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Bayou Artist | En Plein Air

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Artist
May 1st, 2024
0 Comments
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article by April Doughty
photography courtesy of Tim Breaux

Tim Breaux’s journey to becoming a full-time painter is different from a lot of artists producing work today. Breaux actually managed to make it through his entire formal education, from kindergarten through college, without ever taking an art class. 

At the same time, he was the type of kid who could visit a museum and spend 30 minutes staring at a painting. Even though an interest in art wasn’t actively nurtured, it was there, lying beneath the surface, just waiting to be awakened. Until that awakening occurred, Breaux pursued other interests and matured into an adult with a strong work ethic, which would later prove invaluable to him as a painter. 

Breaux was born in Franklin, Louisiana, and spent his early childhood there, but his most formative years were spent in Swartz, Louisiana. He graduated from Ouachita Parish High School and, in 1986, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from what is now the University of Louisiana Monroe. 

Today, Breaux lives in Ozark, Missouri, and is semi-retired from his work as a pharmacist. After a 36-year career in pharmacy, he continues to work as a pharmacist on an as needed basis but considers himself a full-time painter for over a decade. Breaux actually worked full-time both as a pharmacist and a painter. He worked three 12-hour days as a pharmacist and then devoted himself wholly to painting during his time off.

About 15 years ago, Breaux began intentionally placing painting before his other professional and creative interests. In 2018, that decision paid off when he won Best of Show for his painting “Cheops Pyramid Sunset,” a painting of the Grand Canyon, at the 2018 National Oil and Acrylic Painter Society Best of America Exhibit. 

Breaux is a signature member and mentor for the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society and a signature member of Heartland Art Club. He is also represented by several galleries nationwide, including American Heritage Art Gallery and Art Legends Inc., a wholesale national art publisher. Locally he is represented by Neville House Gallery and Courtyard on Cotton. In addition, he has participated in plein air events and invitationals across the country, winning numerous awards.

Thanks to Rebekah Lawrence, proprietor and curator of the Neville House Garden District Gallery, Breaux will be completing an artist residency in Monroe/West Monroe during a few weeks in May. During the residency, Breaux will be painting en plein air, which is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” There will also be scheduled paint alongs and open studio time.

Although there will certainly be time for other artists and community members to engage with Breaux, he explained that structured workshops are not his preferred method of teaching. He finds that the larger the class, the less attention an instructor can give to each student, and it becomes especially difficult to give beginner students the attention they need. For this reason, Breaux prefers working with students one on one in a relationship more like an apprenticeship. “I want to bring a personal approach to teaching artists,” he said.

Breaux actually knows firsthand how beneficial such a relationship can be. About twelve years ago, he became frustrated with his progress after working on his own for several years. He knew that if he was going to become proficient in the craft he would need to seek help from the best. That realization resulted in an inquiry with Master painter John Pototschnik. A three year intensive mentorship followed, which changed his work and gave him direction.

Prior to working with Pototschnik, Breaux transitioned from a hobbyist mindset to a more serious period of independent study and rapid growth. As someone who had no formal training in fine art, he first discovered his interest in painting through a labor of love. In the process of remodeling his daughter’s room, she asked that the room look like a stable with horses. Breaux decided to try his hand at decorative mural painting to bring his daughter’s dream room to life. 

From there, painting began to consume more of his time. He started painting from life, attending local art openings, networking, and painting outdoors with other serious artists. The endless possibilities for expression that art could offer became a lifelong pursuit.  

Breaux always had a creative side. Prior to discovering his passion for painting, Breaux had found opportunities for creative expression in wood working and in creating Native American replica bows. He was also an avid outdoorsmen and hunter. He said he enjoyed all of these activities, but they seemed to lack the same level of possibility present in painting. 

According to Breaux, there are so many resources available today to those looking to chart a path similar to his own. “If you want to become an artist, there is so much info online that you can learn,” he said, including his very own free ebook “The Secret Language of Successful Artists: Revealing the Key to Painting Art that Sells.”

Once he figured them out, he felt there wasn’t much left to explore, but painting was different. “I think it was a puzzle, a problem that had endless opportunity for exploration,” he said, “and I really wanted to figure it out.” Given the number of art movements, styles, and media, Breaux could not envision himself ever becoming bored with painting. From the beginning, he has been especially concerned with how to paint nature convincingly.

As Breaux learned more about his newfound passion, his skills improved at an accelerated rate, and painting began to consume more and more of his life. He began to feel like his other professional activities and pastimes were taking time away from what he really wanted to be doing: painting. “I guess the thing that really made me want to stick with art is that I woke up every morning thinking about it,” he said. “It was something I had to do.” 

In an effort to figure out how he could make the transition to becoming a professional artist, Breaux considered going back to college and studying art. After discussing his options with a few other people, he arrived at the conclusion that there were better options than returning to college at his age.

At least one person told Breaux that he would be frustrated by the pace of college learning. It wouldn’t be fast enough for him, and in the end, this juncture in his development led him to his apprenticeship with John Pototschnik, which lasted about three and a half years. 

In that time, Breaux said he learned as much as he could from Pototschnik, including not only the skills and knowledge needed to become a better painter but also where to focus his energy and how to manage the business end of things.   

As Breaux delved further into the world of painting and into his efforts to represent nature, his development was influenced not only by Pototschnik but also by painters who came before him, such as artists from the Hudson River School and the French Barbizon School. 

During his mentorship and critique sessions, Breaux noticed a recurring problem with his work. He said, “I realized there was something I didn’t understand about color and perception.” He determined that the problem lay in his inability to paint the value of color convincingly. “There are fundamentals of art that are inescapable,” he said, “so I went back to the beginning of the study of color and researched the fundamentals.” 

In 2018, Breaux won Best of Show for his painting “Cheops Pyramid Sunset,” a painting of the Grand Canyon, at the 2018 National Oil and Acrylic Painter Society Best of America Exhibit. 

In his efforts to discover what he was missing, Breaux said, “There was a key moment when I learned that there are defects in our perception. It was a light bulb moment that allowed me to take a big step forward in my work.” While studying the fundamentals of art, Breaux learned that there are three components of color: hue, value, and saturation. In his studies, Breaux found that “one of the keys to painting a true representation of nature is to understand and convey the value of color.”

Different elements of a painting will inevitably have different values, but the greatest challenge lies in being able to place the right value on the canvas. An artist who hasn’t grappled with this problem successfully may tend to paint a black ball black every time, not realizing that a black ball in sunlight may actually look more like a white ball.

During his exploration of how the components of color and light interact, Breaux wrote a series of six articles documenting his discoveries and explaining them for other artists. These articles were published in International Artist Magazine and later compiled into a book, which is free to download on Breaux’s website, timbreaux.com.   

According to Breaux, there are so many resources available today to those looking to chart a path similar to his own. “If you want to become an artist, there is so much info online that you can learn,” he said, including his very own free ebook “The Secret Language of Successful Artists: Revealing the Key to Painting Art that Sells.” Breaux’s book examines the reasons artists fail to paint nature convincingly and serves as a tool to help them understand the defects in their perception, as well as how to overcome those defects to paint nature more convincingly.

Such a tool would be useful to any artists looking to broaden their knowledge and skill base, and it’s just one of innumerable tools available to aspiring artists. According to Breaux, it’s easier than ever for artists to find the information and support they need for their artistic development without necessarily going to college. There are also lots of successful, professional artists willing to take on students as apprentices, which is an incomparable way to learn the specific skills you desire from someone you admire. However, Breaux said, “Choose your teacher carefully. Find one or two good teachers and learn everything you can from them.” 

Of course, the work ethic has to be there too. During his own apprenticeship with John Pototschnik, and to this day, Breaux has made it a point to paint every day. “Sometimes it has nothing to do with inspiration, and the paintings don’t always work out,” he said. In fact, he actually loses inspiration every three to four months. When that happens, “I just have to paint through those times,” he said, which is hard, but “if it was easy, I probably wouldn’t do it.”

One of the things that keeps Breaux returning to easel even when he doesn’t feel inspired is his faith. “I’m a believer,” he said, “and I believe God gave me this gift to pursue, so I try to meet him at the easel every day. Sometimes He gives me inspiration, and sometimes He doesn’t.” 

Either way, Breaux just keeps going until the next spark of inspiration comes. “I see nature as the creation of God, and I paint to hopefully honor God with the tools he’s given me,” Breaux said.

While Breaux credits God with his inspiration, at least a portion of his success must be attributed to his work ethic. “People say I work harder,” he said. Working harder tends to pay off regardless of the field, and painting is no exception for Breaux. In addition to simply showing up at the easel on a daily basis, he aims to participate in three competitions a year and three to four exhibitions a year. 

One of the things that keeps Breaux returning to easel even when he doesn’t feel inspired is his faith. “I’m a believer,” he said, “and I believe God gave me this gift to pursue, so I try to meet him at the easel every day. Sometimes he gives me inspiration, and sometimes he doesn’t.”

Although he is widely known for his plein air work, Breaux spends the majority of his time in the studio. Only about thirty percent is spent outdoors en plein air. Despite the fact he is primarily a studio painter, he said there are certain things a painter simply cannot capture from a reference photo. 

At the same time, painting en plein air has its own challenges. Breaux said, “When you’re painting en plein air, there’s a process known as chasing the light.” As the sky and light change, he said, “You get different patterns of light and dark across a landscape.” If you don’t finish the painting in an hour and a half to two hours, you will essentially be painting a different scene. Sometimes you can go back to the same location and find similar light, but sometimes the moment has passed.

There are unique challenges to every type of painting, but for any artist, giving up should never be an option, even when setbacks happen. Breaux said, “Embrace the fail and show up at the easel every day. Progress will come. The biggest thing is don’t think that you can’t do it.”  He started painting at age 40, and in 15 years, he went from struggling beginner to winning an international art competition. “If I can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.