Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. These amazing artists have offered to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the Featured Artist and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
Today’s Featured Artist: Bruce Cheever
“My advice to anyone wanting to become a full-time artist would be to follow your dream and give it everything you have.”– Bruce
Q: Your subjects range from buffalo in Yellowstone National Park to tranquil milking cows among garden pumpkins; Western Indian and cowboy saddles, teepees, horses and pottery to English cottages and Arcadian European mountain villas; surging rivers and soaring peaks to thirsty desert mesas. Yet, your paintings are recognizably your own. How do you maintain such a consistent Bruce Cheever look and serene beauty with such diversity?
A: I have always fundamentally believed that as an artist, I should paint what I love, and if I held true to that belief, my paintings would have a piece of my soul left behind in them. I have also felt, that in the long-run, I would have more joy and satisfaction in creating a legacy of work that I would be proud of, and that I would feel satisfied in sharing with the world. I believe every artist dreams of arriving at creating their art with a consistent level of accomplishment.
As a young artist, my focus was on developing my approach and style, and exploring technique and application. The older I have become, it has been more about the emotion that goes into creating art. Even though I paint landscapes, figurative, and still life subjects, my approach doesn’t vary a great deal between them. The techniques employed are the same when it comes to composition, paint application, and brush strokes; I have worked hard to remain quite consistent regardless of the subject matter.
When an artist can arrive at a point where they are recognized and identified quickly by their style and approach, then they have accomplished something significant.
Q: You had a strong affinity for and interest in mechanical drawing when you were young, prompted by your father’s profession as a professor of architectural drawing, yet today you have no interest in painting city scenes which seem to lend themselves naturally to that affinity. Tell us about that and what does inspire your passion for painting.
A: I can’t ever remember not having a passion to create art; it just seemed to be inherent from the beginning. My father and mother both recognized and fostered my interests at an early age, and gave me many opportunities to learn and develop over the years. My Father was instrumental in my interest in architecture, and I was educated and trained and worked as a design architect for several years. As an architectural illustrator, I learned to draw and paint and became very acquainted with perspective.
My appreciation for the arts grew from these experiences, and the skills I was able to develop during this time were invaluable to my development as an artist. I would say that the years spent as an Illustrator were the most beneficial in helping me hone skills needed to be successful. Having a brush in my hand everyday, and being under pressure to produce quality work for never ending deadlines, taught me discipline and helped elevate my skills in a way that I don’t think I could have done in any other way.
My association with talented colleagues was invaluable, and I learned so much from them. They were accomplished and had a great deal of influence on my development as a painter. My passion for fine art grew from these experiences, and even though the focus has changed, the fundamentals of drawing, perspective, and painting became a solid foundation for my life as an artist. It was like a springboard when I decided to dedicate my life to becoming a painter.
Q: You transitioned from gouache to oil paint – do you still work in gouache at all? What do you find to be the strengths and weaknesses of each and what caused the change in painting media? Are there advantages for beginning painters to first experiment with gouache and then shift to oils?
A: My transition from gouache to oil was surprisingly easy. I used gouache and other water based paints for several years in illustration, and in my opinion it is harder to work with, so it forced me to develop skills that I don’t think I would have mastered otherwise. Using water-based mediums demands your attention, and you really have to be be on your game, because it’s a one shot deal much of the time.
As an artist, mastering different mediums is always a positive thing; the skills gained are valuable and contribute to making you a better artist. I transitioned to exclusively working in oils for many reasons, primarily because of the luminosity of the medium, along with the fact that archival properties give it the best chance for survival.
For me, oils opened up higher levels of possibility in my work. Its opaqueness, transparency, and luminosity have contributed to elevating what I have wanted to accomplish. Since my paintings consist of many layers, glazing added an almost third dimension in my work. From the start, working with oils and researching the old masters techniques have helped me incorporate luminosity and tonalism as the foundations in my paintings. I do a lot of glazing and drying inbetween layers, and by the time a piece is completed there may be up to 20 layers of glazes, with each layer helping to tell the final story.
Q: A couple of videos you shared indicated that you began your paintings with what looked like a grey value study. Do you often begin with a type of grisaille or value layer and then build the color on top of that and how does that fit into your Golden Mean grid approach? Do you have a process that promotes or facilitates your light filled luminosity and strikingly rich color and can you run us through the development of one of your typical landscapes?
A: I always work on a toned surface, never on a white surface. As I build layers, the tonal colors I use set the mood for the final outcome. Interesting enough though, I mix my paint on a white surface, before I apply it to the painting. I have always felt that it lets me see true color.
My surfaces are made of Baltic birch, with linen or muslin adhered, and multiple layers of gesso. I prefer a rigid surface, and get kind of aggressive sometimes when applying paint, so I don’t like a bouncy surface. I always tone the board with initial washes of color that help me set the mood for the final outcome.
My initial block-in and value study, builds off of the tonal surface. Many times there will be multiple layers at the block-in stage so that I can get my values and composition just the way that I want it to be. I use the proportions of the golden mean to help me with spacing and proportion in my work along with all of the organizational elements. Early on, I would use a grid to organize everything, but over the years it has become more instinctual in my planning. I have always loved luminosity the most, the theory of luminism being, that when light penetrates through the surface of thinly applied paint, it is reflected back, causing it to glow.
I have always wanted each layer in my work to tell a piece of the final story, from the thinnest layers to the thickest and final layers. For me, it’s about how something is constructed, and I want people to see that when they look closely at the surface of my work.
Q: With a wife and 4 children at home and earning a good living from an illustration career, did the oft repeated ‘starving artist’ slogan cause you to hesitate when you decided to pursue the fine artist’s plunge into gallery sales? What counsel would you offer a good friend who longs to become a full-time painter instead of an accountant/business manager/mechanic, etc.?
A: My Family is all grown now, but at the time I was an illustrator I was also working at my fine art pursuits. As my success grew in the art world, it came to a point where I could no longer do both, so fortunately the transition wasn’t terribly disruptive. I did have to build confidence in my skills and abilities before I became comfortable with the idea that I could actually make it as an artist.
At the point where I was being offered gallery representation and I knew that people were taking me seriously, and my art was being sold consistently, I knew that I needed to take myself more seriously as well. It was at that point I decided to give it my all.
My advice to anyone wanting to become a full-time artist would be to follow your dream and give it everything you have. Most of us know instinctively what our talents are and how much passion we have for them. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance.
Q: Have any of your children followed in your artistic footsteps? Many professional artists claim they work 15 hour days, 6-7 days a week to compete and succeed in the arts – have you found a similar demand placed on you? Did your art career ever seem to impinge on your time with family and was your family a source of encouragement or did they discourage your artistic pursuits?
A: Several of my children have artistic talent and are gifted. Although they have not pursued careers in the art world, it is satisfying to see them use their talents on occasion, and to know that they appreciate art and consider it valuable in their lives.
The claim that many artists work 15-hour days happens to be true in my case, ask anyone who knows me. That’s not to say that everyday is like that, but passion drives people and artistic passion runs deep. The yearning to create beautiful works of art is at times an intense motivator.
I have never worked 7 days a week, a day of rest has always allowed me to recharge and gives me a fresh view of things. I am a firm believer in working hard and treating what I do as my job. In this business it’s not enough to just be in the mood, it has to be taken seriously.
My wife and family have always been my biggest fans and my largest source of support. If you were to ask them, they would say that we were all in this together, but family was always first priority.
Q: Trailside and Broadmoor Galleries which represent your artwork, are considered some of the top galleries in the country. You are also involved regularly in prestigious shows such as the Masters of the American West at the Autry Museum and the Quest for the West at the Eiteljorg (by the way, I saw the Quest for the West last week and Touch of Autumn was one of my favorite paintings). Did you pursue these venues intentionally or did they approach you? We know that even with masterful work like yours, success doesn’t just land in your lap – what are some key elements of your marketing plan that help keep your career thriving, that you can share with our community of artists who would love to follow in your footsteps?
A: I would have to say that I have been very fortunate in the respect that most of my galleries sought me out first, and as a result of that I have been approached with many other opportunities as well. None of that is to say that success fell in my lap. I spent years of hard work developing skills that could get me to a level that I could get noticed.
I don’t think I could say that I have a specific marketing plan, other than the fact that if your art is accomplished enough, much of the marketing and sales has a way of taking care of itself and most things fall into place with the right representation. Most of my energy is centered on producing work that is worthy of someone’s attention.
Make no mistake, I’m not implying that every buyer needs to see the work in person to buy. We have many buyers who have only seen the art online. The internet is a powerful tool for its ability to share art quickly to a broad audience.
However, affluent buyers are still vacationing and traveling, often to art destinations. They don’t want to eliminate those experiences and do all of their buying online. It’s not always about convenience – many buyers still crave the adventure of discovering new artists as they visit galleries.
Q: What are your dreams for the future as you progress as an artist?
A: Constant desire to improve would be at the top of any dream that I have as an artist, along with painting everything on my wish list.
I doubt that will ever happen because my list keeps getting bigger every year. If I had any one dream, it would be to inspire others and help them see the beauty in this world. There is so much negativity, and so I want my contribution to be positive and uplifting and be a force for good.
If I succeed at even a portion of this, it would make me happy and I would be satisfied knowing that my art brings joy to people.
Q: What motivates you to continue stepping in front of your easel day after day?
A: Creativity is my motivation, and it is the driving force behind everything I do artistically. The desire to bring something from my imagination and translate that into something of tangible beauty, which others can be inspired by, is reward enough to keep me motivated. I look at each new painting as a personal challenge, to help make this world a more beautiful place.