Jan Heaton: Watercolor in her blood

Watercolor master Jan Heaton, who's been painting since she could hold a brush, explains how she makes art

For most of her professional life, Austin's Jan Heaton has worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, and calligrapher. Five years ago, after getting laid off from her longtime advertising job, Heaton decided to search for a place to show her beloved watercolors. Since then, she's had her work included in collections around the country, as well as gaining representation from galleries in Houston and Atlanta. About to open her fifth show at Wally Workman Gallery, Heaton shares a little about how she became an artist and how she makes her art.

<i>Amber Tide 3</i>
Amber Tide 3

Austin Chronicle: When did you start painting?

Jan Heaton: I started painting when I could hold a paintbrush. Very young. My mom was an illustrator, and my dad was a graphic designer and display artist. We didn't have television, so we did a lot of art projects. My mom would set up a still life on the dining room table and give us charcoal. It was snowy in Michigan, and we were always drawing and looking at things and recording what we saw.

AC: It's in your blood.

JH: It's in my blood. I don't know any other way of living. I'm an observer.

AC: An observer of what?

JH: Details. Color. Light. Values. Expressions. Silhouettes. Negative space. Positive space. Forms. Characters. I look at something, and I respond to it. And hopefully I can record it. And I think because of where I come from and the way my parents nurtured my brother and me as children, that you observed, you did a visual memory of all of these things that you're surrounded by.

AC: Why do you call it a visual memory?

JH: When I'm painting, I paint in my studio. I'll look at something, you know, maybe I'm driving down the road and I see a silhouette of a tree against the skyline, and visually I'll record this in my memory. Then, based on that memory, I'll start sketching, and then maybe sometimes a painting evolves out of that. I'm not like a plein air painter that goes on location and paints the building, the landscape, the trees, etc.

AC: How do you make your paintings?

JH: I buy paper on a roll that's 51 inches wide. I have a big Plexiglas top on my drawing table, so I just lay the whole thing flat and paint on it flat. I'm not painting upright on an easel because I use a lot of water.

AC: There's a richness in your colors that's really amazing. I assume that comes about as you layer this paint on.

JH: Most of my paintings [in the current Workman show] have at least 25 or 30 layers of paint. Every time you put on a layer with watercolor, you let it dry totally before you go in with the next. So it's a constant building up, a layering process.

AC: So why watercolor? And why only on 100% cotton paper?

JH: Because I love paper. There's something about watercolor and paper where the pigment actually becomes a part of the paper. It's not just sitting on top. The paint becomes a part of the substrate, which, I don't know, I'm totally enamored of it. I'm always discovering new things. New ways to push and explore the medium the more I paint. I love it.

"Jan Heaton: New Work" is on display July 28-Aug. 25 at Wall Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth. For more information, call 472-7428 or visit www.wallyworkmangallery.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Jan Heaton
Five Gallery Shows for Your Summer Eyes
Five Gallery Shows for Your Summer Eyes
Indoor visual art brings the light, eschews the heat

Wayne Alan Brenner, June 24, 2022

Wayne Alan Brenner's Top 10 Arts-Related Program Activities of 2016
Wayne Alan Brenner's Top 10 Arts-Related Program Activities of 2016
Uncommon combinations – dance with horses, music with robots, drama with a Tesla coil – made the year unforgettable

Wayne Alan Brenner, Dec. 30, 2016

More by Barry Pineo
Arts Review
Guest by Courtesy
Etiquette takes a pratfall in this comic battle for control between cousins

Nov. 11, 2011

Arts Review
The B. Beaver Animation
The Rude Mechs' re-creation of the Mabou Mines work is necessary but strange

Nov. 4, 2011


Jan Heaton, watercolor artists, Austin painters, Wally Workman Gallery

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle