Winlock Artist Grounded in His Coffee Paintings

The Weekender visited the Winlock “studio” of coffee painter Ron Gaul. The studio is actually his kitchen table and his colorings come from nothing more simple than coffee and water.

Gaul teaches art at Toledo High School and also coaches on the football team. He wanted to be a coach, so he got his teaching degree. He minored in art. He never saw it as an avenue to make a living. But an opening came up for an art teaching post, which similar to the curls of steam coming out of a coffee cup, led him down a twisty road to coffee art.

His inspiration is his wife’s love of coffee, ground in with a bit of Picasso and a lot of cubism.

Gaul shared his art story while touching up a painting last week. Of course, he was drinking a cup of coffee.

Weekender: Explain your coffee art.

Ron Gaul: It’s really a controlled coffee stain. I work on two mediums. I’ve got watercolor paper here that I’ve done. … I also do canvas. With canvas it’s like if you were to spill coffee on your shirt. This time I’m controlling that stain. I’ve got different brews here that lend themselves, they have different values. Some are a little darker, some are a little richer, so almost a black. This is more of an umber, I have more like a sienna, you’re dealing with all these coffee tones. So I just mix it up to get different values. The more water I add of course the lighter value I get. I can use the water over the top that’s kind of a wash, then I add the coffee over the top of it to get the really light values.

W: Where did you get the idea?

R.G.: In my training workshops as a teacher, I went to one where the gal was talking about how they used to use teas for dye and that you can use tea as a medium. Budgets are always tight in schools, they are looking for ways to save money. She said you could use the tea in your own kitchen. (Editor’s note: The Gauls were building a house and decorating the kitchen with a coffee theme. That’s when inspiration struck.) … I thought well shoot, why not try coffee, so I did.

W: What are you trying to express in your art?

R.G.: My goal is to kind of hide women drinking coffee and make coffee look like its something really enjoyable to drink.

W: You drink coffee while painting with coffee.

R.G.: I always have my coffee cup. I drink coffee, I don’t know if it’s subliminal messages or what, but I’m always wanting coffee when I’m painting coffee. The nice thing is sometimes I make a mistake and dip the brush in my coffee cup, and that’s okay.

W: How central is art to your life

R.G.: Art is a big part of my life. My wife is a music teacher, I’m an art teacher, we’re just really into the arts. Ironically I went into teaching years ago because I love football, I wanted to be a football coach. I thought football was everything and that’s one way to be connected.

W: What part of creating do you enjoy most?

R.G.: The fun part for me is the design, how do I make the steam from the coffee look like something, look like a woman.

W: Your paintings are sensual.

R.G.: The whole premise behind it originally was the movement of lines and the curves that you get out of steam coming out of coffee. It reminded me of the curves of a woman and I just wanted to exaggerate those curves and make it look sensual and get that feeling that coffee is kind of a sensual drink. … I enjoy doing the form of a woman with coffee and it’s natural, the steam can naturally make those curves.

W: You find Inspiration in Picasso and cubism.

R.G.: “I don’t want the woman or the image that’s there to be just obvious, I want it to be kind of hidden. I want them to search and find it so that when you look at my work you don’t say “Oh yeah, there’s a coffee cup.” You should be able to look and try and find something. Sometimes it’s a little more obvious than others, sometimes it’s a little more abstract.