By Bob Bahr
Chances are very good that although Larry Wollam is not a loud personality, almost all longtime SKBers know him. Over the last seven years, the Arizona artist has won more than his share of awards at the Dubois workshop. He’s equally adept at watercolor and pastel, and he’ll be sharing his techniques as a lead instructor at SKB’s 2018 Artist Rendezvous & Workshop, scheduled for Sept. 16-21 in Dubois, Wyoming.
Wollam is comfortable using other media beyond pastel and watercolor, and he tells his students to use the medium and color palette to which they are accustomed, in part because one could invest the equivalent of a small country’s GDP on various pastel colors. “I encourage people to just bring what they have—when traveling you are limited to what you can bring with you,” he says. Graphite drawing is among Wollam’s earliest and most enduring loves, as is wildlife art. One of his students, Martha A. Thompson, has won several awards at SKB, including First Place in the Other Media category for her graphite drawing “In the Mist of Yellowstone.” Thompson discovered SKB’s Dubois workshop in 2010, and convinced Wollam to give the event a try in 2011. He’s been coming to Wyoming in September ever since.
“I started with graphite from the time I could hold a pencil,” he says. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that graphite is a great medium for showing hide, hair, and feather. “I like the challenge of trying to match the color texture and feel that an animal or herd or fencepost and render it as I see it and present it to other people.” In Dubois this Fall, Wollam will concentrate on watercolor, but his use of texture and careful attention to background crosses media.
“I have a few techniques that people ask me about—both students and professional artists,” says Wollam. “A lot of pros ask me how I got a certain look on a piece, and some students here in Arizona are as good as I am. So it will be the same in Dubois—a range of levels of development. SKBers won’t be any different. Yes, we’re dealing with a lot of professionals at SKB, but hopefully there will be something they can learn from me.”
One of the techniques participants will learn from Wollam is the use of masking fluid (frisket). Wollam prefers the Winsor & Newton brand, he blends two formulations to get the effect he wants. Winsor & Newton has three fluids–clear, pigmented, and permanent. I mix the colorless and pigmented. The pigmented version can stain the paper, but I like to be able to see where the I put the masking fluid. So I mix them to get a good product with great consistency, and it comes off without staining.”
“I use a lot of masking fluid,” he continues. “With watercolor I try to be a purist and not use white paint. So all the white areas are simply the paper itself. I mask out the subject matter and then use transparent watercolor for background. So mixing dilutions of watercolor to get soft yet intense colors. It looks like airbrush. It looks thick, but it is very thin pigment. Then I use dry brush over the wet paint and get a really smooth, unusual background. That helps bring the subject matter sharply forward.”
Wollam will be working inside at Headwaters Arts & Conference Center during the Dubois workshop. He will discuss the importance of working from your own photos, and keeping a morgue of old photos. “I encourage people to be careful of copyright infringement and use their own photos—that means 20 or 30 pictures from different angles. You need a morgue to find fine details for a given project, especially if you are depicting animals.”
He has years of experience teaching, and Wollam knows how it works. “I’ve been teaching here in Tucson for 45 years and over the years I’ve expanded my program. Doing it full time, even though I retired eight years ago. But I enjoy it. I had some students in drawing class struggling with some concepts, and in the last week or two the light came on and they saw what I was trying to do, and that is very satisfying.” He knows firsthand how the SKB event in Dubois is unusual for its wide-ranging offering of various teachers, art-making approaches, and interesting characters. “If you go to something like SKB and you don’t learn something, then something is wrong,” says the artist. “I hope to give people a new venue to work in. You never stop learning; if you do, you are in trouble. But I also love the camaraderie and excitement at the SKB workshop. There’s so much energy. So many artists that I admired for years and years and years and I’ve met here, and they are just average Joes. People like James Gurney, theSeerey-Lesters, and Robert Bateman–they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. ” Ω