Bill Hamilton is a gentleman. Educated, chivalrous, he is soft spoken in his speech but lively and animated in his retellings. His eyes light up when asked to recall his favorite painting, of which a portrait of his wife Evelyn, at age 30, is treasured. But it is most everything else about Bill that makes up his old-world charm and that makes one drawn to his well-mannered and calm demeanor. He is grounded and intelligent. When he speaks, his thoughts are considerate, well thought out and meaningful, without any airs.
Bill chuckles as he offers me what is clearly his favorite seat in his bright Tumalo studio which is full of his works – past and present. He reclines in the chair, a handcrafted, log style, Adirondack that he amassed when he made some trades for it in Fort Bragg, California. It’s something that you would expect to find in the old wild west, in an isolated cabin. A piece of pelt fur, draped, makes for his cushioning. The chair, in a way, represents the medley between Bill the man, and Bill the artist. Artistic and logical. This is evident in his career spent as a technical illustrator for aerospace engineering firms.
Bill begins, “I am a realist… I’m always trying to get away from detail and simplify, letting the basic shapes tell the story. Working as a technical illustrator has imprinted ‘detail’ on my brain [and] my initial goal as an artist has not changed in the 55 years that I have been painting.”
When asked what that goal is, he simply replies, “To be able to paint any subject, in any light, and not to get stuck in a box painting only a few subjects.”
When examining his paintings, the devout attention to light and the way it illuminates its subjects is clear. A landscape, painted from Tam MacArthur Rim, draws the eye immediately to the peaks of the Cascade mountain range due to the way the light softly falls and surrounds it, almost like a halo. Bill is deeply engrained in spiritual life and maybe this facet has unknowingly influenced his paintings, although apart from the Cascade A&E cover art, his works mostly do not have religious themes. They are of landscapes, birds, florals, coastal scenes and a few portraits. When asked why he doesn’t paint people more, he bursts out laughing and says, “If you’re off a bit on a tree, not a big deal, but if you’re off a bit on a nose…well… I’d rather stick to trees.”
His favorite paintings are outdoor landscapes and he attributes this to growing up on state forestry land, surrounded by nature. “Outdoor activities always keep a constant flow of scenes before me to paint. I have files of sketches and photos ready to be painted and new ideas keep coming. I’ll never get to all of them. Many times, I will paint in series—say three or four mountain scenes and then move on to another subject.”
His style has been influenced by many things, namely the California Impressionists in which he notes has helped him pay less attention to detail, and more on light and shape. He is a fan of geometry and focuses on it everywhere, an attribute that worked well in his career studying blueprints and 3D drawings. Although he notes that a big influence occurred when he was first starting out, fellow artists kept repeating quotes from a specific book. The book, by Maitland Graves, Art of Color and Design now printed nearly 65 years ago, still rings true on essential design fundamentals and speaks of eight principles.
These have shaped his work throughout the years, and what celebrated work was once “a happy accident,” knowing these principles have let his innate sense of design be honed. It has evolved due to this fundamental knowledge, and we speak at length about the idea that most artists have that ingrained design sense, but need the education, the practice, the time, to perfect it.
And his way of painting is indeed, very perfected, set out in three stages approached in a somewhat technical way.
“I do some thumbnail sketches for composition. Mostly these are from photos I have taken or ideas I have jotted down on a note pad that is always with me. I always work out the basic shapes and arrangement of space…[and] I’ll either freehand that compositional sketch… or if it’s a real large canvas and a complicated subject, I’ll project the sketch to get the basic shapes positioned right. Getting that beginning composition right has become critical to how I paint these days.”
He continues, “I begin to block in the entire painting concentrating more on the dark and light values than on the color. Once the shapes and values are blocked in, without any detail, I look at it from a distance—20 to 30 feet. If it doesn’t look ‘right,’ I go back to modifying those shapes, sizes, values and colors before I will proceed to do any finishing.
“Now I begin finishing the painting by modifying the values and colors within the original basic shapes, some edges are softened some hardened, warm and cool colors are modified to create the distance and light emphasis that I want. Color and values around the center of interest are modified. Then the painting is set against the wall for a fresh look the next day.”
These finished works of art are currently displayed at the Artists Gallery in Sunriver, and one can even find Bill finishing up a painting there on some days. Having been retired for several years, he spends his days enjoying the recreational activities of the area, road tripping with his wife and teaching bible study and art to kids. “Once they start to get it, it’s like hitting a neat note. You get to just let them go and watch them have fun. It’s important to facilitate that learning and expression.” A great artist, passing along a wealth of knowledge, Bill Hamilton, always the humble gentleman he ends with,” few artists become successful overnight. Art is a life-long learning process and none of us will ever stop learning and perfecting our art. We change as people and our art changes—and that is a very cool blessing!”
“We have artists that blow and sculpt glass, combine glass, metal and wood…fuse glass both to wear as jewelry or for table and wall décor. Our jewelry artists are exceptional and versatile. Our stained-glass artist works with a variety of subjects, colors and sizes. We have artists who paint using pastel, watercolor, acrylic and oil. We have very creative potters, gourd artists, woodworkers and photographers. Our fabric artists create items to wear and for wall hangings. So often we hear the comment, this is a fun place to buy art because the variety, quality and prices are great—it’s just a fun place. “