The Fan Fest organization continues to serve up sensational artistic talent. JaCo Tartaruga, this month’s featured artist, has quickly become a fan favorite at their events and many others throughout the year. Entering onto the Fan Fest scene in January of 2016, with only one prior convention under his belt, JaCo’s splatter style of painting has ultimately become some of the most recognizable and sought after by his ever-expanding fan base. Being a part of both Heroes and Villains Fan Fest (HVFF) and Walker Stalker Cons (WSC), JaCo has also proven versatility through his one-of-kind artwork.
Artists have become as much a part of the Fan Fest experience as the celebrities. I am honored, as a writer for Fan Fest News, for the opportunity to highlight these incredible individuals. I just so happen to meet JaCo during the infamous Heroes and Villains Fan Fest NY/NJ ‘snowmageddon’ weekend. It was his Arrow painting that had immediately caught my eye; a perfect representation of my own vision and feeling of the character. JaCo’s artwork opened my mind to interpretation that I never thought possible and I have been following his work ever since. What I’ve discovered though goes well beyond artist. He is a devoted father, an accomplished architect, a martial artist, a film aficionado and so much more. I am sure you will agree, JaCo is a guy worthy of recognition on many levels.
To say JaCo’s paintings are unique would be an understatement. To say he shows passion does not begin to explain the complexity of emotion behind his work. His chaotic yet controlled ways of expression stand out in an atmosphere of sameness. Having now seen JaCo in action at numerous conventions has certainly given me great insight into his world. I was fortunate to catch up with him and dig deeper; it seems he was always on an undeniable path.
From a young age, JaCo knew that artwork would always be a part of his life. He expressed to me that even though he started off with ‘ugly’ pencil work, his drive to draw endured. While I find it hard to believe any of his work could be considered ‘ugly’, it is a testament to his character that he continued despite it; a perfect example of never giving up on what you love.
It was that very persistence combined with life circumstances that guided JaCo’s path. Raised under meager circumstances by his grandmother in Puerto Rico undoubtedly impacted his artistic endeavors and outlook in life. Movies were a treat and his main source of entertainment growing up; they enabled him to see something new, to envision life outside his own reality. He took that love of cinema, combined it with his desire to create and drew what he saw. JaCo was destined to a life that embraced imagination, imagery, and inventiveness.
The question for JaCo became how to incorporate creativity into a career. As a teenager, he concluded that perhaps architecture was the answer. The thought of designing buildings without restrictions enticed him artistically. Thinking he could enter a field that provided a secure lifestyle was comforting.
JaCo’s quest to becoming an architect was challenging to say the least and not as inspired as he had hoped from a creative standpoint. He relied on his out-the-box way of thinking to sustain his innovative mind. It was not long after he had moved to New York to attend college that he began to feel stifled regarding his career choice, yet financial obligations kept him from changing course. JaCo eventually did earn his degree and went on to successfully establish himself in his chosen profession.
We spoke a bit about his decision to enter the field of architecture. It became very clear that while he maintains a prosperous position, it does not bring him gratification. When I asked if he could do it all over, JaCo did not hesitate in response. After seeing what New York City had to offer, he would have been a filmmaker. I truly believe he’d be an outstanding addition to the film industry but, the selfish side of me is glad he paints.
Reinvention and the Comic Con-nection.
JaCo ultimately reached a crossroad in life that opened up a desire to reconnect with his creative side. It took a single defining moment at New York Comic Con (NYCC) for him to reclaim his passion. JaCo witnessed something at NYCC 2012 that changed his path, that gave him belief, that showed him true passion can be your success. Enter artist CJ Draden. CJ is a longtime veteran of the comic con art scene; a guy that expresses himself in a most truthful fashion, often going against the grain of acceptance and never apologizing for it. CJ is dark, edgy, chaotic but with a whole lot of depth.
“What I admire about JaCo the most is his ability to take in many tasks at once. He’s a father, an architect in the corporate world, and a comic artist in the entertainment world. It’s impressive to see. I struggle with multitasking and it’s inspiring to see someone you know kick ass at so many things including being a parent. JaCo is a good guy and I’m proud to see him succeed with his work.” – Artist CJ Draden
CJ was proof that if artwork were honest, no matter how unexpected, people would be drawn to it. JaCo continued to follow CJ’s career path over the next few years; he witnessed the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice required to attain your dream. He saw proof that setting yourself apart was the only way to bring fulfillment. It was not long before JaCo realized a capacity to tap into his own potential, reach into his own emotional depths and accept that he too could successfully express himself through his own artistic abilities.
In December of 2015, at a small event in Queens, JaCo took his fateful leap into the comic con world. One event soon led to another and now he can be found showcasing his extraordinary style alongside some of the best in the business, including his mentor CJ Draden. It was only a few weeks ago where JaCo and CJ actually teamed for a podcast during a convention in Philadelphia. These two talented guys exchanged some intriguing thoughts on standing out in a realm inundated with repetition and predictability. CJ and JaCo may have taken two very different paths, but both are aimed toward the same destination of making their mark through individuality.
About the Art.
Much like old school photography, where images are developed in the dark, so goes JaCo’s artistic style. Anyone that has laid eyes on his paintings will tell you there is a definitive darkness about it. His ability to harness life’s turbulence and turn it into something beautiful is unparalleled. Good or bad, it is my belief that when we do our best with what life hands to us, great reward will come. Credit to JaCo for not just overcoming obstacles, but using them as a tool to propel himself forward.
“I’d describe it [JaCo’s artwork] as a uniquely recognizable style, beautiful and haunting. – Author/Fan Tabitha Lord”
Managing the Medium.
JaCo’s use of watercolor can be best described as both realist and abstract. What starts off with precision, often takes on a voice of its own. It was at a small convention in upstate New York that JaCo addressed some of his artistic techniques with DW from Earplug Podcast.
During the podcast, JaCo delved into how randomness often dictates the direction of his paintings. An example of this is in the unpredictability of paint flow created as he sprays water over hard lines made using watercolor crayons. As the water absorbs into the paper, the lines become blurry; he then uses a watercolor brush to dilute the crayon marks and, after it dries, applies accents. Not wanting the essence of the image to become lost, you will not see JaCo oversaturating his pieces with multiple colors. Often times it takes only a hint of color to bring forth a most magnificent result. Exploration is key though, and JaCo is always willing to try new techniques…
“If art were to be perfect, then it wouldn’t be art.” – JaCo Tartaruga
While JaCo is most willing to take on an array of artistic challenges, it is superheroes and villains that are most prominent in his collection. He explained to DW that there is a mythology behind every hero or villain and there is an element of darkness that defines both. His art portrays the impact of that darkness within the character’s life and the path that they chose to take. JaCo is impressively well-versed in the comic book realm and has a firm awareness regarding a character’s emotion. Not only can you pick up some stellar artwork from him, you can exchange in-depth thoughts and theories about your favorite fandom icons.
Considering that splatter is currently JaCo’s signature style, I specifically asked him how that method came about. It took him a few moments to respond and is clearly something that touches him on a very personal level. I always respect an artist’s wish to not share every detail but I can tell you this… he splatters with intent. It comes from a place of how he feels in the moment combined with an understanding of the character. He controls the splatter, he uses it to impact the essence of the piece, to add substance.
It was his Joker painting where JaCo first implemented splatter to his own satisfaction and high standards. He painted the Joker’s mouth and wanted a way that represented the somber story behind it, without being so literal. JaCo used splatter to reflect his own emotional state which served in perfect harmony to that of the Joker’s. It is a piece that will always hold a most special meaning for him.
JaCo’s work continues to evolve. His favorite pieces have changed and he works to incorporate more background to take up the negative space. Perfect examples of this are the Tardis and Jason Voorhees paintings (shown below). JaCo does wish to eventually be known beyond his splatter but, never as ‘cartoony’. Rest assured, his work will always be dark and outside the box.
JaCo wanted to make it very clear… Value your work! Make people want you for what you represent. Sure there is a material cost, but an artwork’s authentic value goes way beyond the tangible. Compensation should be reflective of the artist’s perception and what they gave of themselves in creating the piece. I know that art has the capacity to touch your soul, that is priceless.
JaCo is a father. His kids are his reason for being and pursuing what he loves. There is nothing more motivating than wanting your children to have the best life possible, to set an example that anything is within their reach. I did not need to ask JaCo about his kids, his love for them is obvious; at times, they have even joined him on the convention scene.
Having met the adorably energetic Jizela and Julius at a recent comic con, I can honestly say that they are so proud of their dad and that their love for him is endless. 9-year-old Jizela even exclaimed that she too wanted to be an artist when she grew up. When I asked her what kind of artist she wanted to be, her answer was simple… “A famous one!” 6-year-old Julius was a bit more undecided regarding his career path, though I think he has plenty of time.
Both kids were clearly thrilled to simply spend time with their dad, even testing the waters with their own skilled sketching. There is something incredibly sweet about seeing a youngster earning her own money to snag her favorite toy. Life lesson perfection. If you see Jizela at a con, be sure to grab an original piece of her work… before her destined fame.
JaCo stated that having people talk about his work, even in his absence, was most flattering. Having fellow artists come to him with compliments is also a great indication of achievement. He strives to bring forth pieces that are credible, genuine, honest and relatable; he will never stop reinventing himself.
“What I noticed immediately is his welcoming nature and his ability to sort of reimagine hero fan art.” – Artist Chris Campana
I happen to view JaCo’s success in even more ways. His ability to provide inspiration to those in pursuit of their own creative outlet is one of his greatest assets. He is a most welcoming individual and always happy to offer guidance in embracing your own uniqueness. He will challenge you to be your best. A perfect example of this occurred when a young girl, Selena, painted her own rendition of a JaCo original. JaCo’s Logan painting just so happens to be one of my favorites and when I saw that this young lady skillfully emulated such an incredible piece, I was astonished. What a beautiful tribute. I cannot think of a higher compliment to be paid.
JaCo takes the time to connect with people, to hear their story, to encourage their dreams. I can speak to this personally and I would not be writing this now without his confidence in my abilities. I thank him for that.
Over the past year and a half JaCo has proven to embrace his artistic abilities into an evolving career. Given the challenges and learning curves of the artistic field, his work continues to progress, to change, as he himself grows as a person. His story is far from over and the future is bright.
If you are truly fortunate, you just might catch JaCo in action at your next convention. Music surrounding him (Iron Maiden most likely), brush in hand, harnessing emotion, he blocks out all distraction and enters artistic solitude… mesmerizing to behold. Be sure to stop by and step into his world… all are welcome. Thank you JaCo for allowing me to enter and share your journey on Fan Fest News.
To see more of his work, check out his website www.jacotartaruga.com. Follow him on social media for all his latest updates and appearances. Facebook: @jacotartaruga Instagram: @jacotartaruga Twitter: @Jaco_Tartaruga. Also, be sure to visit Welcome to Fireside and Earplug Podcast to hear the full-length podcasts mentioned above.
Full-time fangirl and part-time manager. A comic-con junkie with a passion for writing and great artwork. Catch me… if you can!