Interview with watercolorist Thomas W Schaller
Since I started drawing and painting every day, I’ve learned a lot, but as I learn, evolve and try out new things, I also start to notice the work of other people. Before picking up a pencil or a brush, a nice painting to me, was just that. A nice painting. But delving into something and starting to try and understand it makes you see it in a whole new way. There are probably many factors at play when you’re learning something, but I think that one of the most important ones (other than just doing it) must be to look at the works of the masters. One of those masters, in my mind, is Thomas W Schaller, who I just recently discovered!
Schaller, who is based in Los Angeles, has a background in architecture – something that seems to shine though in his artistic work. He paints space beautifully with light and shadow, and furthermore, his paintings seem to draw out something in the scene that you’d never notice if you were there in person.
In short: I really like his work – so I wrote him an email, asking him if he’d like to answer a few questions for an interview, which he did!
“Bridges of Rome”
So here it goes:
What’s the story behind you as an artist? How did you start? How did you learn? What has been the biggest obstacle for you? How and why did you move from being an architect to being a painter?
When I was about seven, I walked into the kitchen of my parent’s house in the middle of rural Ohio and announced – “When I grow up, I’m going move to New York City and be an artist”. We owned a farm and my father hated the very idea of any city – let alone NYC, so he just looked at me with annoyance – My mom just looked at the ceiling.
But why did I want this?
I can’t say exactly…. I drew all the time – it’s all I liked to do. It was a way for my interior life – my imagination – to have some expression… I was only truly happy when I was drawing or painting….
And after all these years – nothing has changed really.
Becoming an artist is not really something you choose – It chooses you.
Is an architect an artist? Why should architects draw or paint?
Yes – I think an architect “can” be an artist – should be even. But I also think the term “artist” can apply to anyone who devotes their heart and imagination to anything they do – painting, designing, music, writing, poetry, dance – yes of course. But I know artists who are bakers, gardeners, mothers and fathers. It’s a matter of love, passion, commitment
I am not the sort to say anyone “should” or “should not” do this or that – There is never just one “right” way to do anything. But yes, I believe an architect has a better chance of becoming an artist (and a better architect) if he or she sketches and draws . For me – drawing and painting are a direct conduit to those internal qualities of passion, imagination, commitment, and love that I referenced earlier.
This was an area of great interest and study for me some years back and I wrote of this extensively in my second book “The Art of Architectural Drawing: Imagination and Technique” John Wiley and sons, NYC 2001
How would you describe your own art?
At its best – my art is a blend of both my intellectual – thought-based – self and my expressive – intuitive, emotion-based – self . I work in a style that has too many influences to name, but is rooted less in representation of the observed world – and more in interpretation of the observed world. Reality – filtered through memory, imagination, hope, and experience – my own and collectively speaking as well .
In architecture, ”rendering” is often seen as a form om communication or representation, to get the architect’s ”idea” down on paper, for others to understand. What’s in your opinion the relationship between the image as a ”tool” and the image is its own piece of art? Did anything change when you went from designing architecture to being a painter?
This is at the heart of my “story”. I was trained in architecture and its 2-dimensional representation in a classical – Beaux-Arts style. I love these kinds of images – they can approach art in their own right when they begin to get at the soul of a building – or begin to try to tell the story of a building or a place.
But I grew up in a modern world where speed and efficiency and sales were far more the name of the game that was story-telling as I had come to know and love it in my study of the old masters
Rendering is – by definition – a sales tool. It can approach “art” in its level of beauty and skill – But then it must always serve two masters – the heart of the artist – and its place in the commercial realm as defined by the client who has commissioned it.
After many years of having one foot in one world and one foot in the other – I finally decided to commit to only one. I jumped into the realm of Art. I love buildings , the built environment – But I realized that I love the “ideas” and the images of this world as much or more than the actual Objects themselves.
Moreover, the dialogue between the built environment and the natural world is what interests me most as a painter – The Architecture of Man / The Architecture of Nature.
When does something go from being a ”craft” to being ”art” in your opinion?
For me – “craft” is when the technique outweighs the expression – and “art” is when the expression outweighs the technique
Great art may have great skill, expertise, technique, and craft behind it – But when these things push aside the heart and the story – the poetry of the artist… Then it is just craft.
Some artists descibe themselves in being chaotic in terms of workload – sometimes they do nothing for a long while and then have massive spurts of working hard night and day, while others tend to focus on the continuity of constantly being active. How often do you draw/paint?
There are days that I do not paint – but they are few. I am happiest when I am able to paint at least a little every day. Breaks occur if I must travel for example and can even be a good thing – but I don’t like them. Other times, I am obsessed and will work all hours on a particular piece.
Do you sometimes get frustrated with your work or your skills?
Oh Yes!!! All the time – I am never satisfied – But that does not mean i am always angry with myself. I just feel we all are on a journey. If we ever actually “arrive” – if we ever feel we have no more to learn – no more ways to grow – we are finished.
What’s one of the pieces that you’ve been most happy about process or result-wise? Why?
Difficult question. In fact – I am rarely interested in my work when it is finished. I am most “satisfied” while in the midst of painting. I am floating – out of time and space and beyond my body – . These are the times that are real life to me. I have no regrets over the past – and no worries about the future. When I fully exist in the here and now – in the moment of creation – I am at peace. Nothing can touch me then.
Name one of your favorite artists (living or dead) these days!
Another difficult question – Probably Mark Rothko….. Pure inspiration – windows into another world.
What kind of advice would you give to a beginner? (artist or architect)
You really can do in life most anything you want to do. The hardest thing for many is just being honest enough with yourself to discover or admit what that thing is. Go out into the world – or look deep into your own heart and soul – and find it. Take ownership of it proudly. Then just devote your life to doing that thing to the very best of your ability and don’t worry about anything else.
In other words – as was once told to me by a great artist – If you want to be a painter – just paint – all the rest will take care of itself.
And that concludes it! When it all comes down to it, all you need is motivation. Here’s a piece of art made by a young artist. Thomas W Schaller at age 5! It was already good i think!
Here’s a few of Thomas W. Scahller’s links! There’s almost one painting per day on his facebook page! Be sure to “like”