Jane Moore Houghton
I received my BS in Studio Art from Skidmore College in 1987 but did not begin painting seriously or selling my work until 2006. I was teaching art to children out of my home at the time. My students, particularly the preschool-aged children, inspired me to make art for the sake of having fun and reconnecting with my joy again. It was soon after that that I had my first solo show and have been painting what I love and what spoke to me ever since.
Turning forty was pivotal for me! In general, my style is whimsical and has its roots in folk art. My intention with my work is to make approachable images that draw the viewer in to experience the layers of the mixed media and its message in a gradual and deepening relationship with the piece.
My most recent "Beasts" series is a series of intimate portraits of endangered and at-risk species. I use acrylic, gouache, ink, color pencil, and embroidery on layers of tissue paper. I developed a unique method of hand embroidering on layers of tissue as a means to reconnect with the craft taught to me by my late grandmother. Embroidery was used in this specific series to harken thoughts of traditions we pass down from one generation to the next.
Early experiences that helped form me as an artist:
My earliest memories of losing myself in making art is as a very young girl creating an art studio of sorts in a large, unused closet in my home. I surrounded myself with books that inspired me and art materials in this private space. I would study children's book illustrators, detailed natural history type encyclopedias as well as National Geographic magazines for images to copy in watercolor and charcoal.
I took my first private art lessons when I was about ten. My teacher started me painting portraits in oil. I didn't know that you are not supposed to start there and I think it has given me a fearless attitude towards making art ever since.
I have an older cousin who went to Rhode Island School of Design and is a real out-of-the-box thinker and artist. His visions and talent have always been a huge inspiration to me and in showing me what was possible. My family and families of friends have always supported my art interest and for that I remain grateful and humbled.
Factors that contributed to me making art more seriously:
As I mentioned, observing my students and most especially my youngest students make art for art's sake was an epiphany for me. Watching the preschoolers loose themselves in the process reminded me of why I began as an art student in college in the first place.
I chose imagery that spoke to me for personal reasons: arks. The arks were not of the Noah variety but were a symbol of the human spirit in general: we build our arks and fill them with every experience we have had to make them sea-worthy or perhaps in need of some work on land before ready to venture out into the great sea....
Watching people, mostly strangers, react and immediately connect with this imagery made me realize that people buy your joy. That was pivotal for me: make art that speaks to me and people will be drawn to that authenticity. I have since taken some online classes that push me beyond my comfort levels. For example, I have taken two classes with Lilla Rogers (Make Art that Sells) which has encouraged me to put more irons in fire: venturing into commercial art, learning Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator in order to be marketable in a greater variety of markets. These classes have also put me in contact with other professional artists around the world which has become an invaluable community of support and inspiration to just keep painting.
Why endangered species?
Like most of the series I have made, the themes are often a perfect storm of sorts, of themes that have danced in and out of my imagination and life. The "Beasts" series features intimate portraits of endangered and at risk species of animals and plants. I think the impetus to create this series comes from two major influences. The first is a desire to paint large, in-your-face type portraits of animals ever since I observed an artist I came in contact with back in the 80s when I was working for the director of the Main Street Gallery in Nantucket. There was an artist (I wish I could remember her name) who we represented that painted beautiful, realistic portraits of mostly sheep and cattle species. I admired the respect she showed these animals and they have stayed in my memory for decades.
The second influence is most probably stemming from the Unitarian Universalist community I belong to. The UU church is very globally minded in its beliefs as well as in its efforts to enact change and enlightenment.
I also listen to a great deal of National Public Radio. I found that the messages I heard in the UU church as well as the NPR stories that most resonate with me were those that dealt with the impact of humans on our co-jouneyers: the animals and plants.
I kept having internal debates about how we live our lives, make our policies, and claim to have certain values that run counter to the well-being of the greater community of all living things on the planet we share. I felt I could try to work out some of these themes in these portraits. I have certainly continued to contemplate these themes in the series but still not sure I understand why we, as human species, do what we do but I hope that I have at least supported an awareness to the viewers of the works.
Advise I give to people pursuing an art career:
- Work hard every day and then work even harder then you thought you could
- When the doubts surface and the people around you question your motives - thank them for making you work harder for what you believe you are here to do and continue to work hard.
- Understand that you may have to work at "day jobs" that you don't love in order to do your art for a while.
- Be willing to have lots of irons in the art fire until you find the one you can throw all your weight into.
- There are hundreds of successful artists for every one that gave up because they believed the rumors that artists are weird or starving or not valued. Keep working and listening to your voice. Surround yourself with other artists and supportive, positive people even if you have to find them in an online community.
- And finally, if you don't share your work with the world who will?
Most memorable experience as an artist:
There are many! But, I think the most memorable are those that have taken me by surprise. I have had several people weep when talking to me about how my work has touched them. These moments are precious because I honestly don't believe I have had anything to do with their experience with my work but that some Divine power chose me to bring that experience to them and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to witness that. It's incredibly humbling. Also, I am always overwhelmed and surprised at the support and love I have received at exhibition openings I have had. Most recently, at the opening reception for "Beasts" I had a handful of family and friends fly in from far-flung locations just to attend the opening. I kept saying, "It's just a bunch of paintings on the wall - why did you come all this way!?" I am humbled and touched by their support.
It's a surreal experience to work for several years alone in the studio to have it culminate in a very public experience of standing back with family, friends, and strangers at this work that seemed to somehow show up on its own.
Finally, I would love to hear from people on my blog or Facebook, etc..