The Renaissance of Realism 11

Artists Priscilla Nelson and Don Clapper On the Genre’s Recent Resurgence

Although realism may depict people and objects as they appear in everyday life, it also has an uncanny ability to tell a story with each exquisitely-rendered detail

“Realism is a lot like the movies, where it literally pulls you into the scene; or if you’re looking at a portrait, that person comes alive,” says artist Don Clapper. “To me, that’s quality realism because it brings you right into what the artist was thinking about.”

“That’s when I know I’ve been successful, when someone looks at a painting and comes up with a totally different scenario than what I was thinking. They are still getting the story, but also putting a little of themselves into the painting,” says artist Priscilla Nelson, also commenting on realism’s ability to tell a story.

Not only does realism tell a story with life-like quality works, it is also firmly rooted in precision, detail and the classical techniques of drawing, shading and capturing light.

“When you shade with a pencil it’s really no different than shading with oil, acrylic or water color; all you’re doing is learning a new medium,” says Nelson.

However, the technique of drawing seems to have begun slipping away in recent years, as Clapper comments, “A lot of realism painters come to me and say that they had to teach themselves drawing because the emphasis in school was put more on theory than the classical skills and techniques.”

This might be one of the contributing factors that has led to the increased popularity of more modern genres like abstract expressionism, cubism and impressionism.

“You see these genres a lot more in art shows and galleries now, and for a while it seemed that if you weren’t distorting the human figure you weren’t an artist,” says Nelson.

Despite the heavy prevalence of these newer art forms, realism has experienced a revival of its own in recent years.

At the forefront of this is the Scottsdale-based International Guild of Realism (IGOR), of which Clapper is a Founding Charter Member and Nelson is a member. The organization is dedicated to advancing realism in fine art and promoting the careers of its 340 international artists by holding at least one major show at a top realism gallery each year. IGOR doesn’t just accept anyone either, as members have to go through a rigorous process to be juried in and are required to submit works to each event. However, the advantages are well worth it.

“I just find IGOR to be very dedicated and consistent, because they know how to educate the public and support their artists and the genre of realism,” says Nelson.

Now, a closer look at two types of realism through the eyes of their respective artists.

Priscilla Nelson

 Contemporary Realism

The Style:

“I like the genre of contemporary realism because I can get to the point where the paining has one foot in super-realism and the other one still in the painting process; so that the viewer can tell that it’s still a painting.”

The Subject Matter:

Nelson’s inspiration comes from movement and the way light plays off of textiles in both real life and under water.

“When I first saw the movement of textiles underwater and the way the light diffused off of them, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

The Technique and Process:

Utilizing her extensive training in classical techniques, Nelson’s process is very much rooted in drawing, shading and blending.

“I thoroughly enjoy the process of drawing with a pencil first, whether its just key lines or planning in more detail,” says Nelson. “Blending is also a huge part of my process, and sometimes I can have up to 15-30 layers of paint on my canvas, all blended until every detail is smooth.”

More information on Nelson and her works can be found at

Don Clapper: Dramatic Realism

The Style:

“My new female figure paintings done in this style have many modern aspects like dramatic cast shadows, but are still painted with a very tight, realistic approach.”

The Subject Matter:

Clapper finds inspiration in what intrigues him most, including vibrant lighting, interesting composition, skillful technique and blends of exciting color.

“For me, it’s about just setting up composition in the studio and using multiple light sources, because right now, light and color are the most important things in making a composition pop and snap.”

The Technique and Process:

Clapper uses vivid, colorful lighting to create drama and add mystery to his figures.

“I do a lot of thin layering with oil paints and glazing to build up the surface to where it becomes very luminous when lit correctly.”

More information on Clapper and his works can be found at