Cincy is Creative: Bruce Neville came back to art after a lifetime away, thanks to his wife

CINCINNATI - Architects and painters both use drawings to record their observations and ideas. So it seems natural that Bruce Neville’s long career as an architect would segue seamlessly into a second-act career as a watercolor painter and art instructor.

About Bruce Neville

  • WHAT: Watercolor painter, art instructor
  • WHERE: Pendleton Art Center in OTR, Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center in Covington
  • LATEST: “House on Church Street,” at Mary Martin Gallery of Fine Art in Charleston, SC
  • GREATEST: “Looking Down on a Covington Street” from Devou Park

“I love what I do,” he says. “I just turned 75. I have some good things behind me, and some good things coming up.” - Bruce Neville

Watercolor painting is more difficult than painting with oils and acrylics, says Neville, because you must know from the start how you plan to create the painting: “It’s all about layering transparent pigments.” Once you start painting, you can’t go back and change things.

Each of Neville’s watercolors originates with a drawing, in which he sketches out the shapes while pondering the lights, darks, and color values.

“Drawing is like a blueprint in the whole design and layering process,” Neville said. “If you don’t get all the values correct, you won’t have a good painting. The drawings get me into my painting. If I’m not excited about the drawing, I won’t do the painting.”

A life-changing gift

Neville started painting before he married artist Nancy Nordloh 47 years ago. But he stopped for more than 30 years while he was immersed in his career as a design partner for two Cincinnati-area architectural firms.

Sixteen years ago, for his 60th birthday, Nordloh gave him a life-changing gift: a week-long workshop with a well-known painter in Naples, Fla. At the workshop, his long-time love of painting came flooding back.When Neville got back home, he knew he had to pursue art full-time.

“It came back very strong, because of all of the drawing I had been doing,” he said. “I owe my wife greatly. She recognized my talent.”

Today, husband and wife share an 800-square-foot art studio at Pendleton Art Center in Cincinnati. They are two of the six local artists who will be at Summerfair, May 30-June 1 at Coney Island. They will also travel to art shows near Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Louisville and in Lake Michigan resort communities.

Some of Neville's paintings are displayed at The Mary Martin Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina and the Main Cross Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky.

Architectural landscapes

When Neville attended UC in the 1960s, architecture students were required to take drawing and painting classes because computer-aided design (CAD) programs didn’t exist yet.

Over the years, his architectural drawing helped train him to see certain details, such as fabulous shadows cast by trees surrounding a white house.

“I tend to do architectural landscapes,” Neville said. “But I always have to have wonderful lighting in my paintings.”

He has gained national recognition for his loose style, fresh color mixes, and free-form drawing techniques. Bruce Neville was one of 23 international artists featured in the book “Watercolor Skies and Clouds Techniques,” edited by Larry Charles and Terry Dodd.

Like other artists, Neville is reluctant to choose a single painting as his greatest. But he doesn’t hesitate to name his most challenging one. It was a painting of the streets of West Covington that he created in a single day from the Devou Park overlook for the annual freshART fundraiser for the Behringer-Crawford Museum.

After arriving in Devou Park in the morning, Neville and the other artists had to come up with ideas, draw them, paint them, and deliver ready-to-hang paintings by 4 pm. The paintings were auctioned off at a benefit gala that same night.

On a trip to South Carolina, Neville and Nordloh made a connection with the owner of the Mary Martin Gallery in Charleston's Broad Street art district. Martin asked Neville Bruce to paint some of the city's historic architecture and street scenes. His painting, “Charleston Window,” won the John Crane Watercolor Award in the ViewPoint 2012 exhibition of The Cincinnati Art Club.

Teaching workshops

Each week, Neville teaches four two-hour classes at the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center in Covington. Each spring and fall, he teaches weekend-long workshops. His next one, “Creating Mood and Visual Language in Painting Watercolor,” will be held October 14-16 in Beavercreek, Ohio (sponsored by the Western Ohio Watercolor Society).

Before the students start painting, Neville demonstrates techniques for design, color mixing, capturing the light, and creating a mood. Painting in front of an audience requires a certain amount of confidence because sometimes paintings sometimes don’t turn out exactly as the artist envisions.

Partnering with printmakers

When his paintings depict an iconic location, Neville will hire a skilled printmaker to make

a few reproduction prints. For instance, several years ago he was commissioned to create a painting of Great American Ballpark from the perspective of the 19th floor of the PNC Tower. The original was given to Carl Lindner, Jr. who was part owner and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds.

At this year's Summerfair, you can buy prints of that ballpark painting, or prints of a recent painting Neville did of the John A. Roebling Bridge.

While he is happy to offer art lovers the more affordable option of buying prints, Neville believes the market for originals is rebounding. More people, including young people, seem to be willing to spend the money to own original art instead of prints.

Not all art is purchased through a gallery or at art fairs. Recently, one of Neville’s paintings of a Chicago street scene was purchased by a visitor to “The Healing Art” exhibit at McCullough Hyde Hospital in Oxford, Ohio.

Neville is currently preparing four Chicago-related paintings for the spring art show at The University Club. While he spends a lot of time preparing for classes and art shows, Neville is happy to be doing something related to painting almost every day.

Find Neville's work:

Follow WCPO Contributor Eileen Fritsch on Twitter: @EileenFritsch

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