Bennett Vadnais has been creating art since the age of 14, and has been a full-time artist and art instructor for the past 12 years.
Like many young artists, he originally started out drawing, but when he entered high school a local artist introduced him to classical painting and he’s been painting ever since.
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Today, he creates stunning, even inspiring landscapes meant to trigger emotions and memories for each and every viewer, and says that his greatest accomplishment as an artist is his ability to practice his art on a regular basis.
Alyice: Why did you choose acrylic as your medium?
Bennett: Actually I use several different mediums. I just happen to favor acrylic at this particular point in time. It works well for me because of its fast-drying properties and I find I can use a very wide range of paint applications with a single paint system. For me, this translates into working with more freedom and less preoccupation with technical issues.
Alyice: What is the best part about working with acrylics?
Bennett: For me, the best thing about it is its versatility. I can work in very thin washes as I would with watercolor, I can build texture when wanted. I can work with very precise linear hatching and detail easily, and I’ve been able to adapt it to working both outdoors and in the studio.
Alyice: Part of you creative process is to complete numerous paintings and drawings on site, rather than use photographic imagery. How do you feel this helps improve the overall quality of your art?
Bennett: Making drawings and studies on site is a way for me to connect with and spend time with the things I’m painting. Even though I may eventually finish my pictures away from the subject, that time working from direct observation is crucial in forming a collective experience.
Drawing is a way for me to internalize and personalize. . . so I take it in and make it my own in a way that I can’t do by working with photographic images.
Alyice: You tend to build up your paintings by painting in transparent layers of color, rather than using a single layer of rich color. How do you feel this impacts your paintings?
Bennett: In the end, my paintings have a sense of depth and translucency that unfortunately only truly comes across when seeing the paintings in real life. There’s a real harmony of effect because all of the colors have been influenced by an underlying tonal structure. This comes through the many layers of paint.
Alyice: It has been said that your “paintings have a stillness that reveals the timeless character of place.” Can you tell us more about this?
Bennett: There’s a contrast between my paintings being very time-specific—for instance the light is often invoking a particular effect or time of day, versus being non-specific—for example I rarely have any kind of human activity or event taking place. This is a way for me to express a place that you know and see, but it’s not as if you’re there in the moment, rather it feels like a memory with your own filter of how you felt about it.
I like keeping the paintings open enough that a viewer can put some of themselves in it and experience their own interpretation.
Alyice: How has your style changed over the years?
Bennett: I started off doing a lot of figurative work, especially portraits. Very precise and meticulous.
After traveling to Europe and seeing a lot of great landscape paintings in the museums, I started to experiment with painting landscapes myself. I experimented with all kinds of different approaches, including very loose impressionistic sketching. At this point I was mostly working in oils. Gradually, I found a way to incorporate some of the precision of my earlier work with what I learned from outdoor painting and plein air sketching.
I think this move fit in also with an interest in choosing subjects with more structure and architecture, giving me an opportunity to work with perspective and geometry.
More recently, I moved from painting in oils to water media, especially acrylic, which has also influenced the appearance of my painting, making it easier to achieve a very exact, clean look.
Alyice: What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?
Bennett: The most important thing for me in coming up with good composition is considering as many options as possible. That’s why I like to spend a lot of time sketching different versions of a subject to keep looking for new possibilities. I’m aware of a lot of the conventional approaches to composition, and I while I find they can be very helpful, I like to avoid being overly systematic and leave room for intuition.
Alyice: Aside from selling your art in fine art galleries, you also teach an online art course through Craftsy. Can you tell us a little bit about this course and how it can help artists?
Bennett: The class is based on over three hours of video footage and presented in several short segments. The students can take the class at their own pace, review all the material as much as they want, and Craftsy has a convenient platform wherein students have the opportunity to interact with me, the instructor, and ask questions and post pictures of their progress.
It’s a great course for beginners through advanced artists who want to learn more about landscape painting and for those interested in acrylic technique. I cover a lot of material that’s adaptable to many different types of painting.