Jared Cullum - Interview

Interview with the watercolor artist and comic book creator Jared Cullum




Hello Jared, tell me please about yourself and your art journey?


I had an early start to art but seeing no future in it, quit when I was about 16 years old. I tried a lot of other things but never could shake the need to draw and came back around the 25. I was much more disciplined about practiced but always worry that I started too late in life to do anything with it or ever be good at it. I live in Virginia with 2 kids and work in comics and art education. Plein air painting and observation are the foundation of my work in young adult and kids literature. I love to travel the world and collect observations and stories that light tells and bring them  back home to where I live and work in comics.  

From how long do you paint with watercolors and why you choose that medium?


I have painted watercolors for about 3 years now. When I started drawing years ago I had no interest in it. If you told me it would become my obsession and passion I would have laughed. It gave me the advantage of working mostly on drawing and value before shifting into painting. I ran across French comics that were watercolored and it changed my life forever. I got my first little cotman box and have painted daily, unable to stop since. 


You make comic books and color them using watercolor paints, isn't that hard technique when it comes to comic books?


It's extremely hard but I spend so much time doing observational sketches I feel like the watercolor part comes naturally with a bit of planning. I like that it is difficult. You cannot undo mistakes so you have to learn to fix it, start over or move on. I find it makes my pictures better that way. Every page and panel is a tight rope walk. There is no safety net except maybe gouache.

Could you explain your technique in a few steps?


I typically start a panel or picture by building a value guide. To the side I do a small pencil value thumbnail reducing the image to it's minimal major shapes and only 3-4 steps of value. Then I build in the value with a bit of ultramarine and burnt sienna mixed shifting back and forth from warm to cool. I also add yellow ochre, strengthened a bit with cad yellow to the downward facing planes. The glow of reflected light is a real observable thing but I like to push it a little because it creates a glow and a feeling of light. 


Do you prefer concrete brand for paints , or you aren't into following one brand only?


Daniel smith. I know people who mix brand colors but I don't. I don't have a reason but I just like to stick to one brand only. I used to use all schmincke which I loved but I started using more and more and got sick of having to order and wait for tubes when I burned out of ultramarine or something. The local art store carries Daniel Smith and W&N artist. I just picked DS and have stuck with them even though they sometimes are a bit more grainy then I care for. 

Which artists had influenced you and which colors/pigments do you use in your palette? How many colors do you use to complete the painting and which you will choose if you have to use only 6?


So many! Lot's of 50's disney artists and currently Cyril Pedrosa, Moebius and Boulet. Also Joseph Zbukvic, Alvaro Castagnet, David Curtis, James Gurney and Nathan Fowkes. 

I always try to keep the colors minimal (4-5) to unify the picture but I carry 12-16. If I only had 6 colors it'd be

Cadmium yellow light, Cad Red, Carmine, Ultramarine blue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna

How many brushes do you use in a painting, do you prefer large or small sizes?


I try to keep in minimal. I use a 1 inch flat brush for 90% of the image and then switch to a 10 round and finish with a 3 or 4 round. The big brush covers a lot of area fast and you can use the corner to get details. I like that when it runs out and gets dry you can get some nice brush strokes that indicate form well.  


You love the brass palettes, how do you find them comparing with the aluminum and the plastic ones on the market? What makes them special?


I have never cared for plastic. I don't know why but they feel flimsy to me. I love aluminum and steel palettes as well and used them for a while but they tended to rust on me. Still decent and affordable. The reality is that the metal (regardless of what metal it is) doesn't help you get better at all. I personally like the weight and feel of the brass box as it is a little more heavy. The main 2 reasons are crafts-personship and my kids.  I love the art and detail and deliberate thought that goes into brass boxes. I've actually made one myself for fun and it was very difficult. There is a lot of love and time that goes into them and I see that when I look at them. That separates it from a machine stamped or 3d printed box. Finally the brass doesn't rust. Watercolor is a cornerstone of my life and every day. I always have a box with me and I'm always thinking about it. My kids may never get into it but someday I want them to have the boxes I use to remember me.


Do you do plain air paintings or your job makes you paint mostly in your studio?


I do lots of plein air painting. I spend a lot of time indoors and outdoors doing observational paintings. It heightens every skill and sense of the painter.  

What would be your advice to the watercolor beginners? What should they look for at first and should they spend lot of money for buying quality materials?


Do a lot of observational work and master studies. Go to a library or buy artists collections like Winslow Homer and Sargent and do small post-card sized sketches to get into the painting and see how they handled light and brush strokes. Carry a scrap sketchbook and do lots of observation drawings in only ink and value studies. Painting is drawing. It's tough to accept but a lot of my students really need to focus on fundamental drawing when they're already trying to figure out how to paint. Also look into online schools that are pretty cheap like New Masters Academy. Always be a student. I still take online classes and always will. Never stop learning. I think the first year you should buy minimal but try hard and spend on online drawing classes. Use cheap watercolor on cheap sketchbooks. The hardest part is just pushing the paint around at first and getting over the nervousness and attachment to your drawing. Make a lot of really bad pictures just to open your mind to wetting it up and pushing it around. Then you can start upgrading one thing at a time. Brush, paper, paint, palette. When you start selling pictures here and there always take 10-15% and invest it back into your materials or classes. As your skills upgrade your materials will slowly upgrade too. 


At the end, as a customer of la petite palette, what would you say about that new brand, what could the new customers expect as craftsmanship and quality?


I have a sketchers box. It's heavy and sturdy but still a good size for a pocket. I love it and carry it everywhere. 



Thank you Jared !