Back in February we gave Janine Baldwin our first ever prize to a young artist working in pastel, where we saw her atmospheric landscape work at the Pastel Society’s Annual Exhibition in London.
Janine lives and works in Scarborough, and with both coast and the North York Moors National Park on her doorstep, she is able to spend time in, and capture these wild lands in pastel and charcoal. We visited her recently in her studio and interviewed her in amongst her ongoing work!
So here we are in your studio, tell us how you work in here.
I have lots of works in progress at the same time, which is how I like to work. I don’t want to get too focussed on one thing and overwork it. If I have lots of works going at the same time, I can reflect on some. The pastel and dry media work has taken over in the last few years, which I just allowed to happen naturally, and I have become obsessed with pastel!
So how many works have you got on the go now?
I try to have them in some sort of order so I can see what I am doing. This one is nearly finished, (it is pinned to the back of the door!) and these three, and lots of others. I like to build up the layers gradually.
Do you move around the room from picture to picture?
No, because the way I work is quite frenetic, and I do apply quite a bit of pressure, which the walls don’t like! They tend to start collapsing and crumbling, so I work on the back of the door. The door is my easel!
What goes on in your mind as you are working on one picture and decide to go to another?
I reach a point with one picture and realise I need a bit of reflection on it, so I put it to one side. It’s quite an intuitive process, but whichever one I feel ready to work on I go to next. I don’t force it, because if you do if goes wrong, so you’ve got to be ready. Sometimes if I am at the point of finishing quite a few, if the creative juices are flowing that day, I can finish them all!
Do you have a discipline, say coming up to your studio every morning at 9.00am?
I often come in and potter about, prepare paper, or do the base work on a new piece to get into the flow of it, and then when I feel to, I will carry on with pieces. I get my music on really loud. And I dance! I listen to quite a lot of heavy rock! Just as well I am in here by myself and not in a shared space. A lot of people are very surprised by that, because the work that comes out is quite delicate in contrast to the music. I feel the energy from the music comes through though. When I am outside sketching though, I don’t work with earphones, for safety. There is the sound of birds, or waves, and I want to be able to hear that. When I am in here I am in my own world.
How do you start a picture?
I make lots and lots of grooves in the paper with a blunt pencil. Then I put the pastel and charcoal on top, which brings them alive. It leaves the white, and creates a layer, and I love the effect. I stumbled upon it by accident a few years ago and saw it really works. I build up the layers and I erase quite a lot too.
It’s a bit of a mystery then, as you don’t know what it will look like until you add the pastel?
I suppose it’s starting with an invisible drawing. Because I use a blunt pencil, there are some traces of carbon, but I have a feeling of where I have been and what marks I have made. It keeps my spontaneity too, working in this way. I am really influenced by abstract expressionism, which is where I started, and I have carried some of the techniques into my current work. Part of that is not knowing what the outcome will be when you start.
How do you know when you are finished a work?
When there nothing is bugging me! It gels. And I think, ‘Right that is it!’
How did you make that transition from abstract expressionism to landscape?
They are actually two strands of my work that have always existed, and I still do abstract work. I just allowed the landscape to develop. It’s my seascapes that tend to be more abstract. I don’t why that is, but I just allow it. I haven’t tried to force it. The landscapes, which have a more earthy palette, tend to be more realist.
Do you have favourite places that you go back to again and again?
Yes. I have quite a few places I go to regularly, forests around here. They are beautiful, expansive and you can really get lost in them. For my seascapes, I am so lucky to live a ten minute walk from the sea, and then you can go right up the coast, and find different bays. Some of the ones south of here, are really tucked away, and feel like they are somewhere else, not part of the U.K.! Quite deserted. I do conservation work for the North York Moors National Park, and find new places from the tasks we do such as tree planting, and vegetation management.
North York Moors in Autumn
How would you describe the atmosphere of your work?
It’s the feeling of being in the landscape, the feeling of walking out and having the elements around you, the wind howling, the rain coming down, a cold temperature. I have just taken a work I have finished called, ‘Cold Light’, and everyone who sees says it makes them shiver. The colours are very important for creating the atmosphere, but I don’t know how things are going to end up. I love the end of summer too, that pink, brown, once the purple of the heather has gone. I like all the seasons, but I tend to gravitate to autumn and winter, because you get the beautiful contrasts of the browns, deep pinks and the whites. I do like the greens of summer, but sometimes it is just too green, it’s hard to differentiate between them and it tends to clump the landscape together. I am a summer baby, born in July, and I love summer. But I tend to go with the colours I am drawn too. Colour actually went out of my palette for a few years, and I was working in charcoal, until colour has slowly worked its way back in. When I was working in dry media, I just wanted to explore tone for a while I think, and then brought the colour back and that’s where pastel came in.
What do you like about working in pastel?
I like the way you can manipulate, erase, smudge, blend them. I don’t quite know why I made a shift away from oils. I find there is a greater spontaneity working in pastel than with a brush. Although I do work with oil sticks, which is how I got the drawing element in. I did use brush to put down base layers in oil, then I used oil sticks and layers of charcoal. I have been very influenced by Willem de Koonin, the American abstract expressionist. He used charcoal with oil. I love the energy of his work, and the high key colours, and the layering which is probably why I layer my work. My palette has softened down with pastel. You wouldn’t guess he has been my influence by looking at my current work, but he was.
Who or what else has been a big influence on you?
Quite a few really! Cy Twombly’s work, who does a lot of spontaneous mark making. I love the idea of getting that kind of energy into a piece. Also Kurt Jackson. He does a lot of layering and processes. I love the evocative colours of Joan Eardley. Going back a few years I liked Patrick Heron, who lived down in St Ives. I love Cornish art. Your influences change, but some stay. My monochrome work was influenced by Emma Stibben, who does stark black and white mountainous landscapes.
How has it been winning prizes?
It’s been a good few years for prizes, and for raising my profile. I won the Arts Club Charitable Trust Award in 2014, and that was with one of my first forays into this techniques of building up the layers, and the grooves. That got a lot of positive feedback. I won the Haworth Prize last year and then the Unison one this year, so it’s been amazing!
Does trying to make a living and being deeply creative ever come into conflict?
No. It’s an up and down life being an artist, and you never know when your next bit of income will come. But I would rather follow my own path and hopefully people will like what I am doing, than thinking to produce more of something because it will sell. I don’t want to go down that route. I just want to develop my own visual language. So far people have responded well to it. A lot of people say they can spot my work straight away. I guess I have my own kind of style, it’s a kind of free style, and the energy, mark making and spontaneity maybe that they like.
When you are erasing, is that the last thing you do in a picture?
No, it’s all the way through. It could be at any point, and then I might add something else back on top! It’s back and forth, push and pull. Sometimes I leave the erased marks, leave a lot of the negative space I have created. This is why I have my music on, and sing and dance, while I am working, because I don’t want to be too aware of my mark making, but to relax and let it happen naturally. So I am not analysing. But when I step back I can see what needs to change. I try not battle with the pieces. In my early days I would work on one piece and really battle with it, trying really hard until it was done. And I would come out as though I had been in a fight! But now, over time, I have learnt it is much better for me to work on several pieces. I am kind of ebbing and flowing with the pieces. It keeps me fresh, and stops me getting me bogged down.
There’s a lot of energy in that process, but it also sounds quite gentle, not pushing yourself?
You’ve got to listen to what’s right for that piece. At the early stages, you want to get lots of energy in, and so I work very fast. As it goes on, I work slower and slower, and as I get to the final stages it is more contemplative.
Do different pictures take different amounts of time?
Yes, they are all individual. People always ask me how long it takes to do a painting, but it’s very hard to quantify because of the way I work. I try and make a rough note. In total a picture would be worked on over weeks, or months. But if I counted the actual time in hours it would be a lot shorter, as I am working on many at once. They are ready when they are ready! If I have the feeling of wanting to push it a bit further, there is something there, that I am not quite aware of. My subconscious is trying to tell me. I may think I have overworked it, but then I can pull it around. It’s very freeing to work on several pieces at once, because I don’t put pressure on myself to finish a piece. I am listening to my own intuition, and to what the piece is telling me. They become autonomous, it is telling me what needs done. You have to let it do that, and work with it, not imposing myself too much on it. That’s why you get attached to pieces because you have such a relationship with them.
Is it difficult to let them go?
Sometimes I want to hang onto one that signifies a breakthrough, but mostly I feel it’s time to let them go. And it is fantastic for people to like them and enjoy having them. People keep in contact with me, and tell me they are enjoying looking at the piece every day, and that is bringing them happiness. Wow, that is such a fantastic thing to be able to give someone that. They tell me if they move house, and where they have rehung it.
Do you ever go and visit a painting you have sold?
I have done, and it’s nice to see where they are hung. A few people a several of my pieces.
Do you do commissions or do people just buy what you do?
I mainly do my own thing, and people just buy that. I will do commissions if it fits with my style. I did a particular landscape for a woman last year, but in my style, and she was very happy with it. Sometimes people can have an unrealistic idea, but they generally come because they already like my work.
Do you have an urge to travel and do other kinds of landscapes?
I would really like to do some residencies although they are highly sought after. I would love to go to Iceland. Stark, dramatic, bleak. But beautiful. Also Finland, Norway. I would love to explore them. I am drawn to the colder lands and colours.
Did you have good art teachers?
I did, I was lucky. Although I started slightly differently by doing fashion and textiles in Liverpool. But I started paying more attention in the life drawing classes, than the pattern making ones, so something wasn’t quite right. I decided to change to a Fine Art course and haven’t looked back.
If you would like to buy one of Janine's original postcard artwork's now, go to our store. There are ten to choose from, all one offs.
Once they are gone they are gone!
See some pictures from inside Janine's studio here.