Meet 12 artists who are inspired by the many creatures of the earth
This story was featured in the March 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
At the age of 18, Canadian artist Josh Tiessen has already opened his own studio, participated in workshops with master painters, and won numerous awards for his paintings. Art is just a part of life for Tiessen, who has been creating art for as long as he can remember. His Russian nanny first noticed his abilities as a toddler; later, a local Canadian artist, Valerie Jones, discovered him drawing at a children’s club in church. “My parents weren’t artists. I had other people discover the talent that I had,” Tiessen says. “At first art was just a hobby, and it wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 that I realized it could become a potential career.”
Jones, a portrait and wildlife artist, mentored Tiessen for over a year before his talents moved beyond her teachings. “She helped nurture the raw talent that was there right from the beginning. She gave me the tools to properly execute my work,” Tiessen recalls. He then had his first gallery exhibit at age 14 at the Burlington Art Centre and was invited by Robert Bateman to attend a workshop with the master painter, who later referred to Tiessen as a “precocious 15 year old.”
His time spent studying with Jones, encouragement from Bateman, and his own love of nature have fueled his wildlife painting. “I always had an appreciation for nature and protecting it. Although I’ve branched out and do other subject matter like architecture and landscapes, I still return to nature and want to help inspire awareness of the amazing world that we live in.” —Joe Kovack
Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery, Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada.
For watercolorist Sarah Rogers, the most interesting thing about being a painter is the paint itself. So while she is known for her vibrant, colorful depictions of western wildlife and other animals, Rogers stresses that her work has less to do with the specific subject matter she paints and much more to do with the medium and the process she uses. “I like to paint big fat things, so that’s what leads me to paint a lot of bears and buffalo,” she explains. “But the paint is the real subject: the quality of line, the handling of color, texture, and positive or negative space. The paint and how it moves are the focus; the bear or the buffalo is just the vehicle for the paint.”
Rogers was born in Seattle but spent most of her school-age years in Florida during the winters and in the Black Hills of Wyoming during the summers. After high school, she attended the University of Florida with the goal of becoming a neurosurgeon, but she soon altered course drastically when she discovered that the university also had a good art school. She would go on to work as a graphic designer in Charleston, SC, and later as an art director for a small advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York. Eventually she moved back to Wyoming and began focusing intently on becoming a full-time fine artist. “I now live and paint—gratefully—in the Black Hills, another exciting adventure,” she says. “It’s been a very interesting journey, and I don’t regret any of it. I’ve truly enjoyed it all.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Earthwood Gallery, Boulder, CO; Earthwood Collections, Estes Park, CO; Horizon Fine Art Gallery, Jackson, WY; Navarro Gallery, Sedona, AZ; Ryrie’s Art and Home, Reno, NV; Warrior’s Work and Ben West Gallery, Hill City, SD.
Growing up in rural environments, Oklahoma native Carolyn Mock developed a deep sense of respect and admiration for nature and its creatures. “It’s amazing how animals can cope with any situation they are put into,” she says. “Their resilience, their heart, and their intelligence are remarkable—how can we not respect them?”
After earning a degree in commercial art from Oklahoma State Technical School, Mock worked as a technical illustrator for Phillips Petroleum Company, where she met her husband, Bill. “Thirty days after we were married, he went into the Air Force and was stationed in Wichita, KS, where I worked for an advertising agency,” she explains. When her husband’s obligation with the Air Force was completed, they moved back to Oklahoma. “Eventually I was able to fulfill my dream of studying with some of the best wildlife artists of the day, including Terry Isaac, Guy Coheleach, Robert Bateman, Carl Brenders, and many others,” Mock says. Today she continues to devote herself to developing her craft. “Any artist wants to believe they grow and improve,” she says. “I learn something each time I pick up a brush.”
Sometimes Mock is inspired simply by a feeling, while other times it’s something specific she sees, such as a funny gesture from an animal or a particularly beautiful and peaceful place. “Like all artists, the rest comes from within,” she says. “We are truly blessed to be able to do the work we do. If I had to live my life again, I would still want to be
an artist.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Keels Creek Winery and Art Gallery, Eureka Springs, AR; Eagle Tree Gallery, Tiptonville, TN.
Mary Roberson is fond of saying that while the effects of light may inspire some artists, her inspiration springs instead from her sheer love of nature and its creatures. The Idaho-based artist is well known for impressionistic, often earth-toned scenes that feature a menagerie of bears, birds, and bison, among other animals. Interestingly enough, as a youngster, Roberson was recognized for her talent at capturing the human figure. At 16 she won a scholarship to study at the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute (now known as the California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles.
But Roberson says she eventually realized it was the call of the wild that spoke most directly to her soul. “Animals have a couple of goals, and they go about them with great efficiency,” she says. “They are actually my heroes. They do what they have to do and don’t question their actions. I have never known an animal to feel sorry for itself.”
Today the award-winning artist has paintings in a number of prestigious museum collections, and she is a regular participant in the annual Western Visions Show & Sale at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY. In 2010, Roberson was the show’s featured artist. Always willing to take on new artistic challenges, she recently began collaborating with her son, David, who creates turned-wood vessels. Roberson is painting her signature creatures onto the exteriors of the various shaped vessels. The mother-and-son duo is presenting the works this summer in a show at Wood River Fine Arts in Ketchum, ID.
Altamira Fine Art, Jackson, WY; Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Davis & Blevins Gallery, Saint Jo, TX; Wood River Fine Arts, Ketchum, ID; Visions West Galleries, Livingston and Bozeman, MT, and Denver, CO; Meyer Gallery, Park City, UT; Dick Idol Signature Gallery, Whitefish, MT.
It all began with his habit of drawing on his desk in junior high. Wyoming wildlife painter and sculptor Scot A. Weir doodled away the hours and found escape through his sketches, sowing the seeds for a future career in fine art. “I knew when I was little that I was going to be an artist—there was never a doubt in my mind,” Weir says.
Weir took every available art class in junior and senior high before earning his associate degree in advertising design from the Colorado Institute of Art (now the Art Institute of Colorado). Working for a stint as a commercial art director, Weir quickly realized his heart was not in the commercial world and returned to the University of Wyoming to get his bachelor of fine arts. “I admired the artists that did realism, and I have the most respect for that style,” Weir says. For the past 20 years, he’s forged a career by creating his own brand of modern realism.
His style is the culmination of his love of art, history, and nature. He often places his subjects—generally birds and wild horses—in realistic yet creative settings, paying close attention to the details of the environment. A good example is his painting FEELING BLUE, which was selected for the prestigious Birds in Art show in 2013 and features a blue jay perched on a rusty old truck. “I’m not trying to paint something photographically,” Weir explains. “I’m painting it how I see it, and I want people to look at it and for it to look real to them, to have life.” -—Joe Kovack
“There are certain people in this world who are fundamentally and completely captivated by other life forms,” says wildlife artist Nancee Jean Busse, who is undoubtedly one of those people herself. For some, this fascination leads to a career as a biologist or veterinarian. For Busse, it eventually developed into a passion for “capturing the poetry of animals” in paintings.
Busse was born and raised in Illinois but fell in love with the American West during annual family road trips to the region. “The West always seemed like the most glamorous and wonderful place,” she reminisces. After many years of working as an illustrator and art director in her home state, Busse decided it was time for a change, so she headed for her beloved West, eventually settling in Grand Junction, CO.
Inspired by the natural splendor of her new surroundings, Busse returned to her first love: painting. “When you paint an animal, there’s a part of your soul that resonates with this other life-form,” she says. Busse especially loves painting birds and cites a trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge as one of the most profound experiences of her life. “The sound of all those hundreds of thousands of birds resonated so deep within me that for days afterward I could still hear the incredible cacophony of their calls,” she says.
Busse strives to honor the beauty of nature in all her work. “I paint the things that make life worth living for me: landscapes, the natural world, and wildlife,” she says. “These things remind me that life is elegant and beautiful.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Oakley Gallery, Grand Junction, CO.
Wildlife artist Linda Budge can’t remember exactly when her interest in art began, only that it has been with her as long as she can remember. “I’m not really sure why I have this incredible interest in art,” Budge says. “I think as artists we have this passion we seem to be born with. We’re just given this talent, and we have to deal with it.”
The Arizona-based wildlife painter is inspired by her lifelong love of animals and the intuitive relationship she feels with them, and she has focused her career on capturing the essence of the animal world. “Expression to me is an attitude, and all animals have different attitudes,” Budge explains. “That’s what I try to capture in my paintings.” Experience has taught her that as a wildlife artist, she needs to be outside, observing and feeling the natural world firsthand. “If you’re going to paint an animal, it has to have the correct expression and attitude, and you can only learn that if you’re in the field. It’s not something you acquire overnight,” she says.
Budge has been painting professionally for 30 years and has won numerous awards and honors along the way. She is a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists and had a painting commissioned in 1983 by the State of Wyoming as a gift for then President Reagan. That piece, titled HIGH COUNTRY, depicts grazing antelope and still hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California today. —Joe Kovack
When sculptor Kim Kori is deciding what her next piece will be, she usually has several ideas on the back burner. “When ideas pop into my head, I write them down so I have a running list to choose from,” she says. Her inspiration for a future piece often comes during one of her frequent excursions into the stunning natural beauty that surrounds her home in Sedona, AZ. “I’ll often be out in nature and see a particular plant or animal that catches my eye,” she says. Often it’s a small creature, such as a mouse, frog, or insect, that might have gone unnoticed by others walking the same path. “I like to concentrate on smaller animals because they don’t get as much of a voice as the big, majestic creatures,” she says.
Kori fell in love with animals and nature as a young girl growing up in Pennsylvania farm country. Like many artists, she has always had a very active imagination as well—which clearly comes through in her interesting and often whimsical works. “I dream a lot, both day and night,” she laughs. Once she decides which animal to focus on, she says, “Then I do my dreaming. I put myself in that small world where the creature lives and try to imagine what it is like.” Kori describes her style as realism with an imaginative twist. “The world is such a scary place sometimes,” she says. “But if I create something that makes people smile and laugh, I feel like I’ve made a positive contribution.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Wildlife painter Cindy Sorley-Keichinger says that for her, art is such a happy addiction that it’s almost “like a disease; it’s a compulsion.” She grew up in a household that regarded art and nature as vitally important aspects of life. Living in northern Alberta as a child, she and her family spent nearly every holiday in the mountains, learning and observing the natural habitats of the indigenous animals nearby.
With a father who had a serious art hobby, Sorley-Keichinger developed a love of art and nature at an early age. But the approach to art that she encountered in grade school nearly dissuaded her from her dream. “I quit art in grade seven because they kept telling me that I couldn’t draw animals. That wasn’t considered art,” Sorley-Keichinger recalls. But in her teens, seeing a documentary on master wildlife painter Robert Bateman reawakened her love of wildlife painting. “I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do and exactly how I want to do it,” she says. “I decided that if he can do it, I’m not going to care what others think and that’s what I’m going to do, too.”
It wasn’t until she married that she began to pursue art full time. Now 20 years later, the self-taught painter, who works in oils and acrylics, continues her “nothing ventured, nothing gained” approach to art. Through her love of conservation and the animals of the world, she hopes to bring people back to the environment. “I like to bring nature a little closer to people because people have become so urbanized and disconnected from the natural world, and I don’t think that’s healthy.” —Joe Kovack
Picture This! Framing & Gallery, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.
Louise Mellon grew up on a Virginia farm, where she had the chance to observe wild and domestic animals on a daily basis. For Mellon, the animals’ antics as well as their life cycles became an innate part of her outlook on life. Today she calls Aiken, SC, home and carries on her family traditions in several ways. First of all, there were a number of women artists in her family who encouraged and nurtured her artistic interests from an early age. Mellon eventually went on to study art at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. And secondly, in addition to the fine-art career she inherited, today she is also an organic farmer. “As an organic farmer I may have a different sensitivity about respecting and honoring all species,” Mellon says. “I am a keen observer and have channeled that sense into my artworks. I am tuned into painting all animals, especially when there is a humorous slant.”
Indeed, Mellon often displays a whimsical sense of humor in her bold and colorful paintings. In her works, horses wear skis and barrel down snowy slopes, and cowboys on horseback lasso alligators. “I want to give the gifts of joy, chuckles, and discovery to viewers,” Mellon says. “It is my way of giving back to all the people who have helped, or will help, steer me on my life’s journey.”
Sometimes the environment can shape an artist’s interests in dramatic ways. This was the case for Canadian sculptor Cathryn Jenkins. Early inspirations for her were the world that surrounded her home—where grizzlies roamed free in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia—as well as her mother, a famed sculptor herself. “My mom was a tremendous sculptor, and I could see it as a lifestyle and as a viable way of leading a passionate life,” Jenkins says.
For 35 years Jenkins has been sculpting the animals of her world with the serpentine stone of her native British Columbia, from seals to grizzly bears, her favorite subject. “I really like their form, especially when they’re running. I love the movement of the muscles,” Jenkins says. “You have this combination of straight lines, round muscles, and the irregular rhythm of their coats, and combining all of those things is a challenge for sculpting.”
Jenkins, who was invited to become a master signature member of American Women Artists in 2013, likes to work large to maintain the essence, movement, and true proportions of her wildlife subjects. “I think working large is a challenge to keeping things in perspective. I know my subjects well, and I really feel them when I’m working,” she says. “You have to have a passion, knowledge, and dedication to be able to work large and have it look fantastic when you’re done.”
Mountain Galleries, Banff, Alberta; Whistler Village Art Gallery, Whistler, British Columbia; Postma Fine Art, Calgary, Alberta; RendezVous Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia; Gallery 8, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.
Originally from Ohio, wildlife painter Jack Coneby studied art at The Ohio State University and the Columbus College of Art & Design before moving to Florida, where he has lived for the past 30 years. The artist fell in love with the weather and beaches of Florida during frequent trips to the Sunshine State, but when it comes to his art, he finds himself inspired by the natural environment of his home state and other northern regions more than what he sees out his front door. “I’ve always been intrigued by animals and felt very comfortable in nature and the outdoors,” he says, explaining that the type of environment where he grew up—and where he first discovered his love for nature—is what he draws on most in his work. “I always try to paint what I know, and I lean toward painting the aspects of nature that I grew up with in Ohio,” he says.
At first, Coneby explored a variety of mediums and styles in his work, but today he feels comfortable working primarily with watercolors in a style he calls soft realism. “When I was in school, they were only teaching abstract art, so I had to teach myself about realism,” he says, explaining that he refers to his style of realism as “soft” because it’s different from the hyperrealism that most people first think of when they hear the term realism. Coneby enjoys the challenge of taking a flat sheet of paper and making it come alive by “getting those soft edges for more of a three-dimensional feel.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Featured in the March 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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