(L: View from the Ridge, 11×14, oil, R: Randal Tillery painting Still Free to Roam, 30×40, oil)
I’ve known as far back as I can remember that I loved art and drawing. My father was a cartoonist for his college newspaper in the early 50s. When Disneyland was opening in 1955, he had the chance to go to work there in the cartoon animation department. Unfortunately, they offered no medical benefits at that time and my mom was pregnant with me. I say all this just as a backdrop to the kind of artistic home I was raised in. I was always encouraged to be creative, and never had a Christmas or birthday that I can remember where I didn’t receive art supplies of some sort.
In high school, I did all the normal art classes and felt like I wanted to continue pursuing art in some capacity. But life doesn’t always go the way we think it might, and instead of art I decided to work on a career that I knew was more stable and able to provide for a family. I attended a yearlong electronics trade school, and upon graduation decided to join the U.S. Army. Once I returned to civilian life, I started work as a union electrical apprentice for the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Works). I had a great career as an electrician for 37 years, and retired a few years ago.
After laying around on a Saturday morning about 20 years ago — watching Bob Ross on our local PBS station — I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to pick up the brushes again and see if I can do anything good with them. I marched off to the local art supplier and bought all the Bob Ross supplies; after all, I wanted to make sure I started off right — ha! I went home excited, full of hope and dreams of painting my masterpiece. The first painting was not exactly a masterpiece, but it wasn’t so bad that I was totally destroyed. I knew it was bad, but I also knew I would get better.
My whole life has been about setting goals and achieving them. I am one of those people that once I start something I tend to jump in with both feet, go full throttle and don’t slow down or accept failure. When I was in my early 20s, I decided to take up Tae Kwon Do (Korean Martial Arts, TKO). I set a goal of black belt, trained hard and earned my first degree black belt five years later. I stayed with TKD for another ten years for a total of 15 years. During that time I had my own school for five years, and advanced to third degree black belt. I had an injury that forced me out of training for good, but a couple of years later took up rock climbing. I had taken it up as a way to cope with, and maybe overcome, my fear of heights (after first going skydiving). Once again I trained and climbed hard, and within a year was employed and guiding rock climbing trips for Outdoor Adventures at UCD in Davis, California. I did this for a few years and then decided — with that encouragement from the Bob Ross show — to put down my climbing shoes and trade them in for art brushes. I entered the art world with the same determination and tenacity as I’ve always entered everything. My goal 20 years ago, when I started with that first Bob Ross painting, was to reach the level that I could get good enough to be represented in good galleries and sell enough to supplement my retirement once I retired. I knew this would take a lot of hard work and a lot of “Brush mileage.” Without fail, barring illnesses, I have painted every day for the last 20 years. By the way, the Bob Ross stage lasted for about six months and then I knew I had to move on and progress.
Since re-entering the art world, I have been blessed to be able to take workshops with some of the finest artists out there today. Artists such as Kevin McPherson, Scott Christensen, Skip Whitcomb, Don Demers, Ovanes Berberian, Sherrie McGraw, Kathleen Dunphy and Mitch Baird, just to mention a few. I owe much of my success to the guidance and knowledge that each of these artists passed to me. I did not have luxury of attending an art school, but to say that I’m self-taught is far from the truth. In actuality, none of us are self-taught. We are all picking up on techniques passed down through generations, and modifying to fit our own unique style.
Early in my career I had the chance to go out painting en plein air (out of doors) with an excellent Lake Tahoe painter, Silvio Silvestri. That created a passion in me for painting from life; whether it’s still life, portraiture or my first love, landscape painting. Today I spend as much time in the studio as outdoors painting, but much of my large studio work is from small plein air studies. I feel it is critical to paint from life as much as possible. It is the only way that you can truly see the subtle nuances in temperature, value and color, especially in the shadowed areas.
In the last 20 years, it has been my good fortune to be represented in galleries in California, Oregon, Hawaii and New Mexico, and to have participated in many national plein air event and art shows. And even more fortunate to have won many awards at these events.
Because I am such a goal setter, I am always asking myself what my future goals are. For me at this stage of my career it is pretty easy. My goal for the future is to continue to improve and to be the very best that I can be at my craft. There was a famous painter who was once asked what his best painting was, and he answered, “My next one.” That is my goal, for each painting to be better than the last one. As serious artists, no matter what your level, you will always be pursuing and never achieving perfection.
I guess I have finally set a goal that I will never achieve… but I’ll enjoy the journey.
Randall Tillery is a nationally award winning artist who is represented by Rimrock Gallery in Prineville, Hawaiian Artisans Gallery in Kapaa, Hawaii; American Visions Gallery in Folsom, California and Brian Scott Gallery in Brookings, Oregon. His work can also be seen at Zosel/Harper Reality in Sisters.