Describe your path as an artist.
The earliest memories I have of my childhood are drawing on my grandfather’s porcelain kitchen table. He would teach me how to draw rabbits and turtles, and we were able to magically wipe the pencil marks off without ruining the table or getting in trouble. I also remember eagerly drawing portraits of Lincoln and Kennedy from the little matchbook ads. My childhood was focused on art, drawing, painting and modeling clay. I remember by the time I was seven years old, I would dedicate my life to art. It was the best thing to do for me and my life. I was always the best artist in my classes, however, I never had someone to guide me into what a career as an artist may be.
Although art was always the center of my life, and I knew I would be a professional artist by the time I was seven, I never had formal training until I went to Northern Arizona University. Fortunately, as I majored in illustration, I had a wonderful instructor named Chris Magadini. He was an inspiring instructor who encouraged the best from his students. He became my first mentor, and we remain friends and painting peers to this day.
My training as an illustrator and my eight years as a freelance illustrator was an excellent foundation for a fine artist. The skills necessary for working in the demanding advertising field honed the skills that now continue to influence and execute my paintings. I continued my studies at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, taking workshops from many fine artists. In addition to my training as an illustrator, my eyes were awakened to the new world painting on location. The countless hours outside, directly observing nature and color, taught me truly how to see as an artist. This directly influenced my illustration work, but more importantly, it impassioned need for me to continue painting from life, en plein air and for myself. I worked as a freelance illustrator from 1979 to 1987. Since 1987, I have made my living painting, writing books and teaching occasional workshops.
From the time I learned how to hitch hike around the country without more than a few dollars in my pocket, I was always an impassioned traveler. I have traveled most of the world. New places and faces have inspired my work and my whole career. New unexpected places keep me curious. Every day feels like a vacation. On vacation, one’s senses are at their highest level. An artist needs to be sensitive, so for a plein air artist, travel is a perfect companion. I spend months at a time away from home, painting every day, visiting museums and experiencing the lifestyle of many different cultures. Art is a universal language that opens many doors in every place I go.
How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?
Impressionistic realism. I am a plein air painter depicting nature’s color, light and atmosphere. My paintings are based on nature’s color relationships. I find visual poetry in the combinations of color. Honed by years of acute observation, my eye has been sensitized to look for beauty in natural subjects. This beauty is revealed by light, filtered through atmosphere and colored by my mind. The landscape is my favorite subject. I strive to express qualities in nature that are universal, without using formulas. People comment that they leave my paintings with a good feeling. This tells me I have created a bridge between the mind of the painter and that of the viewer. My enchantment with color and light is the genesis for my paintings, and, of course, travel offers inexhaustible sources for subject matter.
What ideas do you explore in your work?
I seek to find the relationships of color and value and the light and atmosphere that makes each moment unique, special and transitory, just as life’s moments are as precious. Plein air painting is an act of being present. I believe my paintings represent four dimensions. The illusion of reality on a flat surface, but also the fourth dimension of time. The shadows represent the past, the light the future and where they meet is truly the only moment of present.
I paint the space, the air between me and the subject. This space is different all the time, being filtered by light, color and atmosphere. Each day, each moment will have different combinations and different relationships of values and color. I must observe directly and very carefully to find these relationships that make each painting unique.
What do you want people to know about your work?
It is for sale.
Where do you find inspiration?
What inspires me most is color, light and atmospheric effects. Nature offers me infinite combinations. I actually do not know what the next motif will be. I must always be on call and be aware of my surroundings and accepting of the many opportunities that nature puts before me. The combination of colors and value patterns, clear air or dense air, the light of the evening sun or even the glare of high noon may inspire me. I live in a beautiful rural area, high in the mountains east of Taos, New Mexico, surrounded by pines, aspens and animals. The beautiful changing seasons have inspired many of my paintings, including my series of 368 paintings called “Reflections on a Pond.” This series really sums up what my painting is all about. It’s not so much about a beautiful subject out my window, but the ever-changing light and atmosphere and compositional opportunities that nature puts forth.
Once you become sensitive to nature’s effects, anything in any place will become inspiring. You will find that the land has not changed, rather, it is your eyes that have changed. The world is filled with colorful locations right outside your backdoor. Commune with nature in a familiar spot. See it again… for the first time. When painting from life, we have a direct connection with the subject. We see more clearly, and we feel the subject with all our senses.
Which artists living and master artists inspire you?
I have always been drawn towards the impressionists; French, Russian, American, especially Californian impressionists. Specifically, Monet, Andrew Wyeth, Nicolai Fechin, Sorolla and the American illustrators, Pyle, Cornwell, Rockwell and Calligraphy. Now with the internet, we have so many artists to see at the click of a button. There are so many living artists and past artists that I admire who were representational and abstract painters and sculptors.
In fact, finding your own voice and trusting and believing in yourself and what you have to offer is one of the most important things you could do for yourself as an artist. There are so many good artists available to look at, to compare and to persuade you to copy. All the great masters were humans, and yes, they are great, and we put them on a pedestal, but each of you has something worthy and unique to say, and if you can believe in yourself, you have a chance of becoming a very fine, successful artist. If you could paint like any artist in the world, who would that be? There is really only one answer, that is Y O U.
What’s your workspace like? When and where do you like to create your art?
Well, as a plein air artist, I have travelled, painted and taught classes in over thirty-five counties, so my workspace is outdoors, within grand landscapes and exciting cities around the world. I have had a love for travel since I was a young man, and fortunately, I can work (paint) wherever I go. I have a beautiful, large studio beside my home in the mountains of Taos, New Mexico. Our property borders the national forest. It is a tranquil environment that offers a respite from my world travels and a busy social lifestyle. We are presently building a new home and studio in Baja, Mexico with a view of the Sea of Cortez. The last two months, I had a temporary studio in Guangzhou, China, preparing large paintings for my “Reflections on a Pond” exhibit which is presently on Museum tour in China.
What does a typical work day/week look like when you are working on your art?
I often work or play in splurges. Winter skiing may take me away from painting for a while, as does teaching a workshop or judging a show. Writing a book takes a lot of determination and an enormous block of time, all of which takes away from the actual painting. I enjoy the mix of other creative pursuits to mix it up. Painting excursions away from home are usually a very focused time for a month or two, painting everyday. I usually work on dedicated projects for blocks of time.
We obviously have many things we need to do to survive, such as care for our families and all the work related for a career in art, as it is much more than just painting. Painting can be meditative and also very demanding hard work and exhausting. This month I am painting large works for my show, working ten to twelve hours a day. I must tell you, I am very tired but hope to be rewarded with good work accomplished. A good three to six hours a day of concentrated practice and playful painting will often be the norm. Hours can disappear when you are enjoying painting. Inspiration will find you if you work a little everyday. A professional painter goes to work everyday. You can’t just wait to be inspired. That only happens in a movie about a crazy artist.
How do you prepare for a new project (process)?
I usually have many ideas brewing and doing at once, but eventually, each project takes precedent, and after great procrastination, I focus and work intense hours, weeks, months, whatever it takes to get it done.
What is your next project?
I just had my third art instructional book published. “Light, Atmosphere and Color,” the first edition, is published in the Chinese language. I will print an English version that should be available at the end of this year.
Our lives have been blessed with the art spirit. Because of this, recent years have found me in Mexico, Guatemala and China volunteering and offering art opportunities to underprivileged children. I have created a non-profit foundation: Artamabassador.org. The universal language of art crosses all borders. My hope is that children will have the chance to dream in color. This project has not only already drawn smiles on many children but also on my own face.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Time. Time to do all of the things that I’d like to accomplish. I realize life is short. Finding the balance to do what I want and learn to say no to distractions is a goal.
What are your artistic goals?
This past decade, I have ventured on my own in China for inspiration. This unfamiliar land, language and subject matter have reignited my artistic fire. I have been totally out of my comfort zone, and I love it. Inspiration comes at unexpected times and places. I need time, some quiet time, to let my mind wander and wonder. I am commissioning myself to create and encounter novel ways of thinking and challenging myself to new subject matters with permission to fail. We must challenge ourselves with new ideas and embrace change. Change is at the core of progress.
Travel to Asia has surprisingly shifted my gears. I went as a landscape painter, but I was so inspired by the people and faces of China that I began painting portraits and figurative works. I find this subject very challenging. An artist must go with inspiration wherever that leads. It takes years and years to master the skills necessary to communicate inspiring works of art. It is also a danger to become too comfortable repeating one’s success. It is interesting that we work so hard to figure out how to do it, but when we reach that place of knowing, most artists I admire will raise the bar and find new challenges. Curiously, it is finding something new searching for the unknown that motivates an artist. There can be many obstacles and discouragements along the way, but if a person follows their dream, it will never feel like work. If you’re not self motivated, one will never ever reach full potential.
Tell us something surprising about your creative process or your working style.
Because of my interest in China and the culture, I am learning Chinese and learning the written language as well. I can now recognize and understand with deeper meaning what this wonderful county has to offer. Although my language skill is still elementary, my brush and colors can communicate my joy of life, the joy of creativity that colors everything else we do in life. Many children with whom I volunteer live in rural areas that don’t have the opportunity for art and creativity. I hope my small contribution as Artambassador may make a difference one stroke at a time. What I teach as an Artambassador is that being an artist is not always easy or practical but it starts with pure joy. Art is an inherent gift, but this gift must be unwrapped. It starts with play but takes endurance, discipline and hard work. Art fuels oneself for a lifetime of study and curiosity. Perhaps being an artist will not be their job, but it will influence how they react in their world with others and influence how they solve problems.