“Every image I choose to paint is an answer to the question ‘What drew me to this subject?’ As I begin painting, I let go and trust my instincts to guide me to discover the answer.”
By Irene Ruddock
Jan Guarino is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design which led to a forty-five-year career as award winning graphic designer. Her company, Guarino Graphics, combined her skill in graphic designs with her fine art background to build the brands of hundreds of Long Island companies. Today, the East Northport resident has evolved into a full-time watercolor artist/teacher, sharing her knowledge in classes and workshops, and exhibiting in various galleries.
When you were growing up, did you have any mentors that led you to pursue an art career?
I was fortunate that in my senior year in high school, I was able to major in art and received Artist of the Year award. When a previous graduate came back to show us her portfolio, it changed my focus and I immediately applied to FIT. Those two years I was totally in my element, surrounded by other students and teachers who were working artists. It was a major shift and set me in motion for my advertising, marketing and art career.
How did your years owning a graphic design company inform, and then, catapult your career in art?
While it was more about doing graphics for businesses, my clients trusted my design esthetic giving me tremendous freedom to create. Through helping these businesses grow, I knew exactly what to do for myself.
What is it about a subject that inspires you to pick up your brush and start to paint?
I don’t choose my subjects as much as they seem to choose me. It may be a place I visited during my travels … the way the light is hitting the landscape, people, the architecture that reveals some truth to me. But when I see it, there is a moment where something grabs me and causes me to pause. I am overcome by a stirring and a knowing that I must paint it.
What are the qualities of watercolor that especially intrigue you?
This is truly a magical medium. When you let it go, it paints itself. So I don’t work on controlling the paints as much as allowing the natural aspects of the paints to move for me. I embrace the blossoms, drips, and splatters of watercolors. My approach to painting is to encompass that looseness with details as much as possible.
Do you consider yourself a colorist?
Ha, yes well, when I see tonalists work and their colors or lack thereof, I’d have to say yes, I am a colorist. My process is more about letting the paints mix on the paper rather than on a palette. This amps up the unusual colors and helps to go beyond just describing a scene ~ lending a heightened importance even to everyday subjects.
What is it about your special style that you think draws people to your art?
I do feel a lot of it is my fearless attack of the paint to paper, the freshness … to depict the scene as an interpretation, not a literal translation.
How has your knowledge of social media helped to widen your audience?
I have a very strong understanding of basic marketing. It has to do with all the students, friends and colleagues that have referred me over the years. Social media is often still a mystery to me, but you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest. So it has literally grown to be international now as I have students as far as the UK and Australia. I am amazed how the world has gotten smaller using social media.
Tell me about your YouTube demos.
I do my best work when I am demoing in front of a class. It is exciting and I feel that the energy of my students is in the painting with me. So I started recording my classes as a way to make them accessible to my students beyond the classes.
There are also some classes that I made into videos I call “Fixer Uppers” where I show students how to correct, complete or revise their own paintings. I think it is a very fresh way to show everyone how close they are to being finished, and more importantly, happy with the results.
What are your favorite brands of watercolor paint, brushes and paper?
My favorite watercolor paints to use is Maimari Blu and Daniel Smith. I look for what the paints do, more than I look for the color. I ask “Does it move well in water, does it break into other colors or granulate?” —these are some of the many qualities I look for to aid me in my process. My favorite paper is Arches 300lb hot press paper and I’m very happy with synthetic brushes like Silver Black Velvet series or Escoda Prado. A complete list is on my website.
What advice do you give your students?
Relax and allow the paint to work for you. And practice. It doesn’t happen in one class a week. Take classes and workshops, even if you pick up one small thing from them … better to try and integrate it to make it your own. Thinking of it this way will help you to advance your art.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an artist for you?
Well, I’d have to say it has given my life a reason to show up every week for my students. Knowing they are there and so open to learning and growing is extremely meaningful for me. It has not only given me a second career, it has given me a profound new purpose.
Where do you exhibit?
I am in the FireFly Artists Gallery and the Nest on Main in the Village of Northport. My work has also been exhibited at the Huntington Arts Council, Mills Pond Gallery, Art League of Long Island, The Long Island Museum, The Heckscher Museum, and Islip Arts Council.
You are a very versatile artist who excels in so many genres including landscape, still life, people and animal portraits. Do you have a favorite?
I truly love it all. I just love the adventure of exploring something I haven’t painted before and testing out my skill on a new subject.
Where may people get in touch with you and learn about your classes and workshops?
I have a four-day workshop scheduled for October 14 to 17 in Vermont at the Landgrove Inn where you stay, dine, and paint all on the property. It’s heaven! And I am planning another artists’ trip to Italy next fall in the Cinque Terre area.
I also do a Jam-Cam with the Harborfield and South Huntington libraries where you can see me paint a portrait in under an hour. I currently teach virtual classes. You may sign up for weekly updates on my website for information at [email protected]. I look forward to welcoming you!