Interview with artist Joyce Durkin

Posted November 27 2012

Originally Submitted on August 24, 2011 by Kelly Powers

Every time I see work I think is stunning, I remember that a human being has devoted themselves to that work. It doesn't happen over night. It happens with a lot of hard work. Joyce Durkin is no exception to that rule. Read her interview, be inspired and then go back to your own art. It is worth the struggle.

Pink Chicks, Watercolor by Joyce DurkinYou work between several mediums. Do you feel you can speak to some subject  better in one medium over another? How do you decide what to work in?

I've always felt I could tackle botanical subjects better in watercolor. I stuck with watercolors exclusively for many years and when I finally reached for my oils again I just felt more comfortable doing landscapes with them. It's only been recently that I've tried doing other subject matter in oils, and just in the last few months did it occur to me to try doing botanical subjects as well.
I don't really decide which medium to work in - the subject seems to decide for me. Painting (any creative activity, really) puts you in the "zone." It's almost like taking dictation sometimes!

You did not start out with an art education or ever considered art as a "real job." How did you finally make that switch in thinking? Was it hard to start identifying yourself as an artist?Grapefruit, Peppers, Cantaloupes by Joyce Durkin

Growing up, I bought into the prevailing wisdom (and I use that word loosely!) that it really wasn't necessary for a girl to further her education - she would marry and her husband would "take care of her". How quaint we were back then! But I desperately wanted to further my education and since my parents refused to "waste" money on educating a daughter, I went to nursing school, something I could fund myself. For most of the years of my marriage I stayed home and raised my 6 (yes, I know - SIX!!!) children and longed to express myself artistically. I saw an ad in the local paper advertising art lessons - no artistic talent necessary. I quickly signed up. We all did the same oil painting that was demonstrated to us (someone once called this "method painting"). Whatever it was, it was enough to whet my appetite and soon I started painting my own choice of subjects. I think that was what triggered me to think of myself as an artist - that independent creating. It was definitely hard to identify myself as an artist. First, it was a LONG time before I felt really good enough. Additionally, I was so immured for so long identifying myself as someone's wife or mommy. Back then, there just wasn't enough time for my art either. We were moving frequently - 8 corporate relocations in 18 years.

You write about the "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady." What was it about that book that changed your perspective?
Growing up, I spent most of my time in the "fields" in our neighborhood. We collected flowers and caught butterflies, climbed trees, and hid in the "jungle"(sumac trees). Then the New York State Thruway plowed through our bit of heaven and destroyed most of it. I think when I saw "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" for the first time, it reminded me of that time of innocence and oneness with the environment that is so lost today. The moment I opened that book, I thought "Yes!" - you can remember in paint!
Pink Roses, White Roses by Joyce Durkin
Once you realized you wanted to be an artist, how did you pursue it? Did you realize you wanted to paint flowers right away or did it take some time to discover exactly what you wanted to paint?
Soon after I received "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" I decided to pursue botanical illustration and began taking watercolor lessons.

How long did it take you before you felt that you had developed a personal style?
It was many years and many lessons later that I felt really competent and my style just seemed to evolve on it's own actually.

Pink Ladies, Oil by Joyce DurkinHow did your art change once you could devote yourself to it full time?
My art didn't really change once I could devote myself to it full time. I'd worked at it for so long but now I could finally relax and take my time with it. I'd say that I changed more. I'd been working night shift nursing for 12 years and raising my family on my own (my husband passed away rather young - so much for daughters not needing an education!) so being able to stay home and paint all day felt like I'd died and gone to heaven!

How do you approach your art now? How much time do you spend painting finished paintings versus bettering your drawing skills?
My approach to painting: Like I said, this often feels like taking dictation. Something will just say "Paint me!" and I am eager to start. Sometimes I find something else "speaks" to me when I'm thinking of nothing in particular. Then I start working on the drawing - this is very time-consuming because I feel like it's a "map" for me to follow so I take care with it. When I finally start to paint, I first look for the "base" color - what color underlies everything? I wet each individual area; when it looses it's sheen, I wet again. Now the paper is ready to accept the paint and I like to use strong color. Wetting in this way allows the paper to really "grab" the paint and hold onto it so subsequent glazes don't disrupt it. I just continue in this way, building up color until I reach what I feel is the true color and value.

I attend a weekly figure drawing open studio at a nearby art school. If you can draw the human figure, you can draw anything!

Magnolia, Watercolor by Joyce DurkinDo you finish a piece in one setting or do you stop at points and spend time thinking about how to precede?
My paintings generally take several days to weeks to complete. I am frequently surprised that the longer I look at something or a photograph that I'm working from, that I begin to see colors and values and details that I didn't see before, even after staring at it for days!

You paint similar subject matter in both oil and watercolor. How does your process change when you work in one medium or the other?
I usually paint landscapes in oils but recently decided to try doing the same things and use the same glazing techniques that I do with watercolors - that was a bit of an "a-ha" moment! Why didn't I think of that before?!

To see more of Joyce's work, visit her website.