In the realm of artistry, we're finding more individuals who are taking on multiple projects and spreading them across their careers to touch on as many subjects as possible. One such artist is SLC-based creator Jodi Mardesich Smith, who under her business Jyotimedia has been shooting fantastic photography, forging out interesting jewelry and putting together a wide array of terrariums. You can find her work both online and at a few shops around the city, as she's become part of the indie-crafter movement slowly making its way across the valley. Today we chat with Smith about her career and the awesome stuff she produces today. (All pictures courtesy of Jyotimedia.
Jodi Mardesich Smith
Gavin: Hey Jodi, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a wife, stepmom, and creator, curious about everything, impulsive, and easily distracted. I have a tendency to go into the weeds investigating things, whether it’s a subject I’m writing about, or a new interest, like moss or terrariums or macro photography.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were your major influences?
The natural world around me. I used to sit for hours looking at the dirt and fallen leaves in my backyard or sand and shells at the beach. Also, my mother. She was the homemaking leader in Relief Society when I was growing up, and she was always crafting. I thought of myself as a crafter more than artist until the last few years. And, Burning Man.
Gavin: You originally started your career in news media. What made you decide to pursue that career?
I was told that being a writer or artist was not practical, so I studied computer science my first year of college before I switched to journalism, which led to writing about technology.
Gavin: How was it for you working for various publications around California?
Fascinating! Stressful. My favorite job was as a staff reporter for the San Jose Mercury News
covering Apple. I got to interview Steve Jobs twice. Fortune Magazine
recruited me and I wrote about Silicon Valley life while the Internet was changing everything. Adrenaline rushes don’t last forever, and I ultimately burned out on journalism, joined a ridiculous startup that didn’t work out due to the crash of 2000, started freelancing, moved from San Francisco to New York to Puerto Rico, became a yoga teacher, opened a vegetarian restaurant.
Gavin: During this time, what got you interested in photography?
Photojournalism and the ability to tell a story with more than words. I started out with a Canon AE-1. My first digital camera was a Sony Mavica, which used a floppy disk as storage. But once I got an iPhone, everything changed. The accessibility and immediacy of the iPhone inspired me and my husband to start the "Photo A Day" project, which I practiced religiously for four years. It’s funny, on my honeymoon, I got seduced away from the Apple phone world by the Sony XPeria
. I didn’t dare bring my iPhone to Las Marietas because you have to swim under a reef to get inside the volcanic crater to this beautiful hidden beach. But all these people there were swimming with their phones, taking photos. Ironically, when I got the Xperia, I stopped taking photos. The Xperia’s camera was a piece of shit. It was impossible to capture a good image with it, despite its 20-megapixel sensor, and there are no good photo editing apps for Android. A month ago, I went back to the iPhone and started a new terrarium a day photo project.
Gavin: How did the idea of starting Jyotimedia come about, and what was it like for you to start your own artistic venture?
When I left Puerto Rico, I needed to get a “real” job again, and needed a way to describe what I did, which was a combination of freelance writing, photography, and yoga. Jyoti means light in Sanskrit. I liked the play on light, whether it was shedding a light on a topic, capturing an image, or cultivating inner light through yoga practice. And terrariums fit into that perfectly. It’s all about light.
Gavin: What were the first couple years like establishing yourself and putting work out there?
I went to a Poor Yorick open studio around five years ago, met Brad Slaugh, and impulsively told him I wanted to get a studio. I just knew I needed to be there though I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do. The first open studio was happening the next month. All I had were
some terrariums, but I opened my door and had a party. It was liberating and inspiring to be in an artist collective. That and starting to go to Burning Man again and getting involved in the local burner community got me super fired up to just create.
Gavin: What do you usually look for these days when shooting anything?
Overall composition of the frame, plus detail. I love using macro lenses to get closer and see things that might be hidden.
Gavin: What kind of equipment do you use and do you prefer working with film or digital media?
When I can get my hands on good equipment, like a Canon 5B Mark III with a fast lens and great low light sensitivity, I prefer that, but I also use a Panasonic Lumix and now an iPhone 6s for most of the daily photos. I used to love going into the darkroom to process and print, but now I prefer the immediacy of digital—and of course, manipulating images with apps. Definitely digital.
Gavin: When did you first take an interest in terrariums and what persuaded you to start creating them?
When my (now) husband and I were dating, he bought us each some terrarium glass from Anthropologie and we made our first terrariums together. It was an artistic and romantic bonding, and I fell more in love with him as I fell hard for terrariums.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in making a new one and how do you decide what to include in each one?
The process is what keeps me coming back to making it. I lose track of time because handling moss puts me into a zen-like state I have experienced so far in life. My process has evolved over the years. At first, it was more about exploring living plants as a medium, experimenting and learning what would grow and thrive inside these little-contained worlds. I’m a Deseret Industries and estate sale junkie/hoarder and I’m always on the hunt for a unique glass to make them in, like scientific glass beakers and old bottles. The container inspires what can be in it. I collect most of my moss in my neighborhood near 9th and 9th, and from the Uintas. Friends drop off moss on my doorstep. They bring it back from trips—to Japan, Spain, Ireland, Kentucky, Northern California, Vancouver. It’s really sweet.
Gavin: How would you say your style has developed over time in creating pieces that last?
Now it’s less about “will it grow?” and more about making the little worlds more detailed, with levels and crystals and figurines and other objects, and using terrariums to tell a story. Getting involved with the Jellyfish from the "Year 12,000" project and helping to build two new Jellyfish art cars for Burning Man 2013 inspired another branch of art. Being crew on a big project taught us that we could actually create something big ourselves. We took a leftover LED light strand and sewed some crinoline mesh around it. It was so beautiful that we wanted to make something bigger that incorporated a bunch of them. Four of us—my husband, Tyler Smith, and Kyle Harmer and Molly Young—learned how to weld, built a 20-foot tall tree from steel, and wove LEDs through the trunk and up the branches. We’ve brought it to Element 11 twice, Burning Man last summer, EVE, and a bunch of events.
Gavin: When did you start adding jewelry to the mix on top of what you were already doing?
I started taking jewelry and silversmithing and lapidary classes for fun when I was working as a journalist and have always thought of it as a side project that I would love to really dive into some day.
Gavin: How do you decide what you're going to make for each individual piece and what kinds of jewelry do you like making?
I like to cast plants and shells and make imprints of things I’ve collected in silver. I want to work more with copper and incorporate fabricated jewelry-like elements into terrariums.
Gavin: Aside those three areas, what else have you been making under the Jyotimedia banner?
I’ve caught the diorama bug and am starting on some diorama necklaces. What pays most of the bills, though, is online marketing—social media and website optimization for companies. That marketing experience got me involved with a project I’m ecstatic about, which is the Utah Builders Community, a non-profit working on proposed temples for Element 11 in 2016 and Burning Man in 2017.
Gavin: Are you looking to add anything new down the line or are you comfortable with what you're making now?
I have a pretty full (actually overflowing) plate right now, but someday, I’d like to make art all the time.
Gavin: What projects are you currently working on, and where can people find your works for sale?
I’m focusing on custom terrariums, and I also sell them at IconoCLAD and J Go Gallery.
Gavin: What can we expect to see from you and your brand in 2016?
A better website, the ability to buy some things online, more custom terrariums, and bigger projects. There’s something in the works that I can’t talk about yet, but I’ll just say that there may be some giant terrariums at the Sundance Film Festival.