Cancer survivor's art challenge a daily hit

02:06, Feb 09 2013

Ten years ago, St Arnaud artist Jan Thomson was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer.

Her specialist told her if she did nothing, she would be dead in two years. Chemotherapy and radical surgery could buy her 10.

She had only begun painting just two years earlier, at the age of 46, and the news co-incided with her first exhibition, in Wellington.

"One minute I'm sailing along having my first exhibition, thinking ‘this is quite cool', then the next day I suddenly find that I might not be around for much longer," she said.

Thomson made it through the surgery and continued to paint but along with her husband, moved from the hustle and bustle of Wellington, where they had been for about 30 years, to their tranquil St Arnaud block where they built an eco-friendly house and Jan's studio.

She says her painting and cancer have been closely linked and she always thought she should do something to recognise this. Three weeks ago she began her "One Painting a Day" fundraiser.


Thomson is doing "One Painting a Day" for 30 days in watercolour and putting them up for auction each day on Trade Me.

Proceeds from each auction get put aside and at the end of the 30 days, Thomson will send a cheque with the total proceeds to the Malaghan Institute in the United States which specialises in scientific and medical research. Thomson's proceeds are earmarked for cancer research, a topic close to her heart.

Her daily paintings were planned and drawn from memories or photographs and include still life, landscapes, animals and a Bedford truck.

Each painting takes roughly an hour including applying the mat and they measure 180mm x 140mm.

"They are just a little ‘taster' of what I do."

So far, people have paid $40 to $170 for the paintings.

St Arnaud resident Betty Butters admires what Thomson is doing and thinks she is a good watercolour artist. Mrs Butters won a painting of a brown trout and says a visiting relative saw it and wanted it.

"I think her paintings are very clever," she said. "And it's all going to a good cause."

Thomson says they have to be done quickly, dry and packaged up for despatch the next day, which is why oils was not an option.

She laughs when she describes setting up the project.

"I did it through my website initially and every night at 20 past seven, I would get all these emails from people bidding and I would be trying to email them back," she said. "Then I got on to Trade Me and it was so much easier."

Initially she also worried that no-one would buy them but she need not have.

"It's been quite exciting," she said.

"And it's been quite entertaining watching everyone get right behind it. Everybody has got somebody in their family [who has had cancer] or have had it themselves. It just affects so many people. It just felt like something nice I could do."

She said the fundraiser was also good timing because they had just finished building their house and she felt she needed something disciplined to do.

"Artists are the worst procrastinators in the world."

She looks on her life and her cancer positively. She is still in remission and recently received a clearance in her 10-year check up.

"It's been a bit of a treasure, a bit of a privilege," she said. "Our whole family looks at life quite differently now."

"One Painting a Day" has nine days left to run.

You can view the paintings on Thomson's website and visit Trade Me to bid on the daily paintings at

The Nelson Mail