Fine art figurative artist Buddy Jackson in Kitchen

Buddy Jackson earned a name in Nashville as one of the top designers with more than twenty-five years in the business. His talent in the music community won him many awards including two Grammys for best recording package. Today he shares his career path and how he left the commercial world to become a fine art figurative artist pursuing his love of sculpture, photography, and painting.

Growing Up In Knoxville

Buddy grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his father, mother, and two sisters. When he was around 6 years old he remembers drawing in the kitchen with his grandfather, a sign painter, and artist on his mother’s side. His grandfather gave him a drawing challenge to create expressions of emotion using only simple dots for eyes, eyebrows, and a mouth. That was the beginning of what sparked Buddy’s interest in drawing and sketching figures.

A painting by Buddy’s grandfather
Buddy as a child

In high school, Buddy was influenced by comic book characters, especially Mad Magazine. He dreamed of being a cartoonist but didn’t really believe it could be a career. When he started college at the University of Tennessee he signed up to pursue painting as a major in fine art, minoring in sculpture. In his last year of college after a professor said he would never make it on his own as an artist, Buddy left school, moved to Nashville, and started working at a small printing company. At the time he didn’t realize that he was learning the skills of becoming a graphic design artist, he explains,

“Most of the people that did design work and art direction were schooled in how to be designers and art directors but I was taught how to manufacture ideas as opposed to executing ideas. I think it gave me a leg up in doing proper design work.”

Growing An Award Winning Career

While working at the printing company Buddy learned the printing process from beginning to end, completing entire jobs in a day. He started as a production artist but about a year later the company merged with an advertising PR firm. There he excelled, growing his skills to become Creative Director and Senior Vice President 7 years later before leaving to start his own company.

When Buddy set out on his own to start Jackson Design, he put a strong portfolio together and marketed it to people in the corporate world whom he knew bought art for a living. He targeted his work to marketing directors at publishing houses and record label companies. His background in marketing helped him secure work writing and consulting for ads and design production. In the ’90s his company was one of the first to go digital working in the music industry primarily with Christian, southern gospel, and black gospel artists. Despite the stress of deadlines, he loved working long hours and getting lost in the creative process of his work.

“I realize at some point that stress is not an environment, it’s your reaction to the environment. That thinking allowed me not to stress out very often. I wasn’t afraid of deadlines or of working all night although I know it really frustrated some of the people that worked for me,” he admits.

After twenty-five years of growing his design business, Buddy was offered an opportunity to merge with a large corporate advertising agency, the Buntin Group. At first, he was really excited about the change but soon after he realized he just was not cut out for the corporate advertising world. The commercial industry of design made him feel as if he was deceiving and misleading his audience. Having signed a non-compete agreement, Buddy found himself unable to start a new company of his own so he decided it was time to explore his dream of being a fine art artist. He explains,

“I really kind of hated advertising. I feel like it’s fundamentally dishonest. I told myself that the design side is more honest, but I realized that was kind of a lie too. Branding and positioning to make a person look cool, smart, or unique still feel like a lie in the industry to me.”

Buddy in his studio

Buddy had also grown tired of commercial art and needed to feel connected to something that had some longevity. He felt that fine art had a longer lifespan and value compared to the design work he had created over the years. During that time he was making sculptures as a hobby, had been showing his work at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville, gaining interest, and believed it was a great place to begin his next creative adventure. He explains,

“I realized at one point while working on a piece of sculpture, this art is going to be around for a long time but those twenty-five years of design work, those seventeen or eighteen thousand projects that we handled through our company are all gone. I realized it was all just nonsense in terms of being art… it’s not art. I think if someone else is defining what your work is going to be, it’s not really yours.”  

Becoming a Fine Art Figurative Artist

The first few years of shifting from the busy work of commercial design to the slower pace of becoming an artist were difficult. Buddy says going from the business of constant phone calls, answering the vast number of daily emails and the experience of being in demand to silence was like turning off a switch.

“Nothing work-related was there, nobody was calling, there were no deadlines to chase. It was pretty weird, it was not fun and it took me a while to get my feet back underneath me,” Buddy admits.

Buddy built a large studio in his backyard right away to paint and do sculpture in and immediately felt buyer’s remorse. He says that going from an environment with people all around him to a quiet empty room made him feel uncomfortable and he avoided it for several years. He says he always strived to be the same person at work that he was at home. He believes he is not characterized by what he does, though it is a part of who he is as a person. He discovered in an instant that being a fine art artist felt like the loneliest job in the world.

“I don’t know any job that’s less lonely than being a fine art artist. Sitting in a room somewhere by yourself with some medium in front of you that you’re supposed to turn into something of value, is so difficult,” Buddy admits.

Life = Loss
AM In Purple
Hatti By Window

He tried to paint but felt lost as an artist. He felt creative guilt due to his lack of ability to work and believed he was doing something wrong. He didn’t like forcing himself to try and paint and then hating everything he created. When he injured his right hand and experienced nerve damage he thought that working with clay would be good hand therapy. That was a turning point, he realized creating three-dimensional art excited him more than two-dimensional painting. He began splitting his time between sculpture and painting to keep from getting bored.

Later Buddy grew an interest in photography when a friend asked if he would take some photos of her. Although he had worked with photographers earlier in his design career he never had an interest before working with his friend. He began experimenting with traditional and alternative photographic processes. Today he still pushes himself to try things that are different breaking technical rules along the way because he believes that is what makes his images unique.

Grace With Leaf
Katherine On The Landing

All of Buddy’s fine art focuses on the human figure. His early work centered around fantasy themes of people doing things they would never do like obese businessmen doing yoga. Later he became obsessed with realism but prefers to work from his head rather than duplicating something he sees. When he gets stuck he changes up his medium and experiments with something new that he has never done before.

Buddy’s goal is to stay loose in his thinking rather than enter into the process of tightening up on a technique. He says this helps keep his work from becoming stiff. He often gives himself challenges such as painting with only three colors with a two-hour deadline. Similar to the challenges his grandfather gave him as a child, he feels limiting his resources often opens up his mind to new ideas taking him into an unexplored direction, he explains,

“I often try to find a path to loosen up, opening up the pathways between my brain and my hand instead of worrying about what my hand is actually doing so nothing is ever too intentional.

What’s Ahead With His Figurative Artwork

Today fine art figurative artist Buddy Jackson prefers to have fun creating large pieces of art in an unintentional way that allows a constant array of mistakes. He appreciates the imperfections of his creations rather than getting bogged down with the technical aspects of making his work perfect. He says he is struggling with the realization of aging and wants to keep creating and experimenting while he physically can. He has some small watercolor paintings that will soon be shared at the Stanford Fine Art Gallery. He continues to make sculptures, paint, and experiment with alternative photographic techniques and has several upcoming events that will showcase his work in the Nashville area.

Learn More About Buddy Jackson

If you would like to see more of Buddy’s work you can visit his website or his Instagram page.  Be sure to listen to the recent artist interview podcast on The Creative Push where Buddy offers a deeper understanding of his creativity and technique.

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