By Irene Ruddock
‘My goal as an artist is to seek beauty and truth in my paintings and to find an element that viewers can relate to.’
— William Graf
William Graf is a fine artist, professional illustrator and instructor of drawing, oil, acrylic and watercolor painting at The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James, the Art League of Long Island and the National Art League of New York. His extensive art career began after completing his drawing and old master painting studies at the Art Students League of New York and in Florence, Italy, at the Cecil- Graves Studio.
Graf continues to be commissioned for work as an illustrator for major publishing companies. One of his noteworthy commissions was for a mural depicting a scene of President Theodore Roosevelt’s children in the White House, which was painted to be displayed in the Museum of American History.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with the Huntington resident about his journey from graphic design to the fine art world.
How would you describe your work?
Having studied with realist art instructors in the states and in Florence, Italy, my work echoes the classical realist tradition. I paint simple images in life, hoping to bring a certain poetry to my artwork.
How has your painting evolved over the years?
I feel that my painting has matured from photographic realism to a more naturalistic style all the while incorporating good realistic principles.
What do you feel has been the most gratifying about the art world?
The thing that gives me the most gratification in art is teaching people all that I have learned during my career. I love to impart my knowledge to students seeking to become better artists. I enjoy watching the progression when the practice of good drawing and painting come together, and the student has that “breakthrough moment.”
In this diverse art career from graphics and design to illustration for major publishing companies, can you describe a turning point that lead you to pursue fine art?
I’ve always kept my hand in fine art, continuing to paint landscapes, portrait commissions and still life while working as an illustrator. The crossover stemmed from the fact that most of my illustration work was figure oriented with landscape backgrounds, so, for me, it was a natural crossover.
You still are actively commissioned by major publishing companies for illustration. What fine art qualities do you bring to this?
Yes, I am still actively taking on commercial illustration projects, such as book cover design, illustration and children’s books. In my illustrations, I try to incorporate a higher aesthetic, whether it be in composition or drawing. I strive to make my illustration and fine art synonymous.
Your awards and scholarships are from prestigious organizations —The International Miniature Portrait Society, etc. Is there one award that is most meaningful to you?
There was one award that had a meaningful impact on my fine art career. A few years back, I painted a self-portrait and decided to show it at a juried portrait show at the Huntington Arts Council. Well, the judge was Kevin McEvoy, director of The Atelier at Flowerfield and he awarded the self-portrait “best in show!”
You now teach at The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James. Why did you choose to teach there?
After winning that best of show award I was approached by Kevin McEvoy to consider a teaching position there. The timing was perfect. We both studied in Florence with the same instructor so our backgrounds were similar. What we teach is classical realism with emphasis on “sight size” drawing and painting. The type of study is in the tradition of the European atelier system where students can observe the techniques as demonstrated by the instructors. All levels of students are in my classes from beginners to professionals who wish to learn the old masters’ techniques of painting.
What about your future excites or inspires you?
I will be teaching a plein air workshop in Cortona, Italy, in June 2019. This will be a Tuscan landscape workshop with some portraiture.The following September I will teach a workshop in Maine where we will paint in various locations that Winslow Homer painted. Come join us! I am also looking forward to having a solo exhibit at the Barnes Gallery in Garden City in October. For details, visit my website at www.williamgraffineart.com.