The last time I went to the popular Violet Town market was in early April where I came across local pastel artist Jan McQuitty. The art work she had on display was incredibly detailed, with rich textures and amazing colour. I was intrigued by this Irish girl, living in the Strathbogie’s using her passion for art to capture amazing images of Australian wildlife that most of us take for granted. I recently caught up with Jan to learn more…..
Jan moved to Australia from Magheramorne, a hamlet in County Antrim on the North East of Northern Ireland about 8 years ago. For Game of Throne fans the abandoned Magheramorne quarry area is used as a filming location for the HBO TV series, along with a number of other locations throughout County Antrim.
Upon arriving in Australia, Jan headed north and spent the first of her years in Northern Australia, working on the boats out of Cairns teaching scuba diving. Having travelled through Australia, Jan found herself in Melbourne, however in late 2015 she landed on a farm outside of Euroa with her partner, deep in the Strathbogie Ranges. Together they are busy with sheep and cattle on their property and making the necessary farm improvements. Jan says she couldn’t be happier since her move to the country and has found the local Strathbogie community to be welcoming and provides a supportive environment for artists.
From the time she could hold a pencil, Jan has had a love of drawing. Unfortunately for her family she started drawing on the walls and floors of her Irish home, sketching dogs, cats, farm animals and horses – not surprisingly this phase ended when her Mum decided Jan needed to clean it up herself and since then she has confined her artwork to more conventional canvases.
Having grown up surrounded by farm animals and horses, it was only natural that Jan began to use them to hone her skills as an artist in Northern Ireland. Jan is fascinated with the Australian birdlife and wildlife – she finds the colour and noise of our native animals inspiring as it is so different to what she has grown up with in Northern Ireland.
Like many artists, Jan longs for a dedicated studio, but for now is content using a spare room in her home. When creating a drawing, Jan likes to work off as many of her own photos as possible and her ‘studio’ is scattered with many photos of different animals. It’s not unusual to see her climbing ladders, or sitting quietly in the bush, with camera in hand waiting for the opportunity to capture the perfect image from which she will draw. Jan talks excitedly about a time recently on the farm, when a family of Gang Gang Cockatoos took up residence in a tree on the property. The distinctive scarlet red head and crest of the male, with the rest of its body a slate grey, was too good an opportunity to miss, so with ladder and camera in hand, Jan climbed up and took many photos from which to work.
So what are pastels? A pastel is essentially pure powdered pigment and a binder in a stick. There are four forms of pastels: hard pastels, soft pastels, pastel pencils and oil pastels.
Jan received her first pastel set aged 8 or 9 from her parents. Since then, Jan has experimented with various art forms, however keeps coming back to pastels as a medium. It’s the very pure pigment, which gives you a vibrant colour, and the ability to mix them on the page that Jan likes. Her preference is to use a soft pastel, and with the pigment so pure, it doesn’t tend to fade or crack and will therefore last for hundreds of years, as vibrant as the day it was done. The nature of pastels means that the particles are never permanently fixed to the pastel paper. This means they must be handled extremely carefully as it is easy to accidently smudge a piece of work. To keep them vibrant, and ensure their longevity, pastels do need to be protected in a frame behind glass.
While being a pastel artist has always been a hobby, Jan felt it was always her preferred career path and went on to study art at university. Like many other people and artists, life got in the way, however slowly she has created enough pieces to begin selling her works at local markets and via her Facebook page.
Future Plans: recently Jan approached a company in Melbourne who have shown an interest in representing her works at the homewares trade fair in Sydney. This could possibly lead to her works appearing in homeware stores around the Country, a prospect that Jan finds exciting and a vote of confidence in her talents.
Jan has also decided that 2017 is the year to launch her online Etsy store, meaning that potentially she can market her artwork to the world.
Jan is also keen to explore working for clients on a commission basis and encourages anyone interested to contact her through her Facebook page or via email.
For now though, Jan continues to attend markets, maintain her Facebook page and indulge her passion for pastel art.