When art imitates life, it is the artist’s mission to carry the image and try to capture the vast beauty of the world around. That is his gift.
Today, as we launch our new series called ZenARTist Feature – a collection of articles where we will be interviewing artists from all over the world, (mostly talking to them about their respective art practices, tips, and pieces of advice) it is with much joy that we introduce our first guest, Whitney Knapp Bowditch. A painter who perfectly captures the calmness of the seas, the beauty of the sunset hues, and the movement of nature, Whitney is widely known in the art community for her stellar landscape works.
Whitney Knapp Bowditch in her studio, 2018.
R: Hi Whitney! Thank you for granting us this interview. You are the very first artist to be featured on our Zen Artist Series where we will be interviewing different artists from all over the world to feature them and their works.
W: — Hi Regina! I am absolutely honored to be the first painter featured on Zen’s Artist Series. Thank you so very much for this wonderful opportunity!
R: First things first! How long have you been painting, and how did you get into it?
W: — My love for painting began twenty years ago when I was in high school. It was suggested to me that I study the visual arts in college by my art teacher at the time.
I began looking at schools that had strong art programs, and spent a summer taking advance placement art classes.
After that experience I felt confident that I had found my direction, and went on to earn a BFA and MFA in painting.
Whitney Knapp Bowditch in her studio, 2018.
R: In your Instagram bio, we saw that aside from being a painter, you are also an adjunct professor! What are you currently teaching?
W: — I’ve taught a variety of drawing and painting classes over the years, but presently I’m teaching a foundation level drawing class. I really enjoy working with students who have a limited art background because their growth over the course of a semester is exponential. It’s so gratifying to observe their excitement over a new technique or medium. They regularly surprise themselves with what they’re able to make, which gives them an increased sense of confidence in pursuing a career in the visual arts.
It’s a great privilege to lay the foundational framework for future artists, particularly since my art teachers were so influential in directing my path as a painter.
Gesture drawings for days. Charcoal on paper, 2017, 11″ x 14″ each, 2017.
R: You are a landscape painter, and some of your paintings are very impressionistic, while others are done in a very calculated or smooth manner (for lack of a better term – most especially your charcoal works!). Can you talk to us about your style and subject?
W: — Absolutely. I do make conscious decisions when I’m working that contribute to the style of a painting, but my tools and media play a large role in the appearance of a piece.
The impressionistic paintings are executed primarily with a knife, which allows for greater color saturation and an impasto application.
When I paint with a brush my works tend to feel softer and more atmospheric. Drawing with charcoal or pastel creates a more calculated image – largely due to my sense of control over the medium.
Charcoal and pastel on paper, 21” x 34”, 2018
Oil on cradled wood panel, 4” x 4”, 2018.
I paint landscapes in order to convey my awe of the natural world, and I focus on places of significance to me. I grew up in a number of states in the U.S., and also abroad in the UK. Consequently, the place became an element to which I attach memories and feelings.
R: What about the materials that you use? We saw that most of your works are done on oil on cradled wood or paper. Do you prefer this, as opposed to the traditional canvas on board? Why?
W: — I’ve found that certain techniques lend themselves to particular surfaces, so I will often modify my substrate according to my intention. In my earlier years I made a lot of works on canvas, but more recently I’ve navigated toward paper, wood panel, and board.
I love working on paper – both for its texture and flexibility. Often I’ll be really pleased with an area in a painting, but perhaps not the entire work. Paper provides me with the flexibility to crop the image after I’ve finished painting.
Whitney on Instagram: “Mini waves! 🌊”.
The durability of both wood and board allow for a more aggressive application. Many of my paintings are executed with a knife, and a firmer surface can better withstand the scraping that has become part of my process.
R: You used ZenART Supplies oils in some of your paintings! What was your first impression on the Zen Art color palettes and brushes?
W: — I loved having the opportunity to work with ZenART’s color palettes and brushes! The palettes contained many colors that I use regularly in my practice, but there were others with which I was unfamiliar. Having the opportunity to experiment with all of them expanded my palette and has since influenced a number of my paintings.
I enjoyed the brushes even more, but for a similar reason. I tend to gravitate toward softer bristles for smooth transitions. Using ZenART Supplies Chungking Hog brushes vastly expanded my painting arsenal, and I’ve since fallen in love with them. Many of my recent works exhibit strong, textured brushwork that previously didn’t exist in my paintings. I credit ZenART entirely for this directional shift in my work.
Whitney on Instagram: “Oil on canvas board, 5” x 7”. The paint, the well-loved brushes, this little painting is all @zenartsupplies 💙”.
Whitney on Instagram: “Loving my new brushes! I largely work with a knife, but I’m enjoying the brushstrokes I’m getting from @zenartsupplies new brush set! (Oil on canvas board, 5” x 7”)”.
R: In your experience, how is painting on-site different from painting in the studio? How does your painting environment affect your work?
W: — Painting en plein air is a very different experience from painting in the studio, both of which I enjoy immensely.
When I’m out in the landscape I am responding directly to my subject as quickly as I’m able. It’s more of a spiritual experience than painting in the studio because I’m immersed in my subject and am utilizing multiple senses simultaneously.
There’s so much information in front of me, and I feel a sense of urgency to document my environment before the light shifts significantly. It’s a wonderful experience, but one that isn’t without its challenges. Packing and carrying all of my supplies, speaking with people while I’m attempting to concentrate, and battling the elements all make painting outdoors more difficult than painting inside.
Whitney painting at Lewis Dickens, 2018.
My studio is a private space with controlled light and all the comforts of being indoors. I can listen to music and I don’t have to be aware of my surroundings so I’m more inclined to lose myself in the process of painting. I can also leave all my paints and brushes out for the next day, which makes painting in the studio much more convenient.
All of my larger and more involved paintings have been executed indoors. My drawings and abstract works are also completed inside. I use photographic reference for these pieces, some of which I digitally modify before I begin work. Typically my studio paintings demonstrate a little more forethought while the plein air paintings are created more impulsively.
Whitney working in her studio, 2018.
R: Let’s get into the more non-technical side of art. What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your practice as an artist?
W: — It’s difficult to pick just one! Battling self-doubt is a huge challenge for me as a painter. So much of my work is made in isolation, so it can be particularly difficult to feel confident about my output without the feedback from other painters.
Another significant challenge is balancing all the administrative aspects of being a full-time painter, while still having significant time to create, to teach, and to manage a well-rounded personal life.
R: Mindfulness through art is something that ZenART is striving to impart to its community. With this, can you tell us more about the partnership that you had with Artforthehome last month? What is it about, and how does their advocacy help women like you around the art scene?
W: — Art for the Home’s advocacy provides exposure and community for women in the arts. It is based out of Richmond, Virginia, which has been home to me for the last 3.5 years. Our collaboration included an interview, a pop-up show, and a painting workshop that I led for women in the community.
Our partnership introduced my work to a local contingent, while the participants benefited from the opportunity to explore their creative side and learn more about painting.
Whitney on Instagram: “I’m honored to partner with @artforthehome this month! We kicked things off last week with a painting workshop (pictured). A story + interview, along with pics from a visit to my studio are featured on her website. Also, some of my work will be available through the site for the remainder of November🧡”
R: As a parting question: What is the single most important advice you could give to those who are just starting out in their pursuit of art-making?
W: — I’ve been blessed with a great art education, but much of what I know I’ve learned through working in my studio. There really is no substitute for time spent in front of your easel. It’s incredibly important that anyone interested in pursuing art-making makes their craft a priority.
I’ve learned just as much from my failures as I have from my successes, so I believe it’s also crucial to be willing to experiment and fail.
Lastly, it’s important to look at other artists’ work, but one must keep their own vision in mind. Do not compare or compete with other artists – rather borrow what you like, and make it your own.
R: Thank you so much for answering our questions, Whitney!
Whitney Knapp Bowditch lives and works in Richmond, VA. She is currently also teaching as an adjunct professor at John Tyler Community College in Midlothian, VA. Together with her husband and their Labrador retriever, she spends her days gardening, hiking, running, skiing and boating while maintaining a mindful lifestyle.