watercolor paints

watercolor paints ()

Have you ever looked at the sky and noticed the different colors between the horizon and the zenith? Well, I hadn’t, until I spoke with artist and veteran Steven Givler.

He notices details, and always has, though it wasn’t until his first deployment to Iraq when he was able to give quality to such things. Opening his bag upon arrival he was surprised to find that his former wife had sent along a set of watercolors and a note. She was blunt: painting should help him stay out of trouble.

Givler admits that he was “not a model airman,” always pushing the bounds during his initial enlistment. He began his Air Force career at the Defense Language Institute where he nearly flunked out, but a friends’ departure motivated him. “It was the first time in my life I worked hard at anything,” he says. He was stationed in Crete for four years and was always on the brink of trouble. So, he got out.

He regrets being such an uncommited airman, but his early commander put the seed of a commission in his head despite his behavior. Amazingly, his mischievousness led him to gaining an OTS spot during the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) when there were few places to be had. It’s an unbelievable story that involves Givler crashing a party to simply watch the election on TV, meeting the governor and getting a recommendation letter from Strom Thurman. His telling is all in the details, much like his paintings.

Watercolor dries quickly in Iraq, but the minimal subject matter, desert or flightline, helped him notice the changeable light and how quickly a simple landscape can shift. He began to recognize how people use their “eyes to interpret information and how we carry our own memories through that filter.” With his wife back home as an effective critique, Givler honed his painting and stayed out of trouble. It turned out that art gave him quiet time at the end of the day to process what was happening around him.

Over his military career he found that “painting helps by pushing back anything that is causing stress.” It’s not necessary a peaceful activity, however. There have been paintings he started that end differently than he initially imagined. It can be frustrating. He has learned to let the story unfold and to hang onto the ride as the art evolves. Those difficult paintings end up being his favorites.

Givler retired from the Air Force to Stuttgart, Germany. Now he teaches watercolor painting during one-week seminars. They are currently being held in a charming mountain village in Italy. The landscape and town offer plenty of subjects to paint, plus the area is devoid of tourists so he often finds students chatting with locals over wine and cheese. His classes are ideal for beginners and experienced painters alike as he describes the interaction between both to be mutually beneficial.

Visit his website or email for class information and signups.

As with any art, the depth is in the details, including those details left out. Givler didn’t speak much about his later military career or how that is expressed in his art, and I didn’t press. He made it clear, however, that viewing a painting and filling in that meaning from your own personal experience is just as important as what the process of painting means to the artist.

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Kat is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Kaiserslautern, Germany with a special interest in anything outdoorsy or ancient. She has a bachelor’s degree in geography from Penn State University and has been a travel writer for about 10 years. Currently, she is in the depths of dissertation research for an archaeology degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands. 

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