An interview with Rebekah Codlin in Picton Harbour, New Zealand

I’m super happy to introduce all of you to an artist that has never been featured on the gallery. Rebekah Codlin is an amazing talent who specializes in realistic portraiture and her entire portfolio is stunning. I urge you to spend a few minutes looking through her work.

I believe what drew me to her art when I first stumbled across it on Flickr was how in-your-face it is. Her pieces are large and unapologetically detailed. She doesn’t hide behind the looseness that other styles afford. If she were to make a mistake it’d be right there for all to see.

A few things I took away from my interview with her was her work ethic (6 hours a day of painting), her positive attitude towards the business of being an artist, and how she deals with mistakes.

Let’s get on with the interview.

How did you get started in art and what have been your biggest influences along the way?

Like many kids I always loved to draw and paint, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I really started taking it seriously and decided to train myself by painting or drawing something every day. When I started taking graphite portrait commissions from workmates at a local cafe my boss saw them and offered me his exhibition wall for the following summer. So at age 17 I created my first body of acrylic paintings. I wanted to make an impact so these ranged in size from 90x60cm to 150x100cm, I had about 4 or 5 large works for the summer, I did not offer them for sale however. The exhibition which lasted a year, garnered quite a bit of attention from local papers and I received a good number of commissions which kept me busy and an offer from a luxury resorts art gallery for a solo exhibition. This meant I naturally had no time to go to university and study accounting like I had originally planned, so it grew from there. On the opening night of my first solo exhibition at the resort I sold Story Time, which was my first portrait painting, for $10’000 (a price decided by the director based on me saying I didn’t really want to sell it!). This sale kicked things off and made me realize that being a full time artist could be self sustainable, and that I could well make a reasonable living doing what I loved.

You describe your work as contemporary realist portraiture. Why do you think you’ve focused on realism rather than impressionist, abstract, or other styles?

I love realism portraiture because I see so much incredible beauty in life and people just the way they are. There is an endless plethora of different natural lighting effects, expressions, subjects, scenes and compositions to work with just from what is already there. The human face is very complex, just tiny adjustments can totally change the expression and therefore the feeling in the painting, I find it very satisfying to achieve the depth and emotion I aim for. The human face can portray soo much and I feel in order for me to reach the potential a subject can give, I need to have the detail and realistic tonal changes to work with which abstract and impressionist styles don’t give me in the same way. But in the end I paint what I am compelled to paint; with my personality if I were to paint abstract or impressionist I would feel I was doing it for commercial reasons, like to follow a trend, and not really doing what I really enjoy, and realism is what I really enjoy.

With such detail in your pieces, have you ever messed up a piece when it was almost finished? How do you deal with those types of challenges?

I mess up all the time, in the beginning I used to say my paintings are just layer upon layer of mistakes! It isn’t so much that way anymore as I’ve learned a lot over the years. With oils it doesn’t really matter what mistakes you make, you can always go over them, or wipe them off when it’s still wet. I work in layers, laying down bases with more detail each time, and the final layer is the most detailed. Very unlike what you see a lot on youtube where an artist starts in a top corner and works their way down in one layer like a printer! I need to see the entire painting develop as one so I know I have the composition right, as I don’t grid or trace etc.

How have your tools or techniques changed from when you started until now?

I am a lot more layers based and patient in that way. I used to try and create my works in 1 or two layers, but it would never happen, and with each painting I naturally developed a sort of layering technique that works for me. these days it’s more refined and I can plan the process to a better extent.

It seems you enjoy posting to Instagram. For other artists that may be interested, how do you value social media, having your own web site, exhibitions, etc?

Social media has served me pretty well. Instagram is particularly good if you use the right mix of hashtags and use a schedule app for daily posting. I have had several overseas galleries make inquiries through finding me on Instagram and it has encouraged a couple of big sales. Facebook is OK. A website is a must if you are mainly self represented like me, along with email list. I also have my large prints displayed in restaurants across the country which is where I get the most attention and sales from. As always, with art the best marketing includes putting it out there physically, this takes a good few K of outlay and a lot of work, but if your product is of a good quality then it’s worth it for sure. Don’t listen to galleries who put you off displaying in cafes and restaurants, they actually do the same these days.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve done and why?

My fave piece right now is probably Charlie (pictured above). I feel like I really achieved exactly the feeling I wanted in her with the right lighting, and I also enjoyed painting this one a lot.

What does your daily routine for painting look like?

I get up about 7.30 and start work at 8am. Will normally check and answer emails and then start painting. I usually paint at least 6 hours per day, and spend a couple hours fulfilling print orders, extra emails, paper work or other bits and pieces plus website tweaking and marketing research. Every so often I’ll do a photoshoot with a model I’ve found.

Could you share two creative people (they don’t have to be painters) that have inspired you recently?

I would say Matt Gauldie, a good artist friend of mine I keep in touch with, and my sister Sarah who is a fashion designer about to launch her label Stray Birds.

Have there been any books, documentaries, YouTube videos that have inspired you recently?

Not that I can think of. I am very independent with my art, so I actually try not to source inspiration from other peoples instruction or what they have done that has worked for them. My inspiration comes directly from the people I discover, but I am sure there is a lot of other inspiration that I take on subconsciously from my experiences.

I see your expanding from your native New Zealand to England and New Mexico. What’s next for your art? Will you try any new mediums, directions?

Yes I have had a few opportunities pop up in the UK and Santa Fe, will likely do a couple of residencies. I have dabbled in water colour and would love to get back into it. For me it is finding the perfect subjects and compositions to portray in watercolour……I am also thinking of creating my own painting busts out of synthetic clay… this space!

I found it interesting that she shuts out the world in order to allow her influences to remain pure – the antithesis of The Watercolor Gallery. My thanks to Rebekah for making an exception so that others can learn from her amazing work and process.

You can find Rebekah’s work on her web site, on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and her shop.

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