Steven Dragan is a local architectural painter who uses watercolor to create masterpieces of famous landmarks around Kansas City and beyond. His journey to becoming an artist started at the University of Kansas.
“My background is actually in architecture—it was there at KU that I started a sketch journal,” Steven says. “At first it was about buildings we studied, but soon it turned into documenting the places I was, or the places I wanted to be. Over time, my sketches turned into paintings, and paintings grew in size and complexity. Still rooted in architecture, my art is about our connection to places. Each place has its own meaning and story. I try to let the place speak for itself and focus on capturing the life in the perspective lines, the mood of atmospheric depth, the rhythm of shadows and the somewhat abstract shapes of people who inhabit the scene. In each piece I aim to capture something true and memorable.”
Steven describes his artistic style through the lens of an architect.
“My style of art starts with choosing what to see, what to capture, what to highlight and what to leave out. As an architect, I’m drawn to perspective, scale, light and shadow. Learning to see those through the loose lens of watercolor is what unites the paintings in a cohesive style. Watercolor is my primary medium. The tendency of the water to run, to be unpredictable—even sometimes frustrating—is also the thing that allows it to work in creating complex and interesting mixes of color and connecting shapes in the scenes that were previously unrelated.”
The time it takes to create one of his pieces varies, but the process is the same—layer by layer using watercolor.
“Sometimes it’s a five-minute capture, sometimes it’s 100 hours in many sessions throughout a year, but most of the time I paint in three two-hour sessions. The first layer is nearly abstract, a heavily saturated paper receiving wet colors that mix and blend into one another to form the atmosphere of the scene.
“The next layer is all about seeing the key shapes in a scene—I look for ways to connect objects and shapes which have no real life connection, but have similar values. Moving color around within those shapes adds a hazy type of detail. After painting these shapes, the perspective and lighting start to take form.
“The final layer, the detail layer, brings sharpness to the areas I want to emphasize. I use this sparingly, a few thoughtful strokes can do a lot when paired with the atmosphere and perspective of the first two layers.”
His hometown of Kansas City and his travels inspire the creation of his work.
“While I love painting excursions to Austin, Aspen, Mexico and Europe, Kansas City is my favorite place to paint. The way I paint now is really quite similar to the way I began—not much has changed. I pick a place, I paint it. But I’ve come to realize that there is something much more significant going on. The places we love often go without the savoring they deserve. We keep moving. We see a thousand incredible images a day, and they leave as quickly as they come. Painting a place is slowing down, savoring, deciding to look at something for hours and searching for the details that make it what it is.”
For aspiring artists, Steven says to not let fear guide your decision to create.
“All I have is my own experience, but I almost never created any art because I thought it was only for ‘artists.’ I almost never sold my art because I didn’t know if people would connect with it. I was wrong on both of those accounts. Had I let those misconceptions and fears guide my decisions, I would have missed out on one of the richest parts of my life.”
To see more of Steven’s work or see what local art show he will attend next, follow him on Instagram at @s.dragan.art. To purchase one of his pieces, visit sdragan.art.