Andy Evansen | A World of Watercolor

Andy Evansen paints landscapes from around the globe

by Elizabeth L. Delaney

Andy Evansen, The VW Bus, watercolor, 11 x 15.

Andy Evansen, The VW Bus, watercolor, 11 x 15.

This story was featured in the November 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

As far back as he can remember, landscape painter Andy Evansen felt drawn to art and to watercolor in particular. “I always really liked watercolor,” he says. “It was a natural choice. I didn’t make a conscious decision, but when I started to paint, for whatever reason, I wanted to use watercolor, and it stuck.” Such an innate desire has distinguished Evansen (pronounced EE-vuhn-sihn) throughout his career, giving him a springboard from which to launch his creativity and, ultimately, leading him to the top of his genre.

Evansen communicates through paint the beauty he observes in his daily pursuits. In his backyard or far from home, he paints what speaks to him, transforming everyday landscapes, waterways, and city scenes into distinctive, charming vignettes that feel comfortable and familiar. His watercolors are decidedly representational, though they embody certain abstract qualities that elicit both an aesthetic and intuitive harmony among the elements. Fluid shapes and blocks of color not only fill but also absorb the space as they glimmer and pulsate, surge and recede within the picture plane.

Evansen lives near Minneapolis-St. Paul in an area close to the urban center, yet rural enough to allow for encounters with nature in its purest forms. He enjoys outdoor sports, such as skiing and biking year-round, embracing the daunting Minnesota winterscape as his playground. All this informs his painting and presents him with endless opportunities to study how objects interact with one another in varying degrees of light. He names fall in the Midwest as one of his favorite things to paint, both for the intrigue of the changing light and the intense display of color that pervades the land.

Like many professional artists, Evansen discovered his love of painting and drawing as a young child. He fondly remembers making art alongside his seven siblings in their Wisconsin home, where his parents encouraged each child to develop his or her creativity. Young Andy delved headlong into his favorite activity, and by the time he reached high school, he had grown into a serious artist with a plan.

He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, where he entered the commercial-illustration program, which afforded him a way to combine fine art with technical applications. After college, Evansen stayed in Minnesota and began working as a medical illustrator, creating high-tech renderings by hand with airbrush, pencil, and watercolor. Several years after he embarked on this career, however, computer graphics supplanted handmade renderings, and Evansen made the move to a digital format—a shift that allowed him to evolve within his career but virtually eliminated the fine-art aspects of his practice.

Such a paradigm shift proved difficult for the artist, and as a result, he returned to painting in his spare time. He participated in several workshops, over time studying with such noted watercolorists as Skip Lawrence, Eric Wiegardt, Alvaro Castagnet, and Joseph Zbukvic. And he continuously studied the watercolors of Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and John Singer Sargent, which also served as guiding forces in his work.

Eventually, Evansen decided to enter his work in juried shows and competitions, first winning an award from a contest sponsored by American Artist magazine in 2005. As he continued painting and showing, what had started as a sidebar snowballed into a full-fledged fine-art career. He continued to receive awards, including the Bronze Medal of Honor and the High Winds Medal at the American Watercolor Society Exhibition in 2012 and 2015, respectively, and the Painters’ Award at the Northwest Watercolor Society’s Waterworks Exhibition in 2012.

Before long, Evansen was answering requests to teach his own workshops. To date, he has been a master watercolor instructor for 15 years and remains in demand throughout the United States and internationally. Teaching others to paint allows him to impart his experiences and knowledge to others, while also giving him a new perspective from which to hone his own technique. Further, it takes him around the world, introducing him to an array of aesthetics, cultures, and potential subject matter.

Evansen is a signature member and current president of the Plein Air Painters of America, a member and past president of the Minnesota Watercolor Society, and a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, American Watercolor Society, and Red River Watercolor Society. Though he paints exclusively in watercolor, Evansen mingles seamlessly with oil painters, exhibiting his work in the same spaces and painting alongside them at plein-air events. To date, he is the only watercolorist ever invited to show in California’s annual Catalina: The Wild Side Art Show—a prestigious juried exhibition featuring some of the country’s most renowned plein-air painters.

Evansen paints a wide variety of subject matter, from bucolic farm scenes to boats drifting on placid water to people strolling through a sunny park to a townscape lit up at night. He finds inspiration within a wide span of geographies and paints locales as different as the eastern seaboard, his native Midwest, the California coast, and farther afield into Mexico, Europe, and China. Though his travels present him with potential subjects by virtue of circumstance, he very much enjoys the opportunity to embrace and interpret such a broad range of environments. “I pride myself on being able to paint anything, anywhere. It’s a big, beautiful world out there,” says Evansen.

However, he doesn’t spend a lot of time looking for the ideal scene. Instead, he goes for the unexpected. “When I choose a scene, I try to find something that’s not obviously beautiful. I like to find something that people would just walk by and not think twice about,” he explains. “Watercolor is perfect for that, because it can really transform a scene through the beautiful washes and other effects.”

Over the years, Evansen has engineered a meticulous painting process—one that originates as a strict, traditional methodology but in the end frees him up to produce cohesive, organic compositions. His painter’s mise en place consists of a refined combination of tools and hues, including no more than five brushes at one time, along with a limited palette of blues, reds, yellows, and earth tones.

Evansen initiates each piece with a value study to determine light and dark areas of the composition, then moves to color, blocking in areas that denote specific sections within the scene. At this point, the painting consists of subtle, abstract shapes that serve as the foundation of the piece, ensuring that the final scene is more about the sum than its parts. “Once I get the design I like and an accurate sketch, I’m free to let loose with the paint and let the unique, spontaneous qualities of watercolor take over,” he says. “The results are unpredictable at times, but when pigments start flowing into each other on the paper and Mother Nature takes over, the beauty of watercolors is most evident.”

Overall, Evansen seeks to maintain not simply a collection, but a coalescence, of shapes, lines, and colors. He places great emphasis on the ways in which light and shadows define objects and subsequently builds layers of nuanced, luminous imagery that is at once a representation of, and a meditation on, the subject at hand. “I strive for an impressionistic portrayal of the landscape in my watercolors,” he says. “By concentrating on the large shapes and overall design, and leaving something to the imagination, viewers are forced to interpret details. This makes them participants in the painting, enhancing their enjoyment of it.”

Evansen finds working in the field very beneficial and often makes plein-air sketches and small paintings as references for larger, more complex studio works. He relishes spending time with his subject matter, getting to know it, and developing a personal connection to it—all of which the sketches and photographs facilitate. Working in his studio, however, affords him the time and space to simply create, rather than having to combat the elements of nature (heat, dust, wind) that wear on fast-drying watercolor paints.

“It’s such a tricky medium; you really have to stay on top of it,” he says. “When you start the painting, you almost have to work from the end of the painting forward in understanding what you’re going to leave behind at every step of the game. When watercolor’s done right it looks very immediate and fresh, but there’s a lot of mental planning that goes into the whole process. You’re always walking that fine line of painting with emotion, but you also have to use your left brain quite a bit, too, and understand what you’re doing every step of the way.”

Evansen asserts that his most profound work comes out of a personal, poignant response to the subject matter. Despite his frequent travels and interest in all types of places, he still maintains a special, deep connection to his geographic roots. To that end, in the future, he would like to create a body of watercolors specifically focused on the arc of declination among small towns and family farms across the Midwest—a phenomenon that remains at the forefront of his conscience as he travels throughout the region.

Forest & Ocean Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; Wild Horse Gallery, Steamboat Springs, CO; Evansen Art Studio, Hastings, MN.

This story was featured in the November 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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