Q & A with Jane Penfield

·7 min read

May 15—KNOWN FOR — Artist, teaches classes online at Arts Center East in Vernon; exhibits her artworks.

HOMETOWN: Coventry. Grew up in West Hartford and lived in Glastonbury before moving to Coventry.

BACKGROUND: Majored in music in college, has a master's degree in conducting.

PREVIOUSLY: Was executive director of Concora, a professional choir; did corporate and foundation fundraising for Greater Hartford Arts Council; directed church and children's choirs; was a church organist.

Q: What was it about the visual arts that drew you towards them?

A: I'm a very visually-oriented person. I love being outdoors. I have always enjoyed gardening, being in nature, hiking, doing that sort of thing.

I was lucky enough at one point to meet up with some other people who were doing plein air painting — outdoor painting. Immediately, I gravitated to doing that and really enjoyed it.

Q: It uses a whole different part of your mind when you're making art.

A: It's a non-verbal part of your brain and you take in information, you process it, and you are able to express it in this sort of two-dimensional format, which takes a lot of practice and a lot of time to master it.

Q: What inspired you to make that transition from music to still art?

A: The last church job that I had ended in 2010. The church was undergoing a search for a new minister and the organist retired. It was a transition point for me, and I decided to take that opportunity and rethink what I was doing rather than looking for a different job in that area.

Subsequently, I decided that this was really what I wanted to do. I discussed it with my husband, and we decided that we could make it work. So, I made that conscious decision to do this.

I have been very heavily involved with a lot of different art organizations and I was able to focus on putting my work out there and to do shows.

Also teaching. I do a considerable amount of teaching in pastel, which is my chosen medium. In fact, during the pandemic, which has been really interesting, my teaching has really taken off because I was able to move it online. I doubled the number of students and they don't necessarily need to be local.

I had been teaching at Arts Center East in Vernon, and I'm on the board there. I've been very active there for a number of years. When the pandemic hit, I, in the space of a week, converted my class to an online format. Through my website, I have the capability of sending out newsletters which has been really helpful because I can embed video or photos or anything I want, and I can segment it to just my students.

I send out a weekly lesson in that format, and we meet for a couple of hours once a week on Zoom. That is more of a discussion and opportunity for the students to share with each other, what they're working on, because they found that they really miss that aspect of being together in the classroom.

Q: Has staying active and being involved with the class and students helped you get through the pandemic?

A: It's a lifeline both for me and for them.

We have this group that has been very cohesive throughout the whole thing. Some of my students are from out of state. I have one in Arizona. I have a couple in the Boston area right now. I have people all over Connecticut. They have found that not having to commute to the class and transport all their stuff has been much easier, because they can work from home.

It's certainly easier for me because I can work in my studio and I can record lessons. But I think it's made me a better teacher. It certainly caused me to plan ahead; be more thoughtful about curriculum. It's been nice to have that group of people that looked forward to seeing each other every week.

Q: Has that given you consideration in continuing doing online lessons post-pandemic?

A: The arts center, which is the hub of all of this, has begun gradually reopening and they are offering classes back in the classroom. My students overwhelmingly voted to keep it online. So we're going to do that for the foreseeable future. I asked them what they wanted, and this was what they wanted.

Q: What was their reasoning behind keeping it online?

A: They feel that they're getting so much more out of it. They have enjoyed the format. When it was in the classroom and we met weekly on Tuesday, some of the students would see this as an opportunity, like this is my personal painting time. "I'm going to go to my class and I'm going to paint," but then they'd go home, and they wouldn't do anything in between.

But now, it's become much more of a discipline for them, something that they enjoy practicing and working on, on their own. They're developed this daily practice of painting.

Q: Why did you choose pastels?

A: I just love the pastel medium. It's very immediate.

You can get so many wonderful effects with pastels. They're also wonderful for painting outdoors because they're very portable. You don't have to mess around with solvents and things like that. You don't have to wait for them to dry.

Q: Is there a scene that inspires you the most?

A: Lately, and maybe it's because of the pandemic, I don't know, but I've been painting people a lot more than I had been, inserting people into the landscape or their daily activities and wanting to record that.

One of the things that motivates me is I tend to be attracted to things that I worry about disappearing, like farmland, and I think that's part of my desire to paint people during the pandemic. It's the shortage of people. Not being able to see anybody.

Q: How does one get their work out there to be seen and recognized enough that people want to buy it?

A: I think one of the best ways for emerging artists to get their work known is to get involved with organizations, for example, Arts Center East in Vernon is a great example of a local arts center.

Some of their exhibits are juried, some of them are not.

There are also a lot of professional organizations. I belong to the Connecticut Pastel Society and the Pastel Society of America, which is national. I show a lot of my work in Lyme, which is a great art community, and it also attracts a lot of buyers from New York.

Q: Where can people go and see your work?

A: A piece is currently being shown by the Academic Artists Association, which is a national show, but, due to the pandemic is online only this year.

I have things that are at Arts Center East right now. A month ago, I had things down at Lyme Artists Association. I have a number of things pending.

Q: What's in the future for you?

A: I have hopes of eventually being accepted into some of the more prestigious national shows.

I keep trying and it takes time and more work.

One of my goals is to attend the International Association of Pastel Societies meeting.

It meets every other year, usually in New Mexico, but that schedule has been disrupted by the pandemic.

Aside from it being a prestigious show to get into, it's a convention and a great networking opportunity to meet with other artists.

Note: This conversation has been edited for length/clarity.

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