Matt Kapinos: Painting Stories

Donna Fischer

donna fischer | the artist next door | april 2018

Artists have a wonderful knack for noticing things. It is a skill that allows them to take the ordinary and turn it into something appealing to the eye. A tired old pickup truck in a wooden shed would fail to raise an eyebrow for most, but Matt Kapinos couldn't resist it. Driving with his wife, he glimpsed what would eventually become a bold, atmospheric watercolor painting and turned around to go back for a reference photo. Kapinos noticed the contrast in colors between the machine and the weathered wood. He admired the stillness of the surrounding snow and even the small circle in the wall of the shed where an old stovepipe probably once jutted out. His recreation of the scene is a splendid composition.

Kapinos has been working as a professional artist for about two and a half years. His sunny studio is the family's former living/dining room. My curiosity about the enviable ability to work from home gets the best of me. Kapinos admits he has a nice situation here.

“So many people dread getting up on Monday morning," he muses. “Monday morning I get up, I can come in here, it's quiet and I can put on my headphones. It's nice when I have a day when I know I don't have to do anything but sit here and draw and paint."

Escaping the daily grind at the office may have had a liberating effect on Kapinos. He's been working consistently on commission and has a vibrant gallery of paintings and portraits around his studio. One striking piece features a stargazer lily. Kapinos needs very little prompting to go into a descriptive story on the painting's origin and development. His enthusiasm for painting with watercolors is evident as he gets caught up in explaining the mechanics of the work.

“You see a lot of watercolor paintings and they look washed out, and there is a place for that, but at the same time, not every landscape that I want to paint is cloudy and overcast and rainy. Am I supposed to use a different medium to paint a bright day? No, I want bright colors and do it in watercolors. I find that the more you go over it the more it changes. There's a certain light — bounce to things if you just do it quick. If you detail and go back over them, not to say one is right or wrong but it looks different once you've gone back over it a few times, touched the detail stuff."

While he doesn't always work from photos, he admits that it does help to use references, especially when one is just starting out in painting.

“I would say starting out, work from photographs, work from images because it answers all the questions for you. In terms of creating artwork, as you go … you learn a few things, sometimes they're successful, but I've got a stack of stuff in the basement that will stay in the basement."

He gestures to a more simplified landscape hanging on the wall and explains how that one came about in a different way.

“When it comes to trying to create images purely from imagination, it makes me nervous every time. It's always difficult."

Kapinos feels his goal as an artist is to trigger memories and emotions in people. It's not an easy task in this day of high definition distractions.

“I was always the kid who was, 'Hey, what do you want me to draw for you?' I've always liked doing that. I like seeing people see pictures that they recognize, that are very familiar to them. They have all these emotions. It's cool seeing people's faces when they see things that they know done by an artist. Especially in this day and age when everywhere there is imagery just screaming for your attention, it's hard for a subtle, little watercolor to compete with everything else out there."

Art, Kapinos explains, is unlike TV or video games in that it doesn't fill in all the information for you.

“If there's a chance to just look at something static and let it take you to another place where your brain fills in all the blanks and tells the story versus having the story crammed down your throat … They always say a good painting should tell a story. With landscapes there is a story within them. It's a moment in time in a given place. If you can get somebody to come to that place for just a second, honestly, that's all I try to do."

Kapinos is optimistic about his art career, describing recent sales including one to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, which will be displayed outside their library. He is looking forward to participating in Artstreet, later in summer, and sees an improving art scene coming about in Green Bay. He reflects on last year's participation with The Art Garage as an important step in his growth as an artist.

“For me it's good just having the exposure. It takes a certain amount of guts to put your artwork up on the wall and stand next to it and let people come by. You watch their faces, and some they like and some they [don't] — you make yourself a little bit vulnerable. It was cool; it was good practice. I had a lot of good feedback, which was encouraging."

Learn more about Matt Kapinos at Facebook.com/mattkapinosfineart and look for his new site, MattKapinos.com, to launch soon.


Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.

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