sand between their toes'. We adopted that name for our huge Surf Aid International benefit because it perfectly describes all of the close friends who founded and planned it.

Zimzala '08 (theZimzala.com) was founded by Okoto Apparel (liveyourokoto.com), Sun Dreams Productions (SunDreamsProductions.com) and myself as a way to give back to the surfing community and have a kick ass time doing it.

It took over six months of very intensive planning between five friends to make it happen. We had no idea what we were getting into when we first sat around discussing the idea. But Zimzala took on a life of its own and it became an obsession for us. All of us being based on the shores of New Jersey, we wanted to make an impact loud enough to be felt throughout the surfing community and properly represent our coast. So we all pulled every string we had within our reach and then some.

Musically, it was a momentous evening. We had Maryland based performers Shoreline open things up, then Philly based Ted Hammock rocked the stage, followed by close friends and local favorites, Echo Movement who brought on the reggae beats in full force. Our headline performer was Hawaiian North Shore legend and friend, Paula Fuga who is best known for her performances with Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews in Kokua Festival. Paula came in town a few days early to hang with us and we had such a genuinely great time together. Paula's talent is only rivaled by her inner soul and kind spirits.

Our art auction was a virtual "who's who" in surf art. With artist friends from around the globe including Sean Davey, Robb Havassy, Heather Brown, John Severson, Wade Koniakowsky, Andrew Kidman, Jeff Smith, Matt Clark, Ronnie Jackson and Drew Brophy to name a few.

The auction items included surfboards, kayaks, signed merchandise from Kokua and Brushfire Records, skateboards… I could go on and on.

All night we had free Frappuccinos and Iced Coffee from Starbucks (wooohooo) and Surf Taco gave out free food. I could talk forever about Zimzala, it was a life shaping experience that in the end, raised close to $13,000 (before expenses) and packed close to 700 people in the venue.

As well as your involvement with ZIMZALA, benefiting Surf Aid International, you've also donated a number of prints to raise money for other charities like the Surfrider Foundation and the Surfing Heritage Foundation

JA: We all spend so many hours out in the water being one with Mother Nature and taking from her so much enjoyment and inner peace. Organizations like Surfrider and Surf Aid are working really hard to make our beaches cleaner, safer and improve our world overall. I think it's really important for us all to give back when we have the opportunity.

You painted a snowboard for the Winter X Games to be auctioned off to benefit cancer research (which was really cool by the way), how did that come about?

JA: ESPN and the X Games folks dug my artwork and contacted me to see if I'd be interested in painting a snowboard for the 2008 X Games. They explained how the money raised from the art auction was going towards The V Foundation to raise money for Cancer Research. I have been blessed with a lot of amazing opportunities and career achievements. So when I had the chance to help humanity with my artwork it was an easy choice. Plus on top of that, I was honored to be selected. It's an honor within itself. The X Games rock!

You take full advantage of all the various social networking sites around today, and why not, they're undoubtedly a great promotional tool… How are you finding this extra interaction with your fans?

JA: These sites are awesome. They allow me as an artist to connect with friends and fans around the world. I am rather candid and open on my pages online, it's nice to be able to share my views and thoughts and personal memories. It gives me a chance to see my fans, read about them and share my artwork with a growing global network of nice human beings.

'Surf Art' seems to be gaining momentum around the world and in the surf media, your art has been featured in a number of magazines and other media (internationally), how does it feel to be gaining this level of publicity?

JA: It's been a beautiful experience, which is very hard to verbalize because I have been expressing myself with art since age three. It literally has been my lifelong dream to be successful with my fine art. So being able to manifest my artistic dreams makes me overwhelmingly grateful and appreciative beyond words.

You are also a photographer?

JA: Yes, I have been a photographer for almost fifteen years now. Shooting photos truly helps me as a painter to see in ways that a non-photographer probably doesn't understand. Likewise, my painting helps me compose photographs and set up lighting scenarios in artistic ways.

You can purchase prints and all sorts of other products featuring your work on your website, correct?

JA: Absolutely. Thanks for the plug! :) All of the talented artists and photographers on Club Of The Waves are pursuing their dreams and taking a path less traveled. The best way to support your favorite artist, whomever that may be, is go out and buy a print. I have an online gallery, which has a large selection of my giclée prints and canvas reproductions available for sale. I also sell my surf art longboards, t-shirts and beach style merchandise as well as some of my very good friends' artwork and photography.

So finally, what does the future hold for Jay Alders?

JA: Speaking artistically, I am on a mission to improve and adapt my artistic style and keep it uniquely my own. I never want my techniques or style to be static. I am working on some exciting new projects; such as putting out some surf art surfboards and other rad licensing deals that vibe with my lifestyle.

I want to be extremely successful so I can have the ability to give back to my family and friends and enjoy each day to its fullest. I want to constantly learn, improve and never cease to impress myself. I want to express myself through my art in a way that moves people emotionally. I want to make a long lasting positive impact on the global art and surfing scene. I want to have exciting opportunities continually manifest themselves into my world because so far, it's been awesome. I want to be more aware and content and help others to realize their potential. I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I want to continue to use my talents to help humanity, animals and the environment. And I want to always be appreciative and grateful for what I am blessed with.

Thanks again Jay for this insight into your life and work.

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