Tim Pennington on Painting, Creativity, and ’13th Level Warlock Skulls’

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the paintings.
(All images courtesy of and (c) Tim Pennington )

Tim Pennington’s paintings are striking, original, and have pretty damned cool names. Mr. Pennington caught up with Matt Graves to talk about what goes into his creative process and what led him to start painting in the first place.


Osmosis Online: How long have you been painting?

Tim Pennington: I’ve been drawing my entire life. My girlfriend tells me that she remembers the first time that we met; she came over to my house at the age of 5-6 and I was laying on the floor drawing. I did my first paintings around middle school age, then through high school in art classes. I took a painting class when I started going to college, as well as a couple years of sculpture, but then I quit after a couple years of school. A few years ago, after doing absolutely nothing artistic for almost 15 years, I started painting again out of boredom. The paintings that I made in the two different periods were almost completely different, and I’ve been doing this style of painting for over three years now.

OO: How many paintings would you say you’ve completed?

TP: I’ve probably finished 10-15 paintings in my life, but I’ve only finished six paintings in this new style. They are very layered and go through quite a few drying periods. I always have a few going, and some have taken over a year. I think that 15 months is my record.

OO: What drew you to painting as opposed to other creative mediums?

TP: It’s really been more of a snowball effect than an initial draw. I’ve actually done a bit of sculpting and would like to do some more, maybe when time permits. When I started painting again I was just tinkering around, but some things went well and that led to more ideas and I went through this intense period–maybe four months–of coming up with new techniques and trying them out. I know that it may sound funny, but I don’t really think of myself strictly as a painter. The real draw is to create something that I think is cool–by hook or by crook–and anything goes towards that end. There are some sculptural elements to the paintings that you may not see from these pictures; I sculpted some skulls in relief on the the painting “As a 13th level warlock my floral death’s head does d6+9 damage,” and you may be able to tell that the hair in the painting “Untitled” is built up with this ropey-straw stuff dipped in house paint.

OO: Speaking of mediums, what paint do you use and why?

TP: The paintings all have an acrylic background layer and an oil “painted figure” layer. For the background I just use plain old latex house paint. After building up the background with different forms or splatters, sometimes sculpting relief forms, sometimes pouring into stencils, I go over it with oil paints for color. I do think that oil paints give the richest color, but manufacturers are coming up with a lot of cool stuff in acrylics, and I have been experimenting with acrylics a bit. But in a cruel twist of fate, the cool stuff that they are coming out with in acrylics is more expensive than oil paints. The coolest effect that I ever got, which unfortunately was just on a couple of studies, came from a 20 year old can of house paint that cracked as it dried! I’ve had my eyes peeled for such a can ever since.

OO: Who has inspired and influenced your work?

TP: Friends and family and unknown photographers have been not only an inspiration and influence but an integral part of the process. As far as what is presented to the public, Raymond Pettibon has been the ultimate influence, as evidenced by “Your girlfriend called me chicken II,” which is a sequel of sorts to one of his drawings and is becoming a sub-series for me (there are two more on the way). He really came along in my formative years and I’ve always thought that he was a genius. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve quoted him!

OO: What/who are you inspired to paint?

TP: I’d never argue with anyone that said that I paint portraits, but since you asked, what I really paint is human emotion or state of mind. I make a deliberate attempt to paint subjects that everyone can relate to immediately on an instinctual level, and the lowest common denominator in the shared human experience is emotion. Everything from love to hate to oblivion.

OO: How does photography play a role in your process?

TP: Photography and digital media play a huge role–both directly and indirectly–in not only my process but I think in painting theory overall. Yes, I paint from photos, but I think that it goes much deeper than that. These paintings really feel like a group project between myself and a number of artists/photographers–notably my good friends Andrea Mcmurray, Conan Huffman, Jeni Jeffrey (www.youtube.com/jenijeffrey) and Matt Needham (www.henrypeach.com). Since I do paint from photos, and I do try to paint emotion or state-of-mind, I have to have images that capture that “decisive moment” as someone called it. That image is then passed on to me for the next stage, which is to make a painting. The paintings themselves are by far best viewed live; there are depths and transparencies and lighting effects and scale and just a general feel of, um, let’s call it hand-madedness, that can only come across when you are actually in their presence. But obviously I can’t get everyone in the same room as the paintings, so the process moves back to the photographers to not only photograph the painting and capture it in a digital file, but also to sometimes manipulate that digital file to make it a more palatable digital image (see digitally enhanced file of “See how pretty, see how smart” by Conan Huffman), as well as passing that digital file on to create totally new products (see prayer candle). And then onto the good people like you to disseminate that file out to those that would presumably appreciate the images.

Furthermore, I believe that the invention of the camera and the specialization of photography and digital media as an art has been paramount to the evolution of painting. It has undoubtedly helped me learn how to see, and by holding an image permanently it gives you time to translate what you see into what you do with the paint. The camera also made straight realism and portraiture borderline obsolete and has practically forced painters to be more inventive, to view painting more directly as a tool for artistic expression, promoting impressionism and abstraction in all of its myriad forms.

OO: Do you prefer to paint early in the morning or late at night?

TP: Most definitely late at night. I may be the worst morning person of all time! But I need to change that in a real hurry because I’m currently painting out of a 10′ x 10′ Public Storage bay that’s only open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Not only can I not work past 9 PM, but it’s known to get devilishly hot here in the San Fernando Valley so I need to beat the heat and get down there at the crack of dawn!

OO: What do you listen to while working on a piece?

TP: When I was working on “As a 13th level warlock my floral death’s head does d6+9 damage.” I had to get it done super-fast, so I tried a psychological experiment whereupon when I got home from work, I ate the same food, put on the same clothes, listened to the same tunes, and got to work on the painting. It was before I had an iPod, so I was working with a cd player with a carousel. I filled it up with Oneida albums and hit shuffle. It was the perfect choice- a wide variety compositionally, not too consistently driving, not too consistently droning. And after four months, contrary to what one might think, I found that I liked beans more than ever (I naturally got better and better at cooking them), and I also liked Oneida better than ever. I had to throw the poor clothes away though.

OO: What do you hope to accomplish through painting?

This may be a bit dreamy, but I really want to bring everyone together in the realm of art appreciation. I want to reach as wide of an audience as I can and either instill or renew an appreciation of art in them. When I say that I’m not talking about just showing in galleries to aficionados, I’m talking about reaching out to those people that you imagine saying “I don’t get it” and not having them say that, and in fact having them relate to it and maybe beginning to look around for more art that they like. I’m hoping that if I can show someone how abstracted or impressionistic painting techniques can be applied in a context that is more understandable to them, that they can maybe use that as a base for appreciating art that they previously had trouble understanding.

Then in another sense I just want to make cool paintings, even if it’s just for my friends and myself. If YOU have even the slightest warm feelings for my art PLEASE find me on facebook (www.facebook.com/timpaintsprettypictures) and/or myspace (www.myspace.com/timpaintsprettypictures) and keep in touch. I’ve been known to have free giveaways at openings, and I plan to keep up that tradition! And a very special thank you everyone that made it to this sentence and the great people at Osmosis!

Tim Pennington

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