Sean Friloux is an artist whose unique style sets him apart from other artists in New Orleans. He is a formidable landscape and street scene painter who also happens to produce amazing charcoal portraits of people. Sean’s palette is darker than most of his contemporaries in the local art scene, but it is also softer at the same time, which gives it a very dream-like quality.
We interviewed Sean this past October at his studio on St. Charles Avenue in the heart of Uptown. When you walk into his studio, it is apparent just how focused and organized he is at producing great art and taking his career to the next level.
EM: Did you go to art school?
Sean : I’m mostly self-taught as far as fine art. I studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and in Community College.
EM.: Where are you from originally?
Sean: Destrehan, Louisiana. I’m a local.
EM: What led you to become a professional artist?
Sean: I was a graphic designer for about 13 years in Pittsburgh. Then I started illustrating more and painting watercolors. I worked for an engineer for a while when I got back here, then I started doing art in Jackson Square. That was over over 5 years ago. I started getting more customers and building a steady client base.
EM: How would you describe your art?
Sean: I used to think I was an impressionist painter, but not anymore. Now I think I’m more of a scene painter. I paint light and shadows. My work is atmospheric, moody, and soft. I’m not a big fan of hard edges. I like everything to be soft and airy, like putting air into shapes. I don’t like the word fuzzy. I like artificial light in a scene. I like artificial light bouncing off of a car. Sunlight is also great, but sunlight always makes a really hard line. Night scenes always have a nice glow or orb to them.
EM: That’s hard to paint!
Sean: It’s very hard to paint when you are getting away from linear work.
EM: It has a dreamlike quality to it. The nightscapes and urban landscapes are like another world.
Sean: I am a fan of J.M.W. Turner because he painted that way. He and John Constable were painting landscapes. But Turner was ahead of his time because he took away the lines. Once he did that, light and shadow became the image itself.
EM: Would you say his work inspires you the most? Who are your role models as an artist? Are there any other besides him?
Sean: Sargent is a big one. Also filmmakers like David Lynch. I like to look at the pieces like movie scenery sometimes. Kind of Film Noir.
EM: When did you start working with oils and watercolors?
Sean: I’ve painted watercolors a lot longer. Maybe for six or seven years now. Oils are very new to me, only about one year. I started painting oils for Gallery Orange. I’m still discovering and changing styles. Sometimes I’ll post a charcoal sketch or a stretch of watercolors (on Instagram). The charcoal is really fun for me to do. Its different. That way I’m not getting burnt out doing one type of medium.
EM: That is amazing that you managed to master oils so fast!
Sean: Turner and Sargent both painted in oils and watercolors. A lot of the masters looked at watercolors like a sketch. I’ve painted 8 foot watercolors. I use rolls of paper.
EM: What type of paper do you use?
Sean: I use Arches 40 lb. rough paper. You can’t do a quality piece on lesser paper.
EM: Any certain paint that you prefer?
Sean.: I use all of the artist’s quality paints. There is no really specific paint that I like to use.
EM: Do you mix any of your own paints?
Sean: No, I don’t do that. I don’t make any of my materials. I’ve stretched raw canvas and gessoed them. But that is about it.
EM: You are the first person I’ve ever met who’s managed to do so well with oils in such a short period of time.
Sean: Yes, they have done well! I had my first solo show in April. That went really well.
EM: How do you differentiate your art from everyone else? There is a lot of art on the market these days. What do you feel makes yours truly unique?
Sean: I try not to look at anyone else’s work. It is hard because I see a lot of art that I like that has a New Orleans theme or subject matter.
EM: Have you tried painting in another city?
Sean: I’ve painted in Seattle, Idaho, Mississippi, and California.
EM: How did the light “out west” effect your palette?
Sean: The light out west is great with the open air and sunsets. Usually when I paint another city, I like to do a plein air painting.
EM: Do you prefer plein air?
Sean: I do a little bit of everything. I do plein air, I take pictures, and I use old photographs.
EM: What do you wish you’d known about oil paints before you got started?
Sean: It took me a while to figure out the recipe for the medium. I don’t paint straight out of the tube, so there is always the right mixture of this and that to consider. I like to do glazes. I like it to dry quickly so I can come in the next day and do another layer. For me its all about layering.
EM: That’s how you get that luminous quality in oils, by building up the layers.
Sean: Yeah, and I do the same thing with watercolors.
EM: How young were you when you started making art? Or was it something you picked up once you got older?
Sean: No, I’ve always drawn since I was a kid. Then I got into commercial art. I wish I had started painting younger, but I got into graphic design.
EM: Are there any other artists in your family?
Sean: There are creative people in my family, but no one can call themselves an artist. There is talent in my family. My dad is very talented, but he isn’t an an artist. It makes you wonder where I got it from!
EM: Did you grow up around a lot of art?
Sean: Not at all. It was just something that I liked doing. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I learned a lot about art.
EM: What brought you to Pittsburgh?
Sean: My dad’s job. I was just starting high school.
EM: As you know, art is very subjective in nature, I’m sure you’ve received both positive and negative feedback. What do you do with negative feedback?
Sean: I guess its part of being an an artist. You have to deal with it. I believe you’re really a painter when you paint for yourself, painting what you need to paint.
Yeah, I get bad comments on my work. Sometimes someone might say, “Oh! These are too dark!” But you know that’s just their taste. I may do a day scene, but that’s still just going to come out moody, like its under a lens or something. I just have to take the criticism and keep painting.
EM: Considering the look of your work is so “soft”, how long does it take you to finish a painting?
Sean: If I’m in the studio it will be like a week. When I’m here I can work for a whole 8 hours. Art is my 24 hour job. I try to paint every day. I’ll even bring my son with me to the studio. It’s a second home. I can’t go three days without making art. Vacation is hard for me. It’s an addiction.
EM: How do you come up with a profitable pricing structure for your art?
Sean: That just started when I was in Pirate’s Alley. I’ll figure out a price, but that prices increases if there is more time involved for me. Also with more people handling it, sales reps and advertisers, the prices tend to go up. I do like to keep loyal to my supporters though.
As I get further along in this business, it gets more expensive. For example, if you want to have a studio on Royal St., oh my god! People are spending $12,000 a month there for rent. So your prices have got to reflect your work.
EM: What gets you the most exposure as an artist?
Sean: Right now I would say Instagram. It’s great for artists. Sometimes I’ll redirect people who see art I have in the gallery to look at the Instagram gallery.
EM: Does pricing something higher scare you sometimes?
Sean: Sometimes there is a well-executed piece that means something on multiple levels and I don’t want to give it away. There have been some pieces I’ve sold that I would’ve loved to have for myself. I got really attached to them. But it’s hard to hold onto these as a working artist. I have to sell!
Also, I photograph everything I’ve done for use in self-published books. The last one I did was a lot of work. I took orders online and did everything myself.
EM: Are you represented professionally?
Sean: I’m representing myself for watercolors and drawings. My oil paintings are sold through Gallery Orange. I do sell out of my studio and do a lot of self-promotion here. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook. I’m not shy about posting whatever I do, and I keep it entertaining!
You can see more of Sean Friloux’s work on his website (http://www.seanfriloux.com/) and Gallery Orange (http://www.gallery-orange.com/)