Every artist, besides being an artist, brings with them into the art journey their unique personality and passions, gifts and graces. To thrive as an artist requires that these unique strengths complement the artistic ones. When that strength is the ability to promote, and it is coupled with artistic talent, magic happens. John Ebner is one of those. His artistic and promotional talents make him one of the best known and most loved watercolorists in the Northwest. Here is his story.
Path into Art
John was born in Silverton, Oregon on January 23, 1943. He was raised in the small town of Sublimity, Oregon, east of Salem in the rolling foothills and falling waterfalls of the Cascade foothills. The population was 350 when he left. John’s dad grew grass seed on a small farm. In the summertime when that got pollinated, John would get asthma and had to stay in house. To occupy himself he painted and drew. His love for art would someday throw him into the business of art. He remembers one Christmas gift, a coloring book that had pages with dots. When John ran his wet brush over, they exploded with color. Perhaps John’s love of color may have awoken on those dark, dreary winter days in wet Oregon. We’re all glad they did.
It was a spectacular childhood. John and his three brothers and one sister hunted, fished and explored the farm. They built dams in the creek and caught crawfish. There was no end of things to entertain them. They had horses and freedom to ride to visit neighboring farms. The long lazy days of summer and siblings nurtured John’s imagination and delight in nature. His allergies to pollen and dust meant that the farm life would not be a good fit vocationally.
After graduating from Stayton Union High School, John moved to Portland. Drawn to color and creativity, he attended the Advertising Art School for two years. One day he asked the owner of the school, what about doing fine art? The owner said, “You’ll starve to death just like the artists in Europe, doing art on sidewalks. Stick to the business of advertising art. John didn’t really care for advertising art, however, so he became a window representative and drove through the Pacific Northwest and Canada. On his business trips, John took photos of scenery. He was amazed at what he saw. He saved the pictures. Later after taking watercolor class, he painted these scenes so impressed in his memory and thankfully, preserved through photographs. John slowly discovered that he wasn’t interested in advertising, or passionate about selling window coverings. He did love going to art galleries and viewing the art there.
John continued to slog on as a factory rep for the window covering company. He worked for that company for twenty years. He loved it, but he loved painting more. On the side he painted. He would do small paintings every night at the hotels he stayed in. John’s good work ethic (8 hours a day for his job) and 7 days a week (on art) worked for him. Pretty soon he started to sell a few things. As time went by, John started making more from art than from the day job, even though he spent half the time painting that he did traveling. Plus he didn’t have to go out on complaints and sit through sales meetings. One day he was stuck in traffic on way home. He called his wife, Paula, and talked about retiring at the end of the year. “I was just talking but she said ok. So I retired in 2000,” John says. “I can’t tell you what a joy it is being at home doing what you want to do: yard work and painting. I would encourage anyone with a hobby they are passionate about to invest their time into it and see where it goes.” We are all thankful that Paula said OK!
John and Paula raised two sons, John Jr. and Andrew. Now he dotes on his two grandchildren. He has made a name for himself as a leading northwest artist. Yet in some ways, Once John was saying that he hasn’t done much in his life. He hasn’t been a prisoner of war or anything dramatic like that. His son Andrew replied: “Dad you are crazy. You see the world through a different lens.” John thought, “wow, I’m a bit different from my friends that like sports or politics.” John took a road less traveled on and that has made all the difference.
Artistic Influences and organizations
Charles Mulvey was an early influence. He painted loose foggy ocean scenes. John, assimilated elements of Mulvey’s style, and made it his own. On his travels, Ebner noticed watercolors by Jack Dorsey at the Turkey House Restaurant in Arlington. Jack’s style resembled Andrew Wyath. John found himself stopping at the restaurant to see what was new. When John moved to Camano Island in 1998, he became a colleague and Island neighbor to Jack. Most influential was artist Jerry Stitt. Jerry’s simple, loose, almost symbolic features, and his painting of umbrellas in rainy northwest urban scenes caught John’s attention. He took lessons from Jerry off and on for two years. John’s strength of learning, assimilating and make it his own came to bear once again.
John is a life member of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Artists. This organization founded in 1928, was once only open to men. It was well known for its prestigious artists and the parties they threw. John served as president of the Northwest Watercolor Society, and on the board of the Camano Art Association.
John and Paula did a home art show around Christmas time for many years at their home in Kirkland, WA. Paula loved to decorate the house and studio. They had a bartender in a tux who served wine and hor d’oeuvres. Over the years they had grown a huge mailing list of friends and collectors which they brought with them when they moved to a home on Camano Island, WA above Utsalady Bay. The reason the Ebner’s moved to Camano was once again a combination of John’s entrancement with beauty and Paula’s willingness to risk. John had traveled to Camano to check out a complaint on someone’s blind. It was summertime and later in the afternoon when he discovered the village of Madrona Beach. The sun was lighting up the madrone trees. John says that it was “another scene I will never forget. I called Paula and told her to ‘sell the house. We are moving up here’”. She laughed, but within a year they were on Camano and building a new home.
John’s list of friends and collectors came in handy when John and a few other artists on Camano dreamed of an art driving between their studios. The opened their studios for the first time in 1998, and John’s list helped bring in crowds of art lovers.
John and Paula’s second passion is gardening and landscaping was strategic too. Their new home was a blank canvas, and continues to be a work in progress. John, promoter that he is, wanted it to be another excuse for art collectors to visit our studio. Guest can enjoy the gardens, pools and fountains, and the perfectly manicured lawns as they hunt for the perfect Ebner original or print.
Enjoy this sneak peak of John’s Garden and Studio
Joys of Watercolor
For John, watercolor is a joy. Every bit is a pleasure, from going out in the field and taking pictures to being part of art groups where you get to make friends with other people and learn about their interests. He comments, “The biggest joys is meeting your clients, customers, call them collectors. The people you meet and the doors it opens is just incredible.”
John didn’t know that he would fall in love with watercolor. Paula signed me him up for an adult education watercolor course. Love awoke. “I just loved watercolors and I painted that night until 2 in the morning. Its so exciting when the paint hits wet paper and does its own thing,” John reflects. He enjoys the going with the flow while painting watercolors.
The watercolor medium is a fairly difficult thing John points out. You have to paint almost every day to master it. “Watercolor tends to do its own thing when it hits the wet paper and flows by itself. The trick is to control and manipulate it to do what you are trying to accomplish. If you can control it and work with composition you can probably have a great painting.”
The chief lesson John has to share with emerging artists is to embrace marketing and promotion. John honed skills of sales and marketing as a window representative. They served him well as an artist. His kind, warm, expansive, extroverted personality did too. John genuinely cares for people, enjoys other artists, and is interested in his patrons. They feel it, and respond well. But John isn’t just a nice guy. He’s a brilliant promoter too. You have to be to make it as an artist. And this is what kills most artists. They want to do art, not promote it and themselves. But the fact is you can’t support yourself as an artist without self-promotion, marketing, and business savvy.
John has these in spades, and with it the ability to evolve his marketing with the changing modes of communication, like social media. He is not afraid to talk about merchandising art. One of John’s strategies has been to make prints of his watercolors and find venues to sell them all over Washington. Later on In his art career, a lady came up to him at a street fair a lady and asked if he would be interested in being nationally published. John was signed by Hadley House in Minnesota and worked with them for three years. It gave John a huge audience and exposure to lots of galleries. Later on John decided to self-publish since he thought he could do it better himself.
John’s beautiful garden on Camano makes his home a destination during the Camano Art Association’s studio tour. John’s beautiful watercolors and the beautiful setting are legendary. His garden is not mercenary marketing however. It is a labor of love like his art. Perhaps in a way he is like his father, his farm being his garden. John’s friendly presence, genuine care for his collectors, excellence presentation of his artwork, and the beauty of his and Paul’s home and garden sell at many different levels.
John counsels young artists to be willing to do whatever it takes to make your art sell. He says, “We all need to be aware when opportunities come knocking.” And to take them. John also encourages artists to think about getting serious about your hobbies.
When asked about his legacy John says, “I want people to remember me as a nice guy who loved his family and this island paradise I am so lucky to live in. I have thousands of pieces of art in homes and businesses, medical facilities etc. I cherish all my collectors and their thank you cards and letters. I have had the pleasure of donating hundreds of art pieces to assorted charity auctions. Gifting art is a great way to give back.
Vintage Watercolorists of Washington
Opens Saturday, March 7, 10am-5pm
Meet the Artist Reception, 3-5pm
Show continues on Saturday, March 14 and Saturday, March 21, 10am-5pm
@ Sunnyshore Studio (2803 SE Camano Drive, Camano Island, WA)
We want to thank the Northwest Watercolor Society for being the sponsor of this show!