|I loved the sketch he did at the Historic Elms Hotel...I'd sketched this same set of stairs in the past, in monochrome, but this SINGS.|
|This and the Elms, above, show how Steve typically uses his sketchbook...planning for future works, often, but delightful as they are!|
Q: How long have you been painting?
A: Other than the typical art-class stuff I did in high school, I really didn’t get too interested in painting until I took a watercolor class from a local community college in the early 1990’s; however, my interest in it quickly waned after several failures with the medium. However, like so many of the artists I meet lately, I was inspired to get back into the game by Danny Gregory’s “Everyday Matters” book; I received the book as a birthday gift in 2004 and, as a result, went out and bought a small watercolor field box, a sketchbook, and some Pigma Micron pens. I’ve been sketching and painting ever since, learning largely through books, self-study, and workshops.
Q: Why watercolor? What do you do for a living, and is it enriched by your art?
A: I’ll answer the second question first. I'm currently a software development manager; I have a degree in electrical engineering, and have worked in software engineering for the majority of my professional career. However, I’ve had an artistic bent all my life. I’ve jokingly stated, “I was voted Most Artistic of my senior class; therefore, I did the next most logical thing—I went to college and got an engineering degree…” which sort of sums up the dichotomous brain I get to live with. I’ve always been a person with insatiable curiosity and I’m very driven to master things that capture my interest, such as, electronic circuits, photography, and of course watercolor painting. Which brings back me to the first question: Why watercolor? I think my obsession with watercolor comes from that same curiosity and drive to master this medium that is said to be so challenging. In addition, while I’m nowhere near in mastering it, it’s those glimmers of a technique done right, a pleasing result, and an encouraging comment from an online friend that keeps me going in this enjoyable, lifelong pursuit. And watercolor is such a great medium because of its low barrier to entry—that is, the equipment investment is low: a brush, some paint, a piece of paper, and some water.
Q: What is your favorite subject?
A: It seems like I’ve attempted a little of everything here and there, but landscapes, figures, and light emerge as my favorite subjects. I’ve always been drawn to landscapes, not only in my painting but also in my photography. I enjoy the challenge of composing a landscape, since there are so many elements to consider. I’m also drawn to urban cityscapes and enjoy on-location sketching in these environments. Recently (and somewhat unexpectedly), drawing and painting people/figures has become another favorite subject. A few years ago, I began focusing on getting better at depicting light and shadow, and most of the examples I found at the time seemed to deal with how light hits the figure and the face. So, I started there, attempting more portraits and figure painting. I found a lot of challenge and enjoyment there, had some successes, and learned some great lessons along the way. As a constant reminder about getting light into my paintings, I have a piece of paper taped to the wall in my studio with, “Where’s The Light?” written on it. With regard to figure drawing/painting, I participate in a local life-drawing group, not only to keep my observational-drawing skills sharp, but also to engage regularly in depicting figures; in these sessions, I work in charcoal or graphite, but I want to start working more in watercolor than dry media. I’ve tried this with watercolor a few times, and it’s very extremely challenging! I encourage everyone to get involved in a local life-drawing group or classes; drawing the human figure is an extreme challenge and is a great way to train the eye and hand. Also, it’s great opportunity to meet other artists, see their work, and discuss techniques.
Q: Do you travel a lot? If it’s in relation to your work, do you make time to sketch and paint in off hours, or do you take special trips just TO paint?
A: I do like to travel; thankfully, I don’t have to travel in relation to my day job, so my travels are typically for vacations. When travelling, I typically take my portable travel kit so I’m prepared if I find some time to draw, sketch, and/or paint once I’m there. Many times, I only have enough time to take photo references and then create paintings from them once I’m home. The only time I’ve travelled expressly to paint is when I’ve taken workshops, but I would like to do more of this kind of travel in the future. However, on several occasions, I’ve traveled with my wife to her various conventions and, while she is attending her sessions, I hit the city with my camera, sketchbook, and paints in tow. I do some plein-aire sketching and painting and gather many photo references. I visit some interesting coffee shops and restaurants along the way and then head back to the hotel room in the late afternoon to do more painting. I find that I get a lot of work done this way and generate many ideas for new paintings. Since my art career isn’t my day job, I have to, as you say, make time to sketch and paint in off hours. This is the classic challenge to all of us who don’t create art as our main means of employment: finding time in off hours to make art and balance all the other things that need to get done. I keep a small sketchbook and supplies with me at all times, however, so I’m ready during the workweek to get in a little sketching during lunch if the opportunity presents itself. I normally create my on-location sketches and studio paintings during the evenings or on weekends.
Q: You do those wonderful small sketches right on the page…what are you aiming for with them? Exploring format, composition, drama, all of the above? How do you choose the one you want to use?
|This is one of my favorites...it is SO atmospheric...|
Q: Do you often work back in the studio from your sketches?
A: All of my sketches potentially serve as preliminaries for more-formal works; however, I'm also satisfied to leave a sketch alone as a work of art in-and-of itself. I do most of my sketches on location, en plein aire, but I have also done some sketching from photo references. When I do create larger, formal paintings, I use my sketches and photo references together to create a final work in my studio. Often I’ll augment a field sketch with some formal value sketches in pencil or pen as an additional pre-step before working on a formal painting.
Q: Do you show in a gallery?
A: I’m not represented by any galleries currently, but that’s somewhere I’d like to be in the near future. Currently, several of my paintings are on display (and for sale) at The Designing Block store in St. Louis. See http://www.thedesigningblock.net for more information.
Q: How does your blog enrich your experience as an artist?
A: There’s a time for every artist when he/she wants to get their art in front of people. My blog serves that purpose. I went online with my art blog in 2006. In addition to using my blog for displaying my art, I like to post items that are of interest to other artists, such as new materials I run across, interesting articles, or new techniques. I am also on Flickr (which is predominantly a photo-sharing website), and I find that there is a very strong representation of artists there. I really like Flickr for its true social-media functionality, such as Contacts and its robust commenting and “favoriting” capabilities. I think of Flickr as my gallery of work, and my blog as an ongoing conversation with readers, even though there are elements of each in both places.
Q: What’s your most memorable experience sketching or painting?
I attended an all-day workshop a few years ago that was strictly dedicated to sketchbook art. Surprisingly, the class was very small, only three students (including me), so the interaction and attention each of us received from the instructor was outstanding. The workshop strongly influenced the way I approach sketchbook painting, from subject matter to color mixing. My capabilities were greatly enhanced in that one day!
Q: Do you keep a journal per se? Do you make notes just relating to your image, or add other things?
A: My sketchbooks aren’t journals in the strict sense, but the collection of work that I create in them certainly creates a record of my various experiences. I can page through a sketchbook and remember everything about painting it, such as where I was, the sounds I heard, the process of painting it, etc… When I start a new sketchbook, I always paint swatches of my entire palette on the first page to document the pigments I’m using at the time. Any notes I make in my sketchbooks are typically for my own reference. For example, I often make little value notes on my thumbnails, using a four-value scale; for example, I’ll write the number 0 (zero), circle it, and then draw a line from the circle to the lightest value in the painting. I do the same with 1 for light-middle values, 2 for darker-middle values, and 3 for darkest darks. In doing so, it creates a little map for me as I start to work on my watercolor sketch. My sketchbooks also contain various color-mixing grids that serve as references. For example, one page of a sketchbook I’m currently using contains a color-mixing grid of my various yellows mixed with Payne’s Gray, which serves as a go-to reference for creating some gorgeous earthy greens.
Q: And, of course, anything you can think of that relates or is important to you!
A: My wife is always so supportive of everything I do; I truly couldn’t do any of this without her. In fact, she jokingly says that I’m the artist and she’s “Art Support.” In addition to drawing, sketching, and painting, I love playing guitar. I prefer to compose and play my own songs and I truly see the guitar as an additional canvas on which to create! Finally, thank you Kate, for this interview and for the wonderful opportunity to be part of this impressive project; I know your book will be a huge success!
And thanks to YOU, and the other wonderful contributors, I think that will be the case, Steve, it's already surprised me! This was a terrific interview--and hope to see you again soon!
Again, don't miss Steve's Liquid Chroma Flicker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liquidchroma-/with/2578737757/
and his wonderful blog: http://www.stevepenberthy.com/