Jan Burgess meets portrait artist Jane Palmer

Jan Burgess, SOL Design Collective’s founder met with portrait artist Jane Palmer to talk about her love of portrait painting, commissions, opening her house to exhibit and future plans since winning AOH Artist of the Year…

I first met Jane Palmer when she came along to our popular pricing workshop. Jane is a figurative artist who specialises in portraits and life drawing, but also loves painting landscapes and still life. She has recently returned to living in Brighton, and celebrates the vibrancy, artistic creativity and collaborative energies that the city embraces. Indeed, these are all qualities that we hold dear at SOL Design Collective and it’s always a joy to see her at our events.

Jane exhibited her work in the Artists Open Houses festival for the first time in May 2019, and was awarded the Artist of the Year title. I was curious to better understand her interest and love of portraiture, so I popped along to her studio for a chat and cup of tea.

I have recently enjoyed watching the popular SkyArts Portrait Artist of the Year program on Channel 4, and feel that portraiture is having a resurgence of popularity. I had wondered if this was related to the current tendency and desire to capture and share selfies. I was curious to see if Jane agreed with me.

“I think the emphasis has changed,” she agrees. “I am not sure if it is directly as a result of the popularity of the mobile phone, however It is interesting to see people often take selfies against works of art or portraits in galleries. It seems the phone is becoming a representation of themselves, and the phone often features in portraits now.”

Jane explained to me that she prefers to paint during live sittings, rather than relying solely on photographs and sketches. She talked of the importance of developing a relationship with the person.

“When you’re undertaking a study of somebody, it can be very intimate. A sitting is usually 3 hours long. We have lots of breaks but inevitably we talk and share stories whilst I work. I usually require three, sometimes four sittings for a portrait, although I do offer shorter commission types also. In the first sitting I make a number of drawings and take some photos, and get to know the sitter through conversation. The aim is to make them as relaxed as possible. The next sittings involve more substantial work on the canvas. Between sittings, I spend a similar amount of time working on the canvas alone, making corrections and preparing the canvas for the next sitting. And the final sitting is for putting final touches to the portrait.

Jane spent time telling me about some of the portraits in her studio. There are lots of life classes and art groups locally. Jane is a member of three, and some of the local popular models appear in her work. Jane also frequently goes to masterclasses with leading portrait artists including Andrew James, Robert Dukes and Tim Benson, run by the New School of Art.

I asked Jane why sitters always look so serious. She laughs!

“It’s hard work sitting for so long.” She explains that sitters often find the opportunity to sit quite special. It is not often that you are able to just be, and for some it can be like a form of meditation. The conversation between artist and sitter provides an opportunity to open up, remember and reflect, and it is at these times that Jane says she can capture those aspects of emotion and character which is unique to the individual.”

I agreed, and, looking at her portraits, the sitters certainly look relaxed and reflective. Jane’s work captures a beautiful warmth and energy. A unique essence from within.

Jane turned down a place at art college to pursue an academic career in higher education. She has often wondered what her life would have been like if she had followed her love of art, and although she has no regrets, she tells me how difficult she found it when she did decide to pick up her paintbrush again. She described the floods of tears and frustrations after the first classes, and the hours spent afterwards trying to capture a sitter with sensitivity. Her determination has definitely paid off.

Jane continues to study the technical and theoretical side of fine arts and has a PhD from Sussex University in art history. She explained that she finds enormous benefit from meeting with fellow fine artists. Observation and talking with other artist about styles and techniques has helped her grow in confidence and develop her own style. She feels that few current art degree courses offer training in representational art, but major in installation and conceptual arts. We are certainly fortunate to have a vibrant artists scene locally which provides the availability of peer learning and mentoring. Even though it’s not on a practical level, this type of knowledge sharing is one of the core principles and components of SOL Design Collective workshops and surgery sessions, as it’s been proven as one of the most productive methods for learning.

Jane’s retrospective wisdom to share with her younger self would be to follow your heart and always do what feels right at the time!

Jane opened her house to exhibit as part of the Artists Open Houses for the first time in May 2019. She attended SOL Design Collective events as part of the preparation, as she was keen to get some insights and tips. “The Pricing workshop was helpful to establish a sense of value for our work and not undersell ourselves. I found it most useful as it came just before my first AOH, and I had felt uncertain how to price my paintings in a non gallery setting.

The breakdown of components like time and labour, overheads, travel, art materials, and professional memberships together with tables and checklists was useful and available for future use.

It was very helpful to see myself as a self employed artists and this helped alleviate a sense of “imposter syndrome” that many artists suffer from, and dispel the feeling that we are not good enough.”

Her home and studio are located on the famous Fiveways trail, and her exhibition “Jane Palmer and Friends” was a fine art exhibition, featuring examples of her own work alongside that of Stef Hunter, Ceramicist; Nigel Hunter, Sculpture; Laura Darling, Fine Art in oil; and Tan Kingston, Still life.

Jane was awarded the coveted AOH 2019 Artist of the Year award. This award is sponsored and chosen by Gemini Print.

Jane has received a number of commissions as a result of her AOH exhibition, and she told me that this, together with the recognition that this award represents have provided a boost in both confidence and enthusiasm that has propelled her forwards. She is very excited for the forthcoming year. She is busy working on her commissions together with planning a new body of work to show next May. She also plans to submit work to some national open art competitions.

If you are interested in a commission or to find out more about Jane’s work, please contact her via her website

It was a joy to meet with Jane and I look forward to following her work on Facebook.

A video of our conversation was captured and edited by her partner, Steve Engelhard of Angel Productions. Please see a copy of the video content here.

If you’re interested to find out more about SOL Design Collective; our showcase gallery, the workshops, mentoring and support programs that we offer, or any of the other projects that were involved in, then please do get in touch.

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SOL Design Collective helps artists and makers grow their creative practise. We host both live and digital workshops that assist artists with improving their business skills and develop greater confidence in marketing and selling work at the right price. Our mission is to bring the world to their work. We celebrate all forms of creativity and strive to help artists develop resilient creative businesses that afford sustainable lifestyles.