Walls of Whittier brightened by new murals

Janette Louden /Joe Barr photo

Whittier Elementary School got to add some great new art to their halls last week, thanks to the talent of Janette Louden, a visual artist and former Kenosha resident.

Originally from England, Louden got her start working as a graphic designer for a firm there, and went on to illustrate characters for educational materials. This particular skill came in handy again after Louden moved to the U.S., and was asked to redesign the Whittier School mascot, Thunder Paws, during the time she lived in Kenosha.

Recently, Paula West, whom Louden used to share an office with, asked if Louden would be interested in painting a mural for Whittier. She agreed, though she says that it took a bit of thought about how best to do it, since she now lives in Minneapolis.

Louden explained:

“The principal wanted the murals to be portable so they could be moved, if necessary.  So, it was decided I’d paint them on wood panels. The wall that was to be used had a post dividing it, so we produced two separate pieces. I came up with two designs:  one with kids holding banners with the ‘Whittier Way Pledge’ on them, and one with a ‘Kenosha’ theme. There were a couple of changes made, and I designed the murals with a 3-D element to make it a little more interesting. Once I had the basic shape, I primed them and started to draw the design on and paint. We brought them down here just before Thanksgiving and I finished them at Art Work.”

The panels were taken to Whittier last Tuesday evening, where Louden talked with a scout troop about the project. She was back again on Wednesday morning to do four half-hour assemblies, where she unveiled the murals and spoke to the students. Louden enjoyed the questions that the children asked, including whether or not she knew sign language, along with a slew of inquiries about her home country. Many of them also asked how she knew how to “draw so good.”  Louden says that it was important to her to encourage the students to follow their dreams, and not to waver if anyone tells them that they won’t be successful.

“I failed art in school. I went on to do a two-year graphics course at my local college and was pretty much told that I’d never be able to succeed as a freelance illustrator, as it’s far too competitive. All I was any good at, at least in my opinion, was drawing, and I was being told I wasn’t good enough. That’s a hard thing to deal with. But it’s all I wanted to do. And now, I get paid for drawing! I have nine published children’s story books, and illustrations in hundreds of educational books all over the world. So I really wanted to get across to the kids not to let anyone tell you that you’re not going to be able to do something you really want to do. If you work hard enough and practice enough and don’t give up, you can achieve amazing things.”

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