Meet the Artist: Jane Domingos

Jane Domingos is an artist, best known as a painter but working in a variety of media, living in Leicestershire, after a long spell in Yorkshire as well as stints in London and Portugal. She is also an experienced graphic designer, producing digital art work for print and film. Jane has an MA in Art & Design Studio Practice from Loughborough University and she is also a graduate of Leeds University where she undertook a BA in Art History & English Literature. Jane has worked part-time as both a freelance fine artist and graphic designer for 34 years while raising five children.

Find out more about Jane’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Where are you based?

I have been based back in the Charnwood area of Leicestershire for 17 years after being in Yorkshire for 20 years. Between 2017 – 19 I had a studio at Two Queens in Leicester city centre.

Tagetes, oil on board, 2018

Describe your practice for us

Most people will know me as a painter but I actually do all sorts of stuff. I love design – I love having a problem that needs solving and finding a way to do that and that’s often how a painting starts. I set myself a challenge. When teaching about Monet’s use of a particular pale palette with no earth colours I set about painting the same scene in both daylight and at night but using exactly the same palette. I always find myself questioning whether something could be made better, work better, look better and will think of ways that could be achieved. I enjoy the materiality of painting and prefer to make my own stretchers, supports and frames if possible. I love the challenge of working with new materials but can happily pass time playing with materials I am familiar with – paint, fabric, clay. A lot of my design projects are for our home and garden where I am fortunate to have a partner who is willing to give my ideas a go and help me achieve a finished project. With five grown up children all with art practices of their own there is a lot of creative energy and knowledge to pool. I also enjoy writing and have been included in several publications.

How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?

I find it difficult to answer this question. I think for a lot of ‘practising’ artists it’s what they’ve always done – it’s who they are. For example, I’ve drawn, painted and made things for as long as I can remember. I won a prize for a ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ poster design when I was in primary school and was commissioned and paid for doing a pen and ink drawing of Chewbacca when I was 13. The fact that I was making art and the sporadic winning of prizes and sometimes getting paid for doing something I just enjoyed doing hasn’t really changed over the years. I’d studied Art, Design and English Literature at A level, and secured a place on the Art Foundation at Loughborough. I had set my sights on Fine Art at either Falmouth or Slade but suspect I may have gone into an area of design had I completed the Foundation. I ditched the idea of art college and applied late for a joint honours History of Art and English Literature BA at Leeds University with Theology as a third subject in the first year. Much as I enjoyed it I regretted not having done any practical art which I continued with in my spare time. The then head of Fine Art who was my tutor for 12th Century Architecture saw my paintings and encouraged me to continue with both the course and the art practice. I graduated and the following year had a solo exhibition of watercolour and gouache paintings at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

I had several opportunities over the years and each would’ve probably had some influence on my practice – the offer of a job with fine art publishers Medici or a place on a prestigious art conservation course through the Leeds City Art Galleries for example. I would say I missed out on a career in art because I failed to find a direction early on, however I may not have ended up painting and even though I don’t earn a living from it, I enjoy and value what I do. My first painting using heavy bodied paint was when I was almost 40 and it is acrylic on canvas and features my son. I produced a lot of acrylic figurative paintings mainly on board and gradually getting bigger until I moved on to oil paint in 2010.

Does your background as a graphic designer, producing digital artwork for print and film have an influence on your work?

Initially the graphic design work came about as an extension of my artwork and some of it was voluntary work putting together publications for local organisations. As soon as home computers had become a thing and software for handling images and layout was available I had been playing around with creating digital images and incorporating it into my work. A production company approached me with the offer of a job producing digital artwork and graphics for their short films – mainly corporate videos plus all the packaging and promotional literature that went with them. They provided me with a good tablet and the latest Adobe software. I used mainly Illustrator and Photoshop. It was work I enjoyed and was easy to fit around young family life mainly because it was clean, took up minimal space and required no outlay from me. I enjoyed the design element involved with branding and logos. As the children became more independent I began to paint more and now had digital photography and software to utilise in the composition of paintings. Being able to process images digitally to analyse them – both photos of subject matter and photos of the paintings as works in progress helps me understand why something is or isn’t working. As well as being a tool to help with composition, digitising an image enables a more structured approach in terms of palette.

Although it is important to paint from life or subject matter with abandon and relying on our own judgement of colour and lighting it is also really interesting to study the colours in a photograph by taking samples. Creating palettes is very important to me – I enjoy working with colour and light. By studying the colours in an image I can then create a palette as well as a composition. A good graphic designer needs a good understanding of colour theory to make sure the message is effectively conveyed. Some things need to stand out or ping more than others. Understanding different colour schemes gives you control over what blends in and what stands out. It enables you to make a colour pop. I find being able to play around with palettes digitally before opening a tube of paint invaluable. So composition, focal point, and palette are all very important in graphic design and equally important in painting – whether figurative or abstract. I do use the same digital tools and theory in the preparation of a painting as I would apply to a digitally produced piece of graphic work. More recently I have been using digital 3D scanning to produce forms as well as digital 3D images to work from.

Through A Glass Darkly

Tell us more about “the concept of freedom opposed to captivity and the notion of the horizon as hope for a better other or an endlessly shifting boundary” as a theme in your work.

In 2010 I embarked on a two year masters degree which was concerned with contextualising art and design studio practice. It gave me the time and space to work on a bigger scale and also to work with oil paint for the first time. Standing in front of a large blank canvas was a novelty and I was playing with creating a three dimensional space on that surface. Often it gave rise to the need for a horizon and I enjoyed varying the distance of the horizon. The further away, the less obtainable it appeared and yet it was there and with it the promise of something else beyond what could be seen. At the time I was concerned more with the idea of mental captivity and mental freedom and used the horizon to offer an alternative to what was being experienced in the fore. One painting that featured birdcages – one open, one closed – was a very literal representation of freedom versus captivity and there is very little hint of a horizon. To a certain extent it was how I felt at the time – that I’d allowed my practice to be constrained by domesticity. The washing line full of linen in a garden I added to the painting after my mum became ill with dementia. I drew comparisons between her life and mine and added objects that pertained to her. A painting that has been exhibited a few times is Through A Glass Darkly. There is no horizon. The main detail is in the foreground – the window we are looking through and four vases on a shelf. The room beyond is obscured by reflections. A horizon cannot be seen either ahead or in the reflection. When the plight of the ‘boat people’ was brought to our attention I painted a new work, Lost Horizons, in response. It depicted a dinghy full with migrants being tossed about in huge waves at night. I purposefully made it impossible to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The ‘horizon’ suggesting their ‘hope for a better other’ being at times extremely challenged and far from guaranteed.

How closely linked are your painting and photographic practices? Do you play with subtlety of surface in your photographs as you do in your paintings?

Photography is a very immediate way of capturing a moment. I often wish I had pursued photography and/or film seriously as a medium. There are different cameras and different methods of developing that I would like to try. I think lack of funds has probably been a big factor here. When I was still at school somebody gave me an old Pentax 35mm SLR. I loved it and got the chance to develop my own film. That camera died at a time when digital cameras were becoming all the rage. They were fun at first but I have always hankered after the analogue cameras and haven’t had the opportunity to use a modern digital camera. My phone camera is what I’ve used for many years now. The limitations have frustrated me at times but the immediacy and ability to use in conjunction with apps has made it a very useful tool. I take hundreds of photos a month and out of those one or two may be a decent shot but I use all the images as material for painting and they are an invaluable method of documentation. In a way these are my sketch book – snaps to record an observation, form, the play of light, experiments in focusing on different areas in the same shot. I consider depth of field as important in painting as in photography. I like the fact that you can either create the illusion of depth within a painting or minimise depth and keep the two dimensional as flat and 2D as possible. Both require different painting skills.

Photography, like painting, can be subject to happy accidents that provide new effects. In 2013 the social media app Snapchat had a filter that turned a photo into a negative. I had a handful of negatives that dated from my dad’s time in the RAF in WW2 that had never been developed. Illuminated clumsily from behind with a lamp and photographed from within the Snapchat app using the negative filter, the negatives became  positive images in hues of blue. When printed on paper these had the appearance of cyanotypes. Photography can provide different levels of surface subtlety and surface discrepancies depending on equipment used and conditions when photographing. If film is used, the process of developing can provide more interest. These can be further enhanced depending on what kind of surface the photo is printed on. Painting requires us to think about surface before paint is even applied and I particularly like building my own supports and creating a surface to suit what I am hoping to achieve with the painting. A finely sanded gessoed board can result in an ultra smooth polished hard surface which, if painted carefully in oil, will achieve an almost gloss photo finish.

In 2019 I was working towards curating an exhibition of photographic images taken from the documentation of my illness. These were to support the work I had been doing using 3D scanning and milling while on an AA2A scheme. 3D scanning and the building of 3D models are useful tools in producing a painting.

Saguaro Blossom Night, detail. Oil on canvas, 2018

What is important to you in maintaining and motivating your practice?

New experiences – new places, new people. Stimulation. Challenging thoughts and ideas. Clever brains. Clever things. Connecting with the life source, being in nature. Love and humour. Experimenting with form, light and colour. Finding new natural materials. I think it’s the pursuit of light that ultimately defines my practice. If I am creating a three dimensional object – a sculpture – although materials and surface quality are ch