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Janette Louden

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

One of my friends has an annual Halloween-themed “Monster” show at his art gallery. The walls are always a showcase of some incredible talent, and one year, as I wandered down the rows, I came upon a piece that I instantly fell in love with. It was titled “Mummy, There’s a Little Girl Under My Bed”, and showed a green monster with a teddy bear cowering on a bed while a pig-tailed little girl peeks up from underneath, smiling. It was the work of visual artist Janette Louden, and even though I’ve seen quite a bit of her work since then, it’s still one of my favorite pieces. I’m not savvy as far as knowing any of the technical nuances that qualify a piece as being “good art”, so my personal litmus test is whether or not it has some element to it that stops me in my tracks and causes me to pause for a closer, longer look. In this case, it was the humor and lovely details that made me stop and look deeper. Louden’s work often has a spark of playfulness in it, like the little monster being fearful of the human under its bed, or a cartoon pirate character who has a heart tattoo with the word “Mum” written inside. And no matter if it’s a whimsical piece or a realistic one, there are consistently beautiful details that showcase this artist’s inherent talent.

Originally from England, Louden studied 2D/3D visual communication at North East Worcester College to earn her degree, and worked as a graphic designer at an advertising agency after graduation. This gave her experience with print production and creating newspaper ads, marketing materials, and collaborating with photographers and printers. When an opportunity at Garnet Publishing, near London, opened up, Louden took a graphic design position there, working on book layout and jacket design. The company produced a large amount of educational material, and she was able to create some illustrations for Garnet’s publications. While she enjoyed graphic design, illustration was her true passion, so by the time she left her position with the publishing company, she had the distinction of producing about seventy-five percent of their illustrations.

Louden moved to the United States in 2004, and embarked on a freelance career. She’s been prolific in contributing illustrations to children’s books and educational materials, working with many different authors, and publishers such as Red Robin Books, Story Sacks, and Macmillan Publishing. One of the projects she’s illustrated was an educational set that included twenty-five books, a board game, playing cards, posters, and a playing mat. As part of her work with Macmillan, Louden uses her own style, but also matches a head illustrator’s work when needed. She also continues to use her graphics experience in her freelance work, creating logos, web banners, and brochures for small businesses.

Whether it’s paid work or a personal piece of art though, her work has continued to garner attention. It’s been displayed in galleries in both Minnesota and Wisconsin and won several awards.

With such a rich art career already to her credit, one of the things that is most impressive is that Louden is a self-taught artist. Louden says that she learned by studying intensely and replicating others' techniques, which allows her to have a large range of styles and experiences working with different mediums. She works both traditionally and digitally, and can be a bit of a chameleon, able to adapt her own style to suit different needs while also being able to copycat others' styles, if required. She’s worked with a variety of artistic mediums, including watercolors, pencil, ink, Prismacolor, acrylics, and even needle felting, wood whittling, and Sculpey clay. She says that she really enjoys using colored pencils for creating pieces, but that there’s a certain charm to using a “scratchy ink pen” too. “I love dipping the nib in ink and the resistance and scratchiness on the paper”, she explains.

In 2012, she created a series of murals for an elementary school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and as part of that, spoke with a group of children about the project. Louden felt that it was important to share one of the lessons that her journey to becoming a full-time artist taught her:

“I failed art in school. I was pretty much told that I’d never be able to succeed as a freelance illustrator, as it’s far too competitive. All I was really good at, at least in my opinion, was drawing, and I was being told that I wasn’t good enough. That’s a hard thing to deal with. But it’s all I wanted to do. And now, I get paid for drawing! So I really wanted to get across to the kids not to let anyone tell you that you’re not able to do something you really want to do. If you work hard enough and practice enough and don’t give up, you can achieve amazing things.”

As Louden has continued turning her childhood dream into her full-time job, she doesn’t just squirrel herself away and draw in solitude. She shares what she’s learned over the years with others, through her time as a painting instructor at “The Paint Pub” in Minnesota and now as she offers painting parties for groups of friends, families, work colleagues, or anyone else interested in a unique and fun event.

Even the name of Louden’s freelance business, Red Lead Illustrations, is a nod to her craft. “I use mechanical pencils to draw with, and when I’m doing rough sketches, I use a pencil with red lead. It doesn’t smudge like regular graphite lead. Illustrators often use the red (or a blue) pencil, then ink over their rough lines. Then if an image is scanned in, the red doesn’t show so much. I mostly like it (the red lead) because I don’t like smudges”, she jokes.

Smudges or not, there's a little bit of Louden's vibrancy and wit in each of her creations, inviting viewers to linger over them, and inevitably, to be charmed by what they see. To learn more and find other examples of her extraordinary work, visit her website at www.redleadillustration.com.

* Just-for-fun Pop Quiz *
What “useless” items did Janette pay to have shipped over to the US when she moved from the UK?

A.  A huge box of old cassette tapes.
B.  School reports from middle and high school.
C.  Stuffed toys.
D.  All of the above.