Painter Jane Canfield makes a fine impression

Dogged artist finds the answers in the spaces between things

“I started life as a graphic designer despite what Dad wanted me to be, which was an oil painter. Now, of course, I’ve come round full circle,” artist Jane Canfield tells Clare Kennedy.

Jane Canfield, who has worked as a full-time artist for almost a decade, is a well-known figure in the Blue Mountains arts community as she trundles around in her van, looking for a good place to stop and set up an easel.

Family art lines

She attributes her artistic gifts to her late father, Tony, also a professional artist, who painted from his childhood until 1987. “I’m very lucky because sometimes it misses generations. But I’ve got some of Dad’s talent,” she smiles. Jane has been in numerous group and solo exhibitions and was a finalist in the Paddington, Norvill and Mosman art prizes.

Unlike her father, whose career was cut devastatingly short at 42 by multiple sclerosis, (he passed away at 67) Jane embarked on her own career as an oil painter at 35.

She had always worked with various art mediums such as gouache, but her father’s death set her on a new path. “Literally two weeks after Dad died, I picked up my paints and off I went.”

Artistic influences

Jane prefers to paint outdoors or en plein air, a French expression meaning ‘in the open air’. Asked about her influences, she says she admires Australian painters from the 1920s to the 1950s, such as Clarice Beckett, as well as both the French Impressionists and American Modernists.

Local artist friends and, of course, her father have also been influences, as have contemporary international artists such as the impressionist British painter Colin Orchard, whose work she admires.

“I think artists cherry-pick what they need and then move on. You take what you need and you may not always be aware what you’ve gleaned from their influence,” she says thoughtfully.

The art of impressionism

Jane is currently reading The Science of Appearances by Max Meldrum, an influential art teacher in Melbourne in the early twentieth century. She was excited to acquire the rare book, as only one hundred copies were ever printed. She says the book is valued by artists, like herself, who are interested in tonalism. Tonalism is a technique which means “using limited colour and working through the tones of that colour palette,” she explains.

“Max was quite revolutionary in his day and quite an eccentric. I love that he explained to his students that if you’re looking at trees, it’s not so much the trees, it’s the space between the trees. I know I do that a lot. I look through to something. I do a lot of streetscapes and urban vistas and it’s always what’s in the distance, those little hints of colour. It might be dark in the foreground, but the sunlight is hitting in the distance. That’s what draws me,” she says.

Jane is halfway through a four-month artist residency in northern NSW. She feels lucky to be staying in a patron’s renovated 100-year-old miner’s cottage in the Byron hinterland, together with her new poodle, Molly.

Lately, she has become obsessed by railway bridges and is excited by the results. “I’m working in shades of grey, which is very different for me.”

A doggie connection

Like many artists, Jane has a strong connection with animals. She recently collaborated on a book aimed at both art and animal lovers. Arnie the Artist’s Muse: A True Doggie Tale, was written by Sophie Potter-Seeger, also Jane’s one-time agent and art dealer. Published in September last year, the book is illustrated by a collection of Jane’s paintings and artwork of her then pet poodle, Arnie, with whom Jane had forged a special bond.

Arnie was a silver toy poodle, a nine-year-old dog rescued by the RSPCA, Jane tells me. “He used to come everywhere with me. All my friends knew if there was a dinner party or something, he would be with me, and he was included.”

Unfortunately, Arnie suffered from multiple health problems. First he had an ear canal removed, and so he lost his balance. Then he suffered from undiagnosed glaucoma and went blind in one eye. In 2008 Jane took Arnie on a painting trip to the northern beaches of Sydney. A paralysis tick lodged under his remaining good eye, leading to complete blindness.

“I’ve had some people say, ‘Oh, you put him through a lot!’ But he was a fighter, he didn’t want to go. He was a happy little dog, he was my little companion,” she says nostalgically. “He was my muse and he still appears in a lot of my works.”

Arnie died last September, a few weeks before the book’s launch. “It was hard for me to keep my act together. He was very special,” she says. A percentage of the book sales go to the RSPCA.

As to her thoughts on Media Super: “I like that it is a super fund for creatives and I want to investigate the ethical investment options. I feel safe in the knowledge that my super is well looked after.”

After we spoke, Jane was announced as a finalist in the NSW Parliament ‘Plein Air Painting Prize’.  Her art is being exhibited with other finalists’ work up until 1 August.  More information is at

Jane Canfield’s work is on permanent exhibition at The Channon Gallery, The Channon, near Lismore, Jenny Pihan Fine Art, Melbourne and Seaview Gallery, Queenscliff, Victoria. See Jane’s Website for details.

Photo supplied by Jane Canfield.