Interview with artist Mario Robinson

Posted May 29 2015

Creative Catalyst recently began carrying two DVDs by Mario A. Robinson.

Artist Mario Andres Robinson was living in New Jersey when a fifth grade teacher discovered his gift for art. This marked a creative explosion that would lead Robinson to study art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New Work.

Robinson has studied the great masters but it’s the work of the American artists of the 19th and 20th century that have truly provided the foundations for his style. His work has a sense of realism but is universal and as his website states, “exhibits a distinct turn-of-the-century stylistic aesthetic.”

In the early 90s, Robinson turned his artistic eye to rural Alabama where he began a series of personal portraits where he would develop a relationship with the sitter and the painting would reflect the uniqueness of his or her personal story.


How did you become interested in art?

I became interested in art as an adolescent. My fifth grade teacher gave me the task of drawing several portraits of United States presidents for an open house. I had no prior knowledge of my drawing abilities, although I had always been enamored with the artistic talent of fellow classmates. It was that chance suggestion by my teacher that lead me to begin a Talented & Gifted Program at the high school the following year. From that point on, all my other interests fell by the wayside. I knew that creating art was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Did you go to art school?  How did it prepare you for a life as an artist?  How did it not prepare you?

I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I was particularly interested in Art History, as a student. It was intriguing to view the works of great masters who lived in various parts of the world. As I learned more about the artists' lives and the conditions in which they worked, my appreciation for their work grew exponentially. I also developed the discipline to fully commit to a project and wisely manage my time.




When did you decide to make a career of it  and become a full-time artist?

I decided to become a full-time artist upon leaving apart school. The concept of deferring a career in art and working in another field generally means that the practice of art becomes a hobby. My decision to make the sacrifice to fully commit to art as a profession seemed totally logical, at the time. I had the support of a few close friends who allowed me to sleep on their couches for a brief period of time, as my career became more stable.


How did you approach learning to paint? Was it self-instructed? How did you use teachers, art videos and books to direct your learning process?

When I began my career 21 years ago, the Internet was not available on a global level as it is today. I developed the pastel technique, which I still employ. It was born out of trial and error and refined over time. I also taught myself to use watercolor, in addition to reading books and visiting museums for inspiration. My formal art education included oil painting techniques and life drawing. After college, I dedicated all my time to painting and the thought of studying with another artist or attending a workshop never crossed my mind. For artists who learn visually, workshops, DVDs and books are excellent tools.




What advice would you give to someone who wants to teach themselves to learn to paint?

If you make the decision to be self-taught, it's important to be totally honest with yourself. There are several components to consider during the painting process. Remain open to constructive criticism from your peers. Also, if there's an area with which you're constantly struggling, seek assistance from a teacher or fellow artist who has mastered that particular discipline.


 How much time do you spend painting now? Do you set a weekly or daily schedule or do you just see where the week takes you?

I paint seven days per week. My work day begins at 8 AM and ends at 4:30 PM. There are days that side projects require my attention and I usually work on them at night. It is crucial that I maintain a strict working schedule, as it places a priority on my creative process. In the age of social media, it's easy to give in to distraction. I am less likely to get sidetracked once I begin to focus on the nuts and bolts of my work.


Have you ever changed mediums you work in?  What did the new medium say that you couldn’t express in the previous medium?

I used pastel to create paintings for the first ten years of my career. The crosshatching technique I used was labor intensive and time consuming. The average time for completion was between three and four months. As the demand for my work increased, it became difficult to maintain the integrity of the large-scale paintings. I had an affinity for watercolor, so I decided to teach myself how to use the medium. The spontaneous nature of the medium allowed me to express my ideas in a more immediate manner. I was also intrigued by the transparent quality of the pigments.




What type of images move you to paint? Do you paint from reference photos? From memory?  How do you approach a piece? Do you work through thumbnails before beginning or do you go directly to the page?

I am inspired by everyday people and the lives they lead. The subjects in my paintings are not wealthy or connected, however they possess a richness of character. I live in a coastal town in New Jersey near the Atlantic Ocean, therefore I'm also drawn to seascapes, beach scenes and boats. I work from reference photos, live models or plein air depending upon the situation. I have found that older models are less willing or able to hold poses, in comparison to younger models. I like to begin with a sketch, prior to photographing a person, in order to study their features. There is no replacement for working from life, however using other aids can assist an artist with their process.


How can less experienced artists find their style?

Artists who are seeking to break through in the field of art should listen to their own voice. While it's tempting to emulate a successful artist, it is more gratifying to chart your own distinct course. While we are all inspired by the work of other artists, it's vital to allow your unique point of view to flourish. You should see more of yourself in your work, rather than another artist.


How do you market your art?

I market my work through my newsletter from my personal website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and three galleries throughout the country. I have appeared regularly in art magazines, where I discuss my various techniques. It's a delicate balance, as marketing is necessary to sustain a career in art, however the creative process requires a lot of time.


Where do you see your art taking you in the next 5 to 10 years?  Any hopes and dreams?

My advice to newer artists is being sure that a career in art is what you really want. There are rewarding moments and recognition for the established artist, which can be tantalizing to an up and coming artist. The career of an artist is demanding and the competition among peers is fierce. Artistic merit is only one component to thriving in the art world. It is a retail business and most decisions are based upon the artist's ability to generate commerce. If you are fully committed to your art, these factors will not deter you. Your passion will fuel you through the highs and lows of your career.


Mario's website is:

You can learn more about his two DVD workshops here.