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Check Out Janell James’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janell James.  

Hi Janell, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was always interested in drawing and making things as a kid but I had a natural inclination to play in the dirt, and collect rocks, and anything that moved. Nature was always an inspiration for me and I simply enjoyed being out in the elements. One of my favorite first memories was from pre-school. It was very creative-oriented. We made things there every day and spent most of our time outside under tall pine trees. We decorated pine cones and used leaves and sticks to make little creations. I don’t remember a lot of the details but do know how much I loved going there and being creative in the way we made different things throughout the week. 

In high school, it was a similar story as I was trying to find myself and what it was I loved. Fortunately, I found my way back to art and eventually AP Art and even a little musical theater. I was fortunate to study under Connie Borup in High School for my AP Art course. Connie later taught at the University of Utah where I also took a class with her. She is a wonderful Utah artist, and I will always be grateful for her influence and inspiration. I guess her depictions of nature, that I saw in high school, must have made a significant impression on me. 

Fortunately, my love for being outside as a kid carried with me into high school and really all of my life to this point. We were lucky to get to go on week-long trips of our choice once a year in grade school and high school. For me I chose, you guessed it, being in the great outdoors. My first trip was in eighth grade to southern Utah where we rode mountain bikes along the White Rim Trail, went river rafting down the Colorado River, backpacked for three nights in Devil’s Kitchen eating maple-flavored oatmeal and hot cocoa, and walking a total of 26 miles. It changed my life! To see the light of day shift on the surrounding environment, casting long shadows, and seeing the colors even more brilliantly when the clouds came overhead sent my curiosity into hyperdrive for nature and all its wonderment. It was the foundational inspiration for my life ahead as a painter of trees and nature. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Art, as in life, is never smooth, but it is all of the hardships and moments we work so hard for that make us who we are in the end. Of course, life is an evolution, always changing and keeping things interesting as is art. My work began very traditionally. Once I decided after college to pursue a serious career as an artist, I decided to attend a 12-month Atelier in the Belmont, CA, over the course of two years. It was through this course I learned how I could capture the beautiful light I am always drawn to in nature. I learned how to turn form on a 2D paper making an object look 3D. It was through drawing the human figure that I initially learned so much about the fundamentals of creating art. Eventually, we evolved into painting the figure, and working with color became a whole new challenge of learning how to mix color and apply it is just the right way that it looked human. 

Over time I came to realize that traditional or classical painting was not for me, as much as I enjoyed my process of painting trees in the landscape for ten years. I had initially loved layering paint and medium to create illuminating depth and not all of my work was dark and romantic. Many of my oil paintings of the landscape took on their own unique quality with a more graphic style and fauvist coloration palette. I guess it was around year ten when I decided I wanted to try something new and unique to me. 

My process has evolved over the years to become less sacred and more happenstance. Always trying to leave in and capture the random acts of painting not necessarily intended. On a particular day when I decided to throw all of what I knew about painting to the wind, I decided to experiment by physically separating my layering process that I had been doing in my oil paintings onto 1/8″ sheets of clear acrylic glass. I personally wanted to see what one of my paintings, broken down, layered separated apart with actual space between, would look like. Taking one of my trees in the landscape, I started creating each layer. The first layer of paint on the first layers of acrylic glass, then the next layer of paint on layer two of acrylic glass, and so forth until I had five layers of acrylic glass with paint on both sides. I was stunned! Now I had ten layers of paint separated onto five panes of glass adding up to 1″ total. The 3D depth captivated my attention along with the cast shadows from above layers. I was hooked and wanted to see what more could be down with this process. Six years later, I have begun incorporating still-life wildflowers into my oeuvre. It is the unexpected road, not grated, that sometimes leads to the most interesting places when we chose to let go and follow the way. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
In the beginning of my career, I think I was most known for my painting of trees, in their unusual style and color palette. In fact, one of my large close-up oil paintings of two trees coming together at twighlight can be seen at City Creek on the way into Nordstrom and women’s shoes. Now I would say I might best be known for my works on multi-layered acrylic glass. My trees are still my signature, but I enjoy new subject matter like the wildflowers and even abstract layering to keep things spicy. 

It’s been a 16-year career so far that I feel very fortunate to have been successful with and to enjoy doing every day. It has taken fortitude, patience, and determination to sift through the emotions that come with being a creative as well as the rejections, but as I continue down this road, I am always humbled and grateful for those who love my work and support me along the way. This is something of infinite value to a creative, and each day pushes me forward giving me courage to try new things, explore my process, and create outside the proverbial box. I’ve really never been one for boxes; who needs them really…well, they are great for packing, moving, storing, and organizing. But I digress. My goal has always been to keep myself interested and happy with the work I make, and so far, I feel that I am accomplishing this goal. 

Risk-taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a rick-taker, but I suppose my mother would. I have enjoyed skiing, rock climbing, hiking summits, mountain biking, road biking, swimming in oceans, surfing (very novice), and camping. All of these activities come with risks. I even walk out my front door from time to time. Heck, just having an opinion is a risk, but I still have plenty of those. I guess not taking risks is not living, and I am one who likes to dive all in especially when it is scary. 

Being an artist is a risk that I have taken very seriously. Being told one can’t make a living being an artist could be a pretty big deterrent, and I am clearly not the only one who finds the risk worthwhile. Truly, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or could be good at, and even this is subjectively open for debate. Most importantly, I felt that I could be good enough at being an artist and maybe even happy doing it. The best part is that I get to enjoy my work through other people’s enjoyment of my work. The reward is the hard work and also a new work finding a home. None of these things collectively or separately keep me going; in a vacuum, I have to work to keep the joy, and I unfortunately have some pretty high expectations of myself. Or, fortunately, another conundrum that life tosses our way. There is no light without dark, and so on. I just do what I do, whatever that may be, and try to find within the feeling of belief and the vote of confidence I give myself that it will all work out. So far, it has. 

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Image Credits

John Bell

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