Originally from Houston, Texas, John is currently based in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Having started his art career in oil painting since 2000, John specializes in painting landscapes, still life and people. John also teaches art through workshops and he is the artist-instructor behind the instructional video Painting Into Direct Sunlight.
Qn: Will you be able to share with us more about yourself? (How and when did you discover your flair for art? How did you learn and hone your artistic skills?)
First, I’d like to thank you for this chance, and Adam Clague for suggesting to feature me. It’s an honor.
As a kid, I knew I had the ability to draw, but it really didn’t flow out of me from necessity. I would make expressions to people I loved with drawings, but I wasn’t constantly sketching like some of the other kids. I don’t think I ever took it that seriously, and neither did my mentors, so it never occurred to me to pursue it.
My first job out of college was in a greeting card business, in sales and marketing. When a day at work slowed down, I would sketch out logos or ideas. Some thought me an odd duck in the department, and indeed I was. Most of the work friendships I developed were with the young illustrators and designers. God used those friends to call out my destiny, and after a series of crazy circumstances over a 3-year period, I ended up a greeting card designer. In the 10 years of design and illustration work I grew by leaps and bounds. The constant daily grind of idea-generating and composing prepared me for the grit I would need to be a fine artist.
Todd Williams, one of those artist friends, invested a lot of time helping me to learn oil painting. I was 30 years old the first time I ever painted. Painting from life intrigued me the most, and I’ve been a student of nature ever since. Seven years ago, I stepped out of my job to dedicate myself to painting full-time. The pressures of needing income have given me some of my highest highs and lowest lows, but I’ll never regret the discipline it’s taught me. I love what I’m doing!
Qn: I noticed on your website that you have shared 5 separate series of videos on 'Artistry as a calling' - Can you introduce to us what you cover in each series, and how does it help an aspiring artist? (Also, what inspired you to create these really informative and helpful videos?)
“Artistry as a Calling” is a targeted series of videos. It started when I was asked to speak to a group of Christian artists at a regional mega-church. Being a Christian, I understood the frustrations of being a visual artist, and not having it nurtured by the church. I’ve sensed that what I’m doing is a calling, and I wanted to share that with others through the videos.
I would also suggest that the American culture in general values hard work and specific career fields, but similar to the church, has no real regard for the value of visual art, except perhaps with movies. Artists need to know how important they are. They need to keep going and spend their life doing what they’re called to do. That’s what the videos are really about.
What are your art-tools and materials that you use for your oil paintings?
I use Rembrandt Oil Colors:
- Titanium White
- Cadmium Yellow Light
- Cadmium Orange
- Yellow Ochre
- Permanent Red Medium
- Burnt Umber
- Permanent Madder Deep
- Ultramarine Blue Deep
- Ivory Black
I set out from the beginning to conquer mixing by using a simple palette. Fifteen years later, I’m still getting headaches over it, and I imagine that’s pretty normal…there is no perfect palette for mixers like me.
In the last couple of years, I’ve made the switch from hog bristle brushes to synthetics (the Ivory line) from Rosemary & Company: mainly long flats and filberts in a variety of sizes up to ¾” wide. I just couldn’t get the precision I wanted with hog hair anymore.
For my outdoor easel I use the Day Tripper. It’s a lightweight easel for tall and short alike. I love it I can get that painting right up at eye level. It's a sturdy setup also, especially if you get a sturdy tripod.
My palette at home is an antique desk I put on rollers and covered with glass.
Plein air painting can be very rewarding and challenging too, do you have any tips to offer on plein air painting in general?
The main thing is to be in it for the long haul. If you really want your landscapes to have fresh, realistic color, and true perspective, it takes years and years. That sounds daunting, except I LOVE being outside, instead of cooped up in a stuffy studio.
The biggest thing for me to learn was to push the values so that when the piece is brought inside, the contrast is still satisfying. The outdoor light is way brighter than we artists know at first.
Isn't the glare from sunlight blinding – how does your video on 'Painting Into Direct Sunlight' teach one to do just that?
Painting into the sun is a lesson in atmosphere. Monet described himself as “painting the atmosphere” rather than any subjects. What that means is when painting glaring situations, I have to think less about the design of the painting and more about the colors of the light. Additionally, I soften the edges of my shapes and lines.
The video also describes my general process for completing any of my outdoor paintings, so I recommend it even if you aren’t interested in frying your eyeballs like I do.
What are some of your most memorable painting experiences?
My absolute favorite place to paint is in Rocky Mountain National Park. I go to a show there every August. I highly recommend painting there.
The most memorable trip I took was back in 2010. I decided I was going to focus on plein air only, and to kick it all off I went to Colorado in the Fall to paint for two weeks. I started out at a plein air event in the small community of Westcliffe (gotta see it), and I won 1st place in the show. The judge was Joshua Been, and he invited me to come up to Salida and paint with him, so that was my next leg of the trip. Then I topped it all off in Vail and stayed with my cousin. Seeing Colorado in my rear view mirror was absolutely depressing!
Have you read any art-book/s, magazines or instructional mediums related to art that you can share with us?
I think design is one of the hardest disciplines to grasp and be innovative with. I’ve found this great book on the subject called “The Artist’s Design: Probing the Hidden Order”.
Also, I recently read a biography of James Abbott McNeill Whistler that was wonderful. It’s called “Whistler, A Life for Arts Sake”. It goes into every detail of his life, and you get to parallel your own career with his to see how not much has changed in 150 years.
Lastly, who (artist) do you think we should interview next?
Aimee Erickson: she’s an innovative and playful artist. I think your readers would love her. Also, Jason Sacran, my painting buddy who keeps winning every plein air event. Charlie Hunter is another stud with a unique look to his work (he uses a squeegee as one of his tools).