Our June Artist of the Month has experimented with all types of media in his self-taught art journey. And who could describe that journey better than the artist himself, Martin Vargas.
Below you’ll discover his trials and errors in art, you’ll learn about his Pudgies, how he paints and why he creates art.
“Although I have not always looked at myself as an artist, I feel comfortable with the label now. As a kid, I enjoyed art but most of my work was pen and ink or pencil, not very much color. In the early 1990’s I looked at art more seriously and began dabbling with both charcoal and watercolor.
Charcoal is great and I enjoy how easy it is to blend and add even the tiniest of detail to produce pieces rich with dramatic contrast or subtle softness.
On the other hand, watercolor was not an easy medium to work with. However, through books, patience, trial and a lot of error, I learned how to use it with some success. I also tried acrylic but didn’t like how fast it dried.
Traditional oils require chemicals that are harsh to the environment, and people too, but I wanted to try them out as well. So I chose water soluble oils that don’t need the heavy and destructive chemicals. I learned how to use oils and like working with them now.
So yes, I am self-taught and my work is eclectic in style and media.
In 1994 I worked alongside a very talented artist, Mr. Herschell Turner, who preferred pastel for his creations. Curious about his work I watched him for months and was impressed with how easily he turned out dramatic paintings with “chalk”. I tried the medium but only succeeded in getting colored dust all over the walls, floor, clothes, my face, and hair. Angered at my failure, I blamed the pastels and quickly left them alone.
I kept watching though and asked a lot of questions. After getting the nerve to try again, my attempts produced dull, muddy pieces that were nowhere near the luxuriant and vibrant ones Herschell created. However, the pastel stayed where it was supposed to and that was progress! Now pastel is one of my preferred mediums, especially for portraits.
My subject matter runs the gamut from wildlife to social issues, to portraits of both pets and people, a little bit of abstraction and, of course, my Pudgies.
SO WHAT ARE PUDGIES?
Pudgies are a signature style of art I received as a gift.
In 1998 a hurricane relief organization requested a donation of art to help with a fund raising event they were hosting. Ironically, this came at the heels of a friend’s encouraging suggestion that I strive to develop a personal style.
She told me that my work was good, but it was all over the place and I should try painting a series of pieces that weren’t so diverse. I thought about that but didn’t quite understand what she meant.
When I was asked to donate some art to help victims of Hurricane Mitch I thought quantity, not quality, and worked furiously for a month to complete as many pieces as I could. My sketches were just that, rudimentary works meant to give an idea of where to begin the pieces chosen for completion and that I would eventually donate.
Instead, those fun sketches were highly accepted and I was asked if I would donate them instead. Since it released me from working on something more detailed, I said yes and everyone was happy.
In the end they became so popular that I had to name them so people could refer to them by something other than just “those fat people you paint”. This encouraged me to paint more; which brought more positive comments, and more of the primitive looking beings.
Pudgies evolved in name and in shape as a result. Devoid of racial, ethnic, religious, political, or sexual orientation, these universal figures convey basic human feelings and actions common to us all. I believe that’s what makes them so popular.
HOW DO I PAINT?
Quite simply, the process I use to paint nornmally goes like this.
Spontaneous creations such as Pudgies flow freely; whereas, more complicated pieces, like portraits, require detailed sketches and even the grid method if they’re really technical.
Once the sketch is on the painting surface I block in larger areas (like backgrounds) with quick patches of color. These are like a primer for surface colors to sit on so as not to appear flat. I usually paint shadows first, in purple, then I go to the details. Highlights always come last.
If I’m working with pastel, I use a workable fixative after each layer. This helps form a bond with the pastel so it doesn’t fall off the painting or become muddy. This is necessary because in the end, I’m literally painting on the pastel itself, not the paper I started on.
Portraits are more complex. There are so many surface details that if any one of them is wrong it throws off the entire painting, especially the eyes or skin tone.
More often than not, I start with the eyes because if they’re done correctly, the rest flows more easily. Sometimes I have painted the eyes last, only to find that the closer I was to finishing a piece the more I worried the eyes would come out wrong. Then I might have to start the portrait all over again. That was way too stressful.
When it comes to skin tones, they are as diverse as there are people, and if the underpainting is not right then the surface color may not be correct either. Also, and because not many people have the time or energy to sit for hours to have their portrait painted, I rely on good, detailed, photographs.
I also have discussions with whoever commissions the piece because to paint a good portrait you must pay attention to details. What is not in a photo is just as important as what is. I try to capture the personality of the subject, not just the eyes and physical appearance.
There are several reasons why I create art.
First of all, it is very therapeutic. For as long as it takes me to complete a piece, my environment is psychologically, spiritually and emotionally stress free and pleasing.
When communicating with someone about a commissioned piece, I’m connecting with parts of the population I would probably not meet otherwise. Sometimes these connections do not end when the piece is completed. As a result, I am blessed with sincere and caring friends.
Art also gives me a sense of career success in knowing that my work is displayed in homes, universities, courtrooms, offices, churches, and hospitals. Some are as far away as Israel, Germany, Canada and Mexico. One of the most humbling acknowledgements of my success as an artist is having a piece hanging in the United States Supreme Court Chambers of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
However, the main reason I paint is a lot more personal. When someone buys an original or print of my work, I am communicating to the world with my own individuality and self worth and that’s a wonderful feeling. Art gives me a sense of belonging and contributing to the world, and gives me the answer to that old question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Martin has something for everyone. Stop into Ledge Craft Lane during the month of June to see Martin’s amazing exhibit in our Gallery. Or …
You are also invited to his reception on Saturday, June 15th from 2-4pm. Meet the artist, see more of his remarkable creations, all while enjoying refreshments.
See you there!