Helikon is currently exhibiting two simultaneous shows: “Grimm: Visions of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales” in the main gallery, and “Strange Conversations” in the tandem Gallery 101. In conjunction with the shows, we’ve asked participating artists to answer a few questions about their art and life. We have been swooning over Maine-based illustrator Wylie Beckert’s work for months now and are so excited to have her participate in Grimm. Below, read her insightful thoughts on creative career trajectories, the essence of successful art, and some of her tricks of the trade.
1. What would you tell your younger self when you were first embarking on your artistic career?
There are so many lessons I could impart to my younger self– but I think the main point would be the importance of having a purpose, and following your own vision. I spent a lot of time early on trying to push my art in one direction or the other– tailoring my style to appeal to a certain industry, indulging stylistic quirks that camouflaged my technical shortcomings, and trying to shoehorn subject matter into my work that just didn’t fit. The result was a lot of frustration and unfulfilling work, and mediocre paintings that I couldn’t bring myself to love. When I finally decided what was important to me in my art– technical proficiency, storytelling, and an obsessive devotion to composition and detail (to name just a few of the key points)– it stopped being such a struggle. Which isn’t to say that it became easy (I have a sneaking suspicion that my chosen path will always be a challenge, both personally and commercially)– rather, it started to feel like the end result might actually be worth all the hard work.
2. What do you look for in the art of others? What would you hope people look for in your work?
I always seek out art that tells a story. There are so many artists producing work that is visually arresting and skillfully executed… but among all of this, a piece with a strong narrative element still manages to stand out from the crowd. That extra level of thought and planning that goes into a piece– what story do I want to tell? How can I tell it effectively, and in my own voice?– makes all the difference to me as a viewer. No one can ever be the best painter, the most brilliant draughtsman– but there’s a certain distinction to be had in taking one’s own unique way of viewing and interpreting the world, and distilling it into a format that can be communicated to others visually.
3. How long do you usually take to complete a piece? Do you work on multiple pieces simultaneously?
While in an ideal world I’d love to work on one piece start to finish with no interruptions, the drying time of oils usually means I have four or five projects in various stages of incompletion scattered around. As such, it’s a little hard to calculate exactly how much time goes into any one piece– for one of my largest pieces (say, 18×24″) I can usually plan on around 20 hours of drawing and another 40 of painting. Concepting, thumbnailing, and rough sketches– the hidden foundations of a painting– usually take up a few days all on their own, but are essential in making the rest of the process go smoothly.
4. What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Kneaded erasers! Each piece begins as a highly rendered pencil drawing with a lot of blending and gradual buildup of midtones, and kneaded erasers play a role at every stage– blocking in the initial values, effortlessly blending tones and sculpting forms, and picking out highlights and fine details for the final rendering. What’s more, I recently discovered that kneaded erasers can be used to lift pigment from oil glazes– essentially allowing for a solvent-free rubout process. As someone who’s always been more of a draughtsman than a painter, they’re such an intuitive and flexible tool to work with over a wide range of media.
5. What are you currently working on and what projects do you have coming up?
I’m currently taking some time off from my usual commercial work to focus on a personal project that’s been simmering on the back burner for a while– an ongoing series of illustrated playing cards I call Wicked Kingdom. I’m creating traditionally-painted card art with a strong narrative element and dual-identity face cards (think good/evil avatars for each character). It’s a rather all-consuming project at the moment, but I’m having a ton of fun creating the designs, and it’s all building up to a complete, playable deck that I’ll be releasing in late 2015/early 2016. You can find more info on the project– along with the first few card designs– at my website, www.wickedkingdomdeck.com.
Thank you to Wylie for participating in our interview. You can see more of her work in Grimm, on view through July 10, or online at www.wyliebeckert.com.
For more information on Helikon Gallery and Studios, visit www.helikongallery.com.