Experience Is Everything

When Theckla White Williams paints, she typically works from reference photographs rather than from life or onsite sketches. “But almost everything I paint,” she says, “is something I?ve experienced?something I?ve felt.


Spires (oil, 44×26) was a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine‘s 2001 Art Competition.

“It?s the single most important factor in how I choose my subjects,” says the Pensacola, Florida, artist. “Experiencing it is very important to me. You have many choices, and you end up picking out some aspect that really creates the experience that you want to create.”

As she walked around and stood gazing at St. Patrick?s Cathedral in Manhattan, for instance, Williams felt the city trying to close in on the cathedral and decided that through the dramatic angle she used in Spires, she?d be able to carry that feeling through to the viewers. Along with those particular feelings, however, she also wanted her viewers to see the beauty in the contrast between the elaborate church spires and the stark, modern buildings in the background.

The ultimate challenge, of course, was to make sure she was able to keep the perspective of the buildings at such an extreme angle while still retaining the majesty of it all. As she does with all her painting subjects—whether it?s a landscape, portrait or interior—she chose her reference and slid it into a plastic sleeve with a 13/16-inch grid imprinted on it. Then she used a pencil to mark a corresponding grid on her canvas. The only drawing of her subjects that she does is with a brush and paint.

After the drawing is in place, Williams works an area at a time in conjunction with the background or another section, rather than painting background to foreground or left-to-right and top-to-bottom. “I have to have a sense of the whole,” she says. “I may start with something that?s very critical in the piece that I want to make sure is going to go right. I try to work as many sections as possible together so I can get a feeling of where the piece is going.” With Spires, for example, she began with a section of the spire toward the middle along with a section of the buildings in the background, then moved to the bottom of the spires. As she moved through the piece, section by section, Williams continued to think of it as a whole. Finally, when she could “stand back and look at it and not see any of the pieces that are wrong,” she declared it finished.

Through the 40 years Williams has been painting—12 of that full time—she?s experienced many changes in her art and the art world, and achieved much. Her style has evolved from impressionistic to representational; she?s seen the advent of nonlead paint tubes; and she?s risen to signature status in Oil Painters of America and the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club. She?s also represented by Page O?Connor?s Fine Art in Destin, Florida. As for her goals for the future, she plans to continue “doing things better than I?ve ever done them.”

Joanne Moore is managing editor for The Artist?s Magazine.

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