Interview | Jan Heaton


How do you approach each day in the studio? I start my day with coffee, a hike in my neighborhood, or a trip to the gym, a physical start to a contemplative and quiet day. My studio is in my home so there are no distractions, which is just perfect for me. The view from my studio is all green, natural, very tranquil and frequently a family of deer will graze outside my window while I paint. Before I started painting full-time, I worked in advertising and graphic design for over twenty years. Schedules, deadlines, and challenges have helped me to produce my best work. I initially approach a new painting with a drawing in my sketchbook. The next step is deciding how to share the idea with meaningful marks.

I notice that many of your paintings explore small perspective repetition and pattern. Why is it that you choose these moments to share? When did you start painting these details? In The Market series I was interested in exploring plant structures and abstracting the details. Isolating the configurations I observed in nature, and creating an intimate, unique and tranquil moment. The marks are calming as I paint them.

What types of thoughts and emotions do you pull out of your work when it is complete? Do they differ at all from your thoughts while you are painting? Each painting is an expression of where I exist emotionally and spiritually at the time. I consider my paintings a visual journal. I am a storyteller with a brush instead of a pen.

I know you teach at the Contemporary Austin Art School at Laguna Gloria. How do you help your students through feeling like what they are making is not personal enough or unique? I love teaching at Laguna Gloria. I attempt to empower my students to see the value of the work they are producing, whether they are a beginner, or an accomplished artist interested in a new medium. I personally think there are no mistakes and I don’t conduct class critiques. I guide them with a painting demo, step by step, but as they repeat the process, they arrive at a solution much different than mine. I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

As simply as possible, what is the best advice you could give to an aspiring artist? I believe in sharing. Sharing my process, my tools, and my network. I believe in karma. I’m also a Malcolm Gladwell fan. I give my students a reading list and his book, The Tipping Point, is right at the top. The 10,000 hour rule. Practice makes perfect. For me it is all about work, repetition, and dedication. Having a supportive network of family and friends also helps.

Who was your best teacher while you were in school? What did they say to you that helped you understand your direction as an artist? Both of my parents were professional artists. They are my major inspiration. They encouraged me always to do what I love. In school there was Mr. Arthur Sipes, my middle school art teacher in Detroit. He encouraged me to attend a weekend semester session at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He told me I had a talent. I attended for three years, riding the city bus for an hour to get downtown. We sketched from the Diego Rivera mural in the great room, we drew from Rodin’s The Thinker at the art museum entrance, we learned how to create art inspired by the master works surrounding us. I then went to Cass Technical High School, a college prep high school that allowed me to major in the arts. In my senior year of high school I exhibited my artwork with my mother in a downtown Detroit gallery, my first show! Thank you Mom, Dad, and Mr. Sipes!

In your mind, what is the most important thing about making art? Being honest. Being true to yourself. I don’t expect everyone to relate to what I paint. The work is very narrative and personal. I am just doing my best to find the audience that does relate so that I can make a living doing what I love.




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