Inspired by the early California Impressionists, Jim Wodark reimagines his Golden State
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the August 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Dazzling beaches, rugged shorelines, sunny eucalyptus groves, harbors at dusk—these are landscape painter Jim Wodark’s beat. But no matter what subject he paints, he is known for his vibrant style, contrasting values, and skillful manipulation of soft and hard edges to draw viewers’ eyes through his paintings.
Wodark feels his greatest strengths may be his willingness to experiment and grow, as well as his tenacity and determination to never give up, all in the service of capturing the magic of transitory moments. “Atmosphere and light are my favorite things to paint,” he says. “They always get me excited about any subject.” Highly inspired by the early California Impressionists, especially Edgar Payne and William Frederic Ritschel, and also by living artists such as Glenn Dean, T. Allen Lawson, and Clyde Aspevig, he is a hard-working painter who strives to move beyond his inspirations to his own well-conceived visions.
Wodark considers himself to be “mostly self-taught,” although he has taken four workshops that were instrumental in his development: John Eagle introduced him to plein-air painting and the importance of passion in an artist’s work, while others helped him lay the groundwork for understanding drawing, composition, and the significance of value shifts. From that foundation, Wodark pushes himself to higher levels of craftsmanship. When he hits a rough spot in the road, he says, “I just think back to that moment when I decided to commit myself to art. The power of that decision never fails to get my paintbrush moving again.”
When he was growing up in rural Colorado, Wodark played sports and loved drawing cartoons. His parents—both artistically inclined—encouraged him in his art, though they had to draw the line when he filled his second-grade teacher’s shoes with paint. He was in the Boy Scouts, and he and his father spent time camping, which stimulated an early appreciation for nature. After high school, Wodark jokes, he “crammed four years into eight” at the University of Northern Colorado, supporting himself, taking an art class each semester, and graduating in 1985 with a bachelor of arts in marketing.
In the years after college, Wodark worked in the health-club industry and started a company creating full-color cartoon maps of college campuses. He had always loved reading and drawing comic strips—favorites were Gary Larson’s The Far Side and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes—so using those skills in a practical way was a natural extension of both his talent and interests. His own most successful strip, titled Chicken Stick Bug Face, was carried in several college newspapers. In 1990, attracted by the economy and lifestyle, he moved to Southern California, where he continued the campus mapping business, designed T-shirts, and did freelance cartooning.
It was in California that the artist began painting, first with watercolors and then acrylics. His first experience working in oils came with John Eagle in 1997. By this time Wodark had married, and the couple were expecting their first child. “I found I really enjoyed painting with oils and painting outside. My wife, Julie, is a high school French teacher and had a great health-care package, so we decided I would stay home with our son and focus on developing a full-time painting career. It was difficult in the sense that taking care of little kids is really challenging both mentally and physically —so exhausting! But we made it work.”
As their family grew to include twin girls, Wodark took the children to daycare three times a week to allow himself more time to paint. Every single day found him out in the field or in his studio, and his commitment to being a “great father, husband, and prolific painter” continued to grow.
Sparked by a scene he encounters on his daily rounds or while working in his sketchbook, Wodark generally begins a new painting with either a plein-air study or more detailed pencil drawings. A thumbnail sketch may be followed by a carefully worked out value study, paying close attention to line and shape. He switches back and forth from his passion for the subject to intellectual analysis, thinking through contrasts between dark and light, warm and cool, and how to use hard and soft edges to help lead the eye around the painting. He then turns to color considerations.
A close examination of EUCALYPTUS EVENING reveals some of the artist’s signature style components. What appears at first to be a simple scene of light falling at dusk on a group of trees, a path, and a distant house becomes more complex and enticing the longer we look. An important part of its appeal comes from Wodark’s use of complementary colors—reds and greens—to bring unity to the work. He further enhanced the scene’s color harmony with tertiary hues of purple and yellow in the distant hills and the sky above them, respectively. Wodark loves painting trees and took pains here to delineate the trunks and branches, bringing their shapes into sharp focus against the background. Skillful wielding of his palette knife helps achieve sharp edges whose surfaces catch the light, drawing viewers’ attention. The painting was completed with a few well-placed highlights. Details like these elevate the work beyond mere replication of an appealing landscape.
These days Wodark’s schedule is intense. In addition to painting every day—whether outside or in his studio—he spends time drawing in his sketchbook. He’s under the gun to complete a substantial body of new work for two upcoming shows: Next month he has a solo show at Debra Huse Gallery on Balboa Island, CA. He’s also preparing for a solo show in February 2015 at Chemers Gallery in Tustin, CA. Titled Along the California Impressionist Trail, the show comprises a collection of works inspired by paintings by the original California Impressionists. For these pieces, Wodark begins with the major elements of a historic work as a jumping-off point, using similar compositional or design elements shaped by his personal interpretive response to the landscape.
Karen Raab, owner of Chemers Gallery, is enthusiastic about the unique perspective Wodark brings to the show’s theme: “Often compared to Edgar Payne and William Wendt,” she says, “Jim is a force to be reckoned with. The gigantic leaps his work has taken in the last several years have definitely made him one to watch. His inspiration comes from the beauty of nature and his ability to capture a single, fleeting moment of light, mood, and atmosphere. He approaches every new painting with optimism and determination.”
When he has time to step away from his easel, Wodark’s zest for life takes him to the golf course and the gym. He says, “I also love to go to the mountains—the Sierras, Telluride, Crested Butte—and to the beach, where lately I’m trying to surf with the kids.”
Wodark is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and the California Art Club. His inclusion in the California Art Club’s book California Light: A Century of Landscapes ranks near the top of his career highlights. In 2012 he won the Dr. Edward H. Boseker Award at the Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational as well as second place at the Tell
uride Plein Air Festival. He won another award at the 2013 Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational and was the best-selling artist in the show.
Wodark has dedicated himself to art for nearly 30 years now and continues to challenge himself, approaching each painting as an opportunity to try something new. “I feel like I am still growing and improving. I’m doing what I love, and hopefully that joy is reflected in my work. I strive to make each and every painting reflect the person I am and the artist I am becoming.”
Featured in the August 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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