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Q&A with Award Winner Milton Shinberg

Reflections by Milton Shinberg won the Potomac Valley Watercolorists Award in the Student/Faculty Show. (view full size)
Reflections by Milton Shinberg won the Potomac Valley Watercolorists Award in the Student/Faculty Show. (view full size)

We love the Student/Faculty Show here at The Art League because it’s our best chance to share what happens in our classrooms with the public. Students love it because they get to show off all their hard work. And visitors love it because they get to learn about our classes and see our faculty’s latest pieces.

To illustrate that point: Milton Shinberg’s watercolor painting above, Reflections, started out upside down. It was part of an exercise in Peter Ulrich’s class, The Watercolor Experience. Reflections was recognized with the the Potomac Valley Watercolorists Award in this month’s exhibit, open through this Sunday. Here’s our Q&A with the artist:

Why did you choose this piece to submit for the student show?
Milton Shinberg: I’ve accumulated quite a few paintings since starting three years ago, but from the last year in particular, this one has kept my interest especially. I actually put five paintings up on the mantel and asked my wife to help me pick one. We came up with the same answer. I liked the reflections and I liked the process that resulted in them.

What techniques, lessons, principles, etc. from your watercolor class can we see in this painting?
It all derives from the way Peter Ulrich structured the class that day. He asked us to drop any preconception for starting a new painting, and instead fairly quickly paint something non-figurative, abstract, compositionally interesting. Afterwards, he asked us to look at it different ways, perhaps rotating the image, until an idea came to mind for taking it further.

In my case, I turned it upside down and saw the outline of a scene around a small lake or pond, using the verticals as the beginnings for trees. I continued with that imaginary landscape.

The underpainting side-by-side with the (upside-down) finished painting.
The underpainting side-by-side with the (upside-down) finished painting.

People say watercolor is unforgiving, which just means you have to enjoy risk and accident. I’m trying to get there.

Why watercolor? Have you worked in other media as well?
I started drawing quite a while ago, about 60 years ago, and became an architect. I’ve enjoyed drawing, and have used pen, pencil and charcoal, but never “confronted” the challenge of watercolor painting.

For some reason, after some months of working on photographic images from a trip to India, that was the right time. A number of those photographs, with some digital assistance, actually took on some “painterly” qualities. I was looking for a way to approach that more directly, and something that I imagined required being much looser in my approach.

No surprise: I had a lot to learn, and I’ve had terrific teachers at the Art League to help me move forward. It turns out that “looser” doesn’t quite capture the idea.

What are you working on now? Are you taking any classes or planning on taking more?
I have a project in mind at my home, a large panel, probably an image from Tuscany, that can’t be done in watercolors. I thought acrylics might work, but have never done that. I’m currently taking a great class with Matt Pinney.

I’ve found that acrylics are not such a dramatic break from watercolors as I had expected. Painting seems to me to be more about painting than medium, although the techniques certainly differ with each. People say watercolor is unforgiving, which just means you have to enjoy risk and accident. I’m trying to get there.

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Did you know: The Art League's Art Camp is the longest running visual arts camp in the area! We've been here for more than 30 years! While sadly we can't find any photos from the '80s (please let us know if you have any lying around), let's take a look back at the last several years of burgeoning kid artists and eight years of fun at Art Camp!

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