In July of 2013, I asked a group of women artists if they noticed any significant differences in the way male and female artists are accepted within the American art scene. Cindy Baron, one of the women asked to comment, senses there is a difference in how the two genders are perceived in the marketplace. Men are considered to be more serious about their work than women.
Additionally, Baron notes, “I have observed how different the approach to selling between the sexes is,” she said. “Yes there is no doubt that male and female artists have their style for selling…one is bolder than the other and therefore seems more investment worthy. I think the female artist could learn more aggressive marketing from men.”
Commenting on the difference in support received, Baron notes, “Most male artists have a support system behind them. As women, we have a natural tendency to support everyone around us, and most often we are unsupported or not taken seriously.”
Well, there is little doubt that this Rhode Island artist is totally committed to her work. She is one of the few artists accomplished in pastel, watercolor and oil, while being awarded signature membership status in the American Watercolor Society and Oil Painters of America. Quite an achievement for those that might question her seriousness.
It’s my pleasure to bring you this inspiring interview with Cindy Baron.
Art is personal and subjective. It is something that is spiritual and emotional. I recently went to the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming. The paintings there are amazing, but one, by Wilson Hurley, of the Grand Canyon moved me in a way I will never forget. I literally had to hug myself in awe of the grandeur, craftsmanship, composition and love of talent that this painting GAVE TO ME. The definition of art is what stays in your soul, visually, musically or written. It’s something that you can’t forget or imagine to not have witnessed.
Why are you an artist? It is a vocation for me – I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. Art is about creating beauty, and I have been doing that for as long as I can remember.
If you were not an artist, what would you like to be? I would definitely be a carpenter. I’m sure that sounds funny coming from a woman, but I love construction, building and woodworking. In my early twenties I helped build a house and learned so much – from roofing to masonry. It was a two-story English Tudor with lots of stonework and woodwork. I truly enjoyed the experience and would love to do it again.
What have been the major challenges you’ve had to face in order to establish yourself as a professional artist? My biggest challenges have been timing…and myself! I am very hard on myself, many artists are. I am always challenging myself to be better, to see the landscape simpler.
Time has been an obstacle, balancing my private life and my career. I have raised two professional athletes and that takes enormous energy, passion and dedication. We are a sports family, a business in itself. It takes discipline and is a sacrifice for everyone. I have always been an artist, but I also knew I had to put my sons first. Some of my best work came during the middle of the night working on a painting for a show. During tournaments, I would pack a few art books; find galleries and museums to visit in the area of games. I grew tremendously this way.
Princess Diana famously said, “if you mess up raising your family, then nothing else matters”. I believe that. I would not be where I am today had it not been for my sons. Through patience, I have gained tremendous passion for my art and it has become clear about where I want it to go.
You began as a pastel artist, than moved to watercolor; how have those media influenced and benefited your oil paintings? Using oils was definitely a struggle at first, especially paint application and mixing. I found that if I start my oils like a watercolor, I can achieve what I am looking for in my art. My watercolors are not traditional in technique or look, which has benefitted my oils and my oils have enhanced my watercolors.
I love working in both mediums and each one has helped me to become a better artist. I have piles of bad paintings… and what better way to grow is there than by pulling them out and experimenting? It’s been a dozen years since I began oils and what attracted me was the richness of expression. I began to work on translating that into my watercolors by layering of color yet keeping it transparent. Both of my palettes are similar, so I am very comfortable in my applications.
What attracts you to landscape painting? I was a portrait artist in the beginning, but I was always captivated by paintings of grand scenes. It’s about telling a story through a paintbrush. I love being outdoors, hiking, fishing and traveling. I started traveling to New England and was so captivated by the small towns and fishing boats and the islands that peppered the coast and it seemed a shame to not paint the whole scene. Living in central Pennsylvania, then southern New York near Buffalo, my paintings were of farmlands and gentle mountains. Moving to Rhode Island, the coastline was exhilarating. Loved the coastal storms. The rocky coastline and surfs made for some dramatic paintings. Then I met the Rockies and Tetons and that is where the grand scenes became real for me. I love the ranches and the way the mountains surround them with cast shadows. I love the challenge of creating distance and that is where the grand scenes begin.
Your paintings are very atmospheric; what are the key points one needs to know when creating a true sense of atmosphere? The atmosphere in my paintings depends on what I am trying to say. I love subtle changes in values. That can be a challenge and most of the time not achieved in my first brush stroke. When on location whether I am painting or just observing, I really study the values and harmony. Storms are perfect, because it gives you a grey palette to work with; it is up to you to see colors and harmony. So one key point for me is SUBTLE changes. I try to achieve that in both my oils and watercolors. One technique I use is mixing my colors on the canvas or paper versus the palette. This is more often done in watercolors, because it allows the values and harmonies to blend more naturally then on the palette, where more often than not it looses translation and freshness in route to the paper. In oils, I do the same, layering color on top of color, which allows me to create a smoky and or moody feel while the paint is still fresh. (My color palette aids also.)
We both have a love for vistas and atmosphere; what is the appeal? It’s about telling a story. It’s about creating miles and miles for the viewer to see. The best compliment someone can give to me is if they can walk through my paintings. If the viewer can feel the humidity or an approaching storm or want to know what is behind the mountain thru a path I have created, that is the best compliment. .
Your paintings tend to be cool in temperature; how do you decide on a dominating color key for a painting, and how do you maintain it? That is a balancing act. All my values have subtle changes in temperature and for me; it’s per brush stroke and seeing how the colors compliment each other. I would say in the beginning I was painting too warm and knew I needed to bend my hues to be more eye appealing. I am ever evolving and field studies help so much with this.
How do you go about determining the concept for each painting? I paint what excites me. I also like to design my canvas size, which aids in compositions. I like to use a square formats and love the challenge of a vertical design.
What is the major thing you look for when selecting a subject? I’m attracted to shapes and edges or drama of the scene. A coastal landscape has the wonderful movement and big value changes. Mountains have all the elements of shapes, edges and subtle changes. I love to draw, so I look for certain edges to focus on and how I can enhance the lighting on it.
Are there basic rules of composition that you always adhere to? I love compositions. When instructing my students, I start very simply with “don’t have the center of interest in the middle or the horizon line.” I talk about movement through a painting, having your eye walk gently into the scene and back. Keep the four corners of your canvas different, by value or shape. If you view some of the master works, for example, William Trost Richards, you will find that he broke a lot of the rules just mentioned, but it worked. There are many design rules that are natural for me.
When designing a painting, do you attempt to simplify and minimize value masses? How do you determine those value masses? I will be the first one to tell you I can complicate a painting more than anyone else. Simplifying has been continuous development work for me. This is where my sketchbook and field studies are key. To enhance that, most of my paintings start with just a tonal wash of a warm value and then I work on shapes and decide my value ranges. This has been very helpful to me. I also have a friend in a mirror. I have a large one directly behind me when I am at the easel. I am constantly checking my drawing and painting through this process. It won’t lie.
Is there something you want to communicate to the viewer through your painting; if so, does that come naturally or is it something you consciously attempt to achieve? I have worked hard and am continuously growing in my craft. Drawing came more naturally then color. If I can hold a viewers interest in the painting, then I am achieving something. I paint the places I love and have been to. A huge compliment is having someone say, “I want to go there.”
You state that, “My oils and watercolors are far from traditional teachings. My approach is unusual but the end results are spiritual.” What do you mean by that? I took a workshop 25 years ago with Nita Engle in northern Wisconsin and it was a huge light bulb moment for me. I was following all the rules of pure watercolor painting and not happy with what I was doing. In class she told me, “it’s your painting, you can do anything you want to it”. Her demos, lectures and critiques were invaluable. Once I started breaking some painting rules and experimenting, my art started to evolve. Typically you start a watercolor going from light to dark and oils are usually reversed. I start with medium value ranges in both and branch out from there. Give yourself permission to not follow all the rules. I tell all my students that my approach is different, it’s what works for me, there is no right or wrong, it’s what is achieved.
Please share with us your working process. I always start with a sketch; my references could be several photos and a small field study. On a white canvas I will lay in the colors I see in my reference not paying to much attention to shapes then I will take a cloth and semi blend the colors. With a rubber tip brush and rag, I start to draw the shapes. I build from there. With a watercolor, my painting is drawn in first and then I throw paint on a very wet surface and have all the colors mix naturally. I do a series of glazes and concentrate each time where I want the color to land. This is great in building atmosphere. The white of both surfaces is always intimidating, so the first thing I do is to eliminate most of it. The majority of my paintings are finished with fresh eyes, which could be a couple days to a couple months. Detail is the last step.
Do you consider the process of painting more important than the result? No, the result is the key. It doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s if you achieved what was in your mind and your heart.
How much of your work is intellectual vs. emotional…and how would you define the difference? This is a hard one to give a percentage to, but when you are so moved to create what you feel, I don’t think anything can stop you. Intellectually you know the structure of a good painting that has come from time spent in the field and studio. Of course you need both, but passion plays a tremendous role for without it you would just be going through the motions. Most of my life has been spent in the sports arena and it takes a lot of passion, dedication and discipline to succeed, not just athleticism. I apply that concept to fine art; academics without heart and soul would reflect in your creativity.
What colors are typically found on your palette? Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Red, Cadmium Yellow Med and Dark, Alizarin, Yellow Ochre, White, Viridian, Savanna Gray, Unbleached Titanium, Black
What part does photography play in your work? Photography plays about 50% and mostly just for reference. I use my painting studies and black and white sketches. Photographs are great to recall or study a shape, but they are not good for values and depth of a scene. That has to come from you and your recall. The last 20% of my painting is done without any reference and I go mainly on my memory of the scene and what moved me to want to paint it.
What part does plein air painting play in your work? A huge amount, you have to paint in the field just to gain the knowledge of values and color. I love being outside and my trips I plan every year are more like boot camp. This is where the good, the bad and the ugly happen, but so invaluable to a successful studio painting. That hour or two you spend on a painting, you learn what shapes are good, how to hold your masses and color temperature. The knowledge of this can only be achieved through painting on site.
What qualifies as a plein air painting? I like using the term “field studies” instead of plein air as most of my work is for capturing knowledge. I almost always paint a little on them in the studio without references and go by the memory of that day. Plein-air I would apply to timed painting events that cannot be painted on later and entered into shows. I love to revisit my field studies and paint on them, great knowledge is gained.
How does one find their individuality as an artist? Paint what excites you. Make many bad paintings, experiment, read, visit galleries and museums. I have studied with a few artists that have influenced me along the way and that is important when you are beginning, but identity comes from within you. I tell my students: your bad paintings – and we all have them – are a blessing. That is where we learn, gain freedom to experiment and create.
How does your work reflect your personality? I am laughing at that one, Sybil comes to mind. Being a dual-medium artist it could be a challenge when deciding on a brush. I love to travel and have a huge bucket list of places I want to paint. So to describe my personality would be explorative, grand and hardworking.
How would you define “success” as an artist? Peer recognition and wealth would be the go-to answer, but it’s not. Yes I am an artist and I believe that is a gift, but most importantly I am a mom, an entrepreneur, a good friend and most of all, ever evolving. Yes there is success, but it came with discipline, hard work, teaching and a feeling of pride that I am allowed to be an artist.
What’s the most difficult part of painting for you? Probably calling a painting “finished.” I like to look at my paintings with fresh eyes. When you revisit a painting after not looking at it for a couple of days it is so helpful in problem solving.
What do you consider your greatest artistic challenge? My challenge is my desire to paint all the places I want to explore. Time is precious and I have a big “bucket list” of locations to paint. I want to learn and give each place adequate attention and effort.
How many hours per day do you typically paint? A typical day starts with coffee, emails than exercise. I am usually at the easel by 11 and will paint till about 5. I break for a couple of hours, but I am a fan of late night painting. I paint everyday, it is seldom that a day goes by and I haven’t touched a brush, even if it’s just to lay a couple of strokes on a painting that I see has an issue.
What advice do you have for someone desiring to be an artist/painter? Be passionate, disciplined, determined. Leave the ego behind and always challenge yourself. You will have good times and hard times and even question your artistic abilities more then you will want to admit. Study from artists you admire – living or deceased – and be open to several mediums to find your expression. Being an entrepreneur has many challenges but know that you were given a gift and it would be a sin to not use it.
If you could spend the day with any three artists past or present, whom would they be? Tucker Smith, so talented, I love the stories he paints. Edgar Payne, for introducing me to the mountains. William Trost Richards, I cry when I see his paintings.
If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you? If it’s a tropical island, I am taking “The Scenic Journey” Edgar Payne. Second would be a large notebook, so I could write my great novel. Third would be my photo album of my family…
What has been your most effective marketing tool? Several things; one being, my two feet. I have had the privilege of living and traveling around the country and would do my research on galleries, museums and artist that were in the area. Making a personal connection has always been a good avenue. Other tools have been Plein Air events, gallery representation, collector lists, advertisements and the Internet.
For more about Cindy Baron
To read the two-part series, “She Paints Like a Guy”, click below