Chasing color and light: W. Truman Hosner’s pastels and plein air are key for former illustrator
Vail Valley Magazine
When William Truman Hosner is outside painting, he slips into a subconscious state. He is hypnotized by the work of capturing sunlight as it moves across a building or hillside, on the deepening shades of blue and black across varying depths of a seascape. Working exclusively in pastels, he feels like a child finger painting. But when he’s finished, the scene looks staggeringly real, with shadows stretching under rock formations, reflections twinkling off the surface of water or casting a shimmer onto a wall.
“Most of the time when I come off the field, I can’t tell you what I’ve done for the last three hours,” Hosner said. “But afterward, I look at the painting and say, you know, this one’s not too bad.”
A Detroit native who now splits his time between his home city and Paso Robles, Calif., Hosner started his art career as a commercial illustrator. He created illustrations for major films, car companies and magazines. Having originally gathered his skills through a fine arts program at Wayne State University, he realized one day that his heart’s path was leaning toward painting.
“I think my fine art training was always an asset. I had a great career. But when computers came rushing into the illustration world in the ’90s, I decided it was time to make a change,” he said.
The artist then discovered his true passion – plein air painting from life. Thirty years in, he still loves it.
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“Painting for me is a performance,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned over the years, I try to bring together at one moment in time, in a three-hour period.”
Hosner can’t always complete a painting in three hours. However, if he doesn’t finish during that window, he can’t revisit the work until the lighting falls the same way.
“I have to go out the same time of day, in the same light conditions,” he said. “Again, I see it like a performance. Everything has to come together, like say, an opera singer.”
As far as subject matter, Hosner’s chosen landscapes are typically places he knows well. That said, they often don’t immediately inspire him. He sometimes has pass them by over several years before he feels moved to set up his easel and attempt a rendering.
“What catches my eye is something that, once I’ve lived in a place for a while, I get to know slowly,” he said, using the example of his recent San Miguel series. The collection of paintings highlights various blocks, buildings and streets in the small, Hispanic community near Paso Robles.
“Paso has grown up a lot. It used to be a sleepy ranching town, where ranchers were still driving cattle on horseback. It’s now a huge wine destination, but San Miguel still carries this feel of quintessential California. At first, I didn’t’ see a lot there. But before I knew it, I saw more than I needed to paint.”
Hosner can’t fathom painting from a photograph. Capturing the truest color and light of a scene is something he feels can only happen outdoors, looking directly at his subject.
“Color for me has always been instinctual. I love color. I paint outdoors almost exclusively because the colors are more vibrant outdoors,” he said.
With panels and archival paper as his canvas, pastels are Hosner’s medium and tool of choice because they are simple, yet their color representation is vibrant.
“Pastels are pure color,” he said. “They’re like oil, but in a loose binder, compacted into sticks.
“Much like a kid, I’m finger painting. When I have pastels in my hand, I can never go further than an arm’s length from the surface. The reason I paint from life is I never seem to grow tired of the ever-changing effects of light and movement. I love it.”
Find Hosner’s work, including the new San Miguel series, at the Claggett/Rey Gallery in Edwards.