Artist Interview: RAOUL VITALE

I'm happy to say that things have been quite busy with work lately, but unfortunately I don't have much of anything that I can show off at the moment. However, fear not! For I bring you more artwork that is far better than my own and an interview to go with it!

For this edition of Artist Interview, the prolific Raoul Vitale was kind enough to participate!

"The Lady Of Shalott"
Raoul is an award-winning and self-taught fantasy artist and oil painter from Canton, Ohio. He has worked with such clients as Wizards of the Coast, Harper Collins, and Aladdin Books, and has had work published consistently in the Spectrum art annuals (which is where I first came across it). He also regularly exhibits at IlluXCon, and I have to say his oil paintings are just bafflingly beautiful to see in person. But enough from me. Let's get on to the interview!
JM: As a self-taught artist, what did you find to be the biggest challenges to improving your work through the years? What particular artists influenced you during your early years of painting and how did you first come across their work?
RV: The biggest challenge is being self-taught. When broken down, it just means that you learn from your mistakes. Plus I don’t really have a “technique” for painting. That is, no set way I always apply paint. I never do color studies or under--paintings. The only thing I consistently do is work from the background, forward - starting with the sky. After the sky’s color and value are established, the other objects coming forward take their color and value cue from the sky and sun position - or lack of it. I’ve always loved the art of the 19th century, but didn’t see much of it until I was about 18 years old - about the same time I discovered the art of Maxfield Parrish, the Brothers Hildebrandt, and Golden Age illustrators.

I don’t think there is one particular influence in my work. I love almost everything I see and am amazed by it all!
JM: Can you break down the average number of hours you spend on an image (i.e. sketches, reference, final drawing, painting, etc.)?
RV: I’ll spend a half hour or so making thumbnails, and when I like the composition of one in small scale, I project it actual size, just for the composition and refine all the elements until it looks like it should. Then the tracing is transferred to a piece of Gessoed masonite and the smearing of paint begins. I only know for sure of time spent on one particular painting called “Scouts”. January 1st I started and it wasn’t finished until the 31st. It was 36” x 24”. Of course, smaller pieces go much quicker.

"Bilbo at Bag End"
JM: What part of the creative process do you enjoy most? Which part do you find the most frustrating?
RV: The most enjoyable parts are the very beginning and the final rendering. Working out the composition, lighting and overall story is where most of the creativity is. The finishing touches bring the picture to life.
JM: What do you find to be your most useful and most detrimental work habits?
RV: Not sure about the most useful habit, but the worst is not getting reference material. Even when I’m lucky enough to find someone who’s willing to pose and somewhat fits the bill, I worry about the time they’re spending being quite uncomfortable and I’m not paying good attention to pose and lighting. Add to that the fact that I don’t have a set way of painting - it’s always like I’m painting for the first time!
JM: Nature seems to be a very big part of your paintings. What other aspects of your life do you draw the most inspiration from? Do you have any secondary hobbies that feed your art making?
RV: Nature is infinitely creative. You could spend a million lifetimes exploring those forms. Light - in all its various moods is also a big one for me. Sometimes a mood calls for vibrant color - sometimes the mood demands an almost monochromatic handling. Then there is the simple drawing. I love to see other artists’ drawings. There is something timeless and pure about a sketch or finished drawing that a painted piece can’t convey.

JM: Of the work you've done for clients, are there any projects that stick out in your memory as being particularly enjoyable? What is your favorite kind of commission to work on?
RV: Once I get commissioned, it’s usually enjoyable because there are no crushing deadlines, and there is no art directing involved with a private collector. You have free reign and can indulge in all the things you love to do. Last year I was really in the mood for a romantic Victorian kind of piece and a collector commissioned my version of “The Lady of Shalott”. I thoroughly enjoyed painting every inch of that piece
JM: Many artists who work in imaginative realism like to use sculpted maquettes as creature reference to inform their paintings. Do you utilize any sculpture in your process or do you use other methods for getting reference?
RV: I’ve tried the maquette route a few times and found it less than helpful. I did a commission for Dan Dos Santos and I wanted it to be special. So, after I had already drawn and figured out the lighting of the dragon, I thought a rough sculpt would help. After photographing it, I realized I liked my initial drawing more than what I saw in the sculpt. So I didn’t use it. On the other hand, I really should start looking at actual animals for ideas other than what’s normally in my head to avoid becoming a caricature of myself.

"Garden of the Enchantress"
JM: How has your painting process grown or changed throughout your career? Was there any point at which you felt like you'd achieved a level of skill that you'd been striving for in your art?
RV: I’m still searching and struggling to improve, but I don’t think I’ll ever achieve the level I’m striving for. I find that since I usually have little or no reference, it hinders my visual library. Making up trees, rocks, creatures and sometimes even people, holds me back from making a truly good image. It’s not that I’m after photo-realism. It’s just that when you constantly invent everything, the objects in your paintings become like your handwriting and keep you trapped and unable to expand your imagery.
JM: When and how did you start getting into the convention scene?
RV: The first (and probably only) convention I attended was IlluXCon, in 2008. It has opened many doors for me and there is something very intimate about the show. I have attended Spectrum Live, but it’s just too big for my tastes.

Many thanks again to Raoul for taking the time to participate in this interview! If you’d like to learn more about him and see more of his gorgeous oil paintings, check out the links below!

-Raoul Vitale's Official Website
-Raoul Vitale's Art Blog 

All Images in this post are ©Raoul Vitale. All Rights Reserved. Displayed with permission.

Did you like this interview? Any suggestions for future interviews? Leave a comment below!