Ethereal Creations of Washi: Jan Sullivan Fowler

Blue Mauve Mountain by Jan Sullivan Fowler

This is why I say that I literally am working ‘with’ the Washi. There’s a definite choreography that has to take place, to create the vision that is desired.

Jan Sullivan Fowler is a contemporary Artist working in Japanese Handmade Washi paper and acrylics to create paintings with a unique flowing form. When I first encountered her works on LinkedIn through her profile, I was so amazed I couldn’t even press the “like” button.

At that time, I wasn’t familiar with this magnificent and of unique aesthetics, artistic material called Washi paper. I thought that the best way to find out more about this technique wasn’t just to google it, but to get to know Jan and her work. As I found out, sometime, later on, her Mom (Kay Sullivan), who was a talented artist as well and expert on Washi paper, introduced her to art as a child and later on to Washi paper. 

The exotic and esoteric natural papers (Japanese handmade Washi paper) are sourced with acrylics, to create a very Contemporary Oriental motif.

I must say for Jan (and her significant other) that it’s not just her art that I am amazed by, but most of all it’s her as a human being. Depth, color, and free-flowing form are the trademarks of her artworks, and also some of the words that could best describe her. Her freedom of thinking, open-mindedness, tenderness and mostly her love for Art is flowing out of her Washi canvases. 

With over 40 years of experience in painting with Washi and acrylics her creations have been hosted in many different venues; From a major Hollywood movie to many public and private collections.

Meet Jan Sullivan Fowler and her ethereal creations of Washi…

Beach Glass by Jan Sullivan Fowler
Beach Glass by Jan Sullivan Fowler

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Hello Jan! Welcome to The ART.gallery. We are happy to have you here with us… 

Oh, thank you Elizabeth, the pleasure is all mine! Being associated with you and your team at the ART.gallery is so much fun and rewarding!

Just to make an introduction to our readers… You grow up in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. When and especially how did you decide that your call is to be a painter?

Well, at the age of 3… I was already filling sketchbooks that my Mom had given me! I entered all art contests that I could find and, was constantly with my Mom doing ‘Art’ every day, all the time. I guess I never really ‘decided’ to be a painter/Artist, I guess it was just meant to be. This is where the saying “Life as Art” is so meaningful.

You are working with the Japanese washi paper. Your artworks are unique and ethereal, like stepping out of a fairytale. What are the difficulties and which is the magnificence of this technique?

Washi (Wa-meaning Japanese and shi-meaning paper) has been refined by Japanese Families for over a Thousand years. Each Family ‘perfects‘ they’re own Washi. Because Washi is made from pulverized pulp, not chopped, it has qualities and a definite personality to each diverse type. Each Washi has an identity and qualities that, I found, are worth getting familiar with. Some are Gossamer thin and weightless. While other Washi has, thick mulberry fibers interwoven, and still other Washi is infused with Gold or Silver leaf.

Over the years of having such a close working relationship with Washi, I’ve learned to coax out the different attributes and, let the Washi express its eagerness and willingness to perform in my Paintings.

For me to paint a painting that I want to create, first, I select raw Washi, mix colors using color mixing techniques first developed by Monks, Centuries ago, to portray the ‘blush’ of their Cherry blossoms. I then paint the Washi I’ve chosen, out of all the different types of Washi to select from. This in a way, stores my brush strokes in Washi, to be used as I and the Washi see fit. The big benefit I receive is that all of my colors stay exactly as I painted them. Never blending, bleeding or getting that ‘muddy’ color appearance.

My palette as it turns out, is a huge collection of different colors and types of Washi.

Silver Threads by Jan Sullivan Fowler
Silver Threads by Jan Sullivan Fowler

In your Bio, you mention that your beloved mother was the person introducing you to Washi paper…Please share with us your memories of this introduction. How were you connected with this form of Art?

Professionally, I had just received my Arts degree and, my Mother asked me to collaborate with her because, she was having success around the US in her new and completely unique Art form of Japanese handmade Washi paper painted with acrylics, to create flowing and floating art that is impossible to create without.

We would attend all the biggest and best exhibits and shows all across America for years, culminating in having one of my diptych paintings selected and appeared in the Movie Risky Business with Tom Cruise. There were several Boutique Hotels in Milwaukee and Chicago that commissioned us, along with a 40 ft. canvas painting for an Insurance Co., who hung it down their atrium. Now that was fun and really something to see!

How do people react to this form of art? How do people interact with an abstract painting?

It’s always interesting to watch as someone who is “in the know” about art sees one of my paintings for the first time.

They usually stop and look, then look again more closely… Then, they look to see if I’m watching, because they really want to ‘just touch it’. It is fun because so many have to use their hands to express the feelings they are experiencing when looking at my work. I can empathize with them. There aren’t any other Artists creating works that look and feel anything like mine!

How do you see through your art? Do you see yourself through your paintings?

I think my paintings and I are alter egos of each other. I’ve been creating in this esoteric medium for so long that, it’s my language, my colors, my freedom… my life!

Wanabi by Jan Sullivan Fowler
Detail of “Wanabi” by Jan Sullivan Fowler

Your Mountains of Washi and Waves of Washi series are two beautiful collections of acrylics with Washi paper on canvas. Bright colors lighting up the background coming out of the painting like waves… Tell us a bit more about this collection of yours.

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

I love painting Mountains in Washi on a large canvas. I’m exhibiting in the Rocky Mountains with a selection of my Mountain paintings when I was commissioned to paint an Abstract in a triptych (for a Design Center) with “stand out” colors that would call out to everyone with it’s “commanding presence”.

I selected a Kabuki white background to set the scene. Using several very thin Washi, I mixed some colors in intense values and, prepared the Washi for my ‘minds eye’ creation. Large canvas and multi-panel pieces allow me the freedom to express the qualities of visual weightlessness while very ethereal depth can be painted into the distance.

Mountain Majesty 'Mountains in Washi' series by Jan Sullivan Fowler,
Mountain Majesty ‘Mountains in Washi’ series by Jan Sullivan Fowler

Do you experiment with other materials and techniques?

Having so many amazing Washi types, each with its own unique attributes and personality, I could spent the rest of my life painting and creating and learning a different Washi each week and, never run out of Washi!

As far as techniques, I am constantly looking and discovering and, trying and applying, new and old, more and less… with a myriad of techniques (learned over many years and paintings), combined with a myriad of Washi and colors, creating combinations that, quite frankly astonish even ME at times! This is why I say that I literally am working ‘with’ the Washi. There’s a definite choreography that has to take place, to create the vision that is desired. At this stage in my career, it sure is a lot of fun!

Where do you find your inspiration?

Well, I suppose I’ve spoken to how creatively entertaining Washi is so, I believe another reason I get up every day, enthusiastic about my walks on the beach or walking in the woods or, even gardening and watching all the wildlife all around me is, this puts me in the mind of painting my style of paintings… 

I know that there is one big exhibition of yours coming up in the US. Tell us a bit more about the venue and the artworks displayed.

This is another really fun venue! Bridger Kitchen Design Center is in Bozeman Montana. Bozeman by the way is the gateway for Yellowstone National Park and dozens and dozens of Skiing Resorts. A friend of ours makes amazing heated basking tubs and sinks. Along with another friend who makes carbon fiber ‘Hammock’ bathtubs, invited me to exhibit some of my paintings in and around the display venues in BK.

One display has as a backdrop, Shoji doors with some of my Cherry blossom (Wanabi) paintings. The carbon fiber hammock tub has a strong silver leaf infused Washi, ‘Back and Silver’ abstract. It looks like they were made for each other. BK Design Center was the perfect place for me to exhibit and display a varied number of my ‘Mountains in Washi’ series. Large canvas’ with large Mountains, painted out of hand painted/ printed Washi. Visually giving an impossible amount of depth and distance on a flat large canvas. 

What are your next steps?

I’m enjoying meeting and working with, so many truly talented and interesting people and all of their fun projects, I’m just hoping to continue!

Thank you, Jan! It was so nice chatting with you. We wish you the best of luck!

Well, Thank you, Elizabeth! Like I said, “The pleasure is all mine”!


Find her on:

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One thought on “Ethereal Creations of Washi: Jan Sullivan Fowler

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