Tim Jones is an award-winning fine artist who specializes in still-life paintings. His beautiful oil-painting technique calls to mind many of the best in the genre (some of his paintings, to me, recall Jan Davidsz. de Heem, the 17th century Dutch master). Tim also blogs at Old World Swine, a personal blog that covers art, politics, and religion, and also maintains a fascinating Daily Painting Blog. He can also be read occasionally at Jimmy Akin's blog. Tim graciously agreed to an interview with SmallPax.
First off, thanks for doing this interview!
You're welcome. It is a pleasure to be asked!
You have many lovely still-life paintings, including some that have won national awards. What draws you to that subject?
Though I didn't always consciously know it, I have always been intensely interested in depicting light and form... the way light behaves and the way three dimensional forms can be modeled in two dimensions. It's a kind of mystery that the illusion of form and space can be created on a flat surface and can draw the viewer into that illusion. My drawings were always very modeled, too, with great interest in the play of light and shadow - chiaroscuro. I have a very keen interest in the figure, as well, and love the challenge of the human form, of making it convincingly occupy a space. I am anxious to do more figure work, but it's a more complicated process because it involves working with models. I think the human form is the highest, the most challenging and most rewarding subject an artist can take on.
You’ve shown a bit of your work process online, but can you give a run-down of what goes into one of your paintings?
Quite coincidentally, I've just finished a series of posts at my somewhat mis-named Daily Painting Blog where I trace nearly the entire development of a painting from start to finish. Of course, it leaves out a great deal, but it gives the rough outlines of the process.
I like working with a toned ground, rather than a white panel. I find it helps in sorting out the values, and I like to leave the ground showing through in places. It ties things together and also lets the viewer see the process somewhat frozen in time. I might draw out the design lightly with Conté crayon, or often I just do the initial drawing with a brush, getting the darkest darks in place. After that, I lay in areas of local color and do some wet-into-wet modeling, working from dark to light, from thin paint to thicker paint (the old, reliable "Light over dark, fat over lean" process). The final highlight stage is often the most fun, because it can really make the image sing and come together. There are times in the intermediate stage when the painting might not look like it is going that well, but you just have to trust the process and stick to the basic principles.
What type of color palette do you work with—or is there a particular artist whose palette you have adopted?
I've settled into a palette that works for me, though I am always thinking of modifications. It is basically a split-primary palette, with one warmer and one cooler hue of the three primary colors, along with a few earth tones, and titanium white. I also sometimes add secondary colors or specialty pigments like Alizarin Crimson. I cobbled my palette together over time, and it's always changing. I've been to workshops by very accomplished artists, this one using only five or six pigments and another using (literally) twenty or thirty. Everyone has to find the set up that makes sense for them and their way of working. These pigments are often on my palette, though not often all at once;
Primaries: Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Deep, Phthalo Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Deep
Secondaries: Hookers Green, Chromium Oxide Green, Cadmium Orange Hue, Cobalt Violet, Dioxazine Purple
Earth Tones: Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Naples Yellow, Venetian Red
Speaking of other artists, who do you look to as influences on your work? And are there any other living artists who you admire?
Influences can be so hard to tease out. I'm influenced by almost everything. In art school I was attracted to the work of the surrealists; Magritte and Escher and Dali, I think because they were working in a more or less realistic way, but were still allowed as legitimate influences by my art professors. Now I'm more influenced by the masters of the academy; Bouguereau, Sargent and the pre-Raphaelites, as well as the great historical painters; Vermeer, Rembrandt, Titian, Ingres. Some living artists I admire are Anthony Waichulis and Jeff Legg. The Art Renewal Center has a terrific website that features the work of great artists working in the realist/figurative tradition, alive and otherwise. A real online museum and a very useful resource.
Switching from your still-life paintings to your work involving figures, I’ve seen two very nice Madonnas that you have done recently. Any other religious works in the pipeline, so to speak?
There is a semi-commissioned piece of St. Anthony of Padua that I need to get started on, but I've been mulling it over for months. I want it to be something special. I've been known mainly as a still life painter, since that is how I get back into painting several years ago, so it was very gratifying to have one of my figure pieces take the top prize at a regional show earlier this year. I'm getting mentally prepared to take my figurative work to another level, but the logistics of making that happen on a budget in a small home studio are pretty daunting. I would love to spend the rest of my career doing liturgical art and images of saints, but making that jump can also be tricky. I approached one local parish, offering to do some pretty major pieces simply as a gift, with their only obligation being to provide the materials. I offered to work with any kind of committee, to provide sketches and comps to make sure the art would be in line with the needs of the parish... but they really didn't know what to do with me. Getting a committee together would be a headache, and then there would always be people who might not like the art... in a few minutes the priest was allowing the possibility of perhaps doing some banners. It's a bit disheartening when you can't give the stuff away. I've been blessed, though, to have some very positive response to the religious themed work that I have done.
Is the work process much different when painting figures or portraits?
It's analogously similar to still life painting, but also very different. I've found that a dark ground can be a problem with flesh tones, so a lighter toned ground is preferable. Also, lighting is critical. I often use a pretty bright, directional light for my still lifes, and with the figure or the portrait that can result in transitions and shadows that are too harsh. This is a living human being, after all. A large area of the brain is involved in seeing the human face, much more than might be dedicated to looking at a piece of fruit or a clay pot, for instance, so very small, subtle shifts in the facial features and their relationships can make a huge difference. There is more room for improvisation with an inanimate object than there is with the human form. If something is off there, the viewer will sense it immediately, because our brains are fine-tuned to that sort of thing. To get that precision, and yet make it appear free and natural, is the great challenge of portrait work.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into oil-painting? Are there good programs or books that can be of help?
There are many, far too many to list! Unfortunately, there are also programs - I'm thinking of some university departments - that can be a waste of time, if not a positive detriment. That's harsh but true. I have two degrees in art, but feel I really began to learn how to paint just about five years ago. I visited area artists who's work I admired, joined area art groups, went to workshops, went to museums to look at art, looked at art online... but mainly I just started painting regularly. That's the only essential and irreplaceable element in the whole process. Start making art on a regular basis and don't stop. No matter the level at which you may be working, you will improve with experience. Your art will also grow as you mature emotionally and spiritually, which is encouraging. Art is the kind of vocation, like writing, wherein you may work very productively and keep getting better right up until you die. Personally, when I die I hope they find me on the floor of my studio, with a brush in my hand... at a ripe old age, of course.
And, lastly, can you tell our readers where they can purchase your work?
Anyone interested in commissioned work can contact me directly through e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will be very happy to work with them on a piece. I also have a few pieces for sale at my onine store;
Other work (old and new) can be seen at my fine art website;