Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Feature: Chris Beck

"Morning Glorious" original watercolor by Chris Beck
Hi Everyone,

I'm so excited about this Friday Feature.  I'm  a huge fan of Chris Beck's work and am privileged to own a small painting of hers.  Her work is amazing.  She most recently was featured in the Artist's Magazine, September issue.  She also just got word that a painting of hers is being included in the
Shanghai Zhujiajiao International Watercolour Biennial Exhibition.

To see more of her works visit her website and blog.

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

My earliest memories involve drawing and coloring, and my parents encouraged my art interests by providing age-appropriate art supplies during all my growing-up years. I was also fortunate to live in a community with an excellent school system, with in-school art programs from elementary through high school. When I started college, I was torn between art and biology, and I switched back and forth a couple of times before finally committing to art in the second half of my junior year. After college, I worked as a graphic artist and also explored side interests in art quilts and various forms of jewelrymaking.

In 1995, I came down with a mysterious, chronic fatigue-like illness and was forced to give up all my creative activities. In an effort to find a way out of that sad state, I decided to go back to watercolors. Not only had it been my favorite medium as an undergrad, but it has the additional advantage of low toxicity -- no dust, no solvents, no fumes.  At first, I had only enough energy to paint postcard-size pieces, but I gradually worked my way up to larger paintings.  Within two years, I was exhibiting in regional shows and began entering national competitions a year later.  There was a major break in my art life beginning in late 2002, when my husband developed a serious, debilitating illness; he was quite incapacitated and required a lot of care giving for many months, but thankfully, that is behind us.

Where were you born?

Manitowoc, Wisconsin

"Hip Hop Bebop" original watercolor by Chris Beck
 If you could live anywhere where would you live?

That's a tough call -- I love the Midwest for the seasons and most of all for the friendliness of the people, but life here in California is certainly idyllic when it comes to weather and easy access to resources. Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite places, but I don't think I could handle the grey winter weather.  So I'll have to say I'm still searching for my ideal place.

What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?

I love vintage things -- from rusty farm machinery to goofy salt shakers -- and also flowers, but in most cases, my interest in a subject is driven primarily by its visual impact. I prefer fairly simple forms that allow me to create strong compositions, and I also love the details that make a painting pop.

Could you talk about your painting techniques? 

I have used several approaches, including masking-and-pouring and using a stencil-type technique for backgrounds, but lately I've focused on the classic method of painting wet-on-dry for my vintage salt shakers and toys. I love to use masking fluid, whether as part of a pouring process or to save highlights, and I regularly use it when I want to create a smooth wash in an area involving irregular or broken shapes. I do a great deal of work on my paintings after removing the masking -- either tinting the masked areas or scrubbing and lifting them to soften and integrate them into the image.
"Heirlooms" original watercolor by Chris Beck

You have several paintings with vintage toys, they are very whimsical and fun could you discuss how you came upon this subject?  What is the personal significance?

I grew up in the home built by my grandparents and taken over by my parents after my grandmother passed away, so I was surrounded by household goods and toys from the past.  As an adult, I have a moment of delightful nostalgia when I find a similar item in an antique shop or auction. I certainly don't want to bury my head in the sand when it comes to the problems of the world, but I don't want to eliminate joy from my life either. Silly vintage toys and salt shakers make me laugh and bring me a lot of joy.
"Dippy Duck" original watercolor by Chris Beck
 How did you arrive at your current style?

When I started painting after a long hiatus, I really had no direction. My background as a fine artist was in abstract art, but it was no longer a passion. After a year of struggling, I finally had a breakthrough -- I painted a realistic still-life that I knew instantly was "me." Although I continue to enjoy experimental approaches and leave room for that possibility depending on subject matter, the essence is always very detailed, precise work.
"Colonel Mustard" original watercolor by Chris Beck
 Do you have a favorite artist?  Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Charles Demuth and Maurice Prendergast have been my long-time favorites among historical watercolorists. My list of contemporary watercolorists is long and varied -- Miles Batt, Sr., Carol Carter, Joseph Raffael, Gary Bukovnik, Judy Morris, Mark Adams, Pat San Soucie, Roland Roycraft, Jean Grastorf -- to name just a few.

Because I came back to fine art after several detours, I take inspiration from all the wonderful contemporary artists who have taken up careers in fine art after time spent in other occupations.
"Ruddy Ducky 2" original watercolor by Chris Beck
 What are some of your favorite things or things that are essential to your well being/success as an artist?

Over time, I've discovered my favorite brushes, paints, and paper and find they make a huge difference in my paintings. The first brushstrokes set the tone for me -- if I like what I see, I'm energized and the painting almost seems to paint itself. And I would be lost without access to digital devices -- camera, scanner, printer -- to help me bring my ideas to life.  
"Waiting in the Wings" original watercolor by Chris Beck
 Do you have go-to paints/colors and brands, what are your favorites?

I use primarily Winsor-Newton watercolors, with a few Holbein and Daniel Smith paints.  Naturally, I choose pigments to fit individual subjects, but I frequently include New Gamboge, Scarlet Lake, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Sap Green, Green Gold and Quinacridone Sienna (both Daniel Smith), and brown madder. Although I don't use it regularly, I absolutely love Holbein's Cobalt Violet Light -- hands down, the best version of that pigment in my opinion.

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

Just one biggie -- vintage salt shakers achieve world domination!!  Seriously, I've learned to take one step at a time and build on successes as they happen. I hope that I continue to challenge myself and remain excited about my work. Everything outside of that is frosting on the cake.

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

Choose what you love, work hard at it, and persevere through rough times.  Avoid fads and copying, but always be open to incorporating new elements in your work.

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

Pay attention to the details.  This applies across the board -- painting, presentation, organizing business, entering shows -- pretty much every part of your working life.

"The Usual Suspects" original watercolor by Chris Beck
Chocolate or vanilla?

Swirl??  In truth, I love both and there are times and places for each!!

Sunny beach or rustic mountain retreat?

Rustic mountain retreat -- with sunny meadows!

Book or movie?

I've always loved to read. My most recent fave is "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." 

Favorite author?

John McPhee is a perennial favorite, but I have fairly eclectic tastes -- Willa Cather, Roddy Doyle, and Italo Calvino are on the list. And if I may include comic humor -- George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) -- great storytellers as well as wonderful artists.

Favorite movie?

An oldie -- Travels with my Aunt -- based on the book by Graham Greene. Sadly, I think the ending was revised for release on video/DVD.

Romance or comedy?

Comedy, most definitely!!

Favorite ice cream flavor?


Night owl or morning person?

Night owl.

Cake or Cupcakes?

I'm pretty much an equal-opportunity consumer when it comes to these treats!

Chris, Thank you so much for the interview.  Just love your work.



  1. Well what an incredible talent! And I love the subjects too :0)

  2. Nice to learn more about you, Chris. Your work is so beautiful. Glad you mentioned Mark Adams. His work is wonderful.

  3. What a great interview with one of my favorite artists. Your questions interspersed with her paintings gave for an informative and beautiful read!

  4. Thank you Carrie for such a fun interview! was fun to get to know you even better...and revisit your wonderful art...each makes me smile!

  5. Loved the detail, loved the originality, liked the advice on attention to detail.

    All round interesting interview, and great art!

    Thank you,Carrie and thank you, Chris.

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  7. Wonderful paintings that just always make me smile! Nice to learn more about Chris. Pleased to hear of all the other Mark Adams fans. Went to an opening for Robert Lostutter tonight. His watercolors are amazing and worth googling.

  8. That was simply delightful! Terrific interview, fabulous paintings and motivational as well! Thank you Chris and Carrie!

  9. Wonderful interview - thank you, Carrie! I have enjoyed Chris' work for several years, and she is one of my inspirations in painting.

  10. I've enjoyed reading about Chris yet again. Her story is one to tell over and over and her art is timeless! Thanks for this feature.

  11. Love Chris's work, just gets better and better!!!

  12. Chris's work is flawless! Thank you Carrie for this amazing interview!!

  13. This work is so beautiful. I love the softness of the backgrounds against the sharp detail of the subjects in the foreground.

  14. I'm going to pop in here to say thanks for all the wonderful comments!! It's a super boost to see that people like my work and enjoyed the interview. Thanks again, Carrie, for inviting me to be featured on your blog!!

  15. And I meant to add that I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Adams about 10-12 years ago when he juried and judged a regional show (and, happily, gave me a nice award). I'd been a big fan of his for years, so it was a big thrill to meet him.