Regan Hayward chats with international artist, Olaf Schneider, as part of an ongoing series of candid conversations with practicing artists.
Regan: Hello everyone, welcome to Candid Conversations with Visual Artists. My name is Regan Jane Hayward, I’m an interdisciplinary curator and Executive Director for Beaux Arts Gallery in downtown Brampton. And we are currently exhibiting our Fine Art Open Juried Show which has been juried by international artist, who’s with me today—welcome, Olaf!
Olaf: Hey Regan, nice to see you again! Love being here, I just love your little gallery there, it’s just gorgeous and you’ve just moved locations, it’s even bigger, wow! So grateful to be here, thanks so much!
Regan: Oh no, it’s wonderful to have a conversation with you for our audience members and I wanted to start with, I have a few questions, naturally and I thought we’d start and share exactly where you may have started as far as your visual art career. Your interest in visual art and how it led you into the career that you’ve built today.
Olaf: Wow, colouring books. Love colouring books. I had so many colouring books, crayons, pencil crayons, pencil sharpeners, just leave—I told my brother, “I said don’t touch my stuff, this my stuff.”
And he was out playing hockey and baseball and this didn’t interest me. Way too much effort, possible injury, not interested. And I just sat home and Mom would encourage me and she thought this was just wonderful and I just felt like I was on top of the world, in my own little zone.
When I was in Grade 3 or Grade 4 I believe, we were living in a basement of this lady's house and she came down to our place quite often or Mom would go upstairs and sit with her and they’d have coffee together and one day, she was sitting there at the kitchen table doing this thing, this paint-by-number thing, where there were this group of lions and her babies and stuff and she had this brush and all these different colours and the numbers on top of the colour and you put that light brown on every number 3 there, and then you just keeping doing that. And I said, “Is that all you have to do, add that, put the—?” She says, “Yeah, yeah!” And I was like, “I wanna have one of those!”
Olaf: Then there was paint by number on black velvet and it was just phenomenal! I was a very quiet, very well-behaved kid growing up, doing that a lot.
Regan: I can see!
Olaf: And just loving it, loving it, loving it.
Regan: Awesome! So, I gotta ask, you know, it was the famous quote by Pablo Picasso who said that, “Every one of us is born an artist, the challenge is to remain one as we get older.” So how did you do that? How did you manage to remain an artist?
Olaf: I dropped out of school halfway through Grade 9 and I just wanted to stay in the arts somehow because that's where my interest was and I didn't know which direction to go. I got my first full-time job at a screen-printing company and I learned all about screen printing; it’s an artform. They hired me into the art department so I learned a little bit about the graphics and stencil cutting and stuff like that and then I moved on and so that happened for about 7 years.
I got an opportunity, there was an article in the newspaper to go work for this outdoor advertising company with the largest screen-printing press in North America. I jumped on it! With my 7 years experience, there was no way they could say no and so I got, I went for my interview and he says, “Well, you’re hired if you're willing to take this cut in pay.” ‘cause I had to tell him how much I was making where I was and he said, “Well, we’re gonna pay you half of that.” I’m like, “What!” He says, “Yeah, because you have no experience in all of this large-format stuff.”
I said, “Fine!" I'm not worried about it, I just want to learn this, because over in the corner, there was a guy that had an airbrush and he was repairing some of the mistakes that the screen-printing press was making and he was doing what they call photo retouching with an air brush and a spray gun. And I thought that’s where I’m gonna be! I already knew it, on my, on my, my um—
Olaf: Journey through the first day, he took me through the shop and I just thought I want his job and I had my eye on that. I went there, I got the job, I started working on the screen-printing press (very boring) but I would hang out over there at lunch time and I’d watch him. I’d come there on weekends and watch him and help him. I wouldn't even get paid; I would just do that, stay after work and help him and finally he sold me my very first airbrush.
Olaf: And I took it home and I would practice, I was reading from this book and I taught myself. And then I took a course at Ontario College of Art on airbrushing and I passed that, I did that. I just kept at it, kept at it, kept at it. It’s repetition, everything is repetition. Constant repetition.
Regan: And it sounds like a lot of determination, too.
Olaf: Absolutely because I didn’t like anything else! I didn’t like sports, I didn’t like woodworking, I didn’t like metal work, I didn’t like nothin’! Just painting. I see things in colour, I understand things visually, it's just that. And then with all this experience that I’ve gathered, and all the practice that I was doing at home ‘cause I wasn't able to do what I want at work, I had to do photo retouching at work, but at home, I was able to practice what I learned at work and put it all and you know, practice these things and slowly, but surely.
Regan: Interestingly enough that you mention that, having to do one thing at work and then coming home to do your own practice, I guess, your own subject matter?
Olaf: Yeah, yeah!
Regan: Ok, so fair enough. So what are your thoughts on subject matters in painting. How important is that subject matter for an artist to pick, to choose, what have you, or how, how to?
Olaf: So I was doing these paintings and they were starting to pile up. And a friend of mine and I, we went splits on a on a booth at an art show and it was my very first time exhibiting and we had our own racks and everything. And I hung up all the pictures that I had, my best ones. Never show your not-so-best ones, show your best ones.
And I had them all hanging up and I sold one, a big portrait and then I sold a small landscape painting. And there was a guy that was a few, about on the other side of the building who had them all sold before the show started. And I thought wow, how intriguing and the artists that were gossiping about him, they didn't seem real happy, they were grumbling, you know, murmuring. Wonder what he’s doing, I wonder what’s going on so I went over there and I did, I noticed he had little red sold stickers all over his painting.
And I thought, “Wow, you sold them all before the show!” He said, “Yeah, I had a show at my studio.” “Oh, no kidding!” He says, “You see that guest book there on the table?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “That’s full. I’ve been doing these shows for years. And that guest book is full, I keep up to date, I put it up on my social media, I tell people what's going on they follow me, they know what I'm doing and just two weeks before the show open, I had a show at my studio and sold them and this is a form of marketing.”
And I looked at his pictures, and they were beautiful, really nicely done and I thought, wow, take home 2 lessons: 1) stay within a subject matter that is similar and number 2) market! Market your work and keep people interested in what you’re doing. Don’t show them everything at once, show them a little bit, so if that they’re interested, they come back and they want to see more.
Regan: Right, right.
Olaf: And as far as subject matter goes, my whole vision changed after that show because I was painting race cars, I was painting portraits, I was painting still life, I was painting things that I thought were cool. I got married and, on my, on our honeymoon, we went up north to northern Ontario and I fell in love with the landscape and—never leave home without a camera! Always bring a camera, no matter what and I took pictures galore, lots of pictures.
Regan: *laughter* That’s amazing! You’re kind of, you’re leading right into my next question which was any advice for the next generation artists? So that’s wonderful, that’s all encompassing, for everyone, mhmm?
Olaf: And taking those photos and looking through them all and then draw. Draw everyday, draw your own hand, it’s right here, it’s not going anywhere. Just change positions, draw your hand once a day if not twice and draw, draw, draw. Learn your craft. Get really good at your craft. I joined a photography club and every Tuesday night, I would sit there and just be real quiet and watch the slideshow and these photographers, well-written, world-renowned photographers were going on trips, coming back and doing a show-and-tell. And they would talk about the perspective and you know, wow! So and I just watched and saw how they were doing it. Did you know a real, traditional landscape is a picture of a landscape with no human in it.
No wires, no airplane smoke, no, no telephone poles, no fence, nothing only nature. That's a true traditional—I didn't know that, but I learned it in photography!
Regan: Is that with the horizon line?
Olaf: A horizon line is just—that should be nice and straight, it should never be on an angle. And I learned that there, too. You can do a small sky, lots of landscape or a little bit of landscape and lots of sky. There’s so many things to learn from photography, they see differently. So from that takeaway, I see things differently too, but I have this foundation that I learned there. But it’s about staying green, teachable and willing to learn new things.
Regan: Staying green, open, willing and determined.
Regan: Ah! Now when you say, I just wanted to circle back, you mentioned you were painting all different subject at different parts of your career. Did you, do you now do the same or are you focused mainly on landscapes or what do you find now, of recent year?
Olaf: I still bounce around because I like doing the odd still life. I love to do portraits. I really like doing landscapes. I like to paint pictures of things that intrigue me. I can sit there, and I’ve been accused of staring, I could sit there and look and just *laughter* keep lookin’ and I feel this, this, this peace—and if that’s what I'm feeling when I'm looking at an image, then I wanna paint that.
Olaf: I have folders on my computer ‘To Paint’ and it’s, then I got another folder: ‘To Paint One of These Days’ and then another one. *Laughter*
Olaf: And it’s these images and I look at them regularly and once in a while, I take one and throw it away, ‘cause, nah, I don’t, not interested anymore. It’s just one of those things. And get it on a canvas, just get it on there. ‘Cause you’ll just have to add a little paint to it every now and again. Start in the background, work to the foreground and yeah, it's so important to keep up on that kind of thing. And I like to work on a few at a time, that way my interest is, y’know, to stay on one painting all day, every day till it’s finished is like *gasp*. But I like the variety, that keeps my inner spirit lifted and yeah.
Regan: Sounds like that's part of your creative process?
Olaf: I think so.
Regan: Ah, very good! Very good! So what are your thoughts on fine art? Y’know, we just moved through the jurying of the 13th Annual Fine Art exhibit at Beaux Arts, which we had a record number of submissions for, thanking again, any artist that submitted. It was very difficult, I know, Olaf, for you to get down to the 30 pieces that we did take. But I guess, your interpretation on fine art. There’s different, we know this, there’s abstract art and y’know, fine art. What would your interpretation be, say of both, but let's start with fine art?
Olaf: I think fine art, is this high level of skill. It’s clear to me that they’ve gone to art school, they’ve been taught anatomy, they've been taught light, shape, colour and form they've been taught perspective, they've been taught how to draw, they’ve been taught how to see things and how to execute that on paper, canvas, on board, whatever you’re working on. Fine Art. Personally, make it real. There’s detail in the detail in the detail. Always looking for more detail, what's in front, what's behind, the high level of skill and experience. Experience, that’s, yeah.
Regan: A level of skill and experience. Experience, I guess, would be demonstrated in the skill that’s reflected in the artwork itself?
Olaf: The glass looks like a glass and it has reflections and everything is just so. It’s almost photographic. But that’s just my, you asked me, so I’m telling you my perspective on that.
As far as abstract is concerned, sky's the limit. Throw the paint on, smear it off, wipe it, scrape it and attempt to represent colour, form, feeling. I like palette knife, take a palette knife and *smearing sound*. I admire palette knife painters who can do a really good job, make it look gorgeous with a little palette knife. I don't have the patience for that, I’ve tried that. I like Pointillism, Pointillism is so much fun. Take a big brush and start dabbin’ on the colour and then take a smaller brush and dab some more, and smaller and smaller and smaller. A variety of brush dabs, different colours and then when you stand you stand back, it looks like a picture. And when you get close, all these dots! It’s amazing. Pointillism is so much fun.
Regan: Sounds that way. Well, Olaf, thank you so much for this conversation.
Olaf: You’re welcome!
Regan: It’s been fun. I want to ask you, where would our viewers find you online, where can they find you?
Regan: Excellent. Thanks, Olaf and thanks everyone for tuning in to this Candid Convo with international artist Olaf and be sure to visit Beaux Arts Gallery’s 13th Annual Fine Art Exhibit, February 2nd to April 2nd.
Regan: Awesome, thanks everyone!