Interview with pop surreal artist Bob Doucette

Bob Doucette is an artist who has worked in many different mediums and worn many different hats over the years. He has been a set designer, costume designer, opera designer, puppet designer, character designer, background painter, animation director and doll maker to name a few but has recently settled on one of his oldest passions: painting. After a career of working for other people and creating their whims he has decided to leave that all behind to focus on his painting. Bob clearly identifies with the Pop Surrealism movement and is proud to try and add his flavor and whimsy to the already rich environment. He draws from a mixed tapestry of classical painting and pop culture. His favorite surrealist artist from the past is Remedios Varo, the Spanish artist who worked in Mexico until 1963 when she died.


Hello dear Bob, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
Since I was a child I knew I was an artist. My Dad taught me and my four siblings to draw when we were very young, but I was the only one who could not live without it. I had to create or die. I was not good at anything else I was a total disaster at sports and making friends so when I discovered drawing I stuck with it. Soon after I was sculpting and painting.  When I was ten years old a neighbor came over, I was busy sculpting something in clay, she asked “Do you want to be an artist when you grow up?” and I answered her “I am an artist!” I never think of being an artist as having anything to do with earning a living or being defined as one by society. I identify myself as an artist as much as I identify myself as being human.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
I have had so many influences in my life that it is hard to put it in a nutshell but I will try to describe some of the more pertinent ones. I was a bit of an art geek when I was a child and I would spend hours studying the encyclopedia labeled “P” because it had a whole section on painters and this is how I got my first taste of art history. I was really into DaVinci, Vermeer, Toulouse Lautrec and the German Expressionist.
I grew up before the era of internet and videos so I had to rely on books to inspire me. But I also was hooked on movies and TV. Any place that would take me away and bring fantasy and imagination into play was home for me. “The Wizard of Oz” was my favorite movie and “Alice in Wonderland” was my favorite book when I was a kid.  Another huge influence from my childhood were my first three idols; Dr. Seuss, Walt Disney & Jim Henson so I spent many years drawing cartoons and making puppets.
When I was younger I worked as a set and costumer designer in theater, as a puppet designer and performer and more recently I have been working in animation but in 2008 I decided that I needed to focus more seriously on my painting. When I saw Mark Ryden’s artwork the first time I wanted to cry. He was doing what I wanted to do in such a beautiful and meaningful way that I knew I had to be part of the whole Pop Surrealism movement. As I discovered other artist of this ilk I felt like I could contribute to this movement.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?

I am very regular in my habits as it is the only way I can get done all the plans I have for myself. I wake up at six am and feed the cats and then go to the YMCA to swim for 20 minutes. I come home and have breakfast, shower, dress and catch up on emails. Sometimes I do some sketching or collect reference from the internet then at 9am I go out to my studio (in my backyard) and paint. I try and have all the prep work done before I go out so that I have my prime morning hours for painting when I am freshest. At 12:30 I come in and eat lunch and rest for awhile one or two hours depending on how my morning went. After that I paint for as long as I can until I get too tired to focus. I don’t believe you should paint unless you are focused and present or you spend the next day re-doing all the bad stuff you did when you were tired! I go in and rest and watch a little TV, play with my cats and then have dinner with my husband when he comes home from work. After dinner we both go out to the studio and work for awhile- if we are busy we can be there as late as 9pm but I have to stop by then or my morning will be ruined the next day. Night time work is more laid back, like varnishing or cleaning or research and sketching or if something is really bugging me about the painting I’m working on I might go and fix it! Then I completely veg out, watch TV, drink wine, or read if I have the energy! It wouldn’t work for everyone but it makes me very happy to follow my schedule! I always work less on the weekends and try and go out and see the world!
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperative for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
I know college is not for everyone but I absolutely loved it and went to two fantastic colleges: Rhode Island School of Design and CalARTS. I think you learn so much from being surrounded by other artist that it has a lasting positive effect and I do find that people who don’t have a college education take longer to discover the beauty of art history. One of my favorite artist Fernando Botero says that ART is all about having a conversation with ART HISTORY and bringing it forward.  I totally agree without a formal education it takes longer to understand that we are standing on the backs of giants. It is a personal choice and every artist must decide for themselves.

What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
I follow one of the original precepts of surrealism and paint what I dream. I have vivid dreams where I mesh together disparate images to create ironic metaphors  and I try to capture that in my paintings.
I also identify with the POP side because there are lots of cultural references that I try to bring into my work. I love the juxtaposition of historical religious art with the common place cartoony style. On a personal side, I always wanted dolls when I was a child, but was denied them. So dolls have become an obsession for me and are very prevalent in my paintings as well as being inspired by the original BIG EYE painting movement from the 60s and 70s.

I have meanings for everything in my paintings but I prefer the viewer to create their own interpretation. My favorite art lifts me up and transports me to different worlds. I hope to do the same for my viewers. I have lots of faces in my paintings but I attempt to make them enigmatic so the audience can put their own interpretation on them. I believe that 50% of art should be what the audience assigns to it. Art does not come alive until it has a viewer.
What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
I have always been proud to live the life of an artist. To me, that means someone who makes artistic choices in everything they do. To live my life bravely and show people that it is alright to march to a different drummer. Everything has been done in art the only thing new and original is what “you” bring to it. It is very hard to find out who is the authentic “you” and speak from that place but it is the only important goal in an artistic life. There are so many outside voices telling us who to be and how to be it so we need to find a way to hear are own inner voice and pull from there. That’s why dreams are such a great source of reference, they come from deep inside you. When I am actually in the middle of working it is magic. I don’t even feel like it is me doing the work. I feel like I am a glove puppet and all the creative forces in the universe come through me and support me. It truly is magic!

Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
I use acrylic paint on canvas for most of my paintings. In the past I used oil paint but all the chemicals made me sick, I am allergic to turpentine and they just take too long to dry. I decided that I would stick to the form that I am at ease with so that I can learn to master it rather than skip around trying everything new, like I did when I was young. Some of my ideas come to me in dreams, these I call “gifts” because I have a very strong vision of what I want to do and can support the whole creative process. Other ideas are culled together from visual motifs that I tend to gravitate to.

I have done a large series of paintings of girls with scenes under their skirts. I find it a beautiful metaphor for the interior world versus the face we show to the world. I have dozens of sketch books with little bits and bobs I like to pull from and I always have at least a dozen photoshop paintings going.

In photoshop I am able to do comps for big complicated pieces so I can visualize all the colors and shapes coming together. I seldom do a complete finish drawing before I start but I have often done elaborate digital paintings. Once I have something working I paint the canvas a neutral tone and then I project my drawing on to the canvas and trace it. This is an essential step for me because it gives me another chance to see it at different sizes before I commit to a final composition. If I have a strong drawing that is working I like to paint an outline in black to set it permanently in place. Once the drawing is in place I do lots of washes and layering to build up the forms. I tend to work very mono-chromatically and then slowly introduce color as I am happy with the forms I have created. I think it is crucial to be willing to go in a completely different direction if the spirit moves you there. I think that planning can be as important as letting go and allowing inspiration to hit you. I have a computer screen for internet reference and hundreds of art books to inspire me as I paint. I also think it is important to buy good art when ever you can and hang it around you so you can be inspired by your fellow  artist. I would be thrilled to live in a museum if I could.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

I can’t think of any at this time, I have tried so many things! I do want to pursue more sculpting and drawing in the future though, because they are both very satisfying in different ways that inform and improve my painting.

Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?

I have a garage that I converted into my studio and it is filled with all my favorite things: toys, books and art. From every corner there are big doll eyes looking down on me and watching me work. Every morning I walk in and turn on the lights and see those dolls staring at me and I say “good morning everybody!” I think it is important to feel at ease with the place you work in and surround yourself with comfort and love.

I also bring my cat BooBoo in the studio as he loves painting too. He will get up on my lap and direct my brushes when he is in the mood. Other times he sits on a big pillow looking out the french doors at the birds and insects going by.

I think the most unexpected thing hiding in my studio is all the sewing equipment. My husband is a costume designer and he shares the space when he is at home to work on his shows. No real skeletons or taxidermy hiding there, just the regular accouterments of an artist!
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
If you work on your art every day and keep the creative juices flowing great things will come and help you find your own voice but if you are always stopping and starting a terrible fear and panic moves in and inhibits you. I used to fear the blank canvas more than anything when I was too busy to work regularly at painting. I now love the blank canvas for all the possibilities it provides.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
At Rhode Island School of Design I had a painting teacher that told me that painting was dead and there was no need to ever learn how to put paint to a canvas. This is definitely the worse advice and really scared me off from painting for a long time.
The best advice and most difficult advice for me to take was to be myself and to learn how to listen to the creative spirit in me and to ignore the negative critics!
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I love working in solitude with no one distracting me but I sometimes feel the need to refill the well  and get out and meet with like-minded people. I wish that I could do a studio exchange with all the artist I love one day a month and go to their studios and watch them paint and ask them questions about what they do. I feel like I would get along so well with other artist and would love meet more of them.  I recently met some young artist at one of my openings and it reminded me of the good old days of art school.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?

I want to be able to make enough money to continue to paint and create my own creations and to show my work all around the world. I want to continue to find more collectors as wonderful as the one’s I have now and to have some kind of relationship with the artists community. At some point I would like to be able to give back and teach young people art classes since teachers were such an important part of my development as an artist.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?

Be kind to other artist around you, you can learn so much from them. If you want others to respect your unique point of view you must be willing to accept theirs. It is an artist job to be a leader and not be afraid to try new things.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...

I quote Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!”
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?

I like to write stories and I love to read.
Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?


Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
Thank-you for visiting me at all my online homes. Be sure to say “hi” and you are always welcome to ask questions. Please share love and joy with the world and I hope you all find your personal bliss.
love & peace,

Thank you dear Bob, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)
By contributor Linda. Mar 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.