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John Hostetter grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, went to college in North Carolina, earned a graduate degree in acting at Cornell, and then traveled the country for nine months with The National Shakespeare Company. He wound up in Santa Barbara, California in the early 70's, where he sang with a jazz band and performed in an improvisational theatre troupe. His journeys then took him to Berkeley, where he met the woman with whom he would spend the next 41 years. Together they headed for Hollywood in 1977. After 24 years of working in tinseltown, John and his wife retired to Florida, settling in a little place called New Smyrna Beach.

John was creative in so many ways: a musician, an actor, a singer/songwriter, a painter, a sculptor, and a walking stick craftsman – but above all, a brilliant entertainer with the power to embrace any audience, no matter how big or how small.

He passed away in September, 2016.

How I Came To Paint...

In the spring of 2002, I began working in a small art gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. It was right around the corner from where I had recently moved. The resident artist was a master watercolor painter named Samuel Ruder. We had become friends over the previous few months and he asked if I was interested in earning a few bucks cutting mats and putting frames together in order to free him up for painting. Sounded good to me. So I began learning the nuts and bolts of how he ran his gallery. And after several weeks, I started feeling pretty comfortable with my various responsibilities. In my spare time I began picking up a brush, trying to imitate Samuel’s technique. He works with transparent watercolors and is able to layer them in such a way that his paintings have a brilliant dance of light and color.

My artwork at that time was focused on making one-of-a-kind walking sticks. Found branches would be stripped down, sanded, carved, painted and sealed. My designs encompassed everything from birds to dragons to abstract journeys of the imagination. Sometimes the sticks were personalized for people who commissioned them. If they wanted a mermaid, I’d figure out how to get a mermaid onto the thing. I did one for a physicist with mathematical equations doodling down and around the stick. Besides the carving involved, there was a lot of painting that went into the finished product.

But I had never tried to paint something on a flat surface that would wind up inside a frame. With Mr. Ruder’s encouragement I got some canvas board and knocked out an acrylic painting that I liked. He said, “Do another one”. I did. He said, “I’m interested in seeing what the next one looks like”. So I got more canvas board and kept painting. These works were abstract and colorful and incorporated lots of dots that I had been putting in the designs on my walking sticks. This was an influence from the Australian aboriginal dreamtime paintings I had seen in museums and several books in my library.

Now I was ready to try to paint some watercolors. With the quality paper and pigments that he always used, I started doing imitations of some of Mr. Ruder’s work. He creates a painting from an ink drawing of his subject and lets the paint bring the tableau to life. Working with his drawings I found out how difficult it was to duplicate the sensitivity of his color juxtapositions. The ability to have such vibrant colors on the surface of the paper and to still allow the light to shine through are details of his technique of which I am constantly in awe. He would often ask for the brush and take over the work to show me a way out of whatever corner I had painted myself into.

Soon I tried drawing my own images to paint and applied what I had learned. It was probably a year before he agreed that I had actually finished a complete watercolor painting to his satisfaction. Prior to that I had done some successful works using a watercolor background beneath a field of acrylic dots, which gave the piece energy while also hiding my fledgling technique. I will always be swimming upstream in his wake, but I gain more confidence with each and every painting.

This is one of the most satisfying means of creation and discovery I have ever experienced, and it is always a delightful surprise when someone expresses pleasure in my work.