Today I interview Jana Bouc, a visual artist from the East Bay Area in California. She has been a watercolor artist for a quarter-century, and as branched out to a number of other mediums, including oils, acrylics, monoprinting and more.
Jana has a lovely Web site for her finished works that also lists classes and some great resources for aspiring artists. She also posts work-in-progress and finished works regularly at Jana’s Journal and Sketch Blog. She recently started the whimsical blog A Postcard a Day, which she describes as a series of illustrated postcards sent to anyone she chooses, whether dead, live or imaginary. As she puts it:
“Instead of Googling for answers to questions I send virtual postcards into the blogosphere and channel the wisdom of the recipients to send myself responses. Some days it’s just a ‘wish you here’ note and picture from my world. Other days it might be a dream message. Who knows? Anything goes…”
The images accompanying this post are some of Jana’s fabulous work. Enjoy!
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Jana: For 25 years I was a watercolor artist and a sometime writer of personal essays. Then, two years ago I discovered the world of art-blogging and web-based art groups like Everyday Matters, Wet Canvas and Illustration Friday, where artists take on creative challenges and then share their work on their blogs.
I found the community and the creative “assignments” invigorating. I made a commitment to sketch daily and began posting images and writing about them on my blog: a perfect marriage for my love of writing, drawing and painting.
Inspired by the work of other artists in my online art community, I began to explore different mediums, including monoprinting, gouache, acrylics and then finally a year ago, oil painting.
Watercolor and oil painting are just about opposites in every way so this past year of studying oil painting has been intense. At first it was hard going from a high level of competence in watercolor to be being a complete beginner in another medium. Eventually I decided to embrace being a beginner rather than being embarrassed by it and try to just enjoy the process of learning and discovery.
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
Jana: Over the years I’ve studied with many excellent teachers in their studios, in workshops and in college classrooms. I think of teachers as consultants: I’m there to learn something I want to know and they’re my resource for getting the answers and help I need.
When learning a new medium, I tend to study on my own first, using books and/or videos, going as far as I can. When I reach a point that I need in person help I find a teacher who can give me the guidance I’m seeking, and work with them for awhile. I think the craziest example of my learning from books was in ceramics, teaching myself to throw pots with a library book on ceramics propped up on the spinning pottery wheel while trying to keep splats of clay from flying off and ruining the book.
I’m not sure if that really answers the question: Is “formal” training important in “creative development.” I think training is helpful for building skills and obtaining the technical knowledge necessary to perform one’s craft well. However, developing technical skills is different from “creative development.” I don’t think formal training can teach you to be creative. Being creative is about play and having a sense of adventure, curiosity and wonder. Being creative is saying, “I wonder what would happen if I…” and then taking a risk and trying it.
For people who aren’t self-motivated, formal training can force them to do the groundwork. On the other hand, if one isn’t self-motivated to do art….well, why do it? For me, my whole life is built around art making; it’s what I think about, dream about, crave to be doing when I’m not.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
Jana: I don’t have any specific habits or rituals, other than making a cup of tea or coffee before heading into the studio. As I get older I find that doing healthy lifestyle things like exercise, getting enough sleep and healthy eating make my painting sessions more productive and pleasurable.
What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
Jana: I think the number one advice would be to carefully examine what kind of self-talk is happening in your head. If it’s negative, judgmental, critical, try to turn it around. For example, if you discover you’re saying, “Why bother, you’ll never be any good at this…or as good as so and so,” ask yourself why you’re doing this art anyway. When I hear that ugly voice, I say, “Thanks for sharing, now go away; bye-bye now.” Then I remind myself that I paint for the pleasure of learning and for the enjoyment of the process. I tell myself that I don’t have to be as good as so and so, or make it as a pro, I only have to be as good as I am right now and that if I keep practicing I’ll be better than that tomorrow.
I try to give myself encouragement even when I’m struggling. For example, I just finished a couple of paintings that had successful passages, even though the paintings as a whole weren’t successful (or at least up to my standards). I congratulated myself on the bits that showed how much I’ve learned and let go of the parts that didn’t work, ready to move on to the next painting.
Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
Jana: Learning to really see color and be able to interpret subjects in my painting using the relationships between neighboring colors to model and create form.
I’m also loving plein air painting: being outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the quiet or sounds or birds; seeing nearby towns and countryside for the first time; and trying to quickly capture the view before it changes (which it does, rapidly and constantly).
How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
Jana: I select projects intuitively; either an idea just comes to me or I see something I want to paint or I have a strange dream and it inspires me to draw it which leads to a painting. I’m pretty easily amused, so I can be intrigued by any element of a potential project. Painting a detailed still life of heart-breakingly perfect roses might intrigue me one day and the next I might be drawn to do a wonky ink and watercolor sketch of a hammer or my toilet or a construction worker. There’s really no part of painting and drawing, from selecting my paints, to cleaning my brushes, that I don’t find thrilling. I’m a lucky woman!
All images in this post are the copyright of Jana Bouc, 2008.