Beyond the Studio with Simon Bull

This is a photo of Jess McFadden
Jess McFadden
Program Specialist
March 22, 2019
A photograph of a man holding a red painting.

Simon Bull with one of his artworks. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Spring in DC means Cherry Blossoms! To celebrate, we’ve invited Simon Bull, official artist of the 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival to help us kick off the season with our Beyond the Studio Workshop in the Luce Foundation Center this Saturday, March 23rd from 1-3 pm. In preparation for the program, we asked Simon a few questions to learn a bit about his experience as an artist.

From start to finish, what’s your creative process like?

I start with an idea and then develop it. After all, you may not be able to say everything about a subject all at once. Good ideas are worth exploring and inevitably lead to better, more interesting ones down the road. As a result I often work in series. This Cherry Blossom Festival Project is a good example of that. I look at, sketch, study, and think about my subject - basically I just sit with it for a while. Then, when I’m ready, I start work on the backgrounds. I can paint many backgrounds at once, but typically they are the same color or variations of two colors. That’s all I do. Then, when everything is ready in a day or so, I start to work on the structure layer. Once again, I limit myself to a couple of colors, maybe black and silver. This elimination of complexity gives me great creative freedom. I can do anything I want during this stage, as long as it’s with say, black and silver. Then finally, I add the detail and color layers. I limit my options, in order to discover an infinite number of nuanced variables. I strip away as much complexity as possible from the process and, as a result, experience pure play.

What's your experience as a practicing artist been like thus far?

It’s been my life’s passion. It has taken me on travels all over the world. I have seen some amazing things and met so many incredible people from all walks of life, whether they are farmers on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills or global icons like Muhammad Ali. It has definitely had its ups and downs from the business side, but creatively it seems that the older I get, the wider the horizon stretches. I am able to speak with greater fluency now than when I first set out on this journey and the response, from collectors and those who just appreciate my paintings, has been one of the greatest joys.

Can you talk a bit about the work that you’ve been doing in preparation for the 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival?

A detailed photograph of a hands on a table working on a painting.

"Trees have always fascinated me....." says Simon Bull.

Trees have always fascinated me, so have flowers, working with the cherry blossoms has given me the perfect excuse to combine them. Flowering trees, what a concept! It’s the best of both worlds as far as I can see. Trees grow slowly, blossoms are here one minute, gone the next. Trees and branches are hard, blossoms fragile, light and ephemeral. Trees stand against the ravages of the weather, but blossoms are soon blown away. I wanted to create a painting for the festival that brought these elements together in one piece, but also added a third dimension, an emotional one. To add to this, I first of all created a colorful background with a spin effect, over which I then painted the tree and blossom. It was a bit of a challenge not to lose the delicate blossom effect against all that color, but I think the final piece conveys a sense of celebration and feeling that spring is truly in the air.

What advice would you give to young artists, creatives, and makers that want to pursue a creative career?

When I left art college in 1980 I set myself two simple goals, call it a business plan if you will. The first was to paint the best, purest, strongest paintings that I could, the second was to put those creations in front of as many people as possible. I always advise young artists to do the same. Nothing happens until you actually make something. Procrastination is your worst enemy so kill it dead by actually painting, actually drawing. Fear is your next great foe, primarily the fear of what others will think. Slap that anxiety down immediately and show your work. The feedback will astonish and nourish you.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

I’m still playing with paint, experimenting with stuff. I’m a little obsessed with seeing what happens when you let gravity or evaporation take its course. The blossom tree thing is still working its way through my system, I’m just following the road wherever it leads, that’s the best way. Life is a journey after all, so as long as you pull over and enjoy the view from time to time, it’s all good.

A detailed photograph of paint cans.

Colorful paints lined up in the artist's studio.

Beyond the Studio will take place this Saturday from 1:00 – 3:00 pm in the Luce Foundation Center. Registration is required. To read more about Simon Bull’s work, please visit his website. Join us later this spring for our workshops presented with Smithsonian Gardens and Cultural DC.


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