Of the 850+ blogs I have done in the last ten years, I think only three have been about living artists. Maybe I was concerned that they would be upset with what I had written or maybe they would be unhappy if I had been inaccurate, although I try to get facts from various sources to avoid errors. My featured artist today is a person who commented how he liked one of my blogs and when I looked at his blog/website and some of his artwork I decided that he would make for an ideal subject. I wrote to him and he was happy for me to do a small bio on his life and art, so let me introduce you to John Pototschnik, pronounced Poe-toe-sh-nic. John is a Signature member of the Oil Painters of America and a Master Signature Emeritus member of the Outdoor Painters Society. He is recognized in “Who’s Who in American Art” and “Who’s Who in the Southwest.” In addition, his work has appeared in multiple artist magazines and books. He’s also the author of a best-selling book: Limited Palette Unlimited Color published by Streamline Publishing.
John was born in England, in the Cornish coastal town of St. Ives, on November 14th 1945. His father was Ernest Felix Pototschnik, a native of Kansas whilst his mother, Patricia Mary Pototschnik (née Symons) was born in Trewartha, Lelant in Cornwall. She was Ernest’s second wife. Ernest’s first wife died during the birth of their son Ernest Francis. John’s father was a member of the US Army which was stationed in England during the Second World War and he met Patricia when he attended a local dance. John’s mother once told him that she remembered that first meeting saying she was especially attracted to Ernest because of his short stature, the way he carried himself, and the American uniform. The couple soon fell in love and were married in St Ives on February 12th 1945. John was their eldest child and he has a sister, Patsy Ann.
Around 1946 Ernest Pototschnik was discharged from the army, and returned to America where he purchased a home in Wichita, Kansas, prior to his wife and John travelling across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary some months later to join him. The family relocated to Wichita, Kansas and remained there for the next twenty-two years. John attended the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Wichita and then enrolled at the city’s Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School. At school John enjoyed draughtsmanship and biology. He liked to sketch especially aircraft and racing cars. As a youth, his parents were comfortable with him going off on his own, exploring the neighbourhood. He even went door-to-door selling his mother’s cookies or collecting money for his paper route. John also often spent time with his father on hunting trips. He believes this freedom to roam was how he built up his love of small American towns.
After graduating from High School in 1963, he went to the Pittsburg State Teacher’s College in Pittsburg, Kansas for one year. During his early life at home there had been no exposure to art and the possibility of becoming an artist was never in consideration. However, it was during the time at the College that John had the first thoughts about art being a definite possibility in his future. He remembered purchasing the Famous Artist School correspondence course but admitted that he never completed it. He explained that there was just no time for this extra-curricular study as life was filled with college work, athletics, and an after-school job. He said that he had little time for anything else.
In June 1964, John enrolled at Wichita State University and embarked on a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Advertising Design. During his university days he worked for a number of graphic design and illustration companies. One of the companies was Oblinger-Smith Planning Consultants where he worked as a graphic designer and, it was here, that through a work colleague he met Marcia who in October 1971 became Mrs Marcia Pototschnik. His love of airplanes also had him sign up for the USAF College Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC). Upon graduation from college, I was guaranteed an Air Force commission and on leaving university in June 1968, John spent the next four years working for the United States Air Force stationed at El Segundo, California where he worked as an Internal/Public Information Officer working in community relations and edited the base newspaper.
Following completion of his time in the military in June 1972, he moved to Dallas and set about establishing a freelance illustration career although he proudly states he had his first paying job when he was ten years old, mowing lawns in the summer, raking leaves in the autumn and shovelling snow in the winter and at fifteen earned money as a part-time dish-washer at a local department store and during his first year of college days he was a consummate hamburger-flipper! For the next ten years of his life he worked as an illustrator for all the major advertising agencies and design studios. Of this decade as an illustrator he said he enjoyed the time:
“…I very much enjoyed working as a freelance illustrator. There was a great variety of work and its associated challenges. Being able to meet those challenges and satisfy a client was very rewarding. I also liked seeing my work in print. It also afforded me the opportunity to work in a number of media: pencil, pen/ink, watercolour, and acrylic. It also trained me to work under pressure and to meet tight deadlines…”
But all good things had to come to an end and for John the graphic design jobs were very time consuming and he said that his life revolved around long working hours and frequent bouts of little sleep. This lifestyle of constant pressure and ever-demanding deadlines could not go on forever and so in 1982 John made the decision to leave the world of illustration and graphic design and turn his mind to the world of Fine Arts.
However, it was not just himself he had to consider as now he had a wife and two sons, Jonathan in 1975 and two years later a second son, Andrew. But what did his wife think of his decision to quit his lucrative graphic designer career. John comments:
“…Marcia has always been supportive of my art career regardless of the direction I decided to take it. She is a woman of common sense and has never been materialistic, in that she needed things to make her happy. She loved being a mother and homemaker…”
One can see how the decision to enter the world of Fine Artist was a financial gamble and he spoke about the decision:
“…Many well-known illustrators were leaving the field and moving into the fine arts in the 1970’s. It was something I had always wanted to do but was told from the very beginning, “You’ll never make a living as a fine artist”. So, I chose to work in the commercial art side of the business. Seeing other illustrators make the leap encouraged me to do the same…”
The switch to Fine Arts from being an illustrator and graphic designer was a massive change in John’s life and he was aware of the perils of this transition, saying:
“…Change is always a gamble. Fortunately, I was pretty naïve concerning what it would take to succeed, and to the realities of the fine art business. I thought the transition would be smooth and easy. I would just start painting different subjects, charge the same prices I was getting as an illustrator, and begin calling myself a fine artist. The only part of that that worked out was that I was painting different subjects. Galleries recognized my work as being illustrative, and nothing sold at my illustration prices. Fortunately, the transition was eased somewhat by a friend who suggested I paint a series of paintings showing that the oil industry and wildlife could co-exist in the same area. If I did the paintings, he agreed to help me find six corporate sponsors that would purchase the paintings and their accompanying prints. That project worked well as it gave me time to begin working in oil, painting en plein air, developing my work, and funding my first year in the fine arts. Actually, there was not much thought given to financial success. I just figured one way or another this would work. However, it did take seven years to return to the level of income I was making as an illustrator…”
So how did the change of artistic direction go for John? He recalled those early day struggles:
“…Yes, there was a definite struggle. I did not realize it when I set my mind on becoming a fine artist, but fine art was beginning all over again. It is not a continuation of an illustration career; it’s starting a new career. I grew the career by doing lots of small paintings (5”x7” – 8” x 10”). These sold at very reasonable prices. I sold a lot of them, which helped grow a collector base. Then I began writing a monthly newsletter in order to stay in contact with the collectors. Determining the price structure for my paintings is interesting in itself: As stated earlier, I began using illustration prices for the paintings…nothing sold. I then cut the prices in half…nothing sold. I cut the prices in half again…I then began selling just about everything. That’s why those early paintings were so reasonable…”
John has painted in many mediums but his favourite is oils as it dries much slower than acrylic and thus affords him the chance to manipulate and correct his work until it is just right. He also is pleased by the way oils has substance and retains brushstrokes. When I asked John about his depictions being predominantly rural, he commented:
“…Much of what I paint are deeply felt impressions formed during my childhood. I grew up in the 1950s. It was a totally different time. I grew up in small neighbourhoods, small houses, small towns, near the country. My parents and grandparents had flourishing vegetable gardens. My mom made homemade cookies which I sold door to door. I had newspaper routes in which I delivered morning and evening newspapers door to door. I was free to ride my bicycle all around town and visit my friends. All these things, and much more, are in my work…”
His finished works are often the result of plein air painting which he enjoys but he says that about 99% of the plein air work is just for learning how to get a good handle on understanding nature. Some of those studies are used as a starting point for larger studio works. Less frequently, they are completed compositions unless they are for an art show or plein air competition, then, I will do larger completed works on location.
In so many of the artists I have looked at over the years many depict realist situations, such as the poverty of the peasants and the back-breaking labour they had to endure and so I asked John why he has not also painted those often harrowing depictions. He replied:
“…. I’ve never experienced personally the realities and hardships of actual farm life. I’ve been around farms, mainly as a child, so to this day have a more romanticized view. As an adult, I’m not unaware of the reality. I just choose to depict something that is somewhere between Realism and Idealism…”
He is also aware of the taste of the buying public. Do they want paintings depicting hard-hitting realism on the walls of their house or would they rather have idealised rural beauty adorning their lounges and dining rooms? John believes the latter is the case and the sale of his works of art bears out that assumption.
I asked him which of the great artists of the past he admired most. He was most definite with his reply:
“…My favourite expressions of art are found in the Barbizon and Naturalism schools. Breton and Millet are certainly two of my favourites, but there are many more from that era, painting in that genre. There are so many artist’s works, past and present that I greatly admire, so I will say that the 1800s is my absolute favourite period in art history…”
He said he loved the works of Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Jean-Francois Millet. In their paintings he saw a great sensitivity to people and nature. They have the ability to express all nature’s subtleties in such a unified, calming, peaceful way which he found very appealing. Only what is necessary is stated, nothing is overworked. He also liked the Naturalism of the art of Stanhope Forbes, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Leon Lhermitte, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, Charles Sprague Pearce, Frank Bramley, Jules-Alexis Muenier, George Clausen, Gari Melchers, and Jules Breton. He liked how the Naturalists works are highly refined, almost photographic. Subjects are of common folks in everyday situations, people of the land, usually depicted in rural settings. I find all this extremely appealing, especially the high degree of finish. Finally, he said that he loved the work of the Russian Itinerants, such as Arkhipov, Kramskov, Levitan, Perov, Repin, Svetoslavsky and how their paintings are gritty, earthy, bold, and emotionally powerful. He summed it up by saying:
“…The common thread running through all the work I most love is a sense of the real. Subjects are of common folk doing common tasks. They are not idealized. Small towns, cottages, rural landscapes, and people going about their daily lives in that environment predominate. All of the above artists speak of the reality and truth of everyday life, there is no pretentiousness. I feel each artist has approached their work and subject with humility and is therefore able to capture the soul and spirit of the subject with great sensitivity…”
I finally asked John on his views for Fine Art in the future and the up and coming aspiring artists. How will the future compare with the past? He replied:
“…I’m not sure what the future holds for the fine art of painting. There will always be a place for beautiful things, things that elevate, but whether individual hand-crafted paintings will have as much value and importance to future generations as they have had in the past, I don’t know.
Lack of art education, shortened attention span, ever expanding technology, increased desire for the latest and greatest thing…and a new generation that has had little exposure to fine art… could greatly affect how fine art is valued in the future.
That being said, among serious art students, there seems to be a real move toward realism, and even classicism. Non-objective art among many is seen as empty and devoid of substance. They want more. Ateliers, teaching solid drawing and painting principles, have sprung up around the world. The Art Renewal Center is a strong influence in promoting a return to representational art. Also, the current plein air movement in the United States has encouraged a huge number of amateur artists to pick up their brushes and go outdoors. The negative side of the plein air movement is that people seem to think if a work is done in plein air, it must be good. What I see is a lot of poorly executed, poorly composed, and poorly drawn works. When these works are promoted in magazines and social media, one is led to believe the work is good and that anyone can be an artist. Doing something quickly is better than doing something thoughtfully and carefully seems to be the driving force.
Painting workshops are very helpful in providing for an artist’s livelihood. Unfortunately, many that are teaching should not be teaching because their work is of poor quality. Also, not every good artist is a good teacher. I recommend choosing one’s instructor carefully.
Finally, I disagree with students taking one workshop after another, jumping from one instructor to the next. Over and over again, I see this happening but see no improvement in the students work. It seems it’s more about saying I studied with so-and-so, than actually seriously applying what is taught…”
John has received many awards for his art and in 2018 the Art Renewal Center, the largest online association with 50,000 of the greatest works in history, recognized him as a Living Master (ARCLM). The requirements for Living Master status are extensive with the main caveat being, “The artist has dedicated themselves to becoming a realist artist with the wish to express our shared humanity through the visual arts.”
To find out more about John Pototschnik have a look at his website: