Below is an interview with painter and architect, Dan Janotta,
who recently spoke with Riviera View about his painting process.
Hermosa Walk Street
RV: When did you begin painting?
DJ: As an architect, I’m exposed daily to traditional design and digital graphic applications. While pursuing my bachelor and graduate degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign I also learned traditional approaches to art. As students, we were required to have some watercolor and figure painting classes and I’ve always been a good illustrator and liked drawing by hand so I was never afraid of it.
In the 90s, I began designing furniture and was quite successful. I had a gallery on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach called Janotta Furniture and we also showed in galleries in San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale. Furniture design was a good creative outlet, but it was expensive because I had to pay someone to build my designs. Back then a prototype cost anywhere from $500 – $2000 (about $850-$3500 today) and then the gallery would want a cut so it was difficult to realize a profit. While designing furniture and running my gallery, I was simultaneously working during the day as an architect. Then I became a dad and as my son grew older I got very engaged in that. I spent a lot of time with him so it became difficult to keep everything running. I closed down the furniture gallery and suddenly had some free time so I wrote a book called, “The Day in the Life of My Son” with watercolor illustrations. The paintings were okay but I learned that I really liked painting and thought that I should probably try to do more of it. I started taking classes at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester with Bonita Helms as my instructor. Hailing from the Midwest, I was drawn to the beach scenes so I started painting local landscapes.
When I first started out, I donated some paintings to my son’s school and they sold well at auctions so I started to get more serious about it. I set up a booth at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair and in the Hermosa Beach Art Walk, then developed a website. In the last six months people have begun to recognize my work and are buying and commissioning it.
How did your style evolve?
DJ: Designing furniture is a very precise and exacting art, very much like architecture. I was working digitally all day, being exact all day, so my creative outlet had to be the opposite of that. When I started painting, I painted from photographs taken usually at the end or the beginning of the day when the light was great. I used to take a photograph, blow it up and put graphite behind it but that became too time consuming so I started studying the expressionists with their less exact paintings.
As I progress in my paintings I’m getting looser and looser. So my figurative style comes out of trying to be loose.
What element do you first focus on when choosing a subject?
DJ: I usually paint on the weekends at the beginning of the day and try to get the basic elements; the composition first, then start building it up, then the last thing I’ll detail-in is the lifeguard stand, and the people. I’m still working on people, they are hardest thing I do. That’s something I’m still learning about and taking courses on.
King of the Beach
Which artists inspire you?
DJ: Edward Hopper inspires me the most as an American painter with his figures looking out the windows – and his somewhat architectural style. Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff who were both San Francisco artists during the 50s and 60s. Diebenkorn got very abstract in the end. William Wendt was a figurative painter out of Laguna Beach. He painted the mountains and more rugged seascapes like the cliffs of Laguna, more like we do in architecture with repeating patterns. And Hockney. I like his people.
El Porto #1
Aside from beach towns, what other cities would you like to paint?
DJ: Downtown L.A.. I’d like to have a gallery show with the subject matter covering the L.A. scene – the Downtown freeway area.
I paint what moves me, what is familiar and because I work downtown those are the scenes is see every day. I go down Grand Avenue every day and the lighting is great. Grand Avenue starts up at Bunker Hill and when you’re looking south, down the street, with buildings on both sides and then above there is the skyline with that great light. Also I’d like to paint the Midwest, the farm fields. I grew up there. We had a large field behind our house. My father worked on the railroad and to keep us busy he had us work on the land. So I want to do more of those farmland-focused landscapes. And also Chicago – which is another subject matter I want to hit in the next couple of years. There is a lot of untapped inspiration there.
What qualities make up for a great painting?
DJ: Composition first. When I take a picture I usually take about 50 shots to get the one I like. Second is the light. I want to make sure the lighting is dramatic – I like the idea of backlighting the composition (William Wendt did that a lot. The lighting was always in front of you).
Actually, composition and light are probably equal elements. And color. People like my paintings because I really emphasize my color. I’ve done things on foggy days where the color is muted and people like that color.
Lighted Pier #2
What qualities do you admire most in others?
DJ: Hardworking ethic, proven talent, honesty, and people that don’t put up a front.
First painting memory?
DJ: A relative on my mother’s side lived in Arizona and sent our family a subscription to Arizona Highways. The cover of the magazine always had a photograph of a desert scene. And so I copied one of those covers. It was very much the style I paint in now: a desert scene with cactus and boulders and great light in the sky. My first acrylic ever…but I'm not sure where it ended up.
To see more of Dan's work, click here.