The Best Advice I Ever Got

“I like to think of watercolor as my partner, each of us having our own voice in every painting,” says Todd Saal. “It does its own thing and continues to work long after the guidance of my initial brushstrokes. I seek to capture the spirit and character of the people and places I portray in my work. Each one has its own story to tell.”

“Old Homestead” (watercolor, 11 x 15 in.)
Meet Watercolor Artist Todd Saal

Art education: I took some pastel and oil painting classes for a few months when I was young, but when I started playing music, art took a back seat. Although I continued to draw occasionally — more like doodling really — I found my way back to drawing as an outlet for stress and gradually became interested in watercolor for its looseness and portability. For about two years, I tried to teach myself from books and videos before deciding to take a workshop with Dan Marshall to see how it was actually done. That experience changed everything, and I became obsessed with what I saw was possible with watercolor.

Best advice you wish you had received earlier in your painting career: While learning any craft requires isolation, don’t spend all your time alone. Find someone you admire, someone with experience, and take a workshop. To watch someone paint in real time and be able to ask questions is incredibly valuable. I wish I had taken my first workshop a lot sooner.

“Lonely Road” (watercolor, 15 x 11 in.)

Painting style: I only ever intended to paint for myself from my observations during my travels. Today, I strive to translate the everyday activities, people, and places I observe. I take common subjects and romanticize them by creating a narrative impression of the scene.

Favorite subjects: Having lived in New York City most of my life, I’m naturally drawn to the grit of cityscapes. I tend to go to places off the beaten path and observe people going about their daily activities, subjects that exude a level of intensity. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve come to learn there can be just as much energy in a serene rural landscape.

Aha moment: The main revelation for me came when I got some technique under my fingers and began to express myself more creatively. I saw things for how I wanted to see them and not how they were in front of me. I wasn’t just trying to copy a subject, so colors and details became less important.

Plein air painting in progress

Favorite artists: I’m involved in many creative disciplines, so I get insight from painters, sculptors, filmmakers, and musicians. Many years ago, my friend and guitar teacher Ron Zabrocki told me to create a discipline of intentional practice. The idea was to learn the technique well enough so that when I perform, I don’t have to think about it. The practice and performance are separate things, but they’re both part of the path. I apply that philosophy to everything I do.

Todd Saal painting outdoors in Madison County

Artist’s Biography
Born in New York City in 1964, Todd Saal started life out as an artist and musician. As an artist he undertook formal training in pastels, oil, and sculpture. After a few years painting and playing music, he entered the technology field where he went on to form his own company. Through his approach to mentoring he managed technology, creative and operational teams in a variety of industries for over 20 years. Looking to break away from the demands of the corporate world, he reconnected with his creative side. Todd spent airport and travel time sketching while on the road, capturing the moments of the places and people he observed.

During this time, he expanded his creative repertoire, teaching himself to paint in watercolor. Immersing himself in the study of watercolor, he quickly realized that watercolor was not for one to control as in other mediums. You’re never in complete control with watercolor. Giving in to the unconstrained nature of this medium is what he has come to love the most. His paintings are done mostly en plein air, conveying visual stories of the places and people he observes. Now living in Nashville, TN, with his wife Jodi, Todd continues to pursue a creative life.

With over 25 years creating products and services indoors, he is now consumed with taking that same process to the great outdoors. Inspired by his new surroundings, Todd approaches each day with a focused resolve to continue to learn, study his influences and grow as an artist.
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  1. I meet Todd last year at Thomas Schaller’s four day workshop at San Diego Watercolor Society… Todd stood out from the group with his handsome bread, hat, tattoos and his own handmade paint box. During the workshop when artist would work on their paintings, he would stand as if he was outside doing En Plein Air. I am grateful, to get insights for artist such as Todd. Thank you, Kelly Kane <3


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