Years ago Jamie Bonfiglio had plans of becoming a forensic scientist. She was living in California, enrolled in a graduate forensics program and working an internship with the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office. But after working a cold case involving the murder of a 7-year-old girl, Jamie began to wonder if this was really the career for her.
To try to take her mind off the gruesome details of her caseload, Jamie started painting. And she never stopped. Today, Jamie lives in Birmingham and is a full-time freelance artist who does commissioned paintings, prints, murals and more. She helped create a mural for downtown Wetumpka that illustrates a timeline of the city’s history. In 2018, she painted a mural for an engineering firm in downtown Birmingham that highlights the structures the firm helped bring to the city. Recently, she painted a portrait of Birmingham’s Mayor Randall Woodfin that is now hanging in his office. Get ready to be inspired by today’s FACE of Birmingham, Jamie Bonfiglio.
You started painting as a form of self-care when you were working at a forensics internship in San Diego. What brought you to Birmingham, and how did you decide to turn art from a hobby to a career?
I’m from Mobile, and I came to Birmingham because I wanted to be closer to family. I was working in a call center making pretty good money but dreaded having to go to work. By this time, I had started doing shows and selling art and building up a clientele and a reputation, so I decided to take the plunge, and I went full-time about six years ago.
What advice would you give to other artists thinking of pursuing their passion as a full-time career?
Don’t just wake up one day and quit your job. Try to build a little nest egg to sit on, and try to build a brand and build a following of some sort before you decide to go all in because there are going to be ups and downs, as in any business. There will be times when everything is going in your favor, and there are going to be slow times. So you have to prepare for those.
What inspired you to paint a portrait of Mayor Woodfin?
It was just an idea, and I went with it. No one reached out to me to do it. I just wanted to pay homage to him. It was a big deal for a change of guard to happen, so I wanted to commemorate what he was doing and capture his energy and personality because he’s so relatable to a lot of the younger people in Birmingham.
As I was working on it, I posted it on Instagram and some of the people in his office saw it, and that eventually turned into a meeting where I was able to present it to him, and it’s hanging in his office now. That was a great accomplishment.
Next, you plan to start offering art classes. Why is it important to you to pass your skills on to others?
I’ve found that people who watch me paint and those who enjoy my art are just as creative as I am. It takes a lot of courage to share your creations with strangers, family and friends. So many of us get stuck in analysis paralysis, the desire to be perfect and the fear of rejection — the world may never see our creations. Learning and progressing in your skills can build the confidence needed to turn a closeted hobby into something more.
Why do you think it’s important for people — especially women — to have a creative outlet?
We get so lost in the rat race of adulthood that sometimes our passions are drowned out by responsibility. There’s magic that happens when you create something with your own hands and imagination. I’ve been painting for years, and I still step back in awe and stare at completed paintings like, “Wow, I did that!”
Art of all kinds can awaken a sleeping passion. Women, especially, can find stress relief and sanctuary in artistic creativity. Not only is art therapeutic for the creator, but it’s also therapeutic for anyone who consumes it. As women, we have this innate ability to influence any space we enter. A poem, painting, sculpture or interior design that we leave behind can affect the mood of an entire office, home, business or family. If we have that gift inside of us, it is selfish to suppress it. We have a duty to share our gifts for others to feel and experience.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
When I’m not painting, I like to go wherever I can listen to live music. I’ll go to places like Plum Bar when they have bands there, or I’ll go to 1st and 23rd.
My daughters are ages 9 and 5. They keep me busy, so I have to work my art in between them and their lives because they demand attention and always have. We visit the Splash Pad in Gardendale a lot. I do a lot of activities with my daughters and take them to different things going on around town, like art festivals and cultural festivals such as the Caribbean Festival.
I love traveling and experiencing different cultures. That doesn’t mean I have to get on a plane and fly across the world. But if I could go to a cultural event like a food festival where I’m able to taste different dishes of a certain country or culture, I love that, too.
What are some of your favorite local art festivals?
I like the Art Crawl, which is a monthly event that has now gone to the Pizitz. There’s also Art Walk, which is once every year. And I like Magic City Art Connection a lot because it brings in artists from different states and I get to pick their brains about how they run their business or what materials they use or how they market their work.
I try to stay on top of all of the art events that are here, of course, so I can get inspiration. It is a lonely thing to be an artist because you’re basically doing everything as a one-person show, from creating the art to marketing. So I do try to attend as many art events as I can to get myself out of my own head and see what other people are doing and get inspiration that way.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice that I’ve been given is to find a mentor. And if you cannot find someone that you can hire to mentor you, then find someone who is doing what you do and is successful at it and follow their steps as much as you can until you can hire them or someone like them to mentor you.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Wine, music and dancing
Thanks to Eric & Jamie Photography for the gorgeous photos.
Explore more inspiring FACES of Birmingham in our archives HERE!