Local painter finds catharsis in creating art
November 14, 2012
By Mali Main
The scenes in Janice Wermann’s paintings might seem lonely.
A single sailboat, a solitary bird, a beautiful landscape without people or animals. But each piece is a testament to her family — her impetus for painting, the medium she chooses, even the brightly saturated color palette.
“My favorite things are the texture, impressionistic feel and emotions that her pieces evoke,” Wermann’s niece, Michelle Weaver, wrote in an email. Weaver studied art at Western Washington University and the two have bonded over their shared interest.
For Wermann, a North Bend resident since the early 1990s, painting is cathartic. Her pieces are meditative studies in mountain views and seascapes, gloaming horizons and freshwater marsh-dwellers.
“I love painting. I think it’s probably in most of us and we just never use it,” Wermann said in a phone interview. “It’s a great stress reliever. It’s amazing what kind of beauty you can create just by putting paint to a surface.”
Wermann works full time as a technical writer at SpaceLabs Healthcare in Issaquah, but she sets aside four hours a week to paint. It was her son, now 23, who got her started.
“He wanted to finger-paint,” Wermann recalled.
But like most toddlers, he was done in just a few minutes. Wermann didn’t want to stop. She began to study art more seriously with her late aunt, Velma Brownson, who introduced her to oil paints. A painter and sketch artist, Brownson lived in Montana, where she owned a cooperative art gallery.
She mentored Wermann, recommending scenes and encouraging her by phone. During visits, the two would paint together outside.
Wermann renders her paintings in intense hues, she said, because of her husband’s eyesight; he is colorblind. One of her early oil paintings featured a log cabin ringed by birch trees. Her husband didn’t see the deep greens and browns as distinct colors.
“To him, it just looked like a blob,” Wermann explained.
Finger-painting with her young son wasn’t Wermann’s first experience with art. Born in Minnesota, she spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked for an airline. One summer, she took lessons with another girl at the home of a European artist.
“She was either British or Dutch,” Wermann said. “She tried to get us to place our imagination on paper using watercolor or pens.”
Wermann often painted with friend and fellow artist Gloria Danielson, who died in October. The two, members of the Mount Si Artists Guild, an organization that promotes fine arts in the Snoqualmie Valley area, met at church shortly after Wermann began painting.
“Another set of eyes can be really helpful,” Danielson said in a July interview of working with her friend.
Wermann’s signature piece, “Sunset at the Ocean,” is an early oil painting her husband can see clearly. In it, dusky violet shades of twilight hover over a dozing vermilion sun. The clouds are painted in muted aqua tones above dark, pensive-blue water.
But “Mature Swan” is Wermann’s favorite. She said it proved to her she could paint animals. That broadened the subjects of her art. “I was inspired to paint what I perceived as a personality of the animal I was looking at.”
In a series of heron paintings, Wermann captured the birds in process: strutting in ankle-deep water, guarding a nest of pale-brown interlaced branches and poised as predator behind narrow-leafed cattails.
Wermann has sold a few paintings, mostly to friends. Right now, she is finishing a commissioned piece for a couple who recently moved to Arizona. They gave Wermann a photograph of a long-horned steer they knew in Olympia. In the painting, the steer stands in front of the rolling hills of Tucson.
Wermann’s paintings are displayed online at Google+ and Facebook. She also exhibits her artwork at Sawdust, a historic logging-themed coffee shop at the North Bend outlet mall.
Owner Richard Wilson said customers love the paintings.
“I would say most everyone that comes in stops at the art wall … They like the fact it’s done by their friends and neighbors. I get asked by our customers if the art is all local, and when they find out it is, they look closer at the names to see if they know anyone.”
Mali Main is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.