October 26, 2010…”Hello John, I am a pharmacist and artist from Rogersville, MO. I started painting about seven years ago. I have had very little formal instruction. I normally wake up every morning with both motivation and inspiration for painting. I learned very early on that both come from God…”
“A word about my style. I am a fan of the Hudson River School, especially George Inness. I am a fan of the French Barbizon school also. There are hints of Tonalism and Luminism in my fiber also. More importantly, I realize that what talent I have comes from God. Whatever happens with my style, talent, or development comes from Him…”
“I have considered taking up some formal instruction at the local university. I have gone to several museums to observe the masters. I have read magazines on the subject, and more importantly, I have been searching for a mentor. I have friends that paint and can fill that role to some extent but their style is not my own. I need a little direction.
“Enter, John Pototschnik: While searching the internet for a local Barbizon artist or school with keywords such as “Inness, Barbizon, Tonalism, Springfield” your name popped up. You are the first professional artist I have found that so closely mirrors my own style, both technically and spiritually. Have you ever considered taking on a low maintenance student to mentor?”
…and that’s how a three-year mentoring relationship with Tim Breaux began. I am so proud of Tim, the quality person he is, his work ethic, and the artist he has become and will yet be.
I hope you’ll enjoy this interview. (Click images to enlarge)
Where does your love for art come from and what triggered your desire to pursue it? Some of my earliest memories are centered around family life on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation: bayous, French dialect, Acadian architecture, massive moss draped trees with white washed trunks, crawfish boils, and the sweet smell of cane harvest in the fall from the sugar mill down the road. Somehow, I was born with a romantic appreciation of that world and its history. I was the kid that pondered the beauty a little longer than the rest. I was born with a sense of awe that can only be explained as a love for the visual world. After college I often visited the Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, La. It was there that the seed was sown to pursue art, even though it would be another fifteen years before I would pick up a brush. Viewing the works of some of the earliest landscape painters, as well as the Hudson River School works in their collection, connected me to their experience. I identified with the romantic view they communicated in the paintings. I still do.
When did you become a pharmacist and why did you choose that profession? Even though my parents didn’t go to college there was an expectation from them that I would go, so that was ingrained in me. We lived in a college town and that was the only school I considered. About a year into college I spoke with a counselor and asked which major paid the best after graduation. She said pharmacy, so I became a pharmacist.
Once you made the decision to develop your artistic interest, what steps did you take to get the ball rolling? I bought a few books at the hobby store on drawing and perspective. I read a few books on brushwork and color mixing, bought art magazines of all types, and I worked hard. Now I paint about sixty paintings a year.
How do you juggle your paying job with the time needed to pursue painting? I work a minimum of 36 hours per week in pharmacy and about 40 hours per week pursuing art. I have been very blessed to work under contract with the hospital which allows me to work three long days a week, giving me the freedom to focus on art the rest of the time.
Your growth has been quite rapid, actually amazing; to what do you attribute that? I have spent countless hours trying to understand this process of communicating through art. I have been dedicated, but there is more to the story. After reading and working on my own for a few years I pondered going back to school to obtain an MFA. After speaking with art students, I realized that they were not receiving the education that I wanted and certainly not receiving it fast enough. I decided to try to find a professional artist to mentor me. I started searching the internet for artists that I would want to study under. I eventually found the guy and boldly approached him by email. John, you probably still have that email somewhere. Stepping out of my comfort zone and approaching you was the single best decision I have made in my art career, by far.
Why did you choose painting over other expressions of the visual arts? The paintings in museums always made the biggest impression on me so naturally I chose that to pursue. One cold February day I set up a couple of apples on a plate and painted them with hobby paints on a piece of cardboard. That sent me down the path of painting. I never looked back.
What do you consider to be the role of an artist? I believe different artists have different roles. I can only speak for myself. My story of starting so late in life, the success I have had, the people that have helped me, can only be explained by divine intervention. I am always aware that the sense of awe I experience comes from God as Creator of the natural world. My role is to honor the Creator and acknowledge that He is the only teacher that can give us all we need, the material, inspiration and ability. I also want to help others find their way to the same realization.
No art is original – it is a copy or interpretation of the original work provided by the ultimate artist and creator, God. While I enjoy studying the work of other artist and their interpretation of nature I ultimately return to the original work created by God where I can smell the air and drink the water and be in His presence. He is the only teacher that can give us all we need; the material, inspiration and ability. I attend His workshop as often as I can.
What fascinates you about painting? The endless levels of understanding.
What three things do you consider major breakthroughs with your art? 1) Understanding that it is a journey of discovery. If I meet God at the easel every day it is a win. 2) Understanding that painting value is not as simple as it seems. Our process of perception and recognition are much more complex than our explanations. 3) I don’t have to explain everything in a painting. The viewer needs to make their own contribution. That consensus sells paintings.
What things have you found most discouraging about your artistic pursuit? Every year or so I lose my inspiration. When that happens, it feels like it will never return. I paint anyway.
You create paintings in the studio and in plein air, please describe your painting process. Stage 1: In general, my priority is to identify simple patterns of light and dark in a scene. That usually consists of two or three masses of value in uneven sizes. If I am plein air painting and I don’t have simple masses then I take what I can get. If something catches my eye out in the field I try to communicate that one thing well. Stage 2: Analysis – Drawing and mixing puddles of paint. Regardless of how I choose a subject I usually draw from back to front with earth tones with my brush. The amount of detail I include depends on the subject, but I am more concerned about placement of landmarks than exact objects. This is when I make decisions about composition and moving elements to support my concept. I look for variety and avoid repetitious shapes and spacing. When mixing color, I usually begin with an analytical slant and mix puddles on my palette with a palette knife. This stage is more concerned with acknowledging the value structure of the painting and mixing puddles of value to match masses. This is where I train myself to speak the language of value rather than hue. Stage 3: I mass in value with approximate colors beginning with the darkest shadows. The first layers are usually warmer to represent core shadows. This process is more intuitive and includes at least two passes over the canvas. Stage 4: Final looks – In this final stage I again look for shapes and spacing that are repetitious. I double check my drawing. I evaluate if I followed through on my original idea. Ultimately, I determine if my concept came to fruition?
Put these words in order: composition, framing, color, values, technique, drawing, concept. Concept – Everything else is used to achieve this and is consequently subordinate to it. Drawing, Value, Composition, Technique, Color, Framing.
What’s the most difficult part of painting for you; what are you doing to change that? Drawing. I paint with some really talented guys that have a background in graphic design. Some of them have fifty years of drawing practice on me. Drawing is so effortless for them. I haven’t been drawing as long so I must really pay attention.
Art is defined by the emotion that it carries to the viewer. However, I think it is important for the artist to remember to paint the subject that elicited the emotion rather than some mystical representation of that emotion.
How do you go about selecting a subject to paint? On my best day I ask myself why I want to paint the subject. If there is more than one reason I must do some soul searching. In that case, cropping and simplifying to get one “reason” to paint is often the answer; this clarifies my message which is very important. If I don’t have a clear reason to paint a scene my message will be conflicted, and the viewer will pick up on that. If a piece crashes and burns it is usually because I don’t have a good single reason to paint the subject; I have lost my concept or never had one. For studio pieces I will often review resource photos in the thumbnail format to look for simple patterns of light and dark. I use large images to narrow down the list to four or five options and then convert them to thumbnail to help pick a winner. If it reads well in thumbnail it usually will read well from across the room.
Do you have a concept in mind before beginning a painting? Strong concepts create an emotional reaction in me. That is where my excitement originates. The whole point is to communicate that idea in a way that connects with the viewer so they can have an emotional reaction as well. If I don’t have a strong concept then my chances of success are slim. Concept is King, so yes, ideally, I have a concept in mind.
When you’re struggling with a painting, what do you do? First, I give myself permission to fail. If I reach the fail point I usually wipe or scrape the painting back to canvas. Sometimes that gives me new perspective. When the big ones fail it can be depressing and hard to recover. I don’t leave the big failures around too long. I either paint over them or cull them from the herd. Goodbye failure… hello opportunity.
For those struggling with drawing, values and color, what are your suggestions for them? I feel your pain! General suggestions: 1- Paint small and paint often. 2- Become a student and apply yourself. 3- Find one good mentor and learn everything you can from them. I am not a huge fan of workshops because every teacher has a different method of achieving the result. We can’t learn every method. Find one teacher that will give you the fundamentals and then develop your own method.
Specific suggestions: 1- Drawing – Most people can learn to draw if they apply themselves. It all boils down to practice. There are tutorials on the internet and books to study. 2- Value – This is the hard part. Learning to separate value from hue is like learning a second language. There are defects in our perception that lead to making the wrong choices in value selection. Gain an understanding of those defects so you can overcome them. 3- Color – We all learn color according to the hue component. An apple is red, for example. But color is actually the hue in the context of a certain value. For those struggling to paint color correctly spend time mixing colors to a certain value target and then check your work.
You’re a multi-talented guy, and it appears also a talented teacher. Please tell us about your book and latest invention, and other things you’re doing. The Book: When I started exploring these topics with you I expected a few months of instruction on value. Three years later we were still talking about the problems I was having with values in my paintings. I started reading on the subject and went down every rabbit hole I could find. I discovered that our explanations of value are simplistic. There are defects in our perceptions that contribute to value confusion. In short, I documented and simplified the information I learned so that artists can paint the lightness and darkness of color more convincingly. The book explains light and how we perceive it. It demonstrates the defects in our perception and then shows ways to overcome the illusions.
The Invention: Nancy, my wife, and I took an extended painting vacation to the Northeast a few years ago. The trip included a seven-day cruise into Canada. We packed our painting gear in a large suitcase with wet panel carriers and traditional easels. The painting gear for two people weighed over 50 pounds. It was a great trip, but I felt the need for a product that could bridge the gap between plein air painting and sightseeing. I needed a discreet lightweight option for traveling. Travelite wet panel carriers were my answer. They are small (6 x 8 inch) lightweight wet panel carrier/mailers that are available in a single or triple version…the David and Goliath. You can paint the panel on your easel or use the box as the easel. Just close the lid to secure the wet painting. The box is also a mailer so you can mail paintings to collectors while traveling. They are designed to carry in your purse or a small backpack while sightseeing and are ideal for painting while traveling.
If you could spend a day with any three artists, past or present, whom would they be and why? Ha! John, you know you are at the top of the list. We have known each other for years but have never met in person. I look forward to this summer when we can finally spend some time together. Albert Bierstadt – I would love to hear about his expedition through the west in the 1850’s. I would also like to review his process of scaling up his expedition drawings to make those epic compositions. He must have had a photographic memory. George Inness – I really need to ask him so many questions.
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I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest teaching video and book. The video and accompanying book, shown here, along with my first video, “Limited Palette Landscape”, include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)
For those that have purchased the book, I invite you to join our new Facebook Group – “Limited Palette Unlimited Color”. If you qualify, I hope you’ll join us. Check us out on Facebook. HERE is the link.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.