Nikki, Olaf Schneider, oil on canvas, 36x60
In your philosophy of art statement you say, "Art is a celebration of life, and the making of art is an expression of the sacred spiritual discipline." Can you explain this further?
Art is celebration! Through painting, I celebrate God's creation, beautiful people (inside and out), shape, colour, and movement. Life is full of wonder: a child's first painting, a cultural dance, a fresh hot pastry, a flock of ducks in a pond, a lit-up face and a really wide smile. The list goes on ad infinitum.
Art is also a spiritual discipline because gratitude becomes a habit, and to be grateful is to find peace. This posture is a gift but also a call to work. Our talents need development, so we research, study, learn and perfect them. I often say, "Every day is a school day," and I hope I never lose the humility and curiosity of a young student. I must watch, listen, and ask questions of the artists God places in my life. And of course, practice.
Also, art is honest, open-minded, patient and willing and, because of this, it feels sacred. A blank canvas gives me room to learn and provides purpose in my day.
How does this philosophy and your faith in general impact your paintings and process?
Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. This philosophy of art helps me stay excited about my work. When a new vision/idea comes to my mind, I can't wait to begin. I often ask for guidance as I create, and the process becomes a "thank you" to God, my source, for inspiration and the tools needed to accomplish the piece. To start is an act of faith. I move ahead with the drawing process, the imprimatur and then the colour stage, trusting that all I've learned will create beauty and pull my art towards excellence.
Sakari, Olaf Schneider, oil on canvas, 20x20
What is the story behind "Sakari"?
I loved painting this playful portrait. Children invite us into a world of innocence, complete trust, adventure, endless fun, and silliness. I adore their attitude and adopt it while painting.
This young girl, wearing a fancy shawl over her shoulders, is part of a ceremonial presentation. The design on the shawl's back is called a "Freedom Butterfly." It represents the changes she is experiencing in her life. My wife and I watched her compete at a powwow. As she danced among her peers, her feet touched the earth to the beat of the drums and her arms moved the shawl in sync with the percussion's rhythm. What grace she danced with and what pride shone in her parents' faces. This painting celebrates amazing colours but also the child's expression. She is so herself here and so in touch with her heritage.
How has play influenced your current work?
My wife Tracey and I 'make memories,' as we call it, and play in nature. We love to laugh. We'll go on a road trip, camp and canoe in the Northern country, thrilled by its breathtaking lakes and rivers. We wake at sunrise, paddle until sunset, and snap photos or sketch scenes that will later become paintings in my studio. Going to the occasional powwow and observing the dances also enriches my art and life. As does the rain--the way it jumps in puddles and reflects the changing city in flooded street corners. Back in the studio, I sometimes study my collection of handmade marbles. It fascinates me to put them on glass or a mirror and to replicate the patterns that appear. It's isn't easy but it's such fun.
Here is a sample of my artistic process.
I start with a sepia tone oil painting on a mid-toned canvas. I add the dark tones next, followed by the light ones. I blend throughout, and slowly, a photographic sample emerges. After the painting is thoroughly dry, a very light coat of walnut oil is rubbed over the canvas and later rubbed off to give the product a smooth finish. The pure colours are quickly glazed on at the end. The early masters practiced this technique. I also have a mentor who helps me improve. My assignment is to make the painting look better than the reference photo—to put details in the details.
Thinking of your artistic journey, is there a piece of advice you would give your younger self if you could? Which parts of your journey are you most thankful for?
I failed grade seven and dropped out of school halfway through grade ten, but I never gave up on learning. I went to night school for commercial art, attended classes, lectures, workshop series, demonstrations, and watched DVD tutorials. I still do. Youtube is a great resource for idea sharing and instruction.
If I could advise my younger self, I'd say, "Carry around your creative toolbox and keep it open. Allow ideas to drop in. If it's closed, how will you grow? The red apple always falls to the ground and dies; the green apple stays on the tree and receives. Stay green, Olaf!"
To new and emerging artists, I say, "Study the works of artists you admire. Call them up and ask questions. They'll love to hear from you. Find a mentor that will critique your work constructively for free. Join an art atelier that will teach you the classical techniques from the masters. Ensure your teacher still practices and is experienced, not just in creating art, but also in marketing and selling it.
What am I most thankful for? God, who gave me the desire and the talent to paint and create art. To my mentors, who gifted me their time and showed me new techniques. To employers, who took a chance on me and my work. To God, again, for removing my fear of heights so that I could paint huge outdoor advertising murals. It was the most fun ever!!! I adored working large and very close to God.
Lilly, Olaf Schneider, oil on canvas, 14 x 28
Looking forward, how will play continue to be integrated into your life and creativity?
Being an artist, whether you're a painter, writer, singer or actor isn't really a job, in the mundane sense. It's a pleasure and an opportunity to show God's glory through your work. A chance to remind yourself daily that He is the great creator.
I've heard it said that God thinks and then becomes the thing He thinks about. When I sit and contemplate what to paint next, my heart and mind lean towards a particular subject matter and, quite often, as I'm working, I feel so happy that I get to do this. I ask Him to use me and to let me see what He sees. Colour appears at the end of my brush and I'm amazed that this is my job.
Olaf Schneider— (b.1964 - ) is an artist from the Toronto area, who is widely regarded to be one of the acknowledged leaders in mural painting in Canada.
Olaf’s training has been thorough and exceptional. Educated at the Ontario College of Art and mentored by some of the world’s leading billboard painters. Major galleries in Toronto, throughout North America and Europe, have exhibited Olaf’s work.
Olaf is a member of the prestigious Oil Painters of America — Additionally, he has won numerous awards and honours. He has been heralded top honours in Art Collector Magazine, International Artist Magazine, Interior Design Show, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Mercedes Benz Canada to name a few.