Jan Thomson

Interviewed by SUE WILD


"Frosty morning"

Jan Thomson was for many years a city girl, working and rearing her family in Wellington. Then, she and husband Robbie were “over it”!

They escaped urban life, moving to an alpine area of the South Island – Nelson Lakes. They built their home and self-designed studio-gallery in the village of St. Arnaud on the shore of Lake Rotoiti. Jan loves to host travellers from around the world to her gallery and home. She finds a lack of a common language is no barrier when it comes to discussing art.

Jan delights in her house, garden and beautiful alpine environs. Her painting subjects include the birds, plants, mountains and lakes of her local walks, but also shearers, the family motorbike or the quinces she is cooking! It is the light and colour of a subject that draws her to paint. She noticed her palette has changed with the shift from cityscapes to landscapes, moving to fewer pigments. She enjoys using the quinacradone colours, especially the sienna.

Her trusted favourite brush is a sable cat’s tongue, with a point and good paint-holding quality, purchased years ago from Webster Art Supplies. In her paintings she is working toward an element of abstraction, where more is left to the viewer’s imagination.




Flexibility is a feature of Jan’s artistic practise. She paints outdoors and in her studio. She selects her medium on site according to her subject – watercolour or acrylic, pen and wash or a drawing in a traveller’s sketchbook for future reference. When outdoor painting, speed is often a necessary factor. She always takes photos for reference, but finds her on-site sketch is usually the preferred basis for a painting. Watercolour is her favoured medium for the thrill of the unknown, its transparency and its ability to ‘paint itself ’.

Jan’s first encounter with watercolour came in childhood when she received a large gift set of colours. Forty years later she returned to take up art with serious intent. She learned for two years with tutor Janet Andrews at Inverlochy Art School in Wellington. Janet was president of the Watercolour Society at
the time and a wonderful mentor. Jan’s first moment of recognitioncame when she was invited to mount a solo exhibition at Naxos Gallery in Hataitai. This show was a near sell-out, encouraging her forward. In the years since, she has shown works in many galleries in Wellington and Marlborough. Her paintings are in collections in Scotland, Dubai, Canada, theUnited States, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Other artists who have influenced her progress are Australians, Lucy and Barry McCann, Charles Sluga and John Crump. Jan particularly admires the work of American artist Mary Whyte whose portraits have impressive use of light and varied edges.

Living in the relative isolation of the Nelson Lakes gives Jan an empathy with the difficulties faced by rural people. She is passionate about contributing to the life of country folk. She teaches groups around the north and west of the South Island and is about to embark on a series of workshops in smaller North Island towns. She also teaches for REAP, bringing art to rural communities. Jan considers a workshop anywhere in New Zealand, anywhere with six enthusiastic people, a dry warm space, water and a loo!

The business of running art sales, exhibitions and classes is demanding. Jan finds you need to be strong and decisive, even hard-nosed. You must market yourself actively. She uses media with flourish, sharing her sketches, paintings, ideas and photos for all to respond and be inspired. She finds it important to retain a clear idea of your worth and the value of your paintings. It is essential to maintain a balance: teaching / painting / running a business. Working in a small rural village can lead to isolation and turn you towards growing cabbages instead!

Jan’s tip: “Trying to control watercolour is like living with a cat. Controlling will end in tears. Let it be itself and both will be happy.”

Jan’s website: wwwjanthomsonconz.html