My name is Matthew Bird and I am a realist painter working in transparent watercolor. I am drawn to complex details and portraying the richness and beauty of everyday objects and scenes. Through the use of many washes and layers, I create vibrant color and deep darks. One of the things I hear most often from people who see my work is, “That’s watercolor?!”
But before I get to that, here’s a little bit on how I got where I am today.
From a very early age, I knew that God made me to be an artist. Even though there are no artists in my family, my parents embraced and nurtured my love for drawing. At the same time, they were concerned with my difficulty learning to read. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at age seven, and getting through school was never easy. My mother used to tell me, “One day you will get to do what you love.”
It took years of hard work, but I mastered the great literary classics and to this day, I enjoy reading. I do think that this obstacle during my formative years was instrumental in my drive to not accept labels and to fight for what you want.
I have a vivid memory of an elementary art class, where the teacher was telling me to use all of the paper and draw bigger. But I was very focused on getting the small details correct. This was something that I would fight all through my education.
In high school, my parents encouraged me to write to Walt Disney to find out where they hire their artists from, thinking they would recruit from the best schools. One of the schools mentioned was Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NYC. They offered a partial scholarship and I really wanted to study in New York.
I was pursuing a career in illustration thinking that was a good way to make a living as an artist. I also had schooling in design and photography, so like many artists, I began working part-time as a graphic designer to bring in extra money.
This temporary arrangement turned into a career path, and a decade later I was an Associate Creative Director in a large agency. I was burnt out, unhappy, and barely painting at all. This was around the time that my wife and I were expecting our first child, which actually became the catalyst for leaving my full-time position so I could be home more and be able to paint.
My wife is pretty amazing. Being married to an artist isn’t easy, and I wouldn’t be where I am without her love and support. In addition, it was when I started to paint my wife and children that my art stepped up to a new level. I began entering exhibitions and winning awards, which gave me the encouragement to keep going.
Although frustrated at the time, I wouldn’t change the career choices I made. I learned valuable skills in business, marketing and networking. But I was born to paint and now embrace the challenges and joys of the artist’s life.
My Advice On Materials
If you are just starting out, materials can be expensive. I encourage people to spend first on the important things. Do not skimp on your paint, brushes or paper—use professional artists grade materials. Watercolor is a difficult medium, there’s no need to add to the challenge with inferior products. Student grade paint uses less pigment and more binder (filler) so it is difficult to get deep rich color. I recommend Daniel Smith paints, Fabriano Artistico paper and Escoda brushes.
Looking back, I’m so grateful for finding watercolor, and for being able to focus on developing my craft to capture the beauty of what surrounds me with precision and clarity; and strive to convey that to all people through the universal language of representational art.
I enjoy demonstrating the versatility of watercolor, as it’s often associated with loose, colorful washes, and a look that is easily recognizable. But it is a very versatile medium and much can be achieved. And to those that think I work in acrylic or oil, and say “That’s watercolor?!” I smile and reply, “Yes, it’s watercolor.”
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