Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Feature: Thomas Schaller

Thomas Schaller
Hi Everyone,

I'm Back!!!  Thanks to everyone that contacted me to check on us, we are all feeling better and almost back to 100%

So I told you the next Friday Feature was a good one, and I'm making good on my promise.  Today I'm featuring none other than Thomas Schaller:))))  I have to admit I was intimidated to contact Tom.  He is on the cover of every art magazine right now.  He's a bit of a rock star in the watercolor community.  Not only are his works masterful but he is the nicest guy!!  Any time I've contacted Tom he has been helpful and gracious, the whole package.  I hope someday to meet him in person:)  So without further ado here is his feature!!!

To see more of his work visit his website and blog.
"From Granville Island-Vancouver" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 30 x 22

How did you get your start? What’s your artist journey so far?

Drawing was almost all I did as a kid . -it was where I found my peace, excitement, heart and soul. … My dream since about the age of 6 was to become an artist and an architect and live in New York City.  I’ve been very fortunate in being able to have made that happen
"Summer Storm-Portage County Ohio" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 24 x 17
 Where were you born?

On a farm in  Ohio

If you could live anywhere where would you live?

I love living in Venice, and can imagine myself in many places, but my heart will always be in New York City
"Construction Site - Los Angeles" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 30 x 22
 What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?

The light at the intersection of the architecture of man and the architecture of nature. For me - this is where most all the questions worth painting are asked.
"Windsor Castle" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 15 x 22
 In addition to your masterful paintings you do fantastic Architectural renderings. Which came first? How did you end up in that field?

My interests in fine art and in architecture developed simultaneously. In university I majored in both.  After graduation, I felt I had to chose one path or the other – I was a practicing architect for several years, then an architectural artist for 20 more.  It has only been in recent years (the past 3)  that these two sides of my creative self – right and left brain I suppose – began to merge into a cohesive creative vision.  I suppose I always loved the ideas – the images  - of architecture at least as much as “real” buildings.  And now, I am happy to live in the realities of painting.    

Do you work from a sketch or do you use photo references?

I never go anywhere without my sketchbook. Nothing compares to on site-observation and on-site painting if possible.  About 2/3s of my work is studio-based, but even in these cases, I am always informed by sketches done on site.  These are often supplemented with photo reference that I take as well.
"Carousel Central Park" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 24 x 18
 How did you arrive at your current style?

Like all artists, my “style” is never a fixed and static thing – but always in a state of evolution.  Of late, I am dedicated to editing and simplification – painting much larger and faster – always trying to tell the story of my painting is as direct and immediate way as possible. As an architectural artist trained in the formal Beaux-Arts traditions of slow, methodical washes, and precise details, I have longed to break free and find a more personal, more expressive and intuitive way of telling the stories of my paintings.  Three years ago, when I was fortunate to be able to paint with Joseph Zbukvic, I began at long last to understand some ways that I might get closer to that goal.

Could you talk about your painting techniques?
All paintings have a story to tell. These days, for me those stories are always ones where “light” is the star.  In my teaching. I emphasize to students the importance of strong compositions of darks and lights – finding the “light paths” in a painting.   Also, I stress the importance of trying not to paint the object or scene that you see, but rather how you feel about that object or scene; and more importantly, the light that illuminates them.
    Having a clear idea of the light in a final work is critical for the painter even before a brush ever touches paper.  Doing quick value sketches is one way to identify these areas of light.  And since watercolor can be seen as a “subtractive” technique (that is, the only real white or light in a painting comes from the white of the paper ) so  every value or tone added subtracts from the available  light available to the artist.  
    So to that end, my techniques have skewed more toward the impressionistic, atmospheric and evocative.  Combinations and ranges  – within the same painting – of very loose wet-in-wet techniques to almost opaque dry brush applications help amplify the dynamic and expressive range of any painting.

"Royal Crescent - Bath England" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 30 x 22
 Do you have a favorite artist? Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Oh gosh – so many – and in so many creative fields. In painting, the abstract expressionists, Rothko and Motherwell tell such evocative stories that challenge the viewer to get lost in and unravel the mystery of their work.  Of course, Turner’s use of mystical light is always so powerfully moving.  The watercolorists Sargent, Seago, Cotman, Wade, Castagnet, and Zbukvic are key.  And the powerful value compositions and emotive light of architectural artist Hugh Ferriss are worth the investigative time of any artist.  But almost  as important to the development of my work are the composers  Ralph Vaughn Williams  and Arvo Part.
"Day at the Beach" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 22 x 15
What are some of your favorite things or things that are essential to your well being/success as an artist?

As the two sides of my creative self began to merge, I began to realize that anything we do informs to some degree everything we do. My efforts as a painter are deeply affected by all aspects of my life: the love of my family and friends, my dog, riding my racing bike down the coast, yoga, the New York Times crossword puzzle, reading a great book, watching good (and bad) movies, and music music music,

"Greek Steps" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 12 x 9

Do you have go-to paints/colors, what are your favorites?

Lately, I prefer Holbein pigments . But I also use a few Windsor Newton and Daniel Smith colors.  I tend to avoid the intense, staining colors such as Windsor greens or blues in favor of more sediment-based, earthy tones.

What are five things you would like to happen in your life in the next five years? Dream big here:)

Well, I try to be open to the unknown possibilities that life offers and to not to plan my life in that way. But I am so grateful for every day that I can paint, I hope that life offers me at least five more years to explore my possibilities as a painter.    

What is your advice for other artists who are just getting started in their career?

Find your passion and follow it relentlessly. If it is to be a painter – then paint!
"Manhattan Beach Pier" watercolor by Thomas Schaller 30 x 22

What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?

“Just paint. All the rest will take care of itself” Joseph Zbukvic


Chocolate or vanilla?

Anything but vanilla

Sunny beach or rustic mountain retreat?
Neither – give me Piazza Navona or Central Park

Book or movie?

Apples and oranges – must have both

Favorite author?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Don DeLillo, E.M. Forster, Margaret Atwood

Favorite movie?

North by Northwest, The Heiress, The Third Man

Romance or comedy?

“Action “   of course

Favorite ice cream flavor?

No thanks

Night owl or morning person?

The nighttime is the right time! I have a fundamental mistrust of self-describing  “morning people”

Cake or Cupcakes?

Blackberry Pie

Thank you so much Tom:))   Such a great interview!  I had the hardest time picking images out to post with this interview, it was kind of like a kid in the candy store, I just wanted to post them all.



  1. This is so informative! I love Mr. Schaller's work and hope one day I would be able to paint with juicy, big washes and skillful brushwork. It's very different from my style of work now, but I would love to give it a try...

  2. I recently bought Tom Schaller's book and as a student of architecture myself, it's a great resource for rendering architecture, but most importantly painting overall. Great interview!!

  3. Really enjoyed this, thank you. Nice to see the picture of the Royal Crescent in Bath, England. My pen & ink drawing of the Royal Crescent (see strikes a stark contrast with the delicate shades of the watercolours.


  4. Fantastic feature Carrie......yes we watercolorists truly adore and repect Tom. thanks for sharing his masterful work.

  5. I really enjoyed your interview, Carrie! Have a great weekend!

  6. Glad you and the little ones are up and around again! Loved this interview - you are doing a brilliant job with this blog!

  7. Fantastic interview! He is truly a rock star of watercolor. Really enjoyed this one. :)

  8. Great interview. His work is amazing & inspiring...yes, even to an oil painter.

  9. Wonderful post, Carrie! Thomas Schaller's work is incredible and so inspiring!! "From Granville Island", Vancouver is outstanding!! Now, I will visit his blog!!

  10. This man is clearly genius! I love his skies - so moody and atmospheric :0)

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Thank you to you both!

  12. Such a great interview. Loved hearing how he described the importance of light in his work. Thanks for introducing me to such a great talent.