Janelle Thompson, visual artist, illustrator and sculptor

Dear Readers:  Writers, when casting around for ideas, often fall back on the useful advice to “write about what you know.” But how do visual artists find their inspiration? Today we’ll meet local artist and sculptor Janelle Thompson, who finds inspiration for her work in the beauty of nature, animals and in finding common ground among people with varying backgrounds and experiences.

A lifelong resident of Ladysmith, Janelle, whose father was a printer, says she always had paper available and loved to draw from an early age, especially animals. Academically, Janelle reports she was initially most interested in biology and math. She credits two teachers for helping develop her artistic skills, but in very different ways. Ruth Whitmore taught her painting and drawing both in grade and high school, and John Cardinal was her high school drafting instructor.

Once out of school, Janelle’s first job was working as a soil conservation technician for the Soil Conservation Service in its Rusk County office. She next worked with the City of Ladysmith as an engineering aide, which involved drafting, mapping and work with topographic maps. Janelle says even today she draws with a technical pencil and has a “draftsman-like style” to her pen and ink work. In 1987 she went to work for Artisans designing imprinted sportswear done by “stippling” (making dots with a pen). After eight years of this detailed work, Janelle developed carpal tunnel syndrome and had to give up her job. She then free-lanced for a screen print company called Art Unlimited, which involved creating watercolor paintings for imprinted sportswear where brushes replaced her stippling pen. Janelle discovered she particularly enjoyed the “mystery watercolor can create,” and watercolor remains her favorite painting medium today. 

More recently Janelle has turned her artistic talents in new directions. She has illustrated two children’s books by local author Eileen Ziesler, Toads and Little Sprout, and in 2010 was honored by then- Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton for her artwork in Toads. And for the past year she has been creating needle-felted sculpture. Janelle says her studies in biology and animal anatomy have been extremely helpful in this “completely fun” new endeavor. Although she has created two fairy sculptures and a nativity scene, most of her sculptures are of animals ranging from delicate fawns to lions and polar bears. In creating her sculptures Janelle says she first constructs a wire frame, covers it with pipe cleaners wrapped in wool roving, then sculpts wool pieces onto the framework to resemble muscle and bones. The final step is to create a “felt pelt” to cover the whole sculpture.

In 2006 and again in 2009 Janelle traveled with a church group to the country of Malawi, in southeast Africa. Malawi, she relates, is known as “the warm heart of Africa” and she found herself very taken with the openness and warmth of the people there, and the slower pace of life in which “people take time to talk together.” Her Malawian experiences have inspired Janelle to take on two new artistic projects. She is currently working, along with fellow African travel companion Diane Kaufmann, on a book titled A Malawi Welcome, Life in the Warm Heart of Africa. Additionally, she plans another book with Eileen Ziesler, based on Eileen’s poem about African life and animals. Janelle also wants to continue building felted fairy sculptures and develop a book on fairies and mythical beings.

In 2004 Janelle and her husband, Keith, built an art studio for her at their home. Anyone interested in viewing or purchasing Janelle’s work or discussing a commissioned piece is invited to make a studio appointment by calling 715-532-6912 or by contacting her at her e-mail address: amadcatstudio@me.com. Janelle’s work is also available at the RAAA Gift Gallery, 711 Lake Ave. W. in Ladysmith.

by Pegeen Snoeyenbos