What do you do?
I paint modern stylized invented still life compositions based on the classic still life convention of flowers in a vase or other vessel.
Where can we find your work?
-Online at www.paintingsbydon.com
-At my studio at 1068 The Alameda, San Jose (by appointment only please email me)
-Through my art dealer: ArtSmart 1261 Lincoln Ave. Suite 106 San Jose, CA
What inspires you to create and how do you keep motivated when things get tough?Living inspires me to create. I have to spend time creating regularly or I become depressed, unsettled and no fun to live with (so I am told…) When things get tough, I try to suspend thinking about what I am creating and work more quickly in a more intuitive way. I can tend to get too analytical. I try to return to the idea of art as play.
What do you think is more important content/finished product or technique/process?
Although I derive great satisfaction from the end product, the process is more important to my well-being. When I was working on paintings that were meticulously planned, the execution became drudgery at times because it was mere rendering. All the creativity was in the conception. Now I work more spontaneously and creatively throughout the entire process and I am much happier. My favorite painting is usually the one I am currently trying to develop.
Who are some people who influence and/or inspire you?
There is no end to the number of artists from all eras whose work inspires me. I have a large collection of artist monographs that I refer to often and I am always buying more. I find I can learn something and find something useful from artists of all stripes and styles. I love to riff off whatever work happens to be striking my fancy at the time.
What is the most incredible art moment for you so far?
In my studio: the times when I have achieved what they call “flow” and I feel like creative ideas that emanate from elsewhere are passing through me. It’s thrilling when you do something great on the canvas and you wonder where it came from.
In a museum: when in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, I turned a corner in a gallery space and encountered a large portrait painting by Egon Schiele that seemed in that moment to be as exciting and alive as any person in the building. It gave me chills and was so moving and awe-inspiring that I literally wept with joy. Although the online experience can’t convey what I witnessed, you can see the painting here: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/3836
When do you get your best ideas?
When I am not actively thinking about them. I find good ideas come unexpectedly when interacting with the world. It’s as though my subconscious is always on the lookout and it pops an idea up into my consciousness when something presents itself.
What materials/tools do you use most to create your work?
I do quick preparatory pencil sketches for new pieces in the Still Life Jazz series, just to flesh out the basic layout idea. Then I develop the idea using oil paint and brushes on canvas or linen.
Paintings seldom end up just how I conceive of them and there are always compositional and color issues to resolve. When I get stuck and I have many ideas to consider, I use Photoshop to audition the different alternatives. I photograph the painting at the point where I need help and then try different color or design ideas using a Wacom drawing pad and the Photoshop Layer feature. Sometimes I will try 30 or more different solutions to a single painting. It’s so fast to prototype them in Photoshop.
Recently, I have also been making smaller works in acrylic paint on paper. Instead of using Photoshop to test out various solutions, I draw and paint on transparencies to simulate what the finished product could look like.
Oils and acrylics require differing rhythms of work due to their vastly different drying times. I enjoy both.
Are you self-taught or formally educated? How do you think that has influenced or affected your work?
I think most good artists are essentially self-taught even if they went to art school. Making art is like writing one’s signature. We are all taught how to write with a pen but no one teaches us how to sign our names. Similarly, in art classes and graduate art school, they taught me about materials and how to analyze and talk about my artwork. But no one taught me how to make it. The way I learn is by studying closely the work of artists I admire, either in person in museums and galleries or via books. Lots of trial and error.
Who would you most like to meet living or dead and why?
I’ll confine my list to artists to simplify the question:
Caravaggio – how could he make those magical paintings with limited resources and no help while being on the run from the law and living underground? Did he invent tenebrism in order to be able to create paintings faster?
Rubens – how did he develop his signature color palette for rendering the human form and what were the layered steps he took in each painting? What would he have painted if he didn’t need to rely on wealthy or royal patrons?
Bernini – how did he develop his ability to imagine the finished perfection of those figures within those blocks of marble? Was there any form that he couldn’t capture to his satisfaction in marble?
Picasso – how was he able to be so prolific over so long a period of time while maintaining quality and constant freshness? How did he keep challenging himself? Which of his accomplishments were the most difficult to achieve?
I could go on with lots of questions for many artist heroes and heroines through history.
When you are not creating what do you like to do?
I have no shortage of things to keep me occupied. I am never bored. I love just being in the natural world (I live in a rural setting); reading fictional books with propulsive plotting; watching and analyzing well-made movies (regrettably few available); watching and analyzing well-written TV comedy (also rare); exploring new places in travel anywhere with my wife and, not least, watching baseball. I work on learning Spanish every day. And I spend time interacting with the two cats that share their lives with my wife and me. They give me endless amounts of pleasure and amusement every day.
How did you learn to access your creative talents and gain the confidence to put it out there for everyone to experience?
It happened later in life for me. In my early 40’s, although I had a very successful and lucrative business career, I was miserable. And I was waking up at night with anxiety attacks. It was awful. So I sought some professional help, and I discovered that I had been repressing an interest in the creative arts. I was encouraged to try a drawing class but was reluctant because I thought that I had no talent. As soon as I started the class, I found out that, in fact, I could draw very well instantly, and the anxiety attacks stopped. It took me years thereafter of taking many classes off and on to get to the point where I could feel justified in calling myself an artist. I set modest goals and when I met them I then aimed a little higher, over and over. Eventually, with the support of my wife this led me to take the leap into graduate art school and make art-making my career.
But it is still hard to me to put my work in front of other people. Self-promotion is excruciatingly difficult for me. I’m still learning how to be confident about my work.
What advice would you give others just beginning their creative adventures?
Give yourself permission to make art. Lots of art. Regularly. Not just when you feel inspired. Breakthroughs come unexpectedly. So you have try things and follow where they lead. Don’t let any one piece be too precious. Think of everything you make as merely a stepping-stone to the next thing you’re going to make. You’re learning, exploring and that process never ends. That’s where the joy is. Discovery. And the possibility for more discoveries.