Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist (Camille Przewodek). We interview artists 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: Camille Przewodek
“Color that expresses the light key of nature can make any subject strikingly beautiful.”- Camille Przewodek
Q: You credit Henry Hensche as the master artist who helped you expand your understanding of color. Can you educate us concerning what you consider the most meaningful principles, techniques, or exercises you gathered from your time with him?
A: Having studied with master colorist Henry Hensche, who carried on Charles Hawthorne’s pioneering painting principles at the Cape School of Art in Provincetown MA, the most fundamental lesson I learned is that the painter’s first concern is to accurately and vigorously portray the effect of the particular light in which the subject is seen.
When I went to Provincetown, MA, to study with Hensche, I was about to graduate with a degree in Illustration from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I had reached a certain competence and was fairly good at drawing and composition. However, I hadn’t been exposed to any significant instruction in color. I was so impressed with Hensche’s work that I knew that I was on a new path to learning this way of seeing and painting.
Q: Your paintings are filled with brilliant colors. Do you make up the colors because you think the world you see is too drab, or do you actually see the colors you place on your canvas when you look at the world around you? How long did it take you to gain such a mastery of color?
A: I paint what I have been trained to see. Hawthorne says “Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision — it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so.” Hensche had us paint still lifes outdoors in full sunlight as a means of beginning the development of our color perception.
Our first consideration was to not paint the objects in front of us but rather to see and paint the effect of light falling on the objects. To that end, Hensche used a (deceptively) simple exercise for forcefully transmitting this concept. Students were to set up colored blocks on tabletops outside and capture the light effect on these “still lives” using simplified color notes. These block studies let us, for the time being, forget about making “pictures” and focus instead on learning how to create the illusion of form in space by stating the ‘big masses’ through accurate color relationships.
It is now over thirty-five years of painting on-location that has enabled me to capture what Hensche students refer to as the ‘light key’. I don’t copy what is in front of me, but use pigments to paint the illusion of light and atmosphere in which my subject matter is seen. Other than the students of the Hensche/Hawthorne approach, there are very few (if any) instructors who can teach this way of seeing.
Henry Hensche kept the groundbreaking tradition of Monet alive and developed it further. If Hensche had chosen to go Modern, the whole Impressionist movement would have remained a vision of the past, and we would not have the capability of passing it on to the painters of today.
Q: Have your views about art shifted at all since you studied with Hensche or have you simply built upon what you learned from him. Are there other artists you admire and have gained valuable insights from? Why, or in what way, have they influenced your work or your thoughts about art?
A: Color can be a powerful tool if you know how to use it, so yes my views on art shifted entirely after studying with Hensche.
However, since then, I have studied with other artists that had the skills I felt I was weak in. I tell students that it is important when you take a workshop that you determine what you want from that instructor. I don’t take workshops to learn color (unless it’s with another Hensche student), but I may take a workshop to learn structure and form, composition, etc.
Also, unlike many Hensche students, I acknowledge other major painting movements that don’t necessarily focus on color and may be primarily interested in value.
Q: You have been a highly sought after workshop instructor for many years, giving you a chance to observe artists at all levels struggling to increase their skills and understanding of color and plein air painting. What would you consider the biggest hurdle to progression? Conversely, what have you perceived as the key to advancing more quickly?
A: I find that the students that have the most trouble opening up to this way of seeing are advanced students or professional painters.
I will often say the opposite of what other instructors have taught them. I also rarely find that student that is willing to make the commitment to learning this way of seeing and painting. You have to be comfortable with doing a lot of bad starts before you begin to grasp this concept.
Q: You talk about artists finding their voice. What does that mean and how does an artist achieve such a lofty goal as you have so masterfully accomplished?
A: A lot of painters have commented that they know that I studied with Hensche but I don’t look like a Hensche student. I have developed my own style which is particular to my vision.
When you first start studying with an instructor, you may imitate that instructor. However, over time, I remind my students that they will inevitably find their own way. I suggest that they collect samples of other painters that inspire them. This will help them get in touch with what they are passionate about.
I think it is critical to paint from one’s soul and paint what is important to you. If you are inspired, people will sense this in your work, and the recognition and sales will follow. We all have something unique to say. Learn how to paint and then you can express who you are as a painter.
I give the example of someone banging on the piano for years. They will never play a symphony. It is the same with painting, They will never paint a masterpiece just banging on the canvas. They need to persevere and develop their skills in order to paint a masterpiece.
Q: You have been very deliberate and prosperous in marketing and promoting your artwork (I saw your ads in many of the top magazines year after year even during the 90s). What counsel can you offer artists today for building a successful painting career?
A: I was an illustrator before I started marketing my work as a fine artist. I had a large advertising budget and applied it immediately to my fine art.
I find most painters don’t have this experience. When I work with other painters, I suggest that they first develop a good product and then either promote it themselves or find someone who can promote them.
The marketplace is also constantly changing, so we are not promoting art the same way we did 20 years ago. This is the first time in the history of marketing that the patron can go to the artist’s website and buy artwork. I’m not saying that galleries don’t play a role, but they are not as important as they used to be.
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Please comment and thank Camille for sharing her talents and insights with us!
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The interview with Camille was wonderful. I had the pleasure of doing one of her workshops here in Madison, Ms when I first started painting. I was overwhelmed with what she was doing.
She is a wonderful instructor. Loved it!
Thank you Camille for your wonderful insight/theory and Bill for his excellent questions. (that has to be hard to do. But you gotta love the road trip.) I love the “the theoretical Professional and/or advance being the toughest to reach & teach…that’s me. Just by interviews and points of view of you two and others like John Weiss I am slowly learning to hug the shadow-reflection through a painting. For myself, old habits, good or bad die slowly. As an illustrator for nearly 40 years i found that others (clients were dictating my voice with a “can you make it look like this guy did it?” request. This is me today: http://www.christophernewellartist.com
Bell Well Hugs, Chris
Great interview, Bill. I see wonderful luminosity in Camille’s and your paintings. I learned a lot from this interview. Enjoy your trip and remember to come home to Indiana safely. My gratitude to Camille for sharing her artistic genius.
Excellent!!! I have been a fan of Camille for years and love hearing her responses to your questions!!!! THANK YOU!!!
Wish I had come to painting many years ago. It is my passion now but at 94 I cannot expect more than the enjoyment I get from so many great artists.
Camille mentioned she had a large advertising budget that she put immediately to her art. Did that come from having a very lucrative illustration career or what. It seems most people really struggle to get started. On person whom I shall not name I came across in FB group. He has painted for years and has a very identifiable style. In the space of a year he went from giving away his work in Central Park..all of it was quickly scooped to a shop on Etsy selling around 400$ ( no sales) to going onto Saschi at around 1200$ for the same pieces that had been on Etsy..no sales. So the question that begs to be answered is…how best to not only get folks seeing your art but how to get your work selling.
That’s a fantastic question Janne!
It often makes it sound easy when we hear a quick synopsis of an artist’s rise to success.
I believe successful selling of artwork is a combination of a lot of factors that are as varied as the artists themselves. I’m not sure where Camille got the money early on to advertise, but I do know of some artists who mortgaged their homes, got loans from family or maxed out credit cards to kick-start their careers. Others worked jobs and painted every spare moment while galleries marketed their work until their painting sales exceeded their job income.
One friend of mine taught high school art and sculpted until 2 each morning and on weekends for years before he was able to sculpt full-time. He was then a consummate businessmen. When you walked into his studio he had a business manager that kept his activities – like shows and gallery needs – in order. He made it a practice as well to periodically visit a gallery quietly and see how they were displaying his work. He was generally in 10 galleries at a time to ensure consistent sales.
My start came from persistently approaching galleries I liked until I got in. I did that while in high school and college. The first year after college I worked as a graveyard security guard so I could paint during the day – I averaged 4 hours of sleep a day. Kristie and I have also lived frugally (as much as we could with 7 children) and missed out on much of what other people considered important – like cable TV, car payments (driving old cars we could buy with cash), buying old houses for cheap that we could fix up, not eating out, cooking from scratch – that sort of thing.
Sometimes it’s simply pure luck – the right place at the right time.
Mostly, it’s not considering anything else acceptable as a career. Most painters look at all other jobs as temporary necessities that allow them to buy more paint and give up whatever will keep them from achieving their goal of painting.
It is rarely an easy way to go. Then again, is anything in life easy?
The most financially successful artists I know are also great marketers and promoters. Advertising in art magazines or wherever collectors will see your work over and over seems to be one of the keys.
Eric Rhoads offends some artists because he stresses so much the need to spend money on advertising – but he’s right. From Richard Schmid to David Leffel to the top shows in the country – they have all advertised consistently in the magazines. That’s why we know about them.
Coca Cola has been the top selling soda for eons – they have also spent enormous sums on advertising and continue to do so today.
There’s no getting around it – if we want to have the sales success of a Richard Schmid or a Morgan Weistling we have to promote (having incredible art also helps but it is not as necessary as great promotion). A lot of mediocre artists sell well because they advertise and promote really well.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but if you do advertise, be prepared to keep at it month after month without seeing measurable results for months (or years) until collectors are confident you are here to stay.
Pursuing a career in art may not be the easy road, but it sure is a joyous one!
I wish you well on your own path Janne.
Very interesting interview! Sure gave me a lot to think about before and during my painting sessions.
I have taken classes with another former Hensche student but have never had the pleasure of taking one with Camille. I appreciate the comment that her work has changed over the years and progressed which speaks to taking what she learned about color and fitting it to herself, and then continuing to take workshops with others to improve areas where she felt she was weak. Thank you for this opportunity to hear her words.
Loved this interview. I’m still finding so much to learn. I think broadening your scope as far as instructors is important. Each instructor imparts something from their style and approach. Thanks again.