“Inspiration and motivation each day”: Jan’s quote from a book that is her mantra.
“As an abstract artist I immerse myself in the environment to capture that sense of place.
My work comes from the connection I have to a landscape using all my senses to express the emotion and feel of a place and then translate that into my artwork. Abstract art is more than just putting down paint and moving it around a canvas. You have to start from a story, a place, image or feeling. You have to know your medium, colours and brushwork and be able to build your painting up from a foundation that can capture all of that. This is what I love about abstract art. It’s the layers that you build upon, the colours you use and the strokes that create the emotions to form good art.”
The following is my report of Jan’s demonstration on Tuesday 22nd August.
Jan paints most days. She used to paint in her studio on Pittwater surrounded by blue sky and blue water. She has painted abstracts since the age of 15.
When Jan travelled to the Australian desert she taught herself to use other colours. She paints plein air and tries to immerse herself and get a sense of place. She went to the eastern McDonnell Ranges in drought and two years later after rain. When she travels she uses visual diaries of 300gsm paper and paints in them. She travels light. Less is better. She can improvise if she forgets something. She uses a small palette, gouache and water. It is too hot in the centre and northwest for watercolour, she says. Jan uses good quality gouache – Caran D’Ache – $69 – $70, that lasts for six to seven weeks on the road. The colours are pure, with good retention; they don’t bleed and dry quickly. A concertina book is good if it’s windy. Occasionally Jan takes a photo.
Jan tries to go to really good exhibitions because they improve standards. For example, Idris Murphy for colour, Luke Sciberras, Hill End and King Street Gallery. Sciberras normally exhibits in March – April each year. Jo Bertini – Arthouse Gallery, pinks and yellows; Elisabeth Cummings – exhibition at National Art School.
Jan starts working in acrylics and paints over the acrylics in oils. She doesn’t like mediums, such as paint thinners. Brushes are important: she uses those which hold the largest amount of paint and give a fine line.
Jan expands a vignette out from her diary painting, and enlarges it on canvas. For her demonstration Jan chose a diary painting of Kalbarri Gorge, W.A. The Kalbarri landscape is striking: the ocean is on one side, the desert on the other, with greens, orange, and the aqua blue of ghost gums. She used gouache.
Jan says that the most-asked questions are: how does one start, and how does one know when to stop.
Keep stepping back from your work when you are painting. One needs to work a whole painting. A limited palette is best: red gold, burnt umber, Prussian blue, olive and lime green. Start with line work.
At a certain point Jan works from memory and will not look at the original. She works fast to start with and doesn’t think too much.
Australian red gold is one of her favourite oil colours. She goes over it with solvent and it glows.
Jan blocks in a section. She ensures that marks change, uses a big brush for a big canvas, builds up and paints trees at the end. She goes right to the edge of the canvas.
Know how much paint your brush holds. Jan paints lines in one big sweep.
Inspiration is a gut feeling.
Jan buys good quality canvas and stretches it because she sells her work. Good canvas is like working on plastic, because the paint moves around. She uses “Classico” (Italian) oils. They are very oily, and don’t need a solvent. Jan rarely paints straight from the tube, but creates her own colours. It is also important to buy good quality frames if you sell your work. It usually takes her three or four months to complete a painting.
She goes to a workshop with Rowen Matthews at the Willoughby Arts Centre.