Where Zines Happen: Jen Oaks

You’ve seen the work of Jen Oaks before: perhaps at Oakland’s First Friday, Little Otsu in SF, or hanging in a local gallery. I bet at one point or another you’ve coveted those Twin Peaks pins she sells like hotcakes or picked up one of her adorable cards for a terrier-obsessed friend. It is entirely possible that you read about Jen in the SF Weekly. Whatever the case, she is a powerhouse of awesome. 

So how does she do it? Where does she create her oh-so-colorful prints, the comic zines, those hilarious pup cards? Is her workspace filled with brightly colored 1950’s ads and stacks of books? Does she have a favorite colored pencil? Use a typewriter? I had to know more. I was determined. My curiosity was rewarded when Jen graciously took the time to answer a couple of questions. (spoiler: bright colors = yes, typewriter = no)

For the type of work that you create, what sorts of things inspire you, visually speaking? Do you have a favorite genre or artistic time period? 

I look at a lot of graphic and/or decorative work. Some of my (many, many) favorites are Mucha, Meg Hunt, Kevin Wada, Coop, Yuko Shimizu, Victo Ngai, and John Baizley. I like illustration that leans toward the fantastical, especially. I aspire to be looser and less literal with my work. Buildings are also a huge source of inspiration to me. Old buildings with style and character thrill me to no end. I love drawing them and imagining their stories. Preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods is so important.

Which do you prefer in your workspace: peace and quiet, or lots of excitement? How does this affect your workflow?

I've had a few studios where I was the only person to ever show up. I was crammed in there with everyone's stuff, alone and sad and getting nothing done. So I definitely need people around. Otherwise, why not save my BART fare and just stay home in my pajamas? I'm lucky to finally have a studio with two fellow illustrators. I'd been waiting so long! When we're all three there and we're all working, there's a great atmosphere of progress and creativity. We support, critique, and inspire each other, and now that I know what it's like to have that, I never want to be without it. 

What do you like about your workspace? Dislike? What would your "ideal space" look like? 

We split kind of a lofty space in a warehouse at 2nd and Bryant. I like that there's plenty of room to breathe, and there are skylights and some food/coffee nearby if you remember to go before 5pm. There are lots of other artists around, but nobody's loud or up in my business. My dislikes have to do with typical SOMA warehouse conditions: it’s freezing in winter, roasting in summer, and there’s SOMA traffic and Giants traffic during baseball season. It's a circular building with the Bay Bridge onramp wrapped around it, but there is no crosswalk! Also, I don't feel terribly safe being there after dark, as the building is not the most secure. But hey, I’m lucky to have it. 

I've kind of grown out of my "beautiful studio" fantasies. I have four walls with pretty things tacked up and that's all I need now. At the end of the year, the building owner will be renovating to house tech offices and all the artists here will have to find new spaces. My studio mates and I are hoping to find a similarly-priced space closer to Market (what a dream!). And dang, a window would be really, really, really nice. 

Jen Oaks is an illustrator in Berkeley, California. She enjoys drawing hot girls, sloths, and strangers. Find more of her work at jenoaks.com. You can check out her work in person at this year's SF Zine Fest.