Artist Steven Larsen
Born in Yakima Washington in 1963, Larsen has been a practicing artist for more than 45 years. A spoiled child of the 60's and 70's, he grew up amidst the fruit orchards of the Yakima Valley. From drawing on the walls with magic markers as a child to his most recent professional watercolors, art has been his life's work. He has never had a teacher or taken a painting class. His father was a draftsman for the state DOT, and often brought home well used drafting tools for him to play with, and soon he found himself drawing floor plans and houses. He was fascinated by the array of tools he was given, architectural triangles, three sided rulers, mechanical pencils, even an electric eraser, a true luxury in the 70's. In his youth, Larsen's father was a virtuoso cartoonist. His Disney character drawings were so fluent that the Disney Company wanted him in Los Angeles as an animator. But duty called and he was drafted into the Korean War. After that he never returned to the arts. No examples of his art have survived. He passed away in 2009 at age 84.
As he progressed into the 70's, Larsen moved into other more colorful media, and soon developed a love for comic book art. He attended high school in San Francisco, where he often locked himself away to practice his craft using whatever was at hand, charcoal, colored pencils, Bic pens. During one period in the 90's, he produced many black and white line drawings and cartoons that were used by local advertising agencies, and businesses in the Yakima Valley, including Red Robin and the Yakima Herald Republic. He also did photography and ad art for a real estate office. He went back briefly to drawing houses in black and white, and went door to door to sell them in order to make the rent. He continued through his college years producing black and white pen & ink art, spending 4 hours a day in college classes, and another 8 hours practicing art. He received his Associates degree in 1986 at YVCC in Yakima, and his Bachelor's Degree in Law & Justice from CWU Ellensburg in 1990. Though he took a few drawing classes in junior college, he was discouraged from all sides from pursuing art as a career. But in 1999 he completed an online Master of Fine Arts Degree, affirming a life spent in art.
His interest in comic book art lasted a full 15 years. This culminated in a year long contract with an independent comic book publisher, Blue Comet Press in Los Angeles. Larsen was an inker, putting all the black lines and darks over original pencil art mailed up from L.A., using india ink, pens and brushes. He inked over one hundred pages of art for Blue Comet. It's unknown if the pages were ever published, but years later Larsen found many of the pages he inked for sale on Ebay, but he could not afford to purchase his own art back! Then in the mid 1990's, he discovered several tubes of watercolor paint in an old box of used art supplies and decided to try them on his comic book characters. Instead of the bland washy colors he was expecting, he was shocked to find vibrant bright colors that suited his art perfectly. For a couple more years he painted full color comic art with watercolors, and he knew there would be no turning back from this medium. During this time the Yakima Herald Republic newspaper published a full page article about Larsen and his comic art.
Having no teacher, and only a few fleeting mentors throughout his life Larsen looked to find inspiration to create "real" watercolors. He discovered the watercolors of Andrew Wyeth, who would be his "teacher" for the next 10 years. He has said even to this day "If you want to learn how to paint watercolors, copy Andrew Wyeth's paintings". Larsen then left behind the comic art for good, and began to emerge as a painter, learning all he could about watercolors. He also cites Joseph Prestele as an inspiration for his botanical fruit art.
The years passed, and thousands of pages of art were created, sometimes destroyed. With no guidance and no direction, he began to be good enough to sell the art he produced. He sold his first art, an 8x10 pen and ink drawing to a local business in 1990 for $20. They still use that art today on their business cards, phone book ad, and on the side of their floral delivery vehicle. There were other successes and many failures. One day in 2003 his mother gave him some blank greeting cards and suggested he might paint them. He painted holiday images on them, and she sold them all to her friends at the school where she was a Kindergarten teacher. This turned out to be destiny for Larsen's art, and since that time he has produced and sold up to 300 watercolor cards a year, year round, every year. Up to a dozen local businesses have sold his cards for him and he has many private customers as well. He has now settled on two local business that have been selling his cards for 10 years, and he produces hundreds of cards for them. In 2014 the Strathmore Art Paper Company began using Larsen's art to promote their art events on their Facebook Page, and also used his art to illustrate their booth at the biggest art supply trade show in the country, held in Pittsburg every year. In December 2014 Larsen took second place in the Strathmore Nationwide Greeting Card Contest, with his watercolor card "Yakima Cherries", earning a cash prize and Strathmore products.
After a series of unhappy jobs lasting into the mid 2000's, Larsen made a bold career move. Sick of being fired, laid off, or having to leave a "real" job for various reasons, he decided to seek out students and try to be self employed with his art. He placed ads online and in the local paper, and placed fliers around town. And while still working as a watch repairman for a local jeweler, a customer who saw his art on display in the shop asked if he would consider teaching a local group that needed a teacher. Soon after, another student in charge of the painting group visited Larsen at home to verify that he was good enough for the job. He first taught the class as a guest teacher for just one night, speaking in front of 25 students for the first time, and later was invited back as the permanent teacher of the group. As of Fall 2015, Larsen is about to start his 9th year as teacher of the same class, held twice monthly at a middle school in Yakima. He has also conducted several other private groups on and off through the years. In addition to the hundreds of greeting cards he produces all through the year, Larsen paints full sized paintings of all kinds of subject matter, from landscapes, to fish and animals, flowers, and his specialities of Koi, and botanical fruit and flowers. He has a base of clients for both cards and other art, and routinely sends art to customers around the country. He has art in homes in Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and other cities. Larsen was Judge of all Fine Arts at the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima, 2009-2011, and was Featured Artist of the Year in 2011. Larsen occasionally paints Disney characters in colorful watercolors, and in 2014 the Disney Company granted Larsen written permission to show his renditions of the same characters his father once drew so well. A very private person, he rarely does shows, preferring to market by word of mouth and through his 2 Facebook Pages (Steven Larsen, and Watercolor Masters-The Watercolors of Steven Larsen). Larsen paints 5-8 hours a day, 5 days a week or more, often as late as midnight if need be. He has been called a Master, and a Guru by his students, who admire his dedication, passion, and his steady hand. Larsen paints on Arches watercolor 140lb paper, and uses Daniel Smith watercolors, and brushes. He uses Strathmore Watercolor greeting cards.
Larsen is also a professional house sitter, and travels around the Yakima valley every few months maintaining the homes of friends who travel or leave the Pacific Northwest for the winter months. He has no permanent address or family and enjoys changing locations throughout the year, where he sets up his art supplies and continues to paint and teach. He spends the summer months in the Seattle area, but considers the Yakima Valley home and is based there most of the year. He can be contacted through Facebook.