Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. To enter to win Todd's painting "Vermont Barn" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.
Todd Schabel is a contemporary realist oil painter who grew up in Central Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he was fortunate to study with the late Li Hu, who emphasized the need to learn strong drawing skills and the importance of working from life. Todd’s training mainly consisted of the portrait, the figure, and still-lifes, but due to his love of the outdoors and interest in travel, it wasn't long before he fell in love with the landscape, particularly plein air painting.
This love of plein air painting has currently taken Todd, his wife Marcia, and their two Goldendoodles, on the road to plein air events, workshops and diverse parts of the nation to study from life. Todd has had the honor of receiving several plein air awards in the Midwest region including 1st Place awards at Mineral Point, Appleton Paint Out, and Plymouth Paint the Towns and Artist’s Choice at Jefferson Plein Air. He has also been juried into several National and International exhibitions. He is represented by the Richeson Gallery in Kimberly, WI and Foxley’s Gallery in Appleton, WI.
"There is joy in more places than we can imagine and my hope is to encourage others to pause and see more of that beauty around us, but even more importantly, to nurture it."
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Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the DPW home page announcing Todd's interview
What did you want to be growing up?
Growing up I was really interested in sports and dreamed of playing for either a professional soccer or football team. I played soccer in college, but my artistic creativity quickly took over and I found myself in the studio refining my painting skills more and more.
When did your artistic journey begin?
I had always loved to draw and create things as a child, but my artistic journey really began my senior year of high school. A local artist named Daniel Gerhartz was invited to come talk to our art class; needless to say I was blown away by his work and the fact he made a living with it, and he lived only a short drive away. I think this made the thought of pursuing art feel more accessible since he came from and still lived in a small rural midwestern town.
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I have never really had long periods without creative expression, but I have had periods where I didn’t create paintings. Shortly after college I started working for a reclaimed custom furniture company where I was able to use my creativity to build one of a kind pieces. I worked for this company for 7 years and had stretches of up to a year where I wouldn’t paint, but I was creating unique things everyday out of wood which fueled my creativity. There eventually reached a point where I was painting consistently again and I knew that it was time to fully commit to painting.
Which mediums and subjects do you gravitate toward? Which ones don’t appeal?
I have always admired the richness of oil paint. That is what initially compelled me to learn how to use it and once I realized its versatility, the possibilities seemed endless for experimentation. I have used watercolor and pastel in the past and will return to them again, but I feel my next medium to explore is gouache.
As for subjects, in college I studied portraits, figures and still-lifes which I really enjoyed. After graduating I quickly became interested in the landscape and that has been my primary subject matter ever since, specifically plein air painting. Since I live in central Wisconsin, the heart of the dairyland, painting barns and farm scenes has become commonplace for me. There is more subtlety to the local farm scene paintings, than say a snow-capped mountain scene from out west, but I am finding them just as interesting to paint. The only subject that I haven’t really experimented with is abstract. For the longest time I avoided even viewing abstract works, but I have to say it is growing on me. I am intrigued by artists incorporating abstract elements within more traditional realism.
|Back to Dodge|
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What was the process like of pinpointing your personal style or finding your voice?
I haven’t really put much thought into my style or voice. I have been more concerned with learning and practicing the techniques to be able to paint the realistic paintings I envision with confidence and then take things in my own direction from there. I still have a lifetime of learning in regards to technique, but now that I am more confident I can let intuition take over. Things start to happen that I hadn’t planned on or I see things in a different way and go with it. If a matter of several hours goes by in what felt like 10 mins, then my voice tends to come through naturally. I am starting to loosen up the reins and allow things to happen more organically and my style seems to be emerging on its own.
Name an artist (or artists), well-known or not, who you admire. Why?
From the beginning it has been Dan Gerhartz. He is one of the most kind and generous people I have had the fortune of meeting. He has also maintained a prolific career as an artist while being a devoted family-man. This is something I find myself thinking about now more than ever since my wife and I are about to welcome our first child in the next few days.
Several other artists whom I admire are John Singer Sargent, Richard Schmid, Mark Boedges, T. Allen Lawson, Bethann Moran-Handzlik and many, many others.
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If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger, creative self — what would that be?
Stop overthinking it and just paint. Things will work themselves out.
Do you utilize any habits or tricks for winning the distraction and procrastination battle?
That is a constant work in progress, but one of the best methods for me so far is listening to music, more specifically folk music. This helps silence the noise in my head of other things trying to win my attention and I can focus on my work. As for the procrastination side, I like to have some sort of structure to work within so I set up goals and deadlines to finish pieces and be able to move onto the next. I try to keep it simple and realistic to build momentum. It isn’t always so smooth, but it has helped significantly.
|Prickly Pear and Yuccas|
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In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you push forward?
I look back at earlier paintings and realize not just how much I have learned, but how fulfilling the journey has been and continues to be. This helps make that next step into the abyss less daunting. It's still nowhere near easy, but if I trust the process, show up and be me, then the rest of the things I can’t necessarily control will take care of themselves as they may. Again, it references just getting to work; momentum is powerful. If I really get stuck, I change things up and try a new approach. I know I am making progress in this regard when I have struggled with a painting for hours and then finally decide to wipe it off and start over. More often than not the next painting comes together in half the time and it was what I envisioned to begin with. Those moments reinforce my resolve for when the next hurdle comes.
What are some of your long and short term goals for yourself or your art?
A long term goal of mine is not simply just to create art, but to live a full life. A big part of that is that my wife and I are beginning to learn the many tasks of homesteading that in certain respects have been lost. Growing and harvesting as much of our own food as possible has been our recent goal and expanding on that each year by learning something else has been rewarding. This can take up a good amount of time and we realize we need to pace ourselves in the endeavor, but it gives back so much more than it takes. As for a short term goal, I am starting to put together a painting series that revolves around these local and sustainable practices.
|Late Season Snow|
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What does success mean to you personally?
To be honest, the idea of success has been a struggle. Although, I have come to realize that to be able to create work that continues to inspire me each day and allows me to be my best self reassures me that I am on the right path. Additionally, if it can help inspire others to do the same on their paths, then all the better. It’s like the music I listen to while painting. I have no real desire to learn the guitar or to sing, but there are countless musicians who create beautiful works in their own ways that can lift me up in a matter of minutes. The shared human experience of creativity celebrates the gift of life and I am glad to be a part of that. Being able to raise a family through the support of those who share that same vision and choose to purchase my work is my version of success.
What is one of your proudest moments in your creative life?
I have come to really love the plein air community and how accessible it is for the public to interact with artists as they are creating their art right out in the open. At a recent event I created two different paintings of the same unique dilapidated barn. I was able to speak with the farmer as he came by to do his chores and he was delighted that I was painting it. He ended up purchasing both paintings and he told me how his family came over from Italy over a hundred years ago to start farming there and those paintings would hang in the original farmhouse. I had a blast painting them and now they would pass those paintings down and add to their family heritage; what more could I ask for? That is what hits home for me, having gratitude for the good in life and passing it on.
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