Eric Bossik is a fantastic still life and portrait artist who lives in Florida.  His work is classical, natural, serene and beautifully-academic.  The only thing better than his work is chatting with him!  I highly recommend that artists read our chat because he says some powerful things here that are uplifting and inspiring…

“… We all have to learn real methods and techniques. I'm sure that people would expect their doctors to have training and not just practice on them. So why is it okay for artists to go into practice without training? The only way artists today can surpass the great master artists from the past is if they learn from them ...”

MICHAEL:  Hello Eric, I tell you, I love contemporary realist still life painting.  Why do you think it has endured and why do you do it?

ERIC: Hello Michael, I love still life painting as well. I would describe the type of still life painting I create as more classical or naturalist than contemporary. Classical, because it follows in the tradition, methods and techniques of painting that go back hundreds of years … and Naturalist, because it's a representation or study from life. The great thing about the still life genre of painting and drawing is that it's timeless. 

I think interest in creating still lifes has endured because it's still the easiest way to work from life. You don't need patient models to sit for hours on end and you don't have to shell out large amounts of money. You also don't have to rely on photographic reference. You can execute your artwork directly from nature.

I find still life drawing and painting to be a great challenge. It's not as simple as it seems because you have to make simple objects look dramatic and interesting to the viewer. I also think it's inspirational to learn from and compete with great master still life artists of the past.

MICHAEL: Interesting that you allude to past art masters.  If society is evolving and progressing, shouldn't the work of current and future generations of artists surpass that of those from the past?

ERIC: Unfortunately, art hasn't progressed. It has regressed, and in many ways, some things never change. As far as art goes, hundreds of years of incredible teachings were tossed into the dust bin of history. Toward the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century, the Modern Art movement developed. The Modern Art movement sent more than 500 years of classical training into a death spiral. 

By the 20th Century, Modern Art took over and artists no longer had to learn how to draw and paint. Artists were expected to roll out of bed and be creative. Real training of traditional methods and techniques were frowned upon. Canvases with paint splatters, strange shapes, entire canvases painted in a single color and even installations with urinals were the works of the day. These so called works of art also needed huge explanations written alongside them so that the viewer would somehow understand the point. Why does visual art need an explanation? The point is that it's visual, so if you can't figure it out there's a problem.

The truth of the matter is that we always need to learn from the past. Why would we ignore the great old masters and all the incredible things they had to teach? Painting was evolving from the Renaissance up until the late 19th Century. Artists from the early Renaissance started painting with egg tempera and then eventually moved onto oil paint. The works from the Dutch Golden Age up to the École des Beaux-Arts and the French Academies became more alive with the methods and techniques passed down from the old Renaissance Masters.

We all have to learn real methods and techniques. I'm sure that people would expect their doctors to have training and not just practice on them. So why is it okay for artists to go into practice without training? The only way artists today can surpass the great master artists from the past is if they learn from them.

MICHAEL: Very interesting.  And so what's your daily routine?  And do you paint for the sake of painting or do you have an ultimate goal?

ERIC:  I'm always working on projects and usually more than one at a time. I work on both paintings and drawings and I always create studies for the projects I'm working on. It's very rare for me to jump right into a painting or drawing without first executing studies. I will work on a project and then put it down for a while and start a new project. The reason for this is to give myself a break. It keeps my mind and my work fresh.

MICHAEL: I do pretty much the same thing when I write.

ERIC: I approach my still life paintings by first creating an imprimatura or wash-in underpainting. I spend quite a bit of time setting up my still life arrangements and lighting them before I even touch a pencil or brush. Once I'm satisfied with the arrangement of my still life objects, I move into preparing the canvas for my underpainting.

I prepare my canvas with a thin layer of raw, umber oil paint. I work out my composition and placement of objects based on what I'm observing while drawing into the wet paint with the back end of a pencil. When I'm satisfied with my drawing, I can then wipe out lights using small pieces of paper towels. I also use my brushes for my darker cast shadows and model transitions from dark to light. This underpainting is usually complete within three hours and can often look like a finished work. The purpose of the method of imprimatura underpainting is to develop the composition, the drawing and the values and to establish the mood of the work before I get into color.

MICHAEL: And so, what’s the ultimate goal of painting for you?

ERIC: I would say that my ultimate goal is to work from nature in my own way. I don't stick to any specific subject matter and I certainly don't work in a contrived style. I don't feel the need to serve a commercial market niche with exaggerated styles and subjects. In that respect, I feel satisfied with the artwork I'm creating and in the end, it's worth more to collectors as well.

My most important goal is to keep creating artwork and to keep learning and getting better. I set the bar very high, maybe even out of reach, but that's what drives me. Bringing subjects to life on paper or canvas is an amazing feeling in itself. 

MICHAEL: When did this all begin for you? I mean, being an artist isn't the most secure gig. Are you a full-time artist? How's it going?

ERIC: This all began when I was a child. How often have you heard that? Well I started drawing when I was a child and somehow here I am, still going at it. I guess my parents saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue life as an artist. And of course, I drank the Kool-Aid and went along with the plan.

But all kidding aside, I don't regret the choice to pursue this incredible adventure. Of course, there are many ups and downs and this is usually true with all the arts – acting, music, filmmaking, writing and the list goes on. Pursuing a life in the arts can actually be downright brutal. I attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and like so many other art students, I was short changed on my education, especially the art training part. Seems strange as this was supposed to be an art school. For the most part, there was very little to no instruction in painting and drawing.

MICHAEL: Wow.  That’s not good.

ERIC: I did get lucky toward the end of my college studies when I had the opportunity to take a few classes with Marvin Mattelson. Mattelson was a top illustrator at the time and he was actually teaching methods and techniques for putting pictures together. When I graduated from the School of Visual Arts, I signed up to take classes with John Frederick Murray in his small Atelier. John Murray was Mattelson's teacher. John Murray studied with the late Frank J. Reilly whose instructional lineage can be traced back to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

I studied classical drawing and painting with John for as long as I could, until I eventually ran out of money. You see you were expected to earn a living when you graduated from college. This would all make sense if the college actually prepared you for life as an artist. That would have meant training in drawing and painting and maybe even some training in business. But why would anyone expect that from a college education? I'm glad that I continued to take classes in John's studio after I graduated from the School of Visual Arts. Ultimately I was responsible for my own development as an artist.

MICHAEL: I understand.  Where did things go from there?

ERIC: I was able to eventually land some illustration assignments. I painted book cover illustrations for Harper Collins and did some illustration work for a few ad agencies. I found the illustration field to be very cliquish and closed off. I decided to put illustration aside to pursue work at a big mural company. I ended up working as a mural artist for several years. I was employed by both Mode Works and Evergreene Studios in New York where I worked on quite a few mural projects.

MICHAEL: How are you managing now?

ERIC: I paint commissioned portraits and other commissioned and non-commissioned genre work. I supplement my income by teaching art classes. I've been teaching classical charcoal drawing and painting classes at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, Florida for about eight years. I've also had my own art academy in Delray Beach, Florida – the Bossik Academy of Fine Art. I now teach private classes as well. Teaching is extremely important for an artist as it allows you to learn by vocalizing your thoughts to students. You also learn by helping your students solve pictorial problems. I consider teaching to be a symbiotic relationship between the instructor and student, as both learn from the experience. I should also add that I enjoy teaching very much.

I wrote an Ebook, How to Create an Underpainting Like the Old Masters: A Step-By-Step Guide and I've had great success with the sales of this book. I sell my ebook on my website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Art Renewal Center's website. My ebook was on the bestsellers list on Amazon for a considerable amount of time. I’ve also created a demonstration video. I consider myself to be a full-time artist since I spend most of my time drawing, painting and teaching art. To me, it's more of a lifestyle than just a gig. Is being an artist a secure choice for a career? Well, that would depend on how you'd describe “secure” these days. The world economy is now hanging by a thread, so I would say it's just about as secure as anything else right now. 

MICHAEL: You know Eric, I find it so interesting that so many artists are making ends meet by teaching art skills to those who will likely face the same hurdles to selling their work and many of them will turn to teaching and continue the cycle. Isn't the more long-term approach steeped in getting people to understand the importance of art perhaps by re-introducing art in early education just like after-school soccer?

ERIC: I agree Michael. Children should certainly be getting more exposure to art history and art training as well. At least there should be options for kids who might have some interest in art.

The problem is finding instructors who are qualified to teach these skills. The educational system has been eroded for quite some time and needs a lot of work all around. When I was growing up, I had a teacher in elementary school who encouraged me to draw. I also took art classes that were available in high school and I had one teacher who taught me a technique. Learning anything in a high school is a pretty big thing since you rarely have highly qualified art instructors. Everything usually revolves around math and science. No one really takes art seriously.

It would’ve been nice had there been a high school around that was dedicated to art training when I was a kid. When I was at the School of Visual Arts, you could major in Illustration since there was work for commercial artists. Now I don't know about what type of art career a student is going to pursue since illustration is pretty much extinct. Students now take classes in computer graphics or use computer programs to do illustrations or photo manipulation.

The book publishers decided they didn't need book cover illustrations anymore. They thought that they could have their art directors use computer programs to manipulate photos and use that as their cover art. If you look at the book covers now, they're pretty bad, so they really didn't help themselves. I guess they didn't like the fact that they had to pay artists to illustrate books. They forgot that in most cases it's the cover that sells the book.

There is an opportunity to create traditional illustrations for small press publishers and self-published, independent authors. You need to convince these small publishers and authors that a good illustration will help them sell their books. I created an oil painting cover illustration for “The Last Victim” novel. The novel was written by my mother, Elaine Bossik, and I just happened to be available for the job. This cover has helped the book sell.

I'm sure the movie industry will try to replace actors with computer- generated characters at some point. As it is, the programs are loaded with reality TV crap. I guess it's cheaper for them to pay amateur actors and cut back on the cost of real actors and scriptwriters. It's just plain corporate greed and it won't end well.

MICHAEL: You got it.

ERIC: At the end of the day, it's kind of hard to persuade kids to seriously pursue a career in the visual arts since there's very little in the way of solid career choices. Even computer-generated art is a very crowded field. I think the kids should get a well-rounded education, so that they can actually make an educated choice about what they can pursue and if it will enable them to survive. Sounds kinda crazy, but at this point, people really need to find a way to survive the economic onslaught we're now faced with. The fine arts are always an option, but I would recommend that students get themselves a degree in education. They need to have many options to teach and some schools will only hire teachers with a Masters degree in education.

MICHAEL: Finally Eric, It seems that the art world has always been on shaky legs - even during the Renaissance!  I mean, most people today don't even visit art galleries, let alone buy art.  What's the point of all of this?  Does this ever feel like a losing battle? 

ERIC: There are ups and downs in many different businesses. Art is most similar to commodities and the value will rise and fall depending on the popularity of the artist. Many artists were popular in their time and then lost popularity when they died, only to gain it back a hundred years or more later. This has happened to some of the most famous artists in history, including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bouguereau. It's very hard to believe considering how incredible these artists are, but it's a historic fact.

There are reasons for artists falling out of favor. One reason has to do with people's changing tastes. But I believe the biggest factor is market manipulation by art dealers and major collectors. The art market is manipulated as much as the stock market is manipulated. I look at Classical Realism and Naturalism as commodities.

Classical art is tangible as the value can be measured by the skill involved in creating the work. How do you decide the value of an abstract piece? I view abstract work the same as I would view a fiat currency. Fiat currencies are backed by nothing and therefore worth nothing. The value of abstracts is based on public relations hype, wealthy collectors and art dealers. Now you even have hedge funds buying these works for their investors.

The old masters and classical art have been around for thousands of years and have stood the test of time. Abstract or Modern Art has been around for only one hundred years. Do you really think Modern Art will stand the test of time or will the wealthy collectors finally dump these works and leave some smaller millionaire speculators holding the bag?

Great art is necessary for the development of any intelligent society to grow and flourish. Great art includes many different types of art, including music, theater and literature. I may sound very biased when it comes to visual arts, but I believe in great craftsmanship and abstract work doesn't demonstrate craftsmanship on any recognizable level.

There's a huge reset coming in the economy, which is built on a house of cards. Phony value was placed on worthless paper assets backed by nothing but debt. There has been a resurgence of classical art, and there are now galleries that just sell classical works. This was not happening ten years ago. Collectors are starting to realize that they need to own art work with measurable skill that has tangible value. The big question is whether the artists working in the classical methods will continue to survive the economic reset and continue painting and teaching.

MICHAEL: Yes.  And what about galleries?  What’s their role?

ERIC: There are always people who visit galleries and buy art. The important thing is for the galleries to start letting new talented artists in instead of spending their efforts keeping new artists out. In the end, you stick to your art because you love it and it's a major part of who you are. I always say you should stick to what you do best even if you have to overcome all of the obstacles that come with it. It's hard and there are ups and downs, but nothing beats the feeling that you've learned something new and you’re getting better all the time.

Get out there, get exposure, exhibit your work and get feedback. The more exposure you get, the better the chances are to sell your work, win a competition or even promote your classes, workshops, books and video demonstrations. Just get yourself out there and in the public eye. You don't always need a gallery to represent you. If they won't represent you, then go around them and get your own exposure. The internet has in many ways leveled the playing field. Use it to create a great website that showcases your art and to write blog articles about techniques and methods. Build your own audience and fans. When you start to make money on your own, the big shots in the art world may contact you because they want a piece of the action. They usually want you when you're already popular and making money on your own. They're never around when you need them. They have to need you.

MICHAEL: Bravo!  Well said Eric.  This has been a great chat.

ERIC: It's been a pleasure Michael, I've enjoyed our conversation!

Check out Eric Bossik at