Open Spaces, Quiet Places and Steadfast Resolve
It’s Bill and Valerie Owen’s pursuit of open spaces that brought them to Kirkland, Ariz., three years ago. Bill was born in Gila Bend, Ariz., and has lived all over the state, in hot and cool climates alike. As the towns kept growing, he kept moving in search of seclusion and land to call his own.
Before building their home in Kirkland, which is nestled between Prescott and Wickenburg, the Owens lived on a ranch in a remote area outside of Globe, Ariz. In this rough country, they wouldn’t see another soul for weeks at a time. There, they spent their days tending to cattle and enjoying the rugged vistas.
The time came for a change, and Bill and Valerie eventually purchased a parcel of land from the Bill Ruger Ranch and built their home from the ground up. It’s in that quiet, open space that Bill can focus his attention on his art, without the distractions of a bustling city or a working ranch to divert him from his life’s calling.
Situated high on a ridge, the Owens enjoy clear views of mountains and valleys all around them. “I don’t know where we could go and like it any better,” says Bill.
While he has had a variety of studios over the years, this time he built one inside the house. Although the studio has a north-facing window, he keeps that covered with a blackout shade and relies on eight Color Correct fluorescent bulbs for consistent lighting no matter the time of day or season of the year – crucial for consistent color.
“With the correct use of color, a painting will look good under bright light or dim light,” explains Bill. “I have been pulling my hair out for the past 20 years studying color and trying to get it just right.”
The controlled environment of his studio allows him to maintain razor-sharp precision with his colors, which he mixes using a controlled palette that he learned from CA Emeritus Member Tom Ryan.
“Tom Ryan is one of the greatest of our times,” praises Bill. “I admire his control of color so much, and he helped me develop my own process years ago.”
Now, Bill is renowned for his use of color, and young artists seek him out for his advice as he once reached out to Ryan and CA founding member Joe Beeler in his early days as an artist.
Bill’s controlled palette method requires discipline and a firm resolve. It takes Bill a day and a half to mix his colors for the palette, which will last him for months. He mixes oil of clove with the paint to retard drying. Once he is finished, he painstakingly logs each one and its use in his journal and files it in case he needs to refer to it in the future. This technique also allows Bill to work on a few paintings at once.
Attached to his studio, Bill has an insulated closet he keeps heated to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which he calls the “oven.” He works on a painting for a few weeks and then puts it on one of the racks in the oven to dry while he works on another.
“I might have three or four paintings I rotate in and out of the oven,” explains Bill.
Taking a break from a painting gives him the opportunity to look at it with a fresh eye when he pulls it out to finish it.
While many CAA members keep extensive collections of Native American and western artifacts to use as props, Bill relies on the countless photographs he has taken over the years.
“I probably have millions of them,” says Bill. “I frequently visit my favorite ranches and come home with ideas for a painting and even more photos.”
He also uses his tack, such as saddles, bits and spurs, to help him paint the details accurately. His horses and cattle double as his models and help him tell the story of the working cowboy in action.
Above all, Bill cherishes quiet in the studio. “I can’t even let a dog in there with me,” he laughs. “I get so engrossed in my paintings that two or three hours will pass in what seems like 15 minutes.”
That time spent in quiet contemplation of his art is something that his father ingrained in him from his earliest years. “My dad taught me, ‘Take pains with it, son,'” remembers Bill. “He taught me to do things right the first time and the importance of learning patience.” These life lessons rendered to him in his youth mingle with light and color on canvas for all to appreciate in his paintings.
~written by Julie Wilson, JFW Communications