Mastering Limitless Artistic Development
Academy of Art University alumna Camille Przewodek is a master plein air painter, adept self-promoter and admired teacher. She has honed her extraordinary skill through years of hard work and dedicated study, yet her key to success boils down to one simple thing: she knows herself.
“I have carved a career in fine art for myself and I have developed my own unique vision,” said Przewodek, who has a trove of plein air painting awards, eight published books, dozens of exhibits and a calendar packed with workshops and teaching engagements.
“One of the things I’ve always admired about her is she drives herself to find something more personal in her observations and to take the style and the approach further,” said Chuck Pyle, director of the School of Illustration, who worked with Przewodek when he was a young instructor in the ‘80s. “She’s just very savvy and very committed to her art and to making a good living at it, which is really the Academy idea.”
Camille Przewodek. Courtesy of Camille Przewodek.
“It is hard as there are so many great tonal artists,” she explained. “You need to find your voice and your vision. Once this is accomplished, you have to either find someone who is passionate about your artwork and can market it or market it yourself. This takes stamina and patience.”
“[Camille] took her marketing skills and know-how and very directly rolled it over into the fine art world, and it has really made her a great success,” Pyle shared. “She has never been ashamed of that. Making art for art and commerce for commerce and [she] has just been a powerhouse in that regard.”
Przewodek’s painting style emphasizes the relationships between color and light. She is known for her use of the “light key,” a technique that she learned from her mentor Henry Hensche, that focuses on the quality of light illuminating the subjects she is painting. Przewodek feels that her greatest artistic achievement was staying focused on the Hensche color over the years and not deviating from that goal.
Yet there were many twists and turns along her path to success. Przewodek always loved to draw, so she pursued a fine art degree from Wayne State University in the early ‘70s but found it tough to make a living after graduation. She had to make money as a legal secretary to support herself while doing art on the side.
“I was throwing paint,” said Przewodek, referring to herself as an abstract painter at the time. “I look back and see what a waste of time that was. It had to be explained. It didn’t resonate with me.”
She said that during that time there was no instruction in color and the only way to promote your work was how you schmoozed.
“That’s why I quit art and went into history and political science. And it really was liberating,” she said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but spending time in my left brain prepared me for my illustration career.”
'Cap ‘n Beard,' 12 x 9, oil on panel. Painting by Camille Przewodek.
Przewodek wanted to earn money with her art and thought illustration would be a way to incorporate that. She already had a B.F.A. in fine art when she enrolled at the Academy in 1981, so it only took her two years to graduate with a degree in illustration.
While at the Academy, she practiced solving problems and developing illustrations with limitations that you might encounter on the job as well as building her portfolio. During this time, two important events changed the course of her life. She met her husband and great support system Dale Axelrod and was introduced to fine art painter Henry Hensche.
“I had met a master. It was like a religious experience,” she said about meeting Hensche. “It just resonated with me. It became my job and my life’s work to develop in this style. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’m still developing. There’s no limit and there’s not a formula.”
It just so happened that developing the Hensche style also landed her big time illustration work at major companies like Target and Alfa Romeo and in publications like Time, Newsweek and The New York Times.
“I got these incredible jobs because my work was so unique,” she shared. “I was showing this color stuff. I was one of the first illustrators showing fine art.
"They were looking for illustrators that didn’t look like an illustrator. The style was changing. I just look at that as being at the right place at the right time.”
Then one day she decided to quit advertising and concentrate full-time on her fine art career. On her first day as a full-time painter, she was happily painting outside when a local lawyer approached her about doing a painting of his Julia Morgan house and wanted to know how much it would cost.
“I had to think quickly, but I bid $1,200 and told him that he could not art direct me as I had just quit my job as an illustrator,” she said. “So on my first day as a fine artist, I earned $1,200. I then had all my time to devote to promoting my fine art.”
Also, one important ingredient was that she took her $20,000 advertising budget and put it into her fine art and has continued to advertise since the beginning.
“I love marketing and I am not afraid to put the money into my marketing campaign,” she said. “I also try to be creative with my marketing. It is critical that you have a vision. I have one and that is what I focus on when I am marketing my work. I am clear [about] who I am as an artist and what inspires me, and I try to communicate this in my advertising.”
Przewodek says that a lot of artists don’t understand how to promote and they just paint for the marketplace, which can be a big mistake.
“I’ve never [painted] for the marketplace. I’ve always just painted my passion,” she said. “But I’ve paid my dues too. I took some risks.”
Przewodek now pays it forward by teaching others in the style of Hensche and his lineage of masters in the tradition of Monet. There aren’t many instructors that teach color, she says.
“People say it’s personal, and it is, but it can be taught.”
Przewodek is inspired when she sees a student find their passion and begin to develop their voice.
She has continued to receive recognition for her teaching, which focuses on the use of the “light key.”
“It really is a niche. I feel that I was given a gift from Henry Hensche and in order for me to progress, I have to pass on what I know,” she explained. “I am always pushing myself to be better. I continue to select workshops that will help me develop my skills.”
Przewodek currently has two self published books out, a DVD produced by American Artist and an instructional computer disc titled “30 Days With Camille,” that documents the start and development of paintings on location. You can find them all at www.przewodek.com.