janine du plessis
artist, illustrator
and chef!

We chat with Janine Du Plessis, Cape Town based artist, creator and illustrator of children’s books and qualified Chef, about her works, career and experiences.

I have been drawn to art and creative activities from as far back as I can remember. Recognizing my interest, my parents enrolled me in private art classes from an early age. I continued my private art classes throughout primary school and high school, and also studied art as a subject in high school.

When choosing a course to study at University, I decided against studying art as I believed it would not offer me viable career choices. I studied English Literature and Psychology at the University of Stellenbosch instead.

My desire to be creative however, became stronger during this time. I then enrolled at The Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and started my training to become a Chef. After qualifying, I was offered a position as assistant to renowned food editor and stylist, Abigail Donnely.
I loved working in the creative side of the food industry.
We did magazine features for publications such as VISI, television insert for shows like Top Billing, styled and photographed recipes for various chef’s cook books, did holiday catalogues for Woolworths and so much more.

Everyday was something new and exciting.
After some time with Abigail, an opportunity came up to take over ownership of an existing art gallery in Cape Town.
I decided to take a leap of faith and took over the gallery.

I renovated and modernized the gallery in line with spaces that I have visited throughout Europe, where modern galleries were white, light, minimalistic spaces.
I recruited young up and coming artists with fresh and interesting work and techniques, along with well known and established local artists.

During the years that followed I gained so much knowledge and in-depth understanding of the art world, and principles of art as a business.
The lessons I’ve learnt have been very helpful to me in establishing my own career as an artist and creative.
After managing the gallery for about 8 years, I made the decision close.
A personal loss intuitively catapulted me back into creating.

It became a pathway and aid towards healing. I painted mostly abstract artworks in different mediums as the freedom and unrestrained nature of this genre felt like an emotional release. I never imagined that I would show these works to the public!
I also designed a few giant, 1m x 1.2m colouring sheets for kids as a side project. I used Adobe Illustrator to draw images on my touchscreen laptop With a stylus, and created different themes, created packaging and labels, and started selling them to parents I knew.

The sheets turned out to be a huge hit with both parents and kids, and I soon sold and shipped hundreds each week from my apartment leaving me with no free time to paint.
I was asked by the owner of a local boutique hotel to design a few smaller art activities for their young guests -the ideas just kept coming and I ended up with enough material to create a whole book!

With the support of the hotel I familiarized myself with the process of publishing a book, choosing the  “self-publishing” route to remain in control of my work, and founded “Whimsical Studio Publishing” registering and trademarking the business and name.
Shortly thereafter, I published my first Children’s book, “Cape Town Explorer”, an interactive, illustrated guide book of famous Cape Town spots, with art activities included.

The book  is aimed at creating awareness and encouraging creative activity in young children.
I fell in love with the escapism that came with creating illustrations for kids.
I went on to write, illustrate and publish 4 more children’s books, including a children’s book exclusively for The Norval Foundation in Steenberg.

This led to me getting more and more freelance illustration jobs, for local hotels, lodges, wine farms and wedding stationary!  
The positive response to my illustration work gave me the courage to start showing my abstract artworks to an audience.

I posted some pieces on my Instagram account, and soon started selling my work through this platform.
For the first time in my life I felt like it was possible to earn an income from my art!

My style, genre and media preferences have changed and evolved and I am still changing and growing.
I don’t want to be trapped into creating in the same style continuously, and believe change and experimenting keeps you motivated and inspired.

I have a particular fascination with the natural world, specifically botanical illustrations.
I created a range of botanical illustrations called The Wildflower Series, which I now sell as limited-edition fine art prints.
Art prints are a wonderful way to increase your following by accommodating buyers or young collectors with a smaller budget, as these are much more affordable than originals.

The high standard scanning and printing equipment available produces very high-quality art prints which have become an art form in their own right.
It also allows me to sell multiple copies of popular works rather than just a once off sale.

The other subject I am passionate about is the painting or drawing of female portraits.
For me the figures symbolize inner strength and resilience and gentleness and vulnerability, all being parts of the feminine nature.
I love adding shadows and light in these portraits, from sources unknown to the viewer, to create a sense of mystery, intimacy and closeness.
This contrast evokes an emotional response in the viewer.

I am inspired by the perfection of nature, particularly the feathers of birds!
I try to replicate this perfection in my illustrations, and take thousands of photographs of anything I see throughout my day that I find beautiful or interesting.
I refer back to these when I feel creatively blocked, or need inspiration to decide what next to paint or draw.

Most of my work is drawn from photos I have taken.
Art as a career is not easy, and success is not a given regardless of how talented you are, or the effort you put in.

For me, the biggest obstacle to overcome was self-doubt and the fear of feeling exposed; being vulnerable to criticism that can leave an aspiring artist paralyzed into non-action.

Over time you become more resilient. Less affected by both positive and negative external responses focused on your unique path.

Social media is an incredible tool to utilize to “put yourself out there”.
It will help you to find your audience them find you.

Once you have found where you fit into the art market, you will grow, change and improve in response to what the market demands.
However as the well know art teacher and lecturer, Julia Cameron said, she has written many, many books in her career, one page at a time.
The same applies to art.
It’s best not to get overwhelmed by the outcome and rather to focus on one line or brush stroke at a time.

Trust your process and your unique talent!

To view there and other works by Janine and to get in contact with her,  you can go to Janine’s Instagram profile by simply clicking on the Instagram icon below.