Confessions of an Art Hobbyist

Article by Lionel Rakai

Art is subjective
and color is relative

The choice to awaken and explore ones artistic side can be a doubtful, sometimes self-skeptical but exciting experience. With an iPad and technical pen beneath my palm, it was a year and a half ago when I attempted my first sketch line over an 11-inch digital screen protected by a matte cover. A couple of months later and countless flights down the rabbit hole of free online tutorial classes, I found myself exploring the textures of digital watercolor brushes on moody facial expressions as portraits. Later, the events of lockdowns and self isolation of 2020 hit hard and the emotional effects of extended solitude ignited a desire to attempt breaking into traditional watercolors.

There are a wide range of available paint mediums spanning between traditional and digital art styles and it has been recently debated whether the enhancements in technology and mobile devices have encouraged or hindered the practice of art and growth in the art community. Scrolling through social media, there was a public forum comment that triggered me, “Everyone thinks they’re an artist when they have an iPad.” Centred around the idea that the rapid evolution in new digital and paining drawing applications, technology has improved the ease of use and learning experience when it comes to teaching ones self sketching skills through previously considered taboo practices like tracing and have further blurred the line between artists opinions on respecting an art style and appreciating it.

In an attempt to connect with like-minded people and gain some insight into finding my own style, I joined a small local online art group with an objective to hold weekly meet-up painting/ drawing sessions using real subjects. It was in this space where I met Jack Bouquet, a self-taught painter who’s preferable working mediums included charcoal for sketching and shading while using oils for painting. Jack was kind enough to answer some questions as an oil painter to allow some comparison with my own experiences using the paint medium of watercolor.

What subjects inspire you?

Jack: I mostly paint portraits and landscapes. I’d say I’m mostly inspired by nature.
Lionel: I am inspired by human emotion, particularly its reflection in a person’s eyes. This is why I gravitate more towards human portraiture.

How long have you been painting?

Jack: I’ve been drawing for last ten years and started painting with water-based paints about eight years ago and started oil painting five years ago.
Lionel: I started practicing with digital art a year and a half ago then moved to traditional watercolors in May of 2020.
Is being an artist a professional job or a hobby? Could you give a brief description of your background on how you started painting?
Jack: At the moment painting is a hobby for me. But I’m trying to transition towards selling more paintings and becoming “professional”, so I would be able to spend more time in front of a canvas with my paints. I have some commissions I’m currently working on and I’ve rented a space which I use as my studio.

I come from a much more scientific background and studied biology at university. I didn’t really paint after I was about 14. It was only when I came to China that I started to draw.

I started drawing when I bought a sketchbook for my then girlfriend, now wife. And she didn’t sketch much, so I started drawing in the back. The drawings were pretty good and I took a summer class near the Xi’an Academy of Fine Art (Mei Yuan) the following summer.

Lionel: Similarly, painting is also a hobby for me, rooted as a coping mechanism during a low period of my life. While I currently don’t see myself turning it into a primary professional career, I wouldn’t rule it out as a future side hustle.

My professional background is purely engineering based off the field of computer science and the study of programming languages ever since softmore year of high school. Spending a better part of a decade in a technology driven corporate environment and later transitioning into the academic field through the pursuit of a doctorate degree, I found myself longing for some balance between my understanding of the digital environment and an artistic one. This could attribute to one of the key reasons I sparked an inquisition into painting.

Is there a personal

favorite among your current collection? What is the meaning behind the painting?

Jack: The self portrait that I did about two years ago stands out. I wouldn’t part with that unless someone offered a ridiculous amount of money. I wouldn’t say it has a meaning. But the poem that came to my mind as I was painting this portrait was Invictus, by William Ernest Henley: “Out of the night that covers me….” Haha, this poem definitely contributed to that painting.

Lionel: There was a double portrait I painted a month ago based off a muted palette which I titled “The Secret Introvert”. This was the first time I finished a piece and I didn’t compare it to other artists I admired or feel that I needed to explain the chaos among the textures. I was finding my style and I connected with it.

Do you use photo references, still life or paint from the imagination?

Jack: I would prefer only to paint from life. That portrait was done in the mirror. But this is not always possible. When the weather is good I enjoy cycling to the mountains and painting outside. But at the moment I’m mostly working from photos because that’s the most convenient way. As I improve and become more efficient, I hope I will be mostly be able to work from life.

Lionel: Painting from life still feels intimidating to me so I would refer to photo references or attempt at projecting from my imagination (often failing miserably). Something good to note here is the importance of highlighting the source of references and acknowledging the official owner of a particular photo, even if it is open sourced or you are not putting art up for sale.

What does “vulnerability” mean to you?

Jack: To me, vulnerability means strength in a way because if you have the ability to be vulnerable and to open up to your own perceived weaknesses or failures, only then is there the potential for growth. So I feel there’s strength in vulnerability.

Lionel: Vulnerability can sometimes be interpreted as a state of mind for some artists, myself included. It’s the process of facing that state of mind and accepting it that allows me to better interpret the specific mood I want to set for a piece.

What do you like most about art and being an artist?

Jack: I wouldn’t classify myself, at the moment, as an artist. I guess it depends how you define the word artist. For me an artist is someone who is focused on producing paintings which exist in the context of “art” and what has already been produced and in some way making a contribution to this. I guess I consider “art” as a cultural endeavor. My paintings are really just for myself, haha. I don’t paint for anyone else and painting for me means putting time into myself and enjoying that time. I just enjoy the feeling of having an empty sheet in front of me and producing something. And I also enjoy the physical application of material to an empty canvas and the feeling of unfocused attention when the painting is going well.

Lionel: I consider art as a method of expressing how one feels in a language of its own. I’ve experienced living through multiple cultures and communicative language barriers (more prominently in recent years) to the point where I find myself silent through most conversations. It is in this quietness that the mind can run rampant and having a method to stabilize that mental noise while also being able to share your thoughts without words is a fascinating experience. Similar to the effect music can have without lyrics, art can be a universal language of its own with the use of color.

What is the hardest part of creating a painting?

Jack: For me the hardest part of a painting is to finish the painting. I find when I’m starting a painting I feel an almost infinite possibility of what might be produced, but, as I come to the end of the painting, I have to settle for something that best represents where I am as a painter in that moment. And I’m usually disappointed. But after finding some space from the painting and coming back to it afresh it’s always easier to find things that have gone well.

Lionel: The technical way of using watercolors in particular is working in layers from light to dark. So half the time you won’t really see the end of the painting, the potential it has and the outcome you have envisioned just yet. This aspect can sometimes be discouraging and allow the procrastination of finishing to settle in. But once you’ve worked on enough pieces, the understanding of this process removes that discouragement and the moment when you’re adding in the fine details which bring the piece to life is a great feeling.

What advice would you give to readers interested in learning how to paint?

Jack: I don’t believe in giving advice. And I don’t like to be given advice. If you’re interested in doing something then you should do it.
Two of the most useful things I’ve found with my painting have been the books and references that I use and also displaying the paintings I’ve done. The books taught me and inspired me to paint more. And displaying my own paintings at home has allowed me to return to what I produce and think about how I paint and how to improve. But I think there are some artists who would not be so great and so unique if they had copied masters like I tried to do. I think it’s helped me, but it could hinder other people, so that’s the problem with advice!

Lionel: Similar to most aspects of life, if you are interested in something the hardest part is just starting. Understand that things don’t happen overnight and there’s time attached to the learning curve so just starting can help you find more reason to continue.

As a hobby, its important to remind myself that I am not painting for anyone but myself. We often hear the line “Art is subjective and color is relative”so sometimes accepting the fact that your work may not be liked by everyone is fine. We all see the world in our own unique way.
Do you work on commissions? How can readers contact you for personal commissions or painting purchases?

Jack: Yes I do work on commissions. Readers can connect with me via my wechat ID: jackbouquet if they have questions, queries or requests for personal commissions.