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10 Questions with Joe Cornelius - aka Mural Joe, internet sensation :)

G'day, it's Frankie here.  Recently I was in contact with Mural Joe to see if he'd be up for answering some questions for you.  Not the same old boring questions, but something you really want to know about him.  Joe came back to me with the enthusiasm and gusto, good humour and generosity that he is renowned for. Take a break from your life for a minute (or 30) and delve into this revealing and candid meandering that is the talented and inspiring "Mural Joe".

Q:  Have you ever had a serious “aha!” moment with your painting process?  And if so, what was it?

Yes! I have had many of those.  The most important one in my business was when I started getting thank you emails from people who had seen my YouTube videos.  I realized that helpfulness was much more appreciated than skill level.   And helpfulness can be accomplished at any skill level because there are always people trying to get to where you are, and sometimes the guy who is miles ahead is just too far to give a hand up to the next step.  In the same sense, I also realized that the pursuit of being the best is like a monkey trap.  Once you feel like you have it, It's hard to let go of that trophy long enough to study and learn anything new. 

Q:  What has been the handiest painting technique you have found which seems to transcend all subject matter?

Mixing opposite colors to arrive at a desired color.  It's like learning to read.  Once I became fluent at determining how to mix any color I was looking at, it made it easier to quickly work through any given content.

Q:  What would be your advice for all creatives out there wanting to pursue visual art as a profession?

Be honest with yourself.  The thing that makes expensive art expensive is that it's rare.  Whether it's because it's the name or the genius talent, or some trend that makes it sell, you can't just find it anywhere.  You could be that rare artist, but I wouldn't put all your eggs in that basket right from the start.  I would take a careful look at the community around you and identify a need that isn't being filled already, and see how you can add your creative art to that service.

I was a paint contractor first, then a faux finisher and muralist when the opportunity came.  That allowed me to easily offer any painting above and beyond the usual, whenever someone was in the market.  I got better at my craft and the word gradually spread.  Even though it's not an instant glamorous success story, it worked, It took little talent to start, and it's reproducible.  Knowing that your producing real value is more satisfying than just making the money.

Q:  What are your top 5 hobbies apart from painting?

I play guitar.  I'm good but not great at it.  I love jamming with friends now and then when there's time.  I actually play regularly for the worship music at my church.  It's a great outlet for that.  

I like skateboarding too.  I'm really not skilled at that one.  It's fun to get out and do it with my son though. He's 10 yrs old and will pass me up I'm sure.

I love going out camping, hiking, exploring. This mountain town lends itself to outdoor adventure and recreation really well.  I'm a runner too. My usual course that I like to do is to the top of Mount Elden which is about a 600 meter climb.  It's really beautiful.  Again, there are many runners around here that are way beyond my ability.  I just love doing it.

I also love science! That can mean different things but I just like working out my own theories and research about the way things work.  I'm currently working on an algorithm that will tell a computer how to accurately synthesize the mixing behavior of real paint.  I guess that's closely related to the painting but it makes me do a lot of painful math.  Ha ha.  Something all artists love.

Q:  Have you ever been really tested by a mural, and why?  Do you ever have tantrums like the rest of us?

Oh yeah!  Definitely.  When you look my older work, you can see a progression of understanding.  Those earlier murals kicked my butt a lot of the time.  I spent a long time re-painting the arm of the giant lumberjack in the "NAU mural".  The perspective would look right when I was right up on it but then really off in pictures.  

I re-painted waves at Flagstaff Medical Center so many times. I had to learn that the values and patterns of each brush stroke mattered more than I thought.  And again, perspective was deceiving me on the waves as well.  When I get into cycles of frustrated shooting in the dark for solutions, I have to put down the brush and go into research mode.  I learned because of those struggles that perspective changes with size and then was able to define a few rules that allowed me to nail the perspective depending on the viewing distance and scale of my pictures.  I won't bother you with the math but the "halves and doubles" rule was one of those gems that came from the struggle.  On flat ground, half your height (to eye level) is twice the distance you're standing from the mural.  Likewise, every time you cut the distance to the horizon in half, the distance doubles and the height and  width are half.  I now refer to that rule in almost every painting!  

I remember painting the different greens of a tree in this Midwestern landscape.  After a while I just had to settle for what came out by guessing.  I didn't learn until way later that there's a systematic way to determine that as well.  All these struggles meant less money for me, but in the end the learning that came out of the challenge was much more valuable.  I encourage artists to form logical questions about their problems and not rush to a quick fix that is just fortunate rather than additional understanding about the problem.  It's definitely hard though when it means paying bills.  

Oh yeah.  And on the subject of tantrums, I have come home in tears, called my wife and cried (just a little though) and cursed in my mind and under my breath (only when alone of course) in anger over jobs that were not going the way I had intended.  It's hard to be a control freak about something and reach the end of your ability to control it. 

Q:  Is there a subject matter that you enjoy painting the most?

Probably water.  I love the magical look that water can give to a picture and I associate it with life and beauty I think.  Maybe I just love it because it's such a scarce resource here in Arizona! Ha ha.  I also love anatomy in all kinds of creatures but painting real animals and people just doesn't allow for nearly as much freedom as throwing together a nature scene.  For me, water and nature is the most relaxing. 

Q:  What is the most wonderful thing that has happened to you because of your teachings and/or internet presence?

Chawki Diwani is an Arabic man from Sweden who came over here to learn my trade.  He helped me on a pretty large mural project while I also taught him on the side my methods of painting.  It's always a risk when you invest your energy in a hopeful outcome, which in this case was Chawki going home with valuable skills and ability to paint.  We had arguments and many frustrating moments together.  We had cultural differences and personality conflicts and also differences of expectation that were not discussed beforehand.  But let me just say that he is one of the most moral and respectable men that I have known and that was one of the things that made the conflicts worth having.  He went back to Sweden when the time came and then after he had told me on the phone that he couldn't paint without me instructing him, I was frustrated and scolded him saying "you have to paint on your own!".

He did... And you can imagine what a wonderful surprise it was for me to see the pictures he sent me that were so much better than anything I had seen him paint while he was here. You can watch the video he made here.

It gives me way to much credit but nevertheless, I was so happy to see his accomplishment. He has inspired me now to develop the teaching aspect of my business a lot more. 

That was probably the biggest moment for me but I am so extremely blessed by all of the thank you's that come to my email.  Those make my work worth while.

Q:  Tell us about your favourite brushes and how they became your favorites.

Anyone can see, watching my videos that I favor the flat brushes with synthetic bristles that taper to a blade like shape.  I like both the angled and the square cut.  I can pull them sideways for a thin line or use the flat side for a wide stroke.   I can dab the corner for a small round shape lay down just the corner for a triangle shape. There are so many different strokes and patterns I can do with that shape that it's nearly all I use.  There are exceptions though, like when I want texture for distant trees ore maybe fur.  I usually just destroy my favorite in order to turn it into what I need.

Q:  What is the most challenging aspect of managing your own successful arts practice?

Time management!  Oh man, I think self control is like a bad word among artists.  I don't just mean in the way of emotions, but also in the way of having the discipline to identify what needs to happen in my business and committing to a schedule in order to get it done.  As an artist I rely so much on inspiration to stay motivated and so when I don't feel inspired I don't paint as well.  But in the case of non-painting business like web page maintenance, answering emails, organizing job invoices and expenses....those things don't require the same inspiration in order to get done.  They just require commitment.  So I always end up seeing just how spoiled I'm getting when I don't want to do the less inspiring aspects of the business.

I think about things that are very progressive like the retail industry or construction contracting.  What if those businesses were subject to some one person's mood and whether he or she felt like going to work?  They survive if they are not subject to that.  I know this because in a small town we see many businesses come and go.  And the successful ones have consistency in common.  I think I am better off to take a lesson from those industries.

Q:  And finally, tell us something no one knows about you :)

I like to eat tuna in the summer time for a quick lunch.  One of my favorite ways to eat it is mixed with peanut butter, cheddar cheese, mayo, and seasoned salt.  My wife calls it tuna delight.  She doesn't dare eat it though.  But I'm telling you....I think you might like it if you try it.

Thanks so much Joe for such a wonderful, inspiring interview :)  You can catch Mural Joe's teachings over at his website here:

Or on his Youtube channel here.

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