A while ago, in conversation with a friend, I mentioned I was working on a project where I photographed people at work. When I asked her who she thought I should track down, she didn't hesitate: Shawn Huckins.
Shawn Huckins is an artist. He is also a super nice guy, energetic, hard working, and painstakingly dedicated to his craft. When I contacted him about taking pictures, he opened his studios doors to me as if we were old friends. We spent a few hours together as he walked me through his process of creating one of his The American __tier paintings. And afterward, I interviewed him about the series.
I have to say, I never tire of watching artists work. Or hearing what they have to say about their creations. In addition to learning how they discovered and nourished their passion for art, I also always learn more about the person behind that art. In Shawn's case it was fiddles!
Here's our interview...
How did you become interested in making the art you do now?
Both series, The American __tier and American Revolution Revolution, started as a happy accident. Long story short, I got into a deep conversation about my art career with my cousin. He mentioned that I would always obscure the face with something or not paint the face at all. To prove him wrong, I went back to the studio and started practicing the portrait by replicating American masters such as John Singleton Copley. Naturally, the first paintings were not very good, but I progressed and gradually got more comfortable with painting the portrait. One of my rejected paintings slid underneath a tracing with the acronym ‘LOL.’ I found that to be an interesting contrast and the rest is history.
How would you describe your work?
My work is a playful combination of 18/19th century American painting and current day digital lingo. The process is a methodical replication of the original work, painted by hand, followed by the superimposition of large white letters, also painted, of social media jargon. Although the paintings are humorous in nature, deeper questions are asked when comparing two ways of American life separated by a hundred plus years. For example, does how we communicate govern the value of what we communicate? Are we in a continuing state of the debasement of language?
Did you create or make things as a child? What creative pursuits do you remember from your childhood?
All the time. I had these small sketch books that I would draw my favorite cartoons, sports icons, and movie characters in. Then I would color them in with these sweet colored pens my mother bought me on a business trip. In 1993, when my grandmother passed away, I was given her oil painting set since my family new I enjoyed those kind of things. I hated the process as I had no idea how the medium worked. I returned to drawing and didn’t consider painting seriously again until college.
What’s your favorite part of what you do?
My favorite part is being able to do what I love for living. Not many people can say that and I’m fortunate and grateful to be able to do so.
What is your least favorite part?
Sitting at the computer for hours and hours searching for text to use with the paintings. People really have nothing interesting to say and to find that perfect text can be daunting, but ultimately rewarding at the end.
Biggest surprise you’ve had?
It was a nice surprise when the CEO of Golden Acrylics (the brand I am loyal to and exclusively use) made an appearance to my solo exhibition in Denver. Even better, he acquired a painting for his family. Which I think is fair because I’ve spent thousands on Golden Paints…it’s the least he could do.
Best lesson you’ve learned?
No one is going to bring you to the top or give you handouts or short cuts. If you want to make a career out of what you love, you need to work hard and often and fight for it.
What do you hope to accomplish next?
I’m working on developing a new series of paintings that are dramatically different than what I’ve been doing for the past six years. I’m still in the experimental phases and I’m pretty much mucking around with new techniques and mediums.
Besides painting, what are you passionate about?
I collect fiddles and play old-time Appalachian music. I currently own five fiddles. Part of the enjoyment of collecting fiddles is the journey in searching for them. One fiddle I bought after a guy’s grandfather passed and he was going through his things. Charlie, the grandfather, bought this fiddle during WWII somewhere in Europe. Another fiddle is over 100 years old that the seller’s great grandmother owned.
A second aspect of collecting fiddles is the restoration process. Charlie’s fiddle had open seems and the varnishing was bubbly and peeling. Bringing back these little works of functional art is very enjoyable and it reminds me of a time’s past where people gathered around a circle and danced and played music rather than Netflixing.
Any advice for budding artists or entrepreneurs?
Work hard and learn everything there is to know about what you do. There is always someone else who is working harder than you. Stay motivated and passionate about the work you do.