Multiple visits make for great art

By Patricia Ann Speelman - [email protected]

Editor’s note: Airstream will host a fine art invitational exhibit of landscape art, May 31-June 5, at its headquarters in Jackson Center. This is one in a series of stories that will profile the artists whose work will be shown.

SIDNEY — Jim McVicker and his wife, Theresa Oats McVicker, of Loleta, California, have both been full-time fine artists since they married in 1988.

Jim will exhibit in the Airstream Fine Art Invitational art show in Jackson Center at the end of May.

“He has great integrity,” Theresa said about her husband. “He’ll do a painting (on location) and go back to the place over and over.”

Indeed, he does. He’s been known to return to a site at the same hour of the day as many as 20 times in order to complete one painting. He even puts artworks away and waits to go back on the same day a year later to get the right light, the right shadow.

McVicker works en plein air, outside, a lot. While many artists tend to work on only small pieces en plein air in order to finish them before the light shifts or the weather changes, McVicker isn’t cowed by such challenges. He works on canvases on location that are as large as 30 inches by 40 inches and takes wind gusts in his stride.

“I’ve had a couple of paintings end up in the river and one got carried away with the easel,” he laughed. But even that didn’t weaken his penchant for the outdoors. There are times, though, when he doesn’t have the luxury of returning.

“When I’m traveling and I know I only have two or three hours of time, I set my mind: ‘I’m going to get through this.’ I work faster and (the painting is more) suggestive,” he said. “When I go to plein air events and you want to get a body of work done, you work faster.”

But what he likes to do best is take all the time it takes to make a painting.

“Sometimes, when I start, I know I’m going to spend more than one or two sittings. It’s (about) getting a deeper appreciation of the landscape. When I can live with a painting, a landscape for four or five days or two weeks, I get a deep understanding, so working with it allows more detail to develop,” he said.

Those two different approaches show up in his artwork. Some of it is looser, more abstract. Some of it is detailed and specific.

“When there’s a structure (like a building or a boat) in there, it gives it more clarity,” he said.

Although he and Theresa love to travel, McVicker doesn’t have to go far for intriguing subjects to capture on panel or canvas.

“The area my wife and I live in is really beautiful, and often I find things just going up and down our road. Twenty-five miles north is the coast. We go up there and paint a lot. And we have a gorgeous yard and garden,” he said.

He admitted to hating gardening, “but I love the results of it,” he said. Down time is often spent potting plants, “but they usually have a destination of ending up in a painting,” he laughed.

McVicker’s still lifes are as dynamic as his landscapes. He works mostly in oil, but on his bucket list is conquering watercolor.

“Oil is my medium and watercolor is my hobby,” he laughed some more. “I love watercolor painting. I find it incredibly difficult. When I get (a good) one, I’m thrilled. I really want to spend a little time away from my oils and do watercolors for two or three months.”

Also on the bucket list is doing more figurative work and portraits.

“And I’ve thought about a more large, complex still life I’d like to do,” he said.

The artist doesn’t usually use small location paintings as studies for larger studio work.

“Once in a while, for things I’d never be able to get back to to do a larger painting. I’ve had mixed results and mixed emotions because to me it’s not the same feeling as being on location, itself,” he said. Even so, he almost always works more on his plein air stuff when he’s back in his studio.

“In the studio, when he assesses it, he’s brutally honest,” Theresa said. “I’ll say it looks really good and he’ll say there’s something (he) didn’t get.”

One thing he doesn’t do is add elements to the scene.

“I don’t tend to take something out of my imagination if it’s not there in the composition,” he said. “I tend to look for scenes that have everything from the start. Not to say I don’t use my imagination to simplify. I see compositions everywhere. Everything is so beautiful out there. There are thousands of compositions just the way they sit.”

As he’s designing the painting, McVicker might compress a scene or move elements apart if the scene is too busy.

“He won’t put a color down because it’s pretty or a lighting effect because it’s dazzling. If the real effect is dazzling he’ll do that, but he won’t fake it,” Theresa said. “He did this painting on a freezing cold day. The wind is up. He’s standing there. Of course, he’s cold. He did a small painting. At home, he did a bigger painting. In the bigger one, you’d swear he felt every branch with the weight of cold on it.”

She attributes that to his compassion and empathy.

“I paint the stuff I love to paint,” her husband said. “I don’t go pick things that I know would sell.” At the same time, there are some artworks that are done just for himself, including a series of abstracts that he has never marketed.

“Those were for my own entertainment and exploration,” he said.

Both McVickers like visiting art museums when they travel. They study the brushwork, the movement, the shapes, the tone in artwork done by others.

“We see something that goes, “Aha. We can use that color or that brush,” Theresa said.

The “other” whose work McVicker would like to have is Johannes Vermeer.

“‘Girl with a Red Hat.’ It’s in the National Gallery of Art. I just think it’s an absolutely perfect and stunning painting: his expression of light and color, the mood in it. He’s always influenced my still life paintings,” McVicker said.

His own work is in the Irvine Museum. He has won awards from, among others, Plein Air Magazine and the California Art Club. Examples of his landscapes and still lifes are at And a painting he has yet to complete will be in Jackson Center soon.

By Patricia Ann Speelman

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.