The Project Magazine (Interview I (Colt) did this week)

American climber and artist Coulter Prehm's work is stunningly detailed. Trained through a classic methodology, the New Mexico-based portrait painter can often spend twenty sessions working with a subject to complete a piece. 

How did you become an artist? 

It all started through tattooing I guess. I began doing tattoos when I was 20 years old while working on my undergrad and switched my major to Fine Art after a couple of years because I thought it would be more advantageous for tattooing (I was a biology major before that). My first painting class that I took in college, I realized that I was supposed to be a painter and had discovered, at least in part, my calling in life. After that I was painting and drawing incessantly while studying for years. I would say the biggest factor in me becoming a professional painter was working for years with my teacher and mentor Tony Ryder after I had finished my art degree. I worked with him for nearly four years. Working with Tony was an incredible experience as he is really one of the best portrait painters in the world living right now. I paint in a method of painting that is optical, meaning that I don't paint from photos but from observation. This means I paint what I see, whether that's portraits, landscapes or still life.

What process did you go through to develop that style?

I don't think of it as a style as much as I do a methodology. There is type of school and training that is based in traditions from the 16 and 17th Centuries called an "atelier" where one studies with a master artisan for a period of years, in the same way Rembrandt or Michelangelo would have learned. It includes lots of painting from the model and working observationally to learn how to communicate personal, human experience through art. Basically just learning to paint well so that hopefully our work can be a blessing to others. Style develops over time I guess, but it just comes naturally after lots of years of painting. This training all took place after (well, a little during too) I finished my art degree where I also focused on painting and drawing

Where do you find your inspiration for your pieces?

To put it simply, I find inspiration in beauty. I don't feel a real need to try to invent something new with my art or be too experimental in terms of subject matter. I find so much beauty in the people and places and things that surround me that I feel the best way of using painting, for me, is to simply try to share my experience of that beauty with other people. Painting is a vehicle of communication and my desire is to be able to use it to contribute something good and lovely to the world, and to treat it as a meditation I guess. Inspiration seems to find me more than I find it; I'm struck by inspiration and it causes me to launch into a work. I might spend a lot of hours, even weeks on a piece, but that initial inspiration, the beauty of a subject that caught me, I cling to that during the whole process of creating. 

What goes into the entire process of creating a piece?

The entire process... I could spend weeks discussing that! Any painting (or tattoo for that matter) begins with an inspiration or idea. There is so much that goes into a work from the technical and preparatory side of things. To keep that short, I paint on primed panel and in oil paints generally. Meeting with the model (for a portrait), we do three-hour sittings. Sometimes I do as many as twenty of these sittings to finish a piece, sometimes as little as one. Just like a book, a painting has a logical end and needs to be taken to that place, but that is different for every work. Finishing an artwork is hard for many people. The key is to take it to the point of what you had pictured it being since the start, or letting the piece tell you when it's done. Every painting has a life of its own that you have to honor so its a bit like co-laboring with the painting to arrive at a conclusion. I love making paintings and drawings. It really is like being a co-creator and adding new life to the world. Every piece of art art is carrying its own energy. It's alive.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow the same path?

My advice to anyone wanting to pursue this path or any path really is to find great mentors! There are so many people who have already went before us and further down the road than us. It is foolish not to seek them out. Find relationships with the best people in whatever field you are in and learn from them. It takes humility to seek out mentors like this but it is exactly that humility which will cause them to want to invest themselves into us. For me, whether it has been art or climbing or my spiritual journey, I have always desired the input and influence of those more wise and advanced than myself. If anyone desires to move forward or grow quickly this is the key! "Self made men" aren't usually the ones who most influence the world but those who are willing to learn from relationship with others. This goes for art and everything else as far as I can tell!