BY SUE ERWIN – A shell-lined walkway leads to the ground floor studio of Boca Grande artist Jane Carlson. Colorful paintings adorn the walls and line the room leading to the serene, seafront workspace that the artist paints in every day.
“My favorite medium is watercolor,” Jane said. “It’s very loose and unformulated. I like to work fast and then let it go, whereas with oil, you have to let it dry and then look at it again in a week. By then I’m losing interest and must get it back.”
Jane said she becomes a free spirit when she paints.
“You go into an alpha state of consciousness. It’s like you lose all sense of time. People are always saying to me that I am blessed to be such a talented painter. But I believe in the old adage that success in art is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”
Jane added that painting is like every other art, whether it be writing, playing a musical instrument or anything else. It requires a little natural talent, and it’s a developed skill filled with ups and downs and must be practiced.”
Mrs. Carlson, born Jane Cartwright in Milton, Massachusetts, a town just outside of Boston, comes from a long line of artists.
Her great-grandfather painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. “I was always a painter,” she said. “I studied art at the Massachusetts College of Art. I paint every day, even if it is just for an hour.”
When Jane was 19, someone suggested that she become a model. Soon after that, she was brought to New York by the Society of Photographic Illustrators. She then worked with the highly prestigious Eileen Ford Model Agency. “I did photo shoots for magazines and it was fun – I thought it would make a great summer job,” Jane said.
That venture led to a 25-year modeling career, traveling the world for major corporations like TWA Airlines, Bell Telephone and Oil of Olay, for whom she eventually became a spokeswoman. But during all of this time she continued to paint.
“My dad said ‘I’ll buy you a red convertible if you stay here in Boston,’ and I said, ‘I’ll go to New York and buy one myself,’ ” Jane recalled with a smile.
A few months later, she landed on the cover of Life Magazine. And more national ads started coming in. Vogue sent her to Paris. She also traveled to Italy and Greece for Glamour and Mademoiselle.
The week she was on the cover of Life, Jane met her husband, Byron, at a Stanford University cocktail reunion. “I was 19. It was kind of a blind date. A friend called him and said, ‘She’s on the cover of Life Magazine if you want to see her,’ ” Jane said with a laugh. “He was so handsome and so smart – just a great guy. I thought, if I can get him, that would be a real catch.” Get him she did. They were married for a lifetime, until his passing this past April.
“By was always interested in the communication field,” she said. “He worked on accounts such as Kodak and Buick. He worked as a TV announcer with Edward R. Murrow. He had an outstanding voice, and he wasn’t just an announcer, he was a true spokes-person.”
Jane also did a lot of work for bridal magazines. During one shoot for Brides, she said, “I told them I was getting married in a month, and they told me I could keep the dress.”
Jane and By had their first son a year after they were married. She continued to model while raising two sons, and one photo shoot was done while she was pregnant with son number 3.
Her employers even encouraged her to bring her sons with her on some of the photo shoots. They appear by her side in photos in several magazines.
The family lived in New York City and then moved out to the suburbs about a half hour outside of Manhattan.
In her 30s, Jane made a move to television and made nearly 50 commercials.
When she was 47, she graced the cover of McCall’s for a third time. After that she finally called it a day. “I had a geat run,” she said. I think I broke the record for longevity.”
She had also done live commercials for The Tonight Show, The Perry Como Show and Good Morning America. She recalled the 30-second jingle she had to sing three times for each show in accordance with the various times zones to promote Chesterfield cigarettes. “I know it’s bad to promote smoking, but we didn’t know at the time how harmful it was.”.
Jane credits her early success to staying true to herself and skipping the party life by not hitting nightclubs on the weekends.
“I wasn’t into smoking and drinking. I’d much rather have time well spent on my art,” she said, adding that she often spent weekends with the New York Art Students Leagues.
Although she was offered several lucrative projects to further her career over the years, she is happy that the life she chose was the smart one.
“I worked hard, but I was also very lucky.”
She recalled doing a Revlon ad one time when they became furious with her because they spent all morning attaching her nails and she went home at lunch to change diapers and do the dishes, and her fake fingernails fell off.
“They said I had to decide if I wanted to be a model or a housewife, and I said, “Well, I guess I’m a housewife.”
In 1980, she called her agent and said she was retiring. Modeling was getting in the way of her painting.
Jane and By bought a home in Boca Grande 25 years ago. She splits her time between the island and Candlewood Lake, CT, where she has another studio filled with her work.
Although she paints both inside and outdoors, Jane refers herself as a studio painter. “I like my radio and my sandwich,” she said. “I’ll paint wherever there is a flat table with nothing on it.”
Her studio up north is in a barn. “It’s wonderful, the doors open up and it’s like being outside,” she said.
Jane believes that a great artist doesn’t paint what he or she sees, but rather takes in the beauty and creates a unique design.
“That’s why I am called an impressionist,” she said.
Jane never looks at an object for too long. She quickly glances at things and notes their shape. Then the creative juices start flowing.
She brushed her fingers across a recent oil, noting that she plans do add deeper, richer colors to the landscape surrounding a woman sitting beneath a tree.
“This was all imagined,” she said. “The tree gave me the idea, but the rest just came to me.”
Two of Jane’s sons are artists. Wes is well known in Boca Grande. His paintings grace many island homes and also can be seen at the Hughes Gallery along with his mother’s work.
Gary is a medical illustrator. Her third son has a business degree. “He uses the left side of his brain,” she said.
Jane has four grandchildren, three of them art majors in college.
Her youngest granddaughter, Halley, is coming to visit Boca Grande to spend some time with her “mima” and start her early tutelage. “It’s difficult to teach art, but you can always help inspire a beginning painter,” she said.
Jane has won gold medals from the American Artists Professional League and the highest honors from the American Watercolor Society. Her watercolors and oils have been exhibited in Washington, DC at the National Arts Club and the National Academy of Design in New York City. She has juried shows all over the country.
The artist glanced out over her island home in Boca Grande, marveling at the abundance of nature and magnificent views of the Gulf of Mexico.
“I’ve lived a very lucky life,” she said. “I had a great marriage, great kids and I have no regrets.”
Jane’s work can be seen at Hughes Gallery on Park Avenue in Boca Grande.