Thursday, August 9, 2012

DPW Spotlight Interview: Brian Cameron

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. 

To enter to win Brian Cameron's painting, "Surfin' Safari," go to DailyPaintworks and click on the Spotlight Giveaway button in the top-left corner of the website.

From Brian's DPW gallery page:
Brian has been painting full time and showing professionally since 1998. His work has been featured in the magazines Coastal Living and Open Spaces and on Portland's PDXPOSED television program. He  illustrated "Encounters With Small Creatures By The Sea" by Phyllis Knutson, PHD and wrote and illustrated a children's book, "What Woofie Wants."
Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

Hmm... can't remember. Wait -- it's coming back.

I was sidetracked for a long time. After heading to college with a small art scholarship in hand, I dropped out to see what life outside of school was like. I worked different jobs and played around and met a few girls and woke up one day married with children!

Surfin' Safari
(click here to see original image)

Enter to win by clicking the "Artist Spotlight and Giveaway" button!

I spent many years in the building trade, eventually opening a cabinet shop. The cabinet making evolved into furniture making. I began to get the furniture in galleries and it sold well. Once I was established in a few galleries, I decided I was an artist, so the furniture making evolved into sculpture. The sculptures evolved into wall hung assemblages. Some of the assemblages were painted and so, in time, I began just painting on large flat Masonite panels. Mostly abstract fields of color. Just colors and shapes arranged in what I felt were pleasing, well balanced compositions.

I was fascinated with minimalist art. Bold and colorful compositions that were compelling and beautiful had been done by some of the masters and I just wanted to do what they did.

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career?

Once I started painting, I pretty much let the sculpture and woodworking go. I liked the idea of just paint and canvas. The other genres involved so much more time and materials. Painting doesn't require as much prep, so I found it liberating to just jump in and paint.

The Derby
(click here to see original image)

But there have certainly been setbacks. 9-11 was probably the worst. The gallery business faltered immediately and hard as it was to make a living in art before that... it was even worse right after. Eventually, I grudgingly took a job as a carpenter to catch up on the bills and felt like maybe I was done for as an artist. But then after a couple years, I just couldn't take it anymore and had to jump back into the creative life again full time. I remember being so glad to get back to the studio and crank out work.

Aside from the self inflicted 'dry spells' that come from self doubt, I managed to keep painting pretty regularly and then the financial collapse in 2008 dried up the gallery business again. But I've pressed on with the painting though.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with? Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away? Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

Like I said before, I've sculpted in wood and even concrete and a little metal. Actually, I still love working in wood. There's something about a sharp blade cutting through wood that turns me on. And I've done a fair amount of printing from woodcuts which I enjoy too.

Bold Crow
(click here to see original image)

I did the usual dabbling in watercolors but didn't care for it much. I'm pretty stuck on oils and acrylics. I spend most of my time working in acrylics simply because it's cheaper, dries faster and is cleaner to work with. But I do work in oil too. Oils have a truer color in that how they appear when they hit the canvas is close to how they'll look when dry. I like that about oil.

Acrylics, on the other hand, 'dull out' after initially appearing rich in color. So as the painting progresses, you have to keep retouching some areas because of the loss of intensity. I remember when I first started using acrylics, I would come to the studio in the morning after spending all day on a piece and wonder what had happened. The painting often looked considerably different than when I left the night before. At first I thought it was just my imagination or that my vision for the piece had changed. As I worked with it more, it became clear that it changes in intensity all day, so you have to compensate for that. Oils do the same thing, but not nearly so dramatically. I'm sure all oil painters have to go back and retouch some spots, especially the bright lights.

As far as genres go, I am one of the world's worst at sticking to any style or genre. I love abstract as well as representational work. I can easily get bogged down with detail and move a painting into realism, but I prefer to stay very loose and even a little abstract if I feel like I can get away with it. I know most of the clientele in the daily painting arena expect to see representational pieces so for this venue I try to keep it small and recognizable. Then too, I don't feel abstract works very well on such a small scale.

I look forward to exploring nudes. Of course, not while my wife is alive.

You cover quite a range in your subjects, from the stately and majestic, to the more ordinary stuff of daily life. What stops you in your tracks and makes you think, "I've just got to paint this!"?

Well, actually that's just how it goes sometimes. I literally stop in my tracks and think "I've got to paint this." The good news is... when that happens, painting is a gift from above. So I don't know what it is that stops me in my tracks. Call it the muse or inspiration or a heavenly messenger or whatever. When it happens, it's time to drop everything and paint.

The Flutist
(click here to see original image)

I used to think that feeling would wait and hang around until I was ready to go to work but  it doesn't. I read an interview with Neil Young once that touched on that. I can't quote it, but Neil mentioned that at one time, he took it for granted that the muse would always be at his command, but later realized that when the inspiration comes, you just have to drop everything and go with it.

Some days, though, are just a matter of going to the studio and putting paint on canvas searching for something in the painting that pulls you in some direction. I'm always looking for a subject that is either quirky and fun or so beautiful that it shouts, "Are you blind? You have to paint me!"

So yeah, I have painted things as ordinary as an oil can and screwdriver some days and that's fun and good practice. But other days I look a little higher. There is a lot of wonder in this world. To catch a tiny bit of it on canvas is magic.

What does procrastination look like for you? What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

You know, I don't think I procrastinate too much when it comes to painting. I procrastinate about other things, but the only thing that really keeps me from painting is the foul mood I get in when things aren't  selling. It is hard to keep painting when it just piles up in the studio or in the storage room of some gallery.

Chickadee Delight
(click here to see original image)

I suppose if I were just doing it for leisure activity, it wouldn't bother me so much. But when you are trying to earn your living from it, the demons sneak in and steal away your joy with little comments like, "Are you nuts!" or "You can't make a living painting pictures!" or "Real men hold down real jobs." But having had a long acquaintance with them, I have pretty much identified those voices as puny little spirits attempting to derail me on my rightful journey.

I think I would say you have to look at it as your job as best you can. You have to go to the studio and put in the time, either slapping paint on canvas or at least stretching canvases or something art related. Some days are for painting... some days are for the peripheral stuff associated with painting, but I need to keep at it all like a job.

I'll tell you one thing: if I take some time away from the studio and go do some serious labor like cutting trees or digging a ditch or re-roofing the house, when I go back to the studio that place looks like heaven. So I try to keep that in mind.

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

The abstracts are, of course, pure imagination. Sometimes I see a group of shapes and colors that would make an interesting idea for an abstract painting, but mostly I just think of things I'd like to see hanging on my walls.

Since I started doing the little daily paintings, the need for new subjects or ideas has become a bit of a challenge. But then part of the daily painting thing is just to be painting everyday, so subject becomes less important. Not all dailies are intended to be masterpieces. Many are pure pleasure and practice. So painting an oil can on a block of wood is ok for that. Or a telephone. Or a can of old paintbrushes.

Key to What

I do, though, try to think of what the market might want too. I wonder sometimes, if I were a wealthy patron of the arts, what would I want to buy?' Now, you all have to admit that is part of what we do as painters. Shameful isn't it?!

How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

I hope people do find my work 'vibrant and engaging! ' Oddly enough, starting the daily painting regime has helped me a lot in that regard. I used to paint only large format pieces and thought the idea of painting small 6x6" pieces was absurd!

Once I began doing the little ones, I found it nice to switch back and forth from large pieces to small ones. Usually, I do a series of little ones and then launch in to something large. The change is refreshing -- to go from wearing reading glasses and sitting -- to standing up and taking broad strokes with a 6" wide putty knife. The large works lend themselves to large tools and brushes and lots of walking around.

What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

I am always learning. This 'self taught' artist thing is all about learning the hard way. I never had enough sense to actually take classes, so I have to figure out everything by myself. Trial and error seems to be the only way I can learn. Seriously, I think I am making small strides in the direction of what some call signature work.

For years I've wandered all over the spectrum of technique and style. And for a long time I thought that was good. I didn't want to be pigeonholed. But I think I'd like to settle down a little and try to make my work recognizable as being from me. I'm learning slowly that there is a style that I prefer. I think I'm just about there or just about to figure out where 'there' is.

What makes you happiest about your art?

A lot of things make me happy. When I start a painting and it just falls off my brush so quick and easy that I'm amazed. That is one. Or when I get stuck on a big piece and can't seem to find my way to the end and suddenly lay down one stroke that either finishes it completely or at least puts it over the top... That's another.

Bite Size
(click here to see original image)

When someone buys a big expensive one that pays the mortgage, that feels pretty good too. And when someone sincerely loves one of my pieces and I feel I made something that touched someone... hard to beat that feeling.

I guess mostly to think that maybe it really is a gift from God that might be doing something good in this world -- and I get to be part of it.

Thanks, Brian!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine


  1. Reading about how you came from cabinet maker to daily painting makes total sense to me. Thanks for sharing your story. I love the fresh colors in your work!

  2. Great interview and love your work and the statement "As far as genres go, I am one of the world's worst at sticking to any style or genre." Oh, that's me and nice to see it in print. I enjoy the paintings that are "quirky and fun". Good luck with the sales.

  3. Your work is awesome, and I loved reading the interview!

  4. I really enjoyed the interview and seeing some paintings I had not seen before. Your ability to go from realism to abstract is amazing.
    I loved your sense of humor coming through in the interview and read aloud to my husband the bit about waking up with a wife and children...and also the nudes...not while your wife...he laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes.So if the painting business is slow you could rent out to parties!
    thank you Brian and thank you Jennifer for another good interview.

    1. Thanks, Julie! Brian had me laughing out loud too. Good idea about the parties. ;-)

  5. Love your sense of humor! Your paintings are lovely!

  6. Such an insightful and entertaining story of your process, how you got to this place in your life. I am enjoying the small paintings. Only so much space and budget for the large paintings....although I love a huge one that grabs my attention. I am going to explore your work further. Like the ones I see in this post. Continued success....

  7. WHOA!!!! I was alerted, only this morning,to the fact that there were comments here! I'm so sorry to have seemed unresponsive. Somehow this comment section was completely unknown to me. All of you made my day! Can't wait to tell my wife that you actually enjoyed my sense of humor. She refers to it as "my weird sense of humor"! Somehow I haven't driven her off yet. As a matter of fact, today is our 32nd anniversary...32 years of wedded bliss. Thank you all for the kind comments. Paint on!

  8. Looking forward to seeing more of your work. I really like the loose, colorful style. And I love how you identify the negative voices as puny little spirits! I will have to remember to think of them that way.