Foundations of an Artist: Duke Windsor

Duke Windsor in studio

Duke Windsor in studio

Duke Windsor began his artistic career photographer while serving in the Marine Corps as a combat illustrator/photographer and later served as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. After his tour of duty was over, Windsor competed in professional rodeo, with amateur standing, as a bull rider and steer wrestler.  Wanting to return to his studies, Windsor auditioned and gained admittance in the San Diego State University Music Department as a classical voice major.

Windsor’s range and versatility is apparent due to his traditional grounding and foundation in classical drawing, color theory, and form and composition.  His love of “true draftsmanship” spurs back to high school. “If the drawing isn’t quality, and the composition is unbalanced, then the painting fail,” stated his first art teacher.  Windsor’s belief in Foundation still hold true today.  From abstract to figurative, watercolors to Terra-cotta sculptures, Windsor has explored and mastered a variety of subjects and mediums.  Sparks Gallery speaks with Duke Windsor to understand his artistic perspective.

Sparks Gallery asks: What influenced you to become an artist?

Windsor: This is a difficult question because I’ve always had the ability to draw, but I was also a very good vocalist and musician. So influences in creativity was all around and very difficult to decide which to pursue.  Yet living in a small town, there was very little culture to be exposed to.

Since I was five, I have been drawing. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Brewster, introduced the class to great classic works of art like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Michelangelo, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth.  We got to copy prints and then create our own versions of the works. I was always an artist.  I was selling my skills and art back in school when fellow student “commissioned” me to do their presentation projects.

Looking back, I remember my high school art teacher, Mr. Deon, took the senior art class to SMU (Southern Methodist University) to visit a college level art class.

I believe the main influence was seeing the works of Norman Rockwell.  Though some felt that he wasn’t a fine artist… but a commercialist.  I disagree.


Sparks: How has your work developed from the time you served in the Marine Corps?

Windsor: The Marine Corps years were a different time and place. It was a place where I learned about duty and dedication, deadlines and business studio practice.  Dealing with project development and implementation.  Very rigid and tough.  I was still young, things were rigid and restrictive.  Creativity was stilted.  Through the years I developed new ways of seeing the world around me.  Back then I was only considering a career in the commercial art side of art.


Sparks: How have your vocations as a vocalist, amateur rodeo cowboy, and martial artist shaped your creativity?

One word:  Breathe
One Action:  Practice
One Outcome: Success

As a vocalist, I had to reach deep inside and find the meaning of a musical phrase and understand the meaning of the song.  But also, not just singing the notes on the page, but with practicing proper phrasing and pauses(breathe), I can bring out my out true musicianship.

Rodeo showed me a way of being fearless in the face of adversity, the bull is thousands of pounds of fury.  Better focus on the “now”. This pushed me to see my fear head on and approach this sport the same way, go with the flow and breathe.

The beginners mind.  In the martial arts, I was able to tap into my internal peace and understand the mental process more. The opposite of how most people see the martial arts, I saw and experienced the awe of meditation, mind and body connection.  When I opened my own martial art school in 1997, I began understanding the even more as I passed on these teachings to others.  I remembered the “beginner’s mind.”  This was very important.  This training took my art to a new level by helping me to focus through a project I went back to the beginning in art and never stopped developing new skills and techniques.


Duke Windsor painting

Duke Windsor painting in studio

Sparks: Please describe your creative and technical process.

Windsor: My creative process begins even before I step foot in the studio.  The studio is my lab and place for solitude to work and create.  Sometimes successful and sometimes not.  More of the latter actually.    Before I even go into the studio to work, I have to have some kind of idea before I touch a canvas.

However, sometimes it starts with a thought and then I sketch in my book.  Sometimes from a photo (I shoot my own composition shots for reference).

I sit for a moment before I get started and just think about what I’m working on and which of the many projects I’ll work on during that session. I might even put on some music in the background to put some energy in the space.  Then I get to work.

My recent series of works “Golden Sky,” incorporates more texture and gold leaf into the work.  The sky and the reflections are to be gold leaf and the rest in paint.  I plan out what areas I want covered prior to my application of gold leaf.  In this series, I have many location shots around North Park, Ocean Beach, and Barrio Logan, that I use to develop the compositions.  I’ve stayed away from being too literal in the image.  This photo is just reference.

I lay several layers of ground on the surface and sand in between each before I start the underpainting.   Once the underpainting is set, I make adjustments, I’ll seal the underpainting and begin applying the textures and gold leaf in the sky, windows and any water related areas in the scene.

Light is the thing.  The time of day is very important to convey the right contrasts in the piece.  This is what I want to capture with maybe a stream of light coming through between buildings or a little reflection here and there will make the piece work.  If there’s no drama in the piece, then it is just a pretty picture.

Before I sign the piece, I’ll wait a few days and then go back to see if I need to do any more work on it.  If not, I’ll sign it.  Though there were several times I would gesso and start over.


Sparks: What are some themes you have explored throughout your work?  Why have you chosen them?

Windsor: Some themes are more external such as my love of wildlife, portraits of people in their ancestry costume, scenes from history, scenes of people just doing their jobs, urban details of our city, and places that are not always pretty.

Inspired by Guy Coheleach and Robert Batemen, I tried my hand at portraying wildlife and explored this genre for several years selling paintings and drawings of tigers and wolves (my favorite).  I found that I was doing more or less copying directly from photos as opposed to creating a since of reality.

I was commissioned to do family portrait for several years and got very good at doing these but I still wasn’t satisfied with this direction and eventually backed off from dealing with the stress of this type of commercial process, and pleasing the client.

In my historical period, I did two years of research, sketches and studies of the history of the Samurai during the Tokugawa period between 1603 and 1868.  This was a long series of pastel paintings and sculpture created during the time I was in my first studio on 4th avenue in Gaslamp from 1994 – 1996.  This interest spurred from my love and study of the martial arts.  I believe I still have a few pieces left from this period in my art.

Red Asphalt by Duke Windsor

Red Asphalt by Duke Windsor

By this time I had been doing small plein air watercolor studies of the Alleys of North Park.  There were about fifty initial studies in the group.  During this point and time in my art exploration, I began a small historical series of the exploits of the  9th & 10th Cavalry during the Indian Wars of the frontier west.    I believe this was only a 12 painting series and unfortunately most of these were sold and some others of my work were stolen from storage.

In 1999,  I began the first of several hundred paintings in the Urban Alleys Series:
“Alleys of North Park”  was then born.  This series continues to this day,  though I did take a break in producing these in 2010.


In September of 2010, I had the opportunity see the works of Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, ,Newman and Pollock.  I was floored by these works in which an artist can “SEE”  further than what was in front of you.  To be able to paint from within and be intuitive,  was a foreign concept to me and yet with the drive and patience, and with the help of my former mentor Yoram Gil,  as well as the mentorship of dealer Alexander Salazar, I set off on an unbelievable journey of discovery.  I found that the PROCESS was the thing, not the end result.  This journey into textures, exploring color, using “push and pull” in application has begun to show even in my representational works.  I’ve only scratched the surface.


Sparks: You work with several mediums.  What do you like working with the most?  What have you learned from each of them?

Windsor: I truly love the pure form of classical drawing; which I have had the luxury to get to this year.  I only get to touch on this when I’m teaching a client.   Drawing, sketching is the true foundation.  All of the great masters and even the abstract expressionists studied classical drawing first and got it down.  I just love it.

As for my preferred painting medium, well, acrylics because of it’s quick drying and setting.  Though my earlier training is in oil but, I’m just getting back into oils because of the richness and luminosity in color compared to acrylics, which is helps me to slow down a bit.


Sparks: Did you have a mentor? Are you a mentor?

Windsor: Yoram Gil worked with me for a year as I transitioned to abstract.  Alexander Salazar mentored me during my Artist-in-Residence program with him in 2011.  Taught me about the gallery business dealing with and developing clients. Artistically, he exposed me to the works of Yves Klien, as well as Lucio Fotana.

I have mentored and still work with young students wanting to pursue an art career.  As a former Board Member, I am looking to mentor with A.R.T.S. (A Reason to Survive.)  I’d like to help others get to where they desire in art from the lessons I’ve learned.

Duke Windsor conducting a live demonstration

Duke Windsor conducting a live demonstration

Sparks: What advice would you offer for aspiring artists?


  • Take your time and learn the basics.
  • Be original, free, and unrestricted in you search for your own voice.
  • Keep an artistic journal.
  • Find successful artists you want to be like, take them to lunch and strike up a friendship. You might learn something.
  • Create a solid relationship with you first gallery.
  • Find a mentor earlier on and even work with them in their studio. Go on the web and research art program.
  • Invest in workshops and take them.
  • Read books, not just on art but biographies, science fiction, and fantasy to get a feel for seeing with writers can create with the word. Imagine what one can do visually.
  • Ignore arm-chair amateur criticisms. But retain you mentor criticism to heart.
  • Be kind and have good moral character. I think this is missing today.

There are many more to fill several pages…


Sparks: Do you collect art?  What advice would you give prospective collectors?

Windsor: No.  Not yet.

Actually, I’ve been collecting stamps for a long time now.   But my advice for collectors of art, (we don’t have enough these days,) if one is starting to collect art, collect what you like and can live with seeing everyday.


  • Try to avoid collecting for mainly value or potential value, or vanity.
  • Find the artist you like and collect art from them as a partner in the artist’s career. Contact the gallerist that you are interested and set up a meeting and begin a long term relationship.  In the past the artist had a patron the support his work so new works can be made.
  • Watch the PBS documentary on two unlikely art collectors of the 20th Century, Herb and Dorothy Vogel. You’ll get the idea when you see it.


Duke windsor with "Ocean Beach" in 'Resonance' exhibit

Duke Windsor with “Ocean Beach” in ‘Resonance’ at Sparks Gallery

 Sparks: What artists or artwork made an impact in your artwork?

Windsor: All of the Abstract Impressionists.


Sparks: What do you do for inspiration? Do you visit any museums or galleries?

WIndsor: I make it a point to go to art museums when I can, especially Palm Springs Museum of Art.


Sparks: What are you currently working on?  Where do you see your artwork advancing?            

Windsor: Several projects are in the works:

  • Working on a grant with Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Esther & Adoph Gotlieb Foundation grant. My fourth attempt!
  • I’m developing a new series of Golden Sky for show and the Art Gallery for the City of Encinitas which opens in May.
  • Preparing abstract works for a solo exhibition at the Escondido Art Partnership Municipal Gallery opens June 12. I also am Juror for their group exhibition that month.
  • Demonstration:
    • May for the San Diego Watercolor Society
    • June Del Mar Fair


Sparks: What do you intend your artwork to convey?

Windsor: There is something beautiful and intriguing even in mundane places if we just look. There is this belief that art should show a glimpse of the artist’s emotions.  But I hope that my work will offer the viewer some inner excitement, familiarity with a mystery in it.  I want them to hopefully experience joy and uplift their day when they view my work; whether it is an abstract or one of my Alley works.


Sparks: What do you do when you are not creating artworks?


  • I continue to study and play guitar, write songs, and do home recordings.
  • I’m currently studying architectural drafting and Auto/CAD.
  • I read good science fiction novels and recently started reading Issac Asimov again.
  • Work on my stamp collection.
  • Watch Curiosity Stream