Ryan Kirby Art

Creativity and Conservation

Ryan KirbyComment
Sons of Thunder

In 2016, "Sons of Thunder" raised over $300,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

I’m proud of that number. Proud for many reasons, but two primarily stick out in my mind. First, it’s a lot of money. When people pay a lot of money for my work, it tells me that I’m doing something worthwhile and painting in a way that resonates with people. Second, it goes to a cause I truly believe in.

I cut my teeth at the National Wild Turkey Federation. Fresh out of college in ‘05, they hired me on as a graphic artist and illustrator. Taking that job and moving halfway across the country was a leap of faith, and ultimately one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Our communications team was great. Young, enthusiastic and passionate about the outdoors, we did some really great work. Our environment was great. Art and taxidermy lined the walls and cutting and yelping could be heard in the office leading up to turkey season. My art director was great. My design professors led me to believe that if I wanted to do anything with this degree, I had to dress like a hipster and work for guys that looked like Steve Jobs. Here was Trent, rocking the long hair, cowboy hat and boots, and playing gospel bluegrass music on the weekends. I’d have done the job for free (and I almost was at first).

Seven years later, I made another leap of faith.

I launched out on my own as a freelance designer/illustrator and wildlife artist. Some were skeptical; some were encouraging. I was optimistic. In a sort of “I’ll figure this thing out as I go” kind of way, I grinded it out the first couple years, the same way I’d seen my entire family do it on the farm. With lots of trial and error, some good fortune and faith, I’ve made it work. Which is why I’m so proud of that number up above.

In an odd sort of way, I feel that what I’m doing today as a wildlife artist benefits the NWTF far more than anything I did as a full time employee there. Wildlife art and conservation have worked together for decades — it’s one of the chief revenue earners for every major conservation group in the country, which is why you’ll always see art at every NWTF, DU and RMEF banquet you attend. Now, I’m playing a part in that tradition.

Since the dawn of time, art has told the story of the hunt and of our fascination with wildlife. Equally as long, hunters have adorned their abode with images of the animals that held their fascination. It’s a daily reminder of who they are and what they care about. As an artist, if I’m the guy that helps them remember these things daily, then I’m cool with that. No, I’m proud of that.

To all of you who purchased "Sons of Thunder" at your local NWTF even, thank you for supporting them. For those of you who didn’t get the chance and want one for yourself, you can do so here: 


Watch "Sons of Thunder" go from an original oil painting on the easel to a Signed and Numbered Limited Edition of Canvas Giclées for the NWTF.

Pitiful Poultry Promo

The Wild Life, Hunting, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan Kirby1 Comment

This looks ridiculous, right?

That's because it is. Each spring, hundreds of thousands of turkey hunters take to the woods, vests loaded down with more brand names than a NASCAR quarter panel. Most only care about killing turkeys. But some not only relish in a successful turkey hunt, but also make a living off of the hunting industry. I'm one of the latter.

In addition to painting, I help several brands with their advertising, from print ad creative to social media content. And as anyone who dedicates their life to a craft can attest to, you're always critiquing that craft everywhere you go. Contractors walk up to a building and can tell if the builder took shortcuts. Musicians listen to Pandora and can tell if the band uses autotune. You get the idea. And one thing that bugs me about the outdoor industry is our lack of ingenuity when it comes to advertising turkey hunting products. 

Kill a turkey. Put product on dead turkey. Take a photo. 

Really? That's the best we've got? C'mon man! In every hunt there's a story, incredible scenery, a new experience, a myriad of details in nature, birds that hammer off the roost and new products that really do a great job of putting them on the ground. Yet when it comes time to tell about how great that product is, we set up the most unoriginal photo ever and pretend it's unique. Here's why it stinks:

1. Anyone can do it. Heck, I can borrow a buddy's dead turkey, set him on a stump, then take 16 photos of 16 different products next to him and claim all of them brought him to end of my barrel. 

2. It's unoriginal (as a direct result of #1). Everyone does it because it's easy. And like anything in our world today, if you see something enough times you get desensitized to it. Eventually it gets ignored. 

3. It's unnecessary. Nearly every hunter in America has a smartphone, designed to do so much more than just make a phone call. You have the ability to take great photos, HD video and clear audio. You can even take a pic and add filters or draw stuff on it. Creativity is at your fingertips. Use it. 

4. Sometimes it's nasty. I've seen guys lay a diaphragm on a jelly head and take a pic. I'm by no means a germ freak, but dang, if that's really your go-to mouth call, it's going back in your mouth as soon as that bird is loaded in the truck. And dead birds, especially turkeys (remember what he was pecking through in that cow pasture??), aren't exactly Dr. Oz approved.

I admit, this is a bit of a rant. But not without a remedy. So what do we do?

1. Don't do it. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So when you catch yourself flopping that bird down in the grass and reaching for the box call/crow call/ammo box/owl hooter, just stop. Take a deep breath, walk away from the bird, and regroup. Then resolve to do something different.

2. Don't show us the product at all. I get it, your sponsored. But if we know what products you use, and your'e a turkey killing machine, we're smart enough to connect the dots. You don't have to make your hunt an infomercial.

3. Shoot a video. Advertising these days is about telling a story. So why not actually tell the story with some cool video content?

4. Be real. We can smell a rat a mile away. So use products you believe in, support causes you believe in, and do stuff you believe in. Your authenticity will sell us. 

5. Document, don't create. Snapchat and Instagram stories allow you to produce quick content as you go. If we can follow your hunt and watch you use the product in semi-real time, we can also share in your success. Instead of taking your word for it, we can watch you lure that long beard in (and see him before you've laid him over a stump).

6. If you still feel compelled to take this pic, at least get creative with it. Your smartphone can shoot short depth of field (where the product is in focus and the background is blurry) by just tapping on the part you want in focus. We all know you killed a turkey with it, so just go in tight, take a low angle, show us the product, set the turkey in the background and leave the rest up to our imagination. (click here for some of my man John Hafner's tips for taking iPhone hunting pics)

Spring brings with it a fresh start, a sense of newness and anticipation. Let's turn over a new spring leaf. Put these pitiful poultry promos in the past. Best of luck this turkey season and be sure to tag me on Instagram @RyanKirbyArt when you take a photo (and a bird) you're proud of. 

My 2017 Southeastern Wildlife Expo Painting Lineup

Original Oil Paintings, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment

If you follow my work long enough, it's inevitable that you'll see mentions of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (or SEWE for guys like me that don't like to type or say long, fancy words). 

This is my fourth year attending SEWE, and each year gets better. I enjoy seeing so many passionate wildlife enthusiasts under the same roof and hearing their stories from the field. Kim and I have developed several friendships with artists and their spouses and we love reconnecting with them and seeing their new work. In addition, SEWE does an incredible job of hosting and entertaining such a large number of people, and Charleston provides the perfect setting for an event of this caliber. We sell pretty well, too. 

Below is the lineup of original oil paintings I'll be bringing this year. If you're at the show, stop by and see them in person (and take one home with you if you really like it). In addition, I'll be speaking at the Citadel about art, hunting and wildlife on Wednesday, February 15th from 6:45-8:00 pm in the Bond Hall Auditorium. (Click here for more info) It's free and open to the public. This year promises to be another great SEWE, and we're looking forward to seeing you there.

"Crossing Guard" 

30"x24" Oil on Canvas  |  $5,800

My newest piece, this bull elk is one of my best yet. The bugling bull always gets the attention in photos and paintings, and I've done my fair share of them for sure. But to me, this pose is the one that captures the anticipation and excitement of the rut. Head low, antlers kicked back, nose in the air and on the move. Whether he's after a cow or stepping forward to face a challenger, you know something exciting is about to go down.


"First Light Flight" Triptych

Three 12"x18" Oil Panels  |  $5,200

Dove season is a holiday in the south, and nothing makes a great southern hunting scene like a group of fast flying, dipping and diving mourning doves. I wanted to set this piece up differently than a standard horizontal canvas, so I painted the scene across three panels to create a triptych. I imagined this piece as hanging in an entryway or foyer with a table underneath, making the perfect, unique statement in a southern sporting home.


"Chief" 

36"x24" Oil on Canvas  |  $6,500

I love turkey hunting in the North Carolina mountains. Few things are as challenging and rewarding as hunting Easterns in steep terrain and unpredictable climate. One morning, as I neared the crest of a hardwood covered ridge, I saw this cluster of moss-covered rocks (minus the turkeys) and was inspired to paint it (plus the turkeys). I imagined a dominant longbeard running these ridgetops and ruling the roost, "Chief" over his territory. Look closely and you'll also see some Native American art on the center foreground rocks, a nod to the generations that have chased wild turkeys in the Appalachian mountains for centuries.

Click here to watch this piece in progress.


"Mr. Photogenic", the 2016 September Cover of Outdoor Life

18"x24" Oil on Board  |  $4,600

Two years ago, I brought the first OL Cover down to SEWE and it sold on the first day (Read the full story here). Last year's cover painting sold before the show, and now this year I'm bringing it back. "Mr. Photogenic" is the third of such covers, and the loosely painted surroundings and regal pose make this one truly unique.


"The Calm After the Storm"

30"x24" Oil on Board  |  $5,200

I don't often try to tell a full story in a painting, rather capture a fleeting moment in time. But this piece is different. A snowstorm has just rolled through and the first rays of light illuminates this coyote's face. In addition, another storm took place - one of life and death. He's exploded through the snow to catch a rooster pheasant in mid flight, about to enjoy his dinner in the calm after the storm.


"The Beat of His Own Drum"

18"x24" Oil on Board  |  $4,500

Grouse are a new challenge for me. Since moving to the Appalachian Mountains, I've been scared to death as the underbrush explodes with the flush of a holding grouse while I'm turkey hunting. I've also listened to their low, steady drumming from a ridge top or logging road and been unable to find the source. It's not often you get to witness grouse doing their thing, so I wanted to paint this scene and give the viewer the opportunity to enjoy a grouse trying to drum up a mate, showing his stuff and marching to the beat of his own drum. 


"Grandfather Gobbler"

36"x24" Oil on Canvas  |  $6,000

One morning my buddy Shae and I were hunting north of Boone, NC in a mountaintop pasture with a view of Grandfather Mountain in the distance. We chased a longbeard all morning, while he simply chased his hens. So I snapped a few reference pics of the scenery and upon returning to my studio, I decided to paint that longbeard and his hens marching right into our laps with the profile of Grandfather Mountain in the distance.


A Good Name

The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's Studio, Original Oil Paintings, Wildlife Art Prints, HuntingRyan Kirby1 Comment

There's nothing that I could add here that this video doesn't already say.

But I'll try.

The outdoors has taught me a lot about life. If you read my blog posts, you'll see hunting and wilderness themes intertwined throughout like a vine up a hickory tree. Self employment has also taught me a tremendous amount about life, risk and reward, sowing and reaping, and the value of time and talent. But nothing teaches a man more about life than fatherhood. Nothing changes a man's heart and priorities like walking into a room and seeing his child's eyes light up. Nothing makes a man want to be a better man than realizing that his wife and children are watching his every move.

When I look at Rhett, I realize that what I make of myself will, in part, determine his direction in life. Far better than silver or gold, a good name is a better gift than anything we could buy on Amazon or lug out of the mall. He's changed our lives forever, and he deserves the best that money can't buy.

This Christmas, remember that the true gifts, the gifts we can't live without, the gifts that keep on giving, the gifts that we'll never forget, have names.

Merry Christmas.  


This video came together through the hard work and talent of Boonetown and Paul Sherar Photography. They're the best at what they do. Check 'em out, and hire them.

ART 4 CHRISTMAS

Ryan KirbyComment

The day after Halloween, I walked in to Wal-Mart.

I had two big nanny does waiting for me at the processor in KY, and I needed a bigger cooler to get them home. As I stepped through the sliding doors and looked left, I couldn't believe what I saw. Tinsel. Lights. The colors red, green and gold.

Already? Are you kidding me? It's November 1. It's the rut, people! Can't we at least wait until after most of the does are bred before we think about Christmas?? Turns out, we can't. Christmas, just like the NBA season, seems to start earlier and last longer than ever.

It's not all bad though. After the rut winds down and before the late season, Christmas is awesome. Kim and I have a whole new perspective on it this year, as we're now spending it with our six month old baby boy, Rhett Daniel Kirby. It's no longer about us, but all about that little dude.

Which brings me to the point: Christmas is about giving to others. Watching their faces light up on Christmas day, even if they're just chewing on the box. If you've got a special someone on your list who lives for the outdoors, wildlife art makes the perfect gift. It helps them bring the outdoors to their indoors, share their passion for hunting with family and friends and relive their fondest memories afield.

As a Christmas gift to you, we're giving 25% off prints and apparel with the coupon code:

ART4CHRISTMAS

In addition, here's a list of my personal favorites to get you started. So copy and paste that code, select your favorite piece, and start counting the days until you can watch their faces light up. And I promise you, our boxes are gluten-free and non GMO for the health conscious box-chewer in your family.

Merry Christmas

"Bound and Determined" Framed Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"Mr. Photogenic" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"Sons of Thunder" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"Scrape Line" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"The Defender" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"Grandfather Gobbler" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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The Legacy Cover Collection, Featured on Outdoor Life Magazine
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Ryan Kirby Art Vintage Black Trucker Hat
25.00
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Ryan Kirby Art Vintage Camo Trucker Hat
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Reaping and Sowing in the Heartland

Ryan KirbyComment

Hunters are a powerful group.

Last weekend I attended the Warsaw Lions Fall Classic, a fundraising event just miles from my hometown. It was one of the most impressive such events I've ever attended, and I've been to a lot of them. Their committee worked with eagerness and enthusiasm. The venue was a community gym (which I hadn't been to since a birthday party two decades ago - one of those awkward dances where the boys hang on one side of the gym and the girls giggle on the other). But this crew transformed those hardwood floors into a rustic fall banquet, with real centerpieces planted in driftwood, table cloths that resembled gator skin, and wagon wheel chandeliers hanging from backboards. The wives and girlfriends served the 14 VIP tables with a smile, and even knew your name. They served 300 people in 40 minutes, and the dinner of steak and lobster was cooked to order. I'm telling you, it was impressive.

But what struck me the most was the energy of the attendees. The Fall Classic has become the social event of autumn, and people showed up to have a good time and show their support. Most of the money stays local, so you can drive around town and actually see retaining walls, parks and other projects funded by the event. You know the names of the high school seniors that get the scholarship money. You can see the group's efforts at work. Combine that with a cash bar and a couple of great auctioneers, and the stage is set for wallets to open. 

Which brings me back to my first point. Hunters are a powerful group for a lot of reasons. We've wiped out entire populations of game through overhunting, and then brought them back to thrive once we came to our senses. We've funded every major conservation effort in this country, whether directly through donations or indirectly through excise taxes on guns and ammo. We keep wildlife at healthy population levels. Our vote is powerful. We form the silent majority throughout rural America. 

But most of all, we show up when it counts.

I think it's because the qualities that make a good hunter also make a good human. Patience. Passion. Resilience. Dedication. A willingness to learn. Awareness - not only of your surroundings, but also of yourself and your abilities. There's also an odd combination of grit and self-reliance, contrasted with a willingness to share and support each other.

The crowd at the Fall Classic isn't made up of billionaires or corporate tycoons. It's farmers, fire chiefs, insurance agents and teachers. People I grew up with and went to high school with. Heck, there's less than 20,000 people in the entire county. The busiest place in town this time of year isn't a college campus or a boardroom, it's the grain elevator. 

But like we always do, when it comes time to put our money where our mouth is, hunters show up. Rural America shows up. We stand for the National Anthem, and before we sit down, we get our wallets out. 

Congrats to the Warsaw Fall Classic on another record-setting event, which you can see in the photos and videos below. Good luck in the woods this fall, and see you next year.

The Fall Classic crew celebrates another stellar event.

The Fall Classic crew celebrates another stellar event.

The number 1 of 100 print of Mr. Photogenic, as well as a custom engraved gun cabinet featuring the 2016 Outdoor Life Deer of the Year.
The original oil on canvas painting "Split Decision" goes quickly at auction, with a final bid of $7,000

The September Cover of Outdoor Life Magazine

Inside Ryan's Studio, Hunting, Original Oil Paintings, The Wild Life, Wildlife Art PrintsRyan KirbyComment
Progress on the September 2016 Outdoor Life cover

Progress on the September 2016 Outdoor Life cover

May 2016 seems like a decade ago.

In reality, it's only three months. But I've been a brand new father for two and half of those months, and anyone with kids remembers the early days. They're a blur. Like watching a NASCAR race from turn 2 at Talladega, they're loud, fast and they pass you in an instant. 

So it was a surprise to me when a follower hit me up on Facebook with a compliment about the September cover of Outdoor Life magazine. My immediate reaction was "Huh? What day is it? I thought that thing was supposed to come out in.....oh crap, it's August already. My bow's not sighted in. Kentucky's bow season opens in how many days? Did anybody feed the dog today?"

You see, magazines work months in advance of the issue's drop date. The whitetail tips and tactics you love to read in November are planned during the velvet-covered, soybean days of summer. That's why I had spent the latter half of May working up sketches of OL's Deer of the Year and collaborating with their creative team on a look and feel for the September cover.

Once we had approval on the concept, I began painting in mid-May. I was racing the clock in more ways than one. Not only was their production deadline looming, but Kim's belly was maxed out with our first child, a son named Rhett, who was due the first week of June. It was an exciting, adrenaline filled time for sure.

This year's painting was our third fine art cover in as many years. And like any talented, forward-thinking team, the OL crew wanted this year's painting to stand apart from previous painted covers. So we went with a more loose, artistic style on a white background. Rather than a large painting with a full, completed background, this one stayed clean and simple, with just enough habitat to keep the buck from floating off the page. A white background allows the cover lines and masthead to pop from the newsstand.

It was a blast to paint. The more mature I get as an artist, the more I like to keep brushwork loose and composition simple. I also like to work quickly and have a little fun. Never at the expense of accuracy, but always in pursuit of a higher form of creativity. Too much detail and you lose the essence of the animal. The famous martial artist Bruce Lee said "It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential. Simplicity is the key to brilliance." I've taken that insight to heart in my work and life.

So, here we are, now in late August. The September issue of Outdoor Life just hit newsstands and mailboxes nationwide and Rhett Daniel Kirby is all smiles. Both of these unknowns back in May are a reality today. As I sit and hold them both, I can't help but think of the incredible memories afield that Rhett and I are going to share chasing bucks like the OL Deer of the Year. I hope one day he kills a buck this big, and that he'll come to me to paint it for him, just like the crew at Outdoor Life.

Thank you, Outdoor Life, for the opportunity to make history and inspire your readers through art. I hope all of you readers out there enjoy the September issue inside and out, and appreciate the time and talent that we put forth to bring it to you.

Wildlife Artist Ryan Kirby paints the Outdoor Life "Deer of the Year" for the Magazine's September Cover

Wildlife Inside and Out

Ryan KirbyComment

Ron was a man who valued craftsmanship.

I could tell that about him within minutes on the phone. We were talking about the original oil painting Creek Bottom Counterparts. He had emailed about the piece the day before, asking if it was still available and how to arrange for payment. I'd called him to talk over some details.

He was a good-natured guy, and I enjoyed our brief chat. He said he loved the piece because it reminded him of the area surrounding their home west of St. Louis, MO. He talked about the deer that he saw from his back window and the wilderness that lie behind his house. He liked the painting and he wanted to buy it.  

When you sell a high-end product that's as subjective and unique as original art, you run across a broad spectrum of personalities. I've found the best clients to work with are almost always self-made individuals. Smart, hard working, patient and successful (the first three are the reason they're successful, by the way). Above all, they value good work and are willing to pay for it.

Ron was one of these people.

He told me briefly where he lived in Missouri, and seeing that Kim and I were headed that way for Christmas just weeks later, I offered to deliver the piece in person. I wanted to meet Ron, see his home and thank him for being so great to work with. So on our route to Big Cedar Lodge, Kim and I drove four hours out of the way and stayed an extra night in a hotel outside of STL so that we could deliver the piece the following morning before continuing our trip.

This man and his wife built an incredible life, family, and careers, and now they’ve built an incredible home. I was humbled to be a part of it.

What we found upon delivery was incredible. We drove several miles through unbelievable whitetail habitat, and I couldn't help but rubberneck as I drove, looking for the gleam off an antler in the morning sun. As we arrived at their home, Ron welcomed us in and gave us a tour. It was magnificent. I've never seen such incredible detail in a home. There was custom trim and woodworking from floor to ceiling. It wasn't flashy, but was large, open, warm and solid, like Ron's personality. Sheila, his wife of 43 years wasn't home, but he told us about his family and their recent daughter's wedding out west. He talked of his passion for architecture, particularly Frank Lloyd Wright. We toured his library, where my painting was to hang on the mantle. I could tell a lot about the man by skimming over his vast collection of books, some of which I owned and read myself. It occurred to me that this man and his wife built an incredible life, a happy family, and successful careers, and now they've built an impeccable home. I was humbled to be a part of it, and honored that they'd chosen me for their wildlife art.

We took a pic together, promised to stay in touch, and he even gave us a Christmas gift as we left. I thought I was dreaming. We did stay in touch, and later that spring he purchased Bound and Determined to add to his collection. I was happy to send it to him.

Just recently, St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles Magazine featured their home in the August issue. Click here to read their story, titled "In Harmony with Nature." It does way more justice to the home than I ever could. Reading it brought back memories of selling this piece. It reminded me that I'm called to create, to take pride in my work and to deliver quality that equals that of the home it hangs in and the homeowners that enjoy it.

The den where "Creekbottom Counterparts" hangs above the fireplace. Photo by Anne Matheis

The den where "Creekbottom Counterparts" hangs above the fireplace. Photo by Anne Matheis

Loosen Your Grip

Ryan KirbyComment

A man's grip on his club is just like a man's grip on his world.

This weekend I watched one of my favorite movies, The Legend of Bagger Vance. It's a cool flick, and has more to say about success and adversity than a Tony Robbins seminar. Now, if you're an IRS auditor, you probably won't relate. But as a creative dude, I totally can. 

Set in Savannah, Georgia just after World War I, Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is a local golf hero. Junuh returns home from the war carrying some serious baggage. His game suffers, his clubs collect dust and he discovers the bottle. Smack in the middle of the Depression, his ex-girlfriend hosts a four-round, two-day golf tournament in Savannah to save her father's struggling golf course and recover the family fortune. She invites Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen to play an exhibition-style match in Savannah and also invites the struggling Junuh, the former hometown hero, to drum up local support.

Junuh agrees to the tournament, but first has to wrestle with his own personal demons and get his game back. Bagger Vance (Will Smith) approaches Junuh one night and informs him that he'll be his caddy. As the two begin to work together, Vance does more work on his mind than his golf swing. Over the course of the tournament, Junuh makes an epic comeback and discovers more about himself than he does golf. The clip below is his turning point in the movie, the moment he realizes that "the hands are wiser than the head ever gonna be."

Critics hated the movie. Critics hate everything, that's why they're critics. I loved it. You see a man with all the potential in the world who refuses to let go of his demons, his shame, his ego and his pride. And the tighter he holds on, the worse he plays. Only when he finally decides to let go and get out of his own way does he start to shine. I think we're all that way.

I've seen this in my own life and career. I've had my dark days. Seen my share of adversity. Couldn't see past my own faults. But gripping life tighter only makes it worse. How many of us have been so obsessed with a deer we overhunt a stand to the point it's useless? Ever get so frustrated in a practice session that you shot arrows until you're exhausted? Did your group get tighter? Nope. Ever swing for the fence and whiff? Overtrain and get injured? We all do it.

I experience this a lot when it comes to new painting ideas. If I take to the woods with the intention of finding an idea to paint, it never happens. You just can't force inspiration. But if I relax, slow down and enjoy the hunt, an idea will always come. I'll find it. But never on my own terms. Just like every great hunting story, it always happens when you least expect it.

This week I'm starting a large commissioned painting for a new client. A golden retriever flushing a pheasant. And like every painting I've ever painted, I'll hit some snags, have some doubts and second guess some of my choices on composition and color. It may be tough to focus with a newborn at home and clients filling my inbox. But I've made a promise to trust my gut, focus on the painting in front of me and loosen my grip on the paintbrush.

Don't get me wrong, if you're an accountant, the books won't balance themselves. This blog post probably isn't for you. And if you operate a jackhammer, definitely don't loosen your grip. But if you make a living with a golf club or a guitar, a baseball or a brush, you've seen this in action. The great ones always make it look easy.

One final note. I follow The Rock on Instagram, and you should too. Watch his take on this by clicking here. 

Sunrises with my Son

Inside Ryan's Studio, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment

I remember watching a lot of sunrises with my dad.

One cold November morning, on the opening day of shotgun season, I missed every deer I shot at. It was my first season carrying a gun and deer literally appeared from every direction as we sat next to the 4-wheeler in a fence row. I shot at least 6 times with my single shot 20 ga. and only managed to clip some belly hair on a big old doe. Dad was patient with me, even though I know in his head he was probably counting the dollars I was spending in yellow slugs.

Later that spring, I shot a jake with that same gun from a homemade ground blind. I was sitting on the left, dad on the right, and the bird slipped in quietly from the right before getting spooky and putting. Dad coached me through the shot as I leaned my gun barrel over his belly and killed the bird at 15 yards. I know it left his ears ringing, but it was worth it. It was one of those absolutely perfect spring mornings and I'll never forget walking back to the truck with that bird as the sun rose above the treetops.

Earlier this week, Kim and I brought our first child, Rhett Daniel Kirby, home from the hospital. We already love the little dude more than I thought possible. All the cliches people say are true - once you hold him and lock eyes, you know deep down that your life has changed forever.

But it's challenging. He was a big baby, and after a full night of labor, Kim had a c-section at 5:04 am. With her still recovering from a major surgery, it requires more of me just to feed and change diapers, and we've had to really work together all hours of the day and night.

The first night home from the hospital was pure anarchy. Kim and I honestly didn't know how we'd make it through the night. Rhett finally fell asleep at 5 am, the house strewn with blankets, pacifiers, diaper bags and clothes. I watched the sunrise in silence, afraid to even turn on SportsCenter in fear it might wake him. And as the warm light of dawn hit the side of his face, a sense of relief came over me...."Thank God we made it."

Those are the sunrises Rhett and I share together now.

I've often heard that the true measure of success is what you do when nobody else is watching. I've seen it in sports, and I've seen it in my art career. I painted a lot of paintings that nobody has ever seen. Long before I had an Instagram account or a website with a logo. Long before I was asked to paint an Outdoor Life cover or invited to SEWE. Before anyone was paying any attention, I was working a full time job and painting late nights in a spare bedroom and reading books on color theory. I failed often, but learned from each failure and kept telling myself not to give up.

Just like anything in life that really matters, I'm learning that being a father takes time and commitment. It requires more of you than you think you have to give, and yet each time you find the strength to give it. A kid's first deer, first little league game and first bluegill caught off the dock make great Hallmark cards. And we'll get to all of those eventually. But I believe that most of being a great dad is what you do when nobody else is watching.

So on my first Father's Day, here's a shout out to the dads that have given and sacrificed in ways that we may never know about. The hard working dad that took on some overtime to slip a little extra into the college fund. The dad that passed up the dream job because it required his family to move across the country. The dads that held bottles, barbies and blankies when they'd rather be holding a beer.

Here's to you, dads. Here's to the sunrises we've shared together and the things you've done for us that we'll never know about. I hope your kids return the favor and buy you wildlife art for Father's day.

Thanks, Travis

Ryan KirbyComment

People often purchase my work as a gift, whether it be Christmas, Father's Day, a birthday or a special occasion. Recently a man named Bogdan reached out to purchase "Grandfather Gobbler" for his friend Travis, who was retiring from the Army after 24+ years of service. I include a handwritten thank you note with each print we sell, so as we spend Memorial Day celebrating the sacrifices brave men and women have made on our behalf, I thought it fitting to share my words to Travis on the brink of this next chapter of life. Thanks again, brother.

Travis,

First off, congrats on retirement. I’m watching my parents transition into retirement themselves, and it’s great to see a new chapter of their lives unfolding, probably the most rewarding years they’ve ever had. I hope you have a similar experience and find new and challenging ways to spend your time. Definitely get out and enjoy the woods!

Second, thank you for your service to our country. Guys like you lace up military boots and pick up ARs so that guys like me can lace up hunting boots and pick up a paintbrush for a living. You’ve made personal and professional sacrifices over your military career that I (and millions of other Americans) will never have to face. We’re eternally grateful for that.

Your buddy Bogdan wanted you to have an extra special gift as you head into retirement, and I believe that “Grandfather Gobbler” is that gift. I hope it finds the perfect place on the wall and that you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed painting it. Thanks again for your service, and I wish you the best in the years to come.

–Ryan

Artists CAN Read…and Should

The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment
Photo by Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

If a successful career is like climbing Everest, I'm still at base camp.

By no means have I reached the summit of artistic achievement (and probably never will - that's the point). But I've improved dramatically over the past few years, and I credit most of that to an eagerness to learn, read, and accept criticism from people I respect. I get hit up all the time on social media from other artists asking where to start and what books to buy. So here's a list of books I highly recommend to improve at art, business and life in general.

ART

Alla Prima, by Richard Schmid. Richard is an incredibly talented artist, and this book covers the broad spectrum of what it takes to be a great artist - everything from mixing color to keeping a fresh perspective and mindset while you paint. It's a must read. I'd also recommend his DVDs as well to watch the man at work.

Carl Rungius: Artist and Sportsman, by Karen Wonders. Carl Rungius was the freaking man. An adventurous hunter, a rugged individualist and an adept wildlife artist, Rungius traveled to the most remote parts of North America and painted species that most people had yet to see even in photographs. His stories of hunting, travel and art are fascinating.

Wild Harvest: The Animal Art of Bob Kuhn, by Bob Kuhn. Probably one of the world's most respected wildlife artist, Bob Kuhn's use of action and his accuracy in depicting anatomy are unparalleled. My in-laws bought me a copy of this book, signed by Bob himself, for Christmas last year and I've read through it 4 times already. Just studying his work before I paint is inspirational.

Color Choices, by Stephen Quiller. Art is like sports. You have to master the technical fundamentals before you can really cut loose. Jordan mastered left handed dribbling and good shooting form before he could crossover and hit a fadeaway. Painting is similar - you have to learn how to mix color and apply paint before you can put what's in your head onto canvas.

BUSINESS

Linchpin, by Seth Godin. Be great at what you do. Period. Seth is a marketing genius and will challenge you to be indispensable. A linchpin. The one that goes above and beyond to make a customer happy and get a job done when nobody else will. He'll also encourage you to launch your work and fine tune it as you go - don't get cold feet from perfectionism.

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell. What makes a person successful? You'd be surprised. It's a combination of things, including talent, timing, resources and the courage to seize opportunities. It's never, ever just handed over to you. Nobody is an overnight success, but at the same time, it takes more than just hard work. This is a great read.

Ask Gary Vee, by Gary Vaynerchuck. Listen to his podcasts. Read his books. Ignore some of his language. Gary Vaynerchuck is an unbelievable success at business and marketing, especially in today's age of digital and social media. You'll learn lots of practical ways to grow your business, build a brand and market your services, with no shortcuts or gimmicks.

LIFE

The Bible. Especially Proverbs. I read a chapter every day before I read anything else. Proverbs covers craftsmanship, diligence, relationships, family, business, money, character - all of it. You'd be amazed at how little humanity has changed in thousands of years, and how truths of the Bible apply just as much today as when they were first written.

The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale. In Alla Prima (above) Richard Schmidt says that your mindset will affect how well you paint more than anything else. You've got to get right in the head if you expect to get right on canvas (or anything else in life). Norman Vincent Peale is an old-school preacher that published this book in 1953. He's got a very practical way of looking at challenges, faith, and life that I like. I typically read this at the end of the day or when I'm in a bind.

HUNTING STORIES

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman & The Wilderness Hunter, by Theodore Roosevelt. These guys were tough, rugged, adventurous and resolute. I love these old stories of guys that hunted simply because they loved chasing game and had a taste for wilderness. No sponsorships. No rangefinders. Just woodsmanship and sheer grit.

Father Water, Mother Woods; Essays on Fishing and Hunting in the North Woods, by Gary Paulsen. Nothing is more pure than a kid's unbridled love for hunting and fishing. This is a collection of stories from decades ago about boys who spent every spare minute lost in northern Minnesota's woods and waters. Their poverty forced them to be creative and resourceful in ways only country boys can be. It's a great read to remind us why we all hunt and fish in the first place.

 

An MBA from the Bush - What a Deer Stand Taught Me About Business

Hunting, Inside Ryan's Studio, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment

Recently I’ve been asked to speak at universities about art, business, and life in general. And doing so has made me take a hard look at what it means to be an artist and an entrepreneur. Here’s my take.

I’ve learned more about life from hunting and the Bible than any life coach could ever tell me.

Last week on a trip to my parent’s farm, I took a couple days to do some treestand prep work for next fall, as well as just get outside and clear my head. One stand set in particular caused me to think back on what I’ve learned in almost five years of working for myself.

It was a cedar tree. I’ve always loved treestands in cedars. They’re rock solid, there’s cover to hide in and it’s just fun to sit in something besides a hardwood. But I was really proud of this stand in particular. Not because of it’s location (which is easy to access and great for a NW wind) but because I managed to get the stand 25 feet in the air without using a single tree step or set of sticks. I just improvised and got the job done, and it worked out beautifully. So here are my top three takeaways for hanging a stand and building a career:

1. Run Lean and Mean

These days, everyone wants to take out a loan or raise capital, open a business with high overhead, and chase the American dream. But if you can’t take a good photo with a cheap camera, what makes you think a $5,000 setup will make you a great photographer? If you can’t paint well in a spare bedroom, what makes you think a $4,000 a month studio will make you an award-winning artist? Work with what you have, get really good with what you have, and upgrade your equipment later. By then, you’ll be great.

All I had was a $40 lock-on and an extra ratchet strap when I decided to hang this set. But who cares? As long as it’s reasonably comfortable and the platform is level, it’ll work. If I can’t kill a deer out of that stand, what makes me think a $250 stand will get the job done any better? Plus, being cheap (or “resourceful” as a life coach would say) is a badge of honor for a farm kid…

Wisdom is before him that has understanding; but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
— Proverbs 17:24

2. Take What’s in Front Of You

One step at a time. That’s how anyone who’s ever done anything great did it. There’s no such thing as an overnight success or a sure-fire way to the top. And if you think that your key to success lies in someone, something, or someplace far away, you’re an idiot. The key to your success is right in front of you – so open your eyes. Most people who end up in great careers didn’t follow a straight path. They seized opportunities as they came along, one at a time, and only after looking back 40 years later can they connect the dots.

How do you get 25 feet in the air with no tree steps? You take it one limb at a time, using what the tree gives you and improvising as you go.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Adjust

Running lean and mean allows you to do something very important – make mistakes. If your overhead is low, you can keep your options open and move quickly. And if something doesn’t work (which, if you’re really pushing yourself to try new things, a lot of them won’t) you won’t miss a mortgage payment or go out of business. I paint some paintings that don't sell. But I learn from them, adjust, and then paint a better one that does.

This treestand placement may suck. I may watch deer after deer walk by next fall out of bow range. So I’ll move it. And because it’s easy to take down, I can do so quickly and hang it in a better position in range of what the deer are doing. Heck, it’s only $40, so I may just leave it in the tree.

But then again, I’m my father's son, and letting a perfectly good $40 stand go to waste in a cedar tree would be a shame.

Concept to Completion

Ryan KirbyComment
Copyright-Ryan-Kirby-North-Carolina-Elk-Cherokee-Pride.jpg

In recent years, I've noticed a pattern of conversation when interacting with people at art shows. Upon seeing my work for the first time, one of three reactions usually follows: 

A) "How long did that take??"
B) "Dude, I can't even draw a stick figure."
or C) "Where do you get the idea for that painting?"

The most common question is C. So for this post, I thought I'd walk through the entire painting process, from concept to completion.

This fall I took a weekend trip deep into the Appalachian mountains to photograph a herd of wild elk in the Cherokee National Forest. On the final morning of my trip, as the sun rose higher in the sky and burnt off of the hazy fog from the valley floor, the elk I was photographing began to slowly filter up into the shadowy timberline. The intense rut activity that I witnessed at daylight began to wane, and as the boss 6x7 bull followed his cows up into the shade, I felt the curtain began to close on the morning's production. But then, a lone bugle echoed through the valley, bellowed from another bull on the opposite ridgeline. This stud bull was having none of it. He emerged from the shadows, stepped back out perfectly into the light and let us all know who ruled the valley with a long, guttural bugle of his own. Here's the photo I snapped in the moment:

This bull stepped out perfectly into the light for one last bugle. He was probably 75 yards away when I snapped the photo.

This bull stepped out perfectly into the light for one last bugle. He was probably 75 yards away when I snapped the photo.

So many times you have to tweak a reference photo to get it suitable for painting. Adjusting lighting angles, contrast, increasing or decreasing the size of a rack, moving a leg left or right to make the animal appear more balanced, etc. But this image was a winner from the moment my Canon shutter snapped, and I almost couldn't believe how perfect the lighting was. I knew then that I wanted to paint it. 

He could have worked as a solo bull, but I've painted enough of those and wanted something more. I felt a couple cows placed to the left, one deep in the shade and another at the edge of the timberline, would help to tell the story better. So I dug up a couple more shots from the trip that I felt worked, and added them into the composition. Here are the cow pics I used:

I spotted this cow at the back of the herd and really liked the play of warm light on her backside vs. cool light on her belly and front quarter.

I spotted this cow at the back of the herd and really liked the play of warm light on her backside vs. cool light on her belly and front quarter.

This cow wasn't anything special, but I needed a reference of a cow in even, cool light so I could put her in the shade.

This cow wasn't anything special, but I needed a reference of a cow in even, cool light so I could put her in the shade.

The pieced just still wasn't quite what I wanted; it didn't have a sense of elevation. I wanted it to feel like these elk were headed up into the shadowy recesses of a high mountain haunt for the day, and this bull just had to get the last word in. So I changed the angle of the shadows and treeline to suggest an elevation change. This gave me a strong diagonal sweeping into the upper left. I sketched the composition on canvas and began to lay down color.

My initial sketch on canvas.

My initial sketch on canvas.

The underpainting in progress with washes of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue.

The underpainting in progress with washes of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue.

I started the painting process with washes of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue to establish my lights and darks and lay down the form of the elk. Once this was done, I simply applied color with brush and palette knife, working to bring the piece to a more and more finished state. To counter balance the strong left-leaning diagonal of the grass and draw attention to the bull, I added a log running diagonal in the opposite direction. (Often, I look at my work in a mirror, and doing so reveals any odd diagonals or the "leaning" that results from being right-hand oriented and getting comfortable painting on the piece - that's how I determined the grass/treeline diagonal needed work) 

Below, you can see a time-lapse video of the painting process. Each painting presents unique challenges and requires a fresh approach to problem-solving, but overall this elk piece provides a general idea of my technique. It's so much fun to bring a piece to life, and especially to look back and see it in action. I hope you enjoy the unique glimpse into my studio that this video provides.

This 36"x24"original oil painting is currently available for purchase for $6,000.



Full Circle

Wildlife Art Prints, Inside Ryan's Studio, HuntingRyan KirbyComment

I cut my teeth at the National Wild Turkey Federation.

My first real job after college, I spent several years there as a graphic designer and illustrator, working on magazines, advertising and various print and web projects. It was a great place to work, and I made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life there.

NWTF headquarters had an incredible working environment. Not only were we working for a meaningful cause, but their was a passion for hunting and conservation that bled through the entire organization. We'd shoot bows at the range during lunch, train labs in the pond outside the office, and shoot all sorts of guns and video on the property. Even when I was in our graphics cave doing actual work, I got to work with turkey photos and content centered on hunting and conservation. Pretty sweet gig. 

But the biggest thrill for me was to see behind the scenes into the NWTF Banquet Art Program. Art has been an important part of NWTF Hunting Heritage banquets since day one, well over 40 years ago. Artists from across the country submit their work to the NWTF, whose crew whittles down the entries to a select few pieces of art that they believe will resonate best with their membership. Once selected, the NWTF prints around 1,800 canvas or paper prints and brings the artist to headquarters to sign and number each one of them.

I remember walking down the hallway and seeing guys like Bruce Miller, Greg Alexander, James Hautman and Pat Pauley sitting at a table, signing and numbering their art. I always mustered the courage to introduce myself, compliment their work, and start up a conversation about deer hunting or art. They were great dudes, each of them willing to offer advice, and I even brought my paintings in for them to critique. I learned a lot from them, and to this day see their work as some of the best in the business.  

Four years ago this spring, I launched out on my own as an artist and left NWTF headquarters in the rear view mirror. We still continue to work together, and now I have the honor and privilege of being an NWTF artist myself. This fall I spent two full days working through a stack of 1,800 canvas gicless of "Sons of Thunder" and the 2016 NWTF Stamp Print "A Place in the Sun II." Most people don't realize this, but from the first brushstroke on canvas to the moment an NWTF member places the winning bid at auction, every framed print is handcrafted by hard working Americans. My old buddy Jason Rikard prints the art at headquarters in Edgefield, SC, and together we sign off on the quality of each and every print off the press. The hard working fellas in the warehouse even cut and assemble the frames by hand before shipping them to Hunting Heritage banquets across the country. Those guys assemble quality frames so fast it'll make your head spin.

As we head into 2016, do me one favor: find your local NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet and go to it. You'll have fun. You'll meet people in your community. You'll win stuff. You'll eat well. And you'll have the opportunity to put a well crafted piece of fine art on your wall. Most importantly, you'll ensure that your kids and grandkids will grow up to enjoy the same wild places that you and I have. And as you hang those two gobbling longbeards on the wall to share with friends and family, know that it took a tremendous amount of pride and craftsmanship to create. And it was created for you.

An Artist's Reflection on 2015

Ryan KirbyComment
Every morning, we have the same routine. I wake up early, start coffee and feed Georgia (who promptly leaves after breakfast and then waits outside the bedroom door for Kim). I pour myself coffee, always in my go-to Winchester mug, and then I sit down in a chair in the corner of the living room, directly across from a painting of two strutting longboards. I read, and I write. As we wrap up another year, I thought it fitting to share my words. Here's my final entry for 2015:

Lord, it's the end of another great year. So many great things happened in the past 12 months. 

  • Kim and I made a baby!
  • I launched a complete rebrand, which is fun to work with, authentic, and that I'm confident is the future of my life and business
  • Our family and friend relationships are the best they've ever been
  • I have a new nephew, and he's the man
  • Georgia turned 10 and is doing well, even though her eyebrows are the color of snow
  • Kim shot her first dove on opening day, and I'll never forget how pumped she was when she hit it
  • I killed a great deer on my parent's place, which I haven't done in years, and dad, Tyler and Colin were all there to share it
  • We had another great year exhibiting at SEWE
  • I had the opportunity to paint another Outdoor Life cover, which is tremendous
  • A collector sent his private jet and his helicopter to fly Kim and I to his home, where he bought a couple originals for his man room. That's a first!
  • I landed two paintings in the NWTF core pack, and got to spend a couple days signing giclees at the NWTF headquarters in Edgefield. That's where it all began.
  • An original deer piece called "The Slip" raised $10,000 at auction for the Warsaw Fall Classic
  • Outdoor Life ran a story on Papa. And while he may not admit it, I know he was proud to see it in print
  • My business is strong, and I feel I'm doing better and better work each day, not only for myself but also for my clients
  • Crossfit has really made a difference in our life physically and mentally

Lord, You know I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, so I'm not gonna make them. But I really do believe that this will be our best year yet. Our happiest year. Our most rewarding year. And none of it is possible without You. Your presence in our life gives us wisdom, confidence and hope. Your salvation gives us reason to believe, and the strength to endure anything that may lie ahead. 

In the next year, help us to really, really hit our stride. I know that changes are coming with this baby. Major changes. Changes that will turn our life upside down. Our life will never be the same after this child - it'll be far better. Thank you for an incredible 2015. Let's walk together and make 2016 far better than we could ever think possible. 


Babies, Bucks, and the Best Spot to Bowhunt

Hunting, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment
Ryan-Kirby-Buck-Colin-Kirby

A lot of things have me sentimental on deer hunting lately.

Every year I point my GMC northwest and head from the mountains of Boone, NC back to my home state of Illinois to bow hunt the rut. It's a purely magical time to a deer hunter. And for me, it's also time to see my family and friends. These days with life getting busier and work more demanding, it's often the only time I see them all year. 

This year's trip coincided with two special events. First, Outdoor Life recently ran a story on my grandpa's old hunting group, which you can read in the November issue, on newsstands now. It's a story about the good 'ole days of deer hunting in the Heartland, where hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers toted smoothbore shotguns on man drives with their buddies. They hunted the same way midwesterners do everything - the way that made sense to them. Listening to "Papa" retell the story and writing it was a trip back to my childhood and a tribute to those staunch, Carhartt clad men, some of whom have passed on. Lots of folks from my hometown bought the issue just for that story, thrilled to see their grandpa or dad mentioned in print with a photo. The response was moving in a way I didn't expect.

Second, my brother, Tyler, and sister-in-law, Ashley, from Kansas City just had their first baby. Colin Lucas Kirby is 4.5 months old and he's the man. He wants to stand up and see the world, never stops moving, and is trying really hard to tell us what he thinks. My mom is the ultimate first-time uber-grandma, and my dad has dropped his guard, losing the rough, gravely tone in his voice for baby talk (What the ??). We were all at the house together for a couple days, and it was awesome. We would hunt mornings and evenings, then spend the rest of the time eating, talking, and doting on the little dude together. Soon enough, Kim and I will add to the mix with our own little ones, Tyler and Ashley will have more, and the next generation of Kirbys will grow up.

In light of all this, here I sat in a tree on the first afternoon on my parent's farm. Fairly warm at 50 degrees and a stiff NW wind in my face, I had packed in a super lightweight Muddy Outfitter Lite hang-on stand and sticks. I picked a tree in the best corner of the field, shimmied up with the climbing sticks, hung my stand, and in less than 15 minutes I was ready with an arrow nocked. To my right was a cut corn field, and to my left was the main body of brush-choked timber. Below me and to my left was a weathered old permanent stand built 10 feet off the ground in a gnarly hedge tree.

As I sat waiting for the action to start, I couldn't help but think of all the hunting stories this old wooden stand could tell. I remember the time my uncle Scott shot a buck there that was crawling through multi-flora rose on his knees, trying to keep his rack low to the ground and slip back through a man drive. Or the time my dad shot a beautiful 8 point with great brow tines that was bedded underneath that stand with 7 does late in the year. I remember hearing my first fly-down cackle from a boss hen one spring as she pitched from her roost in an oak tree above that hedge. And as I reminisced, I thought:

"The more things change, the more they stay the same"

Here I am with all my fancy gear, packing in a stand that weighs less than my nephew, shooting a slick new compound and using a rangefinder to find that one perfect corn stalk that I know is at 40 yards. Yet when it comes time to choose a location, I pick the same spot that's delivered for decades. That same inside corner on the same brushy flat with the same trails that have always been there. My grandpa's generation didn't read this tactic in a magazine or learn stand placement from Bill Winke. They just put a stand there because, well, it made sense to them. 

I even posted about it on Instagram

ryas-kirby-art-instagram

Forty-five minutes later I look up to see a mature buck enter the corn field, cruising downwind of a brushy draw, scent checking it for does. I grunt. He can't hear me in the wind. I reach for my rattling antlers and crack them together just enough to get his attention. He snaps his head my direction and freezes. I freeze too, and for 30 seconds he burns a hole in my location with his eyes. He loses interest and starts walking again. I crack the horns together once more. This time he turns on a dime, walking, then running, straight at me, quickly covering the 150 yards between us while I reach for my bow. At 50 yards though, he turns and heads into the timber, looping downwind of my tree, sticking tight to the brush and offering no shot. A couple grunts and a snort wheeze brings him closer, and at 43 yards he steps out of the thick stuff and into a 2 foot window between the limbs of the hedge tree. I bleat with my voice to get him to stop, settle the pin and send an arrow his way, and it's over. One more story for that old hedge tree to tell.

My brother was in a stand not 200 yards away and heard the commotion. We exchanged texts, he goes and pulls the truck around, and together we drag him out, the way we've always done. We celebrated, took a few pics, texted buddies and retold the story to dad when he got home from work. We even got Colin out the next morning for the classic redneck deer photo, the one on a bloody tailgate, the way we used to do it before "hero" shots became the cool thing to do. (Of course, we also took the hero shots...)

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. And one day Colin will kill a buck in this same corner of the field, and I'll tell him a long, exaggerated story about the heavy 9-point that I rattled in to that very tree. He'll probably laugh at the "old" stand I used and my "ancient" compound bow, but his dad and I will know the underlying meaning of the story:

The important things in life, like faith, family, and the best place to hang a deer stand, will never change. Welcome to the world of deer hunting, Colin Lucas.

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. From left, Tyler and son Colin, Ryan and Roger, our dad (and n0w grandpa).

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. From left, Tyler and son Colin, Ryan and Roger, our dad (and n0w grandpa).

The November Cover of Outdoor Life

Hunting, Original Oil Paintings, Wildlife Art PrintsRyan Kirby1 Comment

It started as a sketch on an airplane.

I'm not really one for conversation in the awkward, tight quarters of an airplane. It's weird trying to share elbow space as well as conversation. Equally unattractive is the idea of staring blankly at the seat back in front of me or posting wing-tip cloud pictures on Instagram. I could…I should…be doing something productive. To combat this, I carry two things aboard: a book and a sketch pad. On this flight, I chose to engross myself in the latter. 

I was flying to Vegas for SHOT Show, the annual dog and pony show where every brand in the outdoor industry comes fully loaded with their best new products and pitches. It's miles of red trade show carpet, weaving a grid of guns, ammo and gear. It's awesome. I'm fortunate enough to work with some of the best brands and publications in the industry, so in my four years of self-employment, I've yet to miss one. It's a great chance to learn our industry and connect with friends and clients. 

One such man is Andrew McKean, Editor in Chief of Outdoor Life. I worked with him on last year's October cover and have come to like and respect him tremendously. We had run into each other two weeks earlier at the ATA show and made plans to meet up again at SHOT to talk about a possible 2015 cover. In those two weeks, I'd obsessed over the idea. 

I'm a pretty intense dude when it comes to creative ideas and work. And when I get an idea in my head, I've got to bring it to fruition. So here I sat, mid-air between the Bible Belt and Sin City, sketching rough compositions of whitetails and working out a composition for a magazine cover. I sketched this testosterone-filled buck chasing a doe headlong towards the viewer, almost jumping off the page, and I knew we were onto something. Two days later, McKean and I met for coffee, and after swapping recent hunting stories (his much cooler than mine), I shared some sketches with him. We both agreed this could make a strong cover, ironed out some plans for the project, and in July we reconnected, this time with the talented creative team at Outdoor Life. 

Working with the OL creative team of photography directors and designers always demands that contributors like myself bring our A game. They're good. Really good. They know what make a good magazine, and my job is to deliver an image that not only works well with their type and color scheme, but also makes a great painting in general. It's a give and take process, and after several rounds of photoshop mockups and swapping reference photos, we finally settled on a composition and I put brush to canvas. 

After long days in the studio, long nights studying reference material, and much more obsessing, the finished product now graces the November cover of Outdoor Life. It's an honor and privilege to be a part of such a project, and as we make plans for next year's cover, I can't wait to see what this hunting season brings. I know I'll find myself sitting 20 feet up a tree in November, bow in hand, waiting and watching to be inspired for next year's piece of art.

When you open your mailbox and see the November issue, I hope the cover brings the same excitement, adrenaline and anticipation to your soul that it did to those of us who created it. Because that's why we do this special project - it's for you, the readers of Outdoor Life, and the torch bearers of The Wild Life.

#LongLIveTheWildLife

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The First Bull Elk I Ever Shot in North Carolina

Hunting, The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment

It's a sound that changes you forever. 

From the earliest Native Americans, to frontiersman like Teddy Roosevelt, to the modern day bowhunter, screaming 6x6 bulls have been rattling hunter's cages for centuries. Their bugle sounds almost surreal, even prehistoric, and yet as foreign as it may seem to man, it also resonates deeply within us. It's wild. Untamed. Just hearing the sound of a bugle takes your heart and your mind to a place far away, to a western canyon rim at sunset or an early morning fog settling in a high mountain valley. 

As a wildlife artist born in the midwest, living in the southeast and painting from all over North America (someday the world), I create opportunities to spend time with the wild animals I paint. It's important to watch, photograph, sketch and study them on their turf. So I recently took a trip to the Appalachian Mountains to photograph a wild herd of about 140 elk. Yes, that's right, the Appalachians. Through passionate sportsmen, dedicated state agencies and the effort of groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, elk have been successfully reintroduced into the Appalachians and are thriving. 

Everyone, hunters and non-hunters alike, are enthralled by these animals up close. And as a bowhunter, it was a great experience to get within 50 yards and just enjoy them, watching and observing how they interact with each other and with their environment. Without an arrow knocked and bow in hand, no adrenaline flowing, no mind racing, and no calculating how to get a shot off, you can relax and enjoy elk in a way that's almost as thrilling as hunting them. Instead of hearing your own heartbeat in your ears, you hear the more subtle sounds of cows chewing, tines ticking off tree branches, and the soft grunts and bugles that bulls seem to let out subconsciously as they lose themselves in the heat of the rut.

It was a great experience. The kind that not only lights the creative fire for new painting ideas, but also reminds me that the pursuit of wildlife runs so much deeper than putting one on the wall. It's a passion and a lifestyle that is rooted deep within our soul. How do I know? Listen to that bugle echo through the Appalachian valley again, then check out a few photos from the trip below and see if you're thoughts don't wander to higher ground, to a rugged, remote place far away.

I'll be painting from these images soon and hope you'll follow the creative process on Facebook and Instagram. And if you're lucky enough to be chasing bugling bulls for yourself right now, be sure to share your adventures with the world by using the hashtag:


"Let the Fur and Feathers Fly" - Upcoming Workshop on Painting Wildlife

Ryan KirbyComment
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I promise you this will be a great time, and despite the title, we will not be harming any animals in the process - only painting them. From Saturday, October 17 - Monday, October 19th, I'll be teaching a workshop entitled "Let the Fur and Feathers Fly" at the Charlotte Fine Art Gallery in Charlotte, NC. 

In this three-day workshop, I'll discuss not only the fundamentals of depicting animals on canvas, but also the inspiration behind the images themselves. I will provide photos of wildlife for reference during the workshop, as well as preliminary sketches to work from. You'll learn how to creatively and accurately paint both fur and feathers, completing one painting exercise for each. All levels of experience and painting mediums are accepted. I'll be working in oils, but feel free to bring acrylic, watercolors, whatever your preference. 

Learn more about the gallery and the workshop by clicking here.

Pre-registration required. The gallery accepts Visa, Discover, or Mastercard over the phone at 704-541-0741. You can also stop by during gallery hours with payment. 

Charlotte Fine Art Gallery
7510 Pineville-Matthews
Suite 9A
Charlotte, NC, 28226

Hours:
Tues. 10am-4pm
Wed. 10am-9pm
Thurs. 10am-9pm
Fri. 10 am-6pm,
Sat. 10am-2pm. 
Sun. & Mon. Closed