CCA&C: How old were you when you began creating artwork? At what age did you decide to become an artist/crafter? Was it obvious from childhood or did it evolve over time?
Were you formally trained or self taught? Either way tell us a little about your journey. What were your biggest hurdles?
JF: I have always considered myself artistic in one way or another. I didn’t actually decide – I just drifted into wood carving by accident. When I left school I wanted to be a graphic artist or map maker because I loved art and wanted to travel. In the 60’s, the most obvious career options for a girl were secretarial or banking that were choices my Dad wanted me to consider as he said there is no money in art! So I became a secretary. In the mid 70’s, I was fortunate enough to be asked to help crew a 38′ sailboat crossing the Atlantic to Maryland in the United States. Shortly after arriving, I met a wood carver and I asked him to make a small duck for me. It looked real to me and after saying, “I wish I could do that”, I took carving classes from him and was hooked. It was hard work to master the craft but after crewing on other boats and carving en route, I decided to make it my profession. In 1979, I exhibited my first wildlife art show, that became one of the most sought after wildlife art shows to exhibit at and attend. This year will be my 39th year of exhibiting at this show. My biggest hurdle was to find a studio while living on a boat. I had outgrown the boat and the dock!
CCA&C: Were you formally trained or self taught? Either way tell us a little about your journey. What were your biggest hurdles?
JF: My family and the owner of the boat I was crewing on at the time supported me. In fact the captain encouraged me to apply to exhibit at the very first art show. Marylans was very central to the wood carving profession and soon I was invited to many other shows. I entered world class competitions among many others, won ribbons and became recognized in the profession – of which there were very few women.
CCA&C: Do you work with different mediums? If yes what is your personal favourite? If no have you ever been tempted to try something new and what has held you back from doing so? How did you decide on the medium you have chosen?
JF: Before moving to Canada in 1983, I had worked only in wood but I started to exhibiting at art shows as well as wildlife carving shows and since work on the wall was more appropriate, I started making cast paper. Years before, I had been asked by a company to produce original 2 dimensional sculptures to be molded and reproduced into limited edition cast paper images. in 2004, I decided to learn how to do this myself and had a lot of fun working with the clay and paper mediums. Since first starting to carve, I had developed a love of driftwood and the way nature forms it so having now worked with clay, I created clay bird sculptures and worked them into the driftwood. In 2011, I developed arthritis in my hand and could not carve for any length of time without being in pain. As always a solution presented itself. A new student was a sign maker and he introduced me to a “sign board” high density urethane. It was amazing! My work looked just like my wood carvings But I could carve this medium more easily and quickly and because my brain always worked faster than my hands , it was fun again, especially as I had more flexibibility to “create” as I carved. I used my love of driftwood to display the birds as wall pieces. I was back carving again!
CCA&C: What Inspires you? Where do you seek inspiration? How do you incorporate this inspiration into your artwork?
JF: My inspiration to create new pieces comes from seeing birds around me, wildlife paintings and designing the right bird to place on the special piece of driftwood. Shortly after arriving in Canada, I started teaching my craft and I get inspiration through my students as well.
CCA&C: Are there any messages, political, economical or social, that you are trying to share in your work or are your pieces strictly for beauty?
JF: My Pieces are strictly for being enjoyed.
CCA&C: Do you belong to any art/craft associations? How do you find such alliances? Are they helpful and if yes, how so?
JF: I’m associated with the Ward Foundation in the U.S. that promotes wildfowl wood carvers and sculptors and I subscribe to Wildfowl Collecting magazine from where I get new ideas and develop new techniques from.
CCA&C: Do you see any trends in Canadian Contemporary art and craft? If yes, what are they? Of these trends, are there any that you feel inspire you and if yes how so? Are there any trends that you see that you will not follow and why?
JF: Styles and trends change with arts and crafts just like fashion. I change the presentation of my work not just follow them. It’s something different for me and because I also see things differently.
CCA&C: How has social media affected your art/craft? Do you take advantage of social media? If so how? How do you support the galleries/spaces that sell your work? Do you feel this is important and part of your job as an artist?
JF: I do have a website and do feel it’s important to assist in sales by promoting the galleries and art shows where I sell my work. I have a Facebook page although I do not take full advantage of the media. I know this is important and I do realize I need assistance in this area.
CCA&C: What would you like to have people think or feel about your work once you have moved on from this little planet? What do you think your legacy will be?
JF: The people who buy my work smile when they look at it. For most of my artistic life, I have sold my own work at shows and have made many personal connections. I still get customers from many years ago tell me how much they , “Still love their bird” that they bought 30 years ago! I hope people will remember why they bought that particular piece from me – and smile when they think of me…
JAN FITCH was born in Hertfordshire, England. I worked as a secretary and personnel officer until 1977 at which time I was given the opportunity of joining a 38′ ketch as cook/crew. I would sail from England to the United States. A year later, and having visited ten countries, the voyage ended in the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland. Unknowingly, my career at that point would change to that of an artist – a carver of wildfowl.
During my stay there, I met a local woodcarver and was fascinated how he made the wooden bird look so soft. By saying “I wish I could do that” and with some encouragement, I decided to take evening classes in bird carving. Six months later I continued to travel by boat and practiced my hobby by carving for friends and acquaintances – any corner of the boat or space on the dock was my workshop, Two years after my initial introduction and some self teaching, I made woodcarving a full time profession.
My love of carved wood is expressed in my life size and miniature pieces, capturing the behaviour of ducks and birds as seen in nature. Using basswood, I intricately shape the wood with a knife. The piece is then textured to simulate the soft feather look and realistically painted.
A few years ago, I decided to carry my knowledge of wildfowl into another medium – cast paper sculpture. The image is designed as a bas relief sculpture and in turn, created into a limited edition cast paper print of the original. Each piece is hand pulled and has it’s own characteristic.
Always searching for new ways to display my carved birds, I created “Driftwood Art”. Using an alternative medium and together with my fascination for driftwood, I marry the bird with the perfect piece of wood created by Mother Nature.
I have taught at St. Lawrence College and the Haliburton School of Art and have judged and competed in competitions at wood carving shows throughout Canada, the United States and Great Britain where my work has received much acclaim. Among my many wood carving awards are “Best of Shows” including those at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and the Ward Foundation World Championship in Maryland. My art work can be found in galleries and exhibitions across Canada and the United States.
In 1983 I moved to Canada and now live on Wolfe Island with my husband Ron and Callie our kitty cat. During the week, I can be found working and displaying my art at my Kingston studio and offer classes for woodcarving, airbrush painting and cast paper making. Visitors are welcome to visit and experience the process of “creating” and viewi the finished pieces. An appointment is suggested to be sure the studio is open.