Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sterling Edwards. Interview 16.05.2012

Sterling Edwards was selected as a featured artist in the book, “Best of America Watermedia Artists” published by Kennedy Publishing Company. He is the author of the North Light book” Creating Luminous Watercolor Landscapes, a Four Step Process”, published by F+W Publishing Company and is a contributing artist in numerous other magazines and books. Today Sterling’s book, signature line of products, and instructional DVD’s are marketed world wide. His award winning watermedia paintings are in private and corporate collections throughout the world and he is represented by several galleries in the U.S and Canada.

You work in many media. Was the change to watercolor media the point of no return for you?
Somewhat but not entirely. I still work in acrylics and oils but I now consider watercolors my main medium. They are such a versatile medium with special characteristics that I cannot duplicate with oils or acrylics.
Sterling Edwards. An Oregon Morning

Your style reminds me a bit of the Californian artists of 1950-1960. Is there some artist(s) who inspire or has inspired you?
I am particularity fond of work by the late Zoltan Szabo who was my friend and mentor and also the paintings by the late Milford Zornes. I find that my work has progressed from traditional subjects and styles to a more artistic and expressive style of painting. I attribute much of this to them. I am easily bored with a lot of the art I see including my own. As an artist I often feel obligated to periodically evolve to present the viewer with an interpretation rather than merely a copy of what inspires me.

Sterling Edwards. A Gathering

Do you work mainly on location?
Very rarely do I work on location. I guess I’m spoiled by the comfort of a well organized and well lit studio. As a watercolorist I find it difficult to work on location for a number of reasons. The wind and sun often dry my paper too quickly which prohibits my ability to work wet into wet as much as I might like to. Sometimes however, just the opposite occurs when I’m in a location that is very humid and the paper takes too long to dry. These factors combined with changing light conditions, heat, set-up time, and insects that seem drawn to the scent of wet watercolor paper make my studio very inviting.

Sterling Edwards. Mountain-Dreaming. 22x30. 2012

How do you prepare for painting?
Most of the time I have to have an idea of what I would like to paint. It can’t be a forced decision but rather a decision based on some form of stimulus or inspiration. Once I find myself inspired I need to be sure that have I have set enough time aside to complete the painting or at least get it well under way. Rarely do I walk away from an unfinished painting. Usually each brush stroke inspires the next until I feel that the painting is completed.

Sterling Edwards. Natural Rhythm. 22x30. 2011

Do you use any reference materials?

I always use some type of reference material before I begin a painting. Otherwise I am just pushing paint in hope that something noteworthy will evolve. I am an avid photographer and constantly search for reference material for paintings. From time to time I will do a series of small thumbnail sketches of a subject that I am considering painting. These are particularly useful when designing my larger abstract paintings.

Sterling Edwards. The Park. 22x30. 2012

Is there a lot of imagination involved in the process?
Yes, I use a lot of imagination when working on a stylized or abstract painting. Distorting shapes and perspective, altering and exaggerating colors, and directing the viewer through the painting with a strong composition all require an active and creative imagination. I have evolved beyond the point of worrying about local color, photo realism, and accurate perspective. Now it’s all about creating an exciting and contemplative piece of art.

Sterling Edwards

Where do you get the source of inspiration? 
 Quite often I am inspired by unusual shapes and colors. A good example is the southwest United States. The unusual colors and shapes of the rocks provide endless possibilities for an interpretative painting. Another good example would be the small fishing villages in Newfoundland. The clusters of small buildings tucked among the waterways and steep rock formations present a beautiful variety of shapes and colors from which to draw inspiration. Sometimes however, even something as simple as a cast shadow on the side of a building gets the creative juices flowing.

Sterling Edwards. Birches II. 22'x30'

What is more important for you, the process or the painting that is a result of the process?
I really don’t know how to differentiate the two. The process for each painting depends largely on the subject or inspiration. Each painting is a new adventure that has to be planned ahead of time to be successful. Sometimes even though you have carefully planned the painting it will take on a different personality once it is underway. An artist has to be flexible enough to allow for the unexpected. The end result of this adventure is a painting that reflects the vision of the artist and the process by which the painting evolved. Neither would exist without the other.

Sterling Edwards. Sit a Spell. 22'x30'

Can you say a few words about your approach? 
Considering that a painting consists merely of shapes, colors, values, and textures, I usually choose one of the four to be the dominant force in my painting. Most often it is shapes. I look for creative ways to interlock and overlap shapes to create dimension and interest. Once I have been inspired to paint I do a few small thumbnail sketches of my subject. With each sketch I rearrange elements and shapes to find a pleasing balance of large and small interlocking shapes. This is the backbone of my painting. My next goal is to determine the structure of values (light and dark) to add a sense of drama and dimension to the shapes. Bold contrasts of value combined with interesting shapes command attention. Colors and textures are usually are decided upon once the structure of the painting has been established.

Sterling Edwards. Southern Jewels. 22x30

What is the place of spontaneity in your work?
I begin almost all of my watercolor paintings using a wet into wet technique to achieve unusual gradations of color to form the color basis for my painting. Infusing multiple wet colors on wet paper can be very unpredictable and often gives the painting a fresh and spontaneous appearance. I also use expressive and quick brushstrokes to achieve movement and energy in my painting. An occasional quick and expressive brushstroke with a broken edge adds freshness to a painting as opposed to a painting that has very carefully controlled shapes and edges.

Sterling Edwards. Why I Live Here. 22x30'

Do you have some system of using colors?
Yes, I am very fond of varying degrees of gray when they are a mixture of complimentary colors rather than a pre-mixed gray from a tube. They enable me to create a wide spectrum of mid tones that have a nice transparency and glow when other areas of the painting are left as white paper or painted with very dark values. Most often the complimentary colors that I choose for the grays are used as color accents in the main elements in my painting.

Sterling Edwards. Shrouded. 22x30

What brushes do you choose?
The only brushes that I use are brushes that I designed myself. Some of them are a stiff bristle nylon brush that I use for applying color and softening edges. Others are an assortment of softer large flat nylon brushes and a few small round nylon brushes.

Sterling Edwards. The Flavor of Sedona 22x30

What is your choice of paper?
I have two papers that I use. Each has special characteristics that I find desirable depending on what I am painting. If I want to paint a subject that has a rough texture or a painting that will require multiple glazes of color I will use Arches 300 lb. cold pressed traditional white paper. If I want a softer look in my painting and do not intend to use multiple glazes of color I will usually use Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. cold pressed traditional white paper. Both are archival 100% cotton paper.

Sterling Edwards. The Edge of the Swamp. 22x30

What is the most important for the watercolor artist; choice of paper, paint, or brushes?
I think I would have to say that paper is the most important. Because of the numerous techniques available to the watercolor artist a good quality paper that can take some abuse is imperative. For the best results I would recommend a 100% cotton based paper. As for paint, I would definitely recommend professional grade paint although I have seen some nice paintings done by students with student grade paint. Brushes are a personal choice. Since they are merely a vehicle for moving paint each artist must find a brush that works best for their style of painting.

Sterling Edwards. The Sceptre

What is more important, tonal value or color?

Tonal value is by far more important than color. Color is attractive and alluring but tonal value is what gives a painting dimension and depth. Without it everything is just a flat color statement. This is fine when painting an abstract where dimension may not be a concern. When painting a landscape, portrait, or still life however, changes in tonal value can transform a two dimensional canvas or piece of paper into a three dimensional illusion. I often use extreme shifts in tonal value to create drama in my paintings. Saving some white paper and pushing my darks has been a hallmark of my style of painting for the past twenty years.

Sterling Edwards. Water Front

How often have you been satisfied with your work?
This is a tough question because rarely does a painting turn out exactly as I had envisioned. It’s not at all unusual for a painting to go off in a different direction once you put brush to paper, even the paintings where I have very carefully choreographed all of the shapes and elements. Needless to say, some paintings turn out better than others. Rather than use the word “satisfied” I would prefer to use “accepting”. Most of the time I am accepting of the end result of my painting experience. Are there things that I would like to have done differently when the painting is finished, of course? Are there good things that happened quite by chance and were unexpected surprises, of course? That’s the nature of watercolor. The paintings that I am not accepting of usually have a very short life expectancy. As a professional artist I have to be somewhat discriminating and analytical of my work.

Sterling Edwards. Monument Valley Remembered

Could you do without watercolor medium?
I was originally trained as an oil painter. In 1983 I became interested in watercolor. It has opened a new door for me in that it is by far the most versatile and spontaneous medium, not to mention the hardest to master. It’s fair at this stage in my life to say that I am a watercolorist who occasionally paints an oil or acrylic painting.


  1. Thanks for the great interview with Sterling Edwards. He is definitely one of my favorites as I have had the opportunity to take his workshop last year. Nice to see other great artists in Russia Who love to paint in watercolor.

    P. Yorke, Idaho

  2. Extremely informative interview. Helped me select some paper and other supplies. Thanks for the info.