Since ‘tis the season etc, for this edition of the blog I visited Jane Daniell in her north London studio. Her images, full of imagination, magic and mystery have always intrigued me and they do have a Christmassy feel about them.
I soon discovered that behind the beguiling work lies quite a story.
Jane’s printmaking technique is aquatint etching, with colour applied by hand to the plate for each run through the press. As I have described the etching process in previous blogs, this one is all about the work, and, since the work is so personal, about the printmaker herself. Jane learned her printmaking skills at Hampstead School of Art ‘under the immaculate tutelage' of fellow SBP member Theresa Pateman.
is the chair of Southbank Printmakers, a role she performs with clarity and
kindness. ‘We are an amenable bunch,
‘she says ‘Most of the time it is a pleasure and a privilege.'
also runs our Facebook account, as well as being a committee member with the
Printmakers Council. She travels widely,
often combined with running workshops for children in places such as Peru,
China, India, Mexico, Ghana and Brazil.
Plus she has a 'day job’, working for an education consultancy which is
about to open a school in Algeria.
So, what with all this, and having a husband and two children, it is no surprise when Jane says ‘I am very rude and don’t lightly meet for coffee or go out for lunch. I don’t like to say I’m too busy, but I am’ I get the impression that this professional visit was the only way we were ever going to sit down and have a conversation!
Jane works purely from her imagination. As child she read widely and was always fascinated by the images accompanying the stories. Her style is influenced by illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Aubrey Beardsley, Edmund Dulac, and more recently, Maurice Sendak and Errol LeCaine. She has illustrated books such as ‘The Night before Christmas’ and her card designs have been published by the RSC and Globe theatres, as well as in Canada and America. She has also made t-shirts and playing cards.
But she doesn’t enjoy working to a brief. She says she would not want to make art purely for money as ‘it would be too anxiety-making.' So she appreciates the freedom which comes with membership of Southbank Printmakers. Once a printmaker is accepted as a member, it is up to them to decide what work to make and exhibit.
Jane has always drawn and painted, but although she loved art at school and had a very supportive art teacher, she didn’t go on to art college. Her school years were ‘tempestuous.’
Jane was adopted soon after birth. For the first ten years of her life she lived in a huge house on a quiet estuary in Cornwall, enjoying lots of freedom to play along with her four adopted siblings. She thought her life would always be like that, but when Jane was ten, the family moved to London.’ And I realised that was not how my life would be.’ Jane found herself at ‘a very academic grammar school with lots of very bright people. ‘I was bottom of the class. She describes her mother as ‘very strict’. Jane rebelled. ‘I basically sabotaged my teenage years. ‘
Jane ran away from home at 15, social services became involved and she lived for a while with the sympathetic art teacher, ‘a very human person…..who opened up windows to another world’. The arrangement didn’t last though, and Jane had to move on. She moved between friends’ and boyfriends’ places, and even had a spell in what she describes as ‘the bad children’s’ place…for a holiday’
I am about to express sympathy, but Jane exclaims ‘I loved it! I learned how to smoke and all sorts of bad things.’
Jane went on to technical college and moved up to Teeside with a boyfriend, working in a boutique and the civil service. Later she returned to London and met her husband. ‘And here we are’. At this point, I am tempted to write ‘and she lived happily ever after’.
There were a few bumps along the road, however. After an initial enthusiastic response from an established commercial gallery, Jane returned as suggested with more work, only to be rudely informed that she ‘couldn’t draw, and couldn’t paint’. As Jane points out, if the person had been polite, it would have been more hurtful, but the reaction was so extreme that Jane felt compelled to seek a positive second opinion which she soon found. Her resilience and persistence led to her work selling to the Royal Shakespeare Company and elsewhere. In recent years, Jane has won the Public’s Choice (2014) Best in Show, at the Hampstead School of Art (2010) and the 1st Prize for etching and Real Art for Real People (2004).
It is no surprise to learn that as a child, Jane loved stories in which children experience adversity, but things turn out all right in the end. She particularly loved a Noel Streatfield story, called, appropriately enough, The Painted Garden, in which ‘a young girl called Jane gets to act in a movie version of The Secret Garden. I totally identified with her, because she was grumpy and I had aspirations toward being very talented.’ As Wikipedia puts it ‘the plain and unnoticed Jane is the one who makes it to fame.’
JANE’S CREATIVE PROCESS
To develop an idea for an etching, Jane makes a drawing, mainly in gouache, before she starts to work on the plate. She really loves her materials. ‘I buy materials like people buy sweets. I always think I’m going to find the actual thing that is going to change me and will turn me into a genius. At the moment she is trying out pastels…’
Jane spends weeks on these highly detailed drawings. ‘It is as if I were in the picture, and in walking through the scene, I am observing all of its intimacy and minutiae, and like a child, find all are of equal importance to me. The children she portrays evolve in their own world, which is separate to the world we perceive as adults. They see it through wise eyes and seem to have full understanding of its magic and fantasy, all of which we have forgotten as we grew older and learned to “put away childish things”.
The inspiration for an image can be triggered by anything: stories, nursery rhymes, and in one case, a line of dialogue from an episode of Coronation Street. Jane heard an actor say the phrase ‘My beautiful assistant….’ and her imagination went to work.
an idea ignites, she lets it develop, often thinking about it just before she
goes to sleep. ‘I don’t do a lot of
planning on paper. My sketches are minimal. Most of the planning is done in my
head.’ Sometimes I can be unhappy with an image and having
drawn it all out, I change it completely on the plate.’ Rather than being copied, the drawing serves
as a sort of rehearsal and reference point for the final image which is drawn
freely. Jane’s drawing CHICKEN
LICKEN and the related print CONJURATON are an excellent example of this.
The drawing is full of narrative detail. The mask is Chicken Licken, and Goosey Lucey, Henny Penny and Foxy Loxy all feature.
In Jane’s words ‘the final etching is just a random person with a fox‘. It is rather more than that. The supporting characters and details have fallen away, and what emerges is a powerful image much more open to interpretation. Jane says this is not a conscious process, it just happens. It strikes me that in most art forms, when an artist does go through a more deliberative process of development, this is what often happens – they edit, refine, and strip away until they have exactly what they need and no more. Jane seems to do this instinctively. The detailed preparation allows her to create an intensely felt image.
However, she is not trying to communicate something in her work, or share a view of the world. She dislikes the idea of making work with a message, as she associates it with moralising. She makes the work she wants to make. On meaning, she quotes Carl Jung:
‘The creative act, … will forever elude the human understanding. It can only be described in its manifestations; it can be obscurely sensed, but never wholly grasped.”
In this delicate recent image, TURNING BACK THE TIDE’ the ostensible meaning is clear though. Jane was inspired by the story of King Canute demonstrating that the waves cannot be held back. As always in Jane’s work, in this case the central figure is a child.
Jane remarks ‘I know people say that people improve with age but I don’t think they do. The thing about being a child is that there is an intensity, or there was for me, that you lose out on as you get older.. . there’s a smoothing out of your originality. And I like how it is in childhood when there’s still that air of magic and everything is possible’.
To make this detailed work, Jane used the spit bite technique. Aquatint powder is sprinkled on and acid applied directly to the areas where you want it to bite and make the areas darker. In other areas she has used talcum powder to protect small areas of the plate, and soft ground techniques. Her etching tools are made by Matthieu Coulanges, the printmaking tool designer.
The time comes to leave Jane in her cosy attic studio. I would love to stay longer, but I have an interesting story to tell.
Jane will have work in the Bankside Gallery alongside Tate Modern at the end of January 2023, in an exhibition for work by members of the Printmakers Council. The printmakers’ various methods of developing their ideas will be on display in sketchbooks alongside the work on the walls.
You can find out more about Jane on her website https://www.janedaniell.com/ and you can see her work on show now, and year round, at our gallery, SOUTHBANK PRINTMAKERS, at Gabriel’s Wharf near the Oxo Tower in London. You can also see some of work, and make a purchase in time for Christmas, from our online gallery here: https://www.southbankprintmakers.com/shop
MERRY CHRISTMAS from everyone at Southbank Printmakers!