Artist of the Month: Chris Beck

Heirlooms (watercolor, 10×10) by Chris Beck was a Still Life finalist in the 24th Annual Art Competition.

Residence: Los Altos, California

Start in Art: I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. My parents were very encouraging and provided me with art supplies starting when I was a very young child. Our public school system also put a high value on art education. But I loved the natural sciences as well, and I struggled to choose between biology and art in college. When I realized I was spending most of my free time making art, the choice became clear. I went on to get a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and expanded my skills through postgraduate classes and workshops and a lot of self-education. I worked as a graphic designer for many years and am fortunate to have a very supportive husband who backed me when I made the transition to full-time fine art.

Inspiration for this Painting: My mother’s china cabinet held many delightful surprises, my favorite being a set of colorful little wood duck salt and pepper shakers. About 10 years ago, I started collecting brightly colored American ceramic wares from the 1930s-50s, as well as vintage table linens. I found a single duck shaker and joked with my husband about doing a series of "odd duck" paintings. Finding this little set of wood ducks was the push I needed to start the series. The tablecloth is from my collection, and the tomatoes are heirloom varieties from my husband’s garden.

Working Process: I almost always start with a photograph chosen from a series of shots that I’ve taken. I create a drawing and then transfer that to my watercolor paper. I choose pigments based on my subject and how I want to present it, but I tend to rely on aureolin, new gamboge, scarlet lake, permanent rose, permanent alizarin crimson, French ultramarine blue, Winsor blue, permanent sap green, green gold, quinacridone sienna and brown madder for much of my work.

Except for very small studies, I usually spend between 40 and 80 hours on a painting. I don’t keep track exactly—I just work on something until I’m happy with it. Although this is a small piece, I put at least 40 hours into it.

Favorite Parts: There are always surprises or difficulties along the way—usually involving blotchy washes. I often do multiple washes not only to resolve such problems, but also to boost the intensity of the color.

My favorite part of this painting has to be the reflected glow from the tomato on the red-headed bird. I underpainted that side of the bird and was totally pleased by the outcome.

Edited by Grace Dobush, assistant editor of The Artist’s Magazine.

Artists of the Month are chosen from our Annual Competition entrants.

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