Although Jimmy Dyer is widely known for his paintings of the American West, he is an artist capable of painting a wide range of subjects and doing them well. “I am endlessly fascinated by new people and places, and desire to search them out far and wide,” he says.
Dyer has painted in Europe, South America, Canada, the Caribbean, and much of the United States. He has discovered that traveling helps him maintain vitality and encourages inspiration. There is nothing sloppy or ill conceived in a Jimmy Dyer painting. Instead, there is an obvious carefulness…a desire for accuracy, precision and clarity, enhanced by a heightened use of color. The result is a painting truly identifiable as a Jimmy Dyer work…and, yes…that unmistakable love of nature’s magnificence with animals and man living in peaceful harmony.
I believe you’ll really enjoy and learn from Dyer’s comments.
What is your definition of art? I’m not sure I have one. I just paint what I like to paint. A friend of mine used to always say he was a “painter,” that history would decide who was an artist.
How would you define your role as an artist? To paint what moves me, to the best of my ability, and hopefully it will speak to someone else.
You paint a variety of subjects, but primarily you focus on western landscapes. How did that come about and how would you define the style of your work? I grew up spending time on relatives’ ranches and farms and watching westerns on TV and at the movies. My brothers and I had horses and grew up in Texas where the culture “the west” was ingrained. In my “official” bio I describe my style as “… seeks to combine the light, color, and painterliness of plein-air painting with the solid drawing and tonal accuracy of more academic styles of painting.” I guess that says it as well as anything.
Describe your painting process. That’s a very big question. My process has changed and evolved over the years, but now, as far as my studio work goes, I start with a very carefully worked out design. Sometimes I will spend as much time on the design as I do on the painting. I wash in a tone on the canvas that approximates the most dominant color and value of the image I want to paint. I carefully graph off my design, and graph off the canvas. Then I start blocking in, being extremely careful to be totally faithful to my design. I don’t do any “drawing” as such on the canvas. I start with figures and animals first if they are in the design, and otherwise just start with the most important thing. I use the biggest bright brush (I use mostly brights and flats) that I have and start blocking in the figures and animals or main subject. I don’t do a drawing and then fill it in with color, but rather bock things in, as fully formed, with the most correct colors and values as possible.
Blocking in and drawing are done in one step. For example, in a painting with cows, I would just start blocking in with a 1”-2” brush beginning with the shadow sides of the cows. Then I would do the same for the light and turning edge planes of the body. Then I would do the lightest lights with the same big brush—on the faces if they are Hereford cows. I’m basically drawing with “planes” because planes divided into values are what define everything anyway. At this point, with the main subject well under way, I try to establish the absolute darkest darks and lightest lights so that I can key all the values to them. Then I just start from the back-usually the sky and work my way forward trying to paint all the values and colors as accurately as I can. I’m also always thinking about edges with every brushstroke because I don’t want to have to paint everything over and over. I want the drawing and values and colors to be as accurate as possible, but I also want to see individual brushstrokes, pretty much the way I lay them down. I usually try to cover the whole canvas this first round. Then I will zero in on the main subjects again, finishing them with any detail I might want to add. At this point I refine and add detail over the rest of the painting as needed. I pretty much use the same process in my plein air work, except I don’t spend as much time on the design because of time restraints.
What do you hope to communicate through your paintings? The beauty I see in the world around me, in my own particular vision.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting? What is the painting about? I try to focus on one thing and design the painting around that. I used to “paint the world” in every painting, as an artist friend used to say. A very useful critique from Ned Jacob about 20 years ago helped me to get beyond painting the world and decide early on what the painting is about, design around that, and eliminate the superfluous.
When working from photographs, how closely do you adhere to them? Do you find them to be restricting or liberating? How do you overcome any negatives? The main thing is that I don’t paint anything that I haven’t painted from life and have those paintings on hand to refer to. No matter what might be in a photograph, I take all values and color directly from the painting done from life. The photo mainly serves as reference for drawing and detail when doing a studio painting, because as previously mentioned, the values and color come from the plein air paintings.
What colors are normally found on your palette? My palette started from the Robert Lougheed palette because the people who taught me about plein air painting were students of his. Over the years I have added and subtracted a few colors. These are the colors that are always on my palette: Windsor & Newton yellow ochre pale, yellow ochre, raw sienna. Other brands: Cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium yellow deep, cadmium orange medium, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, cadmium red deep, alizarin crimson, dioxizine purple, mauve, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, viridian, sap green, ivory black, titanium white. These are some colors I sometimes use: Holbein mauve, grumbacher red, paynes gray, chromium oxide green. I also have drawers of other colors for unique situations.
Do you have a color philosophy? Not really. All my color comes from trying to capture the light I see in person. I do this by painting plein air studies on location and really just try to capture the light and colors that I see, occasionally exaggerating where needed to convey in a painting what I see in reality.
What are the key points one needs to know when creating a true sense of atmosphere? To me, the correct use of values is everything in making a painting read any kind of light and atmosphere. Accurately capturing the values I see in nature will help to create a particular atmosphere on a particular day.
The next step is the use of cools and warms—warm colors bringing things forward in the painting, cool colors making them recede. On a sunny day, the lights are warm and the shadows (where they reflect the sky) are cool. On a gray day, the lights are cool and the shadows are warm.
Intensity of colors is important. The closer things are to the viewer, the more intense the colors will be. As objects recede, the colors will be less intense. This graying of colors as they recede creates atmosphere. The faster the graying and value fall off in a scene, the “thicker” the atmosphere, be it moisture in the air, dust, or whatever. More humid days really aid in the process of creating atmosphere.
Edges are another tool used in creating atmosphere. Though all objects have their own types of edges from razor sharp to soft and practically non-existent, edges are also affected by atmosphere. All edges tend to soften as they recede into space until they disappear altogether.
List these in order of importance: technique, color, values, concept, edges, framing, composition, and drawing. Concept, composition, drawing, values, color, edges, technique, framing
You consider plein air painting important to your work. What percentage of your work is done en plein air? It varies as to seasons and where I live at any given time. I have moved a lot in my life. When I live in an area where I can walk out the door and paint, I will do more plein air work. For many years I lived in the Dallas area which limited my amount of plein air work. Nowadays, most of what I put in galleries to sell is studio work. I might put 10% plein air work in galleries to sell. Since I live in the Texas hill country now, I paint more plein air paintings. Maybe 20-30% of my work is plein air, but I keep 90% of them for reference material. I have drawers and boxes of plein air paintings I have done over the course of 30 years that I refer to constantly. Everything in a studio painting is based on outdoor work, including figures and animals.
There are lots of opinions on what qualifies as a plein air painting, what are your thoughts? To me, a plein air painting is something I did outdoors on location. 90% of the painting must have been done on location. A minimum of touch up might be done in the studio before it is declared “finished.” If I want to do a larger, more complex painting outdoors, I will go back to the same sight, in hopefully the same light, multiple days. As I said earlier, everything I do is based on plein air work, but I don’t consider the studio paintings plein air paintings.
If you could spend the day with any three artists, past or present, whom would they be? It would be hard to limit it to just three. John Singer Sargent would have to be the first because he did everything so well. Of course the other two artists of the holy triumvirate would probably include—Sorolla and Zorn. I would have loved to have spent time with Carl Rungius and Frank Tenney Johnson because their subjects were more similar to mine. I would have loved to have spent time with Bob Kuhn and James Reynolds before they died. And of course there are living artists I would love to spend time with: Aspevig, Len Chimel, and many others.
If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you? That’s a really tough question; I like to read and would hate to be limited to just three books. Off the top of my head I would say the Bible, Lonesome Dove, and maybe a single volume encyclopedia if there is one. I used to have one on my desk that was two volumes. If I’m stuck on an island, I don’t think there are any art books I would want to read over and over, though there are several I do like to reread from time to time.
What made you decide to become a professional artist? I’ve always drawn and painted and wanted to be an artist but grew up thinking that it was not possible to make a living as an artist. Early on, basically starting in middle school (we called it “junior high”), I focused on, architecture as a way to make a living. My first two years in college I majored in architecture. I quickly discovered that I got the most joy out of painting renderings of my designs. The structural side of architecture interested me very little. So, I looked to commercial art as a major and a way to make a living, changing colleges and changing majors. I sort of triple majored in painting, illustration, and graphic design. No matter what I had to do to make a living, I intended to paint on the side. I’m kind of a library hound. One day at the library, probably about 1980, I discovered an issue of Southwest Art Magazine, seeing for the first time that people were actually making a living with their art. Virtually that second, I abandoned all pursuits except painting, figuring that if they could make a living painting then I could figure out a way to do it also. I immediately loaded up my truck and headed to New Mexico on my first painting trip and never looked back.
What are the three most important personal qualities one must possess in order to succeed as a professional artist? First of all, wanting it so badly that you are willing to suffer ridiculous privations and humiliations for many years. Second, discipline-getting oneself to take action. It takes a lot of determination and doggedly doing whatever it takes to succeed at anything, but perhaps even more to succeed as a professional artist. Third, a desire and ability for lifelong learning.
How do you define “success” as an artist? In painting, success for me is mainly doing good work, or I should say “trying to do good work.” I always strove to do good work rather than selling and always have and continue to strive to get better. Selling is a by-product, a necessary evil, if I want to continue painting.
Artists are not typically good business people/self-promoters of their work, how do you handle that part of your career? Poorly. Being married helps me to try to focus more on being a better business man because I have responsibilities. My wife can witness to the fact that money did not figure into my criteria of success before we were married. See the above question for the fleshing out of this. I have to want to be an artist bad enough to continually learn how to make a living at it and have the discipline and diligence to apply what I learn on the business side.
What are your artistic goals for 2015? I’d like to discover a path to the next level. There are a handful of artists out there who are operating on a level that I’m not sure how to get to. I want to at least begin to discover how to move in that direction.
Thanks Jimmy for your time, and the wonderful interview.
View Jimmy Dyer’s website HERE
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE