An Interview with Artist Turner Vinson
Leslie: “Confidence in Plein Air Painting” is the first workshop we are hosting here at the new school and we are thrilled to have you. Tell us what your students can expect at this workshop.”
Turner: I’m really honored to be the first workshop at the new Tubac School of Fine Art and I can’t wait for it to kick off. As you can tell from the name of the workshop, we will focus on being a more confident plein air painter. Anyone who has attempted to paint on location knows that they are destined to encounter a plethora of obstacles. These obstacles could be anything from forgetting an important piece of gear, dealing with changing light, or trying to organize the values throughout the painting. Whether it’s failing gear or a technical issue in the painting, these obstacles only eat away at our confidence. Painting is hard enough, and when we have too many things in our way the odds of a successful painting begin to fall.
I’ll be starting off the workshop with a process that I call, “The 15 Minute Painting.” I believe it is the absolute best way to gain and regain confidence before or during a painting session. We’ve all found ourselves an hour in, sometimes two, and are still unsure if we can pull the painting off. “The 15 Minute Painting” exercise eliminates this uncertainty and even steers you away from potentially disastrous compositions. I’ll demonstrate how I use this process to create a full-color study in oils that will serve as a road map for my painting session.
We will then build off of this process, and create finished plein air paintings. Another thing we will discuss is composition. The majority of landscape artists today are using photo references in the studio to create paintings, something that I am not at all against. However, when moving from a controlled studio environment to the great outdoors and working from life, narrowing down the vast landscape in front of you and creating a dynamic composition can be challenging. We will be painting both the local missions and landscape in the Tubac area.
Leslie: When we first spoke, you told me about your dream road trip- painting and filming along the way. Tell me more about this idea and what stage you’re at in the planning.
Turner: Oh the dream! A few years ago my wife and I purchased a 1972 VW bus and have been preparing it for the dream trip. I have a background in professional photo and video work; my wife, Teysha, is an amazing photographer, and as a plein air painter. What more is there to life than packing the family into a VW bus for a cross country road trip painting and filming along the way! To be honest, we are still in the “dream” stage of planning but we are definitely pushing to make this happen in the next couple of years.
Leslie: Your immediate family is growing, can you share a little about them?
Turner: That is correct, we just added baby number two to the family. I’m really glad you asked about this because having a family and continuing to pursue a career as an artist is something I’m incredibly passionate about. Before my first child was born, friends would make comments like, “You’d better get all that painting done before you have kids because everything is going to change” or “Good luck with that!” These comments were made light-heartedly but also come with a surprising weight. A quick browse through my Facebook page and you’ll see that I’m definitely a family man. I’ve been happily married to my wife (also an artist) for 6 years and now we have a two-year-old daughter, a newborn son, and a dog and a cat. My daughter absolutely loves my paintings and I plan to bring much more into this world for her.
Leslie: What does “being creative” mean to you?
Turner: “Being creative” is an incredibly broad term that most definitely isn’t limited to the art world. However, as a painter, I do see a surprising amount of people lacking creativity within their work. And even more specifically, it seems some landscape painters will give the stamp of approval on their work just because it was done en plein air. At the end of the day when the painting is hanging in a gallery or a collector’s home, the only thing that matters is if the painting is successful or not. And all successful paintings are chock full of creative decisions. In any field, before you can even attempt “being creative” you have to know your craft. Yes, there’s the one-off genius that comes around once a century, but for all of us normal folk, hard work and study of our craft is the only way forward. So with those two things in place, I believe one can truly “be creative” and make real works of art that go beyond principle and technique and have the ability to touch the viewer in a way few other things can.
Leslie: Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
Turner: I don’t have an exact date or scenario where this took place, but over the past 10 years, it has been an ever-growing realization, stronger today than ever before. Funny thing is, I didn’t grow up at all in the art world. I like to say that I entered the art world through the back door. I was raised in a very loving and supportive family and played every sport and loved fishing. Large mouth bass to be specific! Art wasn’t something that happened in my circles. My second semester of college I randomly selected Photography 101 as an elective. After seeing my professor, O. Rufus Lovett, develop the first black and white print in the darkroom, I was completely hooked. I soon switched my major to photography and ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with a focus in photography. Naturally, as soon as I graduated I became interested in painting. Using the few skills I’d picked up from a painting elective in college, I began setting up still life arrangements on the kitchen table and attempting a few incredibly unsuccessful self-portraits. In perfect timing, I met the artist, Gary Holland, and began a two-year apprenticeship under him. Gary not only taught me how to paint but gave me the needed encouragement and mindset to pursue a career as an artist.
In the most humble way possible, I’d like to say that throughout my life many things came very easy, maybe naturally, but painting was absolutely not one of those things. Painting was a challenge for me, and that is what drove me to continue growing, and is still what drives me today. I get excited when I hear the veteran artists say that they still have not attained what they are after and that they seek it daily. I love the challenge, the dedication, and the mystery that being a painter offers, and these things are exactly what this workshop is about.
Leslie: What media do you prefer and how did you come to use it as your primary one?
Turner: My primary medium is oil paint. I was introduced to oil paints during college and then my painting teacher after college was also an oil painter, so that was the natural place for me to land. I have dabbled in watercolor and acrylics, but oils have stolen my heart. As you can see in my work, I absolutely love oil paint, like the actual paint itself. I only half jokingly tell my wife that I often have the desire eat my favorite color paint, or at least rub it all over my arms! Joking of course, but I do love the tactile qualities and sheer weight of oil paint.
Leslie: Where do you get your ideas for your art?
Turner: At the moment, my approach to art making is very simple and straightforward. It is to interpret the world that is around me. It’s an interesting thing to try and capture because life is always changing. For instance, right now I have an incredibly strong desire to paint my daughter’s toys. You know, those cheap, plastic, brightly colored kids toys of 2017. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. Two years ago I would’ve never had such an idea, but because life is changing, and that is what I’m painting, my subjects will be ever-changing as well.
I also have a deep love of the outdoors. I recently heard an artist that I highly respect say that when he is out plein air painting, studying every detail of nature, and being exposed to its elements, he feels closest to knowing what life is all about. And like him, I can’t say that I’m any closer to knowing what life is all about, but I sure do feel closer to the answer when I’m deep into a painting in an open field surrounded by nature.
Leslie: Do you always work from life?
Turner: Short answer- yes. In today’s representational art world, this seems to be a popular topic with many strong opinions flying around. I don’t really like to take part in that conversation. One of my biggest reasons for working from life is due to many years of being a professional photographer. For me, the word “photography” is a signal word for “work.” Typically, when I’m holding a camera, I’m at work, not living the dream, not pursuing my desires, but just working to pay the bills. With that kind of baggage, I think it’s easy to understand why I prefer working from life. Plus, I really enjoy it!
Leslie: Do you see yourself in your artwork?
Turner: Wow, what a question. I think it’s hard for us to decide. One thing I know for sure is that painting has actually changed who I am. As I continue to be a student of this craft, I hope I become more and more visible within the work.
Leslie How do you overcome creative blocks?
Turner: The nature of my process doesn’t lend itself to many creative blocks. If I’m attempting to capture my life, there is absolutely always something for me to paint. However, from the mouth of my teacher, “Work always, and when genius strikes, you create a masterpiece.” It’s an absolutely brilliant statement. He continuously reminded me that we cannot wait for inspiration to come, because it will come and go before a painting can be completed. But if you are constantly working, with and without inspiration, when it does come, you will be prepared.
Leslie: What’s the best piece of advice about your art career that you’ve been given?
Turner: The best piece of advice I’ve been given as an artist is to treat my endeavors as a business and myself as an entrepreneur. This advice has led me in many different directions such as reading books and listening to podcasts that I would’ve never touched otherwise, seeking counsel and advice from professionals in other fields, and carefully considering what direction I want my career to go. It’s no secret that artists often have to juggle many things and it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, but reminding myself that I’m operating a business, and it’s my business, is an important element in my career.
Turner prepared a video to share a little bit more about what to expect in his confidence boosting workshop.
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