Home Arts Dave Knoebbler Honors Life Through Watercolor

Dave Knoebbler Honors Life Through Watercolor


Amid multiple watercolors of salient detail, stands Dave Knoebber, a painter with a growing international reputation for his distinctive artwork. The characteristic hallmarks of his subject matter—botanical to wildlife—are everywhere evident. “When I was 16 my dad gave me this little watercolor kit that he carried through World War I in 1918 in France. He would send little letters back to his mom and he would do little paintings on the border,” said Knoebber. In the spirit of co-creation, he and his son, a Walt Disney Co. artist, continue the tradition by collaborating on contemporary themes.

The eastern shores of Lake Michigan have long been a stimulating environment to explore art making. The comprehension of place is integral to understanding artistic process. On a farm off Wilson Road in New Buffalo, Michigan, Knoebber’s lively art loft studio takes center stage. “This year for the first time I’m having my work shown internationally in London,” expressed, Knoebber. Knoebber accounts for his inventiveness: “first of all, I get my inspiration because I live here in Harbor Country and as I said many times the light and the environment is such that it energizes me and I start to paint. It has been an adventure. Each painting is different from the other. I use floral a lot because I have gardens right near me. I do a lot of landscapes and rural scenes because that’s near me. So, like many artists, the environment influences me a lot. Also, my goal is hopefully to continue painting and having each painting become an experience and so, when you get in your eighties you don’t know. It might be the last act in the play, but you may want four or five encores,” said Knoebber.

Dave Knoebber, watercolor kit his dad carried through WWI
Dave Knoebber, with the watercolor kit his dad carried through WWI

Nature is often regarded as the most enduring and effective artistic element. Knoebber observes and listens to the environment around him and explains how these choices direct meaning. “My father’s mother was a gardener and we have flowers in our garden—Dahlias that are in bud form—there is a strain in there that she brought in 1871 from Germany in an overnight suitcase,” said Knoebber. His work is represented in collections far and wide. “I’ve sold to people throughout the Midwest. However, I have people who have come from California, Montana, Nebraska and the far Western states. I have a doctor who lives in Des Plaines, Illinois who owns 47 of my watercolors and he has them all exhibited on one wall. He likes to look at that on days he knows he’s going to be stressed out because it has an element of calming him.” Knoebber clearly has a knack for transforming materials into contemplative experiences of light and color.

The basic ingredients to the visual art experience are decoded as Knoebber tells of a unique aesthetic and grants us a fleeting glimpse on creative process. ”What it really is that I have learned through the years to see things through probably a different lens

than the average person and the reason for that is because of all my training. I taught for 50 years. I have a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin and a Masters in visual education from Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, which is the important one. They taught me to really start to look at things differently, and to teach differently than I ever did from the old Bauhaus School of Design there. It was wonderful. It opened up a lot of new doors for me and I was able to see things in different lenses, different lights and just enjoy seeing things other than just passing by a flower. I’m looking at its color, its texture, its line, and its composition. I have a method by taking watercolor where I drop it on the paper in its full pigment and wash the brush out and then with a clean brush of water I can pull that pigment down so I can get a whole range of value of that one particular hue,” explained Knoebber.

Dave Knoebber and his idea board
Dave Knoebber and his idea board

Knoebber explains how he got his start in art: “I am from a small town in the northwestern part of Illinois called Galena. It is very historical because of the hills and old buildings; it is very picturesque, and during World War II, a long time ago, Chicago artists would come out there to ‘plein air’ paint on the weekend. I was about 11 years old then; I would go up there and sit to watch them paint. It was very magical to me,” said Knoebber. The artists would ask him to fetch coffee and donuts from the local restaurant. “So they would take the money and put it in handkerchief and tied it real tight…[the artists] asked me whether I wanted to watercolor upon my return. And, that’s how it all started,” expounded Knoebber. Since then, Knoebber has assisted students in their exploration of expressive possibilities. “I’ve taught everything from kindergarten ‘til death. I started elementary 10 years. Then I went 28 years in secondary, and then I added another 20 some years teaching at Columbia College in Chicago. So, there has been all these little pages or chapters that have opened up to me. I always tell my students that if an opportunity introduces itself to you and the door is open a little bit, put your toe in there and open up the door more, and go in because it will probably be an exciting experience,” said Knoebber.

Recognition of chance as an artistic resource is a valuable consideration. Knoebber explains how to take a wider look at the way we experiment with art by incorporating impulses and spontaneity. “First of all, I think the most exciting part to me is going down a new road with watercolor in particular. You never know how things are going to turn out. And, once I get into a new technique or maybe a technique that’s been around for years that I think I discovered and it has always been there it just accidentally happens. And that’s true for anyone who tries to create something. There is always that fooling around period before you come up with something. Sometimes you have failures and sometimes you have success. But, I enjoy the fooling around part of it. When I experiment with new papers, new kinds of paints and things at that time—that’s where I get the excitement of doing the painting in itself,” said Knoebber.

Garden flowers by Knoebbler
Garden flowers by Knoebbler

Altered states of consciousness are often associated with artistic expression. Knoebber finds meditative serenity essential. ”Since 1972, I was taught how to meditate and I do that maybe twice a day and I don’t have any scheduled time [for it]. When there’s a brief moment in time when you are working on something. [That’s] when you start the meditation. My meditation is to clear my head and to breathe in such a way where I inhale and exhale deeply. It has to be quiet,” said Knoebber.

Knoebber elaborates on meditation as a means to gaining a better understanding and perspective on his art. “I have time to sit by my gazebo by the pool and listen to the wind blow through the different leaves. I can look and sit by my garden and look through various vistas of the garden to see my palette of gardening. So it is a whole variety—it is a wonderful symphony as a look over my gardens when I’m meditating. I look at some of the flowers that are soft and thin—they are the violins in that symphony. Some of the darker heavier flowers become the percussion and with the wind blowing—and I know it sounds silly—there’s a symphony that is created, and I love that,” expressed Knoebber.

Simply going through the process of finding out what to express raises the question, why do humans create art? “Why man creates that’s probably the most important question. Somewhere in all of us—even though a lot of people come to me and say they can’t draw a straight line—they really can. Everybody has an innate gene inside of him or her somewhere that can be explored and pulled out. We develop as we mature and we get more expectations of what our stuff will look like. We get embarrassed by say a critique whether good or bad. You just have to divorce yourself from that. You are expressing yourself through whatever media it is. The media will determine the rules and regulations,” explains Knoebber.

Sunflowers watercolors by Knoebber
Sunflowers watercolors by Knoebber

An artist’s activity and presence is cherished as a source of cultural vitality. Knoebber recounts of art goers who have visited the studio in recent years. “They are always surprised. The extra benefit [to visiting the farm] is that they can come here and they can walk the grounds and they can paint and photograph. I’ve had people come here and even write a score for a symphony,” said Knoebber. Knoebber communicates in a style that is as accessible as it is meaningful and shares his creative vision and technical expertise with students of all ages. “Well, I still teach with my seminars in the summer here and I have two classes of water color at my place in Naples, Florida. And, I have a couple people there who are in their late nineties; they still come out and we meet out for eight weeks, twice during the week,” said Knoebber. Knoebber’s passion for the arts extends to the airwaves. By hosting the popular “Harbor Country Art Scene” on Radio WRHC 106.7fm, Knoebber continues to develop a community of reflective practitioners.

The true meaning of art has long been contemplated. One thing for sure is that both art and meditation stimulate our senses and can help us move beyond the reality we are in to connect with our multidimensional selves. When we are able to quickly create peace and quiet, we begin to stabilize the inner world and activate our imagination to unleash our own unique artistic flair.

To view the gardens, gallery or studio and to explore your creative potential drop by www.dknoebberartloftstudio.com and www.facebook.com/dave.knoebber. To enrich your collection of important artwork or to inquire about a painting or a commission contact Dave Knoebber at 630-441-8976 or write Art Loft Studio, P.O. Box #2, New Buffalo, MI 49117 to arrange an appointment.