One of the true blessings of owning Guest Houses, is the privilege of meeting truly remarkable people from all over the world around my breakfast table. One such guest, an American who has lived in Holland for over 30 years, was recently brought out to South Africa as a guest of KZN Schools Softball . Mr Montvidas is first and foremost a coach and mentor, secondly, he had a long career as a TV news producer, and finally he has a keen interest in art. He was asking me really interesting questions about art, so I gave him a pen and paper and he came up with the following questions. Here are my answers:
21 July 2019 at Westville
Q. How do you know when a painting is done?
A. Each artist is different, for me the painting is done when I don’t know what else to do with it. I usually leave it for a little bit and look at it with fresh eyes. If it is a complex piece, I quite often will ask another artist I respect to give me a critique by asking them if anything is catching their eye. Once my painting is signed, I hardly ever go back to it. The signature is both closure and permission to move on simultaneously.
Q. What makes you choose the colours you do?
A. My choice of bright vibrant colours stems from two primary
sources. One, the art classes I attended as a child with Nina Campbell-Quine at her Child Art Studio in Hyde Park taught us about vibrancy and movement. We would draw up fantastical Still Life drawings in pastel and ink wash over them. They were so bright and colourful and ultimately happy art pieces.
Secondly, I feel that an artist’s choice of colour is very cultural. Raised in sunny South Africa, we live in a bright and colourful country where diversity is valued, and people dress in bright and sunny colours. Contrast this to my year as an exchange student in Luxembourg, the weather was grey, the buildings were grey, the people were grey, the clothing was grey, sometimes black. An artist’s palette and colour choice will reflect their environment and what and how they see and experience life. I see and experience happy colour, set against a blue sky. Since I started painting in 2016, I see colour more acutely. I notice colour more, which in turn has made my world more colour…full and I am richer for it.
Q. How do you get “beginning artists” to explore their potential outside their comfort zone?
A. Just get them started on something, anything. They are
already outside their comfort zone. Beginners feel intimidated by other artists. There is so much self-doubt and insecurity. I went into my first year of painting classes understanding that I would feel these things, and that was to be expected. My first year of doing Karate when I turned 40, I was absolutely clueless. I had no idea why we were doing what we were doing. That taught me to trust my Sensei, and it will fall into place eventually. Everything you are learning is part of a puzzle. The puzzle doesn’t come in a
box, so the end picture is unknown, whether that be in Karate or with Art (literally).
Q. You would probably feel uneasy having a surgeon operate on their patient without the correct medical instruments, how important are the “tools of the trade” for an artist?
A. You get three basic levels: cheap and nasty, student grade
and artists’ grade materials. Your choice of materials is often determined by
the stage you are at in your art journey. Once you start painting to sell, you
need to be more conscious of the quality you are using, because it links to the
longevity of the painting for the person who has purchased your work. As with
anything, the better your ingredients and tools, the better the quality of the
end dish. I am particular now about hand-crafted stretched canvases as opposed
to mass produced, I have figured out which brushes work best for me, and I am
upgrading my oil paints as I go along to somewhere between Student and Artist
grade. Currently I use Winsor
& Newton which is a respected brand of oil paints.
Q. Is there an advantage as to where the painting starts? Top of the canvas, bottom of the canvas, left to right, right to left, etc. etc.?
A The painting must start at the beginning, and the beginning
is the drawing. Whether that is done in pencil, charcoal, paint, you need to
set out your composition. So, the beginning actually now that I think about it,
lies in the reference source you are using. I now take my own reference photos
and if I have a great composition and a high-resolution photo to work from, the
panting will be good.
The journey of a painting usually has more to do with process
the foundations of which were taught to me by artist Kim Pereira: what happens first and
what happens next; drawing, activation, blocking in colour, layers of washes,
moving to finer detail etc. Also being right-handed and of European/ Western
decent, I usually work Left to Right on particularly bigger canvasses. There is
no right or wrong way, just a logical way for the painter.
Q. Have you ever done the same painting twice, and is this actually possible?
One cannot do the same painting twice, only the same subject
matter or reference picture twice. Each painting holds its own character. Even
identical twins can be told apart by their parents. Mark-making is so unique to
each artist and each painting that it cannot be replicated. Forgeries and
copying the old masters… well, that is something altogether different.
Q. What’s the best advice that you ever encountered from
either an advanced artist or a fellow artist that helped you move forward to
A. Having been raised Catholic, I would have to dispute
whether there is even an Artists Heaven or just a perpetual state of Purgatory,
a place where we are in a holding pattern continuously learning and growing.
One of my teaching art mentors is an 85-year-old artist Shirley Howells. She has
taught me that you never stop learning with art. Each painting entails its
unique set of problems and challenges that need to be resolved. Each new
subject matter begs of you to treat it gently and to understand its shapes,
shadows and sentiment. This year I joined a group of practicing artists with
teacher extraordinaire Dee
Donaldson at Studio 3, I set
myself the challenge of water and have painted six paintings in 6 months
related to water and happy memories with my family.
Q. How much influence does the environment around you have when painting? I.e. – noise, light, weather in general the elements? Is it best to paint from the same place all the time?
A. Personally I need good light, lots of space to spread out
my 50 cm x 50 cm palette, pack out all my paints and brushes and generally
start from a very ordered space to what looks like chaos after a day of
painting. I prefer natural light an do not usually paint at night with artificial
light. I like peace and quiet when I paint or decent music. Music can help you
get into the zone and once you find that groove, your painting speed and
quality significantly improve. One cannot paint if there are too many
distractions taking your mind off the subject. Portrait painting is especially
like this. S/he needs your undivided attention if you are going to not only
capture their likeness but their essence too.