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Ask the Professional: Jeff Merrill

Professor Jeff Merrill with one of his paintings.

What advice would you give to people who aren’t sure if they should pursue art?

“I would tell them you have to realize that you're going to compete against all the professionals the moment you graduate. Sort of a sobriety test, like, this is the reality of this. In other words, you have to be really good to do this. If you're not really good, you're probably not going to make a living out of it. It will either become a hobby or some other things.

“I would give them sort of a reality check on what it involves and how hard you have to work at it, and how competitive it is. The top people get the job, so unless you're one of the top people. If after that, they’re still like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do it,’ you just encourage them to develop their skills.”

What is your favorite medium to paint with?

“Oil paint is my favorite. It’s the most versatile. You can paint anything with it. You can paint it like watercolor. You can layer it. You can glaze it, which means you can use a medium like this gel, make it thin so it becomes very translucent. It’s just has a lot of options. It’s very versatile.”

Is there any medium you don’t like to paint with?

“I’m not in love with acrylic. I started out painting in acrylic paint, but ever since junior high, I've quit using it. I have used acrylic for illustration. If I'm doing a fine art piece, I'm not going to use acrylic, I'm going to use oil. Oil paint has a prestige associated with it. A BMW is just a car, but it’s a nicer car than most cars. That’s kind of like oil paint. It’s just paint, but it has a little bit of a prestigious quality associated with it.”

What techniques do you use when you paint?

“Your technique is something you develop on your own when you learn from other people. My general technique is I start with thin paint and then I add thicker paint on top. That’s pretty standard procedure for most oil painting. That’s kind of what I adhere to, is thin paint and then thicker paint on top.”

What should people know about the Art Department at BYU–Hawaii?

“I think the program is changing. I think people need to know it’s changing. I think we have an opportunity to grow it a little bit and to expand the depth of it. That’s kind of in the works. I don’t know how much it will be expanded, but there’s a potential it will do that.”

What is your favorite thing to paint?

“I love to teach figure drawing, I love figure painting. Basically, anything to do to draw people, I really like. Those would probably be my favorites.

“It’s just a general satisfaction that if you can make it look like something. Painting a landscape, you can make it look like trees, but trees can look a million different ways. For me, there's a real satisfaction in capturing the essence of the person you're painting, creating that representation of the individual. That’s what motivates me.”

Are there any artists you look up to?

“I like John Singer Sargent. I like a guy named Frank Brangwyn. There’s a lot. I have a handful of different artists. Mostly they're realistic painters who have an expressive quality to their work. It’s not hyper realism or photo realism. You can still see the brush strokes, and the texture, and all the abstract elements of the paint. That’s really what I try to do in my work, and what’s appealing to me, is that sort of quality in the paint connected to a representation of something. So it has a duality. It’s a person, but also it’s really interesting to look at.”

Writer: Haeley van der Werf