Talks about the Christmas Tree Farmer, Harlequin Romance Novels and The Not-So-Glamorous LIfe of an Aspiring Illustrator

“The Christmas Tree Farmer” by Robert Papp

It is often the most ordinary of objects and familiar of experiences that touch and inspire us to
create beauty. For Robert Papp, the annual ritual of buying a Christmas tree at the same
nursery, year after year, drew him to the subject of his mesmerizing oil painting, “The Christmas
Tree Farmer,” featured in this year’s Phillips’ Mill Juried Art Show. Over time, he had gotten to
know the farmer, and was always struck by his deep sense of pride.

“When I asked if he would pose for me, he was very gracious and natural, the kind of qualities I
like to bring to life in portraits,” says Robert. “He is just this genuine, hardworking, humble,
honest person.”

Robert priced “The Christmas Tree Farmer” high, planning to submit it to multiple shows. He
never got the chance. It sold almost immediately to a gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. “The
owner of the gallery told me about a woman that would come in and just stare at the red dot
(indicating the painting was SOLD), trying to will it to change.”

We can certainly understand her disappointment. The painting is exquisite, conveying such
honesty and integrity. While Robert did not get the chance to submit the painting to other
shows, his work is well represented in juried national and international shows, including The Art
Renewal Center, the Portrait Society of America and the Oil Painters of America.

Here are some highlights:

2019- The Past President’s award from the Oil Painters of America National show

2019 - Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional show award for realism.

2019- Portrait Society of America International Portrait Competition certificate of Merit

2018- Portrait Society of America International Portrait Competition top fifty

2017 - 2021 Art Renewal Center Salon finalist

2018 - "The Artist Magazine" annual competition, Still Life finalist

Robert notes that he is “of course, very proud of the awards from Phillips’ Mill, especially the two Patron’s Awards (2015 and 2016),” adding that “I am partial to Phillips’ Mill as a local show with really quality work, juried by amazing artists that I look up to.”

On Being an Artist: It Just Clicked

Over the years, Robert has been mentored and inspired by many artists. As a second- or third-year student at the duCret School of Art in Plainfield, N.J., he took a course taught by an excellent illustrator, “one of the biggest names in illustration, known for his covers of books by James Michener and other high-end authors,” he notes.

“At that point, things just clicked,” Robert continues. “While there has always been this battle between illustration and fine art, for me, it came down to realizing that someone might actually pay me for a piece of art I created.”

From that moment on, art has been his profession as well as his passion. His early assignments, while not exactly glamorous, were transformative. He and his wife, Lisa, who is a writer and illustrator of children’s books, collaborated on assignments right out of college. Their first job was at a company that advertised clothes and other products in Sunday circulars and Parade magazine.  His first assignment was to illustrate a nose hair clipper … in use.

“We were just happy to have work, something that would be printed,” he recalls. “It was a big thing back then because no one would trust you (as a commercial artist) without prior experience, and that meant a printed piece. We would take any job, just to get the experience.”

A Little Secret (or Two) About His Success

In addition to oil paintings and magazine covers, Robert Papp has illustrated countless book covers, including this Young Adult series. “I love to do these kinds of covers with all the costumers and historical references.”

Robert went on to illustrate countless book and magazine covers, as well as national advertising campaigns. Chances are you have seen his commercial work without knowing it. “My little secret, if you want to call it that, is that I have illustrated many, many Harlequin Romance novel covers,” he notes. It’s not surprising at all when you consider how much he loves painting historical subjects and book covers.

He attributes much of his current success to his early days as a commercial illustrator, particularly the discipline required to turn out work on a day-to-day basis for his clients. “It could be anything I would be asked to paint, maybe a castle, or a tree background, or people in an embrace. I would go into New York City and photograph the models, and then go home with the images and refer to them to complete the work.

“It forced me to learn to paint anything,” he says. For that, art lovers around the world are grateful, as well as gallery owners, publishers, art show hosts, and cooks. “My art has appeared on many Cook’s Illustrated covers, and I continue to do them today.”

While still working with publishers around the world, he is currently enjoying the slower pace of life in Bucks County, where he and his wife have lived for more than 20 years. He enjoys participating in the local arts community, especially at Phillips’ Mill. “They are so enthusiastic and really embrace art. As artists, we don’t always get to see that. We are often stuck in a studio. Coming to a show like Phillips’ Mill makes you realize that what we do actually matters and touches people’s lives.”

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Illustration of the Phillips' Mill -Artist: Kathie Jankauskus