Since 1991, North Light has published 17 editions of the Splash: The Best of Watercolor book series, and each of these has featured just one lucky artist on the cover. We’ve created a new interview series to shed light on the amazing artists behind the artworks that grace each cover, starting with the most recent edition Splash 17: Inspiring Subjects, which hit shelves July 2016.
Our inaugural Q+A spotlights watercolor realism artist Peter Carey, whose gorgeous piece Swinging in Tahoe features not only an inspiring subject, but unique perspective as well. Enjoy, and check back often for more cool interviews with competition-book cover artists!
Thanks for participating in this Q+A, Peter Carey! How does it feel to be on the cover of Splash 17?
Awesome. It is a great honor and I am telling everybody I can about it. Many of my friends have bought the book.
Any special stories relating to being on the cover, and how it has affected your art career?
As of yet, I am using it to promote my art career and am currently looking for a professional gallery to represent me, and I think being on the cover will help me accomplish this goal.
Do you enter art competitions regularly?
Yes. Absolutely. And many artists that are much better known than myself do, too. I see their paintings in the same juried shows that my paintings are in; and these are nationally known watercolor artists. So I am encouraged that it is a good thing to do.
What is the story behind the scene of the painting?
My wife and I usually make a trip to Lake Tahoe every summer. We were walking along the shore and came upon a playground with good, strong adult swings. I took photos of her swinging, and when I saw the photos I knew I had to do a painting of one. The chains holding the seat were coated with a bright yellow plastic, which I edited to silver. Other than that, the painting reflects the photo pretty faithfully. I painted the sky using a mouth atomizer. This involves many layers of spray until the sky is blended light to dark. I masked the shape of my wife to keep some white paper for the highlights.
Unique perspective plays a role in Swinging in Tahoe — was this one of your goals when you began the painting?
Yes and no. The goal was to capture a feeling of freedom, a feeling of flying — of childish fun.
How long have you been painting in watercolor?
I have been painting for about 25 years this time around. I painted as a child but then got into photography more when I was a teenager. I took painting up again when my daughter was old enough to play with paints. That got me back into it.
When and how did you get started as a professional artist?
I would not consider myself a professional artist. That would mean that I support myself from my art and I cannot yet do that. I make a little money from sales of my paintings and prints, but not enough to support my family.
How do you make time to paint while maintaining another job?
My non-art job has busy times and slow times. When it’s not busy, sometimes I have a month in which I may get two paintings started and finished, working an average of 4 to 5 hours a day. I try very hard to find time to paint even when my day job is busy. Even an hour a day is better than nothing because you get into a groove where you are “seeing” what needs to be done with a painting. If you don’t paint for a week, I feel it takes a while to get back into the groove.
What are your favorite painting subjects?
People in context such as people in cities, people walking in the rain, etc.
How would you describe your style?
What are you currently working on?
I am finishing a commissioned portrait of a couple where the photo was taken in 1985 or so. After that I have 2 or 3 photos I took on a recent trip to Italy that I am going to work into paintings. One is experimental with a vague reference to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. The other is going to be a traditional picture of a guy playing the accordion for money near the Pantheon in Rome. I am also still tinkering with Wigwam Motel (below) … it needs a little something on the right, so I am going to put in a shadow to add balance.
What inspires you?
The Old Masters, Caravaggio, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Maxfield Parrish, Giotto, Edward Hopper, the list goes on!
How do you overcome creative obstacles?
I look at how other, stronger painters than myself have handled them. I have many art books around the house, so I just pick up a book about M.C. Escher or pop art and look at the pictures. The Internet is a great resource as well.
How do you challenge yourself as an artist?
By taking on projects that have challenges built in as well as by accepting portrait commissions
that I know are going to be hard. But mainly by finishing what I started — that’s the hardest thing!
Any advice for watercolor artists out there looking to better themselves as artists?
1) Nothing beats practice. What do you have to lose by trying to paint something? It’s not like you’re a surgeon.
2) Take a drawing class and practice your drawing.
3) Go to galleries and get ideas for your next painting.
And finally, why do you think art is important?
It puts us in close touch with beauty. That helps our humanity.
For more on Peter Carey’s paintings techniques, check out his recent feature in the Summer 2016 Strathmore Artist newsletter — he discusses his processes for selecting a subject, drawing and editing, masking, painting skies, finding inspiration and more!
And make sure to follow Peter Carey’s work on Facebook for frequent updates of his life and work at Peter Carey Paintings.
Check out Splash 17: Inspiring Subjects available in the North Light Shop to view Carey’s cover image plus more than 100 other beautiful watercolor paintings by the best contemporary artists working today. Available in hardcover and in PDF and EPUB versions.