Artist in Focus: Jane Elizabeth Cullum
How did you get into Art?
During my childhood it was recognised by the adults around me that I had an aptitude for art, but rather than going on to formal art college training I decided to follow my other interests and studied psychology and linguistics at university; this eventually led to a long career as a speech and language therapist and (later) as a dance-movement therapist.
From time to time, as work and finances allowed, I would take time out to explore my twin passions of travelling and painting. Over time I realised that, although I loved my work as a therapist, my heart was really the creative process, so I took the plunge a couple of years ago to focus entirely on painting, and I now incorporate my love of movement work, travel and the natural world into my painting practice. So far I haven’t regretted it!
What are some of your favorite experiences as an artist?
I love the way art connects people; I’ve found a really encouraging community of fellow artists and makers on social media (Instagram), and have been able to meet up with some of them in real life too for coffee and mutual support!
From time to time I get attached to particular pieces of work, and then it can be quite hard to let it go, but of course it’s a great feeling when someone buys one of my paintings; I love imagining it in its new home, especially when that’s a distant and more exotic location – I’ve recently sent work as far afield as California, New Zealand and even Peru!
I enjoy the physical and tactile process of making the work – the feel of the paintbrush in my hand and the movement of the paint across the surface of the canvas. Because I spend a lot of time on my own in my studio, I’ve found that, whatever the weather I usually have to go out for a walk early in the morning so I can connect with people and with nature. My favourite walk takes me down to my little town, round the castle and along the riverbank, with my camera, and I photograph whatever captures my attention- the moss on some dead wood, textures of leaves and stone, and cloud shapes, which can all provide inspiration for work later on, back in my studio.
Music or silence?
I hardly ever have music on in the background when I’m working as I find it too distracting – the mood and rhythm of the music tends to suggest a specific direction for the work, which might not be where I, or the painting want to go.
I prefer having talk radio on in the background – a drama or discussion on Radio 4 or 4 extra for example , as it seems to keep my left brain occupied while my right (intuitive/ feeling) side gets absorbed in the canvas and paint. I also like painting in silence- although silence is never really silent: birdsong , wind, rain, and the occasional passing car are all part of the soundscape and drift in through the open window to become part of the artwork.
Any studio rituals?
‘Be regular and orderly in your life so that you can be violent and original in your work’ – Flaubert.
Well, this seems like good advice, and I try to follow it.
I normally put in several hours of painting punctuated by the odd break for coffee and cake! I also try to time my painting sessions to coincide with the best of the daylight, and although I do use ‘daylight’ craft bulbs in my studio lighting, I much prefer working in natural light, so my painting time generally extends further into the evening as the day length increases.
Whatever the hour, I always finish the day by tidying up my studio, washing my brushes and changing the water, so that I can come into an organised space the following day-this allows me to be as messy as I like during the day while I’m painting!
How has your style changed over the years?
I try to experiment with new techniques as often as I can – it’s very easy to get stuck in comfortable groove and to keep producing the same type of work, so I like to challenge myself to experiment with different media; recently I’ve been incorporating charcoal, oil pastel and sand (collected from an Anglesey beach during a recent painting expedition) into my paintings to add layers of texture, interest and atmosphere.
When I look back at work I was creating some 20 years ago, I can see the same themes (water/ moon/ light on the hills) captivated me then, although I think over time my painting has become more confident, and my use of colour and marks more subtle and nuanced; I certainly feel more willing to take a few risks and try out different materials and ideas.
Do you have a favourite tool?
Like most artists I’m a huge fan of art supply shops, and rarely visit one without buying something, even if it’s just a pencil! However although I like experimenting with new ‘finds’ I tend to stick with two or three favourite brushes which seem to create all the marks I want. I’ve found that it’s often the simplest things which create the most interesting effects- a piece of crumpled kitchen paper or the side of my thumb to blur and rub the paint are very effective for cloud shapes and distant horizons.