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About the Artist — Ken Richards

Where Do You Find Inspiration?

I am looking all of the time. When I am lucky, it hits me suddenly and completely. Something catches my eye, and my brain starts working—making connections, and then strategies begin to suggest themselves. I sit back, draw and make notes. It could be anything that grabs my interest. 

Sometimes I see planes of color. Sometimes a repeating motif shows itself almost like a musical rhythm. Motion pulls my attention, as do odd juxtapositions like a tractor in a forest or a telephone booth in the prairie. Other times I set out to ‘be creative.’ I start looking intensely at things around me, and visual suggestions start coming. 


Who Are Your Biggest Artistic Influences? 

Van Gogh was the first artist I was aware of. When I was about 9, my mother took my brother, my sister, and me to the Cleveland Museum of Art, where there was a Van Gogh exhibit. I stood in front of the ‘Potato Eaters’ for quite some time.

The whole show shook me. My mother had no money back then but bought a calendar with prints of his paintings. We each got to choose one, and she put them on colored construction paper ‘frames,’ and we got to hang them over our beds. I chose one of his bedroom paintings. The bed reminded me of my bed. 

When I first set out to paint, I was 38—quite late. I had always drawn with pen and ink or pencils but never tried to paint. When I went to Mykonos, Greece, I was inspired by the artist friends I had made and the overwhelming colors and light. I bought some paints and copied a Van Gogh painting to learn about color, mixing colors, etc. I enjoyed it tremendously.

I started reading art criticism and philosophy and attending all significant exhibitions in Boston, New York, and Washington. That was my art school. Monet blew me away. He was and still is magic. I always give him a look before I start a session. I don’t copy him, but I get inspiration from his choice of colors and his sense of play and adventure.

I like Picasso and Matisse very much. I also give them a look reasonably often. Both were so creative and vibrant. They also had fun. Those are my main influences, but Hopper, Wyeth, Dali, and Bonnard are favorites. I could go on. 


What Do You Do When You Are Not Inspired?

When I am not "inspired," I work. I paint until I know whether the day is a waste of time, at least for an hour or so. If it is not coming together by then, I do business stuff and then try again. Sometimes, it feels like I have forgotten how to paint. I keep going. I love it, but it is also a calling and a business. I cannot sit around waiting for inspiration. I go to the studio almost every day. I always have something going on. There is usually a painting waiting to be painted. Inspiration is overrated. I make my own inspiration. 


How Do You Know When a Piece Is Done?

That is a great question. Over half of the successful painting lies in knowing when it is done. I have to pay attention. At the end of the painting, I often paint just a little and then leave it for half to a full day. I come back and take a quick glance. If nothing sticks out as needing work, I look hard. If I don’t feel the need to paint anymore, I leave it for a few days and come back. Sometimes the painting says it’s done. Other times it says hey, look over here—you missed something. It takes time and patience. 

What Is Your Favorite Part of the Creative Process?

It’s like magic. I like when the painting starts coming together, and the solutions to problems that arise rapidly present themselves seamlessly. It is almost like being in a trance or a dance. Also, I like doing the finishing touches. Sometimes a brush stroke here and there pulls the whole thing together. A painting can be a disaster until it’s not, and when that magic starts, it is pretty satisfying. 

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