Featured Artist: Shea Spina
We sat down behind our computer and had an online interview with a very talented and humble artist from the States who agreed to be our First Featured Artist Truly one of the most creative and open minded artists We've come across which give us the pleasure of bringing to you Mr. Shea Spina
Bod: Mr. Shea Spina, How are you?
Shea: Doing good man, thanks for having me on.
Bod: its our pleasure, It says here you’re from Seattle and New Mexico, is that to do with work or just personal matters?
Shea: A bit of both I suppose. My wife & I moved to Seattle for work a couple of years ago. The area certainly has it's upsides, but Ican't shake the desert rat in me. Despite being here for a while now, we're still occasionally scheming on ways to eventually move back. It's just that damn chile, it calls for you in your sleep.
Bod: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Where are you originally from? How do you get started with art and how did you up where you are at the moment?
Shea: I'm originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, a little college town just north of El Paso, Tx. Outside of a year or so in Albuquerque, & then the past few years here in Seattle, I lived there basically all my life. I originally got started with drawing when I was about 6. My step father taught me a few basic perspective techniques & shading & stuff like that. I think he probably figured the busier I was drawing the less I was running around the house pretending to be a ninja and breaking all his stuff, he was probably right. I generally just copied drawings from comic books through middle/high school when I had a couple art classes. In early High school I did a few drawings for a local model photographer. I can't recall his name, it was a pretty cool gig at the time though, I think I was about 13 or 14? I think actually a couple of those drawings are in my IG feed, they're probably buried a bit deep though. Beyond that I didn't do much artwork for quite a long time. It just didn't seem realistic from my perspective at the time that making a living as an artist was a realistic option, certainly not doing the type of work I was interested in. Back then, it still seemed like everything was dominated by heavily abstracted work, or in the local scene....paintings of the mountains, neither of which interested me at all. As a result, I decided to focus on architecture, & worked in that industry as a draftsman for about 12 years or so. Gradually, I started spending more time as a rendering artist & less time as a draftsman, & these days that's still pretty much what I do for a day job. Of course, that's where I got involved with doing a lot of cg/3d work, as pretty much it's all the same tools as game & film industries. Naturally, when I found myself spending my work days rendering buildings, I wanted to spend my own time exploring other things, & started doing characters & getting into the sculpting tools like Zbrush & Mudbox. This of course led into more constructive study of anatomy, which has also helped quite a bit on the drawing side. Towards the tail end of all that is couple years ago when I started to get into painting. I still occasionally jump on Zbrush to sculpt something & make sure I haven't forgotten too much, but these days I'm trying to put as much time as I can into painting. In hindsight, I've found it interesting that I almost unconsciously came full circle back to just making artwork. Basically it took me 15 years to figure out I'd rather spend my time doing what I was doing 15 years ago.
Bod: Your education in art (self, classical or both) has had some kind of impact with yourself today, any pros and cons of what you’ve learned in the past when you were starting and now?
Shea: Well, outside of basic classes growing up I don't really have much formal training in drawing/painting, but I definitely draw on my experience with both drafting & rendering quite a lot. Spending several years doing cg work was really useful in teaching me how to think about why things look the way they do. 3d work is much different than drawing painting in the sense that you're building shaders more so than matching color or value. You have to essentially build each material so that it attempts to replicate it's real world behavior, so it looks correct in any lighting situation. Back when I smoked, I would basically spend my breaks outside staring at tree leaves, or concrete, whatever, and think about the nuts & bolts of how different materials behave in the light. Some other benefits from my work experience was a good sense of proportion & space, composition, & a decent ability to visualize. On the con side, I've actually found drawing much more difficult than sculpting. I think as a result of just spending so much time working 3 dimensionally, I'm still way more comfortable with it than drawing. Sculpting something feels much more intuitive, I can just sit there and do it. Where as with drawing, I'm having to abstract the form into a 2 dimensional illusion of the form, instead of just making the form. I have to put a lot more thought into it.
Bod: From using oils and digital formats as well, How did you make the transition from physical to digital programs such as Z Brush, what do you find you like and struggle with on both?
Shea: I think a lot the above explains a fair bit of it. It certainly didn't happen over night. There's definitely strong advantages and disadvantages to both. With a small number of tools being the exception, doing work on the computer is very mathematical. I spent a few years freelance designing homes, & I would do all my initial design work by hand. You can't just 'start drawing whatever' in autocad (typical program used for drafting work), everything has to be a certain distance or length etc. So when designing an initial layout, I'm simply concerned with general proportions etc., so it was far more intuitive & efficient to do it by hand. On the flip side, drafting all the final drawings is 100 times faster using the digital tools. Generally, the same can be said for comparing painting or sculpting as well. Zbrush I've found really isn't too bad. The biggest drawback I think with sculpting digitally is it makes it very easy for you to be lazy. You have to put in the extra effort, that manually you'd simply have to do anyway, to get past the "digitalness"? It can be a bit more difficult as well to achieve a sense of weight & balance working digitally. With that said, it's generally much much faster, at least for most people. There are a few badasses out that bang stuff out in clay like it was nothing. Sad to say I'm not one of them. As far as drawing freehand or painting digitally, I've honestly never really gotten the hang of it. Of course I do all my sculpting with an intuos, so I'm used to using it, but there's just an awkwardness trying to draw or paint on the computer that I've never quite been able to get past. I do use it sometimes for conceptualizing different ideas and filtering out the bad ones, but if I'm trying to draw something well, it's much easier by hand. I obviously don't have any problem with using digital tools, I'm a strong believer in using the best tool for the job, whatever it may be, but I also really think there's something about something that's been physically made by someones hands. You have more the result of an actual physical experience, and it's a much more enjoyable experience. There's always this nagging little disconnect when working digitally, whereas painting or sculpting is just raw experience, like running around barefoot in the mud or something....you feel everything.
Bod: I see your studies you do, what are you thinking/aiming for when it comes to your process and execution?
Shea: Most of my studies are simply for practice. Sometimes if I haven't been painting for longer than usual I feel like I need to warm up on something before I mess with stuff I already have a lot of time invested in. Most of them serve their purpose and then lay around for 6 months until I feel the need to warm up again. I'm really not to concerned about wether or not they're ever finished. Others are started to try out a technique which may or may not work, so it's best to try on something small that I won't be too worried about the results.
Bod: I really love the what you do many dark yet warm paintings, kinda almost a underpainting with a soul, is it something that came natural or something that you were inspired by?
Shea: Thanks, I'm glad you like them. They're kind of the result of both the way that's comfortable for me to paint, as well as a technique that I've been using/experimenting with. I was always more interested in what could be done with oils using indirect painting methods other than doing alla prima. I've certainly got nothing against it, but I just feel like if I'm going to spend the time to make something by hand, I want to push what I can do with the materials as much as I can. The basic idea is to start on a darker base tone, and slowly build the light values up in many very thin layers. Idea being that the final painting will have a slight luminous effect in proper lighting, since you are seeing refracted light through many layers of paint, rather than light reflected off an opaque color. I really liked the idea of this, since it's physically very similar to how skin behaves as a material. I'd first heard about it in relation to some of Adrian Gottlieb's work, and have noticed a few painters who have done something similar at one time or another, but any specifics have been harder to come by, so I've been just experimenting my way through it. I really like the general process though since it allows me to gradually build up all the values together, keeping them generally in proportion & slowly building up contrast through the layers. It just feels more comfortable for me & it's easier to avoid having any 'awkward' stages. I've recently started experimenting with also gradually shifting from cooler to warmer tones as I come up through the layers. Since skin tones are warmer in the light & drop in chroma into the shadows I thought it may add at little to the effect. I've yet to finish one out doing this though, so we'll see how it goes. In any event, it's a little hard to make a distinction between underpainting & painting doing it this way, as it's intended that every layer is part of the final effect. If I've done all the layers right while building up the values, I basically just have to glaze some yellow & green & it's done.
Bod: What are the materials you mainly use when painting or doing art in general?
Shea: Most of my paints are either Windsor Newton or Daniel Smith. That's more due to what's readily available to me than any actual preference. There are a few other brands I'd like to play with, I just need to run out of paint first. I use primarily lead white in everything with a base pre-mix I make for the tones when building up values. brush wise, I'd have to say my favorite is the pointed filbert style, I can usually only find them as sables though so they're a little expensive, but it's a really versatile shape. Right now I'm primarily use Robert Simmons Sapphire series which are a sable/synthetic blend. At the moment they seem to be the best bang for the buck for the type of brush I like that I can find locally. I use filberts almost exclusively, the exception being small liners for the tight stuff. At the moment just using a 4, 12, & 16 filbert & a 1 liner...gets done just about anything I need. I do have a couple larger brushes that I use for toning the canvas, but I usually just buy whatever's cheapest that isn't un-usable, since that's all I ever use it for. For thinning stuff out, I'm usually using refined walnut oil from Daniel Smith. I've experimented with alkyd mediums here & there, but unless I'm planning on a 24hr marathon (which I rarely have the opportunity for) I've found things tend to tack up a bit quicker than I'd like. Walnut oil seems to be just the right dry time for my taste, & it doesn't seem to have much affect on the colors, which is also a plus. I've typically been working on pre-made gallery wrapped canvas. I've wrapped a few myself, but my wife can occasionally get a pretty good deal on decent pre-wraps through her work, so it's hard to pass that up. Once I'm done with a few of the pieces I'm working on now, I'd like to start working on copper panels. There's a few things I think would be cool to do with it, but also because it's simply a much longer lasting support to paint on.
Bod: What are some techniques that you consider a must when it comes to your art work, also some you’ve tried that were lets say popular that you figured weren’t really your thing?
Shea: My goals with technique in my paintings is to create something that has a physical presence. I want viewing the original painting to be more of an experience than you could get from looking at a picture of it. It's the reason I spend the time to do the work the way I do it. I want the skin to actually glow, for the layers of paint to mimic the real world physical properties of skin. It's one of those things we see and look at every day, but most people don't think about it. Skin is translucent, with light bouncing around in it's surface layers, otherwise we'd all look like plastic dolls. I've also started making a more conscious effort to keep everything soft, or to try to make things more or less 'edgeless'. Certainly some edges are sharper in relation to others, but I try keep edges as soft as I can without breaking things. In the real world there's usually an element of atmospheric blurring or haze, more or less depending on depth, but it's always there to some degree. I always found with rendering work in architecture, it's the sum of all the details that no one thinks about that makes an image convincing. If it's not right they know it, but they don't know why, it's the lack of everything they take for granted. Things they look at every day, but don't think about. Now I certainly won't presume to say I've achieved this, but that's my goal, & the reason I paint the way I do. I may very well decide at some point that I'm doing it all wrong, and shift gears entirely, but I'm fine with that. For me it's all just an endless learning experience. As long as I can some day make just 1 work absurdly epic I can die happy. :) As for the latter part of the question, definitely alla prima work. There's a lot of artists doing fantastic work like this, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't envy the pace at which some of these people put out amazing work. Unfortunately though, for the time being, it's just not my thing. Not in terms of other people work, I really love a lot of the stuff being done, but I just don't enjoy the process nearly as much. It's just that I always end up feeling like I could have done it better if I took my time. Right now, for me, all prima is like sushi, every once in a while I try it again to see if I've 'acquired the taste', but it hasn't happened yet.
Bod: Where do you see or want to see your art to go in the next few years?
Shea: In terms of content, I've really only recently started to move beyond simply studying technique. I'm looking to have a few of the paintings I'm working on now to be done before spring & see about getting them into some local shows over the summer. Beyond that I have a couple projects in mind, which I should hopefully be working on this summer. As for technique I really just want to keep pushing myself to make the best work that I can, and to keep learning. Over the course of the next few years, it'd be great to be able to make the jump to painting full time. I've started trying to arrange some things financially to move in that direction, but only time will tell. In the long run of things, I've always wanted to get into traditional fresco work, but that's a whole other ball game in terms of materials & technique. I imagine it'll be a few years before I can seriously consider it.
Bod: If people want to find your work, buy anything you may be selling or contact in general where may they find you?
Shea: Currently my website (www.sheaspina.com) is in the process of being redone, so at the moment twitter or instagram is the only place to see my work. On ig i'm @sheaspina, & on twitter it's @Agnosia_arts. I should have a few things available in the spring/summer, & the site should be back up by then as well, but I'll certainly be posting about it on those accounts. People can also email me at email@example.com
Bod: Any shoutouts or thoughts you’d like to share with us?
Shea: Sure, well first & foremost of course my wife Sarah @_karatcake_, few people could both give me support & put up with my shit at the same time. I wouldn't be doing anything I'm doing without her support. Definitely appreciative of people like yourself who are helping artists to share their thoughts with others. Some of my new Seattle area friends who have helped push me to keep going with things, namely
Marcus & Lauren
@lastingimpressionart & @laurencrucifix,
A few of the artist that I've found inspiring, exceptionally helpful, or both:
Roberto Ferri www.robertoferri.net @robertoferripittore
Scott Waddel www.scottwaddelfineart.com @scottwaddellartist
Jeremy Geddes www.jeremygeddesart.com @jeremyispainting
Adam Miller www.adammillerart.com @adammillerart
Alexey Steele www.alexeysteele.com @flamebrush
Daniel Maidman www.danielmaidman.com @danielmaidman
Brad Kunkle www.bradkunkle.com @bradkunkle
David Kassan www.davidkassan.com @davidkassan
Matt Martin www.mattmartinart.com @matt_r_martin
Victor Grasso www.victorgrasso.com @victorgrassoHannah Faith Yata
Jason Stieva www.shallowgravestudios.ca @shallowgravestudiosShiflett Brothers www.shiflettbrothers.com @shiflettbrosBrian
Booth Craig www.brianboothcraig.com @brianboothcraigsculptor
And certainly many more, especially on the helpful side. There's so many people through instagram & other outlets online that have gone out of their way to help me out with advice, constructive criticism, & kind words, I couldn't begin to name everyone. But they're all very appreciated.
Bod: Thanks for being a part of this and from myself personally I want to say thanks for being our first featured artist
Shea: No problem man, it's my pleasure