How artist Jessica Durrant took her sadness and used it to create something truly beautiful
WELCOME to Blue Monday - the most depressing day of the year. Or is it?
Before we all sink into a bottomless pit of misery, this might also turn out to be the greatest day of our lives.
According to the experts, self-doubt and negative emotions can actually serve as powerfully creative stimulants.
They point to some of the greatest pieces of music, writing and art which were created from the depths of despair by the most troubled souls in history, like Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Ludwig van Beethoven.
They couldn’t find the contentment they craved in day to day life, so they unearthed it through their creativity.
So how about the rest of us use our negative emotions from Blue Monday to do something truly worthwhile, setting us on the road to achieving our dreams?
Internationally renowned fashion illustrator Jessica Durrant might just be living proof of the age-old adage that it’s always darkest just before dawn.
Back in 2009, aged 31, she was close to rock bottom after discovering the husband she had loyally followed around America had effectively been leading a double life behind her back.
A sickening reality for even the strongest person to deal with, but Jessica was particularly ill-equipped.
A strict Mormon upbringing in Las Vegas then Utah had already filled her with self-doubt.
Despite already being a talented young artist, she lacked confidence and any dreams she had of forging a successful career for herself had been quietly discouraged.
So when she found herself alone and isolated in Philadelphia, where her husband’s marketing job with a major American airline had taken him, she was struggling to cope.
And then she reconnected with the one thing in her life that brought her the most happiness.
Jessica explained: “I was feeling very isolated and alone, in a new city while my husband was travelling the world.
“I remember thinking the only way I’m going to get out of bed every day is if I paint something.”
By then Jessica had graduated from South Utah University, with a degree in illustration. At first her interest was in painting - oils and landscapes - before she developed a love for fashion. But skilled as she was, at no point did she ever imagine making a decent living from it.
She recalled: “After graduating, I worked in a museum in Utah then we moved to Phoenix, Arizona and then Philly but I couldn’t find any proper work.
“Meanwhile, my husband was doing a lot of travelling and it turned out he had been unfaithful almost from the start - and I was discovering things he had been doing.
“It’s like watching a movie. When you think a character is a good person and then you find these levels of deceit and betrayal.
“I hadn’t told anyone I just internalised it all for years. I thought it was me.
“When you’re raised in a religion that is so much a part of your life, you become afraid people are going to judge you. I was also afraid of telling my parents and bursting this bubble.”
Jessica knew she had to get out of the marriage, but first she needed to prove she could survive on her own.
She explained: “I wasn’t raised to pursue my career and dreams – I was a woman and my place was at home. I was fighting a lot of inner conflict.”
Jessica had already used her talent to help navigate tricky teenage years and she knew deep down that her passion would again be her saviour.
She says: “You can constantly connect with art in different ways and when I was an adolescent we moved a lot and I was constantly going to new schools – so I used my art to make friends.
“All these years later, I needed it in my life again.
“When I finally decided to reconnect with painting every day, I was living in Philadelphia and had access to the most beautiful historical libraries for inspiration.
“As I began painting again, slowly I was growing in confidence and that was before I even started sharing my work.
“But if I was going to have an exit strategy I needed to prove I wasn’t financially reliant on him.”
She knew about the online marketplace Etsy, where small independent traders can sell their handmade crafts, and decided there was nothing to lose.
Within days, the cash started rolling in.
“I didn’t try that before because I wasn’t confident and didn’t think I was good enough, but I knew deep down I had a lot of heart and passion that might make up for the talent I thought I was lacking.
“My Etsy business started to gain some traffic and I began taking things more seriously. My brother built my website and I got some business cards printed.
“I started to imagine that this could be a possibility if I put enough work into it. Maybe I could make a career out of it, leave the relationship that I was in and be self-reliant through my art.
“At the end of that first year I looked at my sales and I realised I had made more than he had in his salaried job with the airline.
“I said to myself, I think I can do this.”
Word began to spread and before long some top brands in the business world were reaching out.
Jessica admits she found it difficult to process the enormity of what was happening.
She also recalls how imposter syndrome almost robbed her of her first big commission, with the giant retail operation, Target.
“I was commissioned to do illustrations for their shoe department and was so scared because I had never done any kind of job like that before.
“I was working with their in-house marketing team and I kept thinking they are going to fire me because they’re going to realise I’ve never done this before.
“But they commissioned me again and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Now based in Atlanta, Georgia, and happily married to her second husband, Jessica’s work is inspired by her travels around the globe.
More than a decade since she took the plunge, her impressive client list includes The Gates Foundation, Dior, IKEA, Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo, Ebay, Lancôme Paris, Elizabeth Arden among many, many more. Harper's Bazaar named her a fashion illustrator to follow on Instagram.
Durrant has also collaborated with CHANEL, Oscar de la Renta, and Elie Saab and her work has appeared in Season 2 of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and Emily in Paris.
However she gets most satisfaction offering mentoring to creatives from all over the world in her online courses.
She explained: “The best thing happened to me when I was able to take that sadness and use it – even if I didn’t make money doing it.
“I wanted to make art that I felt proud of, that I had been working my whole life to create.
“I teach people who have never lifted a paint brush and it’s just about getting in touch with that inner child. That is the place you need to be when you’re trying to be creative.”
And speaking directly to those among us who will feel particularly low this Blue Monday, she offered this advice.
“Try something creative – something you’ve been dreaming of trying but were too scared to follow that dream.
“We need to put our phones away, close the door, make a ritual – whether it’s lighting a candle or playing your favourite relaxing music.
“This is a form or self-care but it’s also something that feeds your soul.
“We live in a society where it’s all about consuming, but sometimes it feels really good to be on the other end – create not consume.
“There is a reward and fulfilment that you can get from that which you can’t get from anything else.
“The whole point of life is you’re constantly allowed to discover new things about yourself, discover your potential.”
You can sign up for one of Jessica Durrant’s online courses here. https://jessicadurrant.com/new-shop?category=Artist+Coaching+Services