Interview with a Watercolorist: Jeff Atnip

by Daisy on 08/09/2011

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This week we’ve got something a little different.  It’s a how-to, which obviously isn’t different for us, but it’s a bit more high-brow than our customary how to make lard soap or bug spray.  What it is is a step-by-step watercolor painting demo, something, I confess, I can never resist.  Turn on PBS when a painting show is on and I’m hypnotized.  And I’m not even the most amateur of artists.

Before we post the demo tomorrow, today I’d like to introduce the artist and grill him a little about painting.  And for an extra treat, on Thursday, we’re going to give the original painting away.  We’ll tell you how to be in the running to win it at that time.

Jeff Atnip is an award-winning artist with a master’s degree in illustration from Syracuse University in New York.  He’s a painter and graphic illustrator with thirty-plus years experience in various media, but his favorite is watercolor.

Q: Jeff, I love watercolor, too.  Partly because it makes me think of some of my favorite eighteenth century English novels filled with young ladies perched on pastoral hillsides painting landscapes.  Is this a romanticized stereotype, or was fine art instruction more a part of a young person’s education than it is now?

A: Watercolor goes way back to medieval times. Before the 20th century it was (with notable exceptions) used as a preliminary study medium to try out a composition before rendering it in oil on canvas. However, since then, it has achieved the status of a serious medium for finished paintings. I don’t know about young ladies perched on pastoral hillsides, but I would caution them to keep an eye out for angry bulls.

Q: Well, Jeff, I’ve got a whole new mental image of that scene now.   But still, when I think about life in a time before the computer or tv screen, I think about the ways people entertained themselves in their down time with music, needlework, recitation and the like.  I imagine painting must have played a greater role at that time, too. Do you think painting is becoming a lost art?

A: Painting is not becoming a lost art. There are plenty of people out there painting, and new ones starting all the time. However, even in the days before modern distractions, people who drew and painted were somewhat few and far between in any given community. I do wish more people would put down their iPhones and pick up a sketchbook and draw. There is nothing more fun to look at and read than an illustrated journal.

Q: Many of our readers have chosen to or are hoping to retreat to the slow lane.  We knit or bake bread or grow our own food rather than buying things ready-made, not because it’s easier, but because it helps nourish us in ways that are hard to explain.  I suspect painting has a similar effect.  Can you relate?

A: Yes and no. Mastering any craft is long hard work with many frustrations. I still have to tear up bad paintings and throw them away on a regular basis. On the other hand there is no greater satisfaction than working with your hands and producing something good. It is especially satisfying to work “plein-aire” or outside painting a landscape while braving the elements. After a session like that I feel that I have been “in the arena”.

Q: We have a lot of home-schooling parents in our readership.  Do you think art instruction is important today and do you have any recommendations or suggestions in terms of incorporating a fine arts instruction curriculum into their children’s education?

A: Yes, there are two books I recommend:

“Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards
“Drawing Made Easy” by E. G. Lutz

Q: You’ve painted a watercolor for our readers to win starting this Thursday, and you’ve created a tutorial describing how you painted it which we’ll post tomorrow.  Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect?

A: Sure. It is a semi-impressionistic watercolor of tomatoes on the vine. It is painted on an 8 x 10 inch piece of high quality watercolor paper. In the step-by-step tutorial I explain my process in detail with photos of the work at each stage from start to finish.

Thanks, Jeff!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

AmandaQ August 12, 2011 at 7:39 am

I love this watercolor! I am a tomato enthusiast, and this is beautiful!

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