Introducing Jane Stuart

Published Categorized as Books, What I have been up to

In this blog post I introduce Jane Stuart and her amazing art. She is an inspiration and a tour de force and I am lucky enough to be working with her on a collaboration.

Jane was a secondary art teacher in London for many years but eventually decided to gather up her many transferable skills to run her own nationwide business with her partner which has gone from strength to strength in the decade since its inception. But her artistry and creativity is well and truly embedded in all she does and it clearly serves her business well.

After commissioning me twice to create some teaching resources for her company, Jane suggested we work together to produce a children’s book that she had an idea for. I was delighted by this suggestion. I don’t want to give too much away just yet but it involves an owl and worldwide journey. The book will be a classroom gem as it will lend itself to considering geography, art, wisdom, wildlife, PSHE topics, spoken language, and even a bit of SPAG! Aside from the text, Jane’s illustrations will provide much to talk about.

Here Jane answers some questions about her love affair with art with interesting and entertaining answers….

1) When did you discover a love of creating art and what creative ventures did you get up to?

My father was an artist, as were many of his friends, so I grew up appreciating the purpose and value of creativity. I spent a great deal of my time drawing and writing, as far back as I can remember. I would often write and illustrate my own stories. My sister and I would also invent endless drawing competitions – anything from ‘The Most Handsome Dog’, to ‘The Most Delicious Cake’ to ‘The Most Beautiful Castle, with a million others in between. We’d appoint our mother with the unenviable job of judge, leaving her to deal with a victorious gloater and a disgruntled sulker once she had nervously announced her verdict.

Art immediately became my favourite subject at school and the one where I excelled. I became a secret, prolific doodler during more academic lessons; in my books and spilling out onto the desk, delighting in creating wild, complex, organic creations in pen. 

I never doubted my professional and personal life would always involve creativity within whichever experiences presented themselves. It is a drive impossible to contain.

2) You have a degree in fine art and a PGCE in secondary art and design. Which aspects of your artistic skills and passions do you think you most developed in your academic years?

I found art school quite a challenge. Fine art was not quite the right fit for me. I’ve never been much good at creating ‘sophisticated’ art for adults. As with hand-writing, I have little control over my style and it somehow naturally lends itself to illustrating for children. There is a naive quality to it which children seem to connect with and which I unsuccessfully tried to get rid of for many years. It was only much later that I grew to accept, embrace and nurture it.

3) You were an art teacher for many years. What do you think is needed to most successfully teach art?

  • The ability to create exciting projects relevant to students’ lives – and then deliver them in such an engaging and fun way that they almost don’t notice they are acquiring the skills they need to competently express themselves. A quiet blending of the vegetables into a deliciously distracting sauce, as it were.
  • Genuine enthusiasm expressed for a student’s efforts – there is always something to be charmed by – which will increase confidence and inspire their desire to improve. 
  • Knowing when to stand back and when to step in and assist. 
  • Communicating to students that mistakes/failures are often our best teachers and never a waste of time or to be taken personally – as long as we examine, analyse and learn something from them. 

4) You’ve recently partnered with Molly Potter to illustrate a children’s book. Each picture illustrates a scene with plants and animals from different countries around the world. How do you go about creating the composition of each picture?

My job is to bring Molly’s words to life in a visually exciting way and I love creating the compositions which I feel best do this. I firstly study the text. I then research the place and animals. I consider what Molly wants me to portray and the relationship between the characters. I play with the positioning and scale of the subject matter until it starts to click. A painting’s composition is like that of poetry, music or dance – it has a spirit, tempo and life of its own. Eventually there will be a ‘eureka’ moment, where it just works. I’ll then ping it over to Molly to see if it generally works for her too and then we tweak and fine-tune until we are both happy it is exactly as we want it. 

One of the great things about collaborating with Molly is that she provides clear direction, but also entrusts me with a hugely satisfying amount of artistic freedom.

5) What’s your process of moving from the composition to a completed picture?

Once we have agreed on the composition, I’ll prime up a board and draw the outline. I’ll then roughly block in with washes of colour. This allows me to start to get to know my painting in terms of colour and tone. It also provides an undercoat, so the top coat is nice and solid. I’ll then start applying the top coat – it’s like zooming in on each part and creating the fine detail.

6) For fellow art enthusiasts, can you tell us what materials you use?

My favourite medium is oil paint. I use Sennelier oil paints, which give excellent coverage. I love the vibrancy, texture and finish. Oil paint also has a slow drying time, which suits how I work. I like to stare at my work, leave it, come back to it and stare some more. I find the solution to anything I’m struggling with and the path forward becomes apparent when I do this – and the paint is still wet enough on the board to continue to work with rather than having to overpaint.

I use Pro Arte hog hair brushes for blocking in and painting larger, uncomplicated areas and Daler-Rowney sapphire brushes for detail, which are a blend of red sable hair and tapered synthetic filaments.

I varnish the paintings with Gamvar, which can be applied as soon as the painting is touch dry, rather than waiting for months, and gives a lovely satin finish.

7) Under what conditions do you like to paint? What is your studio like?

My studio is just a simple box room in my house. I work at a scale which doesn’t require much space. I have a fantastic lamp which lights everything beautifully. I like to work with the window wide open and listen to the wind, rain or birdsong. I like to paint very early in the morning for a few hours and then a few more late at night.

8) How do you feel:

At the start of a creation sitting at the blank canvas?

Excited and full of possibilities – it’s the start of a journey – I have an idea of where I’m going but the destination is still always something of a surprise!

Once you have the composition settled?

Blocking in is the bit I least enjoy. I find it boring, uninspiring and a bit of a chore. But I recognise it’s importance. I generally blast out music during this stage to keep me going!

When you start to paint?

Once I start the top coat, I go ‘into the zone’. Time loses all meaning – hours can pass in what feels like minutes. It’s incredibly intense – my brain is making decisions every time I look, mix a colour or apply a brushstroke. But there’s more to it than that – it’s almost like something subconscious is at work too. Molly jokes that I’m channelling an artistically frustrated medieval nun, which is funny, but it does feel as though something ‘other’ is at work, alongside just my brain. This seems to be a sensation common to many artists.

When you sit next to a completed painting?

A mix of things – generally exhausted on one level and exuberant on another. Each of these paintings takes about a month and a half from start to finish, so the final brushstroke is quite a notable moment. There is a strong feeling of accomplishment, but also strangely of loss, because it’s time to disconnect forever from something I’ve been so intensely tuned in to for weeks on end.