bruce black american watercoloristBruce Black 

American Watercolorist Seeks Truth Through His Realist Style Paintings… and has Fun Doing It!

Phoenix, AZ, USA



Spirit of the Canyon, 2012, watercolor on paper, 23” X 30” © Bruce Black

I would describe myself as an intrepid artist exploring the mires and valleys of art despite the personal risks and great odds against financial success. Yet, like all great expeditioners, I laugh in the face of such odds, and pursue this dream! I recognized a long time ago that an art career was a long process and a life’s work. It is one step forward every day, but the journey remains forever long, and happily so.

I am a mid career artist who has worked through a variety of styles, but landed solidly as a watercolorist. My work is in the genre of American Realism and documents moments of my life, many of which occur in Arizona; which is really not so surprising when one considers that is where I live. Furthermore, I am supported by a most awesome and patient wife and a delightful young son, who thinks I’m pretty cool, at least some of the time.


Please tell us about your art creation process and themes.

I paint the subjects that inspire me, and I attempt to choose ones that depict both beauty and mystery. My work is in the field of American realism and done with watercolor on paper. I work from both plein air studies as well as photographs and refine my paintings in the studio.

columbia river gorge paintingWith these paintings, I am attempting to capture the truth of a moment. It is about freezing time in order to truly explore that moment in depth; how the light dances off a bottle or a shadow casually wraps itself around a form.


Columbia River Gorge, 2012, watercolor on paper, 18” X 24” © Bruce Black

Our lives move so fast and we dance from one thing to the next with little more than a glance around. Painting stops that movement and is an introspective period of meditation. This is true both for the artist and viewer. In my work I paint not with the desire to depict everything of that moment, but to establish its essence.

Watercolor is great at capturing that essence. It celebrates the light and the diffusion of light into space. I enjoy the challenge of watercolors because there is no erasing or scraping out. You must work with what you put on the paper and make it look intentional even if it wasn’t. On the other hand, if you overwork it, the thing becomes dull and rigid. With watercolors I try to find a balance between spontaneity and control. And, of course there are no whites with watercolor. The whites you see are from the paper shining through. Watercolor is an infinitely challenging medium and thus worthy of a lifetime of effort.

Look slowly, breathe slowly, and enjoy these moments.


When uninspired, how do you become inspired again?

There are a few things that I like to do when I am uninspired. One of them is to visit art museums. Just wondering through the halls and seeing the various masterpieces immediately gives me a charge and makes me want to get back into the studio. I also read a fair amount of art history. Reading about a particular artist or style of art reacquaints me with the heritage of art. It reminds me that I am not alone on this journey. There are so many others who have come before and paved this road for me. Finally, I enjoy just getting outside and exploring. Something or someone is bound to get me motivated to make a painting.


Besides creating art, how do you keep busy?

good days work watercolorWhen I am not making art, I keep pretty busy as a teacher and a father. There is a lot of running errands and just trying to keep our lives moving. However, when I get some time to myself, I like to hike and be out in nature.



A Good Day’s Work, 2012, watercolor on paper, 18” X 24” © Bruce Black

There is something magical about living in the Southwest where you can really get out and away. There are grand vistas, soaring cliffs, forests, and of course the desert. Being out in nature refreshes me and reminds me of what is really important in my life.


What are you currently creating?

I am currently working on a portrait of my mother. I am using a photograph that I took on our trip last year to San Diego. She is sitting in a chair reading on the deck of our beach house. The light is low and warm. It carves her features in a soft chiaroscuro. I have never painted her portrait before, I’m not sure why, and felt it was high time I got around to it!


What is the best painting you ever created?

I guess the easy answer here would be to say the next one. However, I do think I that I have a favorite. It is a large painting hanging in my living room. The picture is of a snowy mountain in the background with the frame of a house under construction in the foreground. The silhouette of a man is seen holding a board that moves from the middle ground to the foreground and a bird perches on the board. At the bottom of the painting, there is an old man with a ball cap leaning against a piece of the wood. The old man is my father, who passed away on the year this was painted. The silhouette of the other man, I think is me. The bird represents that spiritual transition from life to death. I didn’t do all this consciously when I was painting it. I just figured it out afterwards. It was part of the process of grieving and healing and is very special to me.


What is the place of artists in society?

mango seller bali paintingThe artist is the spirit or soul of a society. He is responsible for seeing and feeling things deeply and then creating works that can communicate that feeling so that others may experience it as well. The effort should not be towards sentimentality, but rather towards truth.


The Mango Seller, 2012, Watercolor on paper, 23” X 30” © Bruce Black

If the artist is trying to capture the truth of a moment or thing, then he will be far more likely to achieve something pure and good than if he simply is after detail, or prettiness. Always, the artist must pull back the curtain of life to reveal truth.


Have you been selling your watercolor paintings?

I used to belong to the Blackfish Gallery in Oregon. That was back when I was teaching at Willamette University. At that time, I was selling fairly well and even had a small museum show at the Hallie Ford Museum. Since moving back to Phoenix, I have been reinventing my career and only recently began selling again. I’m working at marketing my work and trying to find a good gallery to represent me. I do sell work directly from my website ( and am gaining collectors once more.


Do you have any favorite methods of promoting art on the internet?

I use my website to promote my art and also write in the blog feature. Facebook has also been helpful. I haven’t found a silver bullet for online marketing and still prefer the old brick and mortar gallery method.


Are you influenced by any artists?

I’m influenced by the artists of the Ashcan school as well as other early American realists. I love their style of depicting America in all its gritty truth. In Particular, George Bellows paintings are quite invigorating. I love the drama of his work and the way that his style captures the setting of the boxing rink without undo detail or sentimentality. There is a truthful quality to his work that hits me every time. He was also a master of composition. His angles and lighting are almost baroque in style. Compare Bellows to Caravaggio and you will see what I mean. What he does looks effortless, but in reality is so very difficult.

penitent man watercolorAnother artist who has influenced my work is Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence chose subjects such as labor and the common worker, subjects which are also near and dear to my heart. Furthermore, his compositions are dynamic and move your eye through the page with calculated precision.


The Penitent Man, 2012, watercolor on paper, 18” X 24” © Bruce Black

I love the way he will have a line disappear just to reappear later on. He was master of design and could simplify elements in order to convey a sense of stark humanity and compassion. All art students should study his work.


Do you have a favorite contemporary artist to tell us about?

Stephen Tanis is probably a name the most people reading this article are unfamiliar with, however, his work is magnificent. Stephen was one of my graduate professors at the University of Delaware. He paints both still lives and figurative works. The paintings, at first look quite simple, but then you begin to dissect the colors and angles and discover a master. Stephen will add a spot of pink on a green shirt as a shadow, and it pops. In addition, he is a superb draftsman with precise lines. His paintings are detailed and rich. He’s a real painter’s painter.


Please tell us an interesting story in your life.

Who says an art education isn’t useful? When I was in college, at the University of Arizona as an art major, I was pulled over by a highway patrolman for going far over the speed limit. While he was waiting for my information to pop up on his computer, he asked me what I did. I told him that I was an art student. He then asked me if I could draw. I said yes.

“Can you draw fast?”


He then proceeded to turn his paper over on his clip board and handed me his pen.

“If you can draw me a picture that I like, I will give you a warning instead of a ticket, and I have never written a warning for someone going that much over the speed limit.”

“No problem.”

I then proceed to draw a caricature of him with his trooper’s hat and sunglasses.

Long story short, he gave me a warning. And to think, my father wanted me to go into business!


Where do you see  your art career going in 10 years?

Of course I see myself as being wildly successful and written about in art history books! I’m forever the optimist.


Good Advice for Artists

american-watercolorist-bruce-blackI think that young artists need to know that having a career in art isn’t like flying in a rocket. You are not going to get there fast. It’s a lifelong journey, one step at a time. Think of yourself as climbing Mt. Everest. You just have to keep at it no matter what. Don’t quit ever. In the process, you may just discover yourself.




American Watercolorist Bruce Black Seeks Truth Through His Realist Style Paintings… and has Fun Doing It!

Phoenix, AZ, USA

Website: Bruce Black Art

Facebook Page: Bruce Black Art, Contemporary Painting 

Google+ Profile: Bruce Black

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