Finally Painting With Passion: Laura Janes Gave Up a Lucrative Art-Commission Career to Make Her Own CreationsWritten by Victor Barocas
It all started with a crayon crisis.
“I distinctly remember that at age 7, I had a major crisis—deciding which of two distinctly different shades of green Crayola crayons would be best for my ‘latest masterpiece,’” Laura Janes said. “And with that decision, I knew that art and painting were my future.”
Much of the painter’s career has involved art—however, it was not her art. Although she strayed from making her own art, Janes’ creative process remained part of her unconscious, she said, at times driving her career choices.
Upon graduating college, Janes became a high school teacher, where she taught teenagers about art and ways to access their own creative spirits. A few years later, Janes recognized there was a market for artists who could produce high-quality wall and ceiling murals. Capitalizing on her technical prowess as a painter, she founded Iconica, a San Diego company that was commissioned to create murals in residential properties. Working with interior designers and individual clients, Janes and her team created paintings that met a client’s needs for a defined space.
Now a muralist, the painter then evolved into an expert copyist: She was frequently asked to reproduce classic works in a client’s home. Janes chuckles: “I can’t tell you how many times I painted the Sistine Chapel on some dining room or bathroom ceiling.”
Iconica resulted in two major life lessons for Janes: First, it helped her become a savvy businesswoman. Unlike many artists, she knows how to put a fair price on each painting by factoring in a dollar value for her time and creative process, as well as her hard costs.
Second, Iconica reminded her of the importance of attending to intricate details and finishing (e.g., surface textures) with any piece. This can be seen in her “Cambria Leaves III” (upper right) which lets viewers experience the differing textures of overlapping leaf surfaces. Additionally, her use of highly amplified and contrasting colors adds a vibrancy and depth.
However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Iconica: Its growing reputation among designers, developers and homeowners was resulting in ever-greater sales. However, after about 10 years, the painter found herself disengaging from the business. Something was missing. While the financial rewards proved significant, the intrinsic rewards waned: The commissions required less and less creativity and imagination.
Around the same time, Janes experienced the loss of multiple family members and important friends. Her response? “I need to ‘check out’ and find myself.”
What started as a 12-month retreat to heal and determine what to do next evolved into an 8-year sabbatical: Janes became the artist in residence for the Unitarian Church’s camp in the San Bernardino National Forest in exchange for room and board. It was a place where she could paint and reconnect with her creative persona.
During her last years at the camp, she began painting at least one watercolor a day, she said, and began implementing a strategy to connect with the design community—an industry that values her talents—and make inroads to art galleries.
Upon leaving the camp, the artist first moved to Big Bear. However, when she realized there were more gallery and interior-design opportunities here in the desert, she moved down the mountain. Today, Janes maintains an active studio in Palm Springs. The artist tries not to work on multiple canvasses concurrently; she finds herself more focused and productive when she focuses on one at a time.
With each painting, Janes tempers a recognizable spontaneity with a highly deliberative, almost cerebral, creative process. The painter’s finished canvases balance each color’s hue, saturation and brightness in one of two ways: low-contrast paintings where all colors are similar and muted; and paintings in which subtlety is non-existent: Deep, rich and highly saturated pigments define and delineate each element of the composition.
With “Aloes” (first below), Janes demonstrates how—with an almost-monochromatic palette of similar, soft colors, and hints of contrast—she can transform what would be a boring desert plant into a lush succulent. In contrast, the artist employs potentially clashing, antagonistic colors to produce “Agave Triangles” (second below), a canvas populated distinct and individual plants.
Within the past year, Janes’ works have been included in shows at D Gallery in Lake Arrowhead; Sheryl Leonard Gallery in Prescott; and Archangel Gallery and Desert Art Collection here in the Coachella Valley.
She how has two new goals: Developing a curated show of her work that will travel to different museums around the country; and getting a painting housed in at least one museum’s permanent collection.
For more information, visit www.laurajanes.com.