Michael Shapcott is a painter out of Plainville, Ct. His work is very figurative, colorful and filled with emotion. He also makes these really cool videos, many of which show his process of working. It’s great to see other artists work as you can learn all sorts of new tricks. I thank Michael for taking to the time to make these videos, as well as answer these questions.
CM: You went to the Paier College Of Art, what can you tell us about your experience there. Also what made you decide to go a private art school rather than a state college?
MS: Actually, I almost didn’t go to Paier. I was really drawn to what the University of Hartford had to offer. They were so much more equipped and they offered sculpture classes which has always interested me. I eventually decided on Paier because for one thing, it was more affordable, they’re known for their illustration program (which was my main focus at the time), and to be honest, the school was less intimidating. When I was graduating from high school I still wasn’t sure if art was going to be my life like it is now. I had kind of a rough beginning. At the time I had a strong interest in music and was in a band that took up a lot of my creative energy. While at Paier, I went through a crisis around sophomore year where I started questioning my place in art. I felt bound by illustration assignments that didn’t allow for much emotional expression in my opinion. I stopped going to class and almost dropped out – it was a crazy time that really brought me to big decisions about my life’s work. I went back the following year and switched from illustration to fine art. I started opening up more creatively with my new classes and teachers and was finally able to express myself in a more personal way. After that turning point I continued to blossom but it wasn’t until graduating that I found more of a sense of self and a deeper confidence in my work as well as a 100% commitment to being an artist.
CM: I’m always quite amazed when I see that Ralph Steadman is an artists influence. He’s a favorite of mine and I often find it hard not to make the same kind of stuff he does. What lessons or techniques have you learned from his art, that might be apparent in yours?
MS: Ralph Steadman is the man. It seems like his heart is really in drawing, something I relate to so well. When I first started painting, I remember being so worried I’d mess something up. I was too careful and too in my head and not really painting. Eventually, I started sketching more freely, exploring my imagination and not being afraid of what it came out like. It was what it was – if it came out like crap then it came out like crap. I look at Steadman’s work and he’s so free and experimental. I know that it’s not something people consider conventionally beautiful. In fact, it’s wild and violent and somewhat offensive. He practically throws up on the page in these amazing sketches and smears of color. It’s raw and honest and the emotional charge I get from looking at his work is just beautiful. His work has inspired me to let go , enjoy the process of creating, and most importantly be true to myself.
CM: Your paintings tend to be very large in size. What drives you to work in this scale, and what reaction have you noticed from people who view your art in galleries?
MS: Most of my paintings are larger in scale because I like the feeling of the figures in my paintings being at least life size. It makes them more real to me, like if they wanted to they could walk out of the painting. I also enjoy the physicality of painting. I’m able to use my whole body while painting on a large canvas. And there’s something addictive about painting big. It feels like I just need to keep expanding for some reason. If I had the space and the funds I might be making 15 foot high canvases. I don’t know.
Reactions from people vary but overall I think the size makes an impact. It may sound strange but there’s an intimacy to standing close to look at a painting and almost being swallowed by it. I’ve also had some cool personal reactions to my art in galleries. At my last show, this older woman came straight from a funeral or wake or something and walked up to my painting Peace and the Inevitable (which deals with the inevitability of death) and was blown away with how in line it was with her experience earlier that night. It’s kinda cool because in my video of that show you can actually see her checking out that painting for the first time.
CM: You work with a variety of materials, but list graphite as your favorite. What is it about this medium that you love? Is there anything you wish it could do different, or better?
MS: I think my love for graphite comes from using it all my life. When I draw it just feels so natural. Even the smell is nostalgic to me. I hated school so much when I was younger. I was borderline learning-disabled and reading was especially difficult for me in that environment. Whenever I went to the library in elementary school, I would always take out the same book. I can’t remember the name of it but I vividly remember the beautiful sketches and drawings it was filled with – a dream come true for a young kid who understood visuals so much better than words. I think that book was a big reason I started drawing at such a young age.
CM: What got you started in making the YouTube videos you have done? A few of them share your process and techniques, something that not many artists seem to enjoy sharing.
MS: I was making home movies and videos quite a while before YouTube came out but I only started making art videos a couple years back. I like having a record of what I’m doing at any given point in my life which is one reason for their existence. Another is that they motivate me to work harder because I so enjoy the part where I get to share my work with people. Also, I craved more from the art videos I’d seen up until that point (now there are a variety of talented artists who make really entertaining and inspirational videos). My aim was to blend instruction with speed-painting and throw in some humor and good music. I don’t have any issues with sharing my process and techniques because it’s something I’m always inspired by when other artists do it. I hope my videos inspire others and help them to view art in a new and exciting way.
CM: After watching these videos, it really looks like you can finish a painting in no time at all. How long does it take you to finish, your average sized work?
MS: Oh the magic of movie making. Editing allows me to take out so much of the tedious parts of the work. I try to leave in the juicy parts of making a painting like the end of sketch work or key painting for the piece. The time it takes me to finish one painting really depends on the piece. Sometimes they just flow out of me in a few days and other times it might take me weeks or months. I jump back and forth between working on about three different paintings at a time (keeps it fresh and less painstaking) so the length of completion is split up a bit. I usually work about 10 hours a day on art… sometimes I’m networking or replying to messages or filling out interviews, other times I’m drawing and painting nonstop for days, and sometimes I’m just feeding my brain with inspiring music, books, images, and films. I’m kind of an art-o-holic. I think about art about 95% of each day. Fortunately my girlfriend not only puts up with me but loves what I do and supports me unconditionally.
CM: You had also mentioned that you like an “unfinished” quality to your work, and you point this out perfectly with examples of DaVinci’s work. How do you know when to stop working on a piece, and what happens when you go too far?
MS: Usually when I think I might be done with a piece I sit back and stare at it for a really long time. Sometimes ideas pop in my head about what I can add to the painting or what I could change compositionally or get rid of. If I can’t think of anything that would make the painting better for me in someway and nothing else in the piece bothers me then I know it’s finished.
CM: Finally, what would you say keeps you going? The world of art can be harsh and difficult to keep up in, and you seem like you have an amazing attitude. What’s your secret?
MS: The main thing that keeps me going is a strong belief that it’s possible to be successful working for myself. There’s evidence everywhere of everyday people and some quite extraordinary people that have profitable small businesses or who are able to support themselves through various art forms. I’m so passionate about what I do and I pour myself into my work completely. It’s the only way I know how to be true to myself. That feeling of dedication, fulfillment, and enjoyment for my art is what I feel will bring me the greater success I’m striving towards.
If you would like to see more of his work you can visit these sites:
Michael Shapcott Profile and Myspace profile
You can also check out the videos he makes here: Youtube
You can also buy some prints of his work, Michael Shapcott Prints
He also just launched his own domain here: Michael Shapcott homepage