Winner of the Fine Art America Tony Award
When did you first become interested in art?
I first began photography as a child, taking pictures of things around me with disposable cameras. My dad passed when I was 13 and it was something I really got into to help recover from the trauma involved with that. Around age 14, I got my first digital camera and upgraded to a DSLR at 16. I worked for a newspaper while still in high school and especially enjoyed shooting sports, but landscapes remained my favorite. Funny enough, in high school, I didn’t do particularly well in art class. I took it for one year and didn’t feel competent enough to continue. It was more 3D art, but from a conceptual standpoint, I struggled applying academic theory to visual creations. I did continue photography into my college years and was even invited to be a teaching assistant for the photography course at the University of Wyoming, which I did for two years under the supervision of the professor. I actually didn’t decide to start selling prints of my photos until January 2019, a couple of years after I moved to Arizona. I joined Fine Art America, and seeing there were a lot of painters there, I wanted to try painting too. It was a little hard to get the hang of but I found it relaxing and easy to get lost in. After several months of practicing and looking up tips online, I came into my own style and have since sold prints and originals of my paintings, which is very rewarding. For the purposes of the remaining questions, I am answering them with my paintings only in mind – not photography – as I do both, but feel painting is a more personal form of art for me.
“My Highway” by Jason Aldean
What style of art do you use most?
It is hard to say what exactly I use as an art style. I think it’s predominantly impressionism, but I’ve been told I have expressionist qualities as well. It is a home-grown style that doesn’t really conform to any rules or follows any concepts but comes together in a way that is unique. I like to let light and color dominate, with less emphasis on detail and realism. But I do value keeping the landforms as true to real life as I can. A vast majority of what I paint are landscapes. I have done a handful of animals and even a touch of abstract, too.
Has your style changed from when you first began as an artist?
When I first began, I really emphasized detail on mountains with loose skies and foregrounds. I have always loved mountains so I would really make them focal points. These days, I put less emphasis on mountains and more on establishing depth by developing a strong foreground and dynamic sky. I still incorporate mountains into most paintings but they are not as dominant. I’ve also allowed light to play a bigger role than it used to, sometimes even using an airbrush to create effects such as glowing sunlight. My brush strokes have actually gotten bigger and bolder!
I received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism from the University of Wyoming in 2015 but have not pursued a journalism career to date.
What medium do you use?
I primarily paint in acrylics on stretched canvas. I’ve painted in oils but I prefer acrylics. Sometimes I also set the background with gesso to make a smoother surface to paint on. Once in a blue moon, I will paint on canvas panel or even watercolor on paper.
What made you choose that medium?
Acrylics are more affordable than oils, easier to work with (at least in terms of thinning, cleanup, and drying time), are easier to layer, and just “feel” like they go on the canvas more fluidly than oil. If oil was easier to thin and clean without the need for a bunch of chemicals, I would definitely paint in oils more for their blending qualities and richer color. I have also tried water soluble oils and found them to not be the same.
Do your ideas come from life or imagination?
Most of my ideas are based on real life – particularly Arizona landscapes, since I live in Arizona. But I like to put imaginative twists on them. A vast majority of my paintings are based on real natural features. I want the viewer to be able to recognize them. But I will take a lot of artistic liberties. More often than not, the skies and foregrounds are improvised to allow me to control the composition and feel of the work. I also like to paint rare events- snowy desert scenes or little comets and supernovas in night skies. I also like to paint scenes during sunrise because I’m too much of a night owl to ever be out photographing at sunrise! A handful of paintings are completely from my imagination, and a couple of them are among my favorites (including “Sunset of the Sea.”)
How do you choose your images and colours?
Many of my paintings are loosely based on photographs I took during photo shoots. On the rare occasion that I am painting a place I’ve not yet been to, I will use a public domain image as reference. I never paint verbatim though – I simply use reference photos to get the layout of the landscape correct. I often chose photos of my own as reference that I didn’t think were good enough to sell as photos. The color depends entirely on the mood I am trying to set. I really don’t apply color theory and paint instead what I think looks “neat.” If it is a sunset, there is a lot of warm colors I’ll throw in. Night scenes are entirely cool. Usually, I stick to one end of the spectrum – either a painting will be warm or it will be cool. But I mix them from time to time for interesting results.
Do you work in a studio?
I do not. I work off an easel and just have my supplies out on the kitchen table when I work. I would like to be affluent enough someday to have a studio, though.
Who is your favourite artist?
My favorite artist is FAA member Jerry Bokowski. He lives in my area and does some of the most stunning depictions of southwestern landscapes. He is a realist but is able to keep a certain nuance to his work that makes it look like art. Some realists produce technically outstanding work, but they look like photographs. Jerry is able to produce stunning detail and clarity but still make it look like a painting and it is very striking.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
“Finger Rock Trail Night” was a magical little night scene based on a prominent peak just to the north of Tucson. I love the Finger Rock trailhead area that this work depicts, and I love the stars at night, so this was a combination of the two. I painted this when I was feeling a little down about myself and my art – and lo and behold, not only was it accepted into a juried art exhibit but it ended up selling, which was the impetus for me to have real confidence in my abilities and keep going.
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
Video ad I made for Facebook with my own images and music
A vast majority of my work is in the small-medium range (11″x14″ – 18″x24″) and these are usually completed in 2-3 hours. At minum, I will spend 90 minutes on something. On my larger or more detailed works, I’ve spent up to 7 days on them, though my attention span only allows me to sit and paint for about 2 hours before I have to take a break.
My favorite place to go out and eat is Texas Roadhouse.
How well do you take criticism?
I will fully admit that I can be sensitive. So handling criticism is not my strong suit. I’m not the type to lash out or outwardly react negatively to it, but it can hurt me deeply inside. Perhaps my favorite thing about art is the feeling of accomplishment I get completing a piece and knowing it’s totally my creation, and I am deeply self critical about most of what I do. I feel I beat myself up enough without needing the reinforcement from elsewhere. So it can be hard to hear an opinion that isn’t supportive. Fortunately, I do not often experience criticism. I don’t expect everyone to love what I would do but I would just rather someone keep an opinion to themselves unless I ask.
What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
It is an immense challenge to overcome a block. I’ve found it’s often easier to not fixate on it and let the desire come back on its own. I seem to have peaks and valleys of inspiration. I can produce 10 paintings in 2 weeks and go another month without painting at all. Selling a painting or a nice print of a painting sometimes inspires me again. But I find it’s best not to force it or the result just isn’t the same. When things happen in life, it can either take me away from art or draw me into it. I have to have a certain level of energy though. I have gone through a recent and sudden hardship that has made it very difficult to focus on art.
“Young” by Kenny Chesney
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
It depends on the work and my mood. Some paintings flow so flawlessly that it feels like I am not even really painting it – I am just slapping the brush around until it looks how I envisioned. Others, I really have to be patient and keep going until it looks right, often through a lot of doubt and frustration. I never really know how something is finished – I just keep working it til it feels right. There are some pieces I think I did too much and overworked – others are a bit underworked. Finding the goldilocks zone is difficult. But generally, I would rather underwork than overwork. My rule of thumb is to stop when I can’t think of anything else to add. I sign my initials and call it good. It is easy to walk away when I feel like I have put down all the ideas I can think of. But if I feel like it needs more, or something is off, it can be very difficult to just let it go, and I will often wrestle with it in my mind until I get it how I want. I don’t obsess over every detail, but I like to ensure I’ve done everything possible to make that particular art be its best. But when I am done, I am done, and I don’t go back and improve the work.
Have you had exhibits in galleries?
I have shown in three exhibits at the Tubac Center of the Arts in southern Arizona. I have mostly focused on selling originals out of my Etsy Shop, however.
Have you any exhibits in galleries planned for the future?
Due to covid-19, the in-person art world is pretty limited, so I have no plans to show for the time being.
What are you currently working on?
I had begun a series of paintings of landscapes I’ve never been to but wanted to go to – but have not painted recently.
What are your plans for the future?
I learned in the last 5 years that planning one’s future is a futile task. I am in a completely different life than what I envisioned 5 years ago and figure it is better to focus on the here and now instead of looking ahead. In terms of my art, I would definitely like it to become a sustainable second income and perhaps even my full time work some day. But art is such a competitive world that I won’t get my hopes up for it. The health of those I care about and financial security and personal contentment are all I truly care about, though.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
The best advice I received was to develop my own style. There are some really talented painters – thousands of them – that produce great work, much of which is better than what I will probably ever do. But so many of them look similar that it’s hard to differentiate. Having your own style, even if you’re not technically as good as more skilled artists, allows you stand out from the crowd and be yourself. Ted DeGrazia, an internationally famed artist of the southwest who lived and worked in Tucson, fit this category. His art was quite simple – he didn’t paint lavish masterpieces but rather folksy art that is loose, simple and airy – but his style caught on and prints and cards of his work are distributed all over the world and his originals are worth a lot of digits. He passed in 1982 but many still flock to his “Gallery of the Sun” north of Tucson to see his work.
What advice would you give new artists?
First, I say identify your priorities. Do you do art as a creative outlet or to generate income? For many, including me, I think the answer is often both. The intersection of art and business is often murky and uncomfortable but you have to become comfortable with both. For me, balance is the key. Don’t obsess so much over marketing you quit enjoying art. But don’t spend all your savings on art supplies only to find a closet full of paintings you’ll never look at again (unless that’s what you prefer). Next, be totally confident in your work (even if you’re not). Don’t second guess your decisions and never let negative opinions or suggestions dissuade you from your abilities. Trust your artistic instincts and judgement and work to impress no one but yourself. It is okay to be hard on yourself but don’t doubt yourself. The art world is a lot of talk – if you can defend your work and have confidence in it, other people will start to believe in it too. If you took up art, it was for a reason – follow that reason and stick with it. Take everything you are told – good and bad – with a grain of salt and work to produce something you truly feel good about, and surely there will be others in the world who like it too.
“True Resolution” by me (Chance Kafka):
(digitally created orchestral composition exploring the concept of “resolution” in music)
Have you done any courses to help you?
Aside from my one art class in high school, I’ve never taken a course. I do enjoy watching free YouTube videos – especially Bob Ross, whose style is surprisingly challenging. I don’t paint the way Bob Ross does but he gives you a great understanding of creating depth in a landscape, and has an attitude that is infectious and just makes you feel good about painting.
I am outwardly social and engaging but a total introvert on the inside.
What do you do to market your work?
I upload all of my sellable work to Fine Art America and try to position links to work on social media outlets. I tell people I run into that I sell prints and also run paid ads on Google and Facebook sometimes. The main thing I do, however, is ensure my images and their descriptions are SEO friendly and I try to strategically link things and/or get enough views on them they perform well in Google. I also participate in promotional groups on FAA to get a little more exposure and also move my work up in the FAA search slightly. This type of passive-marketing isn’t for everyone but my mindset is that it is better to get work in a good position to be seen by people already looking for art then trying to reach them cold. Art buyers are a very elusive bunch! I don’t love social media and keep my time promoting it to a minimum, which may be unconventional but I’ve been satisfied with my sales to date.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
Are you available for work (commissions)?
I do not actively seek commissions but I’ve done a few successfully. I evaluate the request on a case-by-case basis to see if it is something I would be comfortable doing.
Have you got hobbies?
Outside of painting and photography, I bowled leagues off and on for 11 years until covid-19 happened. I’ve since pretty much given up bowling and reverted to my old love of golf. I enjoy following sports, especially American college football and the NFL as well as basketball and the PGA. I occasionally hike when the weather is right and love exploring, going on road trips, and trying new places to eat. My very first hobby was playing piano. I am self taught, play by ear, and often compose my own works. I have even bought a digital orchestration software years ago and compose my own full orchestral pieces from time to time.
Where are you based?
I spent my entire life between Wheatland and Laramie, Wyoming before moving to my current home of Tucson, Arizona in 2017.