When did you first become interested in art?
I first became interested in art when I was 5 years old. I can recall that age because I had created a Charlie Brown calendar, from memory, with paper and crayons and my mother hung it up on the refrigerator. I also created an oil pastel reproduction of The Last Supper for a 6th grade art project. I won first place. However, my art later became an escape from the poverty that I was raised in. After all, if I couldn’t afford a model car kit, like my neighborhood chums could, then I would draw one. From that it morphed into a release from the daily hustle and bustle of the world. Now my art work is a part of me and I feel lonely if I don’t draw or paint something on a daily basis.
What style of art do you use most?
Realism is my main goal, in each piece that I do. I love making a painting look like a photo.
Has your style changed from when you first began as an artist?
My artistic style has always been one of realism. For some reason I don’t gravitate towards impressionistic or abstract art and I guess I’ve never been given the blessing of understanding it. To me splashes and smears of paint don’t tell me the struggle of man against nature. I need something sharper and more technically accurate. Just me, I guess. The more real, the better. I absolutely love it when I finish a painting and the viewer tells me that it looks like a photo. When I first started on serious painting, like in high-school many years ago, I also strove for realism, not feeling comfortable with abstract themed work. Can I do abstract art? Sure but, I choose not to. Realism is my window into another world of excitement and adventure.
What medium do you use?
I mostly use acrylics and watercolor, with watercolor being my main weapon of choice. The only reason I don’t paint with oil paints yet is I just haven’t gotten around to trying them! Maybe one day.
What made you choose that medium?
My choice of watercolor as my main choice of medium comes from my high-school years when watercolors were the only thing I could afford, in other words, the art department had scrap watercolors laying around and I commandeered them for my own use! Watercolor is also an extremely undervalued medium. You can do so much with it! It doesn’t smell bad, doesn’t take long to dry, is cheaper than oils plus, you can do plein air with it easier than you can oils, in my opinion.
Do your ideas come from life or imagination?
My ideas come from both life and imagination. For example, my piece titled “Intrepid” shows the lunar module Intrepid with my friend and fellow artist Alan Bean at the controls. This scene was never witnessed by anyone as it happened on the far side of the Moon, so this work is a great example of my combination of life and my imagining of how it looked way back in 1969.
How do you choose your images and colours?
My subject matter I choose comes from what moves me inside, in the dynamic part of my artistic soul. For example, not too many people see the “dynamic” of a subject, or if they do, they don’t associate it with art. In my western painting called “Desperate Men” you see the action from a low angle, which allows the power of the pose to work much better than a top-down view or one that is typically staged. Colors are the same way. I like to include a bright color, if I can, for added “punch” but sometimes that is not possible due to the subject matter so, if I can’t include a bright color I try to “up” the dynamic power of the work with a more powerful pose or subject matter.
Do you work in a studio?
I have a studio in my basement that is my sanctuary and getaway place. I have a couch, fridge, large work table and my PC there. My library of hundreds of art and movie books is there too. I recently purchased flat files to keep my work safe and a large storage area with a drafting table if I have to do work-ups for large pieces. I also like to have music playing in the background when I paint, like jazz or gypsy jazz.
Who is your favourite artist?
My favorite artist? Since I work in two areas, NASA and western, I would have to pick two. My favorite space artist is former NASA astronaut and moon walker Alan Bean, who is also my friend and mentor. His way of doing things, his art and his personal motivation to me, changed my life and career direction in the art world. In fact, just a few months ago he called me at home and just to check on how my art was going! As for western art, I’m fond of Don Weller and Bonnie Marris but, there are so many great western artists that it’s really hard to pick just one.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
My favorite work that I did is my first NASA piece called “Alan” and it’s of my mentor, Alan Bean, as he works on the Ocean of Storms on the Moon. I had it framed and hangs right outside my office. Each day I look at it and it gives me inspiration for working.
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
My overall time frame to complete a work depends on the size but since the majority of my work is about 19 x 26 in size, and if I work each night and on the weekends, I can finish a work in about 2-3 weeks.
How well do you take criticism?
I can take criticism well because I learned over time that as an artist you have to. As a young artist I couldn’t take any critique because I thought that I was being attacked personally but now since I’ve grown up and matured as an artist I know it comes with the territory. In fact, I now welcome critique as it may give me some insight as to something that I’ve missed when I painted the work. For new artists, just remember that there is a difference in critique and attack. Don’t take anything personally that is said about your work. After all, we are professional artists, right?
What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
When I reach a burn-out point I just step away. This is another trick that I learned from Alan. I also am a professional museum model builder and I have a side build of a model that I keep handy so when the paint and brushes burn me out, I just pick up the glue and plastic and keep going! This has added benefits too. When I was doing work-ups for “Intrepid” I needed an accurate subject/study model of a lunar module that would be correct for the Apollo 12 mission. Using photos and movie clips I constructed from scratch an accurate Intrepid Lunar Module and photographed it from multiple angles and then chose the one pose that would give the most “dynamic” feeling.
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I can’t say when I know something is finished. I just listen to my inner voice and it tells me when to stop. I do know that someone can overwork a painting and I try to be aware of that so I don’t go overboard.
Have you had exhibits in galleries?
I have exhibited in two galleries, both in the Denver area: the McFadden/Wright Gallery and at the Emmanuel Gallery on the Metro State University campus. Out of 350 pieces submitted, only 75 were chosen for the Emmanuel Gallery show, among them my work “Alan”.
As for the future, I don’t have any planned exhibitions as I’m currently working on increasing my body of work. I do have a local fine art gallery that has told me if I get two or three more paintings finished she will represent me so, things are looking good on that front.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on Lakota Indian themed projects. I’ve reached the work-up stage on one, which is over 9 feet long, and I should be laying paint down within the next week or so.
What are your plans for the future?
My future plans are to keep painting. When I finally met my hero and mentor, Alan Bean, he told me to “Keep painting, Cliff, whatever you do” and that is what I’m doing. It’s been said “a writer writes” and in that vein, a painter paints.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
The best advice ever given to me was, once again, by Alan Bean, who told me, when I was considering to become a full-time artist at the age of 45, “Cliff, if you’ve got a song to sing (meaning my art—just like he did) you’d better sing it. Because if you don’t, when you reach 80 and you didn’t, you’re gonna regret it!” This has proven to be some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. If you want to paint and draw you’d better do it because one day you will regret it if you didn’t.
What advice would you give new artists?
Advice to new artists? Watch and study other artists in your area of interest, and sometimes get outside of your comfort zone. Don’t ever give up, ever! Whatever your medium, keep hammering on your craft. Keep working on your skill set. Keep driving on. Take a camera with you and constantly take photos for reference, keep a photo log of your progress. Take a sketch book and sketch things that are interesting, ask questions, get to know folks who share a common artistic interest and most importantly, invite and welcome critique. Also, don’t be afraid to contact artists that are considered “famous”. Artists love to talk to folks interested in art and you have nothing to lose. After all, if you contact someone who’s famous in the art world, and they ignore you, you’ve not lost much, have you? As far as subject matter, become the expert in whatever you paint. My area is western and NASA art and as such, I’ve had to learn about bridles and saddles and horses. Also I’ve had to visit countless space museums and got to know many former astronauts and learned their stories. The last thing you want is to paint a saddle and a cowboy comes up and tells you that you got it wrong.
Have you done any courses to help you?
I’m pretty much self-taught but I have taken art courses at Metro State College of Denver. I learn by studying the work of other artists which is what works for me and why I said earlier to study the work of other artists.
What do you do to market your work?
I cater to my strengths so, being that I’m deep in cowboy country; my artwork sells itself when I show at an arts picnic or local show. It also helps that I love horses! I have a Facebook page and since I’ve only been a professional artist for almost 2 years, I’m still building my body of work. Soon I will be starting a web page and if the local gallery works out, my work will be sold there. Also I plan to place ads in Western Art Collector and Art of the West magazines.
Are you available for work (commissions)?
I take commissions for work but, I have rules. For example, I don’t work from customer-supplied photos and will never work from professional photos. I talk with the client about what they are looking for, the size of the work, where it will hang, etc. I then visit the client and take my own reference pics, and I take anywhere from 100 to 350 photos of the subject. I then choose the pose and begin the work. I don’t allow the client to see a work-in-progress as that has proven difficult in the past. Once the work is completed, if the customer likes it, they can buy it. If not, then it becomes part of my portfolio. These rules I learned from other artists and they have served me well. On the same point, as far as pricing a work for sale, never undervalue yourself. Ask what price you think your work is worth. Don’t be greedy either. Be fair and it will take you far, help build a customer base and generate a good word of mouth about you.
Have you got hobbies?
My hobbies, outside of painting and drawing, is large scale scratch model building, most notably WWII ships and spacecraft. I also love action and sci-fi movies and reading. I ride horses and enjoy getting behind the scenes in rodeos and art picnics. History is also another area of interest.
Where are you based?
I’m based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado which allows me an excellent area of travel for my western themed work. As I said before, I’m deep in cowboy country and I’m friends with many folks who own horses. I’m also have friends in western re-enactor groups, which allows me access to folks who love to play western! Being centrally located allows me to more easily travel to anywhere in the country for my art.