Finding light among the shadows

George Zien moved from Arizona to Sequim almost eight years ago and found a whole new palette for his painting.

Reds and yellows gave way to blues and greens and the shadows became more pronounced.

"Shadows," said Zien, "are God's gift to the artist.

"I like watercolors be-cause of the softness - and the shadows."

Zien paints from snapshots he takes of subjects that appeal to him, mainly people and animals. He likes portrait and figure painting and does some artwork on commission.

Drawing from life

He says he can draw from life but needs the photos to study the subject and capture it in a painting.

"I draw what I see," he says, "then add the color around the white.

"You can blend the colors or wait for the paint to dry and then wash over it or blot it and lift some of the color to soften it."

Watercolor requires that the artist save the white of the paper for highlights and paint around them with the dark colors.

"You work from light to dark. With oils you start with the dark and add the light colors as highlights," says Zien.

Don't copy others

Zien studied art at the Scottsdale Artist School and ran his own sign shop there for many years. He has painted many pictures of Southwest landscapes and people. Now he is adding people and scenes from the Northwest to his repertoire.

Zien has studied over the years with several artists, among them Ted Nuttle, Diane Maxey, Charles Reed and Kim Johnson. He knows he has learned from other artists but he does not try to copy any of them.

"You can't copy someone your whole life. You have to be who you are."

Zien feels his painting has improved over the years but that he has lost his childlike experimental side. He is comfortable with his way of painting but every so often he challenges himself to do something new and different, such as abstracts.

"You have to have a plan to make an abstract work," he says.

Drawing from life

To continue his learning, Zien has a life-study class at his studio on Parrish Road every Tuesday where the artists draw a posing model. He always is looking for more models and they needn't be slim and statuesque.

"I like someone with some definition and roundness. Not the skinny ones."

In drawing from life, Zien is especially good at drawing hands.

"Someone once told me I was good at doing hands so I decided I could do them and just kept getting better.

"You have to look at the shape of the hand. Think of it first as a mitten. Get the shape. Then add the details.

"The fingers taper and the first and third are the same size. Then you add one longer and one shorter and you have a hand."

Capturing the basics

Figure drawing helps Zien capture the basics, then he can add backgrounds or do landscapes. "If you get figure drawing down, you can do anything."

When painting, Zien puts its perspective off balance to draw the viewer into the picture. Then he uses darker paint on the sides and leaves white or light colors at the focal point to draw the eye to the center.

"That way, your eye enters the painting and walks around it."

Asked why art is necessary, Zien said, "Art is important to us because it separates us.

"Without art we would be animals."

Reach Dana Casey at

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