Shooting for Success

“You?re only as good as your references,” says artist James Fetter of Bloomfield, Michigan. “I shoot a lot of photos?first composition shots and then close-ups of the details.”


Repose (acrylic, 18×30) is a 2000 Art Competition finalist.

Composing his paintings from the multiple photos he takes, Fetter starts with a quick drawing and then uses a projector to transfer it onto his canvas. “Usually I change it after I get it up there, but I do the drawing to make sure it?s technically correct,” he says. “You can get caught up in slavishly following the photographs, but that?s really not art. The photo is only where I start.”

And it?s the fine details in his many photographs, like the texture of the straw and the pig?s hair in Repose, that Fetter strives to re-create in his paintings. Working exclusively in acrylics, he relies on multiple layers of color to achieve such realistic texture in his work. “I just pile paint on,” he says. “I treat acrylics like they?re oils. The way I paint, you just can?t indicate something, you have to put a lot of detail into it.”

Spending anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks on any given piece, Fetter is usually working on two or three paintings at once. “If one starts going sour on me, I?ll put it away for two weeks or so and then look at it with a fresh eye. It?s amazing what you can see on a second look. Sometimes you realize it?s time to turn your mistakes to the wall and start again.”

Although Fetter retired from his lifelong career as a commercial artist about eight years ago, he doesn?t have any plans to retire his brushes. In fact, now that he?s painting for himself, he tries to get to his easel every day. And it?s the challenge of turning a blank canvas into a work of art that keeps him interested.

“You can lose yourself in a painting. Suddenly the day is gone and you don?t know where it went because you?ve been trying to solve this problem,” Fetter says. “To me it?s a puzzle. If I do this, then what will happen?”

And after being a commercial artist for so long, Fetter loves the chance to work from his own inspiration. Drawing ideas from the world around him, he never goes anywhere without his camera. “I?m pretty eclectic in what I do,” he says. “I like to do Western art, landscapes, still lifes?just about anything if the mood strikes me and I have a good reference. I can be driving down the road and spot a painting.”

Skip Lawrence received his bachelor?s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, then went on to earn his master?s degree at Towson University (Towson, Maryland). Over the course of his career, Lawrence has distinguished himself as an artist, instructor and author. His work has appeared in many one-man shows and juried exhibitions, including those of the American Watercolor Society and Watercolor USA. Lawrence is the author of Painting Light and Shadow in Watercolor (North Light Books) and co-edits Watermedia Focus, a quarterly art publication. In addition, his paintings have appeared in a variety of other books and publications. Currently living in Maryland, Lawrence is represented by the Ingrid Cooper Gallery (Washington, D.C.), Gallery Wear (Frederick, Maryland), The Donovan Gallery (Tiverton, Rhode Island) and Gallery A (Taos, New Mexico).

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