Interview with Artist Patrick Faile

by Paint Tube 8 Minutes

Interview with Artist Patrick Faile

Patrick Faile grew up in rural South Carolina where he developed a deep connection to nature and wildlife. He discovered art at a young age and thrived in his only formal art education through the public school system. After graduating, Patrick landed in engineering and he used his improving drawing skills in creating architectural and mechanical drawings. While he has tried several media, he finally came to call watercolor his primary medium and he continues to paint across genre and subject matter.

Watercolor has a reputation for being difficult. Why do you think it has that reputation? Do you think it’s deserved? Are any of those challenges part of what makes it so rewarding?

Watercolor does have the reputation for being difficult. I think this is for several reasons including the medium’s inability, or at least its difficulty, in correcting mistakes. Other characteristics add to the reputation like how much water to use, intensity of color, and color mixing also make watercolor difficult to learn.

Watercolor’s reputation is well deserved. However, mastering these challenges is supremely satisfying. Watercolor’s transparency and luminosity are characteristics that are unique and are what makes it intriguing for me. To create a beautiful watercolor painting and watch someone look at it and see their eyes light up is extremely gratifying. You don’t need them to say a thing to know how your painting made them feel.


Walk us through your process for a painting like Colorado High? How does it break down into stages and what problems are you trying to solve at each stage?

Colorado High was a study painting for a much larger painting. I wanted to paint the contrast between the spring bloom in the valley floor and the snow-covered mountains at higher elevations.

I also wanted the painting to give a sense of depth and the enormity of the mountains. So, I designed the composition to achieve these desired results by making the mountains the dominant feature in the painting with smaller areas for the sky and foreground.

To keep the eye moving, I used the bright yellow flowers in the foreground, the elk, and the snowfields on the mountainside. Placing the elk, I used the rule of 1/3, but I wanted the mountain behind the elk to be monotone to provide a good background for the elk.

With these concepts firmly in my mind, it was time for a very light, detailed drawing using 3H lead in a mechanical pencil on a sheet of 12” X 16” Arches cold pressed watercolor block.

With the drawing complete, next came the masking fluid for the snowfields, the elk, and the line of flowers and grasses adjoining the mountains. Masking fluid keeps the lines sharp and allows quick painting.

Next, apply the paint in this order: sky, mountains, shadows on the snowfields, foreground flowers and grasses, and last, but not least the elk. To recap:

1. Composition and color planning. Get the composition right and paint it in your mind first.
2. Complete a light drawing. Serves as a roadmap for masking and applying the paint.
3. Complete the masking. Preserve the whites and lights. Defines the light source.
4. Complete the painting. Create depth, color interest, texture, etc. with paint.

How has your process changed as you’ve gotten better as an artist? Was there anything you changed that made a big difference?

My process has become more detailed and refined as time has progressed and it is my big improvement as an artist. There was a time when all I thought about was painting. I would short circuit the composition and color planning and drawing in my process and go straight to painting. Some are skilled enough or their style lends itself to directly painting, but for me following a rigid process yields much-improved results. It’s still hard for me to remain disciplined but I’m much better.

You worked full time up until fairly recently. How did you make sure you were continuing to grow as an artist even while meeting the demands of a day job? Was that an issue of prioritizing outside time?

Having a fulltime job takes the financial pressure off by creating an income, and as such, should be your first priority. While working, I did not always have time for my art. However, the sketchbooks went into the briefcase when I was traveling, and I always seemed to find a way to make time. It was important to me. Yes, there were always demands on time and necessary prioritization of critical events. The broken down car or the house repairs that always demanded immediate attention. But if art is your passion, you will make time and allowances for it.


Every artist has growth jumps: How did you move between a beginning artist and an advanced artist? What ideas or concepts were you working on that helped you make those leaps?

I’m not exactly sure when I moved from a beginning artist to an advanced artist. I began in art at a very early age, but if I had to give a time, I would say in the mid-seventies when I was discharged from the US Air Force. I became committed to watercolor and had more time for painting at this point.

During this time, I created some paintings that I am still proud of today. However, I did not have a refined process and had just as many failed paintings as successful paintings. I started painting full sheet paintings (22” X 30”) of landscapes and wildlife and mastered critical watercolor techniques, capturing the light and texture in paintings. Mastering some of these techniques is what I believe catapulted me forward in the quality of my work.


How important is drawing to you and your process? Why is it important - as an artist - to learn to draw?

Drawing skills are extremely important to me. It is my painting roadmap. A detailed drawing can surely illustrate a bad composition as well as a good one and it helps us see it. If the drawing isn’t good, there is no point in painting it. A bad drawing will only yield a bad painting.

If you are incapable of creating a good drawing composition, then it is my opinion that you would have great difficulty creating a quality painting. There are skilled artists out there that don’t have to create a detailed drawing to deliver a quality painting, but that ability didn’t come without many years of drawing practice and a great deal of experience.

It does matter with regards to style and experience. A detailed painting is defined by a detailed drawing. Whereas an impressionistic, undetailed painting, would require little in the way of a drawing.


Do you work from photos? If yes, how much do you take straight from the photo and where (how) do you translate what you see? Photos have a tendency to lie sometimes especially about grand things. How do you work to still capture a sense of grand?

I do sometimes work from photos.

Not only am I learning to be a better artist, but I’m also learning to be a better photographer.

Current exhibition rules state that photo references used in a painting must be taken by the artist to be considered original artwork. There are some instances where this is impossible for me. My painting “Last of the Windjammers,” for example, is a historical painting and uses historical photo reference.

It is difficult to say how much of a photo I will use in a painting. I may only be looking at the cloud pattern in a photo for instance. Each painting is different and I may compose it from multiple photos.

The photos that lie about grand things I think is related to distortion and scale and taking multiple photos from different angles helps resolve this.

Color is also a photo characteristic that can be distorted. Capturing a sense of grand is the thinking/planning part of a painting process. Photos that I shoot are high resolution which I can upload on my computer and display on a monitor if I want a large-scale photo to work from.

Composition: Where do you do your composition work? For landscapes in particular, what are you thinking through when setting up your composition?

My composition work begins in my head, thinking about how I want to layout my painting’s elements wherever I am at the time. I might be in the studio or on location.

Once I have a clear idea of how I want to arrange the elements of my painting I move on to preparing a sketch of the large elements. If the major elements work toward a good composition I will continue to refine my drawing making it more detailed. If the composition of the major elements does not work, this is where I stop, whip out my favorite tool, my eraser, and start all over again.

Things that I’m thinking about and considering are things like the direction of the light source, time of day, time of year and colors. For a landscape, I want to somewhat accurately represent the place I’m painting. At least that’s my objective. I very much enjoy painting our national parks and have spent a great deal of time in them. Most recently Badlands National Park in South Dakota and Yosemite in California.


Color: Especially in terms of your landscapes, how did you come to the palette of colors you use? How much do you use the local color of the scene and how much do you change it? Why?

I use a large palette that has 42 paint wells and 4 large divided areas for mixing washes. With this number of base colors, I can mix an infinite number of colors.

For my landscapes, I try to be somewhat accurate with the color to the locale, but I do try to add interest by embellishing elements of the painting.

For my painting “God’s Touch” I used a violet mixture to use at the horizon line to embellish the sky by giving it a sense of distant clouds in the impending nightfall. Same is true with the foliage in this painting as I used brighter greens and yellows in some foliage over and above what you would find in the desert. Not all the way through the painting but at strategic areas to add interest and move the viewer’s eye.



What advice would you give to someone just starting out in art? Anything you wish someone had told you?

Wow! I’m not sure this blog is long enough for all my advice for aspiring artists. I’ll try to limit it to a few. They are as follows:

Set clear, achievable goals.

Don’t waste time. We never know how much time we have and you can’t get it back if you waste it.

Be able to graciously accept criticism. Criticism may improve your art.

Not all criticism is valid. Your art won’t appeal to everyone no matter how good you are. Take criticism with a grain of salt, but it does deserve consideration.

Constantly strive to improve the quality of your work. Work today will look like child’s play compared to your work in five years.

For me, don’t waste time and learn to be able to accept criticism and rejection. In the early eighties, I started entering juried exhibitions. I was met with some success but also some criticism and rejection. I became disillusioned and quit entering juried exhibitions. I didn’t try to exhibit again till 2010. I can’t get those thirty years back.

In recent years I have applied to approximately 75 juried national/international exhibitions and have been accepted to approximately 30, which is about 40%. I’ve also received 3 signature memberships recently and am very close to receiving many more.

If I hadn’t been publicly unproductive for thirty years what could I have achieved? Again, I can’t get those thirty years back and this comes with great regret. After recent success, I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying and humbling it is to know I can compete with the best contemporary watercolor artists in the world today. What if I had found this out 30 years ago? We’ll never know and I have had to move beyond the regrets and just get to work utilizing the time I have left.

To learn more about Patrick and his art, visit him at his website or on Facebook and Instagram.