Bob Kuhn 1997 Interview

I came across this interview with Bob Kuhn on Youtube that took place back in 1997. It provides insight into the mind and process of a master animal and acrylic painter.

"Tucson 7" Bob Kuhn

At 4:27, he says:

“As I grow older, I do what I want to do. And if I cheat a little bit, who cares? Number one, most of the time nobody knows it but me. I’m not taking a photograph, I’m making a painting and it’s my painting. And I can do anything I want.

I also have a theory that… and I really believe this… that realism is honored in the breach. By that, I mean, I think where you cheat on the facts is where you become an artist. Not where you record the facts. Anybody can record the facts. But when you have your facts in front of you and you say, “I know that’s the way it is, but that’s not the way I want it in my painting” and then you do something that augments the color or the texture or the excitement of the painting, then you’re functioning as an artist. If you’re simply putting down what you see, you may be a great craftsman, but you ain’t an artist.”

I couldn’t agree more. Painting is not about copying the subject detail by detail. It’s about capturing your impression of the subject and all the feelings and ideas that come with it. If it were just about copying, then a camera already does that.

Bob Kuhn, In the Gloaming
Bob Kuhn, In the Gloaming

At 5:29, he describes using a carbon pencil to add texture to his paintings:

“One of the little devices that I frequently use is a casual application of a wolf pencil, which is a carbon pencil, simply to sort of emphasize hair textures. I don’t like to overdo it, but there are times when just a little sense of the roughness of the hair is all you need. And rather than take a tiny little brush, which I don’t own, and going picky picky, to me it has a little more spontaneity if you simply take this charcoal thing and make your little accents and let it go with that. Or a little of roughness within the shape of a tree.”

Bob Kuhn, In Ellesmere Land - Arctic Wolf, 1996
Bob Kuhn, In Ellesmere Land – Arctic Wolf, 1996

At 7:45, he shares thoughts on composition, painting with instinct, and understanding the subject:

“So what I’m really saying is that I think you can learn how to make tolerable designs, but you can’t learn how to make great designs. You’ve got to be a designer and you have to have an instinct for how to move shapes around your painting. You cannot paint things that catch the character of a critter if you don’t know the critter. I’m one of those old-fashioned people that really feels you ought to put in your time at the zoo.”

Bob Kuhn, Heading Into Thick Stuff
Bob Kuhn, Heading Into Thick Stuff

I also found this footage of Kuhn painting. It seems he starts with a pencil drawing and then paints segment by segment with simplified brushwork.

Bob Kuhn: Drawing on Instinct with the National Museum of Wildlife Art

Also, just a brief reminder to join my free 4-day workshop: Painting the Landscape. It’s free to join. The first lesson goes out shortly.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.