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Interview in New Bern Magazine with Jan Francoeur

Attmore Oliver House by North Carolina Artist Jan Francoeur

New Bern Magazine

By Jonathan Burger, Craven Arts Council & Gallery, Inc.

Where are you from and how did you end up in New Bern?

I’m originally from Michigan, my husband and I left there in 1982 and spent six years in Aspen, Colorado. From there we traveled in an RV and spent the next year in the Florida Keys. It was from there we started looking for a new home. We told people we wanted a place on the water, was on its way but hadn’t gotten there yet, and had history and neat architecture. A fellow from Duck said, “New Bern sounds just like what you are looking for.” We came here, in our RV. We weren’t sure if we could make a living here or not so Michael said he’d always wanted to live on a boat. I thought “if I can live in an RV I can live on a boat.” Which we did for the next 3 years before we bought a house. That was 33 years ago.

Do you have any formal training or are you mostly self-taught?

I have a BA from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan where I concentrated on drawing and printmaking. Through the years I’ve taken a workshop here and there as well. But much of what I do has come from experimentation.

You work in several mediums, including watercolor, oils, and painting on pottery. What sort of relationship do you see between these different lines of work?

It has been a progression, one building on the other. I worked exclusively in ink, black and white, for 20 years and doing calligraphy as well. Then I started adding color to my drawings with watercolor, then I started doing straight watercolor. We bought an old house on Pollock Street and I wanted to put my mark on it  by doing a tile backsplash. I worked with underglazes in a watercolor fashion, adding lines to define the buildings. Which led me to develop a line of pottery I call Celebration Pottery. You can see the progression. I’ve dabbled in oils off and on but never really had the time to feel like I had a handle on it until now. For the past year that is what I’ve been concentrating on for this show and I’m pleased with the results. In a way my background has hindered me working in oils because I really want to paint looser. So I’ve had to work at not being so tight, many of my oil paintings in this show are loose and I’m pleased with that.

Is there a central theme to your work, or several themes?

I love architecture and gardens so that’s what I’m mostly doing right now. And I love our town so that is in many of my paintings. On the pottery I do gardens, beaches, buildings, often with a quote around the edge. Which combines the line, the watercolor like painting, and the calligraphy.

You started and owned Carolina Creations for many years, what sort of relationship do you see between that business and your art?

I loved owning Carolina Creations and all the artists we represented. Often if you are represented by a gallery and there is one look that you do that sells well for them, they want you to keep repeating that. Because I owned the gallery I could put in whatever I felt like doing, drawings, paintings, clay, whatever, so I didn’t have to keep doing the same thing over and over. When we came to town I didn’t think there were many nice souvenirs so I made that a mission. Either I made the souvenirs or found other people to make them for me using my images, Christmas ornaments, Christmas cards, coasters, magnets, etc.

Do you have any behinds the scenes advice for artists looking to sell their work or get into more galleries?

I think just keep working and improving and put yourself out there where people can see your work. Approach a gallery in a professional manner with a body of work.

In there another artist whose work you admire or inspires you?

There are many artists I admire, right now I’m obsessed with Sorolla, a Spanish artist, some call the painter of light. I was lucky to go to his home and garden in Madrid this summer. A couple of paintings in the show at the Bank of the Arts are of his garden.

What artwork, exhibition, or award are you particularly proud of, and why?

In this show at the Bank of the Arts I’m particularly pleased with my painting of the College of Charleston, the light, the colors, the looseness of it. As far as awards, I received the Bernie Award from the Arts Council, Entrepreneur of the Year from the New Bern Chamber, Main Street Champion from the NC Department of Commerce, and quite a few awards for my watercolors. Our gallery won many Niche awards for top Craft galleries in the US, I’m very proud of those  Niche Awards since it was the artists that made the choice. 

Is one sentence, what is art to you?

It’s what I do, recording the things I love.

I know you’ll be having an exhibition at Bank of the Arts in late November through January, but where else can people find your work?

Carolina Creations, 317 Pollock Street, and on their website  is the main place you can always find my work and I have a blog where I write about what I’m doing artwise and my travels

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Busy time

This has been a busy year for me! I bought a 100 year old house in December 2020. It needed foundation work to start with. When I bought the house it had 3 cracks in the plaster and when foundation work was done it had 100! But I have a good painter and he has a friend that does plaster repair so they all got fixed and the downstairs all painted. The upstairs is one big room with 3 closets and a bathroom. A perfect studio.

And the house sits on a double lot, the lot beside the house was very wet so my foundation guy put in a big french drain which moves the water to the street and to the sewer. The result worked perfectly but it wasn’t very pretty. I had my landscaper bring in some rock to make it look like a river.

The next project was to gut the downstairs bathroom. And redo it.


Then tear down funky weird garage and deck and put up two story garage and connect it to the house with an enclosed breezeway.

Which created a courtyard! My landscaper friend Arthur helped me redesign the sidewalk and get it planted. We worked on the other side too.

In the kitchen I just replaced the countertop. Then am added a master bath on back of downstairs master bedroom.

While this all was going on I spent the month of March in Florida, Put my East Front House on the Market, came home and turned around and went back to Florida camping for a week.

Then went to Colorado and Utah for 10 days and got a contract on East Front street house.

Moved furniture in the middle of July. Up until then I had been kind of camping out at new house.

Closed August 3.

Designed 2021 New Bern ornament for Carolina Creations, number 29 I think!

Left for a month long camping trip to the North East I wrote 2 blog posts about it. Link to Part 1. Link to Part 2.

Got home on September 17 then had to do my New Bern Christmas Card for 2021. I decided to do an image of Tryon Palace on clay for it.

Image for Christmas card, from a platter.

I spent the first night in my own bed in months on November 6. Am going to love my new bedroom.

Then someone asked for the 2022 calendar which I maybe wasn’t going to do this year if no one asked. But they did so looked through New Bern images I did on clay and used those.

And I hadn’t done the design for this years Christmas pottery either! When an employee told me I should do some Christmas pottery I couldn’t image how it would sell, that was 6 years ago, I was surprised how much of it I sell. Here is this years and another design from a couple years ago.

I was also the featured artist at Carolina Creations for the month of November – I posted some photos of those new pieces in my last post. AND I was on the studio tour!

I wanted to do the tour to remind people I was still around because rumor was that I had moved away. And I wanted to remind them that my work is still available at Carolina Creations even through I don’t own it any more. I DO have a website where I sell my work as well. but what I mostly do on this website is write a blog about my artwork and my travels. Mostly my travels these days!!

It was a very hectic year so didn’t get as much artwork done as I normally do but still did a couple big oils and and 3 new gouache paintings and tons of pottery.

This year I’m concentrating on oils. My friend Carol, who went to the same tiny college in Michigan I did, who moved to New Bern the same month I did in 1989, and I are having a 30 year anniversary of the first show we did together in 1992 at the arts council where she was the gallery director. It’s a big space so want to paint some new big pieces for it. I’m also working on garden sculpture for it as well.

Looking forward to a quieter 2022. But already have plans for 2 weeks on Virgin Gorda in the BVIs this winter (unless covid stops it), then a month in Ft Myers, Florida (I’ll go there anyway because I spend most of the month by myself painting, 18 days in Spain and Portugal (again if covid allows) and 2 weeks in Maine which I will probably do anyway because will be outdoors most of the time.

Looking forward to a quieter 2022. But already have plans for 2 weeks on Virgin Gorda in the BVIs this winter, then a month in Ft Myers, Florida, 18 days in Spain and Portugal and 2 weeks in Maine.

And I seem to be all over the place with my artwork, oils, watercolors, gouache, clay tiles, clay sculpture. It’s kind of exciting! Finally getting into this retirement business,

And while I’ve already planted a lot in my new yard I have 20 seed packets to find a spot for…. So much for quiet.

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New Work

I’ve been busy this fall! The Studio Tour was the first Saturday in November and at the same time I am the featured artist at Carolina Creations. I realize my blog, lately, has been more about my travels than my artwork, but I HAVE been doing a lot of that too.

Along the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail

This years Christmas design

All my work is available at Carolina Creations.

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Artwork Explosion During Lockdown

This was posted on facebook and it surely describes me and many artists I know!

That being said I have found the last few months to be very productive and inspiring. I have been wanting to do paintings of my travels but there are so many places to paint I am too impatient to do large paintings of all of them.

While I was in Florida for the month of March I found a little (6 x 8″) watercolor block (A watercolor block is a stack of watercolor paper that is attached together. The sheets of fine art paper are trimmed to some uniform size and then stacked upon each other. That stack of art paper is then attached to a backing board with a padding glue. This glue is applied to all four sides of the paper.) of hot press paper that I really liked. I also started experimenting with gouache (gouache is an opaque, matte, watercolor). Those two things together lit my fire and off I went!

I have been fortunate the past few years to be able to travel quite a lot to Europe and around the US and have always dreamt of having the time to put some of what I saw down on paper. Since I sold Carolina Creations I finally have the time to do that.

These pieces measure 6 x 8″, all except the middle one on the top row which is watercolor on board – another experiment! I keep doing more and post them on the paintings page on this site.

Also while I was in Florida I saw this gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises are found in all 67 counties in Florida and are an important species of the rapidly disappearing longleaf pine forest and wiregrass landscapes. The gopher tortoise originated in North America 60 million years ago, making it one of the oldest living species, and they may live up to 80 years.

This tortoise is called a Keystone species because more than 350 other species depend on their burrows for shelter and protection. This makes them a Keystone species – one without which many other species would not survive. (from the Nature Conservancy website). Neat!

I don’t remember how many days of lockdown I’ve been in but I think it started the middle of March. So what could I do but paint! In addition to painting paintings I was inspired to do some nature scenes on my pottery of all the neat things I saw in the swamps. The pieces are flying out but what I still have is posted on my Celebration Pottery page. I’m always doing new pieces!

Jan Francoeur Celebration Pottery Nature Series with egret
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series with bee
Celebration Pottery Nature Heron S
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Egret Flat Vase
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series square bowl with hummingbird
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series square bowl with hummingbird dark

I should say that during the time we lived in Aspen, then a year in the Florida Keys, I did a lot of drawing of birds. I would do the drawing in ink then add color just to the birds. So this work is just an extension of that work – 30 years later. More pieces are shown on my paintings page.

Then I got a call from Carolina Creations asking me to do some Mother’s Day pieces so here are some of them.

Of course all my work can be found at Carolina Creations. Their hours for the time being are 11-4 Mon-Sat. with all the precautions necessary to create a safe environment. And their website is available 24/7. Carolina Creations Website.

A few more travel paintings…..

Jan Francoeur Blue Heaven Watercolor painting
Jan Francoeur Key West Cuban Food watercolor

And now I HAVE to clean my house!! That is one problem with living where you work or work where you are living you are constantly torn about where you are and what you are supposed to be doing.

I can’t wait to get out and about again, like everyone else. In the mean time I’ll travel in my mind and in my art!

If you don’t know much about me you can read my story.

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New Work in Cold Wax

While my work is representational I also love contemporary abstract art, I haven’t done any since college – 45 years ago – and have frankly been intimidated by it. So while in Ft Myers I took a workshop in Cold Wax. Cold wax painting blurs the line between oil painting and encaustic painting. The medium consists of unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin, and odorless mineral spirits and is used to make oil colors thicker and more matte.

While I don’t intend to give up the way I normally work I have been working on painting in oils and thought I could find a way to incorporate the cold wax into them. In the meantime here are some of the pieces I did in the workshop that I really like.

These are all quite small.

Sunrise – image 3 x 6″ – oil and cold wax on panel
Mountain Lights
Mountain Lights – Image 5 1/2 x 5 1/2″ – oil and cold wax on panel – SOLD
Movement of Teal – image 4 x 4″ – oil and cold wax on panel
It’s Hot! – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″
Distant Shimmer – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″ – SOLD
Down the Cravasse – oil and cold wax painting on panel – image 4 x 4″

I’m really pleased how they turned out. There are more! Next post, Road Trip Ft. Myers

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New Paintings, Calendar, and Christmas Card

I know some of you have already seen these images on Facebook so sorry for repeating. I want to thank you all for receiving my blog updates!

For the past 10+ years I have done a calendar of New Bern scenes.It’s small, a desktop calendar in a CD case. Here are this years images. Some I am also doing prints of and all originals are available. I’m trying to get enough new work for a show at Carolina Creations of paintings from my travels and New Bern paintings but decided I’d go ahead and show these now, I’ll just have to do new ones for the show!

City Hall and Jarvis
Oil – Gothic Cottage Metcalf Street
Oil – Going Fast
Watercolor – Carolina Creations
Watercolor – City Hall and Baxter Clock
Oil – Gate on Craven St
Oil – Johnson Street
Oil – top of New Bern
Watercolor – Benjamin Ellis Bed and Breakfast
Watercolor – David Congdon House
New Bern on Pottery

The Calendar in its case measures 5″ x 5 1/2″. Here is a link to them on my blog.
Thank you for being interested in my work! This year I am feeling really inspired and am producing a lot ot new work. I can’t wait to show you.

And here is my Christmas card for this year.

Jan’s 2019 New Bern Christmas card.

And a link to them.

I hope you have a wonderful day! – Jan Francoeur