Vanessa Lee Jackson is a woman of action. Growing up in the suburbs of Mississauga, the activities she did not try were few and far between. Ballet? Yes. Hockey? Indeed. Camping? Loved it. Competitive cheerleading? But of course. So, at fourteen, when a duo of strangers approached her at Toronto Pearson Airport and asked if she was interested in being a model, Jackson thought “maybe.” True — it was not an immediate and resounding “yes”, but after some thought and light persuasion from her mother, she was off to Europe. Abroad, she found love. It was not with modelling, the prospect of fame or a jet set lifestyle, but instead with the magic that goes on behind the camera. Seeing a team of creatives come together to build a world — this sparked Jackson’s imagination! And well, by now you know that Vanessa Lee Jackson isn’t the type not to make a move.
After completing a year in a psychology program at Concordia University in Montreal and seeking a change of direction, Jackson enrolled in a one-year cabinet-making course at Humber College in Toronto.
“I’ve always crafted. I knitted as a child and made stuff. Working with my hands appealed to me. [After cabinet-making] I began at Sheridan’s furniture program and fell in love with design. My love of objects blossomed.”
Jackson began taking on a variety of work within the design sphere. She assisted a friend with set-building, made furniture with Brothers & Sons and began teaching woodworking workshops.
“At that point, I decided to pursue my master’s in design. It was an interdisciplinary program between art, media and design and was very self-directed, which allowed me to expand my craft skills from ceramics to stained glass and weaving.”
Jackson’s final project brought together three great passions: nature, craftsmanship and design. Her thesis explored biophilia, a theory that humans have an innate affinity with nature and a drive to interact with it, and argued that the incorporation of nature into our daily lives can be greatly beneficial. Utilizing the breadth of her creative skills, which now included metal work, Jackson produced a unique set of furniture. It included a corner shelf that looked like mold growing out of the wall and a deceptive “grass” lounge chair that looked dangerous, yet was actually super comfortable.
Like many, the pandemic years shifted Jackson’s path. In 2020, she found herself in Montreal, settling in smoothly with its vibrant arts community. For the past few years, she’s consistently been working in both fashion and advertising. Throughout her commercial and creative work, she’s taken on a wide range of projects including papier mâché, still life, prop styling, woodworking, mold making, upholstery, set building and design, and even miniatures. From creating psychedelic snowscapes fit for Igloofest’s cold-proof raves to super-sized snack bar props and delicate paper flower headdresses, Jackson’s crafting capabilities are astounding. With a number of mediums mastered, she still readily lists glassblowing and inflatables as skills she wants to add to her personal toolkit. It’s the Gemini in her that “wants to try it all”, she jokes. When it comes to new projects and challenges, she has few reservations.
“You just have to jump in and start experimenting. You have to believe you will figure it out. It’s been a great life lesson — experimentation. It is not like I don’t fail but it is all part of the process. The process doesn’t scare me.”
Interview by Naeme El-Zein.