Fine Art Tips with John Cosby on Colour In Your Life

Fine Art Tips with John Cosby on Colour In Your Life

G'day viewers, my name's Graeme Stevenson, and I'd like to invite you to come on a journey of creativity and learning and adventure through the series Colour In Your Life.

There's an artist in every family throughout the world.

Lots of times there's an artist deep down inside all of us as well.

So grab your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your aunties, uncles, and mums and dads, and come and see how some of the best artists do what they do.

(Music Plays) (Graeme) Okay guys, well welcome back to Colour In Your Life.

We are in Laguna Beach in Southern California, and I am with one of the premier Plein Air Artists – oil Artists, in the United States, Mr John Cosby.

John, welcome to the show bud.

(John) Thank you.

(Graeme) This man has had such an interesting past, I mean apart from the fact that he's a really, really well recognised Artist in the country, your career actually started off and you can explain it to the audience, as a Forward man, for the Presidents to the United States.

(John) I was.

(Graeme) How did that come about? (John) I was in the military and for two weeks and in basic training they pulled me out and said you know, you could have a better job than this and gave me the opportunity to the White House, so I took it with Nixon.

(Graeme) Yeah, Richard Nixon.

(John) Richard Nixon.

(Graeme) And you've been on Air Force One as well.

(John) Oh yes, many times.

(Graeme) That's fantastic.

But you've gone on and been a very successful Artist over a number of years now.

You've started art societies, won art competitions, but somebody said something to you one day.

You literally had a whole bunch of paintings sitting around and somebody came up to you and changed your life.

(John) Right.

well I did a whole bunch of work for In and Out Burger which is a local California hamburger establishment, and very popular they have a cult like following.

And Rich Snyder, who owned the company came to my studio one day and he saw a bunch of paintings hanging on the wall that were landscapes.

And he said "well who paints these?" And I said well, I paint them.

And he said 'Can I buy them?' And it changed my life.

(Graeme) Like he brought the lot.

(John) He brought the lot.

He brought twenty-four paintings that day.

(Graeme) That's unbelievable isn't it? (John) He made it possible for me to open my own studio – my own gallery.

(Graeme) And away you went.

(John) And that was a huge moment for me.

(Graeme) Yeah, changed your life.

(John) Yep.

(Graeme) Well we're going to actually see this amazing man do what he does today.

We're actually up on the hills at the back of Laguna Beach.

If you can hear small children crying in the background it's actually not – they're goats that are actually clearing all the fields.

But we're going to hike up, further up into the hills and then look back down across the Laguna.

It's a really, really beautiful area, and look down across the hills here, and we're going to watch John paint an amazing scene.

So lets go up unto the hills and have a look at this.

(Graeme) Okay pal, (John) Yes.

(Graeme) here we have a fantastic view of Laguna Beach.

(John) Aha.

(Graeme) It's an amazing spot you picked as well.

(John) Oh it is.

(Graeme) It's just superb, so I'm going to let you make a start and you're going to see an amazing man create an incredible picture, so it's all yours.

(John) Okay.

Thank you, Graeme.

When I come to a spot like this I like to kind of absorb the place for a few minutes before I really start painting the painting and I've done a little bit of that already, so I kind of know what I want to do here.

Mix up a few of these values here – my shadow value family.

(Graeme) Is that generally the colors that you use on your whole palette, the ones that you've got there? (John) Yes, I like to keep my pallet pretty simple.

There was a time that I painted with only three colors for many, many years and I can get every color in the world out of those three colors, except I can't get it quite as pure a I like it sometimes.

(Graeme) Aha.

(John) So I tend to head off into a more pure color range and a few of the convince colors I call em.

(Graeme) You came from a painting background originally, I mean your grandmother was an artist as well.

(John) Yeah, she was.

She was a hobbyist but a very serious hobbyist.

She did ceramics as well as oil painting and actually baby sat me a lot.

And my mother drew, so I had both sides.

When I was at home I I drew with my mother, and when I was with my grandmother four days a week I would, three to four days a week I would paint with her so I just lost, I didn't ever gain the fear of paint or drawing, which is I think a really big part of an artist's life is to – my students that I teach, one of the hardest the hardest problems they have is their preconceived ideas of what they're suppose to be doing.

You can just have fun with this and go along way with it.

I have four quadrants of the canvas that I think about when I'm designing; I want to provide an area of interest in one of em.

It's the main area of interest and I going to use the surf line down here in this area of the painting to make my main statement of transition and interest down here.

So that's going to be my coast line and I need to get a nice flat horizon that's not to close to the top of the painting so I'll start that back here.

There's nothing worse than walking into a show with a painting in a frame and realising that your horizon was crooked.

So I've got my big tree shape here which is dangerously close to the middle of the canvas, but I've got an offset this tree that's going to come in and go out of the canvas.

And giving myself a little idea here of a few patterns of roof tops to lead me into my focal area.

I'm all about pointing at my focal area with every ounce of energy that I can.

We get a light here that comes off the ocean and it's why the painters are originally attracted here, because the hills come down to the ocean.

We get a light that comes right at sunset it comes right into the hills across the water and makes this honey colored light.

Just like the Rivera – it's quite nice.

A lot of painters from Chicago, and from the East Coast, from Germany came here.

Edgar Payne and William Wendt and all these great, great painters: Roy Rose.

And I paint all over the world.

Don't get me wrong, I do travel to paint but I love painting in here and I live here.

So to be spontaneous and go out and do what I do, I've had to adapt to different things, and one of them is getting access to properties.

And I recently in the last six months brought a drone with a really nice camera on it, and I can get in and get reference shots in places that I normally was not able to get.

I fly it all around the coast I fly – just took it to Hawaii; flew around quiet a bit in Hawaii and I just was up in Santa Ana and flew the canyons up there and I've been to the mountains.

So in other words you can cover a lot of ground and get a lot of reference material and get ideas.

And sometimes just look at, just look at what your gonna to go hike to, to see if it's worth going to hike to it.

(Graeme) It's just using technology to its best degree.

(John) Exactly.

(Graeme) Yeah, and I think it's a lot of fun as well.

Apart from the fact you do this as a living, I mean can you imagine having another job? (John) Ah, no, no, (Graeme) Yeah, no.

(John) their job.

(Graeme) Like a lot of artists you use multiple amounts of different brands to get the colors that you need.

You actually use Sennelier, Gamblin, Utrecht, which is obviously a Dutch paint, and Windsor and Newton.

I think a lot of artists do, do that to get the colors that they want.

(John) I tend to go with what colors I need rather than the brand.

(Graeme) So what type of brush are you using there at the moment? (John) This a Filbert from Rosemary: Rosemary and Company, out of England.

(Graeme) They make some very, very good brushes don't they? (John) She makes wonderful brushes (Graeme) Yeah.

(John) and ah, I find them to be, they hold up well (Graeme) Yeah.

(John) and they hold paint well, and they deliver the paint well.

So you know, in a brush what else could you ask for.

(Graeme) Yes.

(John) The texture in the paint means a little bit but the brush means a lot too.

(Graeme) And you were telling me before about a, I suppose you could call it an artistic project, were you've entitled it Bricks, Boulders and Butresses.

And obviously Americas gone through various industrial revolutions I suppose you could say, or changes.

And there's a lot of the old buildings that have been torn down now, and you guys are out there trying to paint them before they're fallen.

(John) My friend Joe Paquet and I where both showing in the same galleries around the country and we where sitting at dinner one night, and we both loved going and painting the old buildings that where in you know, America from oh gosh, from the twenties, thirties.

The industrial Revolution, the Carnegie type of steel mills and the communities that are built up around them.

And we dubbed one night four and a half years ago, this project that we were gonna to do and called it Rest and Roadsides, a tribute to the American dream, and we're aiming for this Minion.

That's our plan (Graeme) Wow.

(John) as an American document.

Basically what we're doing is we're painting America and what the great generation built, and what we have lost in the industrial complex along the Rust Belt.

So we paint the Barber shops and the bars and the old factory buildings (Graeme) Wow.

(John) and everything to do with all those.

(Graeme) That's fantastic.

What an amazing project and it just what an absolute joy to be able to do that as well.

It is, it's wonderful.

We have a website: Roadsides dot com.

That is the only way that we've really been releasing anything so far.

(Graeme) What above all would be one of your favourite subjects? (John) Well I definitely like the ocean.

It has an appeal to me because I was raised on it.

I was a sailor for many years and you know, it's just the kind of subject that really appeals to me.

(Graeme) We're just pulling up one now it's a called Afternoon Break, which is a beautiful blue piece.

I mean the aquas that you've got in those waves just look quite spectacular.

One thing I've noticed you have a huge population of Australian gum trees and eucalyptus which is surprising.

But you've got a couple of pieces that you could almost swear came out of Victoria, in Australia.

One called Gentle Flow, and there's another one called Morning in the Woods, and if you stepped out in Shepparton, in Australia, you'd think it was just down the road.

(John) Oh really? (Graeme) Yeah.

That's how much it looks like it.

(John) Well, Eucalyptus have been a big part of my life because I was raised near Eucalyptus groves that were wind breaks for our Orange Groves here in Southern California.

So for me, Eucalyptus trees were where I built my tree forts and where we hid when we were ditching school, and all the fun stuff I did when I was in school.

So I tend to love em and find em very fun to paint.

(Graeme) Yeah.

(John) I'm kind of working the whole canvas here all at once.

I'm gonna to put a very warm note back on these shadows.

(Graeme) And when you say note? (John) Yes notes of color, but really what I'm looking for is the tone.

I'm looking for harmonies; I'm looking for compliments; I'm looking for triads.

You know all of the music metaphors are words are very interchangeable with this.

(Graeme) You've also had a very adventurous life refurbishing a Sleuth.

You've lead a pretty cool life let me tell you.

From Presidents to sailing yachts.

(John) Well when I left Washington DC, I was only in Washington for four years – a little over four years and it was very, very intense light detector type intense.

They would make us take tests all the time.

And once I left Washington I wanted to really get away from life as I had known it and do some adventure.

So I actually got a motorcycle with a buddy and we went up to Nova Scotia.

He was my best friend from childhood and it rained on us all the time we were camping.

We were poor and camping, so we ended up deciding we should get a boat.

We could still travel and we could sleep in it.

So we started looking for somebody who would trade us (Graeme) Yeah.

(John) a boat, and we found somebody who traded us an old Daniel Herreshoff designed Sleuth.

And it was sitting in a front yard and you could literally go inside the boat and look straight down to the yard that it was sitting in, so we spent six months rebuilding it and we sailed the intercostal waterway for years.

(Graeme) That's amazing.

(John) Yeah, and that's why I started painting, because I would sit on the boat and people would see me drawing their boats – I didn't have anything else to do; I didn't have any way of making a living.

We didn't need much money – we owned the boat.

I was so into travel that I had no problem with that part of it.

And people would come over and say 'What are you drawing?' And I'd say 'Your boat' and they'd say 'Well I'd like to have that.

' And I'd say 'Well I'd like to eat a nice dinner.

' And pretty soon I realised that I could trade my paintings for things, (Graeme) Yeah.

(John) and that started me in my art career; I was very, very organic.

(Graeme) I think it's the way that you've lead your life is a great example of not being afraid to make the decisons you need to.

You know, living life to the fullest cause there is, there is an expiration date on all of this.

(John) Oh boy, isn't there though.

(Graeme) Yeah.

(John) Yeah, when you live a life as an artist you, I think you live life – a very full life.

Because the experiences that you have are not predictable from day to day.

And as soon as you start predicting your life specifically, you can be very disappointed.

(Graeme) Yes.

(John) This is an important area to the painting, but also an important area to get the value and color correct.

(Graeme) Yep.

(John) Sort of feels as far away but still holds a roof top feeling inside the building feeling.

And I've got a whole bunch of those buildings that are that color.

(Graeme) But you're not really – the idea is your not trying to paint every building, it's just the impression of.

(John) Exactly.

I'm looking for, I'm really squinting when I'm doing this, (Graeme) Yeah.

(John) and making sure that I'm only finding the most important shapes.

Okay, so I'm going to get the shadows on those buildings now, which is of course an even darker value.

I'm knocking in a few of these most important shadows as they come out onto the street.

And see how it changes the (Graeme) Yeah, straight away.

(John) yeah, immediately you start getting the feeling of architecture (Graeme) The shape there, yeah.

(John) I think one of the things about being an artist it's important you know, years of experience tell you one thing for sure and that's: you can't be afraid to make mistakes.

Because it's fixing those mistakes that really turns you into the artist that you have potential to be.

(Graeme) Yes.

(John) You have to paint with no fear, in other words.

(Graeme) You know, a lot of your brush work is not done with tiny brushes, it's done with reasonable size brushes isn't it? (John) Yeah, I work pretty big brush wise and then I cut back into these shapes.

(Graeme) Yep.

(John) I would rather the statement be put down in a bold way.

It's more interesting, it looks like it has confidence to it then.

So I'm looking for the planes now – the top planes, the way they're lit in nuances though I don't want anything lit very strongly up that far, cause what happens with distance, is shadow and light merge.

(Graeme) I've seen a lot of Artists work over the years John, but listening to you today you're an absolute wealth of information.

And in saying that I know that you do Plein Air workshops as well, which I'm sure there's a lot of people out there would like to come along.

I mean, it's been fascinating watching this man work today.

So if somebody whats to enquire about that John, tell us what your website is? (John) It's cosby studio dot com and it lists the workshops I'm going to do for the year on that.

I teach four times a year (Graeme) Yep.

(John) and like for instance this year I'm actually taking a group in October over to France.

I've rented a Chateau in ah, near the Pirineze Mountains in a village called Limoux.

(Graeme) Yeah.

(John) My fiancé soon to be wife is a great lecturer and teacher in nutrition, and we've designed a cooking program so that the spouses of people, or friends of people who are interested in high end healthy cooking that's really good, they're going to be doing that side of it, so we're teaching cooking and painting.

It's just a little different than your standard painting trip.

(Graeme) Well it's a fantastic opportunity and I think anybody that's out there watching Colour In Your Life, you know, John's one of those guys that has a lifestyle most of us only dream of, but a brilliant, a brilliant teacher as well so I would suggest you go in and talk to him.

And it's not just for the people in America either, this is for people right across the world.

(John) Yes, we have a couple coming to that French workshop that is from Belgium, and and another couple coming from Hawaii, so they come from all over the world.

So this big palm tree here has a stalk that comes down through and even push some of this warmth back up into that shadow to get some air in there and reflected light.

And I like to kind of decide where I want my stalk to begin and where I want it to end, so I don't end up making too straight of a stalk.

I want to give it just that little bit of a lean into the painting, but not too much lean, so I tend to plan with my brush.

Just lay it on there (Graeme) Wella.

(John) and just bring it right down into the scene.

See how darkening these tree trunks now back into their value range that I really need them to be to make distance versus close.

And I try to vary them and really an important thing about painting is it's like a body.

You're putting it together and the darks are the bones so they have to all connect with each other.

If somebody has broken bones it shows up right away.

Same thing in a painting – once you get all your darks in, you've got to make sure they all connect to each other in some way or it'll feel broken.

I consider a Plein Air painting to be ninety percent done in the field, and that last ten percent almost always has to be completed in the studio for me.

Everybody different, but that allows me to achieve a finish that I'm really looking for in the contemplation of the final few strokes.

Sometimes it takes as long to do the last twenty strokes of the painting as it took to do the whole painting, just in careful consideration.

Cause boy, one thing out of place in a painting and it takes it from being a decent painting to being a great painting.

So I would like as many of my paintings as possible to be as good as they could possibly be.

(Graeme) That's why you have one of the best reputations in the county; that's pretty simple.

(John) Well thank you, Graeme.

It is, an artist responsibility I believe to be as good as you can possibly be.

(Graeme) Yeah.

(John) And I spent the first half of my career covering up all my deficiencies, and the second half embracing them.

(John) Like I said earlier, about ninety percent of the painting is done in the field, and the important part for me is to get the light, and the shadows, and the form and the values all in the right place.

And then I take it in and I nuance it around in the studio and I'm not gonna have time always in the outdoors to do that.

So this paintings about at that point now so I hope you got something good out of it, and are able to use some of this information to make your paintings better, or improve your eye about a painting.

(Graeme) That's fantastic John, and what an amazing talented man.

And because of the beauty of television and our editing you can see the finished piece in front of you right now which looks absolutely spectacular.

But we've had a absolutely marvellous day with you here in beautiful Laguna, in California, and one of the great Master Plein Air Artists of America.

Thank you very much.

(John) Thank you.

(Graeme) Well a fantastic day with a very, very talented man in a beautiful place as you can see.

John, thank you so much buddy – it was an absolute pleasure.

This man is one of the Masters of Plein Air Art in the United States.

And if you would like to do some workshops with John – great idea and it's a fantastic adventure.

I mean he does some really wonderful things with his beautiful upcoming wife, also going overseas, food and obviously painting, absolutely come along.

And your website is? (John) cosby studio dot com.

(Graeme) Fantastic, so you go in there, have a talk to John and go and go on a great adventure when it comes to painting.

Also come and see us at colour in your life dot com dot au.

Also come in and subscribe on our YouTube site – lots of people in there, and also our Facebook.

Once again until we meet again guys – remember: make sure you put some color in your life.

We'll see you next time.

Bye now.

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