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Studio Views: Push the Paint

sv_seeger_acylicsMy favorite medium — that’s a tough question. I suppose it depends on whether we’re talking about media with respect to bookmaking or media in general.

I never have a particular medium in mind when designing a book. The text really dictates what the medium should be. I’ve used just about everything — oils, acrylics, watercolors, inks, collage, you name it. And if it wasn’t used in the final art, it was most likely used during the process of figuring out what would work best. For my latest book, Bully, I even used an ink-dipped twig because it gave me the rough, scratchy effect that I couldn’t achieve with anything else I’d tried.

Every painting or piece of art I create begins with pencils, of course. The eraser is really a wonderful thing. What follows depends on so many factors, including how quickly I need the paint to dry. I used to paint primarily with oil paints, but being the hopelessly impatient person that I am, I long ago switched to acrylics. If I were forced to pick a favorite medium, I think it would have to be acrylic paint. The process of squeezing the paint from the tube to the palette and then swirling it around with a paintbrush is completely visceral. I love acrylics because you can apply paint on top of paint on top of paint until it gets to where it needs to be. (Watercolors have always frightened me for that very reason—every brushstroke is such a commitment!)

With acrylic on canvas, texture becomes just as much a part of the overall effect as anything else. It may sound strange, but I’ve always felt that painting with acrylics (and oils) is a lot like sculpting. One of the things that I repeat to myself, even after many years, is something that John Cohen, my college painting teacher (and later uncle-in-law, but that’s another story) always said: “Push the paint, push the paint!” Just as you would push a piece of clay this way or that way in order to create a sculpture, painting is very much the same. When I first learned to view the process of painting in that way, it really changed everything. Somehow it became three-dimensional, requiring not only intellectual input but physical and emotional input as well. Painting is therapeutic — for me, anyway — because it’s a place to unload all kinds of physical and emotional energy, and the best part is, it (almost) never fights back!

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

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