TreeHouse recently had the opportunity to chat with artist Mark Jacobucci regarding all of the details that go into creating his paintings. Be sure to keep reading after our interview to view some of Mark’s artwork and watch his painting demonstration video from the Festival of Arts. To see more of his work and upcoming exhibits, visit his website at: http://www.landpainter.com.
TreeHouse: How do you decide what particular landscape or scene you want to paint? Is it simply a matter of appreciation and how its beauty speaks to you or are there other factors involved in your decision?
Mark Jacobucci: It’s simply an emotional connection with a scene encountered during my day and it could be for any number of reasons. I think it is usually the composition and light quality, strong directional lines, contrasting shadows and light, and colors that I am attracted to and feel have development potential.
TH: We understand that one of the first things you do after deciding to paint a particular place is to take photographs of the scene. Take us through the steps of your painting process; where do you go from there? How long does any one individual piece take you to complete?
MJ: I could be driving to and from work, or on a walk or run, at the beach, or on vacation. I take pictures with the intention to look at them later to see if any of them have potential. When reviewing, I might crop the shot to improve the composition, but I rarely do anything else to it.
I used to use printed photos and these were terrible. No contrast or depth, too limiting, not very inspiring. Then I used slides viewed through a viewer or a loupe. But it’s hard on the eyes to continually alternate viewing through a loupe and refocusing on the canvas. And there was wait time involved in making photos or slides. Now, painting directly from the iPhone or iPad, inspiration to painting is instantaneous, and the color and contrast is great.
Completion takes a few hours or several weeks. The time it takes depends on the complexity of the scene and how realistic I want to be. Usually I start out with an intention one way or another and let the style evolve during the first compositional strokes. Part of the Plein-aire style involves “rapidity” because outside you are always racing against the changing light. In the studio I don’t have to race against the light, but I paint as if I did.
TH: You paint in what is known as the “plein-air, alla prima style” within your studio. Can you tell our readers a bit about that style of painting and why you choose to create predominantly within your studio rather than outdoors or at the scene where your subjects appear?
MJ: Plein-aire is basically “on location” and alla prima means “all at once,” wet-on- wet painting. They are related, but not the same. I am attracted to it because of limited available painting time. I like to work quickly and finish quickly. If I spend too much time on one painting I tend to get bored with it and it becomes work and less play and relaxation. I like mixing the colors right on the canvas, using lots of paint, and painting quickly and spontaneously, allowing happy accidents and unfinished areas to remain in the completed piece. The objective is that the resulting painting looks fresh, spontaneous, exciting, and interesting to look at over and over.
Although I sometimes do Plein-aire, I prefer to work in the studio for a few reasons: first, I am too lazy to pack up all my stuff and get out in the field. It’s a lot do work to go through all that preparation and travel time, which cuts into the actual painting time. Also, I can work much larger in the studio than in the field. When the kids were younger, I could spend a lot of weekend time painting and still be home to do things like go for a bike ride or to the beach. I threw a plastic sheet over the palette and off we went. Then later in the day or evening I could just walk back into the garage and pick up where I left off.
It’s all about limited available painting time and keeping my life simple. I only have weekends to paint, and I really like to exercise (running, walking, and surfing), so I don’t do a lot of other time-consuming things.
TH: You prominently use oils in your work, but have recently started to experiment with acrylics as well. Do you prefer one over the other for specific pieces? Can you explain to us the difference in the way you use them?
MJ: I like both. In high school I used acrylics, in college, oils. When traveling I use acrylics. In 1980 I did a whole series of paintings during a road trip to the west coast using acrylics on canvas. I had one set of stretchers and several precut canvas sheets. I stapled a new canvas on it and used the same stretchers for every session. When the painting was finished it was already completely dry, so I took it off and rolled it up and put it in the back of the car.
Although since 1999 most of my work has been in oils, last year I started using acrylics again – the fast drying time forces me to paint rapidly and more spontaneously. Acrylics are safer to use, with less toxicity and easy clean up. As for technique, my objective is to make the character and quality of the acrylic look just like it’s oil. It’s harder to mix the colors on the painting itself, but if you work fast enough it can be done satisfactorily. The paint typically flattens out on the surface instead of maintaining the dimensional quality of the brush strokes. This takes some getting used to. There are all kinds of extenders and fillers you can buy to make the paint remain dimensional and I have experimented with some of these, but typically do not use them because I’m not yet familiar with how to use them in the best way.
The brand of acrylics I use is buttery like oils and it has much better colors and color stability than what used to be the case. Unlike oils, some acrylic colors shift hue and value a little as they dry. I love the rapid drying, and the permanent quality and stability of the plastic once it dries. There’s another quality to acrylics, which is that besides drying quickly the paint surface flattens out. If a painting has not worked out I can paint a new one right over it. The new one can be oils or acrylic. You can’t really do the same thing with an oil painting unless it’s still wet and you can cleanly scrape and wipe the old one away. And you can’t paint a new acrylic painting over old oil, but you can do oil over acrylic.
All that said, I am planning that my next piece may be oil.
TH: You have attended painting workshops in California and New Mexico, which sounds like a great way for artists to both share and further advance their skills. Have you found that to be true in your experience? And do you find that workshops are beneficial for continuous inspiration and creativity once the sessions are completed and you’re back at home?
MJ: I think it’s a great way to get started, hone your skills, or learn alternate techniques. It’s short, not a major commitment. How long the inspiration lasts depends on how much you get out of it. But on balance, workshops are great. You always learn something new and see another point of view.
TH: You’ve been involved in Laguna Beach’s infamous Festival of Arts for many years now. What do you think it is about the festival that contributes to its long-standing success?
MJ: I’ve been lucky to have been in the FOA for 13 of the past 14 years, and I am happy to say that I will be in next year also. The FOA is unique and successful because of its close association with the Pageant of the Masters. Including the other two festivals, Sawdust, and Art Affair, I think all three art festivals combine their success synergistically by supporting one another. The FOA and Pageant, with their nightly audience of over two thousand viewers every single day during the summer, is wonderful. Being a juried show has its ins and outs and we’ve almost all been “in or out “from time to time. That said, jurying keeps you serious about making the best art you can.
TH: There is much discussed belief within the creative writing world that in order to hone your skill you must write every day. Do you think the same rule applies to other art forms? How often do you work on your paintings?
MJ: I don’t think there are any set rules like “paint every day” or put in “10,000 hours,” but I have learned from a very wise person that if you “practice with purpose” you will achieve good results. The most important thing is to paint when you want to paint and don’t paint when you don’t. That way it stays fun.
I used to be more obsessive about making sure I was always working on a piece or always finishing a piece during a weekend session. But now I am a little more relaxed about it. I tend to paint very quickly, so when I am in the zone I can produce a lot of work in a relatively short time. I’m not trying to prove anything, and it’s important to me that making art remains pleasant and inspiring and diverting.
TH: You mention in your bio that your career as a landscape architect influences your art due to how much they have in common: “one is landscaping with paint on canvas, the other is painting with landscape on the land.” That is a beautiful sentiment – do you feel that there are other careers you could have gone into that might have influenced your art in the same way?
MJ: In art I actually started with sculpture, which I studied in college. Sculpture was about objects in space. The first time I ever heard of landscape architecture was when a grad student at Harvard’s GSD asked me about placing sculpture in a garden. What he was doing was learning about the space around objects. I found that this was a growing design profession rooted in the real world that encompassed aspects of design, ecology, geology, horticulture, and psychology, and that it worked in scales as large as regions and as small as backyard gardens. Not only that, but you could make a living at it! Imagine how great that sounded to a former art major. That meeting led to graduate school and a professional degree in Landscape Architecture.
I didn’t start painting seriously until 15 years later, while practicing at SWA in Laguna Beach. Also, I took another detour professionally and worked as a program manager for a science company. Since about 2000 I’ve been back to landscape architecture and painting consistently. It’s a neat kind of symmetry in that both endeavors are land based and follow fundamental precepts of design.
Of course painting doesn’t need to be about the landscape, so I imagine if I had gone into a non-design related professional field or stayed in program management, my art work would have taken a much different path. I love all kinds of art and I feel pretty comfortable doing my brand of contemporary impressionism. Maybe if I had been doing something else professionally I would have been a more conceptual artist. In any case, I believe that the need to do art was inside me and that sooner or later it was going to assert itself one way or another. I am excited to be learning something new about art all the time.
If asked, my advice would be if you have a little talent and it gives you some satisfaction, figure out a way to do the art. Do it because you want to do it. But don’t take it too seriously – after all it’s not rocket science.
Watch Mark’s painting demo at the Festival of Arts on YouTube or Vimeo.
Mark Jacobucci has drawn since he could hold a pencil. He studied painting in high school on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and attended Brandeis University for a BA and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, earning an MLA. Early influences include the painters Paul Georges, Paul Brown, and sculptor Peter Grippe, all known in the New York art scene. After receiving his Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture in 1984, Mark came to California in 1985 to work in the profession at an internationally acclaimed design firm in Laguna Beach.
He continued to sketch and draw illustratives for his design projects, then renewed his passion for art by attending life drawing sessions at the Laguna College of Art. Mark also attended painting workshops in Laguna Beach, California and the Fechin Institute in Taos, New Mexico.
Mark’s paintings are primarily landscapes: beaches and coastlines, roads, alleys, and agrarian scenes. Some pieces depict areas that have since been developed or are slated for development. These he considers historical documents. Using strong contrast, vibrant colors, and loose, spontaneous brushwork, Mark paints in the plein-air, alla prima style most often in the studio. His style has a contemporary flair which differentiates his landscapes from plein-air artists of the past who may have painted similar scenes.
He grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and has resided in Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel, California since 1985. To learn more, visit his website at: http://landpainter.com/