Shaping an Artist
By Aimee O’Grady
A knapsack near the door holds painting supplies that David Williams uses when he comes across something that compels him to paint. On the wall above his knapsack is a nearly-finished still life of pomegranates with a deep aubergine background. Adjacent is a larger landscape painting of a wooded scene with a bright beam of sunlight shining through the tree trunks that is also nearing completion. A career artist, Williams has lived and worked as a commissioned painter in The Plains for the past five years and is easily inspired by the region’s picturesque landscape, architecture, and history.
Williams sits in the middle of his light-filled studio describing the evolution of his career. The brilliant November sunlight beams through the skylights and windows on an unseasonably warm day. Filling the studio are roughly 400 pieces of work; mostly still lifes and plein airs, painted in his garden or on location. Hundreds more fill a nearby storage unit.
Although he claims his story is much like that of other artists, there is one significant difference; Williams tried not to be an artist. His parents enrolled him in art classes when he was young, but once he reached Virginia Commonwealth University he pursued the more “practical” track of business. He then ventured into the corporate world and spent several years moving through different jobs, a period he refers to as the “five year float.”
After this time, Williams gave in to his calling to become an artist and enrolled in the Academy of Figurative Arts in Los Angeles. He was well-informed about the uphill battle he faced if he planned to pursue art as a fulltime job. He accepted the challenge and decided the only way to do it, was to do it.
Twenty years have passed since then. For the first fifteen years, Williams painted exclusively, primarily on the East Coast, but also spent time in California. Although he focused mainly on commissioned pieces, he also entered plein air competitions and created pieces that hang in galleries throughout the United States.
His easel holds another pomegranate still life, “They are only available for a short time to use as a subject,” he justifies using the fruit for multiple concurrent projects. This image is painted with rich autumnal colors: browns, oranges, and reds. To the left on the wall is a still life of pumpkins and gourds. Williams’ works capture the passage of time through the seasons.
Although each of his paintings suggests a wide color spectrum, he maintains that he uses a limited palette of eight different colors that don’t vary often: “Occasionally I swap out one color for another, but tend to stick with these eight colors that I have been using for some time now.” This technique has made him an expert at mixing colors; he admits with a smile, “I can blend these colors like no one else.”
Each work involves broad brush strokes. “I like to say the most with the least information,” he explains. “The visible brushstrokes describe how to move through the painting.” None of his paintings are blended to perfection or are photographic in nature. “I prefer color harmony to perfection,” he says.
Williams begins each work looking for the most prominent shapes. He explains, “Once I have the basic shapes, I can develop the picture.” A large painting of bulrush or cattails illustrates this technique: “I began with three ‘V’ shapes of different colors and then used wide brush strokes to add the plant details.”
Behind him is an attractive plein air work that evokes a Provençal feel. The green tablecloth is juxtaposed with blue pitchers and bright yellow lemons set on a table in front of a blooming spring garden. “The challenge with painting en plein air is that the light is always changing. Once I sketch in the major shapes, I fill in details from memory, since the light constantly shifts and changes the images,” he explains. Williams continues, “Clouds are always made up. Without a camera, there is no way to capture the image of a cloud to recreate it.”
Five years ago, he began offering art classes to supplement his finances as he witnessed more and more galleries close their doors. In his classes, Williams takes on the role of an artistic coach: “I don’t want my students to paint like me. I want them to pull out from a still life what they see, not what I tell them to see.” During classes, he meanders the room, offering students suggestions and posing thought-provoking questions, such as asking students to identify the dominant shapes and colors of the subject.
His classes include students at every level. During the summer, he has high school students looking to expand their portfolios. During the school year, he has retired men and women who are returning to painting, many having not picked up a brush since high school. Some have continued with Williams’ classes since he began teaching.
Williams is pleased with the living he has carved out, doing what he loves to do despite caution from others. While there are some changes he would make to his earlier works, and commissions he wishes he had accepted, he is generally satisfied with the evolution of his art and the shape it has taken. Using linen canvas ensures that his works will last hundreds of years under the right conditions. “I’ll be around for awhile,” he concludes.
Each of Williams’ paintings on these pages are for sale. Visit www.williamsart.com to see a complete list of current paintings.
Painting Classes/Coaching Mon., Tues., Wed. and Sat. |
Plein Air Competition |
“En plein air” is French for “in open air.” In the mid-19th century, artists were able to move outside their studios with ease thanks to the advent of the French easel, or box easel.
Plein air competitions are held throughout the year in a number of communities. As the name suggests, the artists gather at the chosen outdoor location and paint the surrounding scenery and subjects. Once accepted to an plein competition, artists arrive on location with blank canvases that are approved and stamped by competition officials. For the following three to four days, they paint landscapes and streetscapes. Some artists can generate roughly 20 paintings in this time, others create only two to three each day. At the end of the painting period, the paintings are framed and hung in a competition gallery. At the end of the week, a reception is held for art enthusiasts to view the paintings.
For an artist, the goal of the competition is many-fold. Ideally, an artist wants to sell his or her art at the reception. There are also awards and prizes, including free advertising in international art magazines. Competing in competitions can be well worth an artist’s time; the proceeds from their art and the value of prizes won can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
At the very least, an en plein air competition is excellent practice for an artist at any level.