January, 2008


next page...

FLIP featured artist
      Fred Cline

                              In His Own Words

The versatile art director and story board artist discusses
his personal artwork in watercolor.

  I don't care about pretty colors when I paint watercolor.  I work with so much color in animation, that I am happy to tone things down a lot when I do my own paintings.  I like to find something about the subject that I can caricature.  If there is wind, I will tilt the buildings so that it looks like wind is affecting everything.  I did that with a piece I painted in Adams Square, a neighborhood in Glendale where I live.  I painted a particular building there several times and it just wasn't doing anything for me, so I painted it again where everything was being blown about by the wind and that's when it became a living thing. 

I have a hard time finding things worthy of a painting - which is frustrating.  I won't just sit down and paint a still life of flowers or a pretty landscape.  There has to be some sort of narrative content, people doing things, etc.  I will usually seek out some place that is neglected or considered "ugly", so that I can interpret it in a new way.  I also like to have life in my paintings; people working, playing, living, dying, etc.

I paint digitally almost daily in the animation industry.  I think it's convenient and there is nothing that you can't do with all of the software and tools that exist today, but there is a separation between the artist and his work.  I've never seen an image accomplished digitally that I could connect with in the same way as I do with a "real" painting or drawing.  I think there is a spiritual world where we all want to be and art is a door to that world.  That's why people buy and collect artwork - they want to possess the door.  Digital art is only a representation of that door (a representation using 1's and 0's) and for some reason it's impassable and it can't be possessed. 

I think people want art to make a comment about something,  to show something with a human interpretation.  Interpretation and spontaneity are key to the California School of watercolors.  The east coast and European schools tended to have a careful drawing which was then "tinted" with the watercolors, and the end result was considered a "sketch", presumably for a more "ambitious" oil painting to follow.  The California School saw watercolor as a worthy medium in its own right and they painted large, spontaneous paintings with little or no sketching beforehand, creating the subject as they put down their first sweeping strokes of bold color using large brushes. 

The artist John Marin had an idea of painting that I liked, it was something like this:  paint what the subject is doing.  So, you can either paint an office building, or you can paint a tower rising toward the sun.  The painting made with the latter idea in mind is much more likely to express an emotion and communicate a certain degree of passion. 

      I met Lee and Mary Blair when I was in high school, so I was exposed to the California  School of watercolor from them, as Lee was one of the really big names in that movement.  (He won a gold medal in the arts competition at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and he was president of the California Watercolor Society at a very early age.  He had a great sweeping style to his pieces.)  I would show my work to Lee and he would critique them.     I received more advice from Lee than from Mary, because I knew him longer - about 17 years.  Mary gave me lots of encouragement, and some general pointers on things, but she passed away a couple of years after I met her.  Lee was the one who was there when I was older and more involved in my own work.  He was very helpful, and he definitely painted with an opinion toward his subjects, as I do. 

I went to a liberal arts college for two years before I went to CalArts, and there I had a couple of good painting teachers,  Charles Temple and Roger Blum.  Roger was a fan of Winslow Homer, so I received some exposure to Homer's watercolors from him.  Roger is now pretty big in the world of wildlife painting.  He used to show at the Fireside Gallery in Carmel, alongside Millard Sheets and other great names. 

At CalArts, I didn't paint watercolors; it wasn't part of the curriculum. But Elmer Plummer was one of the instructors there and he was Millard Sheets' assistant during his Chouinard days. Elmer made a pretty good name for himself in the watercolor world as well. 

After CalArts, I started working at Disney. Story artist Vance Gerry was a fan of California Watercolors as well, so we would paint in the park on our lunch hour on locations close to the studio. 

During this time, I went on a watercolor workshop in Maine with Rex Brandt and his wife Joan Irving, both accomplished California watercolorists.  I studied anything I could find on the California style of watercolor, and also a couple of Eastern U.S. painters that I thought were kindred spirits, Charles Burchfield and John Marin.

There are some practical and artistic qualities of watercolor that are unique and desirable for me, the first being the transportability and simplicity of watercolor.  It is easier to carry a set of watercolors and paper to a location than to carry oils, canvas and easel.  Oils take a long time to dry, and it takes more effort to clean up brushes.  The watercolor medium is more immediate as well, you can't re-paint over your mistakes, you'll just get a muddy mess, so either paint it right the first time or start over.  This ensures that the finished piece will have a spontaneity that is usually missing from oils and gouaches. 

Also, there is a sort of "partnership" that you have with the free-flowing water and the white paper.  In Most of your whites will be unpainted parts of the paper showing though, rather than white paint used in oils and gouache. You have to plan for these areas of white, leaving them unpainted. The water medium is also very free-flowing, so you have to acknowledge how water will behave on the paper, accounting for absorption, gravity, and drying rate, as you paint.  This puts you in partnership with the paper and the water as those two items will "have a say" in what happens during the painting process.  Gouache is a water based medium, but the paint is used thicker, so you don't see the luminous thing that happens when the watercolor paper shows through a transparent wash of color - kind of like light shining though stained glass.

For some reason, during the height of popularity of the California Watercolor Society, the fact that  a painting was a watercolor made it into something that had to be perceived separately from other art.  These days, content is the only consideration worthy of notice, and the medium is incidental and inconsequential.  So, watercolor is not dead, but the idea of having a watercolor "society" seems ridiculous in today's art world.  I think that artists who don't at least give watercolor a try are missing something special. 

Clean Laundry

Traction Ave

Glendale Power

Going Home

Flatbed Railcars

Electric Railcar

Tesuque, NM

Read more about Fred Cline, or drop him a line through his blog!

Artwork for this article is the property of Fred Cline.

©.2007 Moore Studios, Inc.

contact FLIP