Honey, There's a Cow in the Dining Room!
When your childhood home backs onto a nature reserve in the scenic environs of Calgary, Alberta, a young girl’s thoughts inevitably turn to love. Thus, it was, for Janet B. Armstrong. “My love for the natural world was instilled by my father, Dr. John Michael Andrichuk. He had a PHD in Geology, and constantly reminded us to respect nature and every living creature on this planet,” says Janet. “My love for both grew through my childhood.” By the age of 5, Janet was drawing with chalk on sidewalks, fences, targeting any surface that could be painted or drawn on. Her mother, Olga June – herself, an artist and musician – remembers wiping down the walls, as Janet’s crayons always seemed to wander beyond the colouring books. Mom handed over her own set of oils and brushes to her daughter, when Janet was 9 years old. The die was cast.
“At age 13, I was sent to summer camp in Water Valley, Alberta for two weeks,” Janet recalls. “This is where my passion for painting really developed. I was invited into the top of the old lodge to see the Art Studio. I was hooked. It was in that studio that I decided to she attended the Alberta College of Art, and was then hired by Gulf Oil as a full-time Graphic Artist. For seven years, she did sign painting, technical drawings, caricatures and display work. A spousal corporate relocation moved her growing family ( two sons) to Ontario, where Janet studied painting and sculpture at the Burlington Arts Centre twice a week. Then it was a return to Calgary, where her daughter was born. During this time, Janet continued to do art work from home and take evening courses at ACA and the University of Calgary. Learning led to teaching, and for 14 years she taught painting classes at various locations. She notes, “I fell in love with plein air painting in my 30s, after a painting trip to Writing on Stone Provincial Park in Alberta. This is where my interest in Canadian landscapes really grew. Crossing Milk River, we had to be very careful with our canvases balanced on our heads. Our group of artists were there to paint and sketch the Hoodoos and admire the hieroglyphics. Fantastic experience, as the public no longer has access to this area of the park.” After this trip, Janet invested all her earnings in a travel trailer and a truck for plein air painting. hauling and setting up paint camps for herself, a week at a time. Yes, this artist is fearless!
For 20 years, she rented studio spaces away from home. Two in Calgary, and the latest in Cochrane Alberta. The Cochrane studio was a tiny but productive space. Janet sold her paintings from there until a large retail space became available. She had 24 hours to decide whether to take it. She did, and the dream of having her own commercial art gallery and studio became reality. Just Imajan Art Gallery/studio was established in 2008, and showcases many Canadian Artists. Aside from the Gallery business, Janet’s hours of working as an artist have increased dramatically. With assistance in the gallery, she is now able to step back and focus on her own painting.
Don’t Have a Cow…
Of Janet’s many unusual painting projects around Calgary, these are, well, remarkable! Art Project was a riot! The life-sized cow was delivered to our home and my plan was to paint it in the basement studio. When she arrived she was actually too long and wide to get her hips around the corner, to go down into the basement. So she was painted up in the dining room. My husband arrived home early from work and found a cow staring at him through our French doors into the dining room. He was caught totally off guard. “Honey… there is a cow in our dining room!” The next project was a 60-foot painted aisle runner for an upcoming wedding at The Banff Springs Hotel. I unrolled the canvas down our driveway to do the initial sketching. “Honey… why is there a huge piece of canvas on our driveway?” Then there was the “Secret Garden” painting – 60 feet of beautiful greenery with the occasional frog, ladybug and newt hidden in the foliage. Once, I was commissioned to paint 352 dinner plates for an event at The Palliser Hotel.
Again, our dining room became my studio. I had all the plates on the carpet and table, as I painted Granny Smith apples on each – in a sequence of eight paintings – each plate a different stage of an apple being eaten down to the core. The way that the event company pulled everything together for this awards banquet was stunning. I also designed and painted a 92-foot mural in the Calgary Civic Centre which was, sadly, destroyed by the Flood of 2013.”
Paint from the Heart
Janet advises beginners to try different types of painting – indoor/outdoor, experiment with new techniques, go to workshops, network with art groups and set up a good studio in any room. “I took on the challenge of opening an Art Gallery, as well as having a studio in a commercial space. I continue to produce paintings and manage the artists wished me “Good Luck,” as they felt doing both would be a risk. Happy to say, I am heading into my 10th anniversary with Just Imajan Art Gallery and have been successful with the gallery business, and selling paintings from the gallery
and my home studio. I am also an AFCA Associated Signature Member with the Federation of Canadian Artists and an SCA Elected Member with Society of Canadian Artists. Janet completed Painting Residencies at the Banff Centre in 2012 and 2013. Janet describes her work as representational. “I want my paintings to look like paintings, not photographs. I invite the viewer into my paintings, so they will experience what I felt. cold waters dropping over rocky ledges, grasses blowing, ice melting with beautiful blues below…” She has worked with oil paint, gouache, watercolour, inks, pastels, pencil crayons, even enjoyed sculpting with various materials, but acrylic is the medium of choice. Her painting process begins with inspiration from a trip or hike that she photographed, or painted en plein air. “I start with willow charcoal, ever so lightly sketching my directional lines and shapes on the canvas; slowly laying down colour in stages, usually dark to light, and always keeping in mind where my area of interest will be. Deciding the light is always interesting, as the entire
painting can change in a few brush strokes depending where the lightest lights are painted.” Recently, Janet designed and built a wonderful art studio in her home, located on four acres of forest. “I take a break, walk outside in nature, and it regenerates me as an artist. I force myself to paint from the heart. My own interpretation and style come out in every composition. Some days, I have company as I paint. The local moose and deer have brunch at our hedges and peer through the windows.” They eventually do become characters in her paintings. Wildlife, landscapes, a bit of whimsy and the odd airplane paintings have all been created in Janet’s studio. “My paintings are my interpretation of our beautiful world and moments in time. Capturing that scene and painting it on canvas is my goal. Having someone else fall in love with a piece is a bonus.”
Fine galleries representing Janet B. Armstrong include:
Previous Page, Canoes For You, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40” Photo reference: Gemma Armstrong This Page, left, Island Life, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 48” right, Confederation Park, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 40”
right, Spring Meltdown, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”
left, Evening Stroll, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 30”
above left, Vesuvius Bay, Salt Springs, BC, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”
above right, Cozy Den, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”
left, Back Alley Hues, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 24” right, Target Practice, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 36”