By Niall McArdle
John Schieffer is a contemporary American photo-realist painter. He graduated in 1995 from the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Connecticut . He worked as a children’s book illustrator at Mercer Mayer Productions. He has written and illustrated a children’s book of his own, Bearly Escaped. Schieffer lives with his family in Goodyear, Arizona.
Although he has had commercial success as an artist, he is more interested in exploring the limits of his inspiration. “I think there are too many amazing things in the world not to try and create something a little different. New textures and surfaces to explore are appealing to me.”
Asked for an artist’s statement, he says, “Why do artists create the things they do? Not too many ask why an artist paints a landscape or flowers or a beautiful person, but what would be the purpose of painting something mundane or not ideal beauty? For my own work I choose to paint those things that I think should be given a second glance. Things that are beautiful when you shine a light on them. Each painting has its own life and meaning. That meaning for the artist is not going to be the same for the viewer as we are all different people. How I feel about a painting I have created changes over time. The reason I started it is always the same. To make something beautiful where there was nothing before. To share with others the way I see the world. The specific meaning of each piece is a personal journey not easily put into words, but that is why I am a painter and not a writer.”
My work focuses on small childhood toys and objects, but I started with marbles. I love the way light reacts to them. They are constantly changing with the light and behave in unexpected ways. Their shadows will often be brighter than the highlight on the marble itself. I quickly incorporated other toys and reflective objects into my still lifes, things that in my mind seemed to go together. Metallic jacks and water drops were prime targets. I always just try my best to paint exactly what I see to create an image that pops out at the viewer.
I’m always thinking about what I’m going to paint next. When I’m finishing a painting I almost always have an idea of what I’m going to be taking pictures of. I work from photos, so what happens with the camera often determines my choice of subject matter. What I have in mind doesn’t always work out in reality. Objects aren’t as easily manipulated as ideas, but in the end I do my best to bring the two together, making the original vision important in the end work. After photographing the subject I’ll draw out the image on Masonite that I have cut and gessoed. I do a full drawing on gray toned gesso with 9h (hard like nails) pencils and white charcoal. Once completed I spray the drawing and paint right over top of it. Finished paintings dry for about a month before I varnish them.
I paint in a studio I have in the home, which is a great advantage: I like to go to work whenever I get the chance. I paint as often as I can (I’m a stay at home dad.) With a studio outside the home you’ve got those times where you might say ‘it’s late. I feel like working, but I’m not going to drive 5 minutes down the road to do it.’ I wouldn’t mind having a separate studio in the backyard, though. That would be nice. High ceilings, light, and lots of room are key for my dream studio. I do paint everyday if I can, but I find that I go back to the easel more when I don’t give myself guilt trips about taking a day or two off.
Moving from Connecticut was probably the biggest change in my artistic life – maybe my life in whole. That was the point when I decided to paint full time. My work changed then, in that I had so much more time to dedicate to it. Although I used to work in other styles I began to focus on just doing the best painting I could. I didn’t set out to do photorealism or to emulate anyone in particular, just to paint my best.
I include great detail in my work, but I’m not the most detail oriented artist. I try to focus on the sculptural aspects of the object and what makes them come to life. I say this in that I believe there is no best “artist” or “painter” level of achievement, but we can do our best to create the work we envision. To share with others the way we see the world.
I paint in oils. I use these because I feel the color is the most intense. I could just as easily paint with acrylics, but for me it’s less intense. Sometimes I don’t want to pickup a brush to paint with oils because I don’t like washing out my brushes afterward. It’s very important to always use brush soap and to clean up after painting. It really extents the life of the brushes. For personal painting projects I sometimes use acrylics. I like them because of the easy clean up. I mostly use Grumbracher and Winsor & Newton, but I also use Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
I am currently in Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona and Meyer East Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They are both wonderful, supportive galleries. There’s no commercial pressure to produce any particular type of work. They’ve always given me my artistic freedom to do the work I want. The art world is a business, but I can only paint what I’m drawn to. I never have the urge to paint a landscape or flowers. I can’t really tell you why.
I enjoy spending time with my family. I find as an artist it’s hard to shut off that part of your brain that looks at something and thinks about how to paint it or that part of your brain that thinks about what could be a great next painting. Art is my hobby. I’ve taken up running for health reasons (I’m not getting any younger). Arizona has three amazing seasons to spend time outside. The fourth season is like being on the surface of the sun, but the A/C does a fine job.
Here is a time-lapse video of John Schieffer creating the painting:
You can see more of John Schieffer’s work at his website.