Artist David Wheeler of Texas City believes every painting has a lesson. “When we look at a painting, the viewer thinks either I like it or I don’t. We can learn from what every artist does,” says Wheeler, a recent featured artist at the Galveston Art League Gallery, 2117A Postoffice St. in Galveston. “Study the work and you might be surprised what it teaches you.”
Wheeler, who retired from a career as a licensed chemical dependency counselor, is now an art teacher and student. He teaches beginning oil painting at the College of the Mainland’s 50-Plus program and in continuing education classes at Galveston College. But he switches to student mode on Saturdays: “I take a class with Dana Schoppa, who teaches at Hobby Lobby. I enjoy it, I learn new things, and I know I will paint every week for three hours.”
The 65-year-old artist sells at the Galveston Art League Gallery (winning awards in the nonprofit organization’s juried shows); The Rivers Edge Gallery in Kerrville, Texas; on social media; and through Houston galleries.
Below, Wheeler shares his news and views about art.
Q: What awakened your interest in art?
A: I was maybe about 9 or 10 when my parents bought me a paint-by-number set on black velvet. I never did a picture of Elvis on black velvet, though. I started taking lessons in junior high.
Q: Does your family encourage your artistic efforts?
A: My mother and sister have been supportive. In fact, my mom is my greatest fan!
Q: What is your art education background and how do you improve your skills?
A: I took art in college but have taken privately for many years. One is never too old to learn new things. I still take classes with other artists to improve my technique. I have taken workshops in the past, and several years ago took a painting holiday in Italy.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for your artwork?
A: I find my inspiration through my travels and also through nature.
Q: Is there a certain subject that is your specialty?
A: I enjoy painting birds but have a wide variety of interests. I do landscapes, some of Texas, some of France or Italy. I am doing a commission now of a couple’s beloved cat that passed away. I have also painted my own animals.
Q: Do you use reference photos?
A: I do ― I have a Canon AE-1 and an idiot camera, which I use most of the time. It fits me. LOL! I haven’t quite made it to the digital age.
Q: Can you describe your start-to-finish process.
A: I start by painting a thin coat of acrylic on the canvas, then block in my objects. Sometimes I will use acrylic to block these in before starting oils. I use Grumbacher paint. There are many brands, but Grumbacher has the quality I like.
I paint from back to front. Since I paint photo-realism, I have to let it dry and will use many glazes to finish the painting.
Q: Do you follow certain artistic rules?
A: When you are creating a piece of art, you have to establish a focal point. You want to keep the viewers’ eyes on your work. I was told by a former teacher that when you look at artwork, the eye enters the canvas from the left upper corner and moves across the canvas. I would not have a straight line moving off the canvas but have something to redirect the eye back to the focal point.
Also, create drama in your painting by the use of light and dark. I use a limited palette, nine or 10 colors, and from those I mix the colors I use. Most colors can be mixed except for magenta. I’ve never been successful in mixing that. Luckily, I rarely need to use it, and you can buy it in a tube.
Q: Do you work outdoors or indoors?
A: I work indoors. I will be taking a plein air [outdoor] painting course in France in 2019. I do not paint outside in Texas ― too many bugs.
Q: Do you have a favorite famous artist?
A: John Singer Sargent. I also like Thomas Moran. The portraits by Sargent and the landscapes by Moran are wonderful.
Q: How do you benefit from joining art organizations?
A: I am only a member of the Galveston Art League. I really like meeting other artists and sharing ideas and techniques. It is great being around so many talented and creative people.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of painting?
A: The joy of creating, making something come alive before your eyes. It is also a way for me to relax and have quality time for myself, in between letting the dogs out, letting the dogs in, letting the dogs out, letting the dogs in...
Q: Do you have an art goal you’re striving for?
A: My art goal is to create pieces that bring peace and comfort, a work that can be enjoyed each time the viewer looks at it. Oh, and painting in Paris.