Artist Interview: Paul Richmond

posted on April 17, 2018 by
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Huge thanks to the wonderful, talented, and prolific Paul Richmond for his incredible interview! Find Paul's gorgeously luscious and expressive paintings online at paulrichmondstudio.com, AND don't miss seeing him create this Saturday at LiveArt! We are so lucky to have him!

Tell us about the subject matter/content of your work.

I am fascinated by people from all walks of life. I love learning about what we have in common and how we are different, so there is usually a figurative element in my paintings. Sometimes the model is front and center, as they have been in my recent portrait-based work, and other times they play a smaller role within the composition. My background is in illustration so I like to tell stories too. I’ve made paintings with strong narrative themes that explored my experiences growing up and figuring out who I am, and also some that expressed my points of view on social and political issues. Almost everything I paint has a story to tell. Some are obvious and others make you look close and use your imagination to figure them out. Besides painting, I also enjoy doing commercial illustration and graphic design work. I am the Associate Art Director for a publishing company called Dreamspinner Press, and I’ve created over four hundred novel covers for them. One of my favorite parts of that job is working with our young adult imprint, Harmony Ink, that publishes positive LGBTQ+ young adult fiction. We think it is important for everyone to be able to go to their school library and find a book with characters they can relate to. My book cover illustrations and designs span a wide range of genres, including contemporary, steampunk, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and more.

Tell us about how you work/your process.

Lately I have been painting in a more impasto style, which means the paint gets applied thickly. I started out painting in a very smooth, tight, photorealistic way and over time decided to experiment with being more expressive. I traded out my paintbrushes for palette knives, especially at the early stages of a painting, and I found that I liked bringing up the image out of the chaos. Now I generally cover an entire canvas with one or several completely abstract layers of paint - usually with a knife and squeegee or spraypaint - and then I loosely sketch the composition on top of that and begin painting. I get inspired by the marks and colors that are in the base layers and allow them to show through sometimes. They help inform the direction the painting takes. This helps me give up the need to be so in-control, which I think has really helped my work evolve.

What medium(s) do you work with?

My favorite medium is oil paint. I love everything about it - the rich colors, the way it builds up or glides across the surface depending how you handle it, and yes, even the smell! I’ve been painting in oils my whole life so that’s what I am most comfortable with, but I do enjoy experimenting with other mediums and combining them when it works with the idea. I’ve worked with acrylics too - in fact a lot of times I will use acrylic for my base abstract layers - and I also like playing with oil pastels, graphite, colored pencil, and collage. For my commercial work, I do almost everything in Photoshop now, which I resisted at first but have really come to love.

About how many hours/day/week do you work?

I work a lot! I don’t keep regular business hours or anything so it’s hard to quantify it. But I am in my studio every weekday for most of the day and often on weekends too. And I do a lot of my commercial work on my laptop so that often comes along with me when I’m hanging out in the evening watching tv. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I’m usually scribbling down ideas in my sketchbook so I don’t forget them. To other people it may seem like I am working all the time, but it never feels like that to me because I really love what I do. I was the kind of kid that would rather stay inside and draw or make my friends perform a play or do anything that involved creating something rather than play video games or sports. So this is just a way of life that works for me.

How do you navigate the art world? 

When I was getting ready to start art school, my teacher Linda who had been mentoring me since childhood gave me some really great advice. She said, “When you go to college, you’re going to have a lot of assignments that may not be what you would choose to do if you were just making art for fun. But they all have something important to teach you. Don’t ever get so busy churning out art to meet a deadline that you forget to put a little spark of something in it that is interesting to you and reminds you of why you wanted to be an artist in the first place. It’s easy to just do a project to get it done, and sometimes lack of sleep and tight deadlines will create a lot of pressure, but as soon as you stop finding a way to be excited about everything you are working on, even if it means creating more work for yourself than necessary, you start losing the love of being an artist.” I thought this was such a valuable lesson that applies to the art world as a whole. There are so many things that come along during the course of making a career as an artist that can cause you to lose touch with why you wanted to do it in the first place, and I’ve encountered lots of them - insane deadlines, shady galleries, mean critics, copyright theft, difficult/impossible clients, peers with giant egos who try to make you feel crappy, etc. But it’s your number one job to hold onto, protect, and always remember why you love being an artist. Never agree to do something that makes you compromise that. I’ve said no to offers that might have been really career-advancing, I’ve quit jobs if they veered into an area that didn’t feel true to who I am, and I’ve learned to be ok with disappointing people who don’t have my best interests at heart. And because of that, I’m thirty eight years old and when I go in front of my easel every day, it’s just as exciting to me as it was when I first started taking painting lessons at age four.

What is your definition of success?

To me, success is getting to spend every day doing what you love surrounded by people who inspire you, and feeling excited rather than intimidated by the fact there is always going to be more to learn.

What inspires you? What do you read, listen to, look at, watch, eat, smell…? 

I am very inspired by other artists and I stalk hundreds of them on all my social media accounts because I love seeing the little glimpses into their studios and processes, in addition to their newest creations. I try to follow artists in a broad range of styles and mediums - not just those who make work like mine. Some of the art that I’ve learned the most from has been art that I didn’t initially like very much at all. I try to be open minded and ask “what was the artist trying to accomplish?” Maybe they were going for something totally different than what I am aiming to do. And since I’ve never considered that approach, maybe there’s something I can learn from how they’re going about it! I do love to read - everything from biographies to fiction to graphic novels to poetry. I’m all over the place (which is pretty much a common theme in my life). I am really into YouTube right now because there are so many painters who post videos of themselves working, and I learn more by watching someone else paint than by hearing them talk about it. I subscribe to all the art podcasts I can find and listen to them in my car. I also get really inspired by my artist neighbors at Open Ground Studios and the conversations we have. And I love teaching art classes because going around the room and working with each student to help bring their ideas to life helps get me out of my own head, and forces me to come up with answers to questions that might be easy for me to ignore or feel unsure about in my own work. I always leave art class feeling so motivated to go work on my own paintings!

What else would you do if you weren’t an artist (or what do you do when you aren’t making art)?

One of the things I am really passionate about is an anti-bullying project I started seven years ago with my childhood art teacher. It’s called the You Will Rise Project and it’s all about empowering people who have been affected by bullying to speak out though the arts. If I was unable to make art myself, I would want to devote more of my time and energy to helping young people who have been beaten down or neglected by society learn that what they have to say matters. I was bullied badly as a kid and I relate so much to the young people we work with in this project through our Art Against Bullying workshops. I love seeing them gain confidence by using their creativity. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and I wish there were more hours in the day so I could do more of it!

What are you working on now?

I’m in the beginning stages of developing a new show that will take place in November at the Elmarie Dyke Gallery at the Pacific Grove Art Center. I’m sketching, brainstorming, collecting ideas, taking reference photos, and mapping out the concept. This one is a good challenge because I’m moving away from portraits into new territory. This show is going to be called Promiseland and it will deal with how our surroundings affect us and the impact we have on the spaces we inhabit as well. There will still be figures in most of the paintings, but they will be smaller and the environments and narrative elements will play a bigger role. It’s exciting and scary and overwhelming and wonderful to start something new — and I can’t wait to see where this project will take me!

How do you get yourself through dry spells, self-esteem fluctuations, deep shyness, general low periods, inertia?

I experience all those things just like every creative person, and the best way I get through them is to keep working. Even if I don’t have a brilliant idea that day. Even if I may have to completely scrap what I’m doing. Just keep making stuff. Open a sketchbook and doodle. Throw some paint around. Make a collage. Do anything. The longer I sit and allow myself to feel bad or unmotivated, the more power it has. As soon as I realize the only thing holding me back is myself, the easier it is to get out of my own way.

Tell us about your education and background. Self taught? Mentors? Art college? Lessons? Internet? Combo?

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was draw. I’m not sure where that came from because neither of my parents were artists, but at age three I’d wake up early before everyone else, go sit at the dining room table, and draw. My parents said that by the time they woke up I had already done hundreds of drawings. I am very grateful they asked around and connected with a local painter named Linda Regula who agreed (reluctantly because of my young age) to give me a trial lesson in her studio. We hit it off right away. I started taking private oil painting classes with her before my fourth birthday, and I knew right then that I wanted to grow up and be an artist just like her! She let me paint the things I loved, so our house became filled with giant oil paintings of Disney characters and my interpretations of my favorite storybooks. I went on to get a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design, where I learned a lot about technique and work ethic. And I am still learning every day by watching other artists, seeking advice and critiques from trusted sources, and mostly by trial and error.

Any feedback on the value of YAC.

I was so amazed when I first walked into YAC - what an awesome group of young people and mentors. The artwork on the walls speaks to the quality of this experience for everyone involved. Whenever young people tell me they want to be artists when they grow up, I always say “Why wait that long? You can be an artist right now!” I didn’t have a great experience growing up because of the bullying I went through, so I’m not one of those adults who wishes they could go back in time and be young again. In fact I’m the happiest now that I’ve ever been. But when I’m at YAC, there’s a small part of me that feels like I could rethink that because it is such an inspiring, welcoming, creative place. I am so happy that we have this resource here in the Monterey community and I look forward to getting more involved with the important work you are doing.

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