Every time I post another profile of a Maine artist, I learn something new. From Kevin Mizner, who lives in Pittston, I learned about patience. This from a man who says he has “the patience of a toddler.”
It is Kevin’s inclination to dive right into a painting without thinking things through. It is his practice to do a series of sketches and studies first.
It may seem like a tedious process, but I realized that it would only be tedious if all you were looking at was the end product. This is what Kevin said that made me look at it from a different perspective: “I honestly find each step is creative in its own way and excites me to keep going to the next step.”
Read about Kevin’s process and what inspires him to create his beautiful paintings.
And let’s also congratulate him for taking first place in oils at the Maine Juried Art Show recently. His winning painting is at the end of the post.
I had a pretty good hunch I was artistic for as long as I can remember. Most of that was because I had so much positive feedback (even if it was seldom deserved) from adults who saw my drawings. Still, for the longest time, I kind of resisted calling myself an artist. I was just a guy who liked to paint. Eventually, as the years passed that mindset of being a “working Joe who liked to paint on the side” evolved into thinking of myself as a “painter who had to work on the side.” Once I thought like that it was an obvious step to paint full-time. I took the plunge almost 10 years ago and have never looked back.
Where/when did you go to school?
I never made it to art school. My folks couldn’t afford it, but that’s OK. What we did not know was that in the late 1970s when I would have gone, art school didn’t teach basic drawing and painting skills. So instead, I taught myself. And you know what they say about the self-taught? They make ignorant teachers with a fool for a pupil!
Well, I guess I can say I wasn’t entirely self-taught. A couple of years after I started painting Norman Rockwell died and books about him flooded the market. Two that I still regard as my painting bibles are Guptill’s Norman Rockwell, Illustrator and How I Paint A Picture, by Norman Rockwell. The first book gives a step-by-step tutorial on his process, and the second expands on that in greater detail. I like to joke that at least in my mind I was home-schooled by Norman Rockwell! To this day, whenever I feel stuck in my painting, I will haul out and re-read those books to get back to the fundamentals.
What is your preferred medium and why?
I am an oil painter first and foremost. Oils to me have a depth of color that no other medium can match. I also enjoy their versatility. You can paint thick or thin, boldly slashing color or controlling the application. Wet-in-wet or dry scumbling, whatever. And best of all, you can easily paint over your mistakes! Try doing that with watercolors. I also love using charcoal while drawing, but I regard it as a tool more than a stand-alone medium.
Where do you find inspiration?
Every artist seems to answer this question by saying they are inspired by light, so let me turn that upside down. I am inspired by shadows. Light is nothing without them. I believe it’s the massing of shadows in a painting that gives it not only its design but emotional punch. For instance, for all the talk about Rembrandt’s approach to conveying light, it’s his shadow work that made him a genius. So whether it’s a figurative piece or a landscape, I look for the shadows.
What is your process?
Hmmm … this may take a while. I started using this process about 20 years ago to save me from myself. I have the patience of a toddler and the attention span of a gnat. My instinct is to jump right into a painting without thinking things through. As a result, I had way more unfinished pictures that I had stalled out on than completed ones. The first thing I do after I’ve been inspired to do any kind of picture is to draw up small sketches called thumbnails. These are very basic scribbles that usually only I can understand. They’re just a couple of inches big. Like this: Or this: After I have done a few (looking for different perspectives or a more dynamic design), I’ll choose the one that excites me the most. Using that thumbnail as a starting point, I keep making more sketches using photo references and models. Eventually, I take all that information and make a complete charcoal drawing, called a cartoon that is usually the same size as the final painting: I may skip the cartoon stage if I’m doing a straight out landscape or seascape. After all, it’s just a tree … But I will always do the sketch work on all my paintings. At some point during the drawing stage, I’ll take a moment to work on a small color sketch.
Even if I’m using color photos, the color sketch helps me decide on the overall harmonies and what approach I may want to take in the paint application process itself. And the color sketch is imperative if I am using my imagination to create a scene when no photos are available. Next, after I transfer the drawing to the canvas, I begin the painting process by applying a monochrome underpainting, or grisaille. All my paintings get this treatment. It helps establish the values for the color that will go on top. In the painting above, I’m filling in the outlined drawing. Sometimes, and especially if I’m painting on a Masonite panel support, I’ll draw the scene as completely as I can, and then wash a color over it. Presto! Underpainting. I’m not above using this technique either in the studio or painting outside from life. For instance, I wanted to paint a view of my yard from life. (Because there are not enough paintings in this world of the back of a garage.) So I set my gear up and drew directly on a Masonite panel. From here I followed the same procedure. I washed on an umber underpainting, then painted the scene from life over the course of a couple of days. Having completed all the preliminary stuff, all I had to do was apply colors in the right spot. Easy peasy!
I just wish that doing all of this meant I will never paint a dud, but no. It might be a bad painting, but not for lack of trying! Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Gee Kev, is there any other way you can think of to completely snuff creativity and spontaneity out of painting?” But I honestly find each step is creative in its own way and excites me to keep going to the next step. And also, painting is hard.
Breaking down the process into these steps keeps me focused on the task at hand. When I’m drawing I don’t think about color, just detail and values. When I’m painting, I’m not worried about drawing, just color temperature, paint application, brushwork and edges, etc. Lastly, this process is how the old masters did it, and my painting heroes like Rockwell, Wyeth and others. So if it was good enough for Norm …
Do you have some words of wisdom for beginning artists?
Paint what you want to paint in the manner in which you want to paint it. Study other artists, living and dead. See how they did what they did and then try to incorporate what you like about them into what you do. But don’t imitate. Make it your own. Lastly, don’t let doubt stop you. The biggest sin in art isn’t creating a failure, it’s failing to create.
Kevin is opening a studio and gallery space in Hallowell. It’s where he will paint and also hang some of his artwork. The grand opening is May 6 from 4:30 to 7 pm.
K Mizner Art Studio and Gallery
128 Water Street