Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. We interview a new featured artist every few weeks to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. What artist would you like to hear from next? Note: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
Today’s Featured Artist: Bill Anton
“TO GOD BE THE GLORY” – Bill Anton
“I do not see myself as a biographer of the “cowboy…” If I’m recording anything, I’m recording how I feel about the West. I want the viewer to feel the drama of atmosphere and the mystery of a western night.” – Bill Anton
Q: You studied early on with Ned Jacob and Michael Lynch, both powerful forces in western art and landscape. Yet your approach to painting is very distinctive – seeing your work in a gallery or magazine we know immediately it is a Bill Anton painting. How did you so clearly find your own voice, and do you recommend beginning artist study with accomplished painters, or can that interfere with finding their own direction?
A: Your aim is not to be a clone of your mentors, but to take what they give and adopt their principles, not their styles.
Having said that, we’re all amalgams of our influences.
A little of Ned, a little of Mike, little of everyone I admire finds its way into my painting. None of us in the representational world are completely original. We all borrow, tweak, twist, stretch and nod to our heroes.
But your individual signature has to come from within as you gain skills and use them to express the ideas that are important to you. Seek out accomplished painters but work out your own salvation, to take Paul the Apostle completely out of context!
A great teacher’s advice will sound like this: ” Here is time honored procedure. Now go apply it thousands of times and at some point you may have something. ”
Q: Besides your love of the cowboy as caretaker of the land, you describe the focus of your work as mood and passion. As artists we hear those types of words thrown around often? With your work though, we can feel the dust and the wind and the drama of life as a cowboy when we view your paintings – what do you do and think about while painting, to infuse such emotional content into your work?
A: I’m an emotional guy with strong opinions.
My mentors, (Jim Reynolds leaps to mind!) were the same way. Passionate. That eventually comes out at the end of the brush. The surface of a painting is very important and is the vehicle for brush expression or calligraphy.
It should be evident by the way the paint is applied what the artist felt. It should show…at once….confidence, conviction and years of practice to make something extremely difficult look easy. I fail at this so much of the time…………….. But painting the landscape and the horse from life for years infuses a directness with the brush informed by years of happy study.
Q: So many beginning artists are intimidated by plein air painting, and you already had a successful career before you were encouraged to paint outdoors. Was it difficult for you when you first ventured out of the studio? And what identifiable changes did it make in your professional work and career?
A: Actually,I was painting outside from the beginning before I had a career at all….I just didn’t show them to anyone.
My living was built on pencil drawings while I taught myself something about painting. But I went outside and painted on location for six years and had done hundreds outside, most of them lousy, before I sought out accomplished outdoor painters for advice and workshops.
I think it’s a mistake to do 2 or 3 plein air paintings and call professionals for advice……you don’t even know the right questions to ask until you’ve slugged it out a little. I used outdoor painting as a means to an end, to teach myself about simplification, color, value and temperature.
Early on, it wasn’t an end in itself……that benefit happened much much later.
Q: While visiting Trailside Galleries in the late 80’s I saw your paintings and you quickly became one of my favorite western artists. You are unquestionably among the most successful and accomplished painters today. Did you pursue your career with an intentional plan? For younger artists today, what counsel can you offer to help them achieve their dreams of painting full time?
A: The only plan I had was to keep getting better. That’s still the only plan I have.
Beyond that, you have to be passionate about the subject and passionate about the process of painting. Seek to be better at what you do and forget about trying to be famous.
If eventually no one can touch you in your price range, recognition will take care of itself.
Find joy and fulfillment in the hard work.
Q: What artists do you most admire, and what have they done for your growth as an artist?
A: There are too many to name.
Von Zugel, Zorn, Waugh, Levitan, Mancini, Emil Carlson…….. the western artists of the early 20th century. Always been a huge fan of the California Impressionists……nearly all of them. They give you the sense of the possible in painting.
They’ll keep your ego in check…….an extremely important but rarely mentioned benefit of looking at superior work.
Think you’re hot stuff? Go look at a Sorolla and try and convince yourself you know anything about painting.
It’s those little reality checks that keep you striving.
Q: Being a professional artist is way of life that scares more people away than not, and it usually isn’t a smooth path to follow no matter how good you are. Do you have a seminal experience that made you decide you wanted to dedicate yourself to a career as an artist?
A: I don’t think anyone knows at the start if this will be a career or not. I didn’t.
Wanting it doesn’t make it so. I was a fairly new Christian and I asked the Lord one thing: If You don’t want me to do this, please close all the doors.
They kept opening and I kept walking through them. I supplied the elbow grease and He blessed the results for His own glory……. I don’t feel I had that much to do with my success.
There’s lots better painters than me out there!
Here’s Some of Bill’s Awards:
Update: Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award – for “Who’s Got the Cards.”
Prix de West Invitational, National Cowboy and Western Heritage center, Oklahoma City, OK – 2018
Frederic Remington Award – for ”Deep in the Wind Rivers”
Prix de West Invitational, National Cowboy and Western Heritage center, Oklahoma City, OK – 2016
Spirit of the West Award – for ”Campers or Cow Thieves?”
Masters of the American West, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, CA – 2015
Museum Purchase Award
Masters of the American West, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, CA – 2012
Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award
Prix de West Invitational, National Cowboy and Western Heritage center, Oklahoma City, OK – 2011
Gene Autry Memorial Award,
Award Masters of the American West, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, CA – 2011
Spirit of the West Award,
Masters of the American West at the Autry National Center in L.A. in 2009, 2010 and 2011
Robert Lougheed Memorial Award and the Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award,
Prix de West at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center on OK City – 2009
Please comment and thank Bill for sharing his talents and insights with us!
Thank you for the interview. It is always interesting to hear others journeys.
As a recently retired Senior, I’m finally working on my art. Life Drawing was the main FEW classes I’ve taken while raising my family and working, over the years. Recently sold some paintings at the request of friends. People want what I do but is not that good. Of course, I don’t charge much. I want to LOVE my work. Any ideas or assistance for art classes for serious Senior artists either on line or live? I’ll be moving to Portland, Oregon shortly.
Wow, such a talented and very humble man! Love that he doesn’t hesitate to say that he is a Christian, attributes his talent to God, and puts his life in God’s hands. As a beginner, I know I have a lot to learn but sometimes I do get discouraged and wonder if I have any talent at all. Very encouraging to learn that he says he did hundreds of paintings and a lot of them were lousy before he found success. Thank you for a wonderful and enlightening interview!!!
LOVED THIS ARTICLE. WHAT INCREDIBLE WORK!
Very enlightening interview. Like the comments before me, it makes me encouraged to know of his struggles and how hard work made him successful. I have no illusions of becoming famous or anywhere nearly this good, but I do want to be able to enjoy what I am doing and hopefully some others will also. This was especially enjoyable for me. I was raised on a ranch in Montana and the western way of life is what I know and what I love to paint.
Thank you for sharing your story of learning to paint. Your paintings tell a wonderful American story.
Thank you for posting this wonderful artist interview. I admire his humbleness and his dedication to seek God in his work first of all. I too, ask the Lord to open the doors of art for me and close them if He doesn’t want me to pursue it. My journey, so far, has led me to some open doors, small, but open and so I am inspired to push on. It is a struggle, but one I must follow being so passionate about painting as I am. I really needed to hear this artist tell this story about his art journey at this time in my life when it seems nothing is really happening much for me yet. But I have many more brush miles to go to reach something like real art! Again, profound thanks.
this is a master of light and shadow to create emphasis or a mood, or to make you feel the sun or the cold or the crisp mountain air. And he paints with knowledge of the country, and the actions of the animals. He is incredibly good!