Stephen Berry: Putting Miles on the Brush
Recently having returned from a weeklong “paint-out” in Mendocino, watercolorist and teacher Stephen Berry relaxed in his fragrant, backyard garden in Vallejo. “It is very liberating to be able to get away from home for an extended workshop,” he says. “The area is gorgeous, and I spend most of the time painting by myself.” Berry plans to offer the Mendocino works for sale during the first weekend in December at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery, of which he is a longtime member. He will be present in the gallery that weekend to meet visitors and talk about his art.
He will also release the new batch of paintings online. A new online release is planned every four months or so as part of an increased use of social media to expand his art and teaching audience.
Stephen has been painting for about a decade and has a studio in his home where he hangs his recently completed work.
He has always been interested in painting from life. He grew up in the country, in Sonora, with a love of the outdoors. “I’ve always been drawn to painting the natural landscape, especially California.” His works are loose and impressionistic. He enjoys exploring how water and pigments mix and likes visual paint brush marks in his works. “I don’t mind a visible drip of paint on the paper.”
Berry started painting as a teen, mostly comics and manga. He put his art practice aside as a young adult but eventually came back to it and enrolled in junior college art classes, studying with Pablo Villicana at Merritt College. “I found myself researching modern painters that I admired, like Alvaro Castagnet. I have learned a lot by watching others paint.”
For many years he was a part-time stay-at-home dad, sharing the care of his daughter and nieces with his sister, who also lives in Vallejo. He created a landscaping business, Living Earth Gardens, specializing in ecologically friendly landscapes. While the business supported the family, he has been able to set aside one day a week to paint over the past 8 years. With his daughter now in high school, he devotes two full days per week to paint.
Berry is growing his art business by teaching online intensive courses through Zoom.
“I’m designing my classes to get out of Zoom what it does best. On-site classes allow for more development in technical advancement, but in an online course, I can teach the mental aspects of art, such as composition, value studies, shapes, and use of colors and color contrast.”
From February through May this year, Berry took on a challenge to create 100 paintings in 100 days, posting the photos daily on social media. “I set my sights low at first, committing to doing a 7-day challenge. Once I completed that, I began to set my goals higher. I had to arrange my day just to be sure I had time to paint. I had ups and downs. Some days I knew I created bad work and I didn’t feel like doing it. My family would come home and say, ‘have you painted anything today?’ If I hadn’t, they would say, ‘well, we’re gonna go do something and give you a little time to yourself.”
Navarro Beach Morning, Mendocino
Yuba Pass Meadow
Berry hopes to inspire his students to paint every day, to push themselves to see what they can achieve.
“It’s all about miles on the brush, repetition, and experimentation,” he notes. “One of the best things about painting every day is it makes the painting less precious. There’s nothing worse for learning than a little success. It makes you tighten up. It’s much better to just try things and see what happens.” He laughs knowingly. “It’s never too late to ruin a painting.”