National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA Hidden Talents: John Cormier

January 7, 2019

You are here

“First Snow” by John Cormier, People’s Choice Award winner at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Spring Exhibition. Reproduced with permission.
“First Snow” by John Cormier, People’s Choice Award winner at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Spring Exhibition.
John Cormier. Reproduced with permission.
NNSA Engineer John Cormier
NNSA Engineer John Cormier

Being part of the Nuclear Security Enterprise takes skill, smarts, and determination. From research scientists developing innovative new technologies to administrative professionals organizing day-to-day operations, it’s no surprise that our workforce is filled with impressive people. What some members of the NNSA family accomplish in their spare time, however, is truly unexpected.

John Cormier ensures the endurance of NNSA’s Defense Programs mission. He is a program manager and engineer who manages large modernization programs that sustain the Nation’s nuclear deterrent. He also has a hidden talent.

What is your hidden talent?

I am a multimedia artist and work almost exclusively with watercolors, although I sometimes use gouache – an opaque water-based paint.

I was attracted to watercolors because of their potential for transparency and luminosity as well as the unpredictability of wet color mixing. Often, a watercolor painting takes on a life of its own and you help guide it. Not knowing exactly how it will turn out has become an unexpected joy at times.

John Cormier’s watercolor work station at home
NNSA engineer John Cormier’s watercolor work station at home

What is your creative process?

I try to paint every day. When traveling, I bring sketchbooks and do small sketches at airports, hotels, or city centers. While I’m not a perfectionist, I’m probably more of plan-it-out painter than a loose watercolorist. Ideas for paintings are always going through my head. When I drive or walk around, I see colors, atmospheres, moods, or scenes that could inspire a painting.

Once I’ve decided on a subject, I look for reference material (photos, sketches, or previous paintings) and begin to conceptualize the painting’s layout and composition. A common color scheme I tend to use is called “split-complementary” or “analogous complementary.” Once this is decided, I draw lightly with pencil on the paper and get to work on the painting. I rarely have time to finish a painting all in one session, so the process can take several days – depending on size and complexity.

“Snow Queen” by John Cormier. Reproduced with permission.
“Snow Queen” by John Cormier.
John Cormier. Reproduced with permission.

Why do you create art?

The process of conceptualizing, designing, planning, and executing a watercolor painting is challenging and can be very rewarding. When it all works out, it is a great feeling of accomplishment, but when it doesn’t, it can be quite frustrating (although not for too long). This cycle of success and failure keeps the creativity and drive alive.

How does your talent relate to your day job?

I have noticed that my approach to painting has a similar process to engineering with steps such as planning, design, and design iteration. They are both driven by a mission to achieve some ultimate solution (engineering) or vision (painting).

“Winter Dawn” by John Cormier, People’s Choice Award winner at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Fall Exhibition. Reproduced with permission.
“Winter Dawn” by John Cormier, People’s Choice Award winner at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Fall Exhibition.
John Cormier. Reproduced with permission.