It may not seem far-fetched that Jeff Sewell was inspired to begin painting during a 2000 surf trip to Tavarua Island, Fiji, known for its crystal blue waters and consistent waves. However, it was the resulting rainy, surfless week that sparked his enthusiasm to paint as he passed the time reading a Vincent Van Gogh biographical novel and realizing that he needed a second passion to pursue when the waves don't show.
Jeff dove into Impressionism, embracing the genre and the local Laguna Beach connection to early California Impressionism, drawing inspiration from the masters such as Edgar Payne and William Wendt. Jeff painted relentlessly, honing his technique though plein air painting sessions with his friend and artist, Greg Larock, and taking a class from Jeff Horn, his biggest mentor. As a mainly self taught artist, Jeff's primary influence continues to be visiting museums and galleries with his "sponges out" absorbing what he sees and conceptualizing how a piece is created, whether he likes it or not.
Jeff is drawn to the water, as is evident in both his passion for surfing and his paintings of seascapes and beach scenes, "I love the coast. I'm a surfer and have lived at the coast my whole life, staring at the horizon waiting for the next wave to come, so I love painting coastal scenes." As a father of six, Jeff attributes his serene and pastoral subject matter as the complementary balance or yin yang, to a fast-paced home life.
It's safe to say that Jeff's artistic path was well chosen. He has received multiple Plein Air Invitational awards and his works have been displayed at The Irvine Museum, dedicated to showcasing and promoting the rich history of California Impressionist artists. Recently, The Irvine Museum acquired Jeff's painting "Catalina Twilight" for their permanent collection, making him one of only four living artists to receive the honor.
Perhaps most notable is his transition from student to teacher in his role as Director of Education and Mentorship for the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA). Jeff developed "The Plein Air Project," a program designed to teach Orange County youths about Impressionism. The four part program includes a classroom session teaching the history of California Impressionism, a painting demonstration, a visit to The Irvine Museum and finally an outdoor "paint out" where the students test their skills and learn the beauty and complexities of painting en plein air. The successful program has mentored over 4000 kids since it's inception in 2013.
One of the best pieces of advice that Jeff now imparts to his students is to "keep it simple and know when to stop" and it's one of the toughest mantras to execute. "It's so tempting to want to keep working and fix something with the intent to make it better, but pretty soon you work out all the beautiful spontaneous energy that you started with. I always try to finish my painting with some of those unconstrained, beginning notes still intact." Jeff encourages young artists to keep it loose with less information, engaging the viewer to interact with the work and subconsciously fill in the missing pieces.
We wish Jeff many return trips to Tavarua Island, knowing that inspiration will continue to strike whether it be on a killer wave or a canvas.