Artist and retired lawyer Cedric Hustace on avoiding a “whoops” moment, listening to classical music and jazz, and putting that first dab of color on canvas.
Indiana-based artist Cedric Hustace uses the world around him—from blooming flowers alongside a path in the middle of nowhere to cultural dancers in downtown Bucharest, Romania—to capture life as he sees it. His impressionist paintings that mix vibrant color and contrasting elements are like a sensory wake-up call. Through his rich work, one realizes the beauty of everyday life. A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Hustace grew up painting and playing music, and his early passion for the arts stayed with him during his undergraduate years in El Paso and while attending classes at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. Admitted to the Texas Bar in 1963, Hustace led a successful career as an attorney, practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, and Evansville, Indiana, before retiring in 2002. Now the artist, accomplished musician, and sports aficionado (who has participated in race-walking marathons, half marathons, and triathlons) travels the globe with his wife, Carol, taking in the view and inspiring others through his work. The Texas Bar Journal interviewed Hustace, who created the cover art for the October 2014 issue, about his process, his motivation, and the relationship between painting and practicing law.
How do you start a painting?
The first thing I do is either make a sketch or take a photo for reference, or maybe a little of both. I have to give serious thought to the dimensions of the piece. The sketch and photo must be proportionally the same as the size of canvas I plan to use, for example, 12 inches by 16 inches, 18 inches by 24 inches, or 24 inches by 36 inches. The Halloween cover for the Texas Bar Journal was a case in point. I was constrained by the dimensions of the Journal cover, so my sketch had to have the same proportions. I wanted to be sure that everything on my sketch could be put onto a canvas without running out of room. I wanted to avoid a “whoops” moment in the painting development process.
Walk us through your process.
With respect to the TBJ cover, I had to take into account where certain structural elements would appear, such as the masthead and the block for postage and address information. Once I had the correct outside dimensions for the painting and the location of areas to be avoided, I then measured and marked those areas on the sketch.
TBJ Managing Editor Patricia McConnico explained certain themes she wanted me to portray on the cover. Then I had to figure out how and where to place the various elements. I went through several sketches before I hit on the one I thought would be “it,” which I emailed to Patricia. Once that sketch was approved, I went back and superimposed vertical and horizontal graph lines on the sketch. I chalked similar lines on a black gessoed canvas. It’s much easier and quicker to transfer a sketched image onto the canvas using a graph as a guide. After all that, I began applying the acrylic paint to the canvas until the painting was done.
Have you always been an artist?
I’ve done art and music since I was a kid. My mother encouraged the youngest of 12 kids to do art and music. I’m sure she was artistically and musically inclined, although too busy raising a large family to pursue those things. I do know she could always hear when I hit a wrong note on the piano! She told me! I was a member of the Art Honor Society at El Paso High School. When I started undergraduate studies at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso), my mom told me I could take as many art and music theory courses as I wanted, just so long as I didn’t major in either. I guess she didn’t want a starving artist or musician for a son. As a result, I majored in business, and after three years in the Army, I got a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. All those years, and including the present, I did and do art and music.
In 2000, while still practicing law full-time, I was asked to do artwork for the website and season brochure of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra. I attended a dress rehearsal of the orchestra and took photos and studied a CD of the orchestra’s production of La Bohème. Doing all that background work, I figured I would need seven paintings of the various sections of the orchestra and one of a scene from the opera. Because of a printing deadline, I wound up doing all eight paintings in three weeks. Large paintings weren’t needed, so I was able to use a tabletop easel, which I placed on the island in our kitchen. Every day around 5 a.m., I’d set the minute minder on the oven and paint until 7 a.m. Then I’d put away my paints and brushes and drive to work with my wife, Carol, who was an investigator at the prosecutor’s office. After dinner, I’d paint until the evening news. It is amazing how much work can be accomplished with a disciplined regime. Carol says I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep during that three-week period, however.
You use vibrant color in many of your pieces. How do you make something appealing without the color taking over?
That’s a tough question. Balancing color is a matter of feel and instinct. I paint very fast, and sometimes I get the balance right off the bat. Other times, not so. When I get to those “other times,” I consult with my chief art critic, Carol, who has a master’s in fine arts from Washington University in St. Louis. She’ll tell me what she thinks, and I’ll go back and rework troublesome areas for color and contrast and whatever else needs to be done.
What do you think about when you are painting?
When I’m in my warm-weather studio—a screened-in area on our deck that faces the 12th fairway of Oak Meadow Country Club—I’m enjoying the sights and sounds of nature and an occasional frustrated exclamation of a golfer who’s just ricocheted a ball off one of our trees. In the cold-weather months, I retreat to my second studio in our Rathskeller, where I content myself to listening to classical music and jazz. But in either location, I’m concentrating on my art, first and foremost—this is especially true with portraits, a very painstaking process.
What do you most and least enjoy about painting?
My favorite thing about painting is signing my name on a completed work that I love. The least favorite thing about painting is getting started—just putting that first dab of color on canvas can be daunting. When I was practicing law and had a brief to write, getting started could be equally daunting, so I’d start maybe with just writing my name at the top of the first blank sheet of paper. That would break the ice and things would flow from there. Similarly with starting a painting, I often put paint on a brush and dab it on the canvas, look at the canvas, and say to myself, “OK, that looks pretty good.”
Do you see any similarities between working as an artist and practicing law?
Art, music, and the law are all disciplines that require basic skills, concentration, certain parameters within which to work, and a plan to accomplish the desired goals. Because the disciplines of art and music are different from those involved with the law, I’ve found that as a lawyer, doing art and music can be relaxing.
How do you come up with ideas for artwork?
Generally, the subjects of my art are things or places I’ve seen. Carol and I have traveled extensively throughout the world, and many of my paintings reflect those travels. For example, we’ve been to India twice, and I’ve gotten 45 paintings from those trips. One of those paintings is a portrait of a beautiful Indian bride, regally appointed. Locally, on my daily cross-country walks with our dear Whippet, Moose, I often see a nature subject, take a snapshot with my iPhone, and then come back and do a painting.
What kinds of pieces do you prefer to work on and why?
I do all sorts of subjects. One rule of thumb: I try to avoid doing two portraits in succession. The exactitude in achieving a good likeness in a portrait is very demanding. When I finish a portrait, I breathe a sigh of relief. My next painting is usually a landscape, an action scene, or some other non-portrait.
What is the most challenging thing about painting?
I always try to find something uplifting in all my subjects, something that inspires hope and happiness. That’s sometimes hard to do, but that’s the challenge.