Janny Wurts and Don Maitz

Janny Wurts is not only a talented artist she is also a talented writer, with numerous published novels and paintings. Her husband is Don Maitz, who, if you’re not familiar with, is most famous for creating Captain Morgan, the spiced rum character.

Captain Morgan by Don Maitz

Captain Morgan by Don Maitz

I first encountered both of them during a panel they did with Stephen Hickman and Matt Hughes, discussing Art Show Juries and what they are looking for. After the panel Janny and Don encouraged people to come by their booth to talk to them further, and I did just that.


I showed my work to Janny Wurts first and I have to say it was an eye opener. Janny does not pull any punches and her criticism of my work was very helpful. Her initial comment was that my art was borderline between cartoony and realistic, and that I needed to focus on one or the other. She said I needed to find my artistic voice and make pictures that speak to something and have emotion. Right know she said most of my painting were just pictures. She also said that the values in my work were flat, and that I used the same value over the whole piece, this meant that the eye wasn’t drawn to any one place. She said I needed to focus on what was important in the piece and lose the details in other places.

Janny also explained to me that nothing about painting is fast. If you cut corners than the painting will suffer. She encouraged me to get a book on perspective, and really practice. Janny also suggested that I spend more time getting science down of each piece before finishing piece working out details and values before going to paint. She vary clearly stated that my line work was not good, she pointed out that I used the same line all around the figures, no thick and thin, which made the piece flat. She stressed that I needed to spend more time with my drapery, mentioning that the clothing didn’t fall quite right in a lot of my work. Janny said that I needed to use references, suggesting that a tablecloth posed in right way can fake cloaks and capes.

Most of all Janny said that I needed to draw what I love. Adding that if I didn’t love drawing backgrounds, then I shouldn’t draw backgrounds. Art is an involved and time-consuming process, it is important to love everything about it. The things that you love about art is where your own artist’s voice comes from.

After showing my portfolio to Janny I took it over to Don to hear his comments. Don to me spoke about consistency. Stating that I needed to have an artist’s voice and only show my best. Don explained in detail the difficulties I was having with value.

In art, we talk about values from 1 to 10, specifically white through black. The viewer will focus on the area where the 1 and 10 are closest. This is called the area of highest contrast. In art the most important part of a piece should be the area of highest contrast, because that area will bring the most attention. Don explained that my work was flat because I didn’t pay attention to where the 1 and 10 fell.

Don also expressed that I needed to work more on feeling what is in my pieces. That I needed to put myself in each picture and try to experience the emotions my characters were feeling. Then I needed to convey those emotions both in tonal quality and characters’ expressions. One trick to is to establish a value pattern before doing the painting, considering that if a value is light, it will convey more happy emotions, and if a value is dark it will convey more moody or sad emotions.

Don had a few other suggestions for improvement. He recommended going to figure drawing class, that being a master of the figure is key to fantasy art. He said I should think in terms of light. One way to do this was getting a candle and doing sketches of objects being illuminated in candlelight. In the modern world, we are used to multiple light sources that make people green and flat, and drawing from candlelight was a good way to get past this.

Once again it was stressed to me that I should do what I find fun. Don explained that art is not a fast process, and I should spend weeks and months on paintings not days. With that kind of time investment if you weren’t having fun with it, you were not doing a good job.

I really appreciate both Don and Janny for all their comments. Together they spent more than an hour talking with me and going over my portfolio. While at times it was hard to hear their comments, they were exactly the kinds of comments I needed to hear. These two really opened my eyes to the world of art, and I feel that I am quite fortunate to have been able to learn so much in such a short period of time.

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