Mark Golden: I’m here with Greg Watson, one of our Materials & Application Specialists here at GOLDEN, who has been with us since 2015 and I’m embarrassingly late in introducing Greg to the many artists he’s already been assisting.
What would you be doing right now Greg if art wasn’t part of your life?
Greg Watson: I’d be doing home repair and construction, contracting.
Mark: Is there currently home repair going on at the old homestead?
Greg: Yes, things are going great! The bathroom is coming along – looking really beautiful.
We’re making progress on the kitchen too. As you know, we’re transforming the interior of our nineteenth century home into an upgraded, modern environment. That is what we prefer.
Mark: Beautiful. So when did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
Greg: When I was 21.
Mark: That’s a little later than most people that I’ve discussed this topic with. Before you elaborate on that, so many people I’ve spoken to over the years shared that they had a family member that was an artist and who was their influence. There was no one in your family that was involved in the arts?
Greg: My mother was a crafter and enjoyed painting wood plaques and slate tiles. My father was in the collectible industry – fine glass, crystal, figurines, and porcelain – so there was always artistry in my environment.
Mark: And so was there paintings in your home? Were there ceramics? What art was in the house?
Greg: There were a lot of collectible items, things that we certainly couldn’t touch. At a certain point, my father was connected with an artist who worked in Native American themes and there were oil paintings that he had made that entered our home. That was a refreshing change. There was also Monet, Picasso and a Gregory Perillo hardbound art books in the living room with full size prints in them. However, they were only for decoration. I never looked at them until I was older. I don’t remember ever going to a museum until I was 23 years old. Perhaps I did, but I never went to a museum with the intention of seeing paintings until I was that age.
Mark: During your elementary, middle and high school years, were you taking art classes?
Mark: Did you excel at them or you just couldn’t wait to get out of them?
Greg: I was considered a good art student. When I was in second or third grade I won an award for a poem/drawing that I did. And my family and I went from Milford, Massachusetts where I grew up, to Boston and I was presented an award.
Mark: Did you take some art classes in high school?
Greg: I moved around a bit in high school, but I took mechanical drafting in tenth grade and loved it! I enjoyed making dimensional objects in ceramics. I was interested in perspectival imagery in my earlier years. Pastels.
Mark: So what were your main interests in high school?
Greg: Geometry, History, Critical Thinking…things like that.
Mark: Fantastic! You are an incredibly accomplished artist and to have just recognized the value in pursuing this at age 21 is really a great story. So, can you please share how you came to painting?
Greg: I got married at 21 years old, and for some weird reason it didn’t dawn on me that I had to have aspirations for a career or life mission. It wasn’t until I got married that I realized this would be essential for our future.
My wife and I were moving from Florida to California and on the way as we drove through the night in some desert in Arizona, I decided I would be a painter. It was a revelation that just came upon me and I decided, I’m going to be a painter. And then honestly, I never looked back from that decision. I started to attend painting classes at Santa Rosa Junior College in California and worked at a company that produced figurines. I was painting figurines and one of the art directors introduced me to a classic realist painter, Virgil Elliott, who was literally two minutes up the road. I started studying an atelier of Virgil Elliott, who laid it all out for me right then and there, the first time I met him. He said being an artist is a very challenging and difficult career path. Most are not going to strike it rich being an artist.
So, I went into it with sobriety and an understanding that it was more about the passion of working with my hands and creating beautiful imagery for my life.
Mark: Does Virgil know that you’re working here?
Greg: Yes, Virgil does know that. Virgil was instrumental in training me in my early education. He was so well versed in materials and techniques that I was able to gain access to information in a short time that would typically take someone years to assimilate through normal art school training.
Mark: That is really fortunate. He is one of the most knowledgeable people about material. So to have that good fortune to fall into his tutelage, is pretty amazing.
Greg: Yes, it was! He also turned me onto the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where I went through their certificate program, which was a four-year study program. It was during this time that I moved to Philadelphia to take a deep dive into traditional painting.
It was almost like a French academy type training where we were drawing and painting from a large collection of plaster casts. We studied the figure, portraiture, drawing, landscape painting, still life, direct painting techniques, glazing, and extending painting techniques. It was a real joy to work with the artists who were teaching there as well.
After graduating from the Academy, my current wife (who I met at school) and I stayed in Philadelphia for a year or two.
Mark: Oh, so she was also going to the Academy?
Greg: Yes, we met on the first day of class and became fast friends. We’ve been working together since then. I was also introduced to and started studying with painter Odd Nerdrum during that time. One of our professors had a relationship with him and would send students to Norway, where Odd lived.
Mark: How long were you able to work with Odd?
Greg: I spent the summer of 2004 on his land south of Oslo – it was such a beautiful place. During that time my days were filled with modeling for some paintings and helping him in the studio while we spent evenings drinking cognac and talking about all the wonderful painters of the world. Two years in a row I went to Iceland during the winter and spent three weeks in 2005 and 2006 with him in his studio there. Reykjavik was a bit of a lonely place to be in the winter.
After that, in 2007 Carrie and I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where we spent the next four years. We maintained studios there and eventually opened a Gallery in Vineyard Haven called Pep Art. We showed work from some of our friends and some of our own work. We had a great few years there! There were lots of new experiences. I built a timber frame house from the foundation up with some timber framers from Maine. While there, I also did a bunch of finishing work on several properties and rebuilt a wooden boat. I learned how to sail as well!
Mark: That’s a pretty diverse community – from some of the wealthiest to some of the poorest folks on that island.
Greg: Yes, from people fishing and farming and painting to those who sail and vacation there. We were part of the community with fishers, farmers and artists.
Mark: Where did you go after your time at Martha’s Vineyard?
Greg: We moved back down to southeastern Pennsylvania so Carrie could attend graduate school at the University of Delaware. While on the island I started to teach adult portrait and landscape painting classes and decided I wanted to further my education so I could pursue teaching. The certificate I had from the Academy wasn’t enough to get a teaching job at public or charter schools and certainly not at university, so I decided to get my bachelor’s degree. I was in my thirties and I went to Lincoln University, a historic black university in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful experience being with the students there. I was nearly twice their age. I’ll never forget the first day of class. I was sitting among the other students, waiting for our teacher to arrive. I’m sitting there with a full beard and finally some kid just leans forward and says, ‘are you gonna start class?’ He thought I was the teacher! Even with so much age separation between the other students and I, it was a great learning opportunity on so many different levels.
I’ve only gone to higher education as an adult. I went to the Academy at 24 years old. I went to get my BFA in my mid-thirties. After I was finished with that, we moved to Bloomington, Indiana where I attended Indiana University and earned my MFA in painting. I had a full scholarship and stipend to go to school there. It was a great opportunity and life experience!
Mark: What were the classes that you were teaching?
Greg: I taught drawing and 2D design for two semesters each and then I taught first and second level Painting for a semester at DePauw University, a small liberal arts college in Greencastle, IN. At that time, I was also working a lot in my studio. After that I started my job at GOLDEN.
Mark: So how did you hear about this job?
Greg: I found the job listing on the College Arts Association website.
Mark: That probably felt like a strange move though, right? You wanted to teach, yet you saw this job listing for a Material & Application Specialist.
Mark: So what was the inspiration to look into the job posting further knowing that you would potentially be moving again with your partner, Carrie?
Greg: Teaching at the college level is challenging. There’s a lot of accommodations to be made for students nowadays. It’s difficult to get a permanent teaching position, so you end up moving around to teach in adjunct capacity for a number of years before you settle into a tenure track position or a full time position.
So this job at GOLDEN had a lot of appeal. It had permanency. It had interaction with materials. I think of myself as more of a materials and techniques person anyway.
After I applied, it wasn’t long before I got a call from somebody that said they’d like to have an interview. Sarah Sands, who has been my mentor here for several years, had also worked at Indiana University in Bloomington, so had connections to that school as well. She’s also friends with Virgil Elliott through her work with ASTM. We had some really nice overlaps and we had a great rapport. I thoroughly enjoyed my initial conversation with her and Stacy Brock. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to visit the GOLDEN factory in Upstate New York for a second interview.
Mark: What’d you think about having to put together a presentation for the interview?
Greg: Right! I put together a presentation about painting supports for oil painting. It was surprising when I was doing my research that I kept coming across information from JustPaint.org. Because of this, I was able to really get to know GOLDEN through the company website and the Just Paint website and blog. It helped me to learn about all the research done here. Actually, I was really hard pressed to find information elsewhere that wasn’t echoed in the literature that GOLDEN has presented to its customers and to the artists that read the Golden Artist Colors’ websites.
Mark: What was the biggest surprise for you coming to the GOLDEN factory (other than the weather)?
Greg: I was actually really surprised at the size of the company. I expected the building to be much bigger. With the internet presence and the coverage that we have around the country in different art supply stores, I thought it must be some huge factory. I came here and I thought it was very reasonably sized, which fits my personality much better than a big corporate setting. Right away I felt a sense of ease when we pulled into the parking lot.
Everyone I met during the interview process was so down to earth. Honestly, I was also surprised that you were at there for my initial meet and greet. It was an incredibly warm welcome, right from the start.
Mark: What have been some of the really valuable projects or things that you’ve worked on that really got you excited here at the company since joining us?
Greg: I’ve been surprised time and again about how open my team and you have been when I’ve presented surprises or discoveries I’ve found in some of our materials after testing them. Sometimes they’re new opportunities with the materials, but sometimes the findings are undesirable. But, no matter what I’ve found, everyone is open to join me in that interest and discovery and learn from that. I’ve been surprised at how some of the things I’ve come across have taught the group about our products and ways that our products might be used. I figured everything was already known.
I’ve really enjoyed working with Williamsburg, specifically, learning about that paint line and its interaction with some of the other materials that we have in the acrylic and QoR watercolor product lines.
Mark: I think one of the most enjoyable things that I’ve experienced with you, Greg, and so have other colleagues, is your ability to teach. You are a natural born teacher. Whether they are kindergarten or adult professional painters, there is always a strong connection – right away!
So talk about that — how you can make the classes come alive. Everyone comes out of them with a high after they spend two and a half hours, three hours, and four hours with you. And, they’re absolutely ebullient.
Greg: I love connecting with people on an individual level.
Mark: I agree you do that really well on an individual level. But, it is also within large groups that you’re able to connect so well. Not a lot of people can do that.
Greg: Fortunately, the groups are small enough that if I can get enough people’s attention, then I can draw people in. It’s a combination of entertaining and peppering the entertainment with some information that I hope is helpful. I really enjoy that. I want to see everybody at their best. I’m a hopeless optimist. I have great expectation that people can achieve wonderful things – personally, in their artwork, their relationships. I try to bring that to every interaction that I have. Sometimes it takes a little patience and a little bit of time. Sometimes it can happen right away where I can draw somebody out of their shell. I try to give them a safe space. I try to make sure that I don’t judge people. Whether in my mind or in my heart, I try to give them space to be themselves without me imposing any sort of judgement onto them. I feel like that gives them freedom and it gives me freedom to be myself too.
Mark: As much energy as folks get out of your classes, do they energize you too?
Greg: Yes, I am totally energized by the classes I teach! It is like a performance. However, I don’t have the nerve or maybe the confidence to be a performer per se, but teaching for me is an opportunity to perform in front of people. I love painting in front of people too. It’s my joy.
Mark: For a lot of people who work here, the stuff that we do here can creep into their personal way of creating artwork. Have you found any of that to be the case?
Greg: Absolutely. For example, I will intentionally try to make things in ways that we do not recommend. I’ll use oil paint directly on cardboard. Or, I soak the cardboard in oil first before I start panting on the surface. I also have so much material at my disposal that it gives me the freedom to paint in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t do, in much thicker applications!
Mark: Thank you Greg for sharing your personal journey. I’m delighted we could finally make it happen!