Mundelein artist finds niche in watercolor house portraits
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From creating the perfect shade of pink to replicate the shrubs to capturing the reflection within the window, Robert Pioch pays attention to every detail when painting his subject.
Pioch said each house he captures on canvas is a work of art.
In one painting, he captures the architecture of a house built in the late 1800s while also showcasing the flourishing shrubs and flowers surrounding it. And because this house is treasured, Pioch may take months to capture every detail right.
"I get to study someone else's work, the architecture, the landscape," he said. "That's the artist's world going round. We're all studying each other, right?"
House portraits and other watercolors he has created can be seen at the Dandelion Gallery in downtown Waukegan through July 12.
His passion to draw began at age 3, the Mundelein resident said.
"My mom said she couldn't get me to sit until she handed me a pencil and some paper," he recalled.
Pioch continued to draw through middle school and high school, focusing on science fiction. In college, he said he attempted to write a graphic novel.
Earning his bachelor's degree in drawing at Southern Illinois University, he chose to focus on one medium, watercolor, and took instruction from watercolor artists David Dallison, a member of the Deerpath Art League, and Thomas Trausch, a local gallery owner.
When he started working with watercolors, Pioch said he discovered his ability to tell an entire story through one watercolor painting.
Through his narrative still life paintings displayed at the Dandelion Gallery, Pioch said he demonstrates triumph over strife. In one, a blue jar reflects a sealable fate and sorrow. It's propped open by tangerines pouring from it and from their netting. The orange, he said, represents times of prosperity, success and new beginnings.
"What I'm trying to do is tell a story about the difficulties I had toward the end of my college life and how I overcame them and moved forward," he said. "It's a message that I think would be appropriate to lend to others to listen. Many people can relate, and many would like to relate."
He also seeks inspiration from locations that catch his eye — a winding path at Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, a gazebo and open field near his home or a tattered barn in his paintings.
As Pioch sought to finance his paintings, it was Dallison who suggested he focus on a specific location, people's homes, to paint.
Pioch said in meeting and painting at the client's home, he works with each homeowner to determine the vantage point to capture. The process to create a 15-by-22 portrait, the most common request, may take 50 to 75 hours. It may take as long as 1½ to two months to work in the same light each day.
"The experience is enjoyable because I create a relationship with the client," he said.
Victoria Trull first saw Pioch's work at Art in the Barn, an art festival in Barrington. She said she was impressed by his attention to detail.
"He has the detail of an oil painter but his medium is watercolors," she said.
Living at her Crystal Lake home since 1989, Trull considers it one of the most beautiful in the city. She hired Pioch to complete a house portrait because one day they will move and want to remember it.
"I wanted it captured by Robert so we'll always have that wherever we go," she said.
Pioch said he's discovered house portraits is not a common subject for painters. However, he can understand why clients like Trull want to capture this place as part of their history.
"Painting was a means initially of laying down history the way photographs do now," he said. "A long time ago, someone would have a painting done to remember that moment in time. I think a little bit of that still exists today."
Pioch often receives the highest compliment when people see his house portraits and other work. He said they tell him they look like a photograph.
"When I'm pushing just to get my technical skills higher, that is quite the compliment," he said.
Pioch next hopes to teach others how to paint through watercolors. He will offer classes September through December at galleries in Lake Forest, Waukegan and Mundelein. For details about the class schedule, visit Pioch's website, www.robertapioch.com.
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