In 2009, Janet decided to paint a new scene from the Blue Ridge Parkway every single day for a year. Pounds of paint and hundreds of canvases later, Janet has produced an amazing body of work and a testament to the most visited national park in the United States.
This weekend, she put down her brush long enough to talk to me about her passion for the parkway.
TR: Janet, I've loved your work since the first time I saw it. It is beautiful, and it shows a perseverance that's kind of mind-blowing. What made you decide to paint one painting of the Blue Ridge Parkway every day for a year?
JW: The biggest problem for most artists is in deciding what to paint. I live just a quarter of a mile from the Parkway in Blue Ridge, Virginia and my goal is to improve as a landscape painter; so this really was a no-brainer. I began to paint my “backyard”. And after teaching many years and not painting as much as I would have liked, I felt that I needed a goal to get caught up on lost time. I strongly believe in setting goals, stretching myself and going after passions. And if you really want to succeed at something, you have to seriously immerse yourself in it. So I figured that a painting a day (five days a week) for one year would be a good start to my journey.
TR: Now, I know you met this goal last September, but it would be great to hear how that year went. What was your typical day like when you were producing a new painting every day?
JW: I love to paint on location, but I realized, early on in the project, that would not be feasible due to time and weather conditions. So to make the project realistic, I gessoed five canvases each Saturday and took photos of the Parkway on Sunday afternoon. Each week, I would do the underpainting/value study for each of the five paintings by Tuesday night and then finish the paintings by Friday or Saturday morning. These were the paintings I would post the next week while I was working on the paintings for the following week.
TR: Were there days when you got up and thought, "I can't do this today?"
JW: Actually, there was never a day when this became a burden. There were times when I painted more than five a week and I was able to take a day off now and then, and, of course, I took off holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The project would have been a breeze if I were not also keeping my granddaughter and teaching private lessons. I paint fast and like to keep the impression pure. Sometimes the longer you work on a painting the worse it gets, so pushing myself to paint quickly was actually good.
TR: Do you remember finishing your lasts daily painting? How did it feel?
JW: I do remember finishing my last painting! It felt like I had finished running a marathon! Success brings joy and relief and a deep breath, but you can’t just stop. Even a runner needs to keep running slowly to come down from the high stress level of adrenalin. It really took me several months of slowing down to feel at ease taking a break.
TR: Now the project didn't end there. You've kept painting the parkway, right? Do you have a new goal? How often are you painting now?
JW: My new goal is to keeping painting! I have a backlog of paintings but artists do not paint to sell; they paint because it is a “calling”. I need to paint almost as much as I need to breathe. It is a passion that I repressed for many years thinking about money or lack of it. You just get to a point when materialism gets thrown out the window and you do what you love. My thinking now is to go ahead and finish the whole 469 miles – to paint something from the major overlooks and cover the whole parkway. Instead of backpacking it, I am painting it. I have a deep reverence for beauty that I want to share with others. My hope is that the “poetry” of the parkway will inspire viewers to visit this national treasure, to breathe in the woodland scents, to hear the whippoorwill, to be transported to a little piece of “heaven”, and maybe even to work toward conserving the natural beauty found there.
TR: So you're really painting with a mission. I love that. I also think your paintings would make a great gift for anyone who's a fan of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Are they for sell? Where can folks find them?
JW: I have tried to keep my prices really low so that anyone could buy an original piece of artwork to have in their home. I really want others to be able to have something that brings them peace and joy and remembrances of special times. My blog records this journey from the day I began in September of 2009 to today, and orders can be taken at my website or just by emailing me at janetwimmer at gmail.com. I do local shows; my next will be in Bath County, July 16-24 at Valley Elementary School in Hot Springs, Virginia. My gallery in Roanoke just closed, so I am looking for another gallery, but anyone can keep in touch at my Facebook page.
TR: Thanks, Janet. Best of luck with the gallery search and the upcoming show.
So what do you think about Janet's work? And if you were going to paint the same stretch every day for a year, where would it be?
Join the conversation by posting a comment below.