By Mike Bush
On the lower right hand side of an old drafting table Bill Monaghan that sits in his home studio is an age-old Chinese saying, “First you see the hills in the painting, then you see the painting in the hills.”
This holds true for a recent Monaghan oil painting done in his own back yard. After working and living in San Jose for 22 years, Monaghan and his wife Kit moved to el Dorado Hills in 2003. The picturesque scene features oak trees of all shapes and sizes, closed in to allow deer and skunks to hide, if not call home. Finalized by the ground that changes as the seasons change while there is not a cloud in the blue sky north to south, east to west.
Monaghan’s latest painting is one of many that will be featured in his home as part of the El Dorado County Artists Studio Tour sponsored by the Placerville Arts Association.
Monaghan has been a full-time painter for the last six years. He converted one of the six rooms he has in his home into a studio to do his work.
Jump right in
“It’s nice to have a place to go,” Monaghan said. “and you leave it the way you want. (Drawing and painting materials) are there and ready to jump right in when you’re in the mood.”
Monaghan was an industrial designer by profession; he holds a BA in industrial design. He turned his trade, which he refers to as a cross between mechanic design, mechanical engineering and art, into drawing that becomes a painting.
“The art side comes with a new product design; concepts of what it could look like,” Monaghan said. “I’ve always drawn; I’ve always had that ability. Before computers we had to do a full-blown, hand-drawn, photo-wheel rendering of the non-existent project. You might have three different designs and you do an 18×20 or 12×16 rendering of the product. So you had to have the ability to draw. I did that for 25 years.”
Moving to El Dorado Hills seemed like a blessing, Monaghan said he felt at the time he left his former employer, Compaq, in 2001 after working for the computer company for more than 20 years.
“Everything in our whole life came together at the same time that allowed me to rethink what I was going to do when I quit from Compaq,” he explained.
His wife’s employer granted a transfer, while their two daughters moved with marriage and college, at the time of the couple’s relocation.
“I like everything except for the summer; it gets too hot,” Monaghan said with a laugh.
Monaghan joined the El Dorado Arts Association immediately after moving.
“That’s when I decided I really think I want to pursue this for a long term,” Monaghan said. “I started meeting a lot of other people at that time they were involved in the studio tour.”
Monaghan took classes at The School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks under the direction of Susan Sarback, considered by many in the business as one of the most renowned painters in the United States.
“It took about two years of learning the skill,” said Monaghan when he enrolled in 2005. “I had not done oil painting before. That was pure serendipity. I was going to sign up for classes back east … the style and techniques of laying down color. Through research I found out (Monaghan was) 15 minutes from here (and) Susan Sarback.”
After two years Monaghan decided to display his work at art festivals around Northern California, along with some displays in Southern California. This year he’s displayed his proud work at 12 shows, including some in the Bay Area.
One painting that Monaghan shows with pride is one of Hope Valley near Lake Tahoe. The pine trees, captured by the mountains and walk path, is truly breathtaking.
“I started early November,” said Monaghan referring to the Hope Valley painting. “I wanted to get up there and do paintings with the Aspen trees changing colors; I was ready to go out and paint every day (but) that was the week it snowed for two days. It never got up above 29 (degrees). I just did a lot of photography on that one.”
Painting from a person’s eye is better than painting from what one sees in a picture, Monaghan said.
“When you work out on location, you can see colors a whole lot better,” Monaghan said. “You see a lot more accurate way the light hits, some of the subtleties and colors. The light is changing and moving very quickly. That’s what all of these studies are for.
“The painting captures more than the picture. The camera kind of summarizes contrast lights and darks. The naked eye can see lots of subtleties in those dark shadows and the camera is not going to grab them most of the time.”
When should you paint?
To Monaghan there are two times in the day that are the best times to paint.
“The morning from 9 until about noon is about right, and from 1:30 to 5 p.m.,” Monaghan said. “They’re equal. You want to stay away from being in the middle (of the sun) because you don’t have as nice as shadows and it gives more drama when the shadows are a little bit longer as opposed to straight up and down.”
If he needs motivation, Monaghan refers back to figure drawings and paintings he dabbled in during his college years, the early to mid 1970s. Those, too, also hang in his studio.
“When I first set up my studio it was a kind of a reminder to me ‘yeah you really know how to draw, you really know how to do this’,” Monaghan said. “Artists are really good at beating themselves up. You can be your worst critic.”
To view Monaghan’s works visit billmonaghanart.com.