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Interview with Artist Randy Souders
A compilation questions and answers from various television, newspaper and magazine interviews

Q. Where do you find your subject matter?

A. “Everywhere! Like all artists, I take inspiration from the world around me. Sometimes,I'll paint a place or thing that really exists. But more often than not, I’ll just invent my own scene right out of my head. I usually like the results better-- there just seems to be more of ‘me’ in them.

Q. So you’re saying these places don’t always exist?

A. That’s right. I get a big kick out of inventing these imaginary places-- and then have people tell exactly where they are. Some people even swear they’ve been there before. All I can figure is that we must be on the same 'wavelength' or something.

Q. Your paintings are so ‘real.’ You must depend on photographs a lot?

A. Surprisingly not. Sometimes they’re necessary for technical reference-- or if I’m doing a ‘portrait’ of an actual place or thing. But I prefer getting rid of them as soon as possible. They have a nasty habit of ‘dictating’ things to me-- and I usually find the result to be less satisfying. When I do rely on a photo, I try to use it as a ‘tool’ instead of a ‘crutch.’ There are a lot of 'pretend artists' out there blowing up photos, coloring them in, and passing them off as ‘original art.’ I assure you, you could lock me in a cell without any kind of reference material and I could still produce the same type and quality paintings you see here.

Q. That brings up the topic of ‘originality.’ What are your feelings about this subject?

A. Unfortunately, I think the creative process is under attack worldwide. The decline of original thinking, plagiarism, reverse engineering, and the outright theft of creative ideas is becoming pandemic. Being an avid collector of quotes,  I hereby offer the following...

· “Insist on yourself; never imitate.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson

· “To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.” --Pablo Picasso

· “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” --Eric Hoffer

· “There is much difference between imitating a good man and counterfeiting him.”-Benjamin Franklin

· “Men are so constituted that every one undertakes what he sees another successful in, whether he has aptitude for it or not.” --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

· “The only good imitations are those that poke fun at bad originals.” -- François de La Rochefoucauld

A good way to know if you’re plagiarizing is if you constantly hear, “Oh, this looks like so-and-so’s work.” The marketplace may be a good gauge of ‘popularity’-- but not necessarily of ‘originality.’ Often, the artist who ‘cashes in’ on a new style or movement is not always the one who invented it. You have to work constantly just to stay one step ahead of the hacks and copy-cats. All artists take inspiration from the work of others. But, I think if you 'borrow' a concept or technique, you must add something very new to the recipe. I think that contribution gives you the right to call yourself an 'artist.'

Q. One thing that really sets your works apart is that they are extremely well crafted.

A. Well, being the "quote-aholic" I am,  I’ll again let others make my point for me...

· “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”    --Michelangelo                                                                                                                  
· “God is in the detail.” --Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe.

I think the degree of difficulty and workmanship in my paintings is pretty obvious. I mean, you can see I just didn’t set up a fan and throw paint into it. If nothing else, I want people to know I gave it everything I had. Picasso said, “90% of genius is sweat.” I’ve got the 90% of sweat-- I’m just  trying to find the remaining 10% of genius.

Q. Another thing that sets your work apart is that a ‘cat’ appears in all your paintings... why?

A. This is really pretty stupid-- but like most things, I backed into this as well. My early paintings were quite stark, abandoned, lifeless looking places. After awhile, I decided I ought to put something ‘alive and breathing’ in them. So I began sticking an old tom-cat into some of my paintings. I was amazed at how many people commented on him. I thought that if they were that observant I’d keep it up for a while. I then began trying to hide him. I now honestly think I could leave out my signature before I could take out that dumb cat! I didn’t consciously set out to find a ‘gimmick,’ but he’s become a permanent fixture in my paintings-- and a sort of additional ‘trademark’ as well. (I'm also a big fan of cat jokes)

Q. What kind of ‘surface’ do you paint on?

A. I paint on ‘masonite’ (wood panel). People are often surprised to learn that wood has been used as a painting surface for centuries. Some of the oldest surviving artworks-- such as religious icons and altarpieces-- are painted on slabs of wood. As a matter of fact, I think Leonardo DaVinci painted the “Mona Lisa” on wood panel. I prefer masonite because it gives me a very hard, flat, smooth surface which doesn’t interfere with my fine brushwork.

Q. I assume you paint in oil, right?

A. No, I use acrylic exclusively. As you know, all paints are categorized by the stuff that ‘binds’ or holds the color (powdered pigment) together. Acrylic ‘polymers’ are fairly modern inventions. However, they’ve been extensively tested and proven to "meet or exceed" standards for durability and permanence. Most artists don’t like acrylics because they dry much faster than other paints. I happen to like this quality and use it to my advantage. With the kind of detail I put in my paintings, I just can’t afford to wait around for the silly thing to dry.

Q. Every artist has a personal ‘creative process’ ... explain yours.

A. Yikes! I don't really consciously think about it being a 'process,' but I guess it is. I usually start with a thought, idea, concept, or a visual image. Other times, one will begin with a story line or even a catchy title. Next, I’ll dash off a few quick, very loose sketches in order to freeze the impression. Then I might toss everything in a drawer for awhile and just forget about it. That way, when I do get to it later, I’ll be able to evaluate the idea with a clearer, more objective eye. This way I’m not taking a chance on beginning a painting while I’m still caught up in the excitement of that first ‘inspiration.’ For some reason, the public sees an artist as always working in a frenzy of divine inspiration. Absolutely nothing I do is ‘frenzied.’ If I’m going to spend a month or more on a painting, I want to be darn sure the idea is strong enough to justify the amount of work I’m going to put into it.

If my ‘inspiration’ (idea) passes this ‘incubation’ and ‘evaluation’ phase, I’ll do a very refined, full sized drawing. My works almost always have a well planned drawing or ‘skeleton’ as their foundation. All the ‘old masters’ worked this way-- using detailed drawings or (Michaelangelo called them ‘cartoons’). Once I’m happy with my drawing, I’ll transfer it to the masonite panel which has been primed with white gesso. Then I begin painting in countless, thin layers. I usually lay in the large areas first working rather loosely-- then tighter and tighter until finished (or till I just give up). Other times I ignore all this and just do what ‘feels right’ at the time! Either way, I have to go through 10,000 on-the-spot decisions during each painting. So, although my creative process is somewhat ‘sequential,’ there simply are no hard and fast rules. If there were-- I guess it wouldn’t be art!

Q. Do you paint every day?

A. No. I usually paint-- or I don’t paint. It’s an “either/ or” situation. However, being self employed, there’s always something to do-- and having a home/ studio I’m always at work. Twelve hour days are pretty normal.

Q. How long does it take you to do a typical painting?

A. I’ll be glad to tell you-- if and when I ever produce a ‘typical’ painting. Each one is so different. Some cooperate and fall right into place-- others drive me absolutely nuts. On average, I do 8 to 12 paintings(in various size)per year. The philosopher Voltaire said, “Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.” I can assure you that none of my paintings happen quickly! However, ‘perfection’ is something that will always elude me.

Q. How long have you been interested in art?

A. I'll put it this way, I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. Going back to age 3 or  4. Many of my earliest memories were memories of drawing.

Q. Why do you feel the need to draw and paint?

A. Einstein said, “True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.” I think a 'genuine' artist really has no other choice! It’s something you’ve just gotta do... and you’re absolutely miserable if you don’t! For me, my art has always been a way to travel, go places, and see things. I’ve always had a case of ‘wander-lust’-- and a desire to explore the world. When I was younger, we couldn’t afford to go away very often--and certainly not very far. Then, when I was a teenager, I was severely and permanently injured. And, for a long time afterward, I physically couldn’t just pick up and go. My art has always been a way to leave where I was and go somewhere else.

Q. You mentioned your "injury." What exactly happened?

A. I broke my neck when I was 17 years old. I jumped head first into a local lake and hit a submerged object. My 3rd and 4th vertebrae literally ‘burst’ and I badly compressed (or ‘jammed’) my spinal cord. It was very much like what happened to actor Christopher Reeve. I  found myself instantly paralyzed from the shoulders down-- floating helplessly underwater. I very nearly drowned.

Q. How did you get out of that terrible situation?

A. Fortunately, my cousin and best friend were with me. They said I was under water for 2 or 3 minutes before they found me and brought me to the surface.

Q. What happened next?

A. Being in a remote area, it was some time before an ambulance arrived and rushed me to a hospital. Not only was I paralyzed with a broken neck, I’d swallowed and inhaled what seemed like gallons of lake water which all had to be pumped out. The neurosurgeon shaved my head and drilled two holes into my skull. Next he implanted steel ‘tongs’ into the holes which was tied to a rope with weights to immobilize my head and neck. I spent 10 days in intensive care followed by 5 months in the hospital and two more in a rehabilitation center. It was quite devastating and depressing.

Q. You used the word ‘devastating.’ How did you handle it all ‘mentally?’

A. Oh just fine-- (on the surface that is). Looking back I now see that, as bad as my physical injury was, I’d suffered just as much ‘emotional’ damage. My sense of personal ‘identity’ and self esteem were frankly shot to hell. I was at an age when young guys think they’re indestructible. Instead I now found myself being fed, bathed, clothed, lifted, turned-- totally dependent on others for even my most basic physical needs. It was if I'd literally been ripped out of one body that worked-- and locked inside another that didn't. The lack of independence and control over my life was quite damaging mentally.

Q. What part did your art play in your recovery?

A. I'd been in the hospital several months when a young physical therapist decided to "get on my case." She said, "I heard you want to be an artist-- so paint!" I’d always considered myself an hot shot with a pencil and brush. And true, I had hoped to find some sort of career as a professional artist or designer-- but not any more. I couldn’t hold a pencil. I couldn’t even move my fingers! (still can’t today). I was certain that any ability I had to paint was gone just like everything else.

To be honest, I really didn't want to face this final loss of my former identity. But I didn’t have much fight left so I 'caved.' I let her strap a brush to my withered hand-- expecting the worst, of course. But to my great shock and surprise, this first 'post-injury' painting wasn't half bad. I actually surprised the heck out of myself. It wasn't much (I think it was a crummy little watercolor of a Christmas tree) but it made a tremendous difference at that moment in my life. I felt restored-- like a 10 ton weight had been lifted off me. That silly little painting enabled me to reclaim a very important part of my old identity and self worth. For the first time in months, I felt good about myself. I somehow knew that with work, practice, and a little luck and determination, I might still amount to something after all. Looking back, I realize what a big turning point this was for me. That feeling of freedom, independence, and ‘control’ was just the "kick in the pants" I needed.

Q. Do you think sharing your experience could help others in similar situations?

A. Absolutely. For years I’ve worked to help others who are similarly disabled or disadvantaged to realize the positive, healing and educational benefits the arts offer. My main role has been serving on the national board of directors of VSA Arts Connection (formerly known as Very Special Arts). VSA is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. It was founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith (former US Ambassador to Ireland and President Kennedy’s sister) as an international arts and education agency. We are committed to "promoting the creative power in people with disabilities." We develop and implement programs in creative writing, dance, drama, music, and the visual arts that help children and adults with disabilities develop skills, nurture independence and self worth, and enhance well-being in every area of life. We annually serve more than 3.5million people in all 50 states and in 90 countries world wide. I encourage you to visit their website for more information.

I now know that the arts have a tremendous power to heal. Ironically, the rehabilitation centers I was a patient at 25 years ago are now decorated with of my works. The same is true at many other hospitals and health care centers. I hope my work can inspire others facing similar obstacles.

Q. Do you think you’ve been successfully rehabilitated?

A. All things considered, I feel very fortunate to self sufficient and somewhat successful. I’m also able to support many other charitable causes through donations of artworks which generate income through raffles or auctions. Best of all, I get to paint pictures everyday-- it sure beats working for a living!

Q. Of all your paintings, which is your favorite?

A. The 'next' one. If not, I’d really have a hard time getting in to it. Anyway, there’s not one of my paintings I wouldn’t rip up and re-work. I learn something more with each new painting-- and want to go back and apply that to my older works as well. It’s a curse-- I’m never satisfied. 

Q. Not to be nosy, but how do you go about determining a price for your work?

A. I use a combination of factors. I take into account the size of the piece, the amount of time it took to complete, the difficulty of the subject matter, if it’s been published (thus making it more famous), and whether or not I think its a successful effort. All these are calculated and weighed against the prices I’ve received in the past for comparable works. Pricing a painting is not an arbitrary thing-- at least not for me.

Q. Do you ever create custom paintings for special clients?

A. Sure, I’m up for anything-- as long as it’s 'up my alley.' I couldn't do it justice otherwise. I realize these are sometimes 'works for hire,' but I still want to be able to take pride in the final piece. I’m sure I can give my clients exactly what they want-- as long as I know what that is! I'm pleased to say I’ve had a lot of happy clients-- including some of the largest and best known corporations in the world. That kind of endorsement is very hard to come by.

Q. your paintings can be quite expensive. Do you feel bad that most people can’t afford one of your paintings?

A. I know how they feel. One of my goals is to be able to afford one of my own paintings! The only
reason I have any is because I made them. But like everything else, the prices of my works are set by the independent laws of 'supply and demand.' The good news is, everyone can afford one of my prints if they want one.

Q. For those who don't know, can you explain what a ‘print’ is?

A. Well, there are many different kinds of ‘prints’-- each with their own unique qualities. 'Original prints' (etchings, engravings, serigraphs, etc.)are considered 'hand made originals.' The purists believe that no original painting or drawing is used for reference. The whole purpose is to create directly through the act of plate making and the printing process. These are often very tedious, time consuming, and expensive to produce. Because each is hand made, there are sometimes noticeable variations in color and image quality from print to print. That's why each copy is considered a one-of-a-kind 'original work of art.'

But by far, the vast majority of images in the world today are mechanically produced 'reproductions.' These are called 'offset lithographs.' These are machine made images which are created by using the basic principals of lithography discovered centuries ago. This process results in extremely accurate reproductions of an artists' original painting. Most of my recent works are reproduced by a revolutionary high definition, waterless press. Whatever method is used, ALL printing processes offer the artist (and collector) access to multiple copies of the same image. 

Q. Just exactly what role do you feel collectible prints play in the art world?

A. I think of it this way: Prints are to an artist... as records are to a musician/ or as movies are to an actor. For instance, let’s say you’re having a party. I’m sure you’d be able find a struggling musician willing to perform at your event for a nominal fee. This live performance would be considered an ‘original work.’ On the other hand, if you want to book a top quality headliner like Tony Bennett-- you're probably going to have to shell out about $100,000 for the evening. Likewise, actors can use television or movies as a way to reach a greater audience than that available through live theater. Each medium offers an ‘affordable alternative’ to a live, original performance.

Q. Do you worry about the art market becoming saturated with prints?

A. No. The US government counts new "housing starts" in the millions each year. And that doesn’t even include the construction of new office buildings, commercial properties, or the constant re-decorating that goes on. Do the math and you’ll quickly see that there are literally hundreds of millions of new walls being built each year! Add to that the millions of walls already existing you’ll realize there’ll never be enough high quality, hand made, original artworks to meet the demand of the public.

According to industry sources, art prints are the heart of a multi-billion dollar industry which provides collateral work for thousands of galleries, framers, decorators, and designers. You could take every artist alive today-- from skilled professional to rank amateur-- multiply their number by 10,000-- have them paint 24 hours a day-- and still not be able to meet the demand for high quality, attractive, desirable original paintings at an affordable price!

A few generations ago, most of the world was deprived of the wonder, imagination, and inspiration which was available only to the wealthy and privileged classes. Prints and reproductions gave the average person access to great artworks without having to travel far and wide to see them in person.

It's sad, but many people today are intimidated by the thought of entering a museum or an art gallery. No one likes to feel they’re ignorant, or "unenlightened." I can't tell you how great it feels when someone falls in love with one of my work. Sometimes, these people obviously have limited financial resources. I sometimes think about those photos of the inside of poor “depression era” homes. I remember the tar-paper walls being covered with magazine photos, calendar art, and unframed advertising prints. That tells me that everyone needs visual imagery which they personally find enjoyable, inspiring, accessible, and affordable.

Q. What advice would you give someone interested in appreciating and collecting art?

A. Here's some sure-fire, can't-miss wisdom. Just stand in front of a painting and ask yourself "how does this make me feel?" If it 'grabs' you-- then you 'grab' it. You shouldn't need a book to explain what it is. After all, paintings are supposed to communicate! It's not your fault if they don't.  And, unless you’re an art expert, it’s best to forget about buying art as an 'investment.' I don't think you should you ever let an 'expert' or other authority figure override your own gut feeling. You’ll never go wrong if as long as you 'buy what you like.' You should collect for no other reason than the sheer love and enjoyment of the work itself. If you do have to sell someday, hopefully it’ll be worth more than you paid for it. I think ‘Peter the Great’ (Czar of Russia) said it best: “Don’t buy bad pictures.” A bad picture is one that doesn’t 'grab you.