By Scott DeBerry, publisher.
Levy Living is pleased to present the second installment of our local art series focusing on artists who live and create along the Nature Coast. Last week we introduced readers to Mike Segal and his colorful paintings. This week, our goal is to share with our readers more about Mike’s approach and artist process for creating both his Cedar Key-themed art and his Bible-themed art. I was able to visit with Mike in his art studio and learn about his creative process.
Many types of artists reside in Levy County and along the Nature Coast. Some are academically trained artists and others are self-taught rural artists. “While the academically trained artist has a very narrow focus, the local, rural artist will communicate what is right in front of them,” explains Mike Segal, a local artist whose work is featured at Island Art in Cedar Key. For those who live in our area and for those who visit, the work of a local, rural artist appeals to a much wider audience than an academically trained artist, contends Segal.
“The process yields a result,” Mike points out as he reviewed his creative process with me. “Whatever process the artist uses for his or her creative method will ultimately determine and define the result of the art.” Some artists begin their creative process using photography; some use sketches of charcoal lines or colors.
While working at the artist co-op one day in Cedar Key, Mike noticed a small gathering just down the road. “I always have my sketch book with me so I went down to take a look at what was going on,” explained Mike. This particular day, officials of Cedar Key were accepting an award honoring the town as one of the best small towns in America. Mike sat on a stool after finding the right vantage point and began a color sketch of the event. “I was able to use that sketch later as the basis for a commissioned painting for that celebration. The painting now hangs in City Hall.” When Mike approaches a sketch, he is always sure to treat the sketch as a sketch and not a finished product. “It can be tempting to approach a sketch as a final, detailed work, but I treat the sketch as a sketch; it will never be exact.” Mike likes to work quickly and loosely when sketching and later in the studio he will refine components of the sketch into more detailed illustrations. “What we’re looking for initially with the sketch process is the overall composition.”
Once the composition is understood, Mike makes small, quick sketches in ink until he finds an image or group of images that communicates the creative theme he is looking for. From those ink sketches, he moves on to many larger drawings that sometimes count into the hundreds until he finds the overall layout and flow that he feels communicates the goal, message, or story of the painting. “I make a sketch of the scene in the field and take the sketch back to my studio where I make several additional sketches until the composition is defined. Then I blow up the sketch by either redrawing it at a larger scale, or scanning the definitive sketch and increasing the size on a computer to the painting size. Then I trace the painting size sketch onto a piece of tracing paper. Then I take the painting canvas and lay a piece of carbon transfer paper over the canvas and place the tracing sketch on top of that and redraw the entire sketch with a fine point pen in order to transfer the image to the canvas.”
This is the typical process that Mike uses to craft his Cedar Key-themed art. There are variations to this process as Mike explains, “The same process may be attained without transfer paper by redrawing the image on the back of the tracing paper with a pencil and then placing the tracing on top of the canvas, redrawing with sharp pencil or pen, and that will transfer the image to the canvas.”
He is currently working with round trap buoys as a new art medium for his paintings, and plans to use a similar creative process to construct a series of paintings fashioned as totem to vertically tell a story. Look for this new art concept at his next art show.
As Mike develops his concepts, he sometimes refers to his existing work for inspiration using both slides and ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) cards. “The photo slides are used to record my paintings for posterity. I also use them to review large groups of older paintings to look for an idea for a new painting. Today I take digital pictures of my paintings and record them on CD’s for posterity. But my older work is all on slides. The slides are just for reference.” ACEO cards, an off-shoot of artist trading cards, are miniature works of art about the same size as modern (baseball) trading cards and small enough to fit inside standard card-collector pockets, sleeves or sheets.
In the early 1980s, Mike and his wife, Marvi, lived in the mountains of North Carolina. One of Mike’s neighbors held a Bible study at his home on Wednesdays, which is customary for many groups in the mountains rather than traveling to official church services. This neighbor asked Mike if he would paint a Bible-themed painting for him and Mike agreed. This began the first of many Bible-themed pieces and an important new creative process for Mike as an artist. Since the early 1980s, Mike has, in most cases, included at least one grouping of religious art at his shows and galleries. “What I’ve discovered with people who have seen and discussed my religious art is that people don’t know the stories. They may go to church or temple every week, but most really don’t know the stories in the Bible well.”
Six years ago, Mike decided to change his approach to his Bible art and treat it more like a narrative story. “Before people could read and write they would draw the story on a wall,” explained Mike. So he started using a hieroglyph style of three rows of scenes with four images per row, making twelve images total, to help organize the narrative. Each row represents one event in the narrative. He then used a collage technique to design the composition. Mike has only done two Bible art pieces so far using this technique because each one takes literally thousands of hours to develop and design. The first of these two pieces is titled Rebecca at the Well and the one shown below in photos is the story of Joseph in Egypt.
“The story of Joseph in Egypt is one of the best stories ever written. Even without the religious aspects, just as a work of literature, it’s an amazing story about forgiveness,” notes Mike, who was influenced to organize his Bible painting differently after reading Joseph and His Brothers by German author Thomas Mann. Thomas Mann wrote a four-part novel over the course of 16 years retelling familiar stories of Genesis, from Jacob to Joseph, setting it in the historical context of the Amarna Period. The Mann story separated the Bible story in to three parts to include the active, the passive, and the receptive. “This painting does the same,” explains Segal. “The first row shows Joseph being taken out of Canaan. The middle row shows Joseph being elevated to the Grand Vizier of Egypt. The last row illustrates Jacob’s family coming out of Canaan into Egypt.” Another artist whose work influenced Mike was Paul Klee, a German painter whose mystical-abstract work often reflected a similar three-part composition of the active, passive, and receptive.
The gallery below includes slides that explain each of the twelve parts of Joseph in Egypt by Mike Segal.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this feature explaining a little about the creative process Mike Segal uses when creating his art. In our next art feature, Mike will help introduce our readers to Island Art, an artist cooperative located in Cedar Key.