GUEST ARTIST: “He’s Not a 13 Year Old Genius” by Charles Sluga

Charles Sluga watercolour Artist YELLOW

Hey there, my name is Charles Sluga and I live in Australia. I have been a Professional Artist for over 30 years (yes, I’m that old) and have loved every minute. Apart from Watercolours, the other things I love are movies (maybe you can see a tiny hint of a frustrated movie director on my YouTube channel) and I also enjoy photography very much.

One of the things however, that has brought much joy to my life, has been helping others develop their watercolour skills and artistic eye and I have been fortunate to travel around Australia, New Zealand and Europe teaching people how to see and paint through the eyes of a watercolourist.

Background

I grew up in a small country town in Australia. My parents and sisters came from Croatia, but I was born in Australia. I was one of those kids who loved drawing more than cricket or football and so spent much of my youth escaping into my imaginary world through drawing.

FLAVOURED MILK cows watercolour by Charles Sluga

At thirteen years of age, I started to learn painting in acrylics. There was a little old lady (everyone seems old when you are 13) who was an artist living in my town and every Sunday I would visit her and she would teach me to paint. Her name was Carmen Puls and she also introduced me to the world of the old masters through her collection of books. She also had a very protective and aggressive small dog.

Charles Sluga MY COPY OF MAN-IN-ARMOUR in Acrylic AT AGE 13

My Copy Of Rembrandt’s Man In Armour At Age 13

​​I remember once after I had finished copying a Rembrandt painting (Man in Armour – my version seen here), I thought it was so good that I thought I was some kind of artistic genius. That day, I walked home very slowly with the painting, making sure the painting was facing the road, as I expected a car to pull up and someone to jump out, discover me as a brilliant genius and launch my famous jet-setting career as an Artist. Ummm, it didn’t quite work out like that. Funny where the 13 year old imagination travels.

As I reached the end of secondary school, my parents wanted me to think about a “proper” career, so I went off to University and studied Engineering. I hated it and changed to Mathematics (which I did enjoy) and then studied a teaching Degree and became a Mathematics and Science teacher.

However, one day I went to an art exhibition and it hit me like a bolt of lightning – I wanted to be an artist. Not wanting to reach the end of my life and be wondering, “What if”, I took the plunge and made a transition from mathematics teaching to artist and here I am today.

MORNING AT THE FARRINGTZoN INN - BOSTON watercolour painting

I learnt classical tonal oil painting for a while from a local artist, but then discovered watercolour and loved the challenge. So that became my medium of choice (although I still do some oils) and as we all know, watercolour is the true masters’ medium … don’t we?

1812 OVERTURE Watercolour Painting Charles Sluga

So after many years of tears, frustration and practice trying to master watercolour, I finally managed to get a bit of control over this very exciting medium. Don’t get me wrong, I still have tears and frustration, but maybe not as much. So even though the path wasn’t the same as in the mind of the 13 year old Charles, it did become my career.

These days, I spend my time painting, filming, photographing, running my gallery – Sluga Gallery (with my wife), teaching, travelling and raising two daughters. I love the travelling associated with my work and meeting amazing people from all around the world in my classes. It’s not a bad life. Oh, and I also run my holiday tour once a year to Croatia (where we paint a little too on our free days). After 18 tours, this is still one of the favourite things I do in the year.

Equipment And Technique

I am definitely not what you would call a watercolour purist, as I will do anything to get the result I want and need in my painting. If I have to coax my dog or cat to walk over the painting to get the result I want, then I bring them in.

REG'S TOOLBOX Watercolor Painting by Charles Sluga

I do, and always have, painted for myself. The ethos that I work by is that I need to tell my story, so there is no point painting to others’ perceptions and opinions of what and how I should paint. I have never liked trends or following the flock. Paint for yourself, otherwise what is the point in painting?

LILY'S SCARECROW Watercolour by Charles Sluga

I love to challenge myself and hence have a large range of subject matter and approaches. I think versatility is important, not only to make watercolour painting more interesting, but also because it allows me to express myself better. It basically gives me more scope – a bit like knowing a few languages.

FIVE FLAVOURS watercolour painting by Charles Sluga

So it is difficult, if not impossible, to talk of my process here, as I have many processes, depending on what I want to achieve in my painting. Sometimes it’s glazing or wet into wet or wet on dry or any combination of these and other approaches. However, there is one thing that I find crucial to my painting process and that is planning. Planning my process, direction, technique paradoxically gives me extreme freedom in my work and I can be freer and looser in my approach. I actually have a mental process I go through which I try to teach my students.

As far as my equipment and materials are concerned, I mainly use Arches paper (rough or hot press) or Yupo as my painting surfaces. I mostly use Winsor & Newton paints, along with a few colours from other brands like Daniel Smith. I am very particular about my colours and their behaviour and choose my colours from various brands very carefully. For example, Winsor & Newton Cerulean Blue is the only one I will use because of its particular colour temperature and its granulation properties. Having said that, I could also paint with a cheap paint set if pushed and I think I would end up with an OK result. The materials are there to make your job easier, but they are not the answer to a great painting.

MUD MUD GLORIOUS MUD Watercolour Painting of Pig

Squirrel mop brushes are my favourite brush type, as I like the amount of pigment they hold and the freedom they give to my work. I tend to use them frequently, but also use a combination of other brushes. For example, I often use synthetic brushes when painting on Yupo.

My Goal

My goal is to keep challenging myself as far as subject matter and technique is concerned, but also to continue to tell stories through my painting. I don’t know what or how I will be painting in the future, but that is what makes it so exciting to me. I also wish to continue to help as many people as I can to discover, develop and get as much as they can out of watercolour. Whether a complete beginner or a mid-career artist, I love to help them advance, as watercolour has given me so much joy over the years and I like to give that back and help others find that enjoyment.

As long as I can continue to challenge myself, I will continue to paint in watercolours and I can’t imagine that changing any time soon.

Charles Sluga
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48 Comments
  1. Mary Roff 1 month ago

    Fantastic art and a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing your art journey!

  2. Zertab Quaderi 1 month ago

    Your work is amazing!

  3. Karen Fortier 1 month ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your beautiful art with us Charles! I love hearing about other artists and the their path of exploration. Watercolor is addictive.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks Karen. Yes it is addictive – the best kind of drug🙂

  4. Nellie Nellie 1 month ago

    Another Charles! What a genius! I love light in art, (I will keep trying) and your work is filled with it. A worthy obsession! Thank you for sharing your creations, thoughts and journey, great inspiration for me and so many! Safe travels!

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks very much Nellie. Yes, it is often good to try and capture the light as it can lift a mundane subject.

  5. Robert Coleman 1 month ago

    Charles, thanks so much for sharing your work with us. You use the looseness of watercolor yet you plan it right from the beginning. Your result is so refreshing, evocative of the Impressionists and just as pleasant to look at. I love the surprise at the end: a 1950’s T’Bird!! Is that a 1955? And have you painted its portrait yet? Love it all! bob.c

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Hi Bob, thanks for your very kind words. I very much appreciate it and I’m glad you like the car. However, sadly, it is not my car. The logo I put on the side of the car using photoshop. It just happened to be parked in front of my gallery, so I’m afraid I don’t know the date…I do want the car though😁

  6. Mugdha Savkar 1 month ago

    Hello,

    I loved all your paintings, specially the scarecrow. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I particularly loved the bit of when, as a 13 year old, you carried your painting showing it to the world and expecting to be discovered as the next great artist. It didn’t happen immediately but ultimately it did and I’m very happy for you.

    Mugdha

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      😆Oh, Mugdha,I wish I was famous… you know the kind of famous where the paparazzi are after me😄. I am glad you responded to the paintings. The scarecrow is a special painting for me(and I kept the original), as it is a painting of a scarecrow one of my daughters made for our garden. Hence the title Lily’s Scarecrow, as my daughters name is Lily.

  7. Sandra Strait 1 month ago

    Your work is amazing, Charles! I love the way you use negative space. I think you’re so right about pulling in the dog or cat to help get a result, if needed. If someone wants to create strict rules and follow them, that’s fine, but so often they put other artists down for not following them too, and that’s not fine. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Keep on doing what you are doing Sandra. Let the purists restrict their expression by adhering to rules made up by a few. The rest of us can have fun, experiment, explore and move beyond the 19th century. Ignore them and enjoy. They are on a different journey and path. Each to their own.👍

  8. Walter F Pierluissi 1 month ago

    Charles, I can see through your art the classic of you style….. Like the Thunderbird with your Gallery promo, it’s speaks of that classical touch in your art…. I like it a lot….

  9. Kellie 1 month ago

    Thanks for sharing your story, I think the 13 yo was right! Your work is amazing!

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      😁Thanks Kellie. I wish I could talk to 13 year old Charles(Charlie) and give him some advice.

  10. Susan Feniak 1 month ago

    Wonderful and thank you. I am going to continue to challenge myself and paint for myself. Too bad Charles Sluga’s website wouldn’t accept my email address. But I have followed on Instagram.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      My pleasure Susan.I am so glad you are painting for yourself and challenging yourself .
      Would you please give me a little more info about my website, as I am a bit concerned you could not put your email in.
      Were you trying to sign up to my newsletter?
      Were you filling in the form on the contacts page?
      I would just like to try and sort out what the issue is so that others don’t run into the same problem.
      Please email me at charles@slugagallery.com if you don’t wish to reply here. It would be much appreciated and thanks for following me on Instagram.

      • Susan Feniak 1 month ago

        Hello Charles. Thank you for getting back to me. I was trying to sign up for your news letter. I have a Gmail.com email address and have run into this problem before. Some sites don’t recognize gmail and ask for a proper email address.

        • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

          Thanks Susan. I am not sure why that would happen as I have many many purple that have signed up with Gmail accounts. I can sign you up manually if you like. Just give me the go ahead and I’ll do it.
          R regards
          Charles

          • Susan Feniak 1 month ago

            I will try again and if I don’t have any luck I will let you know. Thanks.

          • Susan Feniak 1 month ago

            Success! I am now in the inner circle. Looking forward to being a part and learning.

  11. Marisela Delgado 1 month ago

    Gorgeous paintings!

  12. Sharon Nolfi 1 month ago

    Great story and stunning work! I especially like the cows and pig. Wonderful play of color and design.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks Sharon. The pig is my latest painting. He is a happy pig🙂

  13. CURIOUStotheMAX 1 month ago

    Your “red door” really stood out to me. Fabulous. I’m jealous that both sides of your brain work in tandem!

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks very much. That painting is a very special painting to me and won a prestigious award for me. However it is special to me because of the story behind it (to long to go into here). Yes both sides of my brain work in tandem, but it is a very small brain, so it is quite easy to do😂

  14. Laura Kate 1 month ago

    Charles, your work is awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing, it’s brilliant.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks Laura. I very much appreciate that comment. I just have to be careful here that all the nice comments I am getting don’t blow up my ego too much😁. It is very nice though to get such compliments. Thanks again.

  15. Iisa Ebenstein 1 month ago

    Hey Charles, don’t give up that scarecrow. It’s a real treasure. And those musicians are a real work of art. Be careful with that. And those boats and teacups, my God.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks so much Lisa – that is really kind of you to say. The scarecrow I kept, but all the others have gone… to good homes hopefully.

  16. Shubha 1 month ago

    Nice story and I like the versatility. Lovely paintings.Love the reds.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks Shubha. Versatility and variety are important to me as it keeps it challenging for me. Oh, and I do like red 😁

  17. Lin Powell 1 month ago

    Love the texture and reflections in your work. Such a wonderful artist. Thanks for sharing your story…very inspirational.

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      Thanks very much Lin. I’m glad you found it inspirational.Much appreciated.

  18. Jerson Antao 1 month ago

    Nice work Charles! keep going!😊

    • Charles Sluga 1 month ago

      😄Thanks Jerson. I think after 35 years doing this,I might just keep going😁. I’ve gone too far to stop now.

  19. Your work is extraordinary.

  20. Kellie Grant 4 weeks ago

    Hi Charles, I live just down the road from you in Wangaratta! I’ve visited your gallery a couple of times & follow you on Insta. I love your work, the freedom of expression, & your wonderfully whimsical use of colour always capture my curiosity. Thanks for sharing some of your process & preferences for materials, especially the tip regarding planning. I always find it so helpful to add such things to my toolbox or list of things to learn more about. I adore watercolours, but quite honestly do find them a little intimidating. I’m looking forward to travel restrictions being over so that we can visit once again, maybe even take a few classes!! All the best, Kellie 😊

    • Charles Sluga 4 weeks ago

      Hi Kellie. Well here we are, so close yet so far😁. Thanks for the really nice words. I look forward to catching up when things have settled back to normality and the gallery is open again. In the meantime, see you online.

  21. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 3 weeks ago

    Charles, I can’t believe I’ve come back to see this page so many times and not left a comment, so here it is. Though a bit late, it’s loaded with admiration for your wonderful paintings. I wish I could your bold approach with the gestural freedom you express, but I’m too cautious (also, not enough skill.) There’s so much to look at in each painting: verve and color and texture and a hidden story. I can nearly hear the orchestra playing, touch the skin of the pig, walk through that red door, lift the tools from the work box. What an adventure in your work – can’t imagine you not painting, and I bet you can’t either.

    • Charles Sluga 3 weeks ago

      Hi Sharon, Wow, what lovely words. Thanks very much…I am just not sure if I will be able to get out the front door though as my head now has grown so much😂. Seriously though, thanks.
      It doesn’t matter at what stage of my career I am at, it is always nice to hear encouraging words and to know people are responding to my work.
      Just a quick word on caution when painting- I at one time was a very tight painter and precise-almost a photorealist, but I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be ( since I also have a great respect for photography).
      So I had to conscousley work at loosening up.
      Many failures and much frustration later I managed to get what I was after. As you may know, I have been running workshops for about 30 years and one of my most popular workshop is one that I have designed to help people loosen up.
      Keep at it – take risks(even if small ones) and chip away at it. Eventually you will get there and you will enjoy the painting process and results so much more. Good luck and again thanks for making a comment.Charles

  22. Kevin Day 3 weeks ago

    Thank you for your great e.mails, I look forward to receiving them.
    I met you at your gallery when visiting at Yackandandah and loved your work.
    Living in Adelaide and 84 years young we may not be back for a while.Please keep in touch.
    Kevin.

    • Charles Sluga 3 weeks ago

      Hi Kevin, That’s great. I’m glad you are enjoying my newsletters. Yes, it doesn’t look like we will be travelling anywhere soon either. Can’t even go over border into NSW at the moment, although I think that may change soon.
      Thanks for visiting my gallery. We haven’t been open for a while now, but we are looking forward to opening again when allowed.
      Stay safe and thanks again.
      Regards.
      Charles

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