For many, designing high rises, museums and hotels would be creative outlet enough. Not so for Dan Janotta, a principal and senior designer at Johnson Fain. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, he began designing furniture, even opening a studio while still working full time at the firm. “It was an independent, creative extension of what I did at work,” he says. After the birth of his son, “something had to give,” he recalls, and he put his furniture work on the backburner.
Fast-forward a bit over a decade. His son was older, and he was feeling the need for a creative outlet yet again. This time around, instead of furniture, he turned to watercolors. It started with a series of paintings for his son’s birthday. Energized, he began a painting group at Johnson Fain (he had started a furniture group years before). “For six months, 15 people learned how to watercolor,” he says. “I hadn’t painted since college, but I realized I really liked this. It was a lot less expensive than designing furniture. I could do it myself, didn’t need machinery and could do it at home.”
He began with watercolors but found the medium to be too exacting and time consuming. Looking at artists whose work he admired, he discovered they were working with acrylics. Those offered him more flexibility and the chance to work more quickly. Ultimately, he took an oil painting class and found his true medium. “It’s allowed me to be looser and more abstract,” he says.
As time has gone on, his approach to his subject matter has grown looser as well. At first, given his training as an architect, Janotta was focused on “composition, vanishing points and perspective,” he says. Over the years, he’s changed his approach and works in a much more abstract way, capturing beach scenes and the urban life of Southern California as seen from the streets, highways and freeways.
“I started paining lifeguard stands—I liked the blues, the sand colors, the grays,” he says and focused on the area around his Hermosa Beach home. “As I started to paint, I didn’t like to do day scenes, which were so vivid and colorful; I liked the light at end of day with the long shadows and the contrast with the objects on beach.”
More recently, he has been concentrating more on scenes from Los Angeles, inspired by the hours each day he spends in the car. “I started taking photos on the way to work and began painting those scenes,” says Janotta. “I like getting the sky and the silhouettes of objects.”