Thomas Kinkade - Paintings of Radiant Lightby Thomas Kinkade
Thomas Kinkade's delightful paintings of cottages, countrysides, tranquil small-town America, and bustling cities seem infused with a special vision. Perhaps no American artist since Norman Rockwell has been so admired and collected for such warm, engaging scenes of American life. This inspiring volume features beautiful fold-out color plates and celebrates the… See more details below
Thomas Kinkade's delightful paintings of cottages, countrysides, tranquil small-town America, and bustling cities seem infused with a special vision. Perhaps no American artist since Norman Rockwell has been so admired and collected for such warm, engaging scenes of American life. This inspiring volume features beautiful fold-out color plates and celebrates the radiant works of the foremost contemporary painter of light. This book, which includes Kinkade's newest paintings, recounts the uplifting story of his life and adventures. In his own words, Kinkade recalls the inspiration behind his works and describes the fascinating personal references - to loved ones and to his faith - found in his paintings. The most comprehensive portfolio of Kinkade's art ever printed, this volume includes detailed descriptions of his works and lavish full-color reproductions that illustrate the luminous "Kinkade glow" so collected and treasured today.
- Abbeville Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.30(w) x 12.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Artist and His World
Recently, I went with my father and my brother Pat to Omaha Beach in France, where the Americans landed on D-Day in 1944. It was a pivotal experience for both my dad, who fought in the war, and for me. I grew up hearing my dad's amazing adventures and war stories. So it was an awesome feeling to drive up to Omaha Beach and know that this was a real place. The day we arrived no one was there. Just a silent beach with low waves lapping in, and an elderly man on the beach with his memories. Dad stood with the sun at his back, casting a long shadow, and I knew that all those ghosts-the memories he had from those years-were coming in like waves off the ocean. For fifty years he dreamed about going back to Omaha Beach. Now here he was. And there I was, an artist whose goal is to share memories and traditions with people. That day is a part of the heritage I will pass on to my own children-the day that Grandpa and I stood on Omaha Beach. The feeling of sharing something so powerful with my dad and brother, watching the light on this quiet beach, knowing that we were standing on a spot with such a rich history, was an unforgettable moment that I could share with othersmy wife, three children, and perhaps even with the people who collect my work. After all, I suppose sharing memories and special moments with others is what my art is all about.
Life and Art
I don't see my art as something distinct and different from my life. My art is nothing more than a reflection of who I am as a person-what I value, believe, and experience. You do things as a painter for private, artistic reasons. You paint because you have to inside. And then it turns outthat something public is happeninglives are being touched by your art. In a way, you have to ignore that. As an artist you must continue to reach deep inside yourself to experience life and to discover and bring to life on canvas the private inner daydreams we all share. And right from my earliest years, I got a lot of happiness from my art and from the fact that what I created brought joy to others.
It's funny how, as a child, you're shaped by seemingly random events. The first time it dawned on me what it meant to be an artist was when I was sitting with one of my sistersI have three sisters who are much older than I. I couldn't have been more than three-and-a-half or four, and one of my sisters was drawing a picture of a road going back to some hills. She drew the road as two parallel lines, and she asked me, "What do you think of this, Tommy?" I remember erasing the road and redrawing it as lines converging at the horizon. When my sister said, "That looks better," something clicked inside me. All at once I realized that this two-dimensional piece of paper could look like a world of space. And it became my obsession, from then on, to draw the world in space. And throughout my school years, I became known for my talent in art.
I grew up in Placerville, a small town in the foothills of Northern California. My family didn't have a lot of money, but together with my younger brother, Pat, I had a kind of Tom Sawyer childhood. There was no dare Pat and I wouldn't take, no adventure we wouldn't embrace. Our tree house was a makeshift palace in the air. We had secret hideouts and homemade go-carts-and of course, an entire cast of imaginary characters in our nightly skits. I grew up in a place and time when six- and seven-year-olds could ride their bikes to town by themselves without their parents having to worry. It was a very innocent era.
My mother was absolutely full of unconditional love. We grew up knowing that no matter what happened, she was always there for us and that she loved us. Mom was the first "collector" of my art. She was the one I wanted to show my drawings to first. She would ask me questions about what I was doing, and when it was done she would frame it and hang it in the house right beside her prints by famous artists. The two pieces of art in our house that I really remember were a Rembrandt print and a print by one of the Parisian street scene painters, a boulevard with the lights aglow. To this day, I'm sure that's why I love the effect of wet streets with lights. And seeing my drawings hanging on the wall next to reproductions of great masterpieces encouraged me to think that I might become an artist someday.
My sister Katey was another source of inspiration when I was young. She worked at the town library, and she would bring home stacks of art books for me to read. I also pored over back issues of American Artist magazine, because they seemed full of the best in traditional American art. At the time, I kept a journal, and in it I wrote about this dream I had that someday I would have my own studio and be an artist just like those I had read about. It's amazing how influential all that reading was on my young mind. From the age of eleven or twelve on, all I ever read were art books.
From junior high onward my whole life was my painting and drawing. I would walk, sketchbook in hand, through the fields and lanes of Placerville. I was fortunate to live in a very beautiful place-we lived on a hill that was all forest. There were barns, and there were deer and squirrels-a lot of wildlife. By about age eleven, I had become fascinated with the landscape and with drawing from nature. And at about this time, some miraculous influences dropped into my life.
The Apprentice Finds His Masters
I think that a person is truly blessed if he finds one mentor in a lifetime. I've had two. The first was a man named Charles Bell, a painter from Los Angeles who had moved to Placerville. He was sixty-five years old when I met him, and I was eleven. I had applied for a job at a sign shop in town, the Western Sign Shop. This was when sign painters were true craftsmen. To be a sign painter was still a big thing back then, before computers did it all. Charlie was considered one of the best sign painters in America, but he had so many other interests. He was a master shipbuilder, and he wrote two books about ship design that became minor classics. He designed and built his own house by hand. He was also an artist-he did beautiful watercolors and sketches on location. It was because of Charlie that I got into the habit of carrying my sketchbook with me everywhere, something I still do today.
Charlie took me under his wing and nurtured me. One day I noticed that Charlie changed the scene he was sketching-he took out a telephone pole, and added an extra boat. When I commented on this, he said, "Artists have the freedom to change the world any way they want. Never be afraid to change a scene if it makes the picture better." I didn't know you could do that! It was something that I would remember years later, because Charlie had unknowingly unlocked for me one of the basic keys to my career as a romantic landscape painter.
After Charlie, another incredible mentor entered my life. I'm a Christian man, and I can see God's hand in my daily life, but this was definitely an extraordinary miracle from God. Glenn Wessels was an artist who had been a big behind-the-scenes influence in the 1940s and '50s. He taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts, and then for many years in the art department at the University of California. Glenn had done incredible things. He had been in Paris between the wars, and he knew people like Hemingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. He also wrote art criticism, and he was a photographer and a close friend of Ansel Adams's.
When I met met Glenn, he was nearly eighty and I was a sophomore in high school. He had just moved to Placerville from Berkeley after the death of his beloved wife, and had set up a studio in a converted barn near our house. He had broken his hip in a jeeping accident with Ansel Adams and was having a hard time getting around. I offered to help out in the studio in exchange for being allowed to watch over his shoulder and learn what I could do. I remember the anticipation as I went to Glenn's studio each day. I would crack open the door and see him at work on a new canvas. I can still smell the intoxicating scent of the studioa mixture of turpentine and brewing coffee!
As it happened, Glenn, like Charlie Bell, took me under his wing and began teaching me, sitting down with me every day and pouring into me all the wisdom he had stored up during his long life. He was a great philosopher on the subject of art. He talked about what he called the spatial boxthe spatial dynamics of picture-making. Today, people look at my paintings, and the universal comment I hear is, "I feel like I can step into that painting." I attribute that to Glenn's influence, but that isn't all I got from him. I always say that Glenn didn't teach me how to paint, he taught me why to paint. He saw fine art as a high calling, worthy of a person's utmost dedication. Art was, to Glenn, more than a profession: it was a mission.
Shaping a Credo
I started to formulate my own personal credo at this time, which was that art is first and foremost a very deep form of communication. I liken it to the experience of nature. You cannot go to Inspiration Point in Yosemite and look out over that valley and not have your life changed a little bit. Something about it is overwhelming; you're in awe of God's creation. And to a large degree, that's my mission as an artistto create little glimpses of a world that is tranquil, peaceful, and full of the beauty of God's creation. People who see my work often tell me they feel peace when they enter the world I paint. Others who have had terrible problems in their lives write and tell me that experiencing my work helps them rebuild a sense that there is joy in the worldthat there is beauty, something good awaiting them somewhere.
I began to see that the populist definition of art had completely gone from our culture. Art had become something that existed on the fringes of society-a subculture that had little bearing on the average person's life. This struck me as such a shame, because there were popular forms of other artsmusic, architecture, dance, and theater. But art had not really found an equivalent, at least in terms of a fine art expressionthat is, art from the artist's soul, direct from his or her own vision and heart. While thinking about such questions as a young man, I became introduced to the art of Norman Rockwell.
I view Rockwell as an important artist because he helped define so many traditions of American popular culture that we take for granted now-the small town, people returning to their roots, a sense of hometown America. You go to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and there are hundreds of people there on any given dayfar more than you'd find at your average museum. That says something about the enduring value of his work. Another American artist I discovered about this time was Maxfield Parrish. At the peak of his career, one out of four homes in America had a Parrish of some form on a wall-further evidence of the impact an artist can have on his or her culture.
In high school, I began to study Rockwell's work and technique. For a while I toyed with going in the same figural direction he did, but I began to see so much more power in the landscape as a universal expression. A house, a village, a landscape-almost anyone can identify with these. By my mid-teens I became even more heavily involved in the study of landscape and landscape artists. I was captivated by the work of Thomas Hill, who struck me as one of the greatest landscape painters in California during the nineteenth century. I'll never forget the first time I saw one of his paintings of Yosemite. It was at the Oakland Museum, and that experience is one of the reasons why I paint landscape. No painting has ever taken my breath away like this one did. The piece is about six feet by ten feet, and its illusion of three-dimensional depth is staggering. I felt like I was going to fall off the edge of the precipice, it was so impressive. After seeing Hill's painting I became totally dedicated to the idea of doing what I call romantic landscape painting-works like those by Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, or Frederick Church, who each painted a very idealized world. Recalling what Charlie Bell had told me, I started to make paintings that were based on my observation of nature, yet which were enhanced by my artistic vision. By changing certain aspects of a scene, I could greatly increase the painting's dramatic impact, creating something that was both of this world and also a world unto itself.
Taking the Boy from the Country
At Glenn's suggestion, I applied to Berkeley. Thankfully, I was admitted and received several scholarships. I took my life savings, which I remember was about 1800 dollars-earned from various jobs, my paper route, and my work at the sign shopplus my scholarships, and went straight out of high school to Berkeley. Talk about culture shock! You couldn't imagine two places more completely opposite than Placerville and Berkeley. I got a studio, a basement room in an old apartment building on Dwight Avenue, and I would retreat there and work late hours on my paintings. I began to get a real sense of a work habit-a pattern in my life where art began to be a disciplined part of my day. I knew I was going to be an artist, even if I had to sell my work on the street somewhere; no matter what, I was going to make my living doing what I love to do. I started to do a comic strip and editorial illustrations for a newspaper called the Daily Californian. I did hundreds of drawings for them. I remember getting paid five dollars per illustration and three dollars per comic stripbut at least I was making money through my art.
It was also at Berkeley that I met fellow artist James Gurney. In another amazing coincidence, we were assigned to the same dorm room freshman year. The day we met, we stayed up half the night talking about our art. He became my closest artist friend, and my colleague in many adventures. Jim later achieved great success with his "Dinotopia" creations, and to this day our friendship continues to be an inspiration for each of us. We were each other's best man at our weddings and our kids are about the same ages. Our adventures on the road continue, but now we take our families with us.
At Berkeley, I had studied a wide variety of subjectsrhetoric, English literature, music. I wanted to get a broad humanities education, as Glenn Wessels had advised me to do. But having grown up in a small town-which was a lot like living in a Norman Rockwell paintingthe anything-goes environment of Berkeley made me hunger for more structure in my environment. I remembered a man I met when I was fourteen. My dad had taken me to see an artist for the Sacramento Bee. He recommended getting a general education, and then going to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. "Don't go anywhere else to refine your skills as an artist," he had said. At the time it was the best illustration and applied arts school in the country, and it was legendary among artists.
I applied to the Art Center and was accepted. My time there was the most intense period of focused dedication that I had known. The workload was grueling-"all nighters" were common-and the stress level was intense. The competition with other students forced you to work at a very high level. I suppose I was a bit of a rebel at the Art Center. Most students were doing hard-edged photo-derived work, but I wanted to paint soft, romantic things with a heavy dose of imagination. A few of my teachers, especially Ted Youngkin and Jack Leynwood, encouraged my traditional approach.
During my art school years I lived at the Golden Palms Apartments, which was another one of those major experiencesI've heard it has become something of a legend among Art Center students and up-and-coming artists. James Gurney, who had also transferred to Art Center, lived there, as did Paul Chadwick, Bryn Barnard, Ron Harris, and many other well-known artists. We were all really poor, but we had dreams of making our living as artists one day. It was a bit like the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. I believe that an artist's most important education comes not from school, but from the stimulating company of fellow artists. My relationship with other artists at the Golden Palms set the tone for my career. We challenged each other to dream big dreams and encouraged each other to accomplish them. And in the process, we had a lot of fun.
An Artist Comes of Age
The Art Center was a marvelous phase, and as a result, a part of me awakened again. After two years of working at a very dedicated level-often at the studio twenty hours a day or more-I wanted to get out into open air, to work from nature again. About this time Jim Gurney and I began taking sketching adventures togetherwe called these expeditions "hoists." I don't know where the word came from, but to us it meant simply packing our sketchbooks and hitting the road.
Once we went to sketch at the Los Angeles freight yards and we had an experience that changed our lives. It came in the form of a man named Bud, a professional hobo we met in the shade of a boxcar. We stopped and began asking him questions about his life. Soon we began sketching him, and as we worked he proceeded to tell us about his life on the rails. He believed in something called the music of the rails, and that if you had the music in you, you were a hobo. It was kind of a mystical view of being a hobo, but being the romantics we are, Jim and I ate this up. We decided to do a hobo trip of our own that summer-the summer of 1980. This was to be the hoist to end all hoists.
We left the Los Angeles freight yards in June, our backpacks filled with odds and ends of clothing, a few peanut butter sandwiches, and numerous sketchbooks. By the time we arrived in Yuma, Arizona, we were black with soot and rust. We met a sweet older woman who said we could come to her house and use her garden hose to clean up. Afterward she graciously offered to introduce us to her friend at the local newspaper who might be interested in our story of sketching and traveling. Sure enough, the paper did a big article on the two young "hobo artists" traveling across America. By that time, we had done some sketches, and they featured them in the article. That article set a trend, and everywhere we went we started to get publicity. The biggest article we had was in the Nashville Tennessean. Then a radio station did a one-hour interview with us. This made us think that what we were doingthis combination of sketching and adventuringwas of interest to people. We had an idea for a travel sketcher's handbook. The more we discussed it, the more excited we got.
We finally ended up in New York. We rented a typewriter, and would sketch all day and type all night at a cafe. After a week or so, we took all our sketches and our manuscript to Watson-Guptill Publicationsone of the largest publishers of art books. We walked in and told the receptionist we had a book idea we wanted to present. "You can't just walk in here," she said. "You have to send something in first. We get fifteen manuscripts a day." So we asked who the person in charge was, but we were told that she was too busy to see us. Then, by an amazing miracle, she just happened to walk by at that moment. We introduced ourselves, and she agreed to meet with us for five minutes at 3:30 the next afternoon.
Our funds had run out, so that night we went to an abandoned pier on the Hudson River to sleep. We put our manuscript and sketches under the pier for safekeeping, but we didn't realize that rivers had tides. When we awoke the next morning, all our materials were floating in the water. But we weren't willing to give up. We spent the day photocopying our manuscript to clean it up and running around New York making new sketchesI think we each did a dozen or so sketches that day! By 3:30 the next day we were ready. The five-minute meeting turned into two hours: it turned out that they had been looking for a book on sketching for years. A few weeks later, we had a contract, and a year or two later, The Artist's Guide to Sketching came out, and it was one of their best-sellers that year.
After Jim Gurney and I left Art Center, we both, through another one of those miraculous coincidences, landed jobs as background painters on an animated feature film called Fire and Ice, which was directed by Ralph Bakshi. Frank Frazetta, one of the great fantasy painters, was the movie's art director. Jim Gurney and I did all the background paintingsabout six hundred each over the course of two years. Also during this time we were working on our book, and I was doing paintings for galleries. It was surely the most energetic phase of productivity of my life to that point. But Jim and I had a great time. We got paid to paint all day, every day, and as we worked we'd talk about the masters of academic and naturalistic realism. Our work on Fire and Ice became a training ground for these masters' techniques. We'd paint a Frederick Church scene, then an Albert Bierstadt scene. It was incredible experience for exploring the effects of light.
Finding Love and God
I first met my wife, Nanette, when I was thirteen years old. I was a paper boy for the Sacramento Bee, and Nanette's family moved into a neighborhood on my route. She was a beautiful twelve-year-old blond girl who seemed very mature for her age. We got to know each other, and became childhood sweethearts. When I went off to high school, I suppose I thought I was too big to have a girlfriend in junior high, so we broke up. But we kept in touch, and I always knew in my heart that we were meant to be married. Even when I was in college, and dating different girls, Nanette and I would still get together once a year and go out on these wonderful dates. But the way we got back together was another miracle.
When we were in college, Nanette and I each had other sweethearts. While I was still an art student, I started to show my work in galleries and I would send Nanette clippings about my shows. I guess this attention didn't sit very well with Nanette's boyfriend, so she asked me to stop writing, and for a year or more I didn't send her anything. But then one night I had a dream that I had called Nanette and that we had gotten back together. I woke up the next day and thought: I have to call Nanette! And when I did, I learned she no longer had a boyfriend and had moved back to Placerville to be with her parents for the summer. After talking a bit, I asked her on a date. "I'll pick you up in my new car, and we'll go to Lake Tahoe," I said. So I hung up the phone and suddenly I realized the only vehicle I owned was a broken-down motorcycle. That week, I went out and bought a nice used car and drove up there. Nanette really loved the car. Thinking back, buying a car for a date was pretty extravagant, but in the process I got back with my true love, so I suppose it was worth it! During our trip to Tahoe I professed my love to her, and on our second date, I proposed. We were married in 1982, and I would describe our relationship as truly a love affair. For me, marriage is such a liberating and exciting experience. Nanette is my best friend for life. It has gotten to the point where if something interesting happens to me and Nanette's not there, I feel like I have to go home and tell her about it, or else I haven't really experienced it.
Some time before Nanette and I got married, in 1980, I had what turned out to be the most important experience of my life. I had reached a state of disillusionment and skepticism, and I needed a vision and purpose. About this time I met God in a real way and I became a Christian. After my salvation I began to discover that my faith was a highly personal walk with God, and that God would reveal Himself every day through experiences. Every one of these-from the book, to the way Nanette came back into my lifeI would put into the category of miracles. I believe each life is filled with God's miracles; you only need to look around a bit and see them.
The Birth of a Company
After Fire and Ice, I had the opportunity to keep working in the movies, but I decided that I wanted to pursue my own art on a full-time basis. And at that point, in 1984, Nanette and I also decided to leave Los Angeles and return to Placerville. In the meantime, my paintings were selling quite well through a number of galleries. I realized there was a very large, enthusiastic market for the kind of traditional paintings I did. But I also knew I couldn't keep up with the demandthere must be a way of providing artworks for people without having to paint every single one. I began to understand why illustrators such as Norman Rockwell wanted their work to go onto the covers of such magazines as Saturday Evening Post rather than into galleries. How few people see paintings in a gallery, but as Rockwell said, "The Saturday Evening Post is a gallery that goes into millions of people's homes." When I begin thinking about ways to get my work into the homes of people everywhere, my life changed againNanette and I made our first foray into art publishing. I knew we were on the right track, because my first limited-edition print, a scene of an Alaskan gold-rush town called Dawson, was extremely successful. It was followed by another historical scene, called Placerville, 1916, which sold out a month or two after we launched it. These humble beginnings grew into one of the biggest companies in the field of art publishing, art licensing, and collectibles.
At first, the company was just Nanette and meI suppose she was the boss and I was the employee! She packaged prints, ran the books, and answered the phone. My job was easy by comparisonI did the paintings. Pretty soon, we had ten dealers selling our prints. There was definitely something viable therethe company quickly grew to the point where it was too much for Nanette and me to operate on our own. Meanwhile, I had become friends with a very talented businessman named Ken Raasch. I told him about my vision of a publishing company that produces art that uplifts people-art that carries a vision and a testimony of our Christianity, which provides a bit of hope for people of all faiths. This idea really appealed to Ken, and we started a company. We called it Lightpost Publishing, because through our products we hoped to share light with people, and because the underlying theme of all my work is light.
Miracles began to happen the second we started that company. God gave us wonderful employeespeople who have become almost like family. Ken has a wonderful ability to inspire a vision in the individual while maintaining a great feeling of unity in the group. We always say that Lightpost is not a company; it's a cause. It's inspiring to visit the offices of Lightpost, to see the highly talented and dedicated people who are so committed to what we do. It's also humbling, because I realize more than ever that God surely had His hand on Lightpost. I feel that God has put a special warmth into everything we produce, and when people see that warmth, they are drawn to it.
Painter of Light
In the past people looked upon fine art in a spiritual way. People would often make pilgrimages to see Michelangelo's Pietàthey really thought his sculpture was divinely inspired. People need that spiritual connection with art. I sense this all the time as I meet with people in the nationwide conventions that Lightpost Publishing sponsors for collectors of my work and they share with me how that spirituality affects their lives. There's one show that we do at 5 o'clock in the evening. People start lining up for it the day before, because they want to be the first one to get their print signed and to meet with me. This kind of experience is both flattering and humblingit makes me want to work even harder to create art that will bless people.
Light generates so much hope in the individual. People who are deprived of sunlight for an extended period often become very depressed. And although effects of sunlight are a big part of my sense of light, I'm also drawn to the different forms of manmade light. I suppose you could say I'm a student of lampposts, after all lamplight plays a big role in my work. I even named my home in Northern California Lamplight Lane. I've often thought of light as a spiritual dimension, and it is interesting to me as a Christian that light is one of the most consistent metaphors throughout Scripture. Christ himself said He was the light of the world, and the first thing God created was light. It's also a great symbol for the life of the believerwe are told to let our light shine before others. The truth is represented as light. It's something that goes out and opens up people's darkness.
For me as an artist, light has so many planes of meaning, not the least of which is that it's so emotionally warm. If you've ever taken a walk through the woods as dusk starts to fall, you know just how dark it can be under the canopy of trees. You can look up and see what amounts to the last radiance in the sky, and often you can barely find your way. But if you walk through that, and you come to a campsite where a lantern is hanging, or, better yet, see a lit cabin, the light has a warm radiance that's entrancing. I've often thought that light elicits one of the great urges in all human-kind. We are drawn to light. Many of my paintings are an attempt to get at that feeling. Since in my art, I can "leave the lights on" permanently, it's a way that people can, figuratively speaking, hang a light in their own homes, even in broad daylight. I even like to think people will be warmed by that light. I have so often heard that analogy in people's descriptions of what my paintings mean to them. I'm told that people feel as if they wanted to step into the light, and that no matter what was going on in the day, they could just feel at peace by going into the light of the painting.
My discovery and use of light began early. As a child, I was fascinated with the play of light and how that translated into color. A big insight came when I recognized that light has color, and that simply by choosing colors, you can create an intense effect of light. It really amounts to the fact that shadows are generally cool, although at their deepest they get warm again. Light is generally warm, though at its brightest, it gets cool again. Because of that simple formula, you can play with color in a subtle way that creates radiance on the canvas. I began formally studying the visual effects of light as a teenager, and in the movie business I did a really intensive study into the effects of light, since I was given complete freedom to invent the lighting qualities of the scenes I worked on.
When I started doing paintings for galleries, I was fascinated by this idea of capturing light on canvas. I began to be known as "the guy who paints light." I found that oil paint allowed me the freedom to develop textural effects that would catch the light. When a painting was lit in a gallery setting, with the light raking over it, it would just explode with light. As my work developed, I began to want to create an effect that is not readily understandable. I experimented with the hundreds of colors available to the oil painter. Some of these pigments are quite radiant, I found, and I began to use many layers of paint, carving and shaping the many pigments much as a sculptor would carve marble. Some layers are thick, some are thin. Through carefully modulated color, a lot of glazing, and the working of those interrelated layers, I'm able to give the illusion that the painting is glowing. When the painting is completed, all the layers have been woven together like a tapestry. All you see is the paintingnot the way it was painted. My efforts early on have truly paid off. As my work reached maturity in my late twenties I became known for the very efforts I had worked so hard to masterthe creation of light and mood on canvas. I don't paint emotionally neutral paintings. My greatest interest as an artist is in subtly shaping the world through my own romantic vision. After all, my favorite artists are the ones who did just that-created their own worlds of hope and joy.
I'm very open, when giving a talk or doing a show, about my love for my family. Even my paintings are full of little "love notes" to theminitials, birthdates, hearts, holiday wreaths, and of course the hidden "N" that appears throughout my work as a tribute to my wife Nanette. I even include a small number beside my signature on a painting to indicate how many "N"s are concealed in the painting. My father was often not around when I was growing up, and I became determined that when I had my own family I was going to be a dedicated father and husband. I knew that I wanted to lead a balanced life and be committed to my values. Nanette and I are very thankful to God for our successes, and humbled by how fortunate we are to have the opportunities that we do.
I grew up in very modest circumstances, with a family that worked hard for the basics of life. Little thought was given to such extras as travel; when I became a father one of the gifts I wanted to give my family was the gift of experiencing different people and places. I knew that I wanted to mesh my desire to travel, and my love of experience for is own sake, with my love for my family. When our daughters Merritt, Chandler, and Winsor came along, people were amazed at how we took them with us everywhere we went. Merritt was three days old the first time she traveled with us, and our kids have joined us on some outrageous adventures. I'm thankful they will grow up with a breadth of experience I didn't have.
Many of our family trips focus on my sketching activity for studio paintings. When visiting an area, I often create small plein-air paintings done directly from nature. Painting on location is a pursuit that adds meaning to every trip we take. One of our most memorable trips was the time we stayed in Rockwell's studioa dream come true for me. As a kid, I was always really intrigued by Norman Rockwell's studio in Arlington, Vermont. Arlington is the place Rockwell was most closely associated with during the height of his career, since he didn't move to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, until he was much older. I believe he did his best work in Arlington. The studio I wanted to visit was one that he moved to after his first Arlington studio burned down. We were on a trip back East, and on a whim, Nanette and I detoured to Vermont to see Rockwell's studio. I didn't even know if it existed anymore, but I wanted to make a pilgrimage to it. We found the property, and saw the old red carriage house that had been the studio. I was so overwhelmed. After all, this was where The Four Freedoms was painted, not to mention some of Rockwell's famous wartime Post covers, such as The Homecoming Marine and Saying Grace. This was the haven for Rockwell's most creative phase, and there it was in front of us. It turned out that the current owner was operating a country inn there. So I asked if there were any chance of renting the studioit wasn't one of the usual guest rooms. I told her who I was, and she knew a bit of my work, so we were allowed to spend the night in the studio. Then I concocted a plan to return in the fall, when the foliage colors were at their peak, and paint the landscape for a couple of weeks while living in Rockwell's studio. When I returned, she gave me special permission to paint in the studio. It was my dream to paint where Rockwell painted, with the memories of all those pictures in the air. Here I was, working on paintings in the studio of one of my great mentors. We had the kids there, and they loved the working farm near the property. We even went on a canoe trip down the Batten Kill, the famous trout river that was a favorite haunt of Rockwell's. It was a perfect rural adventure for our family.
But Nanette and I also love to have adventures on our own. Because we have this very strong love relationship, we've always felt it was important to maintain our romantic bond. I believe a marriage is a living organism that requires a lot of care. We make a priority of getting out and experiencing things together. It doesn't have to be a big thingoften a simple walk together enriches us. I believe being a romantic is really a way of life. A lot of my collectorsin particular, womenask, "How can I get my spouse to be more romantic?" That question has come up so often that I feel almost like a counselor for the romantic way of life. Whenever I show my paintings of Carmel during slide shows, I will say to the group, "Now, doesn't that get you in the mood to take your wife for a drive down the coast and have a getaway together?" And inevitably, the women are nodding in agreement and elbowing their husbands. Couples often seem to get in a rut and feel they don't have any options. But we are the only ones who can get ourselves out of those ruts. For example, my dad has been an adventurer from day one. He will, at a moment's notice, drop everything and go on a trip. He was 77 years old, and he hadn't been to Europe in fifty years, but he just got on a plane and went with me.
Another big part of my family life is my studio, IvyGate Cottage. I now have the kind of studio I used to dream about as a child. I think I identify more closely with a studio than do most artists. So many artists work just anywherean old garage or a crumbling warehouse. I like having a studio that's organized and has some charm to itthat's something that inspires me as an artist. Thinking back, my love of interesting studios probably started in high school, from reading all those books that my sister Katey would bring home. A great art critic once told me that he felt artists had an innate need to dominate their studio environments through clutter. In my case, clutter is just a natural outgrowth of the long hours I put in at my studio. As I work, the painting is my only focus. I don't even notice the space around memy only goal is making the painting. It's as though I'm living inside the painting and not the studio.
As an artist, day-to-day interaction with my family is critical to me. But the fact that I work just a few steps away from home means that my relationship with my kids is a little different than that of the average father. I have an open-door policy in the studiothe kids can come and go as they please. This is such an advantage for all of us. The kids are around the studio throughout the day, though my time from six to eight each evening is family time. Under almost no conditions do I violate that. I would describe my lifestyle as somewhat old-fashioned, in that my real interest is to lead as simple a life as possible. I like living within walking distance of our townevening walks are a big tradition in our family. I like the idea that a week could go by and I wouldn't touch my car. We're also avid bicyclists. Recently my daughter Merritt achieved a major milestone: being able to ride her bike into town. This was a big triumph for her, and it's the kind of experience our small-town life offers us; it's as though we've turned back the clock a bit on the fast pace of contemporary life. Since we don't have commercial television in the house, we spend our evenings doing old-fashioned thingsplaying games, roughhousing, even singing. One night a week or so we have "family chapel"a time to get together to thank God for our many blessings. Through God's grace, my relationship with my family is very much like the world I paintfull of peace and joy.
To me the keys to life are simplea walk with God and a committed, loving relationship with your family. Those two things put everything else in perspective.
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