An Interview with Artist Jane Elizabeth Martin
‘Intricately detailed, beautiful and utterly engrossing.’ These are the words I use to describe Jane Elizabeth Martin’s pen and ink artworks.
Her drawings of animals – dogs (her beautiful dog Harriet) and cats, capture not only the shape and minute detail of the fur with unbound detail, but also the character and the essence of her subjects.
I am reminded of the video of the song, ‘Take on Me’ by Aha, when the cartoon drawing of the fabulous Morten Harket comes alive and jumps out of the comic… because he is real. The character and details of Jane’s furry subjects, are so real, it is as if they will jump off the page and run around.
Jane’s artworks can be viewed and prints can be bought on her website: http://www.janeelizabethmartin.com
Jane is also on Twitter
Please talk a bit about where you grew up and where you live now…
I grew up in the Staffordshire countryside, and was lucky to have parents who indulged my love for animals. I spent my time exploring on my ponies, learning first-hand about animals and nature, and absorbing all of the local folklore.
I’ve moved all over the UK, and have been fortunate to live in some interesting historic houses. These places were a rich source of artistic inspiration, giving me opportunities to live at close quarters with amazing wildlife. Highlights include encounters with a large stag who stood over me as I drank a tense cup of tea in the garden, badgers who’d come and peer through the back door each evening, and long-eared bats who shared my roof space in one particular house!
I’m currently back in rural Staffordshire, enjoying the countryside and planning future artwork featuring the creatures and places I’ve encountered.
When did you realise that you had a gift for artwork?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw as a child – if I wasn’t riding my ponies, I was drawing them. I’ve always had a passion for communicating my experiences of the animals around me. I thoroughly enjoy the process of drawing; it’s an amazing feeling when what’s in my head starts to take shape on paper – it’s also a real joy when people enjoy my work.
What does being ‘creative’ mean to you?
It’s a fundamental part of me, as important to my well-being as breathing! I gave up art for many years and pursued a career in mathematics and analysis. However, my love for drawing was still there, I just didn’t realise it. Instead of animals I drew mathematical proofs, concepts, maps of problems, and ended up working in a type of analysis requiring large maps or drawings of the problem being investigated. I enjoyed this, but it was the visual aspect that I was really attracted to. As happens to many people, I was unhappy, and eventually got very ill. That forced me to reconsider what I was doing, and also gave me the time and space to pick up my pen and start drawing again. Harry (my dog) was getting older and I wanted to capture her many expressions and unique spirit, so she very willingly acted as my model! I’ve spent the last three years working on building up a new portfolio of work, and being incredibly grateful that I’ve rediscovered my creativity and a real sense of who I am.
What is it about animals (dogs, cats) that inspired you to pick them as subjects?
Primarily their beauty, and the recognition of another soul when you meet their gaze. Prior to the mathematics I worked with many different animals – horses, primates, parrots, tropical fish. I was always struck by their distinct personalities. I try to capture the sense of a living, feeling creature in my pictures, as it’s something that I think is too often forgotten in the modern world. I’m always trying to decode what a certain look or the swish of a tail is telling me. I hope my pictures may cause the viewer to wonder what the animal subject is feeling.
Why pen & ink?
I am particularly inspired by details, texture (especially fur), and lighting – all of which lend themselves to pen and ink. I imagine that my pen nib is tracing along the hairs I’m drawing, trying to express what the fur feels like to touch. Working in black and white gives me a wide range of tones with which to convey detailed shadows and light. I started using pen and ink for quick life sketches on my Art Foundation course. I was instantly hooked, although initially I worked only with cross-hatching or dots. I’ve now developed my own approach, using marks appropriate to the texture I’m drawing. It can be hard work, especially when building up multiple layers of textured shadow – that might require twenty layers of ink to get enough depth, so is time-consuming. However, there’s a real thrill when the tones balance and an image suddenly comes to life.
I’ve also recently begun a series of pen and ink sketches, working quickly to capture a moment or expression. ‘Leo’ is the first of these.
Please describe your ‘art creation’ process?
I keep a small sketchbook full of ideas for pictures – they’re based on either particular situations or important moments in time. With animals, it’s often a certain expression or behaviour that sparks my imagination. I pretty much draw these scenes as I imagine them, but I keep other sketchbooks full of sketches of my animals, and take a lot of photographs. I sometimes use stock photos too, if I need to reference a particular pose.
I always start with the animal’s pose, ensuring the underlying anatomy and orientation of the subject is correct. I try to identify what it is about the animal that attracts my attention – with movement it’s often a particular line which runs through the pose. I usually have an idea about lighting and composition before I begin, but sometimes these change slightly as the drawing develops. I draw the eyes, nose and any other highly detailed features first. If these don’t capture the expression I want, then the drawing won’t work. It’s then a matter of observing my subjects, and using my sketches and reference photos to fill in the details. The direction and texture of fur is particularly important as this describes the shape of the animal, and often its movement too. The background is usually put in last, worked around the animal. I spend a lot time ensuring I’ve maintained the initial features which I found attractive, balancing the tones, and picking out highlights. I often include other elements to tell a story – for example, in ‘Bravado’ the stag’s antler and the oak leaves allude to bravery.
Who or what have been your greatest influences and why?
In recent times, I’ve been mainly influenced by works on the creative process such as ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield, and ‘Art and Fear’ by Ted Orland and David Bayles. Other great writers who provided inspiration through their own creative journeys are Alison Gresik and Elizabeth Gilbert. These ‘process works’ really helped me when I was questioning the validity of taking up drawing again, and also made me realise why I’d been so miserable without it!
In terms of aesthetics ‘In Praise of Shadows’ by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki had a huge impact on me – it’s one of the few books I’ve read, got to the last page, and started again!
In terms of how humans relate to animals, ‘Animals Strike Curious Poses’ by Elena Passarello is a wonderful, thought-provoking book which I’ve just finished.
Which artists do you admire?
There are so many, but to name three of my favourites: Joseph Wright of Derby for his chiaroscuro, composition, storytelling, drama, and astonishing ability to convey emotion. His works are fresh and still relevant even after 250 years.
Donnalee Peden Wesley produces wonderful drawings of animals and the challenges they face in the modern world. She’s brilliant at conveying a sense of the fragility of her subjects, and produces art which is subtle, beautiful, and thought-provoking.
Alphonse Mucha – I love all things Art Nouveau, but for me Mucha’s drawings are stunning.
Which of your work is your favourite and why?
‘Bravado’ – it was the last piece that Harry and I ‘collaborated’ on, and I think it captures her energy and spirit.