Jan Prentice is one of the founding members of the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators (CTNSI), LLC. She served as a volunteer at the Herbarium at the Peabody Museum for six years. She is also a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, an elected member of the New Haven Paint and Clay Club and the Madison Art Association and an associate artist member of the Lyme Art Association.
Jan is an instructor in the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators art classes at the Yale Peabody Museum. She teaches classes such as botanical drawing and composition and the open studio for those pursuing a CTNSI Certificate. Check the art classes to attend a class that Jan teaches. Learn more about Jan Prentice.
The interview was conducted by A. Pirozzoli
(AP) What painting or artwork are you personally working on currently?
(JP) About eight or nine years ago I became interested in painting birds. One summer I began getting up early to take a walk and I started to notice the egrets in the marshes near where I lived. How was it possible that I had never seen them before? Were they always there? I didn’t know anything at all about birds but those great and snowy egrets captured my imagination. They were big and white and didn’t move much so they were perfect subject matter for my first bird paintings. Up at dawn every morning, I became an egret stalker, searching for, observing, and photographing them where ever I could find them. I took thousands of photos with an inadequate camera and with very little knowledge of photography. In hindsight, my first paintings left a lot to be desired. But over time, as I began to understand these birds better and practice, my paintings improved as did my photography skill. Since that time I have painted many other birds but I have a particular love of the waders: egrets and herons.
(AP) Any particular art project in the works?
(JP) I am currently working on a painting of a green heron. This is my fourth time painting this particular bird. The first two attempts from several years ago will likely never see the light of day again. The third one, however, was a small preparatory painting for the one I am working on now. I thought it was good enough that I wanted to pursue a larger version.
(AP) What medium is being used?
(JP) Oils on canvas.
AP) What is the goal of the work?
(JP) First of all, the green heron is one of those wading birds that I find appealing so it’s a joy to paint. But above and beyond painting the bird itself is an experiment in color theory. Many contemporary paintings today (including my own) are highly chromatic, meaning the entire painting is full of very saturated color. Old Master painters didn’t do that. Old Master paintings are largely full of neutrals (browns, blacks, and grays) with relatively smaller portions reserved for high color. The juxtaposition of neutrals against high chroma creates an illusion of even greater color intensity. What would happen, I wondered, if the entire background of the green heron painting were neutralized while the color of the bird is intensified?
(AP) Are there any new art trends or techniques you are applying?
(JP) The deliberate use of contrasts (color vs. neutrality, light vs. dark, sharp edges vs. soft edges, flatness vs. form, etc.) are certainly not new concepts in painting. Old Master painters used these concepts all the time. But I find myself paying more attention to these types of concerns and looking for new ways to incorporate them in the planning and design stages of my paintings.
(AP) How important is it to your craft to be creating art on a regular basis?
(JP) Crucial. But creating art doesn’t always mean sitting at the easel or drawing table. Sometimes it means fallow periods where new ideas begin to germinate. Sometimes it means looking at work by other people, other cultures, past and present. Sometimes it means taking classes and workshops to expose yourself to new techniques and ideas.
(AP) As an artist what are some of the challenges you have had to overcome?
(JP) If you are growing as an artist, painting is never easy because you are always breaking new territory. Forcing myself to encounter these difficulties and not knowing if I will manage to succeed is a constant struggle. I, like everyone else, have to keep myself fed and clothed, attend to business, and find time for family and friends. Blocks of uninterrupted time are shortened by the demands of living or my own procrastination. Sometimes the very last thing I want to do is sit down and work on a painting that is not going well!
(AP) Do you experience any difference between creating paintings that are intended to be sold and those you create for your own pleasure?
(JP) I am primarily a fine artist and I have limited experience in commercial work. What commercial work I have done was to fulfill an assignment to the best of my ability and to satisfy the client’s wishes—a hired “brush,” if you will. My fine art work comes from a place of what engages me, what challenges me, what interests me at the time. The work suffers if it is not fueled by genuine desire.
(AP) Since so much of yourself is in the art you create, is it difficult to sell your work on some level?
(JP) No! It is a thrill and an honor when someone connects with my work and wants to add a piece to their collection.
Part II of the interview with Jan Prentice coming soon.