We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Owen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I think as a freelance costumer and illustrator, the most important factors behind my own success has been a combination of adaptability and relationship building with clients. I really enjoy variety in my everyday life, so my job is perfect for me. A lot of projects I’ve taken on over my career have been things that I had never done before but was excited to figure out. It took a long time to build the confidence in myself to know that I could take on an unfamiliar project and know that I would be able to figure out how to problem solve and complete what was asked of me. Freelance is also about building relationships. You could be the best professional in your field but if you’re rude and unpleasant to work with, no one will want to hire you again. I look at custom costumes, portraits, and any projects as collaborations with my clients. I want to share in their excitement about how projects will turn out. I enjoy getting to know people as I work with them so I understand them better and am happy to catch up with them the next time they hire me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’d say my art is not any specific category, but more of a deep love for making new things. I’ve never been able to stick to just one craft for a long period of time because I’m likely to get excited about learning something new that I’ve never tried before. So I suppose what excites me most about my art is learning how to do it. Since I was a kid, I’ve been trying to sew, paint, play music, make doll houses out of milk cartons, or whatever. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I could just choose one thing and get really good at it, but over time I’ve realized that my inability to decisively go in one direction creatively is an integral part of who I am and why I like pursuing the arts in general. I like variety and novelty and the process of learning.
Getting where I am today professionally was a long road for this reason though. There was a lot of agonizing about choosing the right career path. I wanted to be an illustrator in college, but opportunities led me down a path towards costume design, which has always been another one of my loves. I learned a lot working for years at a costume shop in West Hollywood, but I never truly felt like I was excited to go to work every day until I took the leap into freelance and finally had the freedom to take the jobs I wanted to take. It was definitely a struggle at first to find clients and have steady work, but I loved that I could take costume jobs as well as illustration jobs and whatever else came my way. I play music as well, so freelance gave me the flexibility to schedule tour without having to ask anyone for time off.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned doing freelance is that anything is possible if you trust in your own ability to problem solve. If you love making things, chances are you can figure out a weird request from a client even if you’ve never done it before. I’ve learned so many skills on the job that I wouldn’t have learned if I had been too scared to just say “yes I’ll figure it out.” Embroidering in period appropriate styles, making vegetable costumes out of foam, painting huge murals, embellishing furniture, the list goes on and it’s all been fun even when there’s a real learning curve. It feels good to just say yes and go for it. I think that attitude applies to so many aspects of life, too. I never want to miss out on an exciting opportunity because I was scared of the unfamiliar.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There would be so much to show. LA really has so much to offer. Even after growing up here and spending most of my adult life exploring, I still keep finding new things to love about this city. One of my favorite places to take people from out of town is downtown because there’s so much in such a small zone. I would take my friend to the rooftop bar at the new Wilshire Grand Center on the 73rd floor because there’s no higher viewpoint I can think of with a panoramic view of the entire city. It’s incredible. You feel like you’re in the clouds. Then we might go to Grand Central Market for food and spend an afternoon in Little Tokyo, which is my favorite part of downtown. Karaoke and then snacks and sake at an izakaya is a great weekend outing. I love going to see live music in Highland Park or Echo Park, wine tasting at Malibu Wine and saying hi to the giraffe that lives there, driving up the 2 and hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, visiting the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena and LACMA in Hollywood, as well as the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. These are all fun and interesting places I take people from out of town to show off the best of LA. My all time favorite hidden gem of Hollywood is Yamashiro, a gorgeous, old traditional Japanese palace on the hill above the Magic Castle with delicious food and a beautiful view of the city. My mom has been taking me since I was little, and it holds a very special place in my heart and has wowed every friend I’ve taken there.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to shout out costume designers Erica Rice and Shirley Kurata for getting me into the freelance costume industry, hiring me for so many interesting jobs, trusting in my abilities, and helping me join the costume union. I really don’t know where I would be without them, and I’m happy I still get to work with them from time to time. They’re so kind, collected, and easy to work with in an industry that can be hectic and stressful. It’s rare to get to work with people with such an incredible creativity combined with genuine friendliness and ability to handle stressful jobs while making them look effortless. They still amaze me after all the years I’ve known them and I feel very lucky to have had them to look up to throughout my career.
Jon Shade, Jessica Owen