Artist Spotlight: Jessica Laughlin

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jun 26, 2024 / 0 comments

I have such gorgeous art to share with you today! I recently discovered an extraordinary artist, Jessica Laughlin. She wrote and illustrated a beautiful journal (published by Quarto) that we reviewed, entitled The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

Michigan map by artist Jessica Laughlin
Michigan Map

I loved this journal SO MUCH that I asked if we could learn more about her art! 

She is an excellent chronicler of place in her art; you can see this in her incredible maps. 

Zion National Park. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Zion National Park

I also love her birds! They are whimsical and fun. Look here at my very favorite:

Under the Moonlight. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Under the Moonlight

I seem to want to fall right into her art, learning more about a place, or imagining myself right there in scene. 

Vermont Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Vermont Map

She also has a fascinating backstory and is such an excellent storyteller in both art and words. 

It is lovely to find such beauty, and tie it with travel and place and learning. We love her work!

Jessica Laughlin is an artist, graphic designer, photographer, and real estate agent. She is from Las Vegas, Nevada, where she graduated from the Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts. She received her bachelor’s degree from California State University Monterey Bay. Jessica lives in Henderson, Nevada, with her husband, Chad, and their dog, Gracie. She enjoys road trips, exploring the country, and creating art. 

Artist Jessica Laughlin

We were lucky enough to chat with Laughlin about her art, inspiration, and more. Here's what she had to say...

How long have you been an artist?
I’ve really always been an artist. It seems I’ve had a pen (or crayon) in my hand since I was a young kid. I also had a flair for the dramatics growing up and loved plays. I was two sides of the coin; I enjoyed drawing for hours alone, but I was also able to perform on stage. Perhaps this is because I didn’t have siblings, so I found other ways to entertain myself. In elementary school, I won a calendar art contest by drawing a Cinco de Mayo scene for the month of May. As the winner I earned some money, which I used to buy my first puppy, Coco, a miniature poodle with red hair. I’d been visiting him for months at the mall, hoping each time that he would still be waiting for me. The day I brought Coco home was one of the biggest joys of my childhood.

I went to a magnet high school, The Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts, where I studied theater. My high school experience was unique, as I took acting classes for about two hours each day, along with regular studies. Everyone at the Academy had a major, such as theater, dance, art, or music. The passion and inspiration throughout the school was incredible. My classmates would sometimes break into song at the lunch tables, or dance in the halls, just like a real-life version of Fame. Everyone had a dream. It was also hard work and demanding. When cast in a show, after-school rehearsals went on for months, until late in the evenings. The shows were sensational though and had the quality of Broadway productions.

I was never a star, but I enjoyed being a part of the ensembles and the energy of the theater world. Studying the layers of a character’s life and placing myself in their shoes despite personal differences, contributed to my lifelong love of learning about the experiences of others throughout history. I never pursued theater professionally after high school, and I went on to receive my bachelor’s degree in communication from CSU Monterey Bay. However, the skills I developed related to the fine arts, were for the most part self-taught.

I somehow found myself working in marketing for a photography company in Las Vegas after college. This experience immersed me in a whole new creative world. I wanted to learn about the craft and spent a great deal of time studying the artform under skilled photographers. Eventually, I began working professionally as a wedding and portrait photographer. I primarily worked for a large-scale studio, where I photographed multiple weddings a day on the strip. During that time, I was in almost every casino’s wedding chapel, and in turn, knew just about every Elvis impersonator around Vegas. (Those Viva Las Vegas weddings were the best to photograph!) As photographers, we would head back to the lab at night, and work for hours editing the images to be sold by the chapels’ sales teams the very next day.

In my spare time, I taught myself graphic design, and this led to me becoming a lead designer for Casino Montelago at Lake Las Vegas. I spent many years in the graphic design profession. Through twists and turns, onward it’s gone since then. I’ve always just followed the muse, and whatever sparked my interest at the time. One thing that never faded was my passion for art, and it’s always been there as a constant presence throughout my life. There’s always an idea stirring around in my mind, or something new that I’m learning. I don’t get bored easily, because there’s too much to do and see in life.

The Sparrow. Artist Jessica Laughlin
The Sparrow

Do you have favorite places you like to create?
My favorite place to work is in my art studio at home, or in my backyard. If I’m watching tv at night, I often draw with a board on my lap.

The Forest. Artist Jessica Laughlin
The Forest

The Muse. Artist Jessica Laughlin
The Muse

What does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
About seven years ago, I became a real estate agent. The profession has been a good choice for me, because it’s given me the flexibility needed to pursue my other interests. Some days I wear the real estate hat, and other days I put on the artist’s cap. I work on my art almost every day. When I’m professionally focused on a project, such as the book, I find I’m most creative in the mornings.

Santa Fe Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Santa Fe Map

Quail Family. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Quail Family

What materials do you prefer?
I use a variety of materials depending on the type of piece I’m creating. I prefer using Arches watercolor paper, because it’s the gold standard. I’ve also found it to be excellent for drawing in pen & ink. Bristol paper is also a good surface for pen & ink, because it allows for the lines to be distinctly sharp. My method varies on the effect I want to achieve. I have a variety of Micron and Faber-Castell pens of different point sizes. Studying photography has helped me to understand the importance of contrasts and light, especially when applying these same principles to pen & ink. When a piece is complete, I scan it to my computer and use digital methods to prepare it for print. Oftentimes, I’ll add additional color in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, mixing both watercolor and digital coloring effects together. I’ve never been able to draw on the tablet though, and I only draw on traditional paper surfaces.

Washington DC Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Washington DC Map

Ohio Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Ohio Map

Where/How are you inspired?
Inspiration comes to me in unusual ways. I seem to have the picture in my mind before I begin working on paper. Once the idea is on paper, I just go where it leads. When working on the map illustrations, I was very inspired by traveling and scenery throughout the country. I could also just be watching a show, reading a book, or hear a song, and get a spark of inspiration. Lately, I’ve been inspired by the vintage Currier & Ives prints. I don’t know where it all comes from, and I sometimes even surprise myself with the variety of different ideas.

Monument Valley. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Monument Valley

How do you know when your piece is done?
I think any artist could work on a piece for years, but it’s important to know when to move on. If it starts taking too long, it begins to feel stale. I try to avoid this, by making my artwork a priority and not allowing a piece to sit on the desk unattended for any length of time. There’s always that final stroke, when I just inherently know it’s done. Previously working in fast-paced creative environments, like wedding photography and graphic design, probably contributed to me having a more “create and complete” mindset when it comes to my art.

Lake Tahoe Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Lake Tahoe Map

Arizona Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Arizona Map

Do you work on one or more pieces at a time?
I usually have one piece going at a time, with a file cabinet of ideas placed “on hold” in my mind. I’m a multitasker though, so I’m able to shift gears into different types of creative work. A long time ago, I learned that organization is crucial to prevent becoming overwhelmed as an artist. I may dedicate a couple of hours to drawing, and then refocus on other projects. Usually when I go on the road, I only bring my camera. This is when I recharge my creative batteries, while soaking up new environments and being present in the moment. When I recharge, I seem to come back to the desk with even more ideas to keep me occupied for a while.

Alaska Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Alaska Map

 Tennessee Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Tennessee Map

How can our readers find and purchase your art?
My artwork is available for sale on my website, and on Etsy at JessicaLaughlinShop. I have an Instagram page @jessicalaughlinart, where I post new artwork and photographs. The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, Quarto, and wherever books are sold! You may also find it in hundreds of bookstores and gift shops throughout the country.

Acadia National Park. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Acadia National Park

South Dakota Map. Artist Jessica Laughlin
South Dakota Map

Would you like to share anything else with us?
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my artwork! I would also like to share with younger artists starting out - follow your passions and keep your wildest dreams at the forefront. Setbacks are going to be a part of it all, but don’t dwell on those. One random day, something great is going to appear before you, and it all begins to make sense. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to “be good” at one particular thing or told to go into a more solid profession instead of the arts. I think it’s best to have both under your wing, be an artist and also have a profession. It’s even better if you can somehow connect the two and make a living while doing what you love.

 Yellowstone National Park. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Yellowstone National Park

When you make space for your creative self, it will always be there for you. By expanding horizons, experimenting with artforms, you’ll eventually mix it all together in an artsy soup containing your own ingredients. Your style evolves and comes naturally over time. I’ve combined my love for travel and art together in The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America, by weaving years of different topics I’ve studied into the pages of the book, along with places I’ve visited, and the influences of people I’ve met along the way. I consider myself to still just be starting out. I hope I never feel like I’ve reached a peak, because that could get boring - I’d rather keep on climbing. The journey is the best part of the destination.

Momma Bear and Cubs. Artist Jessica Laughlin
Momma Bear and Cubs

All photos courtesy and copyright Jessica Laughlin, published with permission