I’m delighted to introduce you to this month’s guest blogger, UK artist Janine Baldwin. (I wrote about one of Janine’s pieces in a roundup – you can read it here).
When I look at Janine Baldwin’s work, I can feel her response to her environment. She explores this relationship with vigorous strokes, with gestural lines, with scribbles, with soft blended areas, and with erasing. All of this mark-making goes into a visceral and physical expression on paper and it all comes together to express this artist’s experience and love of the landscape around her. So I can’t wait to share her work and words with you!
Don’t know her work? Take a look…
Janine Baldwin bio
Janine Baldwin (b.1979, Leeds, UK.) gained a fine art degree from the University of York in 2001. She is now based in Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast where she produces works on paper, collages, and paintings inspired by land and sea. Janine has exhibited across the UK and internationally, including with the Royal Academy of Arts and the Society of Women Artists, and her work is included in private collections worldwide. She has received several awards, most recently The Artist Magazine Award in January 2021. In 2017 Janine was elected a member of the Pastel Society, London. She is also an Associate Artist of Unison Colour pastels. Check out her website here.
And now, let’s hear from Janine.
Janine Baldwin – An Affinity With Nature
My fascination with the natural world began at a very early age. Although I grew up in an urban city environment I was fortunate enough to have pockets of nature all around me, such as the large park which our garden backed onto and Middleton Woods Local Nature Reserve just a mile and a half from our house. (Growing up they were affectionately termed as ‘Miggy Woods’.) They are the largest remaining ancient woodlands in West Yorkshire, with diverse flora and fauna. It’s no wonder I loved them so much as a child!
Now as a landscape artist I look back and feel incredibly grateful to have had that crucially important exposure to nature in my formative years.
We also had many family day trips over to Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, and when we later moved there, my connection to landscape grew even stronger. We live near to expansive wild moorland, wonderful dark forests, and the beautiful coastline with its many bays and inlets. As a landscape artist I am spoilt for choice!
Believe it or not, I’m a summer baby and although I love the summer months and all the foliage bursting into life, it is the sparse, bleak beauty of winter which continues to fascinate and preoccupy me.
Equally central to my work is the exploration of abstract, gestural mark-making, and I will discuss this in more detail later in the post.
Today I work predominantly in pastels, but it has not always been the case. For a long time, I worked mostly in oils. About seven or eight years ago, I reached a point where I felt I wanted to go in a different direction and as drawing had always been a fundamental part of my work, I decided to really focus on dry media and see where it would take me. In my paintings, I often used oil sticks (oil paint in solid form) to draw in paint on the canvas. Pastels offered the perfect dry equivalent. Both gave an immediacy of colour and allowed me to work really spontaneously which is vital as I strive to capture lots of movement in my drawings.
Many elements of my current practice derive from working in oils, and my main influence comes from the Abstract Expressionists. I have long been inspired in particular by Willem de Kooning’s use of multiple layers of paint, allowing those layers not to be obscured by each reworking but to ultimately form the finished painting itself.
I carried this through into pastel with thin layer after thin layer of pigment, together with numerous erasures and reapplications, to form the final image. In this way there can never be a ‘mistake’ – every exploration on the paper or canvas becomes another layer of the finished piece, and I feel it’s all the richer for it. Of course if I really don’t like something I will take it out but normally I can use it in some way!
I use sketchbooks when working plein air and these sketches then form the basis of my studio pieces. The landscape is never still, it changes day and night, through seasons, weather conditions, light, and atmosphere, and so I like to try and give the viewer a sense of that.
Photography is used to document ephemeral weather events such as snow, as it usually doesn’t last too long here on the coast! I spend lots of time just walking and observing and I feel so much is absorbed subconsciously.
My palette tends to be muted and wintry for most of the year, with sketches made in the colder seasons used as the starting point for works made in the summer months. In spring and summer, when the rest of the landscape has gone into its many shades of green, I often sketch in the forests and develop charcoal works. Greys, ochres, browns and forest greens are among my favourite colours – this limited colour palette has developed organically over the years, and it’s been shaped by the artists and art movements I am particularly influenced by at any given time.
I’ve always been fluid with my style and never forced it in one direction or another. For me personally, I find that much more interesting than staying the same.
In the early days, I was heavily influenced by Cornwall-based artists such as Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon and the whole St. Ives way of working, so my paintings and drawings were predominantly abstract with bright, high key colours (you can see these on my website under ‘seascape paintings’). Very different to my work today!
I most often combine pastels with charcoal, graphite sticks, and pencil, as I love the interesting effects they create together, although I do use charcoal and graphite on their own when I’m creating forest works and I want that deep, rich darkness.
Paper surface and quality is crucial – I don’t use pastel papers as I find they take too much pastel and I like to keep the layers thin. I prefer Fabriano Accademia and Eco papers (in large rolls so they can be cut to whatever size I need) which are great for withstanding multiple erasures and reworkings!
I use various formats depending on the subject matter but my most common one is the square – I’m drawn to the stability and grounding feel of the shape. Unlike many pastel artists, I don’t use acrylic underpainting (except with collages) as I like to be able to take it back to the white of the paper if I want to.
If it’s a landscape rather than a forest piece, I will always start with the horizon line and everything else develops around that. I’ll then gradually build up layers. I always work across the whole surface, taking colours and tones around as I go.
I apply thin layers of soft pastel, sometimes just with a sweep of pigment across the surface, and I often ‘draw’ with an eraser. Unison Colour is my go-to brand of soft pastels and I also like Sennelier and Conté à Paris. For more defined lines I use hard pastels or pastel pencils – Stabilo pastel pencils are great for this and partially water-soluble too.
With most of my pieces I don’t know how they will look when finished and this gives me a creative freedom to take them in any direction. Even with specific compositions or viewpoints, such as looking through the forest, there is always room to change the visual structure and explore gestural movement as it develops.
I work from instinct, together with a more objective evaluation as the pieces near completion. I don’t follow a prescriptive ‘rule book’ or application of techniques as such. Often the mark-making itself becomes the focus of the piece. Artists such as Cy Twombly have been a huge influence on my work in this respect – I love his rhythmic marks and delicate layering of subtle tones.
An integral part of my practice is to have several pieces in progress simultaneously, usually around 10 – 15, allowing me to develop the works intuitively rather than trying to complete something from start to finish and potentially overwork it. After starting a piece, I pin it to my studio wall for weeks or months, and then at some point it will feel like the right time to continue.
When I’m working in the studio I’m inspired by the music I listen to and I feel the energy from it comes through in my work. I sometimes take track titles or lyrics from my favourite bands and musicians to use as artwork titles, so you’ll find names inspired by Royal Blood, Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age and Iggy Pop, among others!
In addition to plein air sketching and studio work, I also gain inspiration from being a conservation volunteer with the North York Moors National Park, an area which starts at the edge of my hometown. I’ve volunteered with them since 2006, and we work on tasks in locations across the park in all weathers… except heavy snow! Favourite tasks for me include tree and hedgerow planting, and creating habitats for water voles and rare butterfly species which have a stronghold here in North Yorkshire.
This hands-on experience allows me a deeper understanding of the landscape and in turn enriches the artwork I create. It has strengthened my relationship with nature and that basic primal connection with the land – this is part of what it is to be human, to be aware of all the history of our time on the earth and how we have shaped it. Nature is so incredibly precious – if I can try to convey its beauty and encourage someone to love it and protect it for the future then I have achieved something with my art.
Using pastel led to a deeper interest in paper as a material and some years ago I also began experimenting with collage, combining acrylic with pastel, charcoal and graphite. Recently I’ve bought some beautiful handmade papers from Nepal, Bhutan, India, and the US – all vegan and made with either recycled or sustainably grown materials including hemp and lokta – and they’ve been adding new unique textures to my work. I find the process of creating collage to be very restful, akin to some sort of meditation. In this way it’s very different to how I create my other works on paper, involving lots of rapid energy.
I’m a member of the Pastel Society in the UK and really proud to be a part of such a talented group of artists. Every year I am astounded and inspired by the originality of the exhibitors! Pastels are a fantastic medium and I feel that here in the UK they’re underrated in comparison to a medium such as oils, but this seems to be changing and I think the Pastel Society plays a major role in challenging preconceptions. I first exhibited with the Society in 2013 and was elected a member in 2017.
My relationship with Unison Colour also began through the Society – I already used their pastels in my work and in 2016 was honoured to win the Unison Colour Young Artist Award. I then had a lovely visit up to Unison HQ in Northumberland to see where the magic happens… so many scrumptious colours! They invited me to become an Associate Artist – it’s lovely to be part of the Unison Colour family.
I’m sure my work with pastel will keep evolving and as David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring!”
I don’t know about you but I want to get out paper and pencils and charcoal and pastels and make gestural marks on paper!!! I am so inspired by Janine Baldwin’s work and by her commitment to the land.
And we want to hear from you! What’s your reaction to this artist’s work? What’s your favourite piece and why? Please do leave us a comment.
Until next time!