Jim McVicker painting the familiar view near his home

Jim McVicker didn’t go to art school and hasn’t participated in a workshop, yet his still life painting that just won the First Place award in the September/October PleinAir Salon competition was sold through one of the most prestigious galleries in the country. Find out how he succeeded.

“Orchids and Plums,” by Jim McVicker, oil, 40 x 30 in. Winner of the First Place award in the September/October bimonthly PleinAir Salon competition.

California artist Jim McVicker’s website indicates that he is self-taught — but that’s not completely accurate. “Although I didn’t go to art school, I learned to paint by associating with artists who were more accomplished than me, working really hard at my craft, and carefully studying great paintings,” the artist explains. “I was fortunate to work alongside George Van Hook [see the November issue of PleinAir] and James B. Moore from 1979 to 1982, and that was a huge period of growth for me as a painter. I worked directly from nature 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and also made copies of paintings in museums, built a library of art books, and hung out with other artists. In 1984 I met my wife, Terry Oats, who was painting beautiful figure pieces and working with color and design in a way that had a big influence on my painting.”


Jim and Terry settled in Northern California, where the weather is quite variable. “I established a habit of painting landscapes outdoors when the temperature and light were favorable, and I moved into the studio to paint still lifes and figures during the winters or on overcast days,” McVicker says. “I started ‘Orchids and Plums’ in the studio after placing objects and flowers on a table, and I focused on the fragile blossoms first because I knew they would change. I seldom make preliminary sketches or color studies because I’m now experienced enough to know how to make adjustments as I work, and because I like the element of risk. I prefer not to map things out too much. I was tempted to run outside to paint when the weather got better, but I wanted to finish the painting without losing the sense of light, atmosphere, and space that attracted me to the composition of shapes. People sometimes think that landscapes are the only subjects that offer the opportunity to paint atmosphere, but I find it is also part of what makes a still life interesting.”

“Mendocino Arch,” by Jim McVicker, oil, 12 x 16 in.

McVicker prefers to work on smooth linen canvases, either canvases that come pre-primed that he can work on immediately, or ones he prepares during the summer months in various sizes that he can use throughout the year. His palette of colors includes a warm and cool red, a warm and cool yellow, and three blues (ultramarine, cerulean, and cobalt), Naples yellow, King’s blue (Rembrandt brand), viridian, cobalt violet light, transparent oxide red, raw sienna, flake white in the studio, and titanium white outdoors. “I started painting with a more limited palette, but expanded it over the years,” he says.

“Plum Blossoms,” by Jim McVicker, oil, 18 x 14 in.

McVicker sparingly uses walnut oil as a medium because he developed an allergic reaction to turpentine, and because he likes to work with fairly thick applications of oil color so the brush marks remain obvious. “My first studio was in a tiny apartment in which I had to lift up the bed in order to have enough floor space for my easel, and I think working in the small space hastened my reaction to turpentine,” he says. McVicker was featured in the Extreme Painting section of PleinAir because he sometimes works on large canvases outdoors and because he put himself in precarious positions in a field of cows and along a busy highway. For more information, visit his website at www.jimmcvickerpaints.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here