Perched on a hill in the Jennings Pond neighborhood, in a spot that even long-time Natick residents have blown by for years, is Jason Cheeseman-Meyer’s home and studio. There the illustrator, storyboard artist, and oil painter lives with his wife Ellen, a history teacher at Wayland High School, and their two teens—Hanna studies animation at Lesley College in Cambridge, and Hattie is a writer and musician enrolled in the Natick Public Schools. Pepperjack the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and Calcifur the one-time barn cat, round out the family.
The general vibe cultivated by the family of makers and educators is a bohemian atmosphere where studio flows into home flows back into studio. Finished paintings and illustrations hang on most every available bit of wall space. When the walls can’t take anymore, completed art is propped up here and there. In his small upstairs studio, works-in-progress stand on easels. Canvases that would usually be off in a show somewhere remains homebound for now, adding yet another layer to the overall scene of prolifc-artist-at-work.
“I am not a one-at-a-time person, Jason says.” I love having something going here, over there, and another thing happening there. So when I get stuck, I can move to something else and work on that instead. And in the back of my mind things are percolating, and when I come back to a project in a couple of days, all of a sudden things are refreshed.”
To get to that place of refreshed, the early riser starts the day by taking the dog for a walk. Next, he readies the kitchen for the family, “coffee and that sort of stuff for anyone else who’s in the house getting ready to go out for the day. That’s sort of my warm-up period. Then I head up to the studio and try to get through my email stuff as quickly as possible and then jump on whatever project is on the easel.”
He describes his typical day as “really split.” Some days his work is focused on Walnut Hill School, an independent boarding school for the arts in South Natick where he teaches illustration, digital painting, and animation. On those days Jason puts together presentations, records demonstration paintings for his students, and gets his materials together.
The time he devotes to gallery or commercial work is when Jason takes full advantage of his home studio set-up. “I love having a home studio. Some people need the demarcation of ‘I’m at work now’. But I love that I can get up at 6am and be at work at 6:02. I can wake up at 2am with a great idea and cross the hallway to the studio and go to work on it. ”
Jason does about half of his work digitally, and he’s found that he needs his huge monitor and all his equipment and supplies to move with him as he works. “Everything in my studio is on wheels so that I can rearrange and adapt to whatever project I’ve got. Almost everything. My drafting table isn’t. But both of my easels, my paint table. My digital stuff is on an articulated arm so it’s really reconfigurable to whatever the next project is.”
As a freelancer, Jason works for companies that need an artist skilled in reproduction. One day he could be putting together a storyboard for children’s television, another day he might be illustrating a book, while another project might call on his drawing skills and imagination to create comics and fantasy art for the gaming world. Much of his commercial work is storyboards for commercials and animation.
But in his heart and soul, he’s primarily an oil painter . “If everything is up to me, I’m working in oils. That is the one that resonates for how my mind processes information. I love the open-ended flexibility, I love that I can put something down, think better of it, and rub it out and try again. Or even if it’s dried I can head in there with a sanding block and knock it back and try something new over the top.”
Jason started his formal art education at Otis Parsons Art and Design, but transferred after the first year. “I left it thinking I hated the art world. Probably what I really hated was the tiny wedge of the Los Angeles art scene that I saw. Most of my art education is not school-based.”
Oberlin College proved to be a better fit, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in English literature. After Oberlin, Jason worked in comic books for a little while, “mainly because I liked the idea of an audience who actually enjoys the work they’re consuming. I’ve done some cartoons and some comic books and gotten to play with some of the stuff I loved when I was a kid. I worked for Star Wars and Transformers and Spiderman and that sort of stuff, and I found that I got it out of my system. It was lovely to be able to go back and play with that stuff. But I did it, and then I was kind of done.”
Artistically, what Jason works to express is human connection. “I almost never meet a person I don’t find fascinating, so that’s why almost all my work is about people. You’ll find a landscape here or there , or even over there you’ll see the International Space Station,” gesturing to a painting hanging over the sofa in the family room. “But to me that’s about the engineers who built it, and their amazing accomplishment.”
“I’m just endlessly fascinated by people. So anything I can put together that shares that love and engagement and shows the richness of life is what I enjoy.”
Look for Jason Cheeseman-Meyers contribution later this year to the Natick Center Cultural District-sponsored Traffic Calming Public Art initiative at the intersection of Rt. 27 and Rt. 135. His and other artists’ projects will include bold and bright street paintings. Traffic Calming, a design strategy that aims to slow down car traffic to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, is founded on the idea that streets are a key element of the public realm. The goal is to create a sense of place in busy spaces for people to exist alongside cars, but not be dominated by them.