Interview with Janice Lightowler: It’s All in the Details

Janice Lightowler is a fine artist from Belfast who specialises in painting everyday scenes in remarkable detail, creating a whole new perspective for the viewer. Despite suffering serious spinal issues at a young age, back surgeries, and living with chronic pain, she does not let these factors interfere with her creativity. In fact, she uses painting as a meditative approach to keeping her mind off the pain.

Her passion for creating art is apparent in her paintings, and her talent is only surpassed by her remarkably positive nature. I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice over the phone, where we discussed her artistic style, everyday life, and the stories behind her paintings.

Janice LIghtowler -
The Writing is on the Wall

When did you begin working in art?

I started when I was only eleven, and I’ve  just continued on since then. It was always a passion of mine; I’ve always had a camera or sketch pad with me, always drawing and getting ideas. It’s just always been a part of me.

My back first started to break when I was eleven as well, so the two have kind of grown together. But with the painting, I’m able to not get depressed. And because I work from home, even when the pain immobilizes me, my creativity can’t be stopped. Thinking about what I can paint next really excites me.  Art is known as a therapy for people who are ill… but I think it’s stopping me from getting depressed, because you’re creating something that’s never been made before.

Did you always specialise in oil paints?

Well I was working on my BA honours, but part of the way through my degree I had to take a year out because I had major spinal surgery. Unfortunately, I was in ceramics at the time, so when I came back I had to always have a technician with me to help lift and move everything. When I finished with my degree, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to be so ‘hands on’ in ceramics, so I decided then to specialize in oil painting. It was something I was able to do from home, so now I have three studios in my house, and I use them all for different things; drawing, painting, or just making a mess!

Janice Lightowler -
Victoria View (1 of 2)

Do you sell your paintings online, or in a shop?

Well they started selling through word-of-mouth, originally… and honestly one painting just sells the next. After 25 years of painting professionally, I don’t even have paintings on the walls at home, because I just keep selling them!

It’s just such a passion, and no two days are the same. You know even though I’ve been painting for so long, it stills excites me, it’s never repetitive. Every time you make a new stroke it’s different. I absolutely love it. And even though I don’t do the same subject matter, I never compromise with the detail.

What would you say is your speciality?

I’ve done landscapes, nature, race horses to rally cars, houses, buildings, portraits… I do all of those things, but my main focus is the detail in the work. I could specialise in one thing, like equestrian paintings, for example. I love to paint horses, but if I did it every day it would become just, matter of fact. Wouldn’t push my creativity. So I don’t work on just one subject… people ask what I paint, and I say, I paint detail. It’s very meditative for me, but I also think people, the general public at least, really appreciate when they can recognise what they’re looking at in a painting.

With my spinal condition, I tend to be very creative to try to keep my mind active, so I don’t feel so much pain that I would feel every day. Putting all that focus on the fine details of the work, well it kind of pushes the pain back.

janice lightowler -
Sash Window

How long will you spend on one painting?

It’s hard to say… I’ve three children, and when they were small I had a studio just across the way from the kitchen.  So I would’ve put the potatoes on the boil, then go back into paint; I’d have dished on the dinner, then gone back in to paint; I would have run a bath for them, then go back in to paint! *laughs* So it’s really hard to say on each piece. Also I only work on one at a time… When I’m well on the way on one, I’ll start planning my next, but I never do two at once. I put all my energy into one, and I find that works brilliantly. I could spend 6-8 months working away in the studio, working on just one piece. But when the painting goes out in the world, and you see the amazing reactions from people – it’s very humbling.

Sash Window – it really looks just like a photograph.

Well I’ll tell you something really funny about the window. I did the ceramics of the bottles sitting on the windowsill, and I also made the cobwebs. How I made those, I actually shredded thread and wove them together before sticking them to the piece.  After I’d just finished it, it wasn’t even dry yet, we’d had some freinds over for dinner. So we enter the studio to show them the window I’d just finished, and would you believe, that my false cobweb had caught a wasp!  There are so many funny stories and quirky things about each painting.

Janice lightowler -
My Picnic

My Picnic – is that painting actually in a basket?

Oh yes, I learned how to weave willow, so I made that basket myself. The oval canvas was custom-made by Milliken Bros. And if you see round the edges, the gingham round the side – I actually painted another canvas with the gingham pattern, cut it into strips, and then forced it around the sides to make it look as though the table-cloth is coming around the edges.

I made a similar frame for The Crate as well… that one was funny, because sketch and take pictures, but like to work live if I can. So I got all these vegetables are from my local green grocers. We layered the base with potatoes and put all the vegetables on top – and it sat at my feet for months. It’s wonderful to work from real life, but after some weeks the potatoes were starting to rot out the bottom! And I’d have to replace the odd apple or Brussels sprout every now and again as they were going off!

I think Forever Painting might just be my favourite. What’s the story behind that one?

My whole life story’s in that piece. The newspaper on the table, there’s my husband, my children, my pets, everyone’s worked in there somehow. In fact I thought it was so personal it wouldn’t sell, but it did! And I was about six months into that painting, when I took extremely ill, and was completely house-bound. I forced myself to finish the piece, and when I finished it, I wasn’t well enough to work for 6 months. It took about 9 months to complete, but I managed to get it finished and it was an amazing achievement.

Janice Lightowler -
Forever Painting

How large is that one?

It’s about 3.5 by 3.5 feet. I like to work large because it gives me more space to include all the details. Even when I work with pencil, I sharpen the pencil down with sandpaper to make such a sharp point to be able to get all the fine lines.

Janice Lightowler -
St. George’s Market

How about the one of the market? Is that all pencil?

That is St. Georges Market, and that one’s 3 feet by 4 feet and it’s all pencil. I really love perspective, and I was up on a balcony looking down. It makes the perspective quite tricky, but perspectively I found it fantastic. And I included friends and family, hid them in amongst the crowd. And after so many weeks of working on it, when it was finished, my husband helped carry it down to the market to show them. I tell you, it nearly stopped the market because everyone started crowding around it. All the stall holders recognised themselves! It was incredible to see the response from the public.

How do you feel about the responses you’ve gotten to your work?

I remember once hearing an art critic talking about my work… a lot of people were gathered around the piece, and the art critic was explaining how I applied the paint and the textures I used, and I was just listening and learning so much about my own work and how I did it! I thought it was so funny. He got it right, but I didn’t even know what I’d done, it comes so naturally to me I hardly have to think about how I’m doing it.

And with things like the crate, or the basket, or the window… they’re all things you see in real life, but it’s not until I turn it into a painting that people want to stop and look at them. You know I might paint a picture of an apple and people will be crowding around it and noticing things about it – but if I were to put an apple on the table, no body would even notice. It really makes people appreciate their surroundings. That always amazes me, when you put something into art, it can be the most basic of objects, it creates this magnificent effect… I just love it. You know, I’d still paint all day every day, even if I wasn’t getting paid. People always say, ‘ah well you’re so ill,’ but I say, I’m so blessed! To be able to paint every day, it’s juts an absolute wonderful gift to be given.

Janice’s next Dublin exhibition will be held on November 13th and 14th, 2015.
For inquiries about the exhibition, please contact [email protected].

You can view more of her paintings here, and see behind-the-scenes how these paintings were created on Janice’s YouTube channel. Each video has a background story about a painting, and really shows how much detail and work goes into each one.

This video is about Sash Window.
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