An interview with professional artist and popular workshop instructor Richard McKinley appears in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. The following are portions of the interview that we didn’t have room to publish in the print magazine.
In my teaching I tell people that I basically work in three stages. Now I don’t think my process is the holy grail of painting, but it works for me.
1. My beginning is the sensitivity stage. That’s often drawing and sketching and thumbnails—the real “why” behind the painting, getting to know the subject matter and my intentions.
2. Then I go into my serendipity stage, which is the underpainting, and that’s the really fun part for me. If I make a great big huge mess, I just cover it up. For me there’s such freedom in that; Hey, I’ve got nothing to lose—so I try it!
3. And that brings me to the solve stage, which is solving the painting, resolving the visual “problems” that the serendipity has created. So that freeing-up stage has just made all the difference for me as a painter. It makes painting fun and exciting, and I never quite know what’s going to happen, so I’m always a little bit out of control.
The Value of Feedback
So receiving feedback from students and others who see our art can be really helpful because it’s not always for us to know what’s going on. I think that we want to be in our heads too much when we should be in our hearts. So I always value the comments I get; for example, people will say that I’ve been working in a theme or that I’ve introduced a certain quality in my work recently.
Something happened a few years ago with a marvelous gallery owner that I’ve worked with for a long time—we’ve become good friends. I was delivering a body of work, and she said, “Oh yeah, you’re my mid-range painter.” I was a bit taken aback and at first didn’t say anything.
I went back to get another load of paintings and, when I came back in, I asked, “Pamela, what does that mean?” She answered, “Ah, oh, look at your work. You always have that wonderful sense of stability in the foreground, but you hold us way back in the midrange, and then you love to add a little piece of mystery somewhere farther on. It really speaks to your personality.” Holy Moly, I thought! I didn’t know that! (He laughs.) And that’s as far psychologically that I’ll go into how that represents my personality!
High Desert Symphonic (oil, 16×24) by Richard McKinley
Still Life, Portraits and Landscapes
I always say this to my students, and it’s what I was taught as well:
• Still life painting is a great place to start—and for some people it becomes their muse—but it teaches us form. So in those training years, you just can’t deny it.
• Portraiture is next. It’s all about precision and intimacy. You can’t get by with anything—you get something an eighth of an inch off, and it’s lost! So that’s accuracy married with the form of the still life. And then there’s intimacy as well: You’ve got to get to know your subjects because you’re making psychological statements about them.
• What the landscape teaches us is color and atmosphere. So all three genres really serve their purpose. I think we should all do a little bit of work in all three from time to time to become well-rounded artists.
Jeckel and Hyde
Someone said to me once, “You’re just kind of a big ham.” It’s true! I guess we all have these flip sides in our personalities, and I’m really the introverted extrovert. Being drawn to painting since I was very young, I’ve always known it was my calling: I’ve known it’s me alone—my subject and me—and me in my studio with the silence; there’s that blank thing in front of me. It’s very private and isolated. And yet I do love the interaction with other artists.
People who know me really well have said, “Man, you’re like Jeckel and Hyde! When I’m really into painting, don’t talk to me; I’m a grump. The kids in the neighborhood say, “The painting isn’t going well—don’t look at him when he steps outside. He’ll yell at you.” Then I’ll get around other painters, and it’s as though I’ve found my tribe. We speak the same language, and my extrovert emerges.
I had been doing a lot of portraits when I was young, probably about 18 at this point, and I was very arrogant and cocky—I knew everything! Well, I decided to take a sculpting class and everybody was very nice and I respected the teacher. I remember thinking, ”Just wait till they see what I can do!”
We had this beautiful model and I was working with my clay with my painter’s mind, so I made the clay look just like the model. The teacher came by, and I kept thinking, “All of you in the room, wait till you hear what she’s going to say to me. Oh my God, I’m so good!”
So she leaned over my shoulder, and she moved the clay—and what I realized is that I had pasted the ears right next to the eyes because if you look straight at the model—the world of the painter being flat—that’s where they would go. And that was one of the biggest ah-ha moments for me: The painter has to think like a sculptor!
Don’t miss the entire interview in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
A professional working artist for 38 years, Richard McKinley has more than 35 years of teaching experience. In May 2010 he participated in the American Masters Exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in conjunction with a workshop he gave in Manhattan, and in September he’ll return to New York to be inducted into the Pastel Society of America’s Hall of Fame at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. “I am humbled to be in such company,” says McKinley, grateful to his own mentors and for the opportunities that have come his way. As spring arrives, he finds himself eager to pack up his painting equipment. “I want to plant my feet back in the cathedral of nature,” he says. “So many paintings waiting to be attempted, so little time.” For more information about McKinley and his techniques, visit his website, www.mckinleystudio.com, and the Pastel Pointers blog for The Pastel Journal: pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com.
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