Welcome to my newest blog series “Artists Chat” where I sit down with various artists in different fields. We talk about art, creativity, and all those things in between. Feel free to contact me if you are an artist and wish to be interviewed as part of this series.
“Meet Bradley Tyler Wilson, painter, artist, teacher. Bradley’s Fearless Painting class transformed my life and understanding of myself as artist in the summer 2017. We haven’t talked since then, so it was exciting to reconnect, catch up, and talk about art making.
In July 2017, I embarked on a journey to the mountains of North Carolina to visit John C. Campbell Folk School and to have an art adventure. I had heard of the school for a number of years, and it was on my bucket list of places to check out. I didn’t really know what to expect. At that time in my creative career, I didn’t call myself an artist. I was just a dabbler, and the experience promised to be a nice change of pace – a vacation to play with paint, and see what happened.
I didn’t know that by embarking on this adventure, that my creative life would change. But change it did – all in good ways.
My instructor for the week in the mountains was the artist – Bradley Tyler Wilson.
We kept in touch over the years through social media. Recently, I asked Bradley if he’s want touch base in person, catch up, and chat about art (or whatever…). He said “yes” and the rest, as they say, is history.
After catching up with another about our lives the past few years, our conversation turned to Bradley’s early influences and intuitive painting.
Rinnie: You had artistic leanings early on, right? At an early age?
Bradley: Well, when I was 14, a freshman in high school. I took an art class and had a great teacher. And I ended up taking art all four years of high school. I had a great teacher. His name was Bud Ellis. And I had another teacher, Lolly Durant. And so from a young age – I knew that art was what I was interested in, and that I was really not good for anything else. I was not really a good student.
I loved art and shop where you could go in and actually make things, but I was not really into the advanced Math and English classes. I just wasn’t really a good student, except for art, because I was not really interested. Not that I was an idiot – I just probably acted like one. But I just didn’t like sitting in a classroom being a passive learner.
Then, I went to college and majored in painting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I got my bachelor’s degree, and then I didn’t know what I wanted to do, even then I never really wanted a career. So I applied to grad school to have a few more years to paint and postpone adulthood. One school offered a full scholarship, the University of Mississippi. So I went to Oxford, Mississippi, which is a very unique place, you know, in the middle of nowhere, but I liked it. I had a great professor there and got my Masters.
When I got out, I was 26. Eventually, I did go back to college, just to take some classes to get certified to teach high school. I taught elementary and high school for a little bit. Now I teach college – I don’t really work. I’m a contract worker, not a full time employee at either of the schools I teach at. I’m just an adjunct, which means I get paid per class. The jobs are very consistent and I’ve had them both for years. I think of them as gigs. I have those teaching gigs. I also have the Campbell folk school, and do some online stuff. I sell stuff…so I have lots of eggs in lots of baskets…I guess….to eke out a living.
TEACHING AND PROCESS
What is the difference between teaching kids as opposed to adults?
That’s a really good question. I like all the age groups. With kids, it’s a little bit “less is more” When I was teaching elementary school, I would have 30 to 35 kids in the classroom. I still work with kids every now and then with different projects. I really liked them. In a lot of cases they are more open. They haven’t really developed self-imposed blocks as to why they can’t paint or draw.
Then with high school students, you get about 5% that are all in – they just love it, they just want to do whatever you say – they just want to go all in. And then about 5% – no matter what you say – just flat out refuse. The other 90% are in the middle, and you can kind of get them to do what you want them to do.
Adults are usually in their second act. They’ve retired from a career or maybe their kids are raised already. A lot of them go into it very seriously. And by seriously, I mean, they’re really committing to learning and it usually ends up being a positive experience. The adults I work with are generally seem very open and excited about learning.
And that’s what I think about you – you were very much that way.
Yeah, it’s interesting, though when I met you – I was not at the stage where I felt I was an artist. I had been doing art for consistently 7 or 8 years before I met you. I was a late bloomer, didn’t start until I was in my mid-30’s. I had bought a house with empty walls, and wanted to put up some art. So I took a couple class. I didn’t go into that saying I wanted to be an artist.
It certainly wasn’t my intention to become an “artist” when I met you. Somebody had told me to check out John C. Campbell Folk School, so it was on my bucket list of things to do.
And then I don’t know – maybe it was just the right teacher, the right class, at the right time. The class I took from you was Fearless Painting. I was reflecting on it the other day, you know. The whole week and experience was really weird – I just got into a groove and couldn’t stop painting. Even while others were connecting and making friends, I just kind of kept to myself and just painted. After dinner, while others were hanging out, I would go back to the studio and keep painting.
I think about that experience all the time, even after all these years. It was that profound. And then – when I left the mountains and was driving home, I got caught in a rainstorm outside Asheville, and it was hailing. All the cars were pulling over the side of the road. And when I pulled over, I just started crying. There wasn’t anything I could do, so I’m in the car, in the hail and I’m sobbing.
And I’m like “Why do I have so much emotion?” There was this overall feeling inside that something had changed, but I didn’t know what. Then I got home, and people wanted to see the art I’d made while I was there, so I had a little art show at my house. Then I just started producing a lot, and began to feel more comfortable showing my stuff – hanging it up at work.
A friend of mine began to tell me that I was on a totally different level. Yet even after that experience, and hearing that feedback – it still seemed like it still took a couple of years before I could say, you know, I’m an artist. I feel like I grew into that and don’t even know when I began to think of myself as an artist. And now, when people say, what do you do…I’m like, “Well, I work for this company. But mostly, I’m an artist.”
It’s a scary thing to tell people, because it invites so many questions. You’ve got to be willing and interested to talk about it. I’m glad you’re at that point. I don’t even know that I’m at that point yet.
I don’t think I refer or think of myself as an artist. I just say, “I just say I’m a paint pusher” or whatever.
Why do you think that is? You’ve been doing art your whole life?
Yes, I have. I don’t know. I think “I’m just a painter.” I guess I am an artist, but I don’t really think about it. But if I’m introducing myself, I generally just say “I’m a painter.”
But then they’re gonna think that you paint houses, you know, interior/exterior houses or something….
Yeah, sometimes that happens. And I just go with it. So…
You know, I think and maybe you’re this way. Despite the fact that I teach, which involves working with people and interacting with people – and I love doing it – I really am very much an introvert. I can’t get too much time alone or being just at home, you know. Then again, teaching is one of those things that I have found to be very energizing, even though I am interacting with people. I just love working with my students.
But then sometimes talking at something like an art show – where you’re the artist and talking with people about your work – is just exhausting.
I think I get that. It’s hard to explain the intuitive painting process, because it’s so intuitive. It’s so personal – and comes from a deep place inside that it’s hard to talk about the process. You’re an intuitive painter versus a highly technical painter with step-by-step instruction.
I think your painting style is probably more intuitive where you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to put all the colors on the canvas and then see what emerges from that.” You try to explain that to people sometimes. I was working with a friend of mine, she wanted to paint. And she’s like “I can’t do what you’re doing, you have to give me a picture, or you have to give me some kind of like, you know, step-by- step instruction.” –
And another friend of mine was teaching an art class and it was like the whole wine and paint parties, where somebody is saying, “Okay, put this color on this spot, and make this shape and so on.” Everyone is making the same picture. It was a bit painful for me. I just want to play.
I agree. I’m definitely an intuitive painter. And going back to that introvert thing, I can’t really be around others even when I’m painting. I can’t listen to music if it has words, or audio books, or anything that has somebody speaking or talking. It’s very distracting to the process.
But I’ve also figured out a way to combine both having an idea and combining it with that intuitive process. I guess it’s part of a spectrum. Sometimes I am a little bit more planned or have some idea in my head what I’m going for. And at other times, I’m winging it and see what happens. I do like to be surprised when I paint. The more I figure out up front, the less surprised I’m going to be.
So, yeah, there are ways you can kind of do both.
I will take canvases, throw colors, paint, shapes onto them and not think about what I’m doing. This weekend, I pulled one of these out because I woke up thinking, “Oh, I want it to be a cityscape.” And now I’m working on it, but it’s been sitting maybe three months in the studio, staring at me. Once in a while I’d think “what am I going to do with you?” It’s just sitting there and the intuition is festering. Nothing is forced.
And now, as I’m working it, it’s gorgeous and beautiful. And I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done. But you know, last week, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it.
That’s a great point. I think the period between just putting some marks down, some shapes and colors, and then just letting it sit on the canvas and also sit in your mind. And then, like you said, you could just wake up one morning, or you could be driving, or getting out of the shower and you think “I know what to do with that painting.” That to me is the surprise. That’s way more exciting than trying to figure out all this stuff up front and then just kind of executing it. I know painters who are like that, and I know you know this, but it’s just one way. It’s not better than another. Different painters paint different ways, and different students look for ways so.
That’s part of the mystery of the journey that’s really exciting – that art really isn’t about that finished painting. It’s about the process, the journey of it, and the conversation that builds around it once a piece is “finished.” When I’m done – it’s done. I’m ready to move on to the next piece because art is “the doing of it”. That’s the fun part.
I totally get it. I agree – that’s why this commission I’m working couldn’t be a more exciting subject. It’s an African elephant. It’s big, but I already know what the composition is going to be. I know the color scheme. It’ll be a different type of process. It won’t be as exciting as the intuitive process. But then again, it also comes with a certain paycheck, you know?
And that’s important. We have to feed our habit.
Exactly. And sometimes you can sell the things that are totally intuitive.
And these things I’ve been doing lately, they have been selling pretty well, which is exciting, because I see all kinds of potential and future possibilities for ways to kind of grow in that thing.
…and this is with the collage paper?
It just started because I had an idea to do some collage and a painting. I would just kind of add bits and pieces of paper to it. Then I started covering the whole canvas with collage, almost like a patchwork, like I do with paint. And that was with pre-printed commercial scrapbook paper,
I like that paper, but I’m also combining it with my own collage paper that I make.
Do you just take paper and add colors to it yourself, and then glue it on your canvas?
I just bought a big ream of Blick sulfide, white drawing paper. And I’ll just put paint on it, push paint around, get little tools and scratch into it and make marks on it. So again, approaching it as play is what really interests me and keeps me coming back.
Do you ever have pieces that you just hate? You know, what do you end up doing with those pieces? Or maybe not? Maybe you like them all?
No, I wouldn’t say I liked them all. I definitely have pieces that I have no problem with painting over. If it’s just not working for me – there’s all kinds of ways I can go into it – add collage stuff on top, make random marks on top, or simply turn the canvas in a different direction and try to see something different.
Or just gesso it and start all over again?
Yeah…no art piece is sacred. However sometimes you do have, what I refer to, as a “Cursed Canvas.” You might have six, seven or ten paintings on top of each other, and you just can’t get anything off that canvas. That’s when I either have to chunk the canvas. I would say probably at this point at least a fourth of everything I do is painted over.
I feel like a lot of my work right now is like breaking the fourth wall. I’m leaving a lot of the under work in the finished product. I’m looking at a cliff seascape that I did, where you’ve got the cliffs and the water – it’s very defined. When you look up to the sky, though, it has the patchwork from the under painting in it. So I’ve got this blue sky, but then there’s this orange and red and yellow patchwork layered into the painting.
Oh, yeah, I think that can really help the piece. You end up painting a lot of your piece almost accidentally. What becomes of the finished piece or part of the finished piece is nothing you consciously decided it was going to be. It’s just these accidental shapes coming together in a way that really works. That’s the fun part to me and it’s really exciting – getting genuinely surprised.
What do you say to somebody if they said to you, “I can’t do that. I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
You know, I have students who’ve said that “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” I just usually try to deflect it by saying something silly. Because – a lot of times – I don’t think they really mean it. What they are saying is “I don’t have confidence.” They are putting themselves down before they even start. That way, they can go ahead and just be disappointed from the start.
So if someone says that, I usually try not to give it too much oxygen. But if I genuinely do see someone who’s working and getting frustrated, and seems to be really stuck, and I can feel the tension building, then I will go and talk to them and get them out of that hole they’re in.
Yeah. That comes from overthinking, I think. And where your energy is focused on – the finished product – and not on the process. That’s why I think I was so frustrated with everything I did in my early days. Because I was focused on the finished product, not the process, which is where the fun is.
I always call my inner critic “the jackass.”
“Oh, that’s just the jackass talking.” Then I can usually laugh and move forward.
Yeah, we are jackasses. That’s true.
On that note…
I hope you can get something halfway useful out of this conversation.
I do appreciate it. It is good to see you again. I look forward to your class in March.
Have a good rest of your day and take care.
Do you call yourself an “artist”? Why or why not? I’d love to know.
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