It’s hard to suppress a smile when looking at Janet Nelson’s artwork. Her pieces are full of saturated colors, unique textures, and are the ideal size to add whimsy and joy to any corner. However, Janet did not always work in such a compact format. Her journey as a painter started after taking a printmaking class at Carroll College in Waukesha, WI. After that experience, she had the vague, but firm, notion that she needed to be making art in some manner. It wasn’t until she got a job at an art supply store in the Green Bay area, and with the encouragement of a really cool manager, that she began playing with different mediums.
After a trip to Cedarburg, known as an artsy, albeit touristy, area just north of Milwaukee, Janet noticed an abundance of hand-painted furniture. Janet thought she would give it a go. One day her manager saw a small cabinet on the curbside, and had the delivery driver pick it up for Janet to paint. Janet’s manager kept scouring yard sales for pieces that Janet could paint, until she had finally amassed enough of a collection to exhibit in the store’s small gallery space. This then led to an exhibit at the Art Council space at the local mall. At the encouragement of her sister, Janet then decided to take a class at the Chicago Institute of Faux Finishes. This led to gigs creating Tuscan-inspired finishes and murals at several local restaurants, which, in turn, led to more requests for her faux finishes in both commercial and residential spaces.
Janet’s focus shifted again when she attended an event called Open Canvas in Milwaukee. Although Janet had attended with another artist friend to simply gain more exposure in the Milwaukee art market, this experience shaped her most current work. Open Canvas is a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, during which artists are given canvas, paint, and other supplies, and are asked to create a painting at a warehouse location. In the evening, the public is invited to this space to observe and participate in a silent auction. Janet describes her experience:
“There were going to be at least eighty other artists at the event, so I knew that it wasn’t the time to paint flowers in a vase if I was going to stand out. At the time I had recently finished a mural at a martini bar in Appleton, which included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe. So, I ended up painting a Marilyn-type character wearing a red dress, lying on a bearskin rug, drinking a martini, while one of her black pumps dangled from her big toe. It got a lot of attention and resulted in a bidding war. Needless to say, I decided that maybe I should try painting on canvas from that point on.”
While transitioning to this smaller format, Janet also discovered that in addition to painting on canvas, she could achieve a textured surface by applying black gesso to MDF boards. Janet describes the difference between these surfaces: “I like canvas because it ‘gives’ when working with a brush. But, I also love the gessoed hardboard panels when I include faux finish techniques.” Janet’s style evolved once more when she moved to the east coast and was fortunate enough to take a class with Al Staszesky at the Delaware Art Museum. Janet speaks about how the work she did in this class informs her current style:
“We painted from life and he taught us to start at the highest point of contrast, painting color next to color, and most importantly painting the color you saw. If done that way, if you cropped your painting into separate pieces, each section should be its own complete abstract painting. He taught from a limited palette and I was always amazed at the variety of colors you could get from so few tubes of paint. When I don’t paint from life, I always keep in mind what colors look good together. I have a practice of covering a canvas with a variety of paint colors that way for the start of many of my canvas pieces.”
Janet has recently signed with an art-licensing agent who encouraged her to start painting animals. It is this series of paintings that Devoted Human is lucky enough to bring to its customers. Janet describes her process and the careful planning that goes into creating these 10x10 square dog/cat-themed paintings:
“The paintings are done on a gessoed hard panel, so I can use the faux finish technique I have used for years on painted furniture. I come up with the design keeping in mind that I need to create a series that would work in a set of four; some are front-facing and others are done in left or right profile. I apply clear contact paper to the hard paper and transfer my design. Then I carefully cut out a section of the paper with an X-Acto knife, and apply a faux finish in that section. After it is dried, I move on to another section and repeat. I usually do that backgrounds in a different finish and will hand-paint some of the smaller details. I then apply a coat or two of water-based polyurethane. When dry, I sand down any bumps and touch up any spots that appear. Then, I repeat and seal with a final coat of poly.”
After years on the east coast, Janet has recently moved back to Wisconsin. Although her painting is currently on hold while she looks for a new place to call home, the move is sparking all sorts of inspiration. Janet describes the area she once knew so well:
“One thing that has struck me has been the abundance of birch trees in the area. I don’t recall there being so many when I was growing up. They will be the first things I paint when I finally get the supplies unpacked. But, I also want to paint Belted Galloways, as well as try to come up with a unique approach to Holstein cows, which are so prevalent here.”
The beauty of Janet’s paintings is that whether you purchase a single painting or several from the series, they will inevitably bring some cheer into your space. Check out our selection here and make sure to keep up with Janet’s new work.