Above the Bay, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas

Above the Bay, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas


By Leslie Fandrich // Theme: Senses, Visual Poetry // Category: Creative People

When Janet Howard-Fatta paints she uses more than just her sense of sight to inform and influence her work. What she can hear and sometimes smell is just as important as what she sees. The sound of the wind in the trees, the smell of the grass after it rains and the sounds of people and cars passing by give her as many clues about what and how to paint as the colors, light and shadows. The ambient sounds that she hears translate to color and form on the canvas.

“I strive to create beautiful paintings about light, color, sound and creative energy to fill the senses. I want to create visual poetry.”

The watercolor figures that she paints on old music sheets are a direct representation of the relationship between sight and sound that Janet is experiencing. She describes these paintings as quieter than the ones that vibrate with color. The music sheet is a visual element that compliments the figure in tonality and contrasts the form. (You can purchase originals of these little beauties on Etsy.)

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"When creating this Umber Nude series I work directly from life at a group drawing session in Warwick, NY, where we draw from a live model in a barn studio. I am most attracted to the way the light falls on the model. The backlit dark shapes, how they connect and how the light softly turns on the forms seduces me. I work quickly, and intuitively, the longest pose being twenty minutes. There are many that don’t work out. What attracted me to painting on the vintage music sheet paper was its ethereal quality. I like the torn edges and it’s oxidizing gives it a tonality that works well with burnt umber watercolors. I also play with choosing the lyrics, matching them up to the pose."

Janet says that she is creating a visual journal of life through her paintings. The stories behind them are stories of her own life. Exploring and redefining relationships on her canvases often helps her to do the same in life. Relationships are at the heart of living and making art. She views many of her still lifes as family portraits and believes you can also get to know yourself better by practicing your art.

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Janet went to Pratt Institute to study painting, graduated with a BFA, and worked in galleries and as a graphic designer before dedicating herself to her art career. She has been painting in oils since she was eleven years old and drawing since she was seven. Her Dad was very creative, although in a more practical way, and he was the one who would bring out the paper and pencils and say to her, "Let's draw each other." When her grandparents would visit, the whole family would sit down to draw together. When she was young she was the church calligrapher and in college she had internships at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and in the color department of an architecture firm. She is married to a sculptor, who also teaches art, and they have two children in their early teens. 

She has worked in many different materials but always returns to oils because of the richness and flexibility of the paint. She says you can really push and pull oils in a way that can't be duplicated in anything else. Janet loves a lot of different materials that she doesn't work with, like clay, paper mache and papermaking, but she restrains herself and forces herself to focus on oils, pastels, watercolors and graphite. This restraint serves her well, as her body of work is incredibly cohesive.

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Janet's studio is organized chaos. She says she suffers from PTD and CRS, "Put Things Down" and "Can't Remember Shit", which in combination means she is constantly misplacing things! She has to try really hard to be organized. Her supplies are fairly organized but when she is in a frenzy of working sometimes you can't even walk into her studio or find a pencil. (It sounds like a great way to make art to me.)

“What I love about my studio is that it is MINE. I can get messy and my family respects this space and allows me to make a mess and create.”
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Janet often begins by sketching a scene outside in pastels, then she will take the small pastel into her studio and use it to create a larger oil painting. She loves to paint en plein air which is a French saying for in the open air and has also completed many paintings when working outdoors. In the rain, she has even taken to painting in the car! She recently did a series of paintings of our hometown of Warwick. Her small 8x10 vignettes of the town make it even more quaint and lovely.

Bank Street

Bank Street

Kuiken Bros at early morning

Kuiken Bros at early morning

Garages on Railroad Ave

Garages on Railroad Ave

At the Tracks

At the Tracks

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"To create this landscape series, I visit and paint on location in the Hudson Valley, New York. Painting on location enables me to use all of my senses. I work quickly and intuitively. The process of my work involves sketching on location in a value study and creating small color studies in pastel or watercolor. Paintings are completed in oil, in the studio or on location. I try to feel the land and the ways in which I am connected to it. Time of day, atmosphere, temperature, light, movement, season…all inform my painting. This allows sensory exploration into a combination of representation and painterly abstraction. I know a piece is finished when it feels like a poem."

Janet's landscapes and street scenes are magical places filled with beauty, light and color which capture a moment in time, but her figure drawings are even more mesmerizing to me. Perfectly rendered bodies in both color and form, each of them seems to represent humanity in all it's wonder and vulnerability. Before she moved to Warwick she considered herself a figure painter, but has since become seduced by the landscape here and has been focusing on that. However, Janet organizes and participates in a weekly figure drawing class in Warwick and continues to do figure studies and hopes to return to painting them more often soon. In fact, she has a small series of paintings that she would like to expand on this year, of families at the dinner table. She is looking forward to developing these further.

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Janet says the hardest part of her process is starting. It's the moment when she has the most anxiety. She has to gather all her materials, get comfortable and figure out how to approach the painting or drawing. She finds the most joy in the middle of the process, when the scene is figured out and she is just intuitively adding colors and shapes. It's when she feels like she is falling in love, right there in the middle. When a painting is close to being finished, she often feels dissatisfied. That's when she knows to walk away for a while. When she returns to it, she will either change something, or sometimes she falls back in love. Looking back at older paintings, she feels nostalgia for that time in her life when she was making them. They mark a time and a place that she can remember, like a journal entry or photograph, but filled with something more fleeting and perhaps more emotional.

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When people view her art she hopes that they feel love and are inspired to love life even more. She feels that she is using her gifts to show that beauty and love exist all around us. In that way, her paintings are an expression of her spirituality. She says she's been feeling God a lot lately and that feeling gives her art meaning and purpose.

When I asked Janet about what she felt was her best piece of work, she said it was an old painting that she did of her husband and dog laying arm and arm on the living room floor. It's a very personal image and Janet feels that the color, the light and the drawing are done well, but it's the spirit of the painting that makes it her favorite. It evokes something that I think she is trying to find in all her paintings. Peace and Love.

Lou and Pablo, 8x10, oil on canvas

Lou and Pablo, 8x10, oil on canvas

To make her art she says she needs time, money and space. Cooking and gardening inspire her, put her in a creative mood and feed her creative energy. But most of all, to make art, she says she needs her friends. 

“The support of other female artists in the community has been a source of strength, knowledge and inspiration.”
Autumn Morning, 30 x 30″ oil on canvas

Autumn Morning, 30 x 30″ oil on canvas

Brilliant Autumn, 30 x 30″, oil on canvas

Brilliant Autumn, 30 x 30″, oil on canvas

12 x 24″, oil on canvas

12 x 24″, oil on canvas

Janet is one of the busiest artists I know. Besides her own work, she also teaches classes and is a board member of the Orange County Arts Council. One of her sketchbooks was recently digitized and included in The Sketchbook Project. Her work is sold in two local galleries and she shows frequently. She travelled to Ireland last summer with a group of artists to paint and she also sells screen printed tea towels on Etsy. I'm so lucky to count her as a friend and her hard work is making our local arts community stronger and more vibrant.

She is constantly producing work and these little color studies that she showed me when I visited her studio are so different from the rest of her work. I find them very exciting and I look forward to seeing if she develops these into larger pieces.

Abstract Color Play, 6" x 12", Pastel

Abstract Color Play, 6" x 12", Pastel

Lemon Study, 6 x 9", Pastel

Lemon Study, 6 x 9", Pastel

Lemon Study 2, 6 x 9", Pastel

Lemon Study 2, 6 x 9", Pastel

My deepest thanks and gratitude to Janet, for letting me into her studio, her process and ultimately into the heart of her art. I am so grateful to have learned more about what she does so well and to be able to share it with you. You can also find Janet online on Twitter and on Pinterest. If you have any thoughts about Janet's process and her work, please leave your comments below! I always love to hear from you.