The Austin Chronicle

Jan Heaton: Watercolor in her blood

By Barry Pineo, July 27, 2007, Arts

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.

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

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