An interview with Janis McElmurry in Lansing, Michigan

Early members of The Watercolor Gallery will remember Janis McElmurry’s fantastic piece Feel the Ocean that I featured back in September 2010.

At the time I highlighted Janis’ skill with using whitespace. It turns out she’s no one-trick pony. Janis is a very accomplished artist and has many, many great works of art to show for it. She was nice enough to take a few moments out of her day to answer a few questions for all of us here on the gallery so lets see what she had to say.

Janis, how did you get started in watercolor?

“I have always liked to paint and draw. Growing up in Toronto, I would draw with my sister and we both tried watercolor paints. My mom painted in oil and she encouraged us. I practiced watercolor by copying other watercolor artists to get used to handling watercolor. Then I eventually took some watercolor classes and I have taken a lot of workshops – Tony Couch, Frank Webb, Donna Zagotta, Mark Mahaffey, Alvaro Castagnet. I love to watch other people paint and learn from other artists. Then you have to paint, paint, paint!! and make it your own.”

How have your tools changed from when you got started until now, and what are your favorite tools currently?

“I started out with cheap watercolor paper and now I use 100% cotton rag paper by Arches mostly. Better paper definitely makes a difference. I use #140 cold press and rough, sometimes hot press. They all give a slightly different effect, depending on what you are doing. For example if you want a lot of texture in your painting use rough. If you want to sketch with pen and color with watercolor, hot press is great. I use a variety of brushes and they have got bigger – to cover larger areas and to make your work looser. I use a variety of paint from Windsor Newton, DaVinci and Holbein mostly. I think I have too many colors, but you can’t really have too many colors, can you?!”

How do you prefer to work? Plein air, from a photograph, from memory? At a desk, outdoors, in a closet?

“Mostly I paint from photos and I am always taking photos thinking about paintings that want to paint. I have taken a lot of photos of my kids and painted them a lot. My coworkers commission me to paint their kids too, so I get a lot of practice painting people. Sometimes I paint Plein air and I want to do this more. Alvaro Castagnet loves to paint Plein air and says there is nothing like it – he gives a fantastic workshop and paints really fast which I like. I don’t like to take a long time to paint a painting – it loses that fresh spontaneity. It is better to have fast deliberate strokes that aren’t perfect than overworked areas.

Sometimes I dream paintings and am working on translating those dreams to the canvas.”

What has been your favorite painting or painting experience?

“Toney Couch, Frank Web, Donna Zagotta and Alvaro Castagnet have been my favorite workshop artists. I love to paint with my sister still! She paints very different from me but we still learn from each other. Check out her web site.

One of my favorite art related experiences was traveling to France with my sister and going to Monets home to see his garden and lily pond. Talk about inspiration!”

Name two watercolor artists, perhaps those who are currently inspiring you.

Sharon Barr & Alvaro Castagnet

Thanks again to Janis for doing this interview. Her interview is the 10th interview in our Artist Interview series and we still have many, many more to come. I think I have at least 5 more queued up already and I’m in contact with a few more artists as well. I love these interviews.