Voices of Experience - An Interview with Jeff Good
Voices of Experience
We find the stories of how artists discover their love of the creative process and how they pursue their passion to be both fascinating and inspiring. Some start out taking art classes in college, but for various reasons, choose careers in other fields. Some interrupt their artwork to raise families. Countless others continue to pursue their art as their time permits, working at other jobs to keep the lights on. The leap to full-time artist isn’t easy to make, and for many, it has to wait until there is a life change, such as retirement from a career. Jeff Good is an architect who never lost sight of his love for watercolor painting and even found ways to weave it whenever possible into his practice. Since his retirement from a large architecture firm, he has been working hard at his second career in plein air and studio watercolor painting. We think his story will resonate with many of you.
I have had an interest in art since for as long as I can remember. My parents were art lovers and my father was an architect. I would say their influence was to passively encourage me in the arts. It was up to me to decide what I wanted to do with it. My father would sketch in charcoal and pastel (chalk) during our family vacations. Watching him do this was powerfully impactful to me. He did illustrations as part of his architectural practice and I must have been aware at a young age as to what he was doing. He did not, however, invite me to sketch or draw with him. This may in part be why I teach by demonstrating watercolor rather than lecturing on techniques. During my first year of elementary school, my parents were called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was concerned with how I was completing an art assignment. I was to make a picture of my house and she could not tell what I was drawing. My father looked at my drawing and said “That’s a floor plan of the house”. I don’t remember anything of that episode, but I love the story. It was not until high school that I encountered an art teacher who inspired me through constructive critiques of my work. This was the first feeling I had that art was a means of self expression and creativity rather than just an assignment to turn in. At the same time, I was excelling in my technical drafting courses (considered vocational training, I believe). These experiences eventually led me to major in architecture at The University of Kansas.
Throughout my 40-year working career as an architect, I continued to paint in watercolor. There were years when only a few paintings were completed due to the demands of life, working, raising a young family, etc. Gradually, as more time was available, I ramped up my painting. I was also by then more confident to incorporate watercolor design sketches in my architectural practice. Computer renderings so popular in the 1990s and 2000s had lost favor with many of our clients who preferred the human touch of hand renderings which can evoke the feeling of a creative conceptual vision. Only a few of us in a 100-person plus firm still drew by hand. However, we found ways to collaborate with computer technology for creating the wireframe perspective views and using Photoshop for final editing of watercolor and marker exhibits. More recently software has been developed to provide “filters” on computer renderings to give the appearance of watercolor. This works for architectural rendering purposes but does not translate to fine art unless, perhaps, the purpose is to create mixed media. Painting street scenes is a favorite subject matter of mine and is particularly helpful and transferable with my architectural renderings.
I currently work in a studio I built with a friend on my property. It is detached from the house and is the ultimate space for me to create—high ceiling, lots of north-diffused daylight, a large rolling work surface and a view to our vegetable and flower garden. I can’t emphasis enough the importance of having a separate dedicated space designed specifically for your art. For many years it was the kitchen table or a spare bedroom. I know that is a reality for many, but you can always hope for your own space someday. When not in the studio I enjoy plein air painting as often as I can. I’m in a better place emotionally when I experience the subject I am painting first hand. You can feel the energy, sense of light and movement that all contribute to the expression that I put to paper. Plein air painting will make you a better artist. You must use your senses to edit the scene in front of you, making decisions on the fly about what to emphasize, composition, values, color.
220th Street in Fall Color 22 x 15" Plein Air WC Madrone - Vashon Island 14 x 11" Plein Air WC
Watercolor is my media of choice for several reasons. It is very suited to outdoor painting since the palette and materials are easy to transport and the drying time is faster than acrylic or oils. It is common to hear that watercolor is harder to control and more difficult due to its transparent qualities—in other words you can’t cover your mistakes! Those attributes are exactly why I like watercolor. No other medium has the ability to diffuse pigment on the paper or layer transparent washes to create a luminescent effect. It has taken me years to understand the balance of pigment and water on various degrees of moistness of paper, but once you have the confidence you stop trying to control every brush stroke and let the pigments work their magic.
Sketching and painting during travels is a passion of mine. In 1978 I traveled to Europe for the first time. Once I landed in Paris I found an art store and bought a cardboard portfolio which I filled with half-sheet watercolor paper. Half sheets are 15 x 22”, so I was starting big for my first traveling plein air experience. I carried this around under one arm with a backpack on my back for a month. My friend and I used our Eurail pass to travel all over Europe, I still have the large paintings I did, which bring back much sharper memories of the moments I painted them than looking at the photos I took. I think that is the essence of why plein air painting is so worthwhile. It takes longer than a photograph which gives you time to slow down and take in your surroundings. It requires you to see in more depth, and what you see is different than what the camera sees. And the unexpected pleasure from doing this is your interaction with people passing by, often time locals who assume you are not a tourist because you are not pointing and shooting. Nowadays I use all format sizes from 8x10 sketch books to half-sheet watercolor paper.
The most valuable watercolor painting technique I have acquired is probably the understanding of how wet the paper is and how to use the right water/pigment ratio for the relative dampness of the paper. I use both 140# and 300# rough or cold press paper, usually full sheets that I tear to smaller sizes as needed. I usually use Fabriano or Arches paper. My preferred pigments are tubes of Daniel Smith or Sennelier. Most of my brushes are natural squirrel hair and a few natural sable although synthetics can have their place—the Escoda Perla, Isabey, Raphael and Castagnet rounds are my main-stays. I prefer to use large brushes.
My advice to beginning watercolor artists is this:
Jeff Good is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society, Western Federation of Watercolor Societies and the Southwestern Watercolor Society. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally over the past 13 years, traveling to Italy, South Korea and Tokyo. He has received numerous awards for his paintings.
To see more of Jeff Good's work,
All artwork copyright Jeff Good
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