If there is one artist who’s work, temperament and personality coalesce into a perfectly homogeneous whole, it seems to me that artist is Romona Youngquist. A woman of contrasts, just like her paintings, she is the perfect subject for a Norman Rockwell painting. And, like a Rockwell painting, her paintings are just as unique and easily identifiable.
She describes herself as being complicated, yet simple; colorful, yet dark; hopeful, yet pessimistic. Her paintings, she says, are not unlike a “war zone”. The canvas is the battlefield and her “weapons” are paint, brushes, paper, scrapers, knives, sticks, and any other accessible instrument of attack…all arrayed in an effort to defeat an enemy determined to sabotage her ability to successfully communicate her vision.
Fortunately for us, she has won most of those battles. When asked about her typical day, one quickly realizes she is the poster child for multi-taskers.
This is how I view her day: While the coffee is brewing, she runs out to feed the chickens, all the while sipping on a glass of wine. Heading back to the house with an arm load of fresh vegetables, she grinds grain for bread before reaching the back door. Coffee is now ready, bread dough is kneaded and placed in the oven, and lipstick is applied to her lovely face. Picking up a large paint brush she lays down a broad swath of luscious paint on a painting already in process, only to quickly scrape if off with a palette knife and stab what’s left with a stick. More paint is added, followed by more scrapping. Bread’s now out of the oven, so out the door she goes to feed the animals; running back in she applies more paint to her painting, followed by a time out for a slice of bread and another glass of wine…and on it goes until these wonderful paintings emerge. Whew! Only Romona Youngquist can manage it all so well. (Click images to enlarge)
How would you describe your work? Contemporary Impressionism with a nostalgic emphasis.
Why are you an artist? I’ve known since around age four. As a kid, I became frustrated with people around me when they didn’t see the beauty that I did. It became my mission to help them notice.
What’s your definition of art? A person’s vision realized into craft.
What do you hope to accomplish as an artist? Since the pandemic, this has changed somewhat…. It used to be to create at least one perfect masterpiece but now I want to create Peace (in the form of a painting) for the viewer.
You live in beautiful Washington state; how much does your environment influence your work? I actually live in the Wine Country of Oregon and it’s the perfect setting for the rural scenes that move me. I like to say that if I ever won the lottery and could live anywhere, I would stay right here.
How much of your work is done in plein air? I’ve become more of a studio painter these days, but after I complete some projects, I plan to get out a lot this summer. I did find a new “super-secret” painting spot where I have full permission to paint.
Do you have a clear concept for a painting in mind before beginning it? I really do with the big ones. Usually what happens is…I get excited about a scene and I analyze it in a format. But, it’s always about the light and what I’ll say. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting (which can get dangerous when working large) and then the painting will veer into another direction. I’ll have to reign it in, which always makes the painting take much longer.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting; do you have compositional principles you consistently adhere to? What I want to say is more of a mood thing. So “Emotion” is key when composing. It’s all about tension mixed with simplicity. How I do that is usually a crap-shoot.
What principles do you follow in order to create a sense of atmosphere? Value, surface work, layering of transparent color, edges, temperature, and subtle saturation.
Please explain your painting process. Get up and have coffee, feed the chickens and dogs, then the husband…haha. I like to get several canvases under painted with a transparent wash of a darkish color (a complement ) then wipe-out the focal point. I go back and forth between paintings, which is a slow process. But, I’m so ADD (which artist isn’t?) that it works for me.
I’ve read that you consider your canvas a “war zone” because you use all kinds of tools; please tell us about that. I tend to deconstruct my paintings to create atmosphere and tension. I wipe down, build back up, knock it back down, create edges, and so forth. I use anything that’s nearby (except squirrel tails). Lately, my favorite tool is TP (I’m hoarding toilet paper for a different reason, LOL). I’ve been using brayers, window cleaning materials, anything I can to scrape down, and my other favorite brushes are the cheap hardware store hog bristles. They have the perfect give.
Please put these words in order: composition, color, framing, value, concept, technique, drawing. Concept, composition, value, drawing, color, technique, and then framing……but sometimes a beautiful frame will inspire a concept.
What colors are typically on your palette? Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Red Oxide, Zinc/Titanium White.
My favorite painting story is about the late great Russell Chatham. I met him one time while I was in Sun Valley with my family and he happened to be in a painter/fly fishing show. I was so excited to talk to him (being self-taught, I studied his work more than any other painter) and the only thing I could think to blurt out was “ What is your palette?” He told me, “Use only 6 colors or otherwise you’re FU@*ED”…ha ha. I would learn that he was right. Every time I would try to sneak new colors onto the palette, it would end in disaster; take green for instance, living in the Pacific Northwest forces an artist to learn how to mix it. And, every time…mixing my own greens works best.
Your palette is distinctive and your work easily recognizable; did that come about naturally or were you specifically seeking uniqueness? I love tonalism, so I tend to gravitate to a limited palette. However, where I live is so full of color I strive to marry the two by creating moody, soulful paintings with just a few colors, but tweak my palette to also ring true with what I’m seeing. By mixing my own colors, my work becomes harmonious.
What’s your color philosophy? I don’t know if I have one. I use color to emphasis mood.
As a landscape painter we face a lot of information; how do you go about distilling all that info down to your unique concept/point of view? Edit. Edit. Edit…and then, Edit some more.
Many artists have difficulty when it comes to their use of green; how do you create such beauty and variety in your greens? As I mentioned above, I mix my own and use a lot of red. I’ve been really trying to gray my greens. I would tell people that are learning to paint…do not buy tubes of green until you’ve mastered mixing them yourself.
Many artists/students fail to create a solid value structure in their paintings; what tips do you have for them? My tip for them would be…when learning, go outside and paint. Nothing can teach you value like Mother Nature…and squint down. I used to have a note on my easel that said “Squint Dammit Squint”. I need to find that note because it’s one of the things I still most struggle with.
What deceased artists have most influenced you and why? Something about Russell Chatham’s work moved me to the core. His compositions are so simple but also complicated and unique. His close values help to create atmosphere like no other…and of course, his subject matter.
I do have to mention two other deceased artists. I adore Curtis Hanson’s work. I studied with Michael Gibbons, who has just very recently passed. Gibbons had been painting en plein air when no one knew how to say the word.
I love the pictures I’ve seen of you in overalls and also the pictures you’ve posted on Facebook of your bread making exploits; what’s the deal? Hehe…I can’t escape being a country girl. Overalls are the perfect clothing attire. You have all kinds of pockets for paint brushes, eggs, screwdrivers, hammers, glasses, baby squirrels and chipmunks. I can get overalls on sale at the local farm store for only 29 bucks. I can garden, paint, feed critters, bake and then put lipstick and clean shoes on and go to town.
I’ve been baking since around 14. I loved the “Little House on the Prairie” books which got me baking, but after a trip to Italy with Lori McNée and being introduced to Ben’s sourdough bread (our villa host), I came back obsessed with learning the art of artisan bread baking. I grind my own grains, supplied by small organic farmers around the country. So glad I learned before the lock down happened. I happily supplied the neighborhood with bread when it was scarce.
What’s your typical day look like? I have a great studio at home and paint throughout the day, but I get distracted a lot with baking, coffee times, and critters…and when it’s wine time (especially in the summer) I let the chickens out and have “Chicken Happy Hour”.
If you were stranded on an island, what three books would you want with you? “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah, and Ivan Doig’s Montana books.
How would you define “success” as an artist? Success has a different meaning since the pandemic. However, living life as a painter, peaceful, and happily painting what I love to paint in an atmosphere that brings contentment, seems pretty successful to me. Greatness doesn’t mean much to me.
Romona, Thanks for this interview and for contributing such beautiful work to our world.
To view more of Youngquist’s work, click HERE.
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