Jane Archer is one of the quieter members of our group.
But don’t let that fool you. Beneath her calm exterior lies a super fast wit and a ready infectious smile that will have you grinning back before you even realise it. She is the first to admit that she’s not hugely comfortable with having the spotlight turned on her (something I can attest to when trying to take her picture – finding one when she’s not in the middle of telling me she hates having her picture taken was slightly challenging!) Yet this initial reticence slowly melts away when I get her talking about her love of art.
I went to visit her in her temporary ‘home’ in St Gregory’s Church in Offchurch. She’s currently exhibiting her stunning work along with three other artists at the church, adding to hundreds of other local artists dotted around the county-wide event. It is, of course Warwickshire Open Studios, and this wonderful celebration of local artistic talent is in its 14th year.
Walking in from the bright sunny day outside, I spot her at the top of the church surrounded by her gorgeous display of watercolours and life drawings. And it is indeed gorgeous. The range of colours, shapes and depth in her work can be seen from across the church, and one cannot help but be drawn to it.
“In my family, I was the youngest of three girls, and if you wanted something, you made it yourself.” She goes on to explain how the whole family was creative; from her architect father to her mother who created all the embroidery for the local church, amongst many other accomplishments.
Jane took art A level, then went straight on to art college for four years.
“It was a broad course, but I ended up specialising in textile design. I thought for a long time that my medium would be pottery, but then found a love for printing and textiles”
These early years immersed in all forms of art stood her in good stead for the future, as next came a family and her painting became a more of a hobby as she concentrated on being a mum. During this time, she worked for the family business which was in fashion retail. Jane found a happy outlet creating fabulous window displays and organising fashion shows for the independent shop.
It was the early 90s when Jane moved into primary school teaching, and it wasn’t long before she was stretching her creative limbs devising and running amazing sculpture classes for the children. She recalls spending hours on displaying the children’s work on the walls of the school, even finding these small tasks satisfying.
These days, she’s in full artist mode, as can be seen by her impressive collection of original watercolours, giclée prints, life drawings and greetings cards. She even has a range of jewellery and in the festive season has a lovely range of ‘tipsy’ angels which go down very well with the locals!
I want to ask her about her process these days. How does she work and where does she get her inspiration from – a question artists must get tired of answering, yet we as admirers, never tire of hearing their answers.
She’s at her happiest when she’s painting in her house in the south of France. “I put the radio on and sit at the dining room table and take advantage of the light. It’s hard to explain just how good the light is” she smiles wryly. She takes lots of photos of many varied aspects of daily life that inspires her, and is always looking to find the beauty in ordinary things. She goes on to mention her favourite Georgia O’Keeffe quote:
“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
Jane then carefully tries to tell me that she doesn’t want to come across as a ‘floaty artist-type always talking about the beauty in a flower’, but that she does believe in really looking at our surroundings and capturing them for us all to enjoy.
Watercolour is her favourite medium. “It’s a challenge. It does unexpected things – random effects that you gradually learn to anticipate and play around with.” Something which I think you can agree she is highly adept at.
Yet watercolour isn’t where it stops. Jane also has a notable collection of life drawings to her name.
“It’s a passion of mine. For me, it is art in its purest form – nothing compares to it. The human form is so familiar and yet so complex, that for an artist, it provides a constant challenge.”
She attends a local life drawing group, and mentions how even now, she has to concentrate fully every time.
“It’s completely absorbing. The first mark on the blank sheet is always the hardest. And then that lucky moment when the marks you are making begin to flow and your two dimensional drawing starts to take life; it’s an immensely rewarding experience. I can be feeling tired and stressed when I get there, and then there’s suddenly no room in my head for anything except for light and shade and form.”
Jane mentions how she wouldn’t be brave enough to be selling her work today if it wasn’t for the support and encouragement she received from all of us in the first two years of the Christmas pop up shop (where the friendships we’ve taken through to Love Handmade were first formed). I personally think she would, because she might have exploded in a big ball of multicoloured paint without being able to have that all-important outlet for her work, but she maintains we gave her the confidence. This of course might have been something to do with us all oohing and ahhing over her work every day…
“I was terrified to start with. You feel as if you’re putting yourself on show – this is what I do, does anybody like it?”
We like it, Jane. In fact, we love it. I’ve started my Jane Archer collection with an original watercolour. My mum (another of the cooperative) has two. I’m already eyeing up my next piece, so I think we can safely assume that there’s one or two fans out there!
Warwickshire Open Studios runs until the 13th of July. All of the details are on their website, and Jane will be back at our fairs again in September.
I’m off to really look at the flowers in my watercolour painting again. There may be some more appreciative oohing and ahhing going on!