As we close in on Christmas and the holiday season and all the laughter and love that seems to be that much more apparent and visible at this time of year, not to mention all the sparkle, light, and in northern climes, winter temperatures and snow, I wondered who to invite as a guest blogger. How do we celebrate this time of magic and memories of childhood? And then it came to me, the work of Wade Zahares!
I’ve been delighted by Wade’s work for sometime now. His amazing perspectives and unusual viewpoints not to mention his saturated colour and sense of fun and magic appeal to me enormously, so much so that I’ve featured his work twice in my monthly round-ups (in September 2015 and March 2017). I was super pleased when he agreed to do this last guest blog of 2017! Although Wade paints all seasons, I asked him to put the primary focus on his winter scenes, the season being what it is.
And in case you don’t know his work, this will give you a good taste 🙂
Before I hand the blog over to Wade Zahares, here’s a wee bio.
Oh and one note, make sure you look at the sizes of some of these pieces – it doesn’t show here but some of them are very large!!
WADE ZAHARES BIO
Wade Zahares creates art noted for its strong lines, bold colors, and dazzling perspective. In addition to his New York Times Best Illustrated Book, Window Music, Zahares has illustrated a number of critically acclaimed picture books. A graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, Zahares does corporate commissions, producing large scale pastel paintings for such clients as McDonalds, Bank of America, HBO, Cinemax, and Sesame Street Magazine. His work is in the permanent collection of the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Wade Zahares lives in Maine. Check out his website.
And now, here’s Wade Zahares!!!
My thoughts of being an artist were easily on, when kids from the old neighborhood where I grew up in Maine would make fun of me as I opted out of playing football and other neighborhood sports to go draw pictures sitting on my bedroom floor. There was just something special about it. On Saturdays I would watch the 60’s cartoons. I loved the backgrounds in these and would try to do my own version. My work today still has some of the same qualities.
High school art class is where I got my start with Jan Merrill. I give her much gratitude for pointing me in the right direction. I started my first two years of college at University of Maine at Orono, then transferred to Maryland Institute College of Art in 1980 where I received my BFA. My most influential teacher at the Institute was my illustration instructor, Susan Waters Eller. After graduating I backpacked throughout Europe for several months, before settling in Boston where I started my art career.
While in college I started using pastel, on the advice from an instructor, as a good way to start working color into my charcoal drawings. I never worried about style as I figured that would come naturally, as it did. I started with the hard pastels, like NuPastels and Rembrandt on Canson paper, and slowly moved to the softer pastels like Unison and my favorite, Schmincke. My paper, usually limited by brand as I like to work large and needed rolls of paper rather than sheets, slowly evolved from paper with no tooth to Kitty Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper.
I have always loved the simplicity of the medium. Tell that to me when I am going out to do plein air especially in the early days trucking around Boston with my easel, pastel box, board and paper, all covered in pastel!
My style has evolved and continues to evolve slowly. I try not to think about the way it is developing and let it naturally happen. I am more concerned about my subject matter, light, color and composition. My ideas stem from my last piece and my compositions evolve and repeat, at times turning the pencil sketch upside down and discovering a new one.
My methods are constantly changing, adapting to the challenges I’m presented with. I start with a few sketches of the idea (something that became very important to me as an illustrator of books), narrow it down to a final one, and then transfer it to my pastel paper. Then with tight latex gloves on, I apply the pastel to the paper, covering it with a heavy coat. I then smear the pastel to the paper with my gloved covered fingers, adding more pastel if needed. I then go back into the pastel and work up my shadows, light, and details. This is a good time to erase, before spraying with a coat of fixative. At this point changes are nearly impossible. Finally, my favorite part, the final coat. I cut the last 2 fingers off the glove of my right hand to smear the last coat of pastel. It’s like frosting a cake. A little fixative on heavily coated areas and it’s ready for framing.
In my younger years I was influenced by M.C. Escher for his amazing perspective, Edward Hopper for his subject matter, Claude Monet for his paint quality, and Wayne Thiebaud for his color and composition. Other influences over the years have been Chris Van Allsburg, Grant Wood, David Hockney, Thomas Hart Benton, and Alex Katz.
During the warmer months, only a few in Maine, and after a long winter in the studio, I love to go out and do plein air pastels. I started plein air work right out of school not knowing what other job to get as an artist. Waiting tables on weekends gave me the time during the week to sit on the streets of Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston neighborhoods to draw my favorite scenes of tar shingled triple deckers and 80’s cars.
I started showing wherever I could, and people started noticing and buying. This soon lead to interest from corporate art dealers who also liked my studio work which began to sell. I followed this route, putting my plein air work on the back burner. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that my teaching career brought me back to plein air, something I will never let go of again. Plein air gives me a break from my tedious studio work which could take up to two weeks for each piece, and also refreshes my memory of life’s details that will be added to future work.
My fate with illustrating children’s books started back in the 80’s. I rented one of my first studios in an old warehouse in South Boston on a floor that was occupied by artists. I soon found myself managing the floor of non-residential studios, 16 of them, soon to be 48 studios with the build out of 24 more studios in another warehouse across the parking lot. One of my tenants, a graphic designer, introduce me to Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges and her husband, the late Philomen Sturges, who represents children’s book illustrators and they both loved my work.
It took several years to sign my first contract, but I have been working with her and the staff at Studio Goodwin Sturges ever since. My 8th book, Frosty the Snowman, came out in 2013. Reflecting on the books, they have always presented a great challenge in communicating my ideas to others as well as stretching my composition to the limit, forcing ideas, drawing challenges, and learning to focus and manage my time.
Fifty something years of watching “The Grinch,” “Charlie Brown” and “Rudolph” and all the beautiful snow scenes from the 60’s cartoons, have influenced my work for my lifetime. Oh, that orange glow from the fire on Misfit Island and the snowy winter scenes by Charles Schultz, they are embedded in my mind always making an annual appearance at this time of year.
Raised in Maine and growing up as a skier, made me appreciate the beauty of snow. Memories of building snow forts under starry nights and Christmas glows, trying to capture the glistening night with my crayons. I love the contrast you can achieve with a warm glow and the cold snow. Or the brightness of the night when you can see for miles.
I love to take advantage of this time of year and create as much art before I get cabin fever. Whether inside by a warm fire looking out on a cold winter’s night, or outside feeling the snow on your face looking in a window at a warm room.
Shadows are so important to me when painting snow. They create lots of contrast giving it drama and help define the landscape. Snow stylized on trees, indentations by footsteps or by the way a plow pushed it, the way it falls and blows, lands on everything, ripples, melts – these are all the details that are so much fun to include in my work.
Then there are the snowflakes. They may look easy to just add on top of my finished piece. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If I did that, they would not stick to the already heavily saturated pastel drawing or be completely opaque, the way I like them. I include these smudges of color at the beginning of the process and work them up just like everything else. It does add a lot of time at the final stage but it’s well worth it.
White pastel was a staple for snow for me for many years. Just small pieces are now found in my box, alongside the all cool and warm colors that appear in my snowy scenes. Inspired that it’s back, my studio is all stocked up, ready for a long winter of work!
Life is all about finding your passion and purpose. I was lucky and found mine early in life.
Fabulous huh?! I am definitely ready for the Christmas season now!
I know it’s a crazy time of year so I sure appreciate you taking the time to stop by and read this post. Do Wade Zahares’s images make you feel all warm and cozy inside? Do you have any favourites? Are you inspired by this rather different style of pastel? You know I’d LOVE to hear from you so please leave us a comment.
Have a wonderful Holiday Season and enjoy the Winter Solstice!!!
Until next time,
Wade Zahare’s Frosty the Snowman book!!