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Gray’s journey a picture of success

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By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Special Correspondent

Janette Gray begins each morning the same. She gets dressed, she has breakfast, and then she takes a short walk outside to her barn. She walks up the stairs, turns on some music, and begins painting.

The easel she's currently working on displays two small paintings, one of blue hydrangeas, the other a vase of flowers. A calming lull comes from the iPad beside them. A palette with dollops of paint rests on the table beside the easel, the colors waiting to be mixed. Her phone, a coffee mug, a couple tubes of paint, and a few paint brushes lay on the tray attached to the easel, ready to be used.

The walls of Gray's studio are pale gray, yet there is still color bursting around the room. Paintings surround the room. Green pears hanging off a tree branch, red apples, and longhorn cows represent just a portion of the total paintings in the studio.

Sitting on a window sill are several tins that once contained Melitta coffee. Now, they have been repurposed, filled with dozens of paint brushes.

To some, it may look chaotic.

To Janette, it is her life.

"This is it for the rest of my life. I can't imagine my life without painting," the English-born artist says. A decade ago, Janette never expected she would ever paint, let alone reach the level she has today.

To say Janette Gray is determined is an understatement. Years before she started painting, she worked in the tax department at one of the “big six" accountancy firms. In 1996, Gray decided it was time to take on a more creative career. For two years, she attended night school and trained in floristry and horticulture. She opened florist business, which quickly sprouted and became a success.

Following the death of her father in 2003, Gray decided to sell her florist business. Wanting to continue pursuing her creative streak, Gray enrolled in a private hairdressing college and finished her training in a year. She opened a salon, which flourished.

Gray worked as a hairdresser for three years. She developed her own product line. Once again, Janette had succeeded.

Then one day, in December of 2009, her husband, Mike, came home from work with news that he had been offered a two year position in Boston. Janette sold her business by February. She and her husband left England and arrived in the United States on March 10, 2010. "My life is the polar opposite of what it was before, and I've never been happier. If I'd never come to America, I would have missed out on all of this. I'd never done it."

Janette's first days in America were lonely. She didn't know anyone other than her husband. She no longer had her hairdressing business at which to work. "For the first time in my life, I found myself with no reason to get up in the morning," she says. She needed something new to keep her busy. "So I thought this is an opportunity for two years to live a slower life and learn something," Gray recalls.

The two years became the opportunity not only to live in a new country, but to learn a new skill. Gray enrolled in a six-week-long art class, taught by Emily Passman.

Gray expected to immediately do well as a painter. "I expected to be knocking masterpiece after masterpiece," she says.

That was not the case. But she kept painting, learning the techniques and terms of the art.

Gray continued after finishing the six-week course, improving with each painting she completed. After two years, her husband was offered a permanent position in Boston, leaving Jeanette with a choice: would she go back to working as a hairdresser or a florist, or would she continue painting?

Knowing how hard she had worked for the past couple years, and seeing how far her paintings had come, Janette made the decision to carry on with her painting. She had caught the "painting bug" and it wasn't going away any time soon.

Janette begins each of her paintings with a sketch and a photo. With a small notebook, Gray uses three Copic markers, each in a different tone, to sketch out the possible painting. While sketching, she identifies where the darkest and lightest points are and where everything in the scene will go. "Your eyes can trick you sometimes,” she adds.

She will then snap a photo of the scene to refer to later.

After completing the sketch, Janette will take a small canvas and paint the scene, using her sketch and photographs from before. She always works from small to big, first painting a smaller version of the scene. Then, she can see if it's worth taking a step further and painting it on a bigger canvas.

Janette's large painting of peaches is identical to the smaller version of it: the light blue background uses the same gradient, the different shades of green meld together in the exact same places, and the pink and orange hues of the peaches' skin flows together at the exact same points.

To get to the point she's at now required Janette to dedicate herself to painting. Monday through Friday, from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, Janette would be in her studio, working on her new craft. It didn't matter the subject, the palette, or the size of the canvas - she just had to keep going.

Then she hit her first big roadblock.

Though she had progressed since she began, Janette realized that she would need further instruction to continue improving. She researched artists that were considered masters in the craft and began attending the workshops they taught around the country.

Examples of her travels can be spotted in the studio. Beside a bureau is a collection of paintings Janette did recently while visiting Texas. A few depict longhorn cows grazing in fields. There are two that show a white farmhouse. There's one of red ripe tomatoes, another one of juicy oranges. A couple folded up easels rest on the wall beside them.

For Janette, the most frustrating part about painting is not painting itself, but rather her own actions. "Fail to plan, plan to fail. When I dive in and I don't give it enough thought before I start, that's when I get [lost],” she says. "It's like nobody wants to see that."

Some paintings get scrapped before she even finishes them.

When she first started, the idea of scrapping a a painting made her upset. Now, she know to just move on. The next painting will be better.

However, Janette also views those failed paintings as part of her journey. Her painting style and skill is nothing like it was when she first started. Janette was extremely proud of some of those first paintings. "Every single painting I've done from the beginning until now and anything I do in the future is a footprint of my journey through life, and it will be evidence that I've been here."

Going from workshop to workshop, Janette became frustrated. Every time she attended a workshop, she would try to mimic the teaching artist. A few months later, she would go to a workshop taught by a different artist and try to mimic their style. "I was always searching to be them. But when was I ever going to be me?"

Once she discovered her own style, she resumed progress in the art. "I think that's when the real journey begins, when you find yourself." She still attends workshops from time to time, but she sticks with artists similar to her own style. She takes what these artists give her - techniques, skills, advice - and adds them to her artist repertoire.

Janette's own artistic journey hit a marking point recently. In November, Janette painted some birch trees. Her friend suggested that she enter them into an emerging artist competition. Much to her surprise, she was a finalist in the competition.

In addition, the Jack Meier Gallery choose her as a finalist to be entered into a Gallery Representation Award Competition. As a result, some of her work will be displayed at the annual Art Muse and Jack Meier Gallery Exhibition. During the same week, her painting, "Birch,” was purchased.

That week, filled with successes, was proof that the six years hadn't been wasted.

Even in the last few months, Janette's skills have leapt to new heights. Laying against a wall are three large paintings. They are scenes from Ireland, commissioned for a new restaurant opening in Dedham. They will be delivered by the end of the week. They are also the largest paintings have Janette has done so far.

Janette teaches lessons for beginners in her studio. She hopes to teach women, like herself, who come knowing absolutely nothing about painting. Though she has become a teacher, she still considers herself a student of the craft.

"I'll never know everything. I probably know a tiny pin-hole amount of what there is out there." Unlike any other career she has had before, Janette feels that there is no end to what she can learn. She will continue to improve, and to paint better paintings.

"I hope the best painting I do in my life is the last one before I die."

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