Dang, I'm in awe of people who can master watercolor painting. It just seems like such an unpredictable medium. Like maybe it requires trust and even - gulp - letting go of control, knowwhatimean?
Fred Poisson is one such master. Truly, I could stare at his work for days. How he captures light and the soul of a location is just beyond. Read on and you'll see what I mean.
Fred, how do you define creativity? Surprising myself with a new solution for the fire that burns inside.
How and when did you start using watercolors? Not really sure. I started drawing when I was very young. I asked my high school art teacher for paint, and he set me up with watercolor.
Watercolor is a difficult medium to master and I believe your work is masterful. How do you deal with a medium that seems so unpredictable? First off, I think part of the reason watercolor is difficult for people is that they start with this fearful idea. Like any medium, it has properties that, once understood, remove surprise until experimentation is undertaken. Even the greatest painters of the medium have spoken of the high attrition rate, so it's important to be willing to move from painting to painting without being too attached. In other words, don't let it get ya down if a painting doesn't work out. Just start another one. I think most people give up way too easily. Our society wants results. It's just that most people aren't willing to do the work.
People seem to think of watercolor painters as hobbyists. Have you been discouraged by that point of view, and if so, how do you handle it? Many people do have a preconceived notion of what they will see when they hear the word "watercolor." I think of myself as a painter whose current medium is watercolor. This is important because it has kept me from getting wrapped up in technique, and kept me focused on painting. Yes, that's part of it, but fully subservient to seeing/ideas. If anything, frustrates me it's that people don't get that it takes hard persistent work.
Tell me more about the process of your work. How do you build a painting? The idea usually starts with a feeling for something, or maybe something I see out of the corner of my eye. I used to just make paintings, mostly working outdoors. Then I started doing more sketching, followed by some photos and final pieces painted in the studio. I'm about to start working in tempera. For this process I'm trying to be disciplined. I'm attempting to do life studies (drawing, ink, watercolor) until I can paint the subject as a final piece in tempera just from the studies, memory and, most importantly, imagination. I'm expecting this to take 40-60 preliminary studies. I seldom paint just what's there. Things get added, omitted, moved around. The European landscape painters used rectangular view finders to help them work out their compositions. This is how I use the digital camera.
"However, there is a real danger in working from photos for a number of reasons. For one, a person will forgo the process of learning how to see if they copy from two-dimensional pictures. Also, photos are terrible for value and color. They bow the image at the edges. Pencil sketching or ink washes are key for working out value."
When I view your work I feel a sense of peace. Do you view painting as a meditative act, and are you conscious of imparting this feeling to others? It's definitely a meditation. I get lost in it. One of the words most used to describe my work is "serene," so I am becoming aware that people do have this emotional response. The other word, interestingly enough, is "modern." I truly wish to bring people joy. This may not be viewed as important or valid by the art with a capital 'A' crowd, but it seems to me the purely conceptual direction art has taken lacks the humanity that has made art important in people's lives for centuries.
Any daily habits or practices? Art everyday. It's tough being inspired everyday by one's life, but the more I put myself into it the deeper it gets, and my fascination grows still more.
Tell me some artists that you admire. There are so many, and I really love looking at what other people have made. It's one of the great joys in my life. The Swiss artist Claude Saucey had a big impact on me. Recently I've been drawn to contemporary Chinese ink painters. Zhu Daoping and Jia Youfu really touch my soul, as does some of Andrew Wyeth's work.
What advice would you give to an aspiring watercolorist? Don't listen to people when they say it's too hard, or that's not a real job, or you'll never get anywhere with that, or you're not good enough, or as good as so and so. More importantly, don't listen to your own mind when it tells you that. Draw a lot.
Fred Poisson lives and works on Block Island (off the coast of Rhode Island.) He is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a B.F.A. in painting. His work has been shown in galleries around the region, and he can be reached through his website FredPoisson.com.