Ryan Young loved to draw and paint, even before grade school. Fortunately, his talent was nurtured at Falmouth High School by teachers who took him under their wings and expanded his horizons. Teachers like Vasco Pires and Joe Downs, who he says was “a hell of a watercolorist.” As a result, Young was already selling his artwork while in high school.
His formal training continued at Southeastern Massachusetts University (currently University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) in an intensive art program, where again he benefited from the “cream of the crop of teachers,” and learned the lessons he applies today. Most importantly, he says, “A painting is only as good as the drawing underneath it.” And in Young’s chosen medium of watercolor, which is often applied loosely, his drawing skills shine in his highly detailed paintings.
Young is truly absorbed by the element of water. He grew up in East Falmouth, has been a dock supervisor for the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole since he was 17, and as a Falmouth resident is surrounded by miles of coastline, which provides him with so much scenery for landscapes. “Water is almost always in my painting, but it’s different every time,” Young says. In one painting, he can have three things going on with the water—reflections on the water, rocks underneath it, and sands in shadow under the rocks, as seen in “Footprints.”
He often takes many photos of the bustling activity at Falmouth’s Quissett Harbor, an iconic working harbor. Back in his studio, he manipulates the photos on his computer to create the composition he wants. He may see something he hadn’t noticed before, blow it up, display it on his “monster TV screen,” and draw from that.
There are many reasons Young is drawn to working with watercolor. “I love its translucency and the white of the paper pushing through the color,” he says. “I can work through ideas quickly and don’t have to wait for oil to dry. It allows me spontaneity. I get an idea, and once I lay it down it’s basically done.”
“A painting is only as
good as the drawing underneath it.”
“But watercolor is not easy,” he admits. “You have to figure out the relationships of value and tone and color ahead of time, and build them evenly from corner to corner as you go along so they relate to each other.” For this artist, painting is all about solving a problem. “I have to get hooked on something before I can paint it. I want to solve the problem and ask myself: How am I going to paint that? Where do I start?” he explains. Young says that the iridescent harbor waves were the first reason he wanted to paint the boat Amycita. These waves presented quite the challenge, as he sought to “capture the white glow on the boat windows and the reflections off the roof, taking it from the lightest lights to the darkest darks.”
Now Young is considering a new technical challenge in his work—employing a sort of Escher-esque style of painting. “It gets in my head and I think about it all the time,” he says, “like a good novel you can’t put down.”
Ryan Young is represented by The Gallery on Main, 317 Main Street, Falmouth, thegalleryonmainfalmouth.com where prints of the cover image “race day” can be purchased.