Cornerstone’s Artist of the Month for October
Here is a recent Q&A with John McNulty.
Tell us briefly about your background & how you got started in your medium.
I’ve loved drawing as long as I can remember.
I grew up in the Monongahela Valley steel town of North Braddock, near Pittsburgh. In my working-class town, there were no artists or galleries and no art mentors to speak of. But my older brothers gave me my first rudimentary drawing instruction.
When I was ten, a teacher suggested the free “Tam O’Shanter” art class offered by the Carnegie Museum. So I gave up watching Saturday morning cartoons to ride the bus into Pittsburgh, sit for hours with hundreds of other kids, sketch in the museum’s collections, and learn about art. The motto of the class was “Look, to see, to remember,” good advice for any artist. The drawing class led to a high school painting class, and I’ve been painting ever since.
In an attempt to use my love of art to make a living, I studied Graphic Design at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, and worked as an advertising art director, illustrator and production artist. My most rec was fifteen years in the advertising department of Giant Food Stores, now Ahold Delhaize, in Carlisle. I continued to paint on my own time, and began teaching painting.
While taking classes at the Art Association of Harrisburg, I met some members of the Seven Lively Artists, and was invited to paint with them. I’ve been painting and showing with the group for twenty years.
Currently, I keep gallery space at the Millworks in Harrisburg, accept painting commissions, do freelance illustration, and paint interior murals. I teach Digital Illustration at Messiah College and oil painting at the Hershey Art Association.
How does your medium inform your viewpoint? Or what do you like most about your medium?
As a kid, I began sketching in pencil, and I still love it. Learning to use color has become a lifelong challenge, but a labor of love.
I paint in both oils and acrylics. Both are adaptable to different techniques, which allows me to try new things. I like the quick-drying quality of acrylics. On the other hand, I like the easy blending and subtle neutrals attainable with oils. Lately, I’ve been applying my paint in layers, adding textural interest and making the paint itself more evident. All artwork is a dialog between the artist and the medium. I like to let the medium make itself known.
Who or what have been your artistic inspirations?
I find inspiration in the relationship of colors and shapes in nature and in everyday scenes we often take for granted. I have a particular fondness for painting trees. To me, trees are metaphors for human life and longing. Like us, they stand upright, their roots searching for a stable foothold, their branches surviving hard times while stretching out to grow. A tree’s scarred trunk and twisting branches can exemplify the determination and striving of life itself.
I have a continuously growing pantheon of artists who inspire me. When I was just starting out, my two favorites were Michelangelo and Van Gogh, as different as they are. Then there was Monet and the Impressionists. Of course, John Singer Sargent. I’ve also loved N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and others from the golden age of American illustration. I’ve grown to love the abstract expressionism of the late Li Hidley.
All artwork has lessons to teach. After painting most of my life, composition has become more important to me than realistic rendering.
Do You Have a Favorite Piece in Your Portfolio?
What would be your advice to artists just starting out in your medium?
Be bold. Start with a big brush. Use lots of paint! Paint doesn’t earn interest the longer you keep it. Remember the composition. Don’t try to squeeze all your artistic ideas into one painting. Do another. Keep painting.