Oil painter Greg Scheibel earns his plein-air stripes in the great outdoors
By Linda Williams
William Merritt Chase said, “I don’t believe in making pencil sketches and then painting your landscape in your studio. You must be right under the sky.” Even though Greg Scheibel has stacks of sketchbooks in his studio, he honed and polished his skills in the unbounded classroom of the Rocky Mountain wilderness. For this Montana artist, the emotional connection to nature is foundational to all of his work.
Born in Minnesota in 1961, Scheibel arrived in Big Sky Country in 1973 when his family relocated. Coming of age in the shadows of the Rockies, he spent much of his time hiking, fishing, and hunting. Over time, he noticed that he was more impressed by the beauty around him than by how many fish he was catching.
But it was the construction industry, not art, that Scheibel pursued when setting his career course, going to work as a drywall contractor with his father. When his father became ill in 1998 and passed away about a year later at the age of 62, Greg saw his father’s many plans for retirement go unrealized. The loss of his father and those unrealized dreams had a profound impact. Unable to recall a time when he wasn’t interested in drawing, he knew that he had a genuine love for art, and in 2001 he made a conscious decision to pursue painting. Soon after, he took his first workshop with painter Carolyn Anderson, who happened to be teaching in Bozeman where he was living. Anderson’s passion was an eye-opener to Scheibel, and, while he could attend only two days of the three-day class, needing to tend to his drywall business, he came away with a real desire to pursue art in earnest.
Shortly after Anderson’s workshop, Scheibel met well-known landscape painter Clyde Aspevig, who invited him to his studio and shared the crucial advice to “get outside and paint.” Aspevig also schooled Scheibel in the proper equipment for painting outdoors.
Scheibel’s next few years were spent painting on location, learning to capture accurate values, colors, and the emotional content of a place. With a little more experience, he moved to the next level, in which he was not just reproducing the outdoors but incorporating personal design and creativity or, as he puts it, “putting more of myself in the painting.”
Scheibel continued his training, enrolling in several more workshops over the next couple of years and studying with artists such as Matt Smith, T. Allen Lawson, Kevin Macpherson, and Scott Burdick. After learning the basics, he spent as much time as possible painting outdoors, his fishing rod and shotgun having been displaced by paint brushes. The more he got hooked on painting, the more time he devoted to it.
Eventually Scheibel realized that he needed to make a decision: He had to choose between the art world and the business. He had a mortgage, children entering their teen years, responsibilities to employees, and a successful drywall company during the height of a building boom. His strong work ethic and business sense, for which he credits his father, made any thoughts of focusing solely on his art frightening and difficult. His wife, Tracy, encouraged him to do what he loved, feeling that the same strength that made him a good contractor would carry him far in painting.
Scheibel’s confidence grew, and in 2005 he began to sell his work, though he was not yet represented by any galleries. That same year, he had an exhibitor’s room at the C.M. Russell show in Great Falls, MT. Sue Simpson, of Simpson Gallagher Gallery in Cody, WY, saw his work and signed him later that same day.
Scheibel didn’t play it safe. He closed down his drywall business in 2007, pursing painting full time. Since then he has been juried into a number of prestigious shows and received numerous awards for his work, including three awards of excellence from the Oil Painters of America. He was recently awarded Signature Membership in that organization.
Stepping into Scheibel’s studio, one sees all the trappings of a dedicated plein-air painter. The walls are lined with field studies and studio paintings that have been developed from those studies.
When working on location, Scheibel sketches on the canvas lightly, and “if it is not working, I wipe it off,” he says. “The start has got to be right.” He stresses the importance of working out of doors to get accurate colors and values. He uses a sketchbook for making quick notes about the location. His skillful depiction of the timeless and traditional vistas underscores his underlying respect for the land.
In the studio, Scheibel creates larger works from his field sketches. He uses the field studies for color and value reference and sometimes consults photographs for additional information. He enjoys the challenge of “what you can add to the larger piece that was not in the smaller one,” he says.
SWIFTCURRENT FALLS is a 48-by-48-inch studio work based on a 12-by-12-inch field study that was painted on location in Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Located about six hours from his studio, it is one of Scheibel’s favorite places to paint since “everywhere you go there is another painting.” The downward flow of the water in the painting draws the eye down the canvas, then the strong diagonal lines of the sunlit rock walls and sunlit water draw the eye back up to the source, where the base of a Montana mountain is just hinted at, teasing the question of what is beyond the edge of the painting. The viewer is anchored between the warm rocks on the left and the cooler shadows on the right. The use of the high horizon again draws the eye to the beauty of the falls, placing an emphasis on the foreground.
While Scheibel is primarily a traditional representational painter capturing the landscape of the American West, he also paints some wildlife. His painting YOUNG BUCK depicts a young whitetail buck still in velvet, which Scheibel happened upon on a local ranch in late summer. The inquisitive yet cautious look on the animal’s face, combined with the striking light, makes for a painting that conveys direct, aesthetic pleasure. The strong sunlight on the deer makes the heat of the August day almost palpable. The impressionistic handling of the foreground grasses lends to the feel of a soft, summer day. Scheibel enjoys capturing these fleeting moments in nature and their emotional resonance.
When not painting in Montana, Scheibel can be found painting the desert Southwest and the Pacific Coast, or working on figurative studies. He takes numerous painting trips, studying the work of the great painters of the past in museums, and sits in on life-drawing sessions with the intention of developing as an artist. His most recent focus has been to see “how much I can leave out of the painting,” he says, striving for simplicity.
Greg Scheibel is a man engaged in life and the living of it. And whether in the quiet beauty of nature or a city street, he finds significance and relevance. In the countless hours he spends exploring the outdoors, as well as cooking, reading, or traveling, he sees all of life’s lessons as enriching and leading to a more complete experience. “While it is not a conscious effort, your life winds up in the artwork,” Scheibel says. His goal is to continually and consistently take his work to the next level through that building up of life experiences.
Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT; Astoria Fine Art, Jackson, WY; Simpson Gallagher Gallery, Cody, WY; Ponderosa Art Gallery, Hamilton, MT; Sage Creek Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; www.scheibelfineart.com.
Featured in November 2011.