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Ted Papoulas' paintings capture history and scenes of life in Brooklyn, NY
April 21st, 2018
Ted Papoulas is a great example of an artist who found his passion for his work unexpectedly and then let it lead him to explore new avenues. The results are an engaging window into scenes of life in a city.

How did you get started in the visual arts?

My mother loved to draw with charcoal and pastel and later in life began painting wonderful botanical watercolors. Art was always present in our house. I enjoyed varies projects throughout childhood but didn't take art very seriously until after my freshman year in college. I was a computer science major but spent much of my time painting the dorm walls and friends' doors for free pizza and beer. That summer, I decided to transfer and pursue art as a career even though I hadn't taken any art classes since junior high. It was a big leap of faith. I was nervous, but entered Pratt that fall and pretty quickly knew I had made the right choice.

How would you describe your work?

I'm a realistic painter, but never try to hide brushstrokes or worry about being photorealistic. Instead of telling a full story, my paintings often act like stage sets that create a feeling of possibility – an environment where actions have or will take place. That is, of course, unless I am hired as an illustrator to depict a specific story and/or make a strong editorial statement. My favorite general subject is Brooklyn, my home for roughly 25 years. I am attracted to old locations and storefronts that have been disappearing quickly...much of what I have painted is already gone! I'm trying to capture them before they vanish forever.

Who else’s work has influenced or inspired your work?

I was lucky enough to attend Pratt with an exceptionally talented and enthusiastic group of artists, many of whom continue to inspire me to this day. In terms of famous artists, I am continually amazed by the paintings of John Singer Sargent. Viewers of my work often see echoes of Hopper. I greatly admire the Ashcan artists such as John Sloan and George Bellows. But the list goes on and on...I'm also inspired by many artists whose work looks nothing like mine, such as Picasso.

Can you tell us about your creative process?

For fine art paintings, I either start with a preconceived image and then go shoot the reference needed, or I find a photo I've already shot that strikes me as a good painting. Next, I work in Photoshop to adjust the cropping and collage together elements from various shots to create a strong composition. At that point, I place a medium wash of gouache over an entire canvas (or gessoed wood panel or illustration board) and complete a three value monotone underpainting by erasing away the highlights with a brush or q-tip and painting in the shadows with gouache. The color of the underpainting varies from piece to piece. I then spray fix it and apply a coat of acrylic medium to seal off the gouache. Next, I apply washes of color to get the basic idea of the color relationships and start detailing in acrylic. Throughout the process, I'll apply washes to set everything back and unify the painting, then continue to pull out details and highlights until I'm satisfied that the image conveys the emotions and mood intended.



What’s it like being a freelancer?

Being a freelancer has many advantages but some disadvantages as well. One obvious advantage is the flexibility and getting to spend more time at home. Now that I have two young girls (ages 2 and 4), that benefit is key. A disadvantage can be the feeling of isolation, so I regularly schedule business or social activities out of the studio, even if it's just meeting a friend for breakfast. The unpredictable income, workflow peaks and valleys and cash-flow irregularities can complicate life, but being able to direct your own career and manage the work according to your own priorities outweighs any shortcomings.

How did your style develop, and how do you tailor it for each client?

My feeling about painting style is that, for the most part, your work is like your signature; unless you intentionally attempt to do something way out of character, your work comes out looking like your work. Clients hire me because they like what I do. I listen to client input and accommodate requests but of course push back when I have significant reservations. Mostly, I've found clients open to new solutions I present as long as they address their stated concerns.

What interesting projects have you worked on?

Recently, the most interesting project involved creating 22 original full page illustrations for the children's picture book The Sound of All Things (Peachtree Publishers, 2016.) It follows a young boy who is the hearing child of two deaf parents during a family day trip to Brooklyn's Coney Island in the late 1930s. I had never illustrated a book or even created more than 3 or 4 paintings in a series, so tackling 22 was definitely a new challenge. My paintings tend to be contemporary in subject matter, so depicting a time before I was born was a bit daunting. Given that this was covering new territory, the fact that the book has been so well received upon release has been very satisfying.

What areas of your work are you hoping to explore further?

I'm currently interested in expanding my fine art business. I'm beginning to paint on larger canvases. Most of my pieces have historically been about 12" to 17" in the longest dimension, but I'm currently working on several paintings from 20" to 46" long. I hope to arrange some solo fine art exhibitions in the next few years and continue to enjoy various illustration assignments.

To see more of Ted's work, visit:

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