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Artist of the Week – Cliff Snell III

August 9, 2010 by · 2 comments

Interview with Cliff Snell III by Galya Mladenova


Cliff Snell III is the American “fairytale surrealist” artist. His “fairytale” swirling nature paintings are very distinctive, and his collectors prize his dreamy, but precise use of color. Naturalists enjoy his ability to present an accurate, if beautiful specimen of a plant, and those who seek beauty just like the calming grace of the work.

Cliff began his career as a child gifted in the arts, winning blue ribbons in art competitions when he was as young as six years old. He attended schools for gifted children and eventually earned an Arts degree. He has great success as a designer creating logos, labels and packaging designs. His most recent design for a small box was commissioned for $7,500 USD.

However, he missed painting. His wife Elisabeth opened a Facebook fan page for his paintings earlier this year. Cliff began to paint consistently again, creating a new picture every week and posting it on the page. In a matter of months the fan page grew to over 16,000 fans from all over the world. The numbers continue to climb.

When did you start painting? Who was the first person that noticed your talent?

I was given my first set of Liquitex acrylics when I was seven, and began to paint. My mother and a first grade teacher were the first to notice my pencil drawings were advanced.


What was your first prize for art? Do you still keep it?

My first prize was a blue ribbon from the East Texas State Fair, which I won at six with a drawing of my cat. It’s in a box in the attic. But the second art prize I won was more interesting, if awkward to keep because it was a very large toy clown. I do still have it.


You are dyslexic. How did you find out? Was it hard to cope with that? Does that have an affect on your personality and therefore your art?

It was difficult. I struggled through school and spent most of my free time reading to keep up with my classes. When I was finally tested at 16 years old, they told me I had a very high IQ and was severely dyslexic. It was a relief to know why it was so difficult to read. I’ve wondered from time to time if I weren’t dyslexic if I’d be able to see things the same way, or if I’d even have any interest in creating art. Picasso, Da Vinci and Thomas Edison were all dyslexic.


You have an Arts degree and probably had a lot of teachers of art. Which was the most important lesson you learned that you’d like to share with our audience?

One of my teachers was a man named Mr. Roger. He taught me that art isn’t just what you’re doing when your brush is on the canvas, it’s something that flows through everything you create in everyday life. An artist will create beauty no matter what they’re doing, no matter how simple, even if no one else notices. It’s still art.


How did you start your career as a designer? Why are fine arts more important to you?

Before I finished high school I was hired by a custom sign maker, and I had to learn to use their software to translate my drawings into signs. It was very interesting to work with. I was then hired by a company to design product labels, logos, brochures, posters and any other images they needed. I began learning web development as well. They’re all art mediums, just complex ones. But, there’s something emotionally satisfying about putting paint to canvas. It’s a richer experience and I have more freedom to express an image exactly as I see it.


Is there a big difference between your work process creating designs and art pieces?

Yes, because when I’m creating graphic designs I usually have someone else’s purposes in mind, and am working toward making that presentation exactly what they want. When I’m painting, it’s usually for me, and I look for whatever nature wants to present to me that day. But the process for both is alike in that I’m very deliberate about planning the composition and color palate, whether digital or painted.


Did you try other art styles before settling for your “fairytale” style?

I tried to, but nature kept pulling me back again. Even paintings I did at twelve and fourteen years old have the same feel. I kept thinking I should “find a style” and attempted some different ones, but whenever I sat down to paint for fun nature showed up on my canvas again. It took me a while to recognize that I already had a style.

It seems like your family is a very important area of your life. Are they “to blame” for your inspiration?

I have three sons and my beautiful wife, and they’re my biggest fans. So yes. They’re always eager to see what I’ve done each week. My youngest one can’t say very many things yet, but his favorite is a painting of the moon at night, and every time he sees it he stops to say, “Papa’s moon?” and smiles.


Your wife created your fan page on Facebook. At first, did you think that was a good idea?

I thought it was a wonderful idea, but I was a little afraid I wouldn’t have any fans.

Did you two expect having so many fans so quickly? Is it hard to cope with fame?

I didn’t expect that at all but it’s been exciting. I’ve enjoyed it. I think I might find it more intimidating if I had to stand up in front of all those thousands of people. But just showing them my work is fun, as long as I don’t think too much about how many people are really looking at it.


Have you participated in exhibitions or organized a solo one? If not, are you planning to?

When I was younger I did both solo and group exhibitions, but I’ve kept my work for the last 10 years private. This new attention happened so quickly that I haven’t had time to find a gallery to plan a serious exhibition schedule, but I was invited to do a large solo show at Granville (a notable Dallas area arts center) from October 19th through November 2010. I’m excited to see what happens from here.

Is your professional and personal fairytale complete? Is there something more you wish for?

I’m happy with my life. I’d like to work on some larger, more complex paintings I’ve been thinking about. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching my family grow up, and spending every year with my Elisabeth. I wonder what fairytale adventures we’ll have next.

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