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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

John Salminen. Interview

John Salminen doesn`t need to be introduced. Here I am sharing my interview with this artists that will be released in my new book Masters Of Watercolor Vol III in June 2015. You are the first readers:)

What was your artistic background?
I have made art since I was a little boy. My mom kept me supplied with art materials and my dad, an engineer, taught me perspective at a very early age. I was intrigued by magazine illustration and my initial goal was to become an illustrator. My formal commitment to art began with my university training where abstract expressionism was in vogue. I became an abstract painter and I think the use of abstracted shapes and love of the process of moving paint from brush to paper continue to play a large role in my current paintings.

John Salminen. Jade.

What influenced you to become a watercolor artist?
My introduction to watercolor occurred in the classroom of University of Minnesota Professor Cheng Khee Chee. He was teaching a series of watercolor classes through night school and I enrolled for six consecutive courses. I found his approach to painting and his handling of the brush exciting and challenging and I have been a watercolorist ever since.

John Salminen. Kansas City Produce

What was the process of developing your own well recognized style?
My style developed slowly over an extended time as I was exposed to new approaches and incorporated them into my paintings. Each influence slightly changed my style as I learned new techniques and sensitivities. At first I was strongly influenced by the work and teaching of Cheng Khee Chee and painted in his design-based style. I was then influenced by the work of Robert Wood and the West Coast School of watercolorists. I studied with Frank Webb and this added new insight. At the same time I was very aware of the work of John Sloan and the Ashcan School. Every time I attended an exhibition, I saw something in a painting that impressed me - something that made me want to go to my studio to try out a new technique or work with atmosphere in a new way. My own style began to develop through the combination of all of these influences. When I first visited New York City, I discovered that the complexity of the city gave me an opportunity to apply my understanding of the elements of design, use techniques I had learned and focus on recreating the atmosphere I experienced as I wandered around the city. It was at that time that my style began to be recognizable. My work continues to change and evolve but now most of those changes come through challenges I set for myself rather than from outside influences.

John Salminen. Battery Park II

How do you work on composition?
My sense of composition is now intuitive rather than analytical but I only arrived at this point after years of study and practice. My original approach to painting was entirely design with little or no consideration of content. I was a practitioner of the Frank Webb-Edgar Whitney-Robert E Wood school of thought. Frank Webb said “paint shapes, not things”. Now as I look through the viewfinder of my camera I ‘feel’ when a composition is right but these feelings are based on solid design concepts.

John Salminen. Iceland.

Is there always a story to be told in your work?
In most cases I pick a subject because of the strength of the design and composition possibilities it suggests rather than its content. My work, however, often speaks to the viewer because of its recognizable subject and the implied emotion or atmosphere of the moment. I prefer to suggest rather than tell a story, encouraging the viewers to create their own interpretations of a painting from their personal experiences.

How do you choose the size for your painting?
I paint in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from 22” x 30” (56 cm x 76 cm) to 40” x 40” (102 cm x 102 cm). I choose a square or rectangular format based on the compositional needs of the painting. I enjoy painting large pieces because of the freedom of the brush strokes but size is sometimes determined by need - larger formats work well for exhibitions while collectors sometimes prefer smaller works.

John Salminen. Madison Square Park

What is your specific choice of art materials?
I have a strong preference for D’Arches 140 lb cold pressed paper because it’s tough and stands up well to masking and lifting but still accepts paint beautifully. I have no strong preference for any one brand of pigments and brushes. I like the random assortment of brushes I’ve accumulated over the years because they have become seasoned. They have acquired a distinctive feel and predictable behaviors. Today’s professional grade pigments are generally high quality and I use specific colors from a variety of brands, including Winsor Newton, Stephen Quiller, M. Graham and the new line QoR brand of watercolors recently created by Golden.

John Salminen. Neon Reflection

Do you change something in works once they are considered to be finished?
After I sign my work, I still have the option of tweaking it but once I have a professional scan made, I’m committed.

Is there a place for spontaneity in your works or do you prefer total control over the process?
There is tremendous opportunity for spontaneity in my process. As I work on a painting, I put it under plexiglass and a mat and look at the partially completed work at frequent intervals. Often the painting suggests changes or new directions. As I alter values the mood begins to shift and if I like the new direction I can continue with it and see where the painting will lead me. Although I work from photos, I try not to be limited by the information the camera records. I look for composition and design through the camera lens but I provide the emotional content myself through the development of mood and atmosphere. The feeling of the resulting piece is often the result of the spontaneity of the process.

John Salminen. Evening Cable Car

Your plein air and studio paintings differ so much that I could say they belong to different artists’ hands. Which is reflecting you the most?
My studio paintings require 40 - 60 hours to complete due to the amount of detail I like to include. This approach is not practical on location so I tend to work in a style that is closer to my earlier works, resembling the California style.

Does your painting on location help you in studio painting?
Painting on location gives me an opportunity to respond more directly to the quality of light and this is very beneficial. It helps me create atmosphere in my studio paintings.

John Salminen. April In Central Park

You are using a lot of dark colors. Do you agree with the statement that watercolor is partly graphic media?
If by ‘graphic’ you mean a high contrast statement the term could apply as my work does fully utilize value. ‘Graphic’ can also mean flat and I don’t feel watercolors, or at least my watercolors, are flat.

What do you consider more important in your work, tonal values or color?
Value, value, value! I like the statement “Value does the work, but color takes the credit”. I believe we perceive our world as shadow and light and this translates into relationships of value.

John Salminen. Rainy Day Times Square

What is watercolor media for you?
I use watercolor as a transparent medium in my representational work. I don’t use opaque pigments or white. However, when I create an abstract mixed medium work, I use collage, acrylics, markers... anything that creates the look I want to achieve.

How do you see watercolor in relation to other media?
In the United States, watercolor is the most widely practiced medium. This is partly due to the number of established watercolorists who are willing to teach. It’s also because of the extensive structure of competitive exhibitions that enables artists to share their work and to gain feedback from their peers. As a result of these things, artists are encouraged to learn and participate. This great popularity both helps ad hurts the reputation of watercolor when it comes to the way it is perceived by the art world. As is the case in many other countries, oil painting is sometimes viewed as a more serious medium and unfortunately in the United States this prejudice sometimes affects the monetary value of watercolor paintings as well as the respect watercolors are shown by museums and galleries.


  1. Great interview Constantine. I really could relate to John's journey as we are of a similar age.