Painting Jane Robertson stands smiling beside one of her agricultural landscape paintings

Northumberland Hills Studio Tour: Jane Robertson on Interpreting the Landscape

“I get most of my inspiration probably within 15 kilometres of where I live here. It’s just not necessary to go much further,” says painter Jane Robertson.

Visitors on the Northumberland Hills Studio Tour, which ran September 9-10 in 2023, would probably agree—the region’s expansive landscapes lend themselves to painting. “It’s really about patterns and shapes, right?” Robertson explains. “When I look over the landscape I see this great big yellow field ahead of me dotted with some trees here and there, and it’s almost done the abstraction for me. In many ways that simplified agricultural landscape that we’re in very much suits my style.”

Driving between self-guided stops along the tour route provides ample opportunities to appreciate her perspective. Robertson herself has lived in Northumberland County for over a decade now, and spent the last five years painting from her studio in Gore’s Landing. After a demanding career in Toronto, she and her husband decided to decamp in search of someplace “little quieter and a little saner.” Robertson has worked as both an illustrator and in system and software development, but the shift to the country allowed her to concentrate on her first love, painting.

Her days as an illustrator saw her working mainly in gouache and acrylic, but lately it’s been oil painting that speaks to her most. “I think oils are much more fluid and blendable compared to other paint mediums,” she says. “As the mediums go, it’s one of the more relaxing ones because if you don’t like what you just did, it’s easy to remove it and try again.”

In addition to her immediate surroundings, Robertson has also interpreted local hotspots, such as the Cobourg and Port Hope waterfronts. “At some point, I’ve painted pretty much throughout all of Northumberland,” she says. “There really isn’t anywhere in Northumberland that isn’t paintable.”

As a member of the Northumberland Hills Studio Tour organizing committee, Robertson is quick to point out she’s not the only artist who feels that way. Thirty artists opened their studio doors for this year’s tour, showcasing a wide range of disciplines and approaches. “I’ve noticed in recent years there’s a greater interest in the fibre arts,” Robertson adds, citing recent Tour addition Ixchel Suarez as an example.

Artists on the tour are required to have an education component to their presentation, so each stop is typically an opportunity to learn something new. Robertson has some advice for visitors curious about trying a studio tour next year. “Often I find people come into the studio and it’s apparent that they want to make conversation with me but it’s also apparent they just don’t know how to start,” she says. “If you want to engage that artist, the fail-proof question is, ‘what is your process?’ How did you get from some idea up there in your head to this product here? Artists can also be shy, but that’s one question I can guarantee will solicit a response.”

Now that the tour has past, Robertson and her fellow Northumberland artists will be focusing their attention on the changing of the seasons. Whether it’s a distinctive arrangement of hay bales in a field or the pattern of shadows on snow, the subtle evolution of the landscape is a reliable source of inspiration. “I have a neighbour who’s generous enough to let me use their farm to take the dog in,” Robertson says. “I walk the same trail day in, day out, and you know, four years later I still see paintings that I should do down there. It may be the same landscape, but it’s a different season now, or it’s a different time of day, or it’s a different atmosphere. It changes from hour to hour.”

Visit the Northumberland Hills Studio Tour page

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