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Interview with John Sloane

John Sloane always wanted to be an artist, and his talents were noticed as he went through school. His teachers encourage him to develop his talents, and he decided on a career as an illustrator while he was still a teenager.

Sloane opted to pursue a liberal arts degree, but spent his spare time in college developing his skills in painting and composition. Shortly after his graduation, he began to obtain free-lance commissions and has since developed a loyal clientele of publishers and collectors.

Sloane’s paintings highlight the beauty and variety of nature in all four seasons and the simple pleasures of country life. Check out John Sloane’s 2013 Country Seasons calendar line at Calendars.com.

You’re able to capture perfectly the sense of each season. Do you have a favorite season or particular time of year?
I love experiencing every season, so I would have to say that my favorite season is whichever one I’m in at the moment. Whenever possible, I like to paint pictures in the months in which they are set, as this allows me to feel and observe the many nuances of the season from life. I enjoy trying to capture the feeling of the sky in different seasons, the foliage of trees in summer and the texture of snow in winter.
 Of course, an observer soon notices that there are many seasons within each season, as nature is in a constant process of unfolding. I think the most challenging months to paint are November and March, as those months are bare and rather colorless, and it can be hard to come up with new ways to portray them. But I have found that some of my favorite paintings turn out to be for those months!

Many of the scenes you paint have the feel of a bygone era.  How do you accomplish that without having lived during that time?
I have always felt an affinity for anything old-fashioned, so I just naturally tend to think in that way. I find old houses, barns, horses and buggies, antique autos and period clothes to be much more interesting to paint than their contemporary counterparts. Also, I admire the ideals of traditional country values and the importance of our nation’s agricultural heritage.

Your Victorian farmhouse, Hearts Haven, that you and your wife renovated sounds like a labor of love. Tell us about it.
It is indeed a labor of love.  Growing up in the city and suburbs, my wife and I shared a life-long dream of someday living in the country. We were fortunate to find a small nineteenth century farmhouse for sale, in need of renovation and situated in a lovely country setting. I was just young and idealistic enough at the time to be willing to undertake what would become a huge challenge of renovation. I think that over the years we have replaced or re-built just about everything on our old house, from the foundation to the roof. For one summer the entire house remained jacked up on a hydraulic lift as a new basement was dug and concrete was poured under it!And I designed and built a wrap-around veranda for the house. My dream was to be able to sit with my wife on an old wooden swing on an open front porch. Working together, we made the dream come true.

The places you depict in your paintings are so lifelike. Are they real places, or do they spring from your imagination?
The subjects of my paintings are imaginary, though they are often based on places I have been. Each painting usually begins with a kernel of reality that inspires me, and I then let my imagination take over. It has been said that writers often write the kind of books they would like to read. I guess I paint the kind of scenes I would like to inhabit.

People and animals populate your idealized landscapes. Are the people based on people you know?Do you have pets, and do you include them in your paintings?
Like my landscapes, the people in my paintings are a blend of the real and the imaginary. I like to include figures in my paintings whenever I can, in order to give life to the scenes. Often I will pose myself or my wife, attired in appropriate costumes, in order to get just the right look for what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes family or friends are called on to pose.
 Over the years, all of my dogs have been featured in my paintings, as well as local farm dogs, animals and wildlife.  

What inspires your paintings?
Living in the country and enjoying the cycle of the seasons as I do, I would say that just about everything is a potential source of inspiration. I have so many ideas that it can sometimes be difficult for me to choose what to paint next. Sometimes a scene will inspire me to paint, while at other times an old-fashioned activity will be the starting point, and a scene will develop around that. In each series of paintings, I always try to present an interesting assortment of images and moods.

Tell us about the space where you paint.
I paint at home, in my finished basement studio that I had specially built when the house was renovated. In it I have plenty of room to paint, work tables, a cutting board, a storage area and a darkroom. I also have plenty of shelves where I keep a large collection of audio books and music CD’s. I have always loved listening to audio books while I paint. As I listen, the hours of work seem to fly by.

How long does it generally take you to complete a painting for your calendars?
I am very methodical in my creative process. Each painting takes me about a month to complete, from the conception to the final brush stroke. I begin by making thumb-nail sketches of my ideas and developing my subjects patiently until I am satisfied with the composition. I make a small but very detailed preliminary sketch, trying to work out all potential difficulties before I get to the final drawing stage. Once I’m satisfied with the design, I transfer it to my large drawing board by means of drawing grids and eye-balling the image, drawing lightly, square by square, until the entire outline is transferred. From there, I refine my final composition freehand in pencil. After that, I’m ready to begin painting. The more figures or architectural details and perspective that are depicted in the picture, the longer it takes me to paint. But I can usually finish everything within about thirty days.

You’re incredibly prolific. How do you maintain the discipline required to continue to create for so many years?
I don’t think of myself as being particularly prolific, but I am steady in my work habits. As a self-employed person, I learned long ago the value of maintaining discipline in my work days. I am now working on the new series for what will be the twenty-ninth collection of my calendar paintings. That will make 348 paintings painted in as many months!Yes, it’s prolific in the long run, but it is the result of long and steady work, over decades. I am especially fortunate to have the opportunity to share my vision and my art for so many years.

What’s a typical workday for you like?
As I hinted earlier, I am a creature of habit, so my workdays are pretty much unvarying. I begin every morning with a long walk with my dog down the old cow path through the meadow behind my house. I find these walks to be creatively stimulating, as I often get some of my best ideas while on these outings. It also keeps me from spending too much time sitting at my drawing board.
 After breakfast, I usually spend some time on business and e-mails. As soon as possible, I head into the studio. I customarily paint through the afternoon and evening, while taking periodic breaks and walking my dog. I sometimes think that I spend as much time walking my dog as I do painting!
 It may seem like a long working day, but my enthusiasm for each painting carries my along.

If you could choose to live during the times that you depict in your paintings, would you?
I think we are blessed in the present day with the highest standard of living in history, so I wouldn’t choose to live in the past. Nevertheless, I believe that many vital traditional values and folkways have become lost or obscured over time. Each year I am saddened by the ongoing loss of the natural countryside to the relentless sprawl of urban development. In the years since I began painting, I have witnessed the gradual loss of many irreplaceable old barns, farmhouses and farmlands.  Part of my mission in painting is to celebrate traditional ideals and to capture and preserve the symbols of our vanishing heritage.  

Your fans have purchased your calendars for years. To what do you attribute their popularity and longevity?
The imaginary world that I depict in my paintings is my dream of an ideal realm of peace and rustic beauty. It is a contemplative world where life follows the unhurried cycle of the seasons. By contrast, the real world continues to rush on at an almost impossible pace, and day to day living can become quite hectic at times. I like to think that my paintings offer viewers a peaceful place to rest from time to time, a spacious country of the mind, far removed from the stress and distractions of daily living.

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Meet an Artist: John Sloane (Four Seasons)

We have been very excited to get this interview up for many months. I can tell you that from our phone conversations, John has one of the most gentle hearts imaginable. He has one of those voices that reminds you that things are going to be OK. When he goes for a walk, I know he is the type of person who intrinsically stops to smell the flowers whenever possible. It was a joy working with him on the interview, and we look forward to many more interactions with John.

We hope you enjoy his interview!

(Interview questions by Patti Daniel, a Customer Service Supervisor at Calendars.com)

An Interview with John Sloane

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Although I grew up in the suburbs during the 1950′s and 60′s, I have always been a country person at heart.  My idea of perfect happiness is just taking time out on a nice day to sit with my wife on the old-fashioned swing on the porch of our farmhouse.  There, I can leave my cares a million miles away, relax and enjoy the passing sights, sounds, and scents of the country.

Which historical art figure do you most identify with?

My favorite artist has always been Norman Rockwell.  I love his superb technique and the warm humanity that he was able to impart into his human interest subjects.  Aspiring to be an artist, I taught myself how to paint by studying his life and art, taking the opportunity to see his original paintings whenever they were on display.

My favorite landscape painter is Ivan Shishkin, a nineteenth-century Russian artist.  He’s not so well-known in this country, but I came across a book of his artwork when I was a boy and became deeply influenced by his mastery of trees, foliage and moods of the countryside.  I think his work deserves to be re-discovered and appreciated for the wonderful art that it is.

What do you consider to be your greatest artistic achievement thus far?  What pieces of your own art do you display in your home?  Collect any other art?

I would have to say that my greatest achievement, thus far, lies in the total body of work that I have steadily produced for my calendars over the years.  During the past twenty-five years, I have painted 300-400 paintings in an attempt to preserve images of traditional American country ideals, folkways, and our vanishing heritage of old barns and farmhouses.

I don’t display my own art at home, other than to have my calendar in our kitchen.  I find it very difficult to resist the urge to keep analyzing my own artwork when it’s always hanging in my view.  I’m always thinking about how I could have improved it.

I don’t really collect other original artwork, although I do enjoy collecting antique books illustrated by the nineteenth-century English illustrator Hugh Thomson.  Thomson’s delightful pen-and-ink drawings illustrate many of the classics, and I admire his ability to draw beautifully without the use of models or photgraphic references.

What is your favorite journey?

My favorite journey was the trip my wife and I made around the backroads of New England when we were on our honeymoon many years ago.  My wife, who is an avid photographer, took hundreds of photos of the old farms and countryside that we visited along the way.  These inspired me to begin painting the landscape subjects that I love.  For me, it was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day.

Do you keep a schedule?

As a self-employed person, I have found that self-discipline is essential to working successfully.  I do keep a regular personal schedule which enables me to be as productive as possible.  I think people who work for themselves are likely to work longer hours than most other people.  With me, my work is my pleasure, so the two are hard to separate.  My artwork is such a part of me that I don’t think of it as work.  It is simply what I do.

What is your favorite, most inspiring season?  Month?  Day of the week?

Living in the country as I do, I am happy to find inspiration in every season or time of the month, week, or day.  There is always something new to stimulate my imagination. One of the challenges I enjoy in painting the seasons is attempting to capture the subtleties in the quality of light at different times of the day or year.  One soon observes that morning light has a very different quality than evening light, and the air itself filters distant views in fascinating ways at different times of the day and year.  I enjoy taking long walks with my dog to observe the changing colors and moods of the landscape.  This morning, for example, I was marveling at the many colors that can be seen reflected in the snow – pale warm blues from the sky, ultramarine, yellows and golds from the sunshine, and even russets and pinks in the shadows!  The trick is to blend these colors in paint that way that nature does in life.  I still have so much to learn.

What is your motto?

Life has a way of throwing unwelcome surprises at us, things that are beyond our control.  Often, it is difficult for us to know whether these occurrences are truly negative without knowing what life’s “Big Picture” is.  Nevertheless, these events can be disorienting, causing us to lose a sense of direction in our life.

Above my drawing board I have written the words “Let Providence Be Your Compass”.  It is my way of reminding myself to go with the flow, to remain flexible in my goals in life, and to look at apparent setbacks as opportunities for advancement.

Listening to any musical artists in particular lately?  Read any good books?  Who?

It’s funny how music can stimulate my work process.  When I am trying to conceive a new composition, I find that listening to classical music can be helpful.  My favorite composer is Mozart.  But when I actually begin to paint, I frequently enjoy listening to something more lively, like 1950s doo-wop, or perhaps I concentrate on listening to a good audiobook.  They help the time to pass quickly, and the work flows.  Before I know it, the painting is finished!

I enjoy reading the classics of world literature, but often take time out for a good mystery novel.  Right now, I am reading the delightful books in the Moosepath League series by Van Reid, which are set in 19th-century Maine.  Highly recommended!

Are you a Night Owl or Early Bird?

I think I’m inclined to be more of a night owl than an early bird.  My work schedule takes me through all hours of the day, and I am used to painting until 10:00 p.m. every evening.  The trouble is, my dog is an early bird, so he usually wakes me before dawn to go for a long walk in the early hours.  I don’t really mind this, as those quiet morning hours give me plenty of time to contemplate new thoughts and ideas, though I usually have to make up for it with a short afternoon nap.  I get some of my best ideas while walking the dog!

Buy John Sloane’s Four Seasons at Calendars.com

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