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Schulenburg’s Rising Tide

Soon to Return | 36″ x 48″ | oil

In addition to fishermen, one of Schulenburg’s favorite subjects is his wife, Pharr. He says, “She’s an attractive woman, and I like spending time with her. We are often together and it helps that she knows the business of art. She’ll pose for drawings and paintings, or for reference photos. Wherever we are, at home or away, I might notice a special light and shadow, or color combination. There might be something special about the scene and the way she looks. I’ll take a few reference photos that might be useful. Sometimes it’s unplanned, at a restaurant or a cafe or out traveling. Sometimes we’ll go out looking for inspiration, and other times it’s just a matter of catching her at the right moment, when we least expect it.”

Although Paul Schulenburg graduated from Boston University with a degree in fine arts and had been drawing and painting since a young age, early in his career he believed that he would become an art teacher at the high school or college level because, he says, “I thought that’s what artists did to make a living.” However, some of his friends had gone into graphic design, which led him to a job in advertising, where he eventually started doing freelance illustration. He worked for local magazines and book publishers, but “then branched out around the country and internationally, taking on a lot of corporate work — brochures, newsletters,” he recalls. “It was conceptual work rather than realism. It’s very different from what I do now. It was problem solving, so if they had a concept they wanted to convey (‘worldwide communication’ for example) I had to come up with a way to convey that idea with an image.” He saw the work as a series of  challenges, and looking back, Schulenburg has been able to see how his early job moves helped his painting career. “Different tools carried over,” he says. “Professionalism, deadlines, working with others.…” Throughout those years, he always thought of himself as a painter. “Painting was my first love, and eventually I went back to it.” But his experience making a living as a commercial illustrator helped in the transition to gallery sales. “Fine art is very enjoyable, but it’s also a business, and it helps to realize that.” 

East End Market | 16″ x 20″ | oil

In the late 90s Schulenburg started the career transition. “It had been about 20 years since I had done much oil painting, and my wife was encouraging me to get back to it,” He recalls her saying: “You studied oil painting in college. Maybe it’s time you started again.” In 2000 Schulenburg approached Helen Addison, at the Addison Art Gallery in Orleans. At the time, he was still working full time as an illustrator but had begun painting again on the side. Helen Addison took about 12 paintings at their first meeting. In the first month or two she sold most of them, and I made the decision to concentrate on painting full time.” Over the past two decades, Schulenburg has also shown his work at galleries in New York, North Carolina, and Maine, but he says, “Addison is my primary gallery for sure; this is my 21st year.”

Paul Schulenburg has painted in watercolor, acrylic, oil pastels, colored pencils…, but he identifies as an oil painter. “I decided to try to become as proficient in oils as I could be. It’s a traditional medium, and I think it’s the best.” For Schulenburg, acrylics dry too quickly, and watercolors can be a frustrating medium, although he has used them at times for sketching. He recognizes the skill required in watercolor painting which he thinks can a fun challenge. He also notes that oil paintings are easier to frame and, “Like it or not, watercolors are harder to sell. I think that there is less perceived value in watercolor versus oil.” Oil also lends itself best to Schulenburg’s overall style, or styles, of painting. “I usually describe my style as ‘painterly realism’. I don’t typically use abstraction in my work, but I also usually try not to go overly realistic and rendered. I like to show brushstrokes and textures; I want the work to look like a painting, but at the same time I like capturing light and life somewhat accurately.”

A Passing Cloud | 18″ x 24″ | oil

As Schulenburg heads deeper into 2021, he is looking forward to painting more friends, neighbors, and fishermen, and to the world expanding once again following the lockdown of the pandemic. But he doesn’t have any particular agenda or plan. “What’s coming next?” he asks. “It’s one painting at a time. I’m never quite sure where painting will take me next. It’s kind of an adventure, so we’ll see. I paint whatever is interesting to me at the moment, and I find the people around me are endlessly interesting. Books and movies are about people. Songs are about people. There’s no reason why a painting has to be about a bowl of fruit.”

Chris White is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.

Paul Schulenburg’s work is exclusively represented on Cape Cod by Addison Art Gallery in Orleans.



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