Ed note: Jeff has been creating beautiful works of art since before I was born. It was an honor to be able to conduct this interview, and I look forward to his future visits! - Jake
We're extremely proud to be able to feature Jeff Albrecht's work here in the store. Jeff has been featured across the world, and is collected by professional athletes, Hollywood actors, restaurants, hotels, corporations, government agencies, and private collectors everywhere. Today, he took a break from his live show here at Maui Ocean Treasures to answer a few questions.
When did you first gain an interest in art?
I’ve been painting since I was about 3 or 4. In High School, I took my first painting class, and right away, some friends I had in class commissioned me to make a few paintings for them. That was when I realized I could probably do more, and I started doing freelance work in San Francisco. People I didn’t even know started sending me stuff in the mail. I graduated in 1991, so this was before email was around. My first piece for a business was for a flower shop. I painted their logo, magnetic lettering for their business trucks, and various signs. I’ve been a sign painter, an airbrush artist… and this was all still toward the end of High School. Then I went on to get my degree in General Studio Art in College.
What is your preferred medium?
I typically work in acrylic paint, and I use the best acrylic paint you can buy. It’s museum-quality paint, and I can get an oil-type look, but I don’t have to deal with the long drying times and fumes. I have kids in the house, and I’m not patient enough to wait two weeks for it to dry. I work in acrylic because you can make it look like oil, and it’ll last longer than I’ll be alive. You can make bright colors, and that’s what I like. I have worked with oil, of course, and I’ve been trained in everything.
Take watercolor, for instance. I’ll use watercolor where I’ll do simple washes of color over penciled-in bits of outlining. I want people to see the paper, but I want them to see light washes of color across the piece, and the graphite from the pencil adds a lot of depth. That way you have tightly rendered complete pieces when it's done.
A lot of people think watercolor is unforgiving, where if you make a mistake, you have to throw the entire thing away. It’s not true at all. Even three years later, you can come back, wet the paper, and blot up the watercolor. You can completely remove the color and start over! You want to make it look like the water is rippling? Lay down a lot of watercolor, and while it’s still wet, sprinkle some salt on it. Once the salt is down, you can’t touch it! Let it sit for two hours or so until it’s completely dry, and you’ll see what happens. The salt causes the color to burst out, making it look alive.
Do you have a favorite artist? What draws you to that person’s work?
I’ve been influenced by anyone who has worked with watercolor. Earliest memories I can remember are Picasso, Van Gogh, Peter Max, Walfrido Garcia, Steve Barton … I studied all the masters growing up, and for my degree in college. Anyone who plays around with color and texture. I also learned to respect anyone in the field. How to make a living in the arts, are you kidding me? Nobody teaches you how to make a living.
More than the guys in history, I’ve been influenced by the people who are active today in the field. The ones who are making it happening.
My art is kind of like the way I order food: I don’t order right off the menu. I like variety. It depends on your mood, your personality. I don’t paint in one particular style; I paint in all different types of styles.
Can you remember one of the first pieces you did? What makes it so memorable?
I was like… four years old. There was a contest at a store for Father’s Day, and they said “paint a picture of your dad doing his job” and the prize was a free t-shirt for your dad. I’m there at the kitchen table, painting a picture for my dad. When you’re a kid, of course, you don’t remember that you did it. Two weeks later, a shirt arrives in the mail.
Do you remember his response?
I don’t remember my dad’s response, but I remember my mom’s response. Just the look on her face; happy and proud, all at the same time. Any time you have someone’s face light up, because of the work you put into it, it’s total encouragement, right? It’s deeper than trying to sell something to someone: It’s about creating a world for someone, or a relaxing space. You may not know why they feel it, but you can see it in their eyes. They may give you a hug, or just say how happy they are. That was the same look I saw in my mom’s eyes that day.
Have you ever pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and experimented with different genres/mediums/styles? How did it go?
Every day! That’s the art process. If you’re just doing what you know, day after day, there’s no creativity in that. It’s got to be exploring somehow. It’s about putting yourself in your work. If it’s just about making money, just doing what you know you’re good at time and time again, there’s no art in that. It’s about running through the doors that open up, not knowing how you’re going to get it done, but knowing that you’ve been training all along for it. The results are always intriguing, because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but you know it’s going to work.
I never paint the same way twice, I’m always mixing it up. It’s like throwing salt in the watercolor; It’s about taking risks. When you put one color down on top of another, you don’t know how exactly it’s going to turn out until it happens. You might have a rough idea of what you're going for, but the exact result is unknown until you do it.
What is the hardest part about creating a truly great piece of art?
(Pauses) I don’t know the best way to answer it. I do know one of the struggles that people have when they try to create a truly great piece: They over-plan, and they get nervous when they try to tackle it. At some point, you just have to just dive in. I think it’s that jumping-off point where you just get in the zone. You forget to eat, you forget to sleep. It’s all just flowing and moving in the right direction. You get into it, and you become a piece of the artwork. The colors are talking to you, and showing you where you need to go. That can happen for six or seven hours straight. At the time, your body feels nothing at all, but once you stop, it all comes crashing down. Your body aches, you’re tired, hungry.
I can’t imagine creating a great piece without being in that zone. Some people might call it Zen, but I know I can’t do it until I can get into that zone. I know I need at least six or seven hours set aside, otherwise it just turns out like garbage.
What advice would you give to other aspiring artists?
Find a way to work every day. Don’t worry about what other people– A lot of artists are afraid of what people might think or say about what you do. Find a way to work on it every day, even it’s just reading or researching the art process. You’ve got to be pushing yourself somehow, right? That’s how you learn.
It’s kind of like golf: I’ve never met a great golfer that’s not worked at it every day. I’ll never be a great golfer, because I just don’t have time to do it every day. If you’re an artist, you have to work at it every single day. It’s all part of the magic.
Personally, what are your favorite projects?
I have certain milestone pieces that elevated the playing field for me, or I experimented and it worked out. Those are important to me. My favorite projects are the ones that I worked on for other people, that were auctioned off, that were made to raise awareness for something. That’s why I love being here [at the Maui Ocean Center]. When I brought my kids, they loved the Aquarium. This is a beautiful spot, and to be associated with it, I’m totally excited about it. It allowed me to take my art in a different direction, and I’ve never done anything else like this. I’ve painted live in other places, but to create something that people can come and enjoy.
There was a little boy that came through the park and wanted something to remember his trip by. He had me sign it with his name and year, and it was just amazing.
I created a piece for David Akers, and you guys have a copy of it here (golden gate whale). That piece wasn’t my idea, they came up with the themes and I created it in my own style. The reason why it sticks out for me isn’t because he’s an NFL superstar, it’s the relationship after. It hangs in their home, in their private collection. It’s an honor. We’ve become friends: We communicate a lot, my kids play with their kids. The pieces that I love the most are the pieces that have a personal connection to the collector. Being able to share those experiences, and be a part of those people, making relationships. It doesn’t matter who it is; whether they’re collectors, artists, or just regular people, I love it.