John Budicin interview

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John Budicin is a plein air painter. He’s been at it a long time, way before it became popular. His attitude toward painting on location is a healthy one…it’s all about learning and capturing the feeling of the place, he says. It’s challenges always keeping him humble, and if the work can be improved in the studio, he’s all for it.

Most of the subjects he paints are everyday scenes, typically passed over by others. “With the right light, the ordinary becomes magical”, he says. He believes that the intimacy with nature, required of landscape artists, is like any other relationship, it take time to develop. “The artist observes, learns to listen, and gets to know her. Eventually, the artist will be allowed to represent her beauty, the light effects she offers, along with her many moods. Each of us have our unique way of speaking through her.”

I know you’ll enjoy this interview with John Budicin, a premier landscape painter. I’m honored to bring it to you.  (Click images to enlarge)

John Budicin

Born in Italy, you moved to America when you were eleven; what brought that about, and why California?   The town I was born in (Rovigno D’Istria) was Italy and is now Croatia. After the war it  became part of Yugoslavia. Being communist our family left everything behind home, land, etc. We moved to Rome to a refugee camp. My uncle owned a bakery in Riverside, California and sponsored us to come to the United States.

“Afternoon Delight” – 9″ x 12″ – Oil

When did your interest in art as a career begin, and what training did you receive?   My older brothers worked as house painters and dabbled in painting pictures and drawing in their spare time. That sparked an interest. Living in Rome, art was everywhere. I had no formal training as such but did take a workshop with Ray Vinella, Michael Lynch and Len Chmiel.

Working in the commercial art field as an illustrator, what type of illustration typified your career?   I began my art career doing layouts in the advertising department at Harris’ in San Bernardino. After 10 years, I became Art Director and began illustrating what we called Hard Line Art (Furniture, Houseware, Oriental Rugs etc.) for Robinson and Bullocks Department stores. I did that for 10 years until overnight the illustration market died in Los Angeles. All the drawings were black and white for reproduction in the newspaper.

“Blinded by the Light” – 8″ x 13″ – Oil

“Pulling Up Weeds” – 20″ x 30″ – Oil

“Got Sunglasses” – 8″ x 10″ – Oil

How did the decision to become a plein air painter come about; how difficult was it to establish that new career?   I always wanted to paint. I went to museums, galleries, and hungered to paint, but could not break away from illustration because I had a family to think about. However, the decision was made for me when the market died.

As I mentioned I took a workshop with Ray Vinella in Taos, New Mexico. He introduced me to Kevin Macpherson. We were both making a transition from illustration to fine art. Kevin and I painted a great deal together and became close friends.

What are the 3 most important things you did to begin your fine art career?   The most important was painting from life. I found a gallery in Laguna Beach, California and began my career there. With the help of Ray Vinella I found a gallery in Taos. A short time later I was asked to join the Taos Gallery. I painted outdoors seven days a week and painted still life in the studio. With still life I would challenge myself with various light effects while also trying to feel the space between and around the objects. Painting nature won over the still life.

Does your Italian childhood still influence your life; has it had any influence on the type of work you’re doing today?   At the beginning I painted many scenes from my home town and Venice, mainly from slides. So, I would say, yes. Today I paint those scenes mostly from smaller on the spot paintings.

“Rovigno D’Istria” – 9″ x 12″ – Oil

What percentage of your work is done en plein air; why is that important to you?   It used to be 95% plein air 5% studio. Today, probably 50-50. I’m primarily a home body. Today, I spend more time in the studio. The area in which I live has grown considerably and my painting locations have dwindled to very few places. Places that were once 30 to 40 minutes away now take one to two hours to get there, depending on the time of travel.  I enjoy painting later in the day, so if I travel very far the roads returning home are a parking lot. However, I do take a few painting trips throughout the year

“Vista da monte Riggioni” – 12″ x 20″ – Oil

“Evening at Sharks” – 14″ x 20″ – Oil

When choosing a subject to paint, how do you know when you’ve found it?  I am always drawn by the light. I particularly like the afternoon and the light in winter. I like the long shadows and the light effect of late afternoon. That light can transform a mundane scene, one would just pass by, into something exciting.

I love painting vistas, they offer a challenge in trying to capture the feeling of atmosphere.

What’s in your plein air kit? Please list the colors you typically carry with you.  I use and arrange my colors in this order: Titanium White, Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange (Grumbacher), Cad Red Light , Alizarin Crimson, Dioxazine Purple, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue Hue (Grumbacher), Phthalo Green, Sap Green, Phthalo Yellow Green (Grumbacher)  I mix my greens and use the tube greens to alter my mix if and when needed. The colors are there as a convenience. I do not use all the colors in every painting, they’re only there if needed.

Please explain your painting process.  I begin with a simple lay-in of shapes and values, indicating the light source (the position of the sun) and the design. This is done in about one-half hour. Once the source of light is established, I hold it firm. I don’t want a different light source from where I began to where I end. From this point, it is a matter of refining and taking the painting to completion.

Step 1: A simple lay-in of shapes and values, beginning with the major shapes.

Step 2: Indication of the light and its direction. It’s important that once the position of the sun is established not to change it. Be consistent with the light source.

Step 3: Concentrating on harmonizing the colors and working throughout the canvas giving form and volume to the shapes.

Step 4: Now it’s just a matter of refining shapes and varying the work, bringing it to completion.

There are many varying opinions as to what qualifies as a plein air painting; what is your view?   In my way of thinking, plein air painting is gathering information and training your eye to see what is before you. Most important it is learning to feel and communicate with nature…listening to nature speak to you.

What gives you the most difficulty when painting en plein air?   Everything! Painting outdoors in humbling. You are looking at perfection. Nature is an evolving living canvas. We try to make the viewer see what we feel. We have a limited time to tell the story before it is gone. I try to capture a small time frame and generally walk away thinking I failed.

“Night Light” – 12″ x 9″ – Oil (Artists Choice Award, California Art Club – Mission San Juan Capistrano, California)

Are there compositional guidelines you always adhere to?   My way of looking at a composition is to think about the way the eye moves around the canvas. I try to keep the viewer from exiting the canvas by leading the eye up over and around areas of the painting.

Please put these words in order: color, drawing, technique, values, framing, composition, concept.   Color in not only what you see, it’s how you interpret it, and most importantly how you feel it. Drawing is essential and as important as it is in a landscape, I feel that the artist’s soul must be there. Great drawing skill alone does not make a work of art. The soul of the artist should be in that canvas.

What would be the 5 most important recommendations you’d have for those wanting to take up plein air painting?   1. Paint outdoors and paint outdoors. 2. Stop, observe, listen and feel what is before you. 3. Paint small when starting out. (You are training the eye to see. The process of seeing is the same on a 6 X 8 as an 18 X 24. You could paint four or five 6 X 8’s and never finish an 18 X 24 in the same length of time). 4. Don’t be concerned with style. This will come as you progress. It is your handwriting. 5. Learn from your failures. I personally learned more when a painting went south as when one worked.

“Evening at Two Harbors” – 9″ x 12″ – Oil

How would you change the current plein air movement?  I don’t know that I would change anything. I do wonder why so many think it is a show, an entertainment, a sport. Just because it was painted in plein air, many think it, therefore, has to be good. Also, some feel if it was touched up or finished in the studio then it’s not plein air. I go out and paint from nature, I come to the studio and look at what I have, I alter and make changes if necessary. Sometimes I look at the sunset colors and say to myself “they don’t feel right, that is not how I remember them.” I then make changes according to what I remember, and the way I felt when I painted the scene. I rely on my response and the feeling I walked away with. What I try to do is to create a work that will withstand the age of time.

Never settle. Always try to do better.

When teaching painting workshops, what do you most want to impart to your students?  When teaching I can only show the way I see and approach my subject. I try to make the participant look and respond to the scene in their own way. I tell them, “While you are here, try to do what I give you in terms of an approach. Begin with a simple value and squint.” All I can give is a road map. It is up to you to navigate and learn to say it in your own way. Don’t think as I do, think as you.

What makes a painting a work of art?   I probably sound like a broken record, but, feeling is number one. An artists’ soul should live in that painting. I remember looking at one of Michelangelo unfinished carvings, it actually brought tears in my eyes; although unfinished you felt his presence.

“Evening Curtain” – 20″ x 32″ – Oil (Best of Show, San Dimas 39th Annual Exhibition, San Dimas, California)

“Working Late” – 22″ x 28″ – Oil (Founders Award 2018, Big Horn Rendezvous – Brinton Museum, Big Horn, Wyoming)

If you could spend a day with any 3 artists, past or present, whom would they be?   Sorolla, Giacomo Favretto, and Isaac Levitan. His work is poetic.

If you were to start all over again today, how would you go about establishing your career?   In today’s world, I really don’t know. I was very fortunate to have opportunities come to me in my career. The most growth came with The Plein Air Painters Of America. We painted on Catalina Island each year, and each year we invited guest artists to paint. When you are subjected to artists you admire you push yourself a bit more. One always wants to grow.

If you were stranded on an island, what 3 books would you want with you?   Trevor Chamberlain, Zorn in America (fascinating reading), and Edward Seago.

How would you like to be remembered?   As being honest in my work, revering nature.


To see more of Budicin’s work, click HERE.


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