Thursday, August 29, 2013

DPW Spotlight Interview: John Walker

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

To enter to win John's painting, "Tivoli Bowl" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing his interview.

From John's DPW Gallery page:

John Walker studied art and design at the College of DuPage in Wheaton IL, and illustration the American Academy of Art in Chicago IL. Upon graduation he worked at Chicago art studio, Feldkamp/Malloy, before becoming a staff illustrator at Higgins Hegner Genovese and later a freelance artist with Frank Lux and Associates. After a time he began working from his own studio, and created artwork for a diverse group of advertising and publishing clients including National Geographic, The Bradford Exchange, McDonalds, Warner Brothers and Random House.

After years of creating art to satisfy the demands of clients, John began to spend more time painting personal pieces. Although a diverse artist, his focus recently has been portrait and figurative work. Most of his paintings are created using acrylics on hardboard, a medium he prefers for its expressive possibilities.

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

Like so many other artists, I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. My father was an artist and had a studio at home, so there were always art materials of one kind or another at hand. One of my earliest recollections is tracing characters from the Sunday comics and using the drawings to illustrate my own stories.

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

When I was in college and art school I would paint whatever I wanted. I went where my interests led me. When I graduated school, and entered the working world as an illustrator, I began spending less time on my own work. Most of my career has been spent as a “hired gun,” and my focus has been creating artwork for other people’s projects. Rarely did I take time to paint for myself after painting all week for others. I’ve now rediscovered the joy of painting for my own satisfaction and once again I’m painting the things that matter most to me.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

I discovered very early on in my illustration career that I was expected to be fluent with various types of media. Plus, staying busy and making a living, meant wearing a lot of hats. So I might do marker comps in the morning and then work on an oil wash and colored pencil illustration in the afternoon. I became a very diverse artist and learned to work with a wide range of media, all under deadline. One of my first assignments as a freshly minted staff illustrator was to create some airbrushed artwork for a new client. I had never used an airbrush before, but I certainly couldn’t admit as much as a new hire. Luckily my father did a lot of airbrush photo retouching. I took a crash course from him overnight and got through the assignment. The funny thing is I wound up doing a lot more airbrush work over the years.

Tivoli Bowl
(click to see original image)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the home page announcing John's interview.

Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away?

I used to love using colored pencil, especially with airbrush. I also love to draw, so using nothing more than a pencil and paper is still a great experience. But the media I use most is acrylic paint. I love the versatility and fast drying time. Being able to apply the same paint in thin washes or thick impastos, in any order, all within minutes is fantastic. I love to build up color by glazing, add some opaque passages, and then glaze some more. Testing has shown that acrylic paint is outstanding from an archival standpoint as well.

Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

I haven’t completed an oil painting since art school, and I used to do a lot of pastel work so I think about playing around with both of those again from time to time. Most any illustration work I produce now is done digitally, about as “new media” as you can get. There are advantages, and the possibilities for exploration seem endless, but for me nothing can replace the tactile quality of traditional materials.

(click to see original image)

Who or what inspires you most?

When people mention inspiration I always think of the Chuck Close quote, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Having said that, I get a creative charge from many things. Looking at art that is very different from mine is great. I love to see how other people look at the world and the ways they choose to show it to us. Many times a solitary, long walk with the dog or a bike ride is a great way to get the wheels spinning.

What does procrastination look like for you?

I’m not real big on procrastination. See the quote above. If I have an unpleasant task ahead of me I would rather get it sorted out as soon as possible. And I get crabby if I’m not working on something.

An Old Hula Popper
(click to see original image)

What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

That can be a tough one. As with anything else you need to set your priorities and do what you can to stick to them, although we all know life has a way of disrupting even the best made plans. In general, I try to get the “must do” stuff out of the way first and go from there. I think it’s important to use the time you do have as wisely as possible. It can be awfully easy to be distracted by things like social media, and promotion and marketing take up a huge amount of time. But I do my best to spend at least some time in studio every single day. Nothing worse than having to spend what time you do schedule for work, trying to overcome being rusty and out of shape. Athletes work out, musicians practice, it’s no different for artists.

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

I’ve tried to write several blog posts about where ideas come from and I’ve never got it right. I do think ideas come to you most often when you allow yourself to be open to them. The other morning my wife and I were out for a walk. We both passed a spot where a small green shoot was bursting up through the concrete street next to a cast iron access cover stamped “Water.” It was a beautiful little urban scene, dramatically lit by morning sun. She saw it and took a great photo. My mind was elsewhere and if not for her I would have missed it completely. Observations like this can be onramps that lead to all kinds of places. But you need to be in the right frame of mind to recognize the possibilities.

Let's Play
(click to see original image)

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

I’ll move back and forth between different subjects from time to time. Creating some small studies is a nice alternative to long form finished works for example. I enjoy painting people and portraits, but I’ve been doing some small fishing lure studies and some urban landscape explorations. I spent time at a local fair this summer which generated a few pieces depicting neon signs and fair booths with their reflections and fluorescent lit interiors. I’d love to turn some of these into large paintings. I’m an antique car fan and I've even played around with pinstriping. About as left field as you can get. But there are many things you can learn from, and get rejuvenated by, when working with one of these seemingly disparate subjects or disciplines, that apply directly to your main area of interest.

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

So many things. I’ve been playing with some different portrait styles. A sort of simple, stripped down presentation with an emphasis on tight focus. And I have an idea for a portrait series I would like to undertake. I have done a few larger paintings that use multiple layers of glazes to build form and value and I’ve applied the paint with everything from a toothbrush to a rag in addition to standard brushes. I’ve also been experimenting with different varnishes. There are many products and manufacturers so you need to sort them out and see what works best. I usually work on hardboard panels but now I’m trying out canvas again. The one thing I know for sure? The more I understand the more I know there is to learn.

Portrait of a Small Black Dog
(click to see original image)

What makes you happiest about your art?

I often tell people that I don’t paint because I want to, I paint because I have to. There are many aspects of creating art that I enjoy. Learning the technical skills, that is, the craft of painting, solving problems, discovering new methods, all of these bring joy. Although there can be many frustrations along the way, going from that intimidating unmarked surface, with its cold white stare, to a finished painting is an invigorating trip.

But one of the aspects of painting that I enjoy most is knowing that a viewer has made a connection with my work, that I have taken nothing more than a blank surface and some paint and created something that has reached inside and touched them. Even if a viewer’s interpretation is not necessarily what I had in mind, that’s ok. They looked at the work and it made them think or feel, imagine or remember. Seeing my efforts move someone like that is a tremendously gratifying experience. Pure magic.

Thanks, John!

© 2013 Sophie Marine

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