Naturally, I had to interview and feature Jane here, not only because it's the least I could do to show my appreciation, but because I am genuinely interested in her work and her process. The more I've examined my own stuff over the thus brief life of this blog, the more I've become curious about other painters and craftsfolk. And while I probably seem a little too good at blogging about my own crap, it was way more interesting to hear from someone more established with such a unique source of inspiration.
So here's a closer look at Jane's inspiration, process, a few lovely pieces... and her feelings on beets:
Jane, according to your blog, you’re not a fan of beets. Is it a taste or a texture thing? For example, would you be okay with beet-flavored pasta, as in veggie rotini? Also, please tell us about yourself.
I’ve tried to love Beets. For two summers I had a great CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share through a farm called Growing Home. I loved supporting local agriculture, but struggled to love beets (which we got a lot of). I guess it’s the flavor to which I object. I did find one recipe I really liked: Cold Beet Soup with a scoop of basil lime sorbet. About me, I’m Chicago-based watercolor painter and architect. My adventures in painting and architecture have taken me all over the country. Prior to Chicago, I spent a year living in a town of 2,000 people in West Alabama and designing a prototype for rural, affordable housing. I appreciate the pure pleasure and meditative qualities of painting, as well as the opportunity it offers to chart our course through life, our interests, our evolving abilities.
Your architectural interest really comes across in your work. Are there specific structural or perspective elements you seek out when creating a painting? It is just a matter of what catches your eye at a particular moment in time? In other words, do you chase after your work or does it find you?
My background in architecture definitely informs my painting work. Specifically, I tend to be drawn to composition, spatial relationships, and the interaction of light with the built form. In the early stages of an architectural project I am often required to document the context surrounding the proposed building site, the existing related resources, and the vernacular architecture. This background is sometimes activated in researching and selecting the subject matter for paintings. I'm generally fascinated by light. It was a Winslow Homer exhibit several years ago at the Art Institute, in Chicago, that inspired me to dedicate more energy to painting. Homer had an incredible mastery of light. When I’m looking at the built environment, I tend to be drawn to the scenes where the light is creating an interesting effect. I am also interested in compression and expansion that we experience when in moving through urban spaces. It is wonderful to go from a really narrow, possibly dark alley, into a big open plaza—very dramatic! I tend to go after work with intention. Riding my bike around the city, taking photographs, making notes. When I actually sit down to paint though, I find that I my mood often trumps the best laid plans and I end up painting that which has inspired me that day.
Do you work from life, photographs, notebook sketches? Do you listen to music or make sure to have a cup of coffee nearby? Can you briefly take us through your process, painter’s ritual, or any quirks that take you from a blank canvas to a finished painting?
I love working from life, particularly painting outside. I learned to paint during a year spent studying Rome, as an architecture student. During that year, I spent many hours sketching and painting in the piazze of Rome and other Italian cities and towns—there is nothing quite the same as sitting in the sun, painting a beautiful duomo or palazzo. Living in Chicago, though, there are many months when painting outside is impossible. Last November, I reconfigured my studio space a bit. I think it is important to create a warm, inviting space in which to work. I definitely love to sit down with a cup of coffee early in the morning or sometimes a glass of red wine after dinner and dive into a painting project. I tend to listen to podcasts a lot when I paint, perennially This American Life and recently a podcast called WTF.
The way you use a muted color pallet makes your work very recognizable and distinct. After viewing the paintings in your shop, I’m sure I could pick out a Jane Sloss from across a room. Has this always been a conscious style choice? Was it something that evolved over time?
In addition to sketching and painting in Rome, I learned to paint in the Beaux-Arts style as an architecture student. This meant painting large sheets (24”x30”) to render my architectural designs. The work tended to involve meticulous depiction of the building components and many layers of watercolor washes. A muted pallet seemed appropriate in creating these renderings. As my painting style evolved, I think I continued to be drawn to what felt like the somewhat ethereal aesthetic of delicate watercolor washes.
I commend you on the texture and feel of your urban pieces—all those bricks and windows rendered with such truth. Do you find these repetitive elements an enjoyable or relaxing part of painting or a bit of an undertaking?
I don’t mind painting hundreds or thousands of bricks as necessary to complete a painting. I do find that it meditative. It’s easy to get lost in thought or perhaps to allow the repetitive motion to quiet my mind a bit.
Chicago certainly does provide my largest source for artistic inspiration. I think I feel particularly connected to the city because of my background. Growing up, my family moved six times, so I never really had a city I called “home.” When I moved to Chicago almost four years ago, I felt that I had found a place I could call home forever (or at least the foreseeable future). I find myself wanting to invest in the Chicago by developing a social network, exploring its neighborhoods, and creating work, which reflects the city. The unique architectural character of Chicago’s neighborhoods, diverse cultural influences, and the natural beauty of the city parks and Lake Michigan provide me with artistic inspiration. My recent work through the Western Avenue series has been focused on documenting the portions of the city, which are not consider traditionally glamorous or beautiful. These hidden corners of Chicago and other cities are a reflection of the spirit and humanness of the place, the positive and the negative. My objective is that my paintings feel honest, as well as recognizing the ambiguity and complexity of truthful images.
As someone who has never been to Chicago, it’s enjoyable to visit it through your eyes. Can you tell us more about your relationship with this city? What makes it such a prominent subject for you?
And last but not least, do you have any advice or seeds of artistic wisdom you’d like to impart to any readers out there?
My only advice would be that if you want painting or another art form to be a part of your life, pursue it with intention. About four years ago, I decided that I wanted watercolor painting to be a bigger part of my life and have found that unexpected opportunities may come if you develop your art through regular practice and intentionality.
Many thanks to Jane for sharing her wonderful artwork and for her thoughtful answers to my questions!
Make sure to view Jane's watercolor paintings and handmade wedding invitations and accessories storefronts on Etsy. You can commission a custom piece.
Don't forget to visit her blog: A Good Day's Work: Jane Sloss | Watercolor paintings and get the latest on her awesome, twenty-four piece Western Avenue Series. The series is nearing the halfway mark and in expected to exhibit in 2012.