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: John Pototschnik
“I’m not a fan of jumping from one workshop to another, all with different instructors. I recommend finding one or two teachers that do the type of work you want to do and learn all you can from them.” – John
Q: What path would you recommend for new painters, and what skills are most important to develop?
A: For me to suggest the path a new painter should take in establishing a painting career is a difficult thing to do. One’s personality, health, age, financial and family status, geographic location, and type of art all influence the path to be taken.
However, the first things I would recommend would be to honestly assess your abilities, your absolute commitment to a fine art career, and if married, your family’s willingness to make the sacrifices required until the career is established. And then really work on drawing – it’s the foundation of all painting.
Seek out the best training/mentoring you can. I’m not a fan of jumping from one workshop to another, all with different instructors. I recommend finding one or two teachers that do the type of work you want to do and learn all you can from them.
Next, establish a presence in your local community, then your state, then your region of the country, etc. Seek good representation, make yourself visible through shows, competitions, worldwide web, and social media. Become involved, and contribute your time, to local art organizations. Work toward building a list of those that have purchased or expressed interest in your work and maintain some form of regular contact with them.
Q: It’s obvious from your blog posts that, like many artists, you value life-long learning and continuously refining your skills. Tell us about your journey. How strongly did the technical skills you learned previously as an illustrator assist you in pursuing a career as a fine art painter?
A: I began college as a business major. I was considering the field of accounting, of all things, but after one semester realized that wasn’t for me. My school counselor helped me make a change by administering a personality test.
“You should seek a profession in which you work with your hands…building and creating things”, he said. So, in my sophomore year I took metalworking, printing, woodworking, and art classes. The decision was made to pursue art – though I was totally unaware of what that meant or where that decision would lead, I knew I liked to draw.
Many sources discouraged me from entering the fine arts. “You’ll never make a living”, they said. So, I focused on becoming a commercial artist – an art director for an agency. I soon discovered and fell in love with being an illustrator and decided it would be my future.
This was during the Vietnam War era and the draft. Wanting to somewhat control my destiny, I enrolled in the ROTC program. At the same time, I was competing in bicycle races in the Midwest and gaining a good reputation. As college graduation approached and I was to accept an Air Force commission and base assignment, I learned of the Armed Forces Sports Program, a recruiting tool offered to their best athletes, and I was accepted into that program.
It was 1968 and all the athletes were training in Southern California. I was sent to the LA area as an athlete and an Information Officer. My duties: train in the morning, fulfill Information duties in the afternoon, and represent the AF in races on the weekends. One of the great blessings of the California assignment was the opportunity to attend Art Center College at night. It was a busy life, but Art Center training gave me the confidence to pursue a career in freelance illustration.
After leaving the AF in 1972 I moved to Dallas, spent three months preparing a portfolio, and over the next year presented my work to 135 ad agencies, art directors, and studios. Work started coming in. First, it was pen and ink spot illustrations for newspapers and magazines, later dyes or watercolor was added, and eventually full-color acrylic paintings.
By 1982 I had tired of the profession with its incredible deadlines. Many illustrators were moving into the fine arts, so I followed suit. A friend of mine, a VP at a local oil and gas company, knowing of my desire to leave illustration, suggested I do a series of paintings depicting the co-existence of oil and wildlife. He helped me sign six corporate sponsors. I produced paintings for each, plus prints, and that funded my first year in the fine arts.
I did a lot of small paintings early on in my career, all the while building a collector base. I mailed a monthly newsletter, participated in art festivals, had gallery representation, and took advantage of every opportunity to show my work. All contributed to establishing my career.
More than gaining technical skills as an illustrator, the greater benefits were learning to work with so many different clients and meeting their needs, meeting impossible deadlines, learning how to rescue unsatisfactory work, and trying to create something personally satisfying and significant despite the many prescribed guidelines.
Q: In one of your recent blog posts, you mention certain “basic building blocks” being necessary for a painting to be successful. What paintings come to mind that showcase those building blocks best? Is it possible to create a successful painting without them, or are they universally needed?
A: What I classify as “basic building blocks” are not unique to me, but are universal truths for all those painting in a realistic style. I call them “building blocks”, but “foundational supports or blocks” also works. They are foundational because the whole structure and success of a painting rests on them.
In order to understand them more clearly, visualize the building of a house: Concept/Style of House, Composition/Floorplan, Drawing/Framework, Color/Roof, Siding/Trim, Technique/Interior Decorating, Presentation/Landscaping. Rather than elaborate on all these, hopefully the picture is clear. Certainly color and presentation need not be present for a great painting to exist, but you get the point.
A recent painting I did that showcases each of these building blocks is “Be Still My Soul” – winner of the Silver Medal at this year’s Oil Painters of America (OPA) National Show in Steamboat Springs, CO. When placed next to the photo reference used, the building blocks are all demonstrated. Here’s a video that reveals the motivation and process behind the painting:
You can learn more about this painting’s motivation and process here: pototschnik.com/be-still-my-soul-wins-big
Q: Having been on the selection committee for the OPA 2018 Salon Show you rated submissions along 7 categories: design, drawing, values, color, center of interest, variety of edges, and paint application. Can you tell us about your process?
A: OPA handles the selection process in the best way possible. Five Signature and/or Master Signature members, who’s work differs, are selected by a Board member for this honor. Jurors are not told who the others are, so there is no communication between them.
The first round of judging featured all entries, we simply voted “yes” or “no.” That reduced the number to about a quarter of the total entries. In the second round each piece was rated with a score from one to seven. The top 200 or so highest scoring works made the show. This was the most difficult stage because many of the paintings were quite good.
When judging, I first assessed the overall appeal and quality of the work. This was somewhat subjective, but upon more critical analysis I placed greater emphasis on drawing (accurate proportions and perspective, and a convincing representation of the subject in space), composition (balanced organization of the subject), values (an unequal and beautiful distribution of lights and darks throughout the painting). I have found that if these three elements are dead on, the rest usually are as well.
Q: How has being a man of faith influenced you and your paintings? Do you feel that your experience as an artist has changed your understanding of God?
A: Although creation reveals some important things that can be known about God, my understanding of God has come through the Bible and its revelation of Jesus Christ.
I have learned from the Bible that God loves me personally, and because I trust in the Son and His substitutionary death for my sins I can claim the promises He makes to me – some of which are: He guides and directs my path, He’s my helper, my provision, my shepherd and my peace. He corrects, teaches, and disciplines.
So yes, all those things give me comfort and assurance, both as a person and an artist. As a landscape painter, the magnificence of God is continually magnified as I study His handiwork.
We are all people of faith. Who or what that faith is placed in is life’s great question. The Bible assures me that faith in Jesus will result in the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That truth influences everything in my life, including the paintings.
Q: What are your thoughts about the future of representational painting?
A: I believe the skyrocketing rise in ateliers and classic teaching speaks loud and clear that something significant is in the works. The young artist of today wants more than what has been offered.
The emptiness of what began as abstract expressionism has devolved into scratches on canvas being called art. So yes, I think representational painting is here to stay and should increase in importance for the foreseeable future, for it sort of offers people saneness amid this insane world in which we live.
The thing I wonder about is whether there will be buyers to purchase it. The young people of today have little exposure to art, are really focused on technology, and seem to have little interest in, or need for, beautifully handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items created just to be enjoyed.
Q: You have taught that apart from a painting’s subject matter, medium, and size, an artist has the most control over the quality of their work and publicity. Besides the masterful quality and beauty of your work, what has been most helpful in building your name recognition and demand for your work?
A: Coming from the field of advertising, I did learn some things about promoting a product. Regular and consistent visibility is vitally important. Collecting the names and addresses of those that purchase and/or express serious interest in the work – and keeping the work in front of them helped create sales. Prior to the internet, I printed and mailed a high quality monthly newsletter, plus additional direct mail promotions. I joined and was active in two local art organizations, eventually becoming President of both.
Having good and honest gallery representation is also extremely valuable if names and addresses of all collectors are obtained. Being blessed with two sons that have their own businesses and know a lot about marketing has really expanded my thinking about self-promotion.
A website is critically important; also, I write a weekly blog, have an active, consistent presence on Facebook and YouTube, and produce a monthly newsletter for my subscribers. Streamline Publishing is about to produce my second art instruction video, but this time it’s about color and there will be an accompanying book.
I have been careful not to make everything I do about me; for example, my blog has featured interviews with more than 80 contemporary artists. I really try to make my writing educational, informative, and inspirational.
Q: You’re well known for using a limited palette. Judging by the 15 hours it took to teach about it in your DVD “Limited Palette Landscapes” by Liliedahl Art Videos, you probably can’t cover too much here, but what is the overall benefit or appeal? Do you think a limited palette is good for every style or approach?
A: I did teach some about color in “Limited Palette Landscapes” but the main purpose of that DVD was to demonstrate my painting process from start to finish while using a very limited palette. I just completed videotaping my second DVD, and this one is exclusively about my use of a three-primary palette. The teaching is concise and thorough.
I encourage the use of a limited palette for those struggling with color for several reasons:
- It greatly simplifies the process of understanding color.
- It speeds up learning how to mix color and to achieve the desired mixtures.
- It forces the intermixing of all the colors on the palette.
- It automatically creates color harmony.
- It shows very clearly that color relationships are more important than matching the color seen.
- It encourages experimentation in using major divisions of the color wheel.
Use of a limited palette works for every style and subject matter. Again, it’s color relationships that make a work beautiful and convincing, not the amount of tube colors on the palette.
Q: Do you think an artist working from photo references that they took themselves capture the same spirit or power as painting outdoors?
A: I created a blog post a few weeks ago that alludes to this very thing. It’s what comes from within the artist that makes for great paintings, not that which is outside – meaning working from photos or life.
It is true that plein air pieces display more spontaneity, and most often have a different feeling than studio works done from photos, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better, or even good. To me it’s all about the goal of the artist.
Ultimately it’s the result that’s important, not whether photos were used or not. This question causes me to think of George Inness; his major works were neither done in plein air or from photos and yet they are tremendously powerful.
Q: What are some ‘best practices’ you suggest for plein air painting? How much equipment do you haul around, and how do you minimize interference from the weather and environment, so you can fully focus on capturing what you experience?
A: At the top of my list for plein air painting is simplicity. I suggest reducing the amount of equipment carried to the bare minimum. I try to have everything contained in one easy to carry bag, except for the tripod.
- Use the plein air experience to learn about nature and its changing moods.
- Establish the shadow patterns at the beginning.
- Try to capture what you see. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?
- Squint to eliminate detail and help in the discovery of major value shapes.
- Begin broadly, save details till the end.
- I don’t particularly like the hassle of umbrellas, so I try to paint in the shade when possible.
Q: You recently received two honorable mentions at this year’s 13th International ARC Salon, as well as being named an ARC Living Master – one of the top honors in the representational art world today! What impact have the awards and shows made toward your success?
A: I seldom, if ever, see immediate results from any awards or shows – unless, of course, there is money attached.
I view these things as having a multiplying effect. Over time, with consistency, there seems to be broader recognition, hopefully leading to increased sales and a long career.