Ric Conn

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Ric Conn is known for his realistic pastel paintings of birds but he has devoted most of his time recently to more expressionistic images depicting contemporary young women. Ric says his work is mostly realism, real objects drawn or painted to look like themselves.

Like many artists Ric has been drawing since he was small child. He began painting as a teenager. Though he went to art school he considers himself mostly self taught. When Ric was twelve he saw a bear in the wild and was fascinated. Birding became a passion which led to his bird paintings when as a young man he tagged along on a bird watching field trip with his brother and saw an amazing little bird.

Birds are notoriously bad models, so Ric relies on sketching and photography to capture their movement. Ric's main interest in painting animals are birds and mammals. He has been a bird watcher for more than forty years. He is a frequent doodler and invariably his doodles would turn into birds. He begins with photographs and sketching in the wild. Then he works up the final painting from those. He used to do studies in gouache, which is also known as opaque watercolor, but he fell in love with the effects he was getting and a series evolved that took on a life of its own. Now his wildlife paintings are done almost exclusively in gouache.

Ric says he does not really like painting the background. He prefers to let the paper which is often simply a medium tone of brown, serve as the background only adding what he feels it needs to make the subject work. This approach allows the warm vibrant colors in his pallet to pop. He begins with just a little bit of drawing to layout the composition and then let's the paint do the rest of the work.

He did not start out trying to make these works loose. But it is a water based medium that lends itself to this style. The result is that there are a lot of drips and splatters which are happy accidents that Ric likes to keep. His figurative work is much tighter. The contrasting effects helps gives him another more relaxed way to express himself.

Ric's figurative paintings are mostly young women serving as live models. They are definitely 21st century girls complete with tattoos, and piercings. Many seem to be a little lost or sad in their expression. Ric says the paintngs are simply meant to show modern people doing things that they do in everyday life.

Ric likes painting people, the challenge of painting skin tones. The face is his primary interest. Each face is very complex, having a life of its own. He likes watching people do what they do every day. Ric works from life, but does photograph his subjects so he can continue studies between model sessions, though he does most of his painting from the live model.

Ric says he hopes that viewers either love or hate his work. Either extreme helps him achieve his goal of moving the audience. he says that his approach is in part intuitive, and in part intellectual. Each composition is well thought out and represents some behavioral aspect of life. Whether it is birds or people he is painting he tries to bring out their personality in the painting. What is intuitive is what moves him, or what comes out of him to make that painting.

Ric spent many vacations as a youngster visiting family near Cambridge. He moved to the Eastern Shore more than a decade ago. He says his models and birds can be found everywhere. But the wildlife which inspires so much of his work is abundant and close at hand here.

Ric has this advice for new artists: Work from your heart. Do what is best for you, without worrying about what other people say. Don't worry about what you are supposed to do or even what your teachers may have said. First and foremost it has to come from the heart and it has to be you.

Ric is working on a series of faces in gouache which he has one show for already and hopes to take to other places. He will be teaching classes at the Queen Anne's County arts council in Centreville, Maryland.