Sunday, July 8, 2012

Interview with GRINGO ZERO

Gringo Zero is one of my favorite painters, and not just because of his fabulously cool name. Like me, he’s trying to be a daily painter, and he chronicles his efforts on his blog. I particularly admire how willing he is to experiment.

The first painting by another artist that I ever bought is a Gringo Zero — mostly because I loved it, but also so that I could secretly study his technique up close :-). The way he paints shadows is sublime. I’m really thrilled that he’s taken the time to answer some of my questions:


Q. You seem to paint a wide variety of subjects — landscapes, still lifes, people, cars, food, buildings — how do you decide what to paint? Is there a subject you’re drawn to more than others?

I'm most often drawn to lighting, and specifically contrast in lighting. A technique I've read about is to put in your darkest dark next to your lightest light to create a focal point, like say where the reflection of the sky in a river and the shadow of the bridge crossing it meet. I think I learned this before I had painted much and now notice that this is often what actually does grab my eye when looking for scenes.

Q. Do you paint more from real life, or from photo reference?

It's really a matter of creature comfort. If it's cold or windy or dark outside, I paint from photos on my computer monitor. If it's nice out, especially when I travel outside of San Francisco, I prefer to paint outside.

Q. Do you have any tips for plein air painting?

Since the light changes so quickly, I think it's better to do a couple of quick studies that focus on the light and color (the stuff your camera's not as good as capturing) than it is to try to work on a masterpiece. You can always add the fiddly bits when you get back home. For me it's the big shapes and broad strokes that convey the light and color that are more exciting than the minutiae.

Q. You generally paint with acrylics. Have you ever used oils, and what do you consider the advantages of acrylic paints? Do you use a medium to extend the drying time?

I prefer acrylics because I can't stand any of the solvents and cleaners that often go along with oils. I'm also impatient and like the quick drying time. I extend the drying time with varying amounts of Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid. I put a thin layer on top of each of my paint blobs on the palette, and then put a big puddle of it as well. When I paint outside, I usually put the colors on a strip of wetted paper towel to further prevent drying out.

Acrylics are very sensitive to the environment. In Sonoma in the Summer, the paint almost dries as you're applying it. In contrast, on a cold foggy morning by the Bay, it doesn't dry until you put it back in the car.

If I feel I need to work wet-in-wet, I can, but it often means reworking whole sections of the piece, as quickly as possible. Not ideal but certainly serviceable.

Q. Everyone has some bit of trusty equipment they can’t do without, whether it’s a brand/type of brush, a special medium, etc. Do you have strong preferences for paint or tools?

I started buying everything at garage sales, so I learned about quality and consistency the hard way. For now I have settled on Golden Heavy Body acrylics and mediums. As for brushes, I'm still exploring, but I think I'm liking the Blick Masterstroke bristle brushes. A lot of synthetic brushes made for acrylics just don't hold enough paint, and some of the brushes made specifically for oils hold too much. It's a tough balance.

Q. Have you had formal training in painting?

Not really. I grew up with a general art background focusing on fundamentals. Lots of drawing and color theory type stuff, but I never really liked painting so I didn't study it much. It was mostly an issue of control. I preferred the precision of airbrush, and print making, and ultimately computer graphics.

After too many years as a graphic designer, I have finally gained an appreciation of looser tools and more impressionistic results. A lot of this has to do with appreciating the artists I've known over the years, and the few I've recently had the opportunity to do workshops with.

It's like discovering another side of myself. I'm not so quick to correct "mistakes" or clean things up as I used to be. Let the chips fall where they may so to speak.

Q. Which other artists do you particularly admire? Who is an inspiration for you?

The three painters I've had the chance to learn from in person are all still great inspiration to me – Randall Sexton, Timothy Horn, and Craig Nelson. All three of these excellent teachers still offer workshops, and if you ever get the chance, jump at it.

I also really like Kevin McPhearson's books. Both Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light and Color, and Landscape Painting - Inside and Out are great to have and refer to every now and again.

Q. Recently you said that you consider yourself “still a student.” Is there a particular milestone that you consider to be the point where you’ve “made it”?

I feel like I'm still doing a lot of experimentation in subject, style, technique etc. and don't feel like I've found my style yet. Of course, this may not happen they way I've imagined it, but every now and then I get a feeling after completing a piece, a feeling that it's just where I want it to be. We'll see.

Q. Your father is also a well-known painter. Did he teach you anything? Have you ever collaborated?

We are in a state of healthy competition, but he's got a head start. Seriously, he has always been a source of inspiration and encouragement in following the creative muse. He lives in Sonoma so I go up there to paint as much as I can. One of the things I like best about painting with other people is to see how differently we all see and choose to render the same scene, and to see what things we have in common – our struggles and successes. We'll help each other out with suggestions, but I can't imagine collaboration on the same piece. I've read of couples that complete each other's paintings, but I can't imagine doing it myself.

Q. How do you market your art? What is your advice for someone new to selling?

I never thought I'd be marketing my art until I did finally hit my stride, perhaps years from now. However someone took on the roll of my manager and set up two shows for me a few years back. And people bought paintings. I was shocked.

Then when the Daily Paintworks opened their doors to new members, I joined quickly and started listing recent work, setting a low price to just see what response it would generate. Again, shocked to find out total strangers from hundreds of miles away were buying my paintings. And not just strangers, but other painters (as you well know). That really blew me away. Now that I'm over the shock, I'm trying just about any avenue I can to reach a larger audience. Blogging, naturally and more recently Pinterest, have now become part of my regular daily routine. I'm not sure I like sacrificing so much time to the online world, but is a lot easier than traveling all the time.

As to advice, I'd recommend all of the above. Basically try to maintain a consistent presence in the online world, and try to be where people look for art. The best crafted website is fairly useless if no one knows where to find it. Pinterest, Etsy, Ebay, Daily Paintworks etc. These are all places where active collectors go to look for art, these are the most likely places they will find you. Also participate in things like the Daily Paintworks Challenges. There's lots of online contests every week and not only do they add to your online presence, they actually are fun and often push you in directions you might not otherwise explore, and you get feedback from other painters.

Q. Do you know there’s a spider on your shoulder?

What! Wh-where?! Oh, THAT spider.

This is the one I bought.
You can view and purchase Gringo's artwork at his Daily Paintworks gallery.


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