This week we bring you part 2 of our interview with John Maslen, Bob Books illustrator and award-winning watercolor painter.
Q: How did you become interested in art and painting?
A: Art has always been something I’ve been interested in. I think my earliest paintings began in 4th grade after my aunt bought me an oil painting set. I used it to paint scenes of German and Japanese planes crashing into each other and pilots with blood dripping from their mouths. Typical 4th grade boy kind of stuff, I suppose.
Then I attended Rhode Island School of Design for college. While at RISD I didn’t take any painting classes but instead studied women’s clothing design. I never did use that degree professionally—in hindsight I figure the only purpose of that coursework was to find a wife (this is how I met my wife, Bobby [Bobby Lynn Maslen, Bob Books author.])
While at college, I needed to make a little money and I got a job painting Italian-style furniture. Bobby would visit me in this tiny studio and we would hang out and talk—I didn’t have much money at the time so we didn’t go out on many real dates. I remember that I got in the habit of wiping my paintbrush off on my blue jeans to clean off the paint; after a while, those jeans were so thick with paint and gold leaf that they stood up by themselves!
After college I joined the Armed Services and served as a PIO (Public Information Officer) right around the time that the Korean War was winding down. Because of my art background, I was charged with the task of creating troop education posters.
Then I returned to RISD for my degree in architecture. Bobby and I married, moved to Portland, Oregon and I spent 20 years as an architect. I felt the urge to paint during my architecture career but it was difficult to find the time while there were four kids living at home. We were also busy with the Bob Books.
Q: How did you go from being a full-time architect to a full-time artist?
A: We saw some tough economic times in the early 1980s, not unlike what we’re seeing now. Architecture clients were hard to come by and I wasn’t getting paid much for the work. The kids were getting ready to leave the nest and I thought it was time to pursue something different, like painting.
Q: What did you paint?
A: Well, I thought that perhaps I wanted to be an oil painter so I put visqueen on my living room floor and started on a big oil painting… oh, it was a huge mess–- and resulted in an outrageously bad painting. After that, I decided to paint in watercolors; it was much less messy. And I could throw my clothes in the wash afterward.
Q: What kind of paintings do you do now?
A: Exclusively watercolors. I started out with a marine focus and then moved to non-objective art.
Q: What do you mean by non-objective art? Is it like abstract art?
A: No, abstract art still contains shapes and forms that are recognizable. In non-objective art, no figures or objects are recognizable.
Q: What is the process like, how long does it take you to create a painting?
A: (chuckles) Oh, as Winslow Homer once famously said… “about 3 hours and 40 years.” It can be a long process. First I sketch my painting out on paper. I did a lot of sketching for Bob Books so this comes naturally. For my non-objective and abstract art, I keep sketching and putting color on the paper until things start to evolve.
Q: Have you won any awards?
A: While practicing architecture, I won an American Institute of Architects award for design of the solar community where my family lived.
Currently I’m a signature (juried) member of several arts organizations: the National Watercolor Society, the Transparent Watercolor Society, the Watercolor Society of Oregon, and the American Society of Marine Artists. Recently I received Master Watercolor Artist status in the Transparent Watercolor Society, which means that my art was accepted into a juried show ten years in a row. Only about 1 in 10 artists get accepted into these shows so it’s a real honor.
Another award I received recently is the Diamond Award from the American Art Society of Oregon. It’s based on a point system; every time your art gets into a show or you win an award you win points. Once you’ve reached a certain number of points, you win the award.
Q: Where can we see your art?
Q: And you also teach workshops?
There is a beautiful facility on the Oregon coast, Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology, where I teach a watercolor art class once per year. It’s a week-long course and it’s terrific. A number of my students return year after year. One of my students has attended the class all eleven times I offered it.