Smile Politely

Workspaces: Jan Adams

Welcome back to Workspaces where we show you where local artists work. 

This week I am taking you Downtown Champaign and up into the historic Lincoln building, to a room with minimal clutter, beautiful windows, and vibrant portraits of the canine variety. Meet Jan Adams. Her workspace is her personal sanctuary where she is creating portraits of rescue dogs. When you think rescue dog, you probably think about sad, frail dogs locked up hoping to become adopted (or the alternative). There certainly is truth in that image. But there is another side to rescue dogs and Adams is painting it. She focuses on the beauty of these dogs. Her paintings are bright, warm, sharply painted but soft in texture. 

Smile Politely: When and how did you decide to become an artist?

Jan Adams:  I’ve been making things all my life. I always had to have something to do with my hands and had a grandmother all too willing to provide whatever would keep me busy. She helped to channel my energy into something productive by teaching me to cook, craft, and garden. Although we lived in a pretty small town, I was usually able to get my hands on most materials I needed or wanted to try.

In college, I focused on Ceramics and Art History, and eventually settled on a career in Graphic Design. I don’t have a design degree, but took advantage of every opportunity to learn from anyone willing to teach me. In 1992, I began working for Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. While it was a unique place to work, the demands and the stress of the job were very high. After 22 years, I realized I was done with the design, and left.

When I became established in my studio, it was important for me to work on my drawing and illustration skills. The first year I produced exclusively graphite drawings. The second year, I began working with colored pencils. Last August, I began painting with acrylics.

SP: What or who are your influences?

Adams: As I mentioned, my grandmother was my earliest influence. Everything she made was thoughtful in expression and beautiful in detail. She was incredibly generous in sharing her time and talents with me.

Artistically, I’m influenced by the strong atmospheric portraits of the Romantic Period, as well as the imaginative realism of Jamie Wyeth, especially his animal paintings. They are so authentic to me — expressive, colorful, and filled with light.

The most profound influences on my art are the rescue dogs I’ve worked with and shared my life with over many years. In the spirit of these animals, I find my subjects. My intent is not to portray them as victims, but as dignified in their survival. My husband and I volunteer with Mobile Mutts Rescue Transport, which provides transportation for dogs in high-kill shelters in southern states to rescues throughout the Midwest. Both our dogs are Mobile Mutts alumni. I’m also currently working with images of a couple of dogs rescued by PetNet, a completely foster-based local organization. At the risk of sounding like a PSA, I’d encourage anyone to offer their time and, or resources to these or any of the worthwhile local humane organizations.

SP: Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

Adams: The nature of my work in Graphic Design was highly collaborative, especially at Krannert Center. The last few years I’ve worked alone in the studio, which is great for now, as I’m developing my own ideas and processes as a painter. But I would certainly entertain that idea somewhere down the road.

SP: Tell us about your workspace.

Adams: My studio is on the 5th floor of the Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign. I’m in a suite with two other artists, and we share a common gallery for exhibiting our work. I occupy the corner studio, which has amazing light, and fantastic views of downtown rooftops. I live close enough that I can walk here every day, which clears the mental cobwebs both coming and going. It’s important to have a dedicated workspace outside the distractions of home. It makes all the difference in being able to focus on my work.

SP: Choose a piece of your artwork and explain it in detail.

Adams: The oval painting is of a Mobile Mutts rescue dog called “Henri”. I wanted to show the intensity of Henri’s gaze, and convey the fearlessness of his expression and his connection with the viewer. In foreshortening his body, his face becomes the focus of the painting. I use Golden Open (slow drying) acrylic paint on cradled birch panel, which I prefer to a canvas, as the smooth surface allows for finer detail. I apply three coats of gesso, sanding between each coat, and finish with two coats gesso tinted with acrylic paint. My technique involves building multiple layers of acrylic washes to achieve a translucent effect.

SP: What movie would you recommend to watch and why?

Adams: I love “Super 8”, a science fiction film written and directed by J.J. Abrams, and produced by Abrams and Steven Spielberg. It begins with a bunch of kids making a horror movie in the Midwest in the 1970’s, and develops into something so much more incredible than they could ever imagine. It’s filled with action, suspense, and thrills, intermingled with profound loss, coming-of-age, and humor (oh, and dogs). It’s weird, but I always feel really good after watching it.

SP: What is your favorite spot in C-U?

Adams: My studio. I feel very grounded in this space. I love the location— if I need to take a break, there’s plenty of places to grab lunch/coffee, or take a walk around Westside Park to decompress. I really feel a connection to the city here.

SP: What do you think about the art scene in C-U?

Adams: I’ve met so many talented people, everyone has been very encouraging and welcoming. As far as organizations go, 40 North does a great job of presenting opportunities for local artists, especially the Boneyard Arts Festival (although it did seem like there were a lot of folks looking for venues to show their work). I suppose if I could wish for something, it would be for more independent galleries, like the late Indi-Go Artist Co-Op.

SP: Where, when and how can we see your work?

Adams: I’m in the process of creating a profile on the 40 North website, and I’m working on getting a personal website up and running. When it’s finished, I’ll post the URL to my 40 North profile page.

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