Portrait of an Artist | Project HOME

Portrait of an Artist


As her horse galloped toward the fence, Janet Scobell readied herself for a maneuver she had performed countless times before during her competitive career.

She realized - too late - that this jump was to be anything but routine. The horse balked, throwing Janet, and, in its subsequent panic, trampled her back.

The accident left her on permanent disability, bringing to a premature close her 32-year primary career as a successful commercial artist. Scobell's sudden, steep decline in income forced her to sell her Delaware County home.

"Going on disability changed around my life big time," she said.

Scobell would land on her feet, however, acquiring an apartment at Kate's Place, our permanent housing residence for low- to moderate-income men and women located in Center City.

The abrupt transition would also provide her with the opportunity to rediscover a passion for fine art that had been largely suppressed for most of her adult life.

Scobell's artistic life began in earnest while in high school, despite the drumbeat of people telling her to avoid art as a career and pursue a more financially stable - and gender-appropriate - career like teaching. Scobell persisted, eventually winning a scholarship to Moore College of Art & Design. After graduation, she embarked upon a career in commercial art – a compromise made with her parents – that resulted in a certain financial and professional satisfaction, but did not allow much time to indulge her personal artistic passions.

After a 60-hour work week in service to others’ creative visions, Scobell admitted she “didn’t want to look at another piece of art.” She also became disillusioned with the meddlesome nature of clients in commercial design. “It was nerve-wracking – though every once in a while you got the chance to do something spectacular where they gave you full rein.”

Still, she didn’t spend much time dwelling on it; she was a mother and a homeowner, and this was the career she chose. “I guess I did it for so long I got lost in it,” she said.

Fortunately, in the aftermath of her accident, Scobell had her still-flickering artistic passion to carry her through the tough transition.

Scobell is now an energetic member of Project HOME’s impressive art community – adopting a leadership role in our Art Program, acting as mentor and friend to her fellow creators.

“Art can do so much for people,” she said, discussing the utility of the program. “If you’re shy it can really help open you up. It brings people together – a lot of great things can happen within that time you spend, a lot of ideas get pushed around. You start talking and you can resolve a lot of issues.”

For her part, Scobell feels she gets back as much as she gives to the program. “Being an artist is isolating; most of the work you do, you do by yourself. And what I always enjoy is being around other artists.” She gleans constant inspiration from her fellow artists, acknowledging that she still has much to learn.

In fact, she has only been using her favored medium – colored pencils – for a few years, after dropping oil painting due to space considerations. Scobell – who essentially had to teach herself to draw again while knocking off decades of rust – has fallen in love with the medium, as it best suits her almost unconscious desire to create photorealistic art.

“Whatever I do, I always end up adding in the detail,” she admitted with a laugh. Scobell also appreciates the chameleon-like quality to pencil art – a skilled hand can make a pencil drawing look like an oil painting, a photograph – anything, really.

The detail work of a colored pencil piece can take months – the colors are layered one upon another to create depth – and thus Scobell works from her photographs, capturing “whatever stops me and takes me away.” Scobell and her fellow practitioners are struggling to prove that pencil art – which has been dismissively compared by some to “photocopying” – is a valid fine art form.

“I’m sure if Michelangelo had a camera, he would have used it,” she said. “What are you going to do, ask a flying squirrel to stop and pose?”

Despite all of that, Scobell feels fortunate to be able to create art for herself again, though she cannot quite explain why she is compelled to do it.

“I just like to do things that catch me that are really dramatic or beautiful and I want to put them down on paper,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you how I do it; I just do it. There was a time when I thought everyone could do it.”

“It’s part of me. It’s what makes me.”