Rainy Day (beauty in the mundane): artwork by Todd Simpson

I didn’t realise how ambitious I had been until I got into the artwork and realised how much detail there was and how long it would take to create each tiny section.

This is the third article about Todd Simpson and his artworks in as many months . . . and I don’t care. Todd said “they will be sick of hearing about me”. I disagree. If you are a passionate airbrush artist then I am sure that you would like to read about the processes used to create artworks that are really pushing the boundaries of what can be done with this amazing tool. I am an unapologetic supporter of Todd and his incredible artworks.

I hope that Todd’s artworks inspire you to make the time to create artworks yourself that are worthy of your talents. This artwork was a huge challenge for him. He started with the idea, “I can do this!” And he ended with “I did this and I am really proud of how far my art has come!”

I like to premix all my colours. I usually end up with about 10-12 colours. I pick a range of colours based on tonality. I pick the lightest and then I work my way through to the darkest, choosing colours that I can confidently transition from one to the other. On top of that, I have a group of transparent colours that I can use to push the colours around a bit.

Q1: What is it about realism that underpins your art?

I guess, if we go back to when I was a boy . . . I grew up in Wellington NZ. The weather there was always terrible. On those stormy weekends, my parents would take me to the gallery. This was a regular event considering how often the weather was dark and threatening. At the gallery I was always amazed at how artists could capture the realism of the moment with only a few strokes of a brush. The craftsmanship, the discipline, has really stuck in my mind.

The other part of this, is the measure of beauty. Realism enables me to “keep a score of how I am doing”. This is a complicated idea. You will often hear many artists say that they never really know when an artwork is “finished”, or to call it finished. But with realism, there is a definite end to the artwork. I like the measurability of this. Realism for me enables me to approach my creative process with an element of structure.

The third part of this is the fact that it is all too easy to just glance out the window at the mundane passing of life. I am wanting to create artworks that get people to linger and to see the minute detail of life, to see the fog and water droplets on the glass and the way they distort the shapes and colours of the world passing by.

The approach I took was to start with the easiest sections to develop an understanding of colours and layering, and as my understanding got better and better, I slowly worked up to the most complex parts of the artwork last. At this point of the artwork, I had done all the “easy” sections and was about to get into the harder sections.

Q2: How much do you depart from the photo reference? Do you add and subtract many elements of the artwork reference?

The main change to the photo reference, was that I cropped it massively. There was a lot more above and below and cropped it down to the essential elements that I liked. I stuck closely to the reference. I don’t like to detract from the image too much. I choose my images very carefully and once I have formed the image I want, I like to remain as true to it as much as possible.

At this point, I had started to work on the difficult part of the artwork. I massively under-estimated how long the artwork was going to take. At this point I had gone too far to stop, but I still had a long long way to go. I made the decision to stick to it – to plough on and not compromise on the quality. There were some days that I spent the whole day just painting the tiny dots.

Q3: In the upper photo of all the colours in the cup, there are not that many colours. It was surprising to see how few colours were being used for such a complex artwork. Have you found the number of colours that you use, increasing or decreasing, over time . . . the evolution of your palette.

It hasn’t changed much over time. I use pretty much the same number of colours for all my artworks. While the number of colours hasn’t changed much, the speed at which I can work with the colours has increased a great deal. When I first started out, mixing the colours was a slow and uncertain process. But now I really understand how to push the colours around to get exactly what I want quickly and with certainty.

Although it looks like I am working with a grid, square by square, I am not. There is no grid. The sections are simply because (A) I have chopped my reference into sections and (B) I like to finish the artwork section by section. I tend to work the artwork in “colour sections” . . . mouth sized bites.

Q4: The fact that you are using an airbrush with a small cup, and not a siphon fed airbrush; this restricts your ability to change colours rapidly. Do you find yourself having to airbrush each full layer with a single colour and then change? Do you feel that your spontaneity is reduced by the airbrush configuration that you use?

I use a side-load siphon fed airbrush and I have a group of colour cups, so that I can change colours as fast as a siphon fed airbrush. This means my spontaneous changes are quick and flexible. I like having the small cups rather than the heavy jars. (Tony – siphon fed airbrushes also come with side cups, so you can work this way with your siphon fed airbrush when ever you like. I often use these small cups.)

This photo gives you an idea of the huge amount of detail. Every drop had to have a highlight and shadow. Each drop was individually formed. I used colour pencil for some of the shadows and used a dowel to scratch back for the highlights.

Q5/6/7: Are you happy with the artwork? How do you feel about it? Has the artwork lifted your understanding of your own art in any way?

Yes I am happy with the artwork. I have four very similar images and I had planned on doing a series, but this one took so long, that I am now thinking that I may not. I thought I had a lot of patience to do an artwork, but this artwork forced me to be more patient than ever before. I have learned that I have to be more careful about the images that I choose.

Q8: Do you write an “artists statement” when you exhibit your artworks?

Yes, but I hate them. Only as required. I have a real issue with the “artist statements” that accompany artworks at major exhibitions. For example the Archibald Prize. You go to the exhibition and people spend more time reading the artist’s statement than they do looking at the artworks. I see this is a substantial failure on the part of the artist. The viewer should be able to draw everything that they are supposed to, just by just looking at the artwork. Its probably not so bad with the Archibald where it is all about portraiture. But if you go along to more modern abstract art exhibitions, the giant canvas that is painted flat red . . . the fact that you have to read the long and involved artists statement tells you that the artwork itself is almost meaningless. I guess the other thing is that artists statements are effectively dictating what you need to think, what you are to meant to take away from the artwork. It is usually all “art speak”, and I never seem to understand what they are saying. Realism is more approachable and honest art.

Tony – This photo is of two of my children in front of an “artwork” at the Melbourne Art Expo. It is a flat red canvas. I asked my son to go over and check the price tag on the artwork. As he turned I pressed the camera shutter. The look on his face when he spoke the simple words “$6,000 . . . are they serious!” “Out of the mouth of babes.”

Thank you to Todd for all his time and effort, in sending through all the photos and for your time with the interview. We cannot wait for the next astonishing artwork that you create.

How ambitious are you about your art? If you are someone that takes their art seriously, and you would like to learn powerful rendering systems for airbrushing . . . Airbrush Venturi can take you as far as your ambitions can take you. We will give your learning a structure that will ensure that at every stage you feel confident and conscious of what you are doing and why.

If you would like more information about the courses across our network of schools in Australia and New Zealand, go to the Airbrush Venturi course timetable, HERE.

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Written by Tony Vowles