Tuesday, January 24, 2012


FKAPLAN   A Curious Place             Oil On Canvas  2011  32x48

Hi everyone, thank you for coming to my blog to read my interview with Fred Kaplan, artist and teacher.  I'm so excited to have Fred talk about art and creativity. 

When I was thinking about doing this interview I tried to focus on questions that 'you the reader' would like to ask Fred, if you had the chance to.  I wanted to know things about Fred as a painter, as well as a teacher, and I thought you would, too.  Follow along as Fred takes us through the journey he has been on to arrive at the place he is today, as an artist and teacher.  I've decided to post most of the interview since I liked Fred's answers, so I will split it into two parts.  Check back for the second part next week.

Let me mention that I met Fred 3 1/2 years ago when I signed up for my first painting class at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia.  I develop an interest in painting after I was "clunked" on the head with a ceramic vase that fell off of a shelf (read the story here).  Fred walked me through the process of painting as I struggled with my issues of using color, as well as using very thick paint.  I have taken Fred's class often because I am still learning from him every week.  I really love his class because I have seriously seen growth in my work and it has been enhanced from learning painting techniques from Fred.

Fred does have some funny antics and he might be thought of as a little eccentric by some, however, he is an effective teacher and and awesome painter.  Fred has a very cool website which features his work.
It also is chockful of information about art and art materials for students and artists.  Check it out..... www.kaplanpicturemaker.com

So let’s talk with Fred...

* I always find this question interesting even though it is always asked.   When did you first recognize that you had the gift of artistic skill and creativity?  How did it reveal itself to you?  I mean, did you start drawing, painting or coloring outside the lines?

Drawing was just something that I’ve always done and enjoyed. One day, my fifth grade teacher talked about this guy named Rembrandt who was The Master of Light and Shadow and I decided at that moment that I also wanted to be a master of light and shadow.

* Were your artistic skills encouraged when you were a child?

My parents boasted of my skills and showed off my pictures to impress others. Other than that, though, thoughts of an art career were discouraged. As with many parents, mine believed that it was impossible to earn a decent living as an artist. They were not wholly incorrect, for it is exceedingly difficult. Instead they urged me to pursue medicine or law or some other high-paid and socially prestigious profession; the dream of every Jewish mother is, I guess, to have a doctor for a son.

* Where did you get you college education and what was your major?

While still in high school I participated in a Saturday program run by the Philadelphia school district and attended evening open figure drawing sessions at Fleisher’s. Unfortunately, the Saturday program is no more, although the school district now has its High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which I very much wish existed when I was a public school student. After high school I went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts while I continued to take occasional classes at Fleisher’s. At that time all evening classes were free, which was just the right price for an extremely poor student. Eventually I earned a certificate and MFA in painting from the Academy.

* What kind of student were you?

I am told that college transcripts are confidential, and I don’t want to violate any laws, so I think I’ll have to withhold that information.

* What field of art did you pursue after college?

My first art-related job actually came while still in high school. I worked on the advertising staff for a now defunct supermarket chain. Although I didn’t get to do much in the way of actual artwork (mostly I was a go-fer), I did learn a lot. After college I got a position as an embroidery designer, which was pretty interesting, and later as a trade show exhibit designer. Through the years I’ve driven taxis, sold shoes, did telemarketing, worked at a couple of art supply stores, and had a variety of sales jobs as I struggled to build a clientele for a illustration and graphic design business. Eventually I was able to go off on my own and earn a decent living as an independent artist.

* I know you were an illustrator for some time.  Tell me about what that profession was like and if you were you passionate about it?

Commercial art is a feast-or-famine type of business for the independent artist. There are times you have so many assignments that you get little or no rest, although you earn plenty of money, and other times when you have next to nothing to do at all and little income. While I enjoyed doing illustration, I resented the creative restraints, which ultimately led me to give it up and make a go at being a fine artist.

* What medium did you work in?

As an illustrator a range of media were used: acrylic paint, gouache paint, watercolor, pen and ink, and scratchboard, along with a variety of dry drawing media.

* What were some of your clients?

Most of my clients were medical, manufacturing, and publishing concerns. Medical clients included the American Red Cross, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Merck & Company, and American Academy of Periodontology. Some publishers I’ve done work for are DAW Books, McCrae-Smith, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In addition, I’ve created designs and illustrations for QVC Shopping Network, Eagle Air, and Lawrence Factor.

* I have noticed that you also have the gift of creativity, which is evident in your website, handouts in class etc. and also there is the give away that you worked in the advertising world. I believe that artistic skill and creativity are very different and a person can possess one without the other.  What are your thoughts about the two?

This is an interesting question to me, and one that confuses many. In my opinion there is a huge difference between artistry and skill. It is possible, for instance, to teach a person how to be a skillful drawer, painter, sculptor, or writer, but it is not possible to transform a person skilled in one of these areas into an artist. That is something that comes from within the individual. For instance, I’m sure you have had the experience of admiring a painting for how skillfully it was done, and yet remained unmoved by the picture. On the other hand you have probably come across a picture executed with marginal facility but one which is nonetheless exciting to look upon. In the first case the “artist” possesses mere technical facility, while in the second the artist has impregnated the picture with an individual creative vision. Naturally, those pictures that we most admire are ones done with superb technical skill and a profound creative spark.

FKAPLAN        Rider In The Dawn     Oil On Canvas   2011   24x36 

* When and why did you leave the corporate world doing illustration to pursue painting as your profession?  What was your thought process if you can remember it?  Have you always wanted to paint?

Yes, I have always wanted to paint and that is one of the main reasons I turned away from doing illustration. It simply wasn’t satisfying enough, plus the industry was being increasingly dominated by digital art, something I found alien and off-putting.

* What are the differences between illustration and painting?  Do they sometimes cross over with a small amount of difference?  I mean, sometimes a painting can look like an illustration and visa versa?    What is your opinion about the differences and similarities between the two?

The main differences between illustration and fine art is that illustrations are made to be reproduced, something that is not of great concern to a painter, and fine artists can make any kind of pictures they want while illustrators must meet the client’s requirements.

There is certainly some cross-over. It is not unusual, for instance, for a publisher or company to use a fine art painting as an illustration. In fact, many fine artists have created paintings on commission that were intended for use as illustrations. Pierre Roy is one such, as are Rene Magritte, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Philadelphian Robert Riggs. Nor is it odd for an illustrator to market his original illustrations through galleries as fine art. Frederic Remington did this, as did Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.

As to whether a painting can look like an illustration and visa versa, that is another issue. Because of the process involved in reproducing illustrations, certain factors must be taken into consideration. For example, purples and browns are generally avoided or minimized since they are difficult to reproduce accurately. Illustrations need to be more hard-edged and have stronger contrasts than is seen in many paintings. Color in illustrations needs to be strong and vibrant because of limitations of the reproduction process, so much so that illustrators have been known to use to use day-glo fluorescent-type colors on occasion.

* Most people have this notion that to be a great artist, your need to have angst and neurosis which makes creativity possible.  What do you think about this and what is your angst if you have one, or maybe two, three or four?

My angst and neurosis is that people think I need to have angst and neuroses in order to make art.

* Some creative people are driven by something internal that they can’t seem to describe, which enables them to create and to be prolific.  What would you say drives you if you were to put it into words?

The need to eat. Salvador Dali said that art should be edible, and I agree. So I make my own food.

* This is a thoughtful question that I feel compelled to ask?  How are you inspired creatively? I mean, what does it look like or how does it take you to a creative place? How does an inspiration enter into your consciousness? Is it by thoughts, dreams, daydreams, etc?  Is it an obsession or rumination over an idea or concept? Is it that “light bulb experience? Is it by feelings? What else brings inspiration in your life in general, that transfers over to your artistic skills and your ideas?

There is no “light bulb” of inspiration, just – the words of Thomas Edison – 90% perspiration. If I sat around waiting for ideas to strike I would do nothing but sit around. I go looking for them in books, along the street, by doodling, and sometimes just by starting to paint.

* Is there anything that you would like to pursue artistically besides painting and why?

I’d like to learn to work with wood. My father was a skillful carpenter, as is my brother. Me, I just make a mess.

* Do you have any other passions that rival the drive and desire you have to paint?

Yes. Not painting; just loafing.

* How do you over come obstacles painting when you are alone in your studio, with no one to bounce an idea off of?

But there is somebody to bounce ideas off of: me.

* Do you find it difficult or how do you deal with the motivation and isolation of being in your studio all day painting?  Do you ever go “bonkers”?

Being alone makes me hungry, which motivates me to make food.

* Would you recommend painting to some one as a profession, knowing that it can be a real rollercoaster ride and success is no where near a sure bet?

Unless a person has an enormous appetite, I wouldn’t recommend art as a profession. One certainly doesn’t do it for money, since few artists ever earn enough to feed themselves decently. As to fame or celebrity: if that’s what you want, learn to sing and try out for American Idol.

* What does a successful artistic career look like to you?

It depends on what you consider success to be. To me it means making ever better pictures, some of them hopefully being compelling enough to attract the attention of at least a small public. The height of success, I suppose, is to be picked up by a premier gallery or see one’s work displayed in a major museum.

* I have found that a lot of painters and artists have a nagging sense of insecurity or doubt in their skills, do you think this is true and why? Also, do you think one needs to be eccentric to be a successful artist?  Do you think of yourself as eccentric?

This is really two questions.

All artists have doubts about their work. If they didn’t there would be no reason to strive to improve it, and that spells death for an artist, death for progress. To endure those insecurities I think that one has to, indeed, be eccentric.

FKAPLAN     Dark Energy                 Oil On Canvas     2011   20x24
That wraps it up for this PART ONE of this interview.  I hope you found Fred's perspective on art and creativity interesting and enjoyable?  Check back next week to follow along with PART TWO where Fred talks about teaching, saving his studio and most important, his work as a painter. 

Please leave a comment if you would like to and pass along this blog interview to friends.  Also, don't forget to take a peek at Fred's recent work on his website www.kaplanpicturemaker.com.  It is also full of information for artists on materials and advice.  

Thanks a whole bunch for coming to my blog.


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