An Interview with Gayle Joyce Oroz

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing a very accomplished watercolor artist and lovely person, Gayle Sleznick. She is an active member of the Aromas Hills Artisans. Gayle frequently and joyfully shares her newest painting techniques and materials with the members—along with her regular students. I know you will enjoy the answers she gives to my questions.

Gayle, who in particular has inspired you?

One who was my real inspiration was Muriel Doggett, an artist from Livermore, who pulled me out from under a bush my first day at Asilomar, where I was trying to paint something/ anything, shaking in my boots, knowing it would be critiqued by Millard Sheets that evening. Muriel Doggett was a powerful woman and artist in her own right. She spun me around and said, "nonsense, Millard will love this", and he did. Later a friend and student of Muriel's, Marge Alderson, joined us. Marge was one of the founders of the Torpedo Factory located in Alexandria, (an art complex, built in what had been a torpedo factory during the war, housing 250 artists who work and sell out of their studios, has two galleries, teaching space and art supply store). It revived the Old Town of Alexandria. We three roomed together, painted together, went to other workshops, always pushing each other to do our best. Muriel died of cancer 27 years ago, but, her constant yammering in my ear, with solid instruction, remains with me today. Marge instructed for Flying Watercolors and ran workshops from the Torpedo Factory. I continued to join her as a roommate and helped where ever needed when she was instructing in England, Bali, France, Italy, Mexico or Ghost Ranch. Another fine lady, Miriam McNitt, who lived at Yosemite, was a stitchery artist of renown and an accountant. She insisted I pursue my passion to painting along with helping me set up my books. Her large murals can be seen at Yosemite. Richard Nelson, who lives on Maui, studied under Joseph Albers at Yale, introduced me to painting with the three primaries. Since I was traveling to Europe to paint at the time, limiting my list of colors seemed like a good idea. It was and has been my method ever since. Some of these friends are gone, but they set my course.

Why do you paint and teach?

I paint, because I cannot, not paint. It is a complete part of me. It defines my personality. Once you have been exposed to so many fine teachers and methods and have become rather competent yourself, it is time to give back. Learning an art form is difficult in a structured classroom. I have always felt the Arts are best taught in a mentoring or apprenticeship format.

What do you enjoy the most, painting or teaching and why?

•I love the painting part the most. It requires discipline, but where I go with the brush is for me. It is me.
•Teaching is more structured and makes one really understand the subject by putting it into words. It is for the students. With a teaching background, I want to be prepared with an outline and course of study, to give them the most for the time we have together. That takes time and thought, but nothing is more fun than to see the visuals that come out of those who suddenly not only look at things, but actually start to see them.

Besides watercolor, do you like any other mediums?

They say oil painting is like a dog. Watercolor is like a cat. I tried oil painting. Guess I am a cat person. I tried stitchery, macramé, stained glass (love the end product) ,sculpting, but watercolor became all consuming and the easiest to pack up and move and we were moving a lot. Drawing is a part of a watercolorist’s world. The use of pencil, ink and pastels are a recreation to my painting. With over 35 years of painting I have explored all sorts of water based paints, mediums that change the surfaces of the paper and every color imaginable and multitudes of new brushes on the market. I have gone from realistic to loose renditions, colage, abstract and back again. Not sure I have gotten any of it right, yet, but all the possibilities keeps me going.

Gayle, what is your best advice to up-starts in the painting business?

If you decide to paint, never consider it a hobby you might enjoy. Push towards professionalism from the beginning. Taking on watercolor is not a frivolous medium. Understand it will be costly to gather supplies. Start with the best paint, brushes and paper. Student grade will only be a handicap. Expose yourself to master painters early on. Colleges offer classes and a place to start, but the true painters, who are in the business, give workshops. California has some of the best. Set yourself up to many methods and subjects. Drawing is just as essential as Painting. Do not expect success immediately. Watercolor is done in layers. Your learning follows the same path. You are you and no one else contains your background which will definitely show in your painting, if you stay true to yourself.

Go to art shows, museums, subscribe to watercolor magazines, buy books on watercolor. Look and look and look some more at paintings.

You may give away some of your earlier paintings to family and friends, but once you sell a painting, you have to set yourself up with the Board of Equalization. At that time, you know you have gone professional.

Once an artist is properly trained in the fine art of painting, she feels comfortable breaking the rules now and then. What rules have you broken-if any?

Classes in formal school teach rules, the student parrots them back and those rules lead to correct answers. The painter has rules called the Elements and Principals of Design, but the choices of color, how to lay down paint, use of surfaces and the final product is unending. If you correctly follow the rules you may NOT come up with an answer. For a Mathematician, this would be frustrating. For the Creative person, this opens up all possibilities. I do feel comfortable with a brush, but hopefully never feel comfortable with what I know. This is what pushes me to learn more and try more directions with a creative twist.

The Impressionists were the first to go outside to paint and come up with images which were not just as they looked in life. They opened the freedom to constantly experiment. After painting pure watercolor for years, it was a break away for me to go abstract, using opaque paints and transparent watercolor together, sand, glue, rice paper, stamping, plastic wrap...anything I could find. A total change in approach for me where the happenings on the paper pulled images and shapes out of my head instead of the scenery in front of me dictating the direction of my painting.

I enjoy keeping the mindset of breaking rules in most everything I do. Alter a recipe, use a piece of furniture differently than its original format, add or take away from jewelry, alter clothing and their use, use a scarf more than just around the neck (and I don't mean hanging myself if my painting bombs). Creativity allows everyone to break the rules and it saddens me that it is not the center of our educational world.

I know you are an active and valuable member of AHAs. How has the organization helped you?

I had been in San Benito County for almost twenty years before I discovered AHA. From the first meeting, I was impressed with the variety of mediums and the professional work and attitude among the members. The easy, friendly way of the meetings, was a breath of fresh air. Artists can hold egos and none of it was there. Just the simple evening of members sharing their work at AHA meetings brings me pleasure in seeing their accomplishments and jogs a direction for creativity within me. Setting a theme is brilliant in pushing all of us to come up with something within the month. Meetings are never boring since each month is led by a different member. The events throughout the year give all of us opportunities to show, sell and share our work. It is an impressive family.

Gayle, where can we see your paintings?

I have a wonderful working studio and gallery in my home, open to the public to visit and tour whenever I am home.I have hung my work at Ella's restaurant on two occasions, my painting grace the walls of the clinic here in San Juan Bautista. This month I have paintings hung in the Valle del Sur show at the Art Alliance in Gilroy. This show comes down February 4th.

• Paintings hang in the permanent collection of the Office of the White House Historical
Association, Washington DC in memory of Ronald Dickson, architect to White House for
25 years, Wheeler Hospital in Gilroy, Hazel Hawkins Hospital, Hollister, CA., Hollister
Sister City of Takino, Japan and Magadon, Russia
• Christmas ornament by Sleznick, representing Pinnacles National Monument, hung on
2007 White House tree. The ornament is in a box, being stored at the Smithsonian.
• Watercolor of Pinnacles National Monument graced the Holiday Cuvee label for ChaloneWinery


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