Annie Strack has earned signature membership in eight artist societies and she is an official authorized artist for the United States Coast Guard. Her artwork has received hundreds of awards and hangs in over 1,000 public, corporate, and private collections worldwide. She travels around the country to teach workshops and classes. Her show Painting Seascapes in Watercolor is broadcast on over 160 television stations around the world.
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit about your artistic background and where you learned to paint?
Annie: I had a pretty typical start. I studied art in school, and then I went out and got a “real” job in hotel and restaurant management. Painting was my hobby for a few decades, and then I changed careers in the late 90’s and became a full time professional artist. I had great sales from galleries right off the bat, and I supplemented that by doing commercial artwork for a while. Between selling originals and prints, teaching classes and workshops, writing for art magazines, and royalties from my DVDs, I manage to eke out a comfortable living and have fun while I’m at it.
Lisa: Which painters do you admire?
Annie: I love the classic loose watercolor technique of Keiko Tanabe, she’s a brilliant painter and her control of water is masterful. I’m inspired by Australian painter Georgia Mansur, both because of her painting skills and because she’s always encouraging to other painters.
Lisa: Do you prefer to paint out of doors or do you prefer painting from photographs, or do you combine both?
Annie: Both. I’m a studio artist who paints en plein air, except sometimes I’m a plein air artist who paints in the studio. I really don’t prefer one over the other, but I do like to be comfortable so I’ll go indoors and paint from photos when the weather is not ideal. When I’m painting from photos I have less distractions and the light doesn’t change, so I paint more detailed and more realistic than when I’m painting outdoors. I might take weeks to finish a painting in the studio, and when I’m outside I’ll generally finish a painting in an hour or two. The difference is my studio paintings are larger and more detailed, and my plein air paintings are looser and more impressionistic. I enter studio paintings in traditional juried shows, and I enter plein air paintings in juried plein air shows.
Lisa: How do you prepare for a session painting out of doors?
Annie: I don’t even think about preparations. I keep my plein air easel packed at all times, ready to go. When I’m painting oils in my studio I still use my plein air easel and palette, and I put everything right back in it when I’m done. It’s my preferred studio easel. My umbrella stays in the trunk of my car along with a folding chair, bottles of water, and an extra pan of watercolors. If I’m painting in a competition, I’ll start each day by going around to all the sites and shooting photos of potential subjects, and then before I set up to paint I’ll take a short break to look through the photos on my camera to see which location will be the best spot to paint. My camera also acts as my view finder, and I use it to zoom in or out to find my best composition.
Lisa: What common problems can one face in painting out of doors and how do you avoid these?
Annie: Wind is my worst enemy. On breezy days, I can lean on my easel and push the legs down into the ground. I bought some little stakes for the legs, and I’ve tried weighing it down with rocks, but I’ve found the best way to paint successfully on windy days is to stay in the studio. And I’m not fond of rain, either. That will quickly drive me indoors. Or cold temperatures – I don’t like painting when my fingers are numb and my teeth are chattering. I’ve learned to avoid plein air competitions in the wintertime, unless there are palm trees at the location.
Lisa: When did you first discover that you loved to paint marine scenes and what is it that you love about this particular subject matter?
Annie: I paint what I love – seascapes. I’ve always lived near water except for a few years in the Black Hills, and I grew up sailing and surfing in Florida. I could spend all day on the beach, every day. I paint a lot of things, and with various media, but I really love water. It’s home for me, so painting seascapes feels like painting home. I can’t always be on the water, but when I’m painting, I get the comfort that I’m home.
Lisa: How do you keep your colours organised and your palette sufficiently clean when painting out of doors?
Annie: I keep a paint scraper in my easel so that I can scrape the dried paint off my palette before I start each painting session. My palette quickly gets messy, but I start out by only squeezing out the colours that I know I am going to use that day. I prefer to keep it simple when I use oils for plein air, and I try to limit my tubes to a split primary of six colours (a warm and a cool of each primary). From that, I can mix up colours to match any landscape and condition. At the end of the day, I mix up whatever’s still on my palette and use it to tone my next canvas. For my watercolours, I use a folding metal palette of half pans. They are much more compact and easier to use outdoors than a standard watercolour palette and tube paints. Watercolour pans have a small amount of glycerin added to the paint, which makes it easier to reconstitute with water and also keeps them from crumbling when they dry out.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite kind of brush?
Annie: I have several favourites! For oils, I like to use synthetic brushes such as golden and white Taklon, and silicone scrapers and wipe-out tools. For watercolours, I use both synthetic and natural, depending on the effect I’m painting. I like Dynasty Brushes for their great range of synthetics – especially their Faux Kolinsky, Faux Squirrel, and Black Gold lines. For my natural brushes, I like the natural squirrel and sable brushes from Raphael. I use mostly large brushes, preferring one inch and wider for my flats, and #20 and larger for my rounds. I also like short handles because they are easier to pack for plein air, but good quality large brushes with short handles are pretty rare.
Lisa: How do you go about creating a painting? Please could you talk us through the stages, from finding a subject/having an idea, right through to having a finished painting?
Annie: I start with an idea of what I want to paint, and then I either look through my photos for a reference or I go out and paint on location. I shoot photos of everything and file them away for future reference, and I have thousands of reference photos that I’ve shot all over the world. If I’m using a photo, I’ll manipulate it on my computer until I get the composition and elements that I want. My techniques in the studio are completely different than my plein air techniques, and those techniques vary depending on what medium I’m using for the painting. When I paint watercolours in the studio, I’ll take my time doing a detailed drawing and masking out all the lightest values. Then I work in layers, building up colors and values in washes and glazes, working from light to dark. Depending on the complexity of the painting, I might spend a few days or a few weeks working on it. My plein air paintings are mostly small oils on panels, and usually painted quickly – within a few hours. I sketch in a few shapes but I don’t do a very detailed drawing, preferring to paint directly. I also recently started painting watercolors on Fredrix Multi Media canvas boards, which is really convenient for plein air because it’s easier to haul around and use outdoors, and easier to frame. Another benefit of the canvas panels is that I can lift the paints right down to the white canvas, so it’s easy to correct mistakes and make changes to the painting. When I’m done, I just need to spray a coat of varnish on it. For most of my paintings, I look for scenes that have an element of water. Either still water for reflections, or moving water for the play of light. I don’t always find that water element when I’m painting en plein air, so I sometimes choose a road or a path as a compositional substitute for a stream. If I’m in a plein air competition, at the end of the day my painting is turned in for judging and sale. If it’s a studio painting, I’ll leave it on an easel in my studio for a couple of weeks, just to make sure it’s done.
Lisa: What do you do when you find yourself painting out of doors and nothing seems to be going right?
Annie: I zoom in. I usually try to paint the traditional landscape in the traditional format, and sometimes that’s too boring, or too overwhelming, or just not inspiring at the moment. That’s when I try to zoom in and look for something small and unique. For instance, instead of painting a colourful blooming landscape, I might just focus on one flower pot of blooms. Or instead of painting a whole marina with a dozen yachts, I might focus on just the bow or stern of one boat and its reflections in the water. If I still can’t make anything work, then I move on – either change locations, or change mediums, or call it an early day.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Annie: My paintings are exhibited in galleries all across the US. Shows and venues change often, and the best way to know where to see my work at any given time is to check the Calendar page of my website. I open my studio to the public on the first Friday of every month, and I welcome visitors that want to stop in to look at paintings or just hang out and chat while I paint. I get more work done when I have people in my studio, so I schedule classes, workshops, and other events in my studio every week. I post new paintings regularly on my blog and my social media sites, although they sell fairly quickly so the best way to keep up with available new paintings is to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, g+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.