Landscape artist, John Brandon Sills, masterfully captures the light and serenity of his surroundings. Local to the Baltimore area, we recently stopped by his studio to see the artist’s workspace and to discuss his process.
Check out a few highlights from our chat below, or head to our vlog to view the whole conversation.
Do you often paint en plein air?
JBS: “As a result of the pandemic, I haven’t gone out that much. And because I’m working larger, it’s more difficult to get outside and take the painting with me. I’m limited to what I can fit in my car–if I have an idea for a composition, it just needs to be that big. What I’ve noticed about myself as a painter is that my first statement is the strongest. If I go out and do a study, that’s gonna be the better painting. If I come back in the studio and do another painting from it, it’s not gonna be as strong as what I did on location. I’ve been adapting to that reality by doing more studio work, working more conceptually, working more inspirationally and going out when I can.”
Do your tools or techniques inform your artistic process?
JBS: “I use everything that’ll work. I think one of interesting and important aspects of being a professional aspect is to not be restricted by the techniques in which you were taught. It’s almost like you have an impulse, or just a hunch that says ‘rub that with your hand’ (as opposed to a cloth)…for me painting is a very intuitive process, a very hands-on process. Even though I didn’t know that I was gonna be using this technique, when I first started softening my edges and unifying my shapes I had no idea I was gonna do it–I just came in with an idea—I just picked up my brush and started painting.”
“I use technique as a way of creating the vision. I think that’s paramount, it’s the thing that inspires me most, it’s the thing that keeps me coming back to the canvas. The shapes, the edges, they all are in service of the concept. This is about simplification, this is about unity, this is about oneness. So, by leaving out superfluous colors and detail, you don’t get caught up in all the little minutia that’s going on in a shape. You stay focused on the large relationships, the relationship of the tree to the atmosphere, the background to the water and so on. Visually, it’s interesting and allows me to focus on more abstract relationships.”
What do you hope viewers see in your work?
JBS: “I want the viewer to look at my paintings and go, ‘Ahhh.’ That determines the shapes and colors I use. Verticals and horizontals create a sense of calm and peace. Deciding how I want the viewer to feel determines what shapes I use. As an artist, I like to use these concepts intentionally, because I desire for you to walk away feeling okay, feeling like ‘It’s alright.’ I’ve often said to students that art essentially comes down to ‘if you could tell the world one thing for all eternity–because this painting will last forever–what would it be? What do you want to tell the world?’ And I want to tell the world that all things are one thing. See oneness, see unity and…it’s okay. You’re okay.”
“For some people, the awakening to [this] concept is the most interesting part. When you tell them what it’s about or why you did it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I see that now!’ That’s the key: ‘I see that.’ It’s my vision. This is what I see—when I go outside, I see oneness. So I’m painting what I see, not in terms of detail and appearance but in terms of experience and interpretation.”