Interview with Artist Scott Yelonek
Scott Yelonek has been honing his style for over 20 years. Finding inspiration in forgotten and discarded items from the past, Yelonek combines keen design and masterful technical skills to render photo-realistic still life that you can almost feel in your hands.
How important has this sort of self study been to your improvement as an artist? Any advice for other artists looking at self study?
It has been incredibly important. Continued learning will always be a priority because it’s paramount for me to never become stagnant in one point of view or mode of creating. This is the path, for example, that led me towards oil painting after so many years of watercolor. For artists looking to gain new insights— Never stop learning. No matter how big or small, there’s always an opportunity to expand your skill set.
Do you think there is an artistic benefit from not having to rely on your art as full time income? And if yes, what?
Absolutely. So much freedom comes with the ability to create art without worrying about its financial ramifications in everyday life. Part of what makes keeping my day job such a simple solution is that I’m still working creatively, just in a different facet. Separating my art from my career also affords me the ability to never feel like painting is a chore. I derive joy from my creative process and I think that is conveyed in the final pieces.
So many people feel like they don’t have time to paint or draw. How have you balanced the two jobs and made time for art? How do you have/make time?
On any given day, there are always so many things that can take up our time if we let them. I find being diligent with my routine and carving out an hour or two every day allows for me to keep moving even if I’m feeling stuck creatively.
What has a career of graphic design brought to your painting? What does graphic design teach you that maybe traditional art school doesn’t?
I think graphic design and fine art degrees are addressing the same idea from two different perspectives. Where a traditional art program may lean heavier towards history and theory; graphic design, both in school and throughout my career has required me to be a technician first. I’m always viewing my work as creative problem solving whether that be in painting or design.
Speaking of design, how important is design to your paintings?
Design is integral to my painting process. I view graphic design as a creative puzzle—working in required elements with finesse and attention to hierarchy and balance. Many of these same principles carry over to painting. I tend to take great care in the drawing and planning phase so that the perspective is aligned and the composition meaningful.
You paint in both watercolor and oil. They seem so different in technique. How has working in both informed your style?
The process of oil and watercolor are nearly opposite, which is what keeps it so intriguing to switch back and forth between them. Watercolor requires working light to dark and oil, dark to light so it’s a great brain exercise. I tend to gravitate towards oil when I’m looking to work with vivid and expressive color and choose watercolor when I’m wanting to achieve a greater level of detail.
Art is all about contrast (value, color, texture, etc). What contrasts are you playing with in your work?
The contrast I’ve been focused on lately is that of shadow and light. Working with how the light and darkness fall on these old forgotten objects and how it seems to alter our perception of them and their narrative has been so interesting. Additionally, I often use texture in my work to convey contrast and to mimic the inherent qualities of the objects.
How do you approach your palette and pigments? Do you use a limited or more expanded palette? Why?
My palette varies, project to project as I let my subject dictate the coloring. I will say there is a theme of rust that is inherent in a lot of my work— for that I tend to use Quinacridone Gold. As far as my preference for transparent or opaque, I tend to incorporate both in any given painting by using opaque colors on the foreground and focal point and fading to more transparent colors in the backgrounds.
You’ve been painting for over 20 years. What part of painting (color theory vs composition vs drawing etc) do you think is most important for a beginner to focus on and why?
For a beginner, I’d say draw anything and everything you can. Drawing is so crucial in the art making process as it is truly the foundation for getting what you have in your head onto the paper or canvas. As we all hear, time and time again, practice and time spent honing your craft is really what separates a novice from a master. I try to focus my efforts on putting in the hours and always looking for new learning opportunities.
You paint “forgotten and discarded items from a bygone era.” What is it about these objects that draws you to them? What do you think is the power of these objects? What is it that you’re trying to say by painting them?
In the age of technology and instant gratification, I think these objects and their rich history have a narrative that showcases the craftsmanship and handmade qualities that we just don’t see today. There are parallels here to my painting process that is slow and methodical in contrast to the fast digital nature of graphic design.
To learn more about Scott Yelonik and his work, visit his website.