Talented watercolor artist Ronald Pratt started painting while he was in college studying architecture. “I was looking for an elective class in art that would help me improve my presentation skills in architecture,” says Ronald. There was an opening in a beginning watercolor class, so he signed up. “I liked the beauty of a good watercolor painting and the challenge it presented when I discovered it was much harder than it looked. Never in my wildest dreams at that time did I imagine 35 years later it would be my profession.” After finishing school, Ronald only painted in the evenings and on weekends as a hobby. Eventually, he left architecture to paint fulltime.
For Ronald, the people who have influenced him the most in his artistic journey have been some of his watercolor teachers and workshop instructors. “They are the ones who helped me with the transition from watching the magic of someone else being able to paint, to being able to create that magic myself, says Ronald. In particular, Ronald cites Robert Reynolds, Tom Lynch, Ron Ranson, and Zoltan Zabo as key mentors who taught him not only about painting, but how to make a living as a painter.
Ronald points out that art academia focuses on teaching the skills—but what you do with those skills is equally as important. Ronald remembers that when he decided to make the switch from architecture to art, a lot of friends and family members were surprised. “Architecture was a glamour field, and the art world had a lot starving artists. It was interesting to watch people’s reaction to that decision,” says Ronald. “Some thought I was crazy. Some said, ‘You have to chase your dreams.’ But it was my wife who said that I should go for it. Her only caveat was that I only get one midlife crisis, this is it, and so I better make it work. Thirty-five years later she still insists I’m in my midlife crisis.”
Like most artists, Ronald doesn’t restrict himself to one medium, although watercolor painting is definitely his favorite. He also likes to work in pottery as a three-dimensional alternative. “I think having to think and design three-dimensionally really helps improve the depth and perspective aspects of my paintings,” says Ronald. “Even though watercolor painting is a two-dimensional medium on paper, the sense of depth one achieves leads directly to the success of a painting.” Ronald also enjoys the tactile nature of clay, so sculpting and wheel throwing stimulate other aspects of the senses. Ronald sometimes works in pencil, colored pencil, gouache, and oil and has recently begun to dabble in acrylic as well. “ Ibelieve all mediums interrelate in ways and stimulate your work in other mediums,” says Ronald.
For Ronald, the most enjoyable aspect of watercolor painting is the process—he doesn’t have a favorite subject, but likes to paint everything.
“I do seem to gravitate more to nature for my subject matter,” says Ronald. “Landscapes,seascapes, florals, and cityscapes all excite me.”
Color is the most exciting element of painting for Ronald. “I can be walking outside and observe the splash of color in a garden, or the subtle nuances of color in the foothills, or the marvelous colors in a fleeting sunset, and get charged up,” Ronald says. “Because I get so excited over color, I try to infuse my paintings with strong, vivid colors that make the painting come alive.” Traditional watercolor paintings tend to use soft pastels and leave large areas of white paper—but that isn’t Ronald’s style. He fills the paper with rich, intense color and strong value contrast to breathe energy into a piece, a style that is more common in acrylics or oils. “With the quality of lightfast paints being produced by manufacturers today, this style is not only available to the watercolorist, but is highly relevant in our society, where people are looking for art that makes a statement on a wall, instead of blending into the background,” says Ronald.
Ronald’s new book book, Watercolor: Seasons just came out this year. The easy-to-follow step-by-step projects are full of color and life—a perfect example of Ronald’s vibrant work. Click here to learn more about this fun, instructional book.
With his background in architecture, Ronald’s early paintings were primarily architectural illustrations that were crisp and controlled to show exact details in building and structures. As he painted more and got away from his background, however, Ronald started to loosen up and realize that painting is more the art of expression and exaggeration than the art of exactness. “I realized that if I was going to compete with the photorealism of a camera, the camera would win every time! This freed me up to look for mood or sense of place and try to depict that, rather than the exactness of a scene.”
As most artists know, the dreaded “artist block” hits everyone at some time. It isn’t possible to stay motivated and charged up all the time. Ronald finds that when motivation and inspiration is lacking, sometimes a break from art is what is needed. “I love outdoor sports. The enjoyment of swimming, hiking, camping, and golfing all seem to keep a balance in my life and get me out of the studio and into nature. When I get back to the studio, I seem to be more focused and recharged for painting,” says Ronald. Another tactic is to just start. “I tell my students that the hardest part about painting is getting started. If I’m procrastinating on getting started, I take a small kitchen timer and set it for one hour. I tell myself I can always just paint for one hour and then go on to something else. Usually when the timer goes off, I just keep on painting because I’m into what I’m doing. The hard part now is stopping.”
For artists who are just starting out, Ronald would first tell them to have fun with what they are doing. “Too often, artists who truly enjoy creating art lose sight of that joy after the initial rush wears off. Try to keep that sense of awe at what you create and look at the world as if through the eyes of a child,” says Ronald. He also suggests being willing to experiment and challenge oneself with new projects and directions. “Don’t play it safe. After all, it’s only paper and paint. Remember we get to say oops! You don’t want your doctor, dentist, attorney, or mechanic saying oops, but we’re artists, and we can! Have fun with it!”
To see more of Ronald’s artwork, visit www.ronaldpratt.com.