Jane Marshall

StudioPrinting a Message

by Brett Levine

Photo by Jerry Siegel


“One thing I have always respected about Birmingham since we moved here 16 years ago has been the generosity of the creative community,” Jane Marshall says as we stand in one of her two home workspaces overlooking the city. “When I first arrived, I met a whole range of artists who welcomed me as an artist and a practitioner and that formed the foundation of the long-lasting friendships I have to this day.”

Marshall, a well-respected artist, works across a range of media, from printmaking to painting, from ceramics to sculpture. “I trained as a printmaker,” she says, “but my mind needs stimulus from other things. What I find is that I am drawing all the time, and that the drawings will often be the basis for a work in some other form. Usually that’s a print, but sometimes it may even be a watercolor first, or a woodcut, or something else entirely.”

She is perhaps best known for her prints, a medium she continues to explore passionately. Whether working on a large scale, as she did as part of the Alabama Big Prints exhibition in 2002, where she was able to work with printmaker Scott Stephens, or on a smaller scale in the reduction prints she does on a press in her downstairs workroom, her process is always about refinement and exploration. “What I like about printmaking is that there is no answer,” she says. “You’re always improvising, like a musician. I’m not a technical person, so I like the flow of process. Also, I usually work in very small editions. Since I do reduction prints [a process that involves slowly cutting away more and more material from the block after each color is laid], it basically limits the number of prints in the edition anyway. I normally only do editions of five, and I probably only do about six prints a year.”

Part of Marshall’s modesty stems from the fact that she is focused on so many other creative projects in any single moment. She has created beautiful drawings for collaborative books, as well as a book of 15 poems by Mary Wehner, hand-printed by Steve Miller’s Red Hydra Press Books in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Marshall has collaborated with Miller and Red Hydra Press on several occasions. As she explains, “It is very difficult when you are working with poetry, because it isn’t just a matter of doing an illustration. The poem is evocative, and the image has to do the same. If it doesn’t, the reader gets far too simple a perspective on the poem by taking a quick look at the image and neither the poem nor the drawing does the other a service.”

Marshall also focuses on ceramics as part of her creative practice. “I have been working in ceramics for about eight years,” she says. “At first I was fortunate to be able to learn with Kevin Irwin at her studio, and then I began to work with Scott Bennett. Now, I do studio work at Red Dot Gallery and use their wonderful facilities.” Marshall has also fired pieces in the anagama kiln at Montevallo with Scott Meyer, whom she holds in very high regard. In ceramics, she continues to explore the metaphorical and allegorical imagery that is central to all of her studio practices. “All of my work finds its foundations in some form of the natural world,” she says. “But it is also based in the many influences I have had through reading, through looking at art, and through traveling. When I travel, for example, I like to spend time looking, but I don’t necessarily stop and sketch what I see. When I was in Italy, I had a small sketchbook, so when I got home at night I would do small drawings from memory. I wanted to try to catch the essence of the memory, but when I was there, I wanted to take the time to look at what was in front of me.”

This process of active engagement and subsequent detachment allows Marshall to move within and between her subjects comfortably, leaving them and coming back to them as she wishes. “It’s not that I get tired of subjects,” she says. “They just end. I let go of things and come back.”

Her capacity to move between media with ease is evident in her studio, where a similar work is visible in three media. On the table are a drawing and a watercolor, while a woodcut painting sits on an easel. They all share the same subject. “We have a cottage that gets a lot of visitors,” she says. “I wanted to find a way to visually share the joy we have there. I started by drawing the idea. I thought it would make a nice watercolor. Then, I felt like the work itself could handle more depth, so I began this painting. I usually work in oils, but acrylics work better on this material. To be honest, I seem to prefer the older, more difficult media for both painting and printmaking. They’re harder to handle I guess, but I think that sometimes they feel like they work better.”

For Marshall, every day is a studio day. “I try to work at least three hours a day,” she says. There, in her two workspaces, filled with light, taking her time, Marshall finds the subtlety and beauty of the medium. Whether in paint, in print, on wood, or in clay, her works share the optimism of the everyday.

4 Responses to “Jane Marshall”

  1. Ann Yasuhara says:

    A rich and beautiful article! Thank you. As cousins growing up in the same town (Madison, WI) we’ve known each other forever. This article captures, certainly better than I could, what she is doing and who she is. The comment “It is very difficult when you are working with poetry, because it isn’t just a matter of doing an illustration. The poem is evocative, and the image has to do the same. If it doesn’t, the reader gets far too simple a perspective on the poem by taking a quick look at the image and neither the poem nor the drawing does the other a service.” is so deeply wise. I wouldn’t have thought of, but recognize it with a “wow, yes!”.

  2. Kevin Irwin says:

    Jane and her work are very inspiring. She works from the heart and pulls from such an honest and deep place within her spirit. which results in her work being unique, fresh,and alive.
    Beauty, Humor, Truth, her work is exciting and timeless.
    She is gifted to have mastered so many difficult mediums and make them all seem effortless.
    A wonderfull article on an amazing artist!

  3. Mint Evans says:

    As this lovely article explains, Jane has always found a way to visually share the joys and struggles of her life through her work. Like many others, I have had the privilege of a friendship with her for many years. Jane’s artistic eye, vivid imagination and innovative approach to her prints, drawings, paintings and her life are an ongoing inspiration to all of us. Thank you, Jane Marshall.

  4. Carolyn Fratessa Brennan says:

    Jane, I just discovered you from the article I found on the web! Years ago I tried to get your your address from Dick McCoy but what he sent was so garbled that I couldn’t reach you. What joy it was to see your face in the photo.
    If you get this note please contact me. I would love to reconnect with you.

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