Clive R. Tyler
By Tom Zeit
from Pastel Journal Magazine Feb. 2008
Painting en plein air is clearly Clive R. Tyler’s passion, but otherwise it can be a little difficult to pin him down as an artist. He primarily paints landscapes, but there are also a lot of wild animals in his paintings. This is a circumstance beyond his control—when he’s painting outdoors, animals just tend to show up, becoming a part of the landscape. He feels it would be dishonest to leave them out.
“Someone once told me it’s an ‘environment’ style of painting,” Tyler says. “The landscape is there, and when the animals appear, I have to ask myself: Am I really just painting a stream, or am I painting a whole experience of something that’s happening in the world, something that happens all the time and nobody gets to see it? So, I incorporate the animals because they’re what’s really there.”
“Environment painter” is a title that suits Tyler’s drive to immerse himself in his locales so that he can represent them as best he can. The Ft. Collins, Colo., resident paints outdoors as much as possible. “I have to be there; then I can paint,” he says. Even his larger pieces, done in the studio, are based on his plein air painting experiences.
More of a Good Thing
According to Tyler, his paintings aren’t literal. “I’m trying to recreate the experience I had, personally, when I was outside. It’s more about the emotional state, or something that seemed new to me even though I’ve probably seen it all my life,” he says. His style is realistic, but only up to a point; he uses a subtle but exciting combination of sharp, clean edges and loose, painterly passages. “I only represent my subjects to a certain level,” he says, “I deliberately don’t finish them off because I don’t want to deny the viewer his or her imagination. When viewers come up to the painting, it’s there but it’s not all there, so they get to think about what they see, open up their minds a little bit and really get involved.”
Tyler finds that one of the most effective ways to get the most out of a subject—and really represent the environment— is to paint in a series. For example, he recently painted about 15 different scenes from the headwaters of the Colorado River, each one informing the next and exploring a different aspect of the landscape. “I really fell in love with that area,” he says. “There are so many wonderful design elements there to work with to create a painting, like the way the river wriggles through the trees next to these wide open spaces. And so many painting challenges, like painting green on green on green.”
Tyler uses the series as a means of exploring the concept in as many different ways as he can: at different times of the day, from different angles and with different sizes and orientations. “I just keep asking: What else can I do with this?” he says. “Usually, it’s when I’m pushing myself like this that I hit on the one painting, that gem that makes me say, ‘Wow, that really works.’”
The largest painting Tyler has ever executed is about 29×40 inches. It’s a scene near Aspen, Colo., that he spent almost a year painting because he felt he had to incorporate, in the painting, all of the work he’d done leading up to that point. “I did some plein air river studies, and then I worked them up to 16×20 inches, and then I thought that there were such good dynamic qualities to the scene that I could tell the story a little bit better if it were larger. All of this was a part of that final painting,” he says.
How It’s Done
Tyler occasionally paints in oils, but he prefers working in pastel, and all of his plein air pieces begin with a number of different ideas that he works out in a sketchbook. He sometimes does a very detailed drawing on buff-colored paper, and then uses an underpainting process somewhat like that of an oil or watercolor painter. Rather than using a wash, he puts down fields of lightly applied color that establish the right values and temperatures.
“Often, other pastelists are intrigued by how I lay the pastel down,” he says. “I just swipe it in. It’s not so much a drawing technique; I just place it there and let it be. It helps create a feeling of movement, and a more emotional painting.” One of Tyler’s maxims is to go light. “I only go heavy near the end,” he says, “Or, if I need to cover something up, make a statement or create a sharp edge. I’ve like glazing, where you let the other colors shine through by not covering them up all the way.” He uses only Sennelier pastels and cherishes the way he’s gotten to know their characteristics, such as the difference in hardness and feel among the colors.
“Some people have said that at first they thought my paintings were photographs,” Tyler says. “A lot of artists don’t want to hear that, but I take it as a compliment because it means they connected with the painting, and it gave them a picture in their heads. At that point, I usually walk them right up to the painting and show them how loose and abstract it is up close.” As he paints, Tyler steps back constantly, first to just a few feet away and then farther back, to see what effect his strokes have had at each viewing distance.
Starting With Design
Tyler has had a successful career as a graphic designer, and he’s been surprised by how much that experience has informed his painting. “Being a designer allowed me to be constantly creative,” he says. “I know it’s a cliché, but I always had to think outside the box and find some new way of doing things, whether it was coming up with a product or a way to package something or an identity for a company. I’d start with the typical view, and then find a way to look at it a little differently. That’s exactly what I do with my painting.”
In his journey from his design career to fine art, Tyler began taking workshops with such teachers as Lorenzo Chavez (see page 00) and Skip Whitcomb at the Loveland Art Academy. Although he’d studied art along with graphic design in college, he hadn’t painted much since, and he adopted the pastel medium mostly because someone gave him a pastel set for Christmas that year. Also, he had confidence in his drawing skills and liked the suggestion of drawing in the use of pastel sticks.
For Tyler, a strong composition is of utmost importance to a painting, so he carefully considers choices like an S-curve or a “U” shape or a tunnel. He says he’s read Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting (DeRu’s Fine Arts), originally published in 1941, four or five times, cover to cover. “That’s the designer in me,” he says. “I wanted to know what other artists had worked out over the centuries, not mathematically, but things such as pleasing concepts of shape and space. Although it can be a hard read, that’s really a great book, and it led me to try all sorts of compositions for my paintings.”
Tyler and a friend are scheduled for a trip to Thailand, working with an orphanage to do painting demos and some teaching, and it has him thinking a lot about portraits lately. “I used to paint figures a lot, and it would be a nice break from landscapes,” he says. But he’s not a multi-tasker when it comes to subject matter and he’s enjoying landscapes too much to quit. “I almost feel that if I started doing portraits, I’d give up doing landscapes and become a portrait artist,” he says, “because I get really passionate about my subjects and want to stay with them. I’m still in love with landscapes, and I’ve decided that it’s all about being outside. As a kid, I’d take a walk in the woods or go play away from the house just to be in the wilderness. That’s where my love is, so that’s where my art is.”
Tyler’s work has become rapidly more popular, and he’s noticed his work changing in recent years as his artistic growth accelerates. It’s become more colorful, more dynamic and allaround gutsier. “When I first started it was almost timid,” he says. “A much softer approach to things. I think that has to do with confidence and where you are in life, because I don’t know if you can really control your style in the early stages.”
Now he sees as work as part of an effort to expand the artistic possibilities and the stature of the pastel medium, and he feels he’s not alone in this ambition. “True realism has been mostly done in oil,” he says, “but taking pastel and using it to create a whole new feeling, getting beyond the soft, Easter-color look that most people consider pastel, and using black and dark purples and blues and the full range of values that show the true richness of the material itself—that’s what I’m exploring now.”
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- How Plain is Your Air? (bongodogblog.com)
- California Art Club to Present a Winter Art Symposium in San Francisco to Address How Artists Can Enhance Both their Paintings and the Market for their Work (prweb.com)
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