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Brian Robinson: Capturing Ohio Landscapes through Pastels

For Dover-based artist and educator Brian Robinson, creating art has always been part of his life. From an early age, his parents encouraged him to cultivate his creativity. Today, Robinson is both a painter and educator who teaches art to students at Massillon’s Tuslaw High School. 

Robinson—who uses pastels to feature and bring attention to Ohio landscapes—is originally from Pennsylvania, but moved to Massillon when he was young. He graduated from Perry High School 1990 and went on to attend the University of Akron, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in art education. In 2003, he graduated from Kent State University with a degree in painting.  

Robinson has been selected as this year’s Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio award artist. Each of the eight 2023 Governor's Awards winners will receive an original work of art created by Robinson during the May 17 ceremony and luncheon held in downtown Columbus. 

Read more about his life as an artist and educator, the inspiration behind his work, how he approaches his creative process, and more below. 

Ohio Arts Council (OAC): It was great to discover that the arts, and art making, have long been part of your life. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got started making art? 

Brian Robinson (BR): It’s not a matter of “when did I start making art?” It’s more, I never stopped making art. Every child draws and is creative. Somewhere along the way many, if not most, kids stop that process. I was lucky enough to have parents that encouraged me artistically. They fostered that creativity, and since I struggled academically, my artwork was something that gave me pride and self-worth. 

OAC: You’re both a painter and art educator. How did you decide to pursue making and teaching art as a career?  

BR: I was blessed to have many great teachers. Because of this, I understood the importance of teachers. I loved the idea of possibly having the same positive effect on students. Teaching art was the perfect blend of helping others and continuing to do what I loved. 

OAC: While you were studying at the University of Akron, you began exploring pastels and painting Ohio landscapes. Can you talk about what drew you to this medium and subject? 

BR: I had many great instructors during my time at the University of Akron. I first used pastels under the direction of Diane Belfiglio. I was lucky enough to have Diane during my first semester at Akron. She was extremely important in my journey as an artist and teacher. Diane showed me that a teacher can also be a professional artist. She stressed that effective art teachers are actively creating art.  

Color became the main focus of my work while studying with Dennis Meyer. Under his teaching, I began to do plein air paintings and study light and color in landscape. Dennis was extremely influential in my knowledge and passion for color. 

OAC:  Can you tell us a bit about your process and how you create a work of art? 

BR: My work begins when the light is right. When I see the color and light shaping up in the atmosphere, I will usually drop everything I am doing and run out into the countryside.  

Living in Dover, I am blessed to be surrounded by many different areas of nature and farmland. When I find my subject, I will do rapid sketches with pastels or take visual notes on my iPad. During this time, I am documenting color that the camera cannot record. I will also take photographs to compose the image. All of this information will be brought back to the studio to create a final painting.  

My final work is done on a lightly sanded pastel paper. I usually block in the work with an alcohol wash of pastel. This helps define the composition, and it also gives a contrasting background for the colors that I will begin to lay down. I begin with hard pastels and slowly work through to softer pastels for the final touches of color. 

OAC: Who are some of the people who have inspired and influenced your work and why? 

BR: Other than the previously mentioned teachers, I have been heavily influenced by the Impressionists (Claude Monet, Childe Hassam, and Joaquin Sorolla). Their commitment to the science of color was very important early in my career. Charles Basham has been a huge influence in subject matter and his bold use of color. Lately, I’ve been studying the work of Wolf Khan to push me to evolve my work—both in color and abstraction. 

OAC: When someone views your work, what message do you want to convey or what do you hope they take with them when they leave? 

BR: We race through life without taking notice of the beauty around us. Sure, we might quickly notice a sunrise or a colorful patch of flowers. We may even drive to the Grand Canyon to take in the majestic scene. Rarely do we fully appreciate what God has given to us in our daily lives. That is one of the reasons why I look for common areas. The scenes that I choose have small amounts of human “interference.” Where humans are evident, it is in the farmlands where man is working with the land—man working with God, as opposed to trying to work above God. The goal of my work is to help viewers take notice of the beauty in this world. That beauty should be a reminder that God surrounds us; we just need to open our eyes to him. 

OAC: How does your life as an art educator connect to and inform your work as a painter? 

BR: Being an art teacher surrounds me with energetic enthusiasm. Most students want to be in art class. It is an outlet to many. The creative process is fun and can rarely be called boring. My students’ enthusiasm is contagious, and it drives me back into my studio every day. 

OAC: What continues to excite you about being an artist and educator? 

BR: Growth. Both art and teaching involve becoming better at your craft. Producing better artwork, relating better with your students—all involve growth. 

OAC: Do you have any current or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about? 

BR: I have several juried shows planned, and I hope to complete another solo exhibition in the near future. 

Learn more about the Governor’s Awards for the Arts Luncheon—including information about the winners and how to secure your seat.  


Article by Andrew Paa, Communications Strategist 
Images courtesy of Brian Robinson. Feature image is of Robinson creating a work of art.  

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