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Interview with Artist Mark Lague

Learning from Others

This interview is part of the Creative Catalyst Artist Interview Series and was originally published in 2011. ArtistMarkLague-hotel-in-rome(web)Oil painter

Mark Lague started in a very different place than he end up. First painting with watercolors and working full time in the animation industry, Lague eventually made the leap to oils and full-time art.

1. You've made several large artistic leaps in your career. How and why did you decide to switch from watercolor to oil? Was there something you felt you could say better with oil?

The switch over to oil was actually quite gradual. As I got more serious about painting, and started working larger, I found that all the things that made watercolor exciting to me were becoming less relevant to what I was trying to do. As much as I loved (and still love) the immediacy of watercolor, I just felt at a point that it was more of drawing, rather than a painting medium.

2. How did you make the decision to become a full time artist? How did you know that was the time to make the leap?

From the first day I started working in the animation industry, I knew that at some point I wanted to paint full time. I painted every night after work until I was confident enough to enter juried competitions. Once I started having some success I began to think about when would be a good time to make the leap. The problem was, the company I was working for was doing extremely well (even giving stock options to the artists), which made it difficult to leave. Then, serendipity intervened, and the company had a massive financial scandal that basically took the company down. The decision to leave was now obvious. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.


3. How important is drawing to you in your art? Is drawing a skill you continue to nurture?

Drawing is the most important skill a painter can have. I think the best advice I ever got was from master watercolorist Frank Webb. He said you need to learn to 'paint with a pencil', which is really the ability to see as a painter, regardless of medium. Once you master this, you come to see that drawing and painting are one and the same thing. So, by nurturing your drawing skills, you are actually learning to see as a painter. ArtistMarkLague-rocks-2(web)

4.You paint many different subjects. When you walk into your studio, how do you decide what to paint that day?

Deciding what to paint on a given day really comes down to how excited I am by the light. If I can come up with an interesting pattern of lights and darks, it really doesn't matter what the subject matter is. Sometimes when I'm teaching a workshop, a student will want to work from a photo that has sentimental value to them, but absolutely nothing of interest visually. I always try to convince them to paint something else. I try to heed my own advice when I'm faced with pressure from a gallery to paint specific subject matter. If I'm not excited by the light, then paint something else.

5. How did you find time to paint when you were working full time and raising a family?

I guess I found the time to paint while working full time with a young family by not doing much else. Also, I'm quite disciplined, and I have a very understanding wife. It's hard for me to imagine now how I kept up a schedule like that

6. So much of art is about seeing and so much of your work is about light. When you want to paint something, how do you analyze it and begin that translation from life to panel?  

When I'm analyzing what I'm going paint, my primary goal is to strip away all unnecessary details to come up with the simplest, strongest possible statement. This is best achieved by starting with a small value study (painting with a pencil) through squinted eyes. This allows me to see the big shapes of light, while freeing me from the constraints of the subject matter, seeing only relative values.

ArtistMarkLague-4-Group(web) 7. I read that you prefer to paint from life but in that it's not always possible you use digital pictures. How do you capture your scenes? What is your approach for finding appropriate subject matter?

While I find that pretty much anything is fair game to paint, I still find myself gravitating towards the hustle and bustle of the city for subject matter. This presents obvious challenges for working from life. When I shoot photos of life in the city, I always look for interesting light patterns, and take hundreds of exposures from multiple angles. Then comes the very time consuming part when I go through all the photos to filter down to the few that have the possibility to become a finished painting. Of these I do value studies to further eliminate all but the most interesting images. I would estimate that I take roughly 100 photos for every one that will become a painting.


8. I also read that you like to paint alla prima. What does alla prima bring to your art that working in sessions wouldn't? Is there a spontaneity that you think is lost by going back again and again?

I think that working alla prima allows my work to be uniquely mine. When a painter labours over multiple sessions, the work tends to become indistinguishable from other artists who work that way. The first time I saw Charles Reid paint in watercolour, I was amazed at how much he was willing to sacrifice on precision in order to get an electric sort of spontaneity that can only be achieved by painting alla prima.

9. You clearly have a master control of value and color. How long had you been painting before you felt you had mastered those? How did you learn to really be in control of that?

I had been painting for around ten years before I started to really get a deep understanding of value and color. I learned to really control values and color by painting constantly and always remembering to squint, so as to eliminate unnecessary details. I was also fortunate to spend 14 years in the animation industry, almost exclusively as a background painter, which allowed me the opportunity to work with paint (this was before it was done digitally) for hours at a time, on a daily basis.

To learn more about Mark Lague's work, visit his website,

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