Paul Rickard: ‘A fresh piece of paper and all the promise that will hold’

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

TRINIDAD – Paul Rickard paints every day. For the last five years, he’s been painting in watercolors for almost 50 hours a week.

“There’s something about it for me that’s almost intoxicating,” he said. “A fresh piece of paper and all the promise that will hold.”

Those promises have come true in a series of exhibitions he’s hanging at the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust Gallery, in the Simmons Gallery, for three months, August through October.

In August, he had a one-man show of marine landscapes, breathtaking watercolors of the coast around Trinidad. “It has been one of the challenges and honors of my life to interpret through watercolors the dramatic vistas of the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust,” he wrote in his artist’s statement. “I did my best to interpret the beauty and mystery of these sites while on the precipice, deep in the forest, and along the windswept beaches.”

This month’s show, on display until Sept. 30, highlights buildings and street scenes. “It’s something a little different for me to do architecture, to challenge myself,” he said.

The last show in the series opens Friday, Oct. 6 and includes a broader range of landscapes around the North Coast, what he calls “the mundane and the magnificent.”

Paul Rickard

Rickard is able to spend the time painting because he retired from a long career of teaching. “I retired from my full time job in June 2012,” he said. “I went to College Cove and did a plein air painting. When I was done with it, I thought, ‘I could do this’.” He still works part-time at Humboldt State, supervising student teachers, but manages to spend hours both in the studio and out en plein air, painting outside. He works alone, with a small group of fellow watercolorists, the Humboldt Open Air Watercolor Painters, and on Sunday Paintouts with a larger group of artists who work in many different mediums.

In each situation, he is always looking to “land the big one.” Rickard grew up fishing with his family. “My dad would take my brother and me rock fishing, from Bodega Bay to Big Sur,” he explained. “I think of painting as a metaphor for fishing. Today could be your day. This is the day I’ll land the big one and do the best painting I’ve ever done.”

He’s self-taught, having never taken an art class. Rickard graduated from the University of Calfornia at Berkeley with a degree in anthropology and embarked on a three-year trip around the world. “It was space, continuity, and uninterrupted time,” he said. He traveled to New Zealand, worked on a whaling boat in Australia, did carpentry work in the Outback, traveled through Asia, India, Afghanistan and Iran. “It was the time of the Magical Mystery Tour,” he said.

He comes by his wanderlust by heritage, as his grandfather was a missionary in China for 30 years. “He spent the last ten years of his life living with me,” said Rickard, “and all his belongings fit into one suitcase.”

Later, Rickard and his wife, Nancy, spent two and a half years in the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands at zero degrees latitude. “It was a really remote area where the people practiced subsistence farming, growing yams,” he recalled. “They wore loincloths and grass skirts.”

Everywhere he went, he was sketching.

Rickard also comes by his artistic ability through heritage. His mother, Alberta Rickard,was an abstract expressionist who studied art in San Francisco. She died soon after he was born. He remembers seeing “a room filled with racks and racks of paintings” as a young child but, unfortunately, the building that housed her work burned down. Years later, he received a phone call from a woman who told him that she had been his mother’s roommate in college and that she had a painting she wanted to give him. “It was called Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” he said. Through other friends he has since acquired two more paintings by his mother, treasures indeed.

Friendships are important to Rickard. He relishes the sense of community he feels when painting with others. “We have a deal that if one of us sells a painting (while working on location with other artists), that he or she buys ice cream for the group,” he said. He also likes the conversations that happen. “Every now and then parents come up to me with a little child to watch me paint. I let them take the brush and paint a spot. I ask what their favorite color is and I’ll add that to the painting.”

He enjoys the sense of camaraderie that comes from painting with a group: “I like that people are trying to promote one another and being a part of people’s lives.” He was privileged to be in Alan Sanborn’s critique group during his first year of serious painting, where, he said, he learned a lot. Rickard cites Jody Bryan as another influence on his work.

Bryan, Ken Jarvela, Steve Porter, Jim McVicker and Rickard formed the Humboldt Open Air Watercolor Painters. “We don’t show together that often,” he said but he’s learned a lot from all of them. Watercolor can be a difficult medium, one that can go from perfect to overworked in a few brushstrokes. “It’s important with watercolor to build on something throughout,” he explained. “There’s an economy of paint and of brush strokes. I’ve done a painting in two hours and felt good about it. Then I may work on it in the studio for nine hours and suddenly, it’s overworked. It feels good to turn it over and tape it on a board to paint on the back. I’ll say, it’s wasn’t my day. I’ve painted on the backs of lots of paintings.”

Rickard has many shows scheduled, something he can manage since he is so prolific. He’ll have one-man shows in November at the Beachcomber Café in Trinidad and at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center. His work will also be included in a group show at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka in December.

Right now, see his work at the Westhaven Center for the Arts, “Under Humboldt Skies II” through September and at the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust’s Simmons Gallery, 380 Janis Ct. (behind the library) through October. Gallery hours are Friday through Sunday from noon until 4 p.m.

Check out Rickard’s work on Facebook (and get notices about Sunday Paintouts) or on



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