Artist to Col­lect: Janet Cameron

Arabella - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - writ­ten by Brett An­ning­son

A To­tally Orig­i­nal En­deav­our

writ­ten by Brett An­ning­son

"I was about two years old and able to pull my­self up on the crib bars to cre­ate some­thing on the wall," re­calls Janet Cameron. "Some­how I had a pen­cil … the eraser end had been worn down to the sharp metal edge, and it was with that end I drew my first pic­ture. I don’t re­mem­ber it clearly, but I un­der­stand the re­views were bad. At the age of five, I won an art con­test that one of our neigh­bours hosted. There was no more than a hand­ful of kids. The par­ents were the judges and the prize was a tiny Rolls Royce with yel­low rhine­stone head lights. I even re­mem­ber the car colour – lime green!" When Janet was fif­teen, her high school art teacher, Jen Dyer, ac­tu­ally came to Janet’s house to sug­gest to her par­ents that she be sent to an art school in Devon­shire, Eng­land. Janet ended up go­ing to Mcgill Univer­sity and en­rolling in the sci­ences, but she spent most of her time melt­ing and bend­ing plas­tic straws, mak­ing them into birds. As you can imag­ine, her grades suf­fered from lack of de­sire, and soon Janet was a "drop-in" stu­dent with no cre­den­tials and no real plans. "In the early ‘70s my pa, who is a den­tist,

fi­nally told me I was go­ing to be a sec­re­tary or ap­pren­tice in a den­tal lab," says Janet. "The lat­ter worked out and I be­came quite good at the ce­ramic end. I also started do­ing wa­ter­colours now and again." In 1975, she mar­ried a grad­u­at­ing ar­chi­tect and moved to Al­berta, get­ting a job as a tray girl de­liv­er­ing food in a hos­pi­tal. Then it was on to Sur­rey, Bri­tish Columbia, and work in the kitchen at an old folks’ home. One day she was out on her bi­cy­cle and got hit by a car. That was the end of heavy kitchen work, and she once more found her­self in a den­tal lab do­ing ce­ram­ics. At the same time, she con­tin­ued to paint wa­ter­colours of her dogs, her hus­band, and a few other peo­ple.

The Chang­ing Land­scape of Artis­tic En­deav­our

So far it had been water­colour, ce­ramic sculp­ture and cre­at­ing toy frogs which she sold on the side. But Janet Cameron is noth­ing if not ver­sa­tile. A gift of acrylic paints from her boss set the wheels in mo­tion. "This was 1984," Janet elab­o­rates. "I took the paints home, into the fur­nace area of our tiny base­ment, and all but lived in there for the next three days. No day­light, no head room. I came out with a fairly good knowl­edge of han­dling this new medium. I could re­al­is­ti­cally paint any­thing I could see." For the first time in her life, she was de­vel­op­ing a plan and that was to se­ri­ously paint.

"So, how does one be­come an artist?" asks Janet. "I rented a small bach­e­lor apart­ment in New West­min­ster, BC to use as a stu­dio. No phone, no TV, no food! My sub­jects were still peo­ple, dogs and, now, parts of the her­itage houses in the stu­dio neigh­bour­hood. It seemed to be time to paint more than just what is there. I be­gan to add in ideas by in­tro­duc­ing ex­tra el­e­ments, like a leaf float­ing by a porch with a screen door, or the im­age of a mother and child I could see in the tree branch re­flec­tions dis­torted by aged glass win­dow panes in the old homes." She did a few por­trait com­mis­sions dur­ing this time, but found that it was a lit­tle more give-and-take than she liked. She ad­mits, "What I think I learned here was to make sure the per­son who wants work done is very fa­mil­iar with the style of work you do." In the fall of 1990, Janet left her hus­band and moved to North Van­cou­ver. "It was tough for me for the next few years. It looked very much like I’d gone from rea­son­able riches to se­ri­ous rags. Still, in 1991, I went back to some­thing my sis­ter had done some years be­fore – a piece of art made not with paint, but on a sewing ma­chine with thread. I had an old Singer that usu­ally sewed for­ward and some­times the re­verse worked. I had a few thread colours, a piece of cloth and a lot of lone­some time. I did my first thread piece, and hun­dreds were to fol­low."

Janet has cre­ated a wide va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent art forms over the years. She says, "One day I was talk­ing on the phone while fid­dling with a piece of card­board. By the end of the con­ver­sa­tion I had fash­ioned out a bal­cony. That was the be­gin­ning of the "Art of Re­cy­cling" show. I had about 30 or so pieces, and was shown at The Sur­rey Art Gallery. Then, on to What­com County, Wash­ing­ton and a few years later to Fort St. John, BC. There were lots of whim­si­cal pieces and a few se­ri­ous ones – it was a lot of fun. The pieces were 3D made from pa­per, card­board, plas­tic jars and bags, metal cans, coat hangers and old wire." In 1994 Janet re­mar­ried, and three years later they moved to Salt Spring Is­land af­ter she saw an ad ask­ing for a cook. Janet says, "I came home and asked Bob how he’d feel if we moved to the Is­land. He seemed fine with the idea and I moved to Salt Spring that Satur­day for my first day of work. I have never con­sid­ered my­self spon­ta­neous! Be­fore the first week was through, I had walked into Naikai Gallery, pointed to a piece on the wall and told the owner that I could paint like that. He said, "Show Me" – and I did, and I was in." Early in 1998, Janet and Bob rented a house on a sheep farm. That was when Janet’s art turned to­wards an­i­mals. She be­gan mak­ing pieces of sheep art, which are fash­ioned in quite an in­ter­est­ing way. First, she does a sketch on the can­vas, then cov­ers the can­vas with mod­el­ing paste. While the paste is still wet, she puts the can­vas on a light ta­ble and fol­lows the sketch lines with a wooden stick. When that is dry, she has the grooves as a guide­line for the paint. Next, a base coat is added with a brush, then a fin­ish coat with a lot of paint on a knife.

Down but Not Out

Over the next decade, Janet’s art work was tak­ing more and more of her time. She had ex­panded into other gal­leries: Craft­house in Van­cou­ver; The Eclec­tic Col­lec­tor in New York; Mind­scape in Evanston Illinois, Quid­dity Gallery in east­ern On­tario and Cat­fish­moon Gallery in Nova Sco­tia. "I lit­er­ally worked day and night. A break­down should not have been a huge sur­prise. I was about 52 years old and I woke up one morn­ing, turned on the TV and watched two women, iden­ti­cal twins, wear­ing the same thing, say­ing the same thing at the same time. Wow! Then I no­ticed the hy­dro lines out­side had six lines in­stead of three. I drove to the doc­tor on two roads. I didn’t get out of the hos­pi­tal that day, or that week, or the next. I was re­duced to push­ing wax polka dots onto can­dles for the next cou­ple of months." Af­ter be­ing re­leased, Janet slowly got back to her art­work, but had to drop all the gal­leries ex­cept the one in Salt Spring. "In 1992, I had been di­ag­nosed with Bipo­lar for the fourth time, by dif­fer­ent doc­tors," ex­plains Janet. "I never be­lieved it un­til then. I went back and read my notes that I al­ways keep about my work. It was ob­vi­ous, and the ev­i­dence went way back. In some ways I have been lucky. I’d taken on huge projects that in­cluded de­sign­ing and paint­ing huge theatre sets for a num­ber of shows for the Gil­bert and Sul­li­van So­ci­ety. I worked with two great car­pen­ters. One of the shows had a fiveset change. The projects al­ways got com­pleted. Maybe this ill­ness has given me that cre­ativ­ity, and maybe there is a lot more to this…"

Some Fi­nal Thoughts

When of­fer­ing ad­vice to other artists, Janet says, "If you get crit­i­cism and some bad re­views it shows that your work is wor­thy of at­ten­tion. What I’ve done is lis­tened, some­times learn­ing things,

some­times ig­nor­ing things." Her way of work­ing is to al­ways be think­ing of cre­ative ways to ap­ply the tech­niques. She starts with the most com­plex parts of her work, know­ing that if you don’t get that right, noth­ing else will fol­low. "I use fail­ure to my ad­van­tage and learn from it. It forces you to change fo­cus and think on your feet. Work with what you have!" She re­calls with a laugh, "One time, I was work­ing on a rug hook­ing piece that needed the colour I was wear­ing. So, I took off my pants and cut them off at the knee! You just have to be com­mit­ted, love what you do and do it. There are now a few hun­dred Cameron pieces around the world. Re­mem­ber, if you have to do this, it can be done."

Janet Cameron is rep­re­sented by: Gallery 8 Salt Spring Is­land, BC­ 250.537.8822

left, It Was the Cat!, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 7" x 4.75" above, Man's Best Friend with Man's Best Shoe, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 4" x 4"

Hey, I’m Talk­ing Here…, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 3" x 11.5"

It is im­por­tant to note with th­ese thread work paint­ings that both the frame and the sewing sub­ject are all one piece of can­vas and the frame con­tin­ues the sub­ject.

above, Blue Shadow, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 4.25" x 4" right, Edna, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 7" x 5"

left, Any­body Bring A Saw?, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 7" x 4.5" above, Vil­lage Pine Tree, thread, acrylic mod­el­ing paste on can­vas, 4" x 4"

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