Ryan Kirby Art

Sign, Number, Repeat

Ryan KirbyComment

I never thought I could sign my name 1,700 times in one day.

I never thought I’d need to, either. But my schedule is tight these days, and that’s not exactly a feat you can just handle over lunch. So this past Saturday, I brought in some help, rounded up every flat surface in the house and held a marathon print signing in our living room. By 7 pm I had signed and numbered all 1,700 of my “Turn and Burn” paper prints for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 2018 banquet season. (my previous record was around 1,000 in a day)

I was 17 years old the first time I ever had to sign an edition of anything.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. That previous school year, my entry into the Federal Junior Duck Stamp contest had been chosen Best of Show in the nation. As part of my new contract with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, I had to sign a large number of stamps for their collectors. In an odd turn of events that I don’t exactly remember the details of, a stack of stamps, printed in large sheets, arrived at our home on Thursday. They had to be shipped back to Washington, DC on the following Monday.  But there was a problem with that turnaround time. You see, I was at a basketball team camp at the University of Illinois all weekend with my high school varsity team – three and a half hours from home.

My parents, being the sort of industrious, do-whatever-it-takes Midwestern farm people, provided the solution though. They loaded up the pile of stamps and drove the across the state to Champaign, IL, where I sat and signed prints between games. I remember sitting in a concrete stairwell off to the side of the gym and signing, over and over and over again. The humid July heat was made worse in gym filled with hundreds of teenage kids playing ball, and the hardest part was keeping my own sweat from smearing the ink on the stamps. I used a towel to constantly dry the back side of my wrist, signing until coach gave me the word that we were up next.

People don’t always see that side of producing art. The side that requires some dirty work. The side that requires monotony, resolve and a dogged determination to produce a quality product.

For several years in a row now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have work chosen in the banquet packages of conservation groups like the Quality Deer Management Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and my alma mater, the National Wild Turkey Federation. Being chosen is an honor, and it also brings with it some dirty work. 

Did you know that, in a day an age where it’s often easier and cheaper to go overseas for product, these art packages are produced right here in the States? From the first brush stroke in my North Carolina studio to the final “SOLD!” by the auctioneer in your hometown event, hundreds of folks right here on domestic soil work hard to bring that piece of art into your home.

The NWTF is one of the most impressive of such groups – not only because of the scale at which they operate but also the quality of the product. The NWTF has its own large format printers at their South Carolina headquarters and produce their canvas giclées in-house. Their talented crew color corrects the digital images of the paintings, works with the artist to get an accurate proof, prints and stretches each giclée by hand,  assembles the frame and installs the hanging hardware on the back. From there, each piece of art is boxed and sent to your local chapter, where it auctions to raise dollars for conservation.  

Have you ever tried to build a frame? It ain’t easy. Ever boxed and shipped an oversized piece of art so it arrives in pristine condition? It takes experience. Ever cussed your printer because of a paper jam or wondered why the ink looks faded or blotchy? Imagine that on a much larger, much more professional scale. A tremendous amount of time, talent and tenacity go into producing a large edition of high-quality prints. And the NWTF does it for literally tens of thousands of pieces a year.  

Think about that next time a print goes up for auction at your local banquet. That piece of art didn’t paint itself…didn’t print itself…didn’t frame itself…and it didn’t package itself. The hard working, dedicated artists, printers and staff of the National Wild Turkey Federation did…for you.

This year, be sure to take a piece of art home with you from a banquet, even if it’s not one of mine. They truly are #WildlyOriginal.


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Purchase "Turn and Burn" at your local NWTF banquet in 2018. Not sure where to go? Find your local event here

The Reason that I Sketch…Daily

Ryan Kirby5 Comments

It started as a way to hold myself accountable. 

For two months, I'd been so busy developing print ads for clients in the outdoor industry, art directing photo shoots, hitting deadlines and running my business that I wasn't creating anything. Nothing. I hadn't picked up a paintbrush or a pencil in two months.

As an artist, that's a bad place to be. I've always prided myself on improvement. Not on perfection — only on improvement. To develop any skill as a professional, or life in general, it takes time, discipline, dedication and patience. I bet Michael Jordan never went two months without touching a basketball (even his his baseball days). Peyton Manning probably never went two hours without touching a football. And even though their salaries have waaaaay more zeroes than mine, the principle is the same. If you're going to be great, you have to put in the time. 

And I wasn't. 

I remember a sermon years ago by Andy Stanley talking about time. The principle was this: the truly important arenas in life are worth devoting yourself to in small increments, every day. Want a good relationship with your family? Spend time with them every day. You can't skip out on family dinners for a month and then take them on a 6 hour buffet binge to make up for weeks of your absence. You can't neglect your health for a year, then show up at the gym for a 19 hour Crossfit marathon and walk out with abs. You can't avoid saving for retirement and then work 85 hours a week when you're 65 to catch up. Want to learn a diaphragm call? Pop that thing in your mouth every day for 10 minutes on your commute to work and eventually you'll get it. You can't learn it watching 46 YouTube videos the day before the spring opener.

The interesting thing is that this does not apply to things in life that don't really matter (You can get on Facebook and pretty much catch up any time - you didn't miss anything). However, in the arenas of life that are truly important to you, you're better off giving them a small amount of time every day rather than letting them go for months and playing catchup. 

So I picked up a pencil, and I drew a deer.

My very first #SketchDaily on Instagram - a broadside whitetail buck.

My very first #SketchDaily on Instagram - a broadside whitetail buck.

I posted it on Instagram, and decided to do this regularly. That way, even if I was slammed with client work all day, at least I'd create something. Every day, I'd bring a wild animal to life on paper, even if I wasn't doing it on canvas. That was the beginning of my #SketchDaily. 

Since then, I've come to enjoy it. Most of them are done at 9 pm after Rhett is in bed, I've hit the gym, Kim and I have caught up on the day and I have an ice cold Yeti Rambler at my side. I don't sell them. I don't do anything significant with them. I don't really even critique them. I just pull up a reference photo, enjoy the process of sketching it, snap a pic with my phone and post it on social media. 

More important than anything though, I've improved. I've felt that my ability to analyze shape, line and form has become more intuitive. I've returned to the fundamentals, and in the process, rediscovered the joy of bringing an animal to life. I've learned to appreciate the simple beauty of their anatomy, their postures and their poses. 

Wildlife present the most incredible subjects I could ever devote my career to, and I look forward to sharing more of them with you each day. Here's a collection of my most popular #SketchDaily works, as well as s few of my personal favorites. Hope you enjoy them. They truly are #WildlyOriginal.

Wanna see the full collection as it develops? Follow me on Instagram

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My 2017 Fall Classic Art Lineup

Ryan Kirby1 Comment

The Warsaw Lions Fall Classic amazes me. 

I had always heard stories about the event, and always assumed it was a bit exaggerated..... But last year I had the opportunity to be there and see it in person. I was blown away. Their committee worked with eagerness and enthusiasm. The venue, a community gym, was transformed into a rustic fall setting with real centerpieces planted in driftwood, table cloths resembling gator skin, and wagon wheel chandeliers hanging from backboards. Wives and girlfriends served VIP tables with a smile, and even knew your name. They served 300+ people a dinner of steak and lobster, cooked to order. I'm telling you, it was impressive.

But what's most impressive is the energy of the attendees. The Fall Classic has become the social event of autumn, and people show up to have a good time and support the Lions Club. 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. As a result, they've continued to set  fundraising records year after year.

I've traditionally sent an original oil painting and several prints to the auction, and 2017 is no different. With one exception: this year I'm sending TWO originals. Below is my art lineup for this year's event, with a little background info on each piece. I'm looking forward to seeing you all there next Saturday and making this the best Fall Classic yet. The event is next Saturday, October 7th at the Bott Center in Warsaw, IL. Click here for more info.

ORIGINALS

"Mr. Photogenic"

20"x24" Oil on Board

Each year at the Fall Classic, I bring my #1 of 100 print to auction at the event. This year, we're doing an original as well. "Mr. Photogenic" was the third painting to be featured on the cover of Outdoor Life Magazine and highlights Outdoor Life's "Dear of the Year," a 191" midwest brute. These originals are some of my most collectible work, and I look forward to seeing what it does at auction.

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"Sign of the Tines"

24"x18" Oil on Board

Whitetail bucks during the rut are truly magnificent. They're strong, agile, athletic and aggressive. If you've ever witnessed a mature buck marking his territory with a rub or freshening a scrape, you know the power and awesome presence that they carry with them through the fall woods. This one-of-a-kind original shows a buck leaving the sign of his tines on an unfortunate tree atop a hardwood ridge. 


PRINTS

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August 2017 Cover of Outdoor Life

21"x 27" Canvas Giclée, #1 of 100

The fourth cover I've done with Outdoor Life, this is one of those epic images that can only be captured in a Midwest corn field. Each year I send the first print of the Outdoor Life series to the Fall Classic, and this year is no different. Print #1 of 100.  

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"Ringneck Refuge"

18"x12"" Canvas Giclée, #1 of 50

My earliest experience with pheasants was planting them for the pheasant trials at Smokin' Gun Hunt Club near my home. They're still one of my favorite birds to paint, and this brand new edition of canvas prints is one that I created just in time for fall. Print #1 of 100. 


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"Final Approach"

21"x 28" Canvas Giclée, Open Edition

These mallards are making their final approach into a farm-country marsh on one of those cold, clear days in the fall. This piece looks great framed and is perfect for the farm country duck hunter.

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"Fall Break"

20 x 30" Canvas Giclée, Open Edition

This trio is heading into the hardwoods, descending from higher elevations with a backdrop of vibrant fall foliage to set off their bright green heads. This is another piece that looks great framed, and even better on the wall of the die-hard duck hunter.

Tradition

The Wild Life, Hunting, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment
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I know of few things in hunting that are as celebrated as the opening day of dove season in the South.

In the Midwest, we dove hunted. But in the same way that you fished or maybe squirrel hunted. The season was open, you had a good spot to hunt them, and so you parked your bucket in the fence row of a cattle lot and you dove hunted. It was really just a precursor to the more revered species like whitetail, quail or pheasant. It was a warmup.

But in the South, it’s the main event. A holiday. A place to reconnect with family and friends, to eat, to tell stories, to laugh and to burn through multiple boxes of ammo. It’s like a camo tailgate for the biggest college football game of the year.

It’s a tradition.

When I was growing up, the opening day of the Illinois shotgun season was our tradition. The season was only three days long (Friday-Sunday), which posed a problem for a high-school kid obsessed with deer hunting. However, the simple life of a small town provided a solution. If you brought your tag into the principal’s office, you could get an excused absence for the opener. My dad, brother and I, as well as our extended family and network of friends, never missed an opening day. Those are still some of the fondest memories I have of growing up. One day, I'll tell my grandkids about the good 'ole days when they let you out of school to deer hunt and a Coke was only $1.79.

As sportsmen and women, traditions are the lifeblood of our sport. Webster defines “tradition” this way: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Just like so many things in life, it’s rarely about the act itself, but what the act conveys that truly matters. Traditions aren’t just skin (or hide) deep – they’re much deeper than that. Here’s what traditions have taught me in my own life outdoors:

  1. The value of family, friends and relationships. Traditions are never done alone. Think about your fondest outdoor traditions - you’re always surrounded by those closest to you. Your family. Your friends. Your tribe.
  2. An appreciation for a craft. Whether it’s folding a dove with a single shot, building a solid campfire or field dressing a deer without slicing the stomach, traditions always involve us huddling around a task and learning from those who have perfected it over decades of doing it.  
  3. An appreciation for a setting. Whether it’s the back forty or forty thousand acres in Wyoming, traditions have a place, and you learn to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of it.  
  4. A sense of accomplishment and self-reliance. Rather than giving a man a fish, or a dove, or a deer, you’re teaching him to fish. You’re showing him how to hunt. If we don’t learn to do it ourselves, we’ll never be able to pass it on. Which leads me to the most important aspect of traditions…..
  5. A new generation to share it with. Remember the definition? The transmission of beliefs from generation to generation. The most crucial aspect of these rituals is that they continue. The family, the friends, the craft, the settings and the learning must pass to the next generation.

For over three decades, I’ve been that next generation; the recipient of the knowledge, time and talent of those that came before me. Now, I’m a father, and when I take Rhett to the woods I realize that things have come full circle, and I’ve become the one that must pass it on to him. 

As we take to the woods and waters this fall, remember why we do what we do. Take the time to slow down and make sure our heritage runs deep into the next generation of hunters and fishermen. It’s the only way we can ensure that our love for the outdoors carries on for centuries to come.

Below are a few pics I’ve taken over the years of our own dove opener, an annual tradition. I’d love to hear stories of your own in the comments below. 

 

Papa

Ryan Kirby5 Comments

My grandpa didn’t teach me anything about art.

He was a farmer. Part of a fraternity of Carhartt clad men who made thier living raising corn, soybeans and wheat in the fertile soils of the Mississippi River valley. The kind of man that recycled nails and screws in old Folgers cans in their machine sheds. The kind of man that fished farm ponds with Zebco combo reels and red and white bobbers baited with grasshoppers caught by hand or earthworms dug out from underneath a wet hay bale. The kind of man that helped shape a culture and community we know as rural America.

Married for 59 years, he and my grandma (Sharmi, as the grandkids call her) not only raised row crops, but also a family. Their three children, one of whom was my dad, multiplied into a large family of grandkids and great-grandkids. My grandpa was known by all of us as “Papa.” If there was one thing he loved more than being a farmer, it was being a grandpa. He took us fishing. He took us hunting. He took us to the cattle sale (even letting us raise the bid card for him). He let us ride horses and sit on top of a tame cow we creatively nicknamed “Tamey.” He and Sharmi never missed a home sporting event that one of their eight grandkids was playing in.

Because he was so present in our lives (and also because the whole family lived within a few miles of each other) we have endless memories with Papa. My brother remembers cutting down a den tree, just to see if there might be a ‘coon in it. Turns out, there were three. I remember him always having a bag of Kit Kat or Snickers in his truck during deer season. He had one of those old-school woven seat covers over the bench seat. I’ll never forget crawling up into the cab between deer drives, looking for the chocolate that was always waiting in the middle of that scratchy, dusty seat cover.

That old seat cover saw many years of work on the farm. And those years of hard work taught his grandchildren lots of life lessons. Around the time I turned 30, I finally started to realize just how much we learned being raised in the country, and how much men like Papa taught us. 

Papa taught us patience and perseverance. On a farm, there’s going to be droughts. You’re going to lose calves. There’s lean years, low prices and unexpected illness. But there’s also good years, perfectly timed rains, high yields and the satisfaction of watching a sunset over tasseling corn from your pack porch. The seasons come and go, and you’ve got to ride them out. Papa taught us the importance of family. He and Sharmi sat in the same seats at half court of our small-town gym for every home basketball game. He let us grandkids tag along in all aspects of working and playing on the farm. Their home is wall to wall pictures of his kids and grandkids to this day. Papa taught us to respect your neighbor. I literally never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. And for that matter, I never heard him say a bad word about anyone else. When your roots run deep in a small town, sooner or later you’re going to need that neighbor for a favor. That bridge you burnt may be the one that you needed to reach your new back forty. Papa taught us how to work. Farmers don’t get credit for this, but they’re the ultimate self-employed small business. They wake up every day with the opportunity and responsibility to make choices that affect their family and their livelihood. You don’t work, you don’t eat. Reaping and sowing is literally the foundation of what they do. This may be the most important lesson I’ve learned from my family. Nobody is going to plant your corn for you, and nobody is going to paint my canvas for me. You’ve got to put in your time, invest in your craft and never lose sight of what’s most important.

My grandpa didn’t teach me anything about art. But he taught me everything about how to be an artist.

We'll miss you, Papa.

Heroes, Dogs....and Hero Dogs. From Canvas to Cover for the August, 2017 Cover of Outdoor Life

Ryan Kirby2 Comments

A lot of great wildlife artists have come before me. 

I would even call them heroes. I don't want to be overdramatic, as they didn't save any lives or end hunger, but they did change the world for the better. The created. They contributed. They inspired. They put themselves out there, giving the world their best work. Many of them painted for Outdoor Life magazine.

Back in the day, before digital photography changed the way we see the world, artists were called on to bring scenes from the outdoors to life in print. Carl Rungius set out to paint the big game of the Canadian Rockies, hunting and studying these animals in order to paint them for the Museum of Natural history. Tom Beecham painted numerous Outdoor Life covers in a style that became legendary. Bob Kuhn made a living early in his career illustrating for outdoor magazines and established himself as one of the greatest of all time. On and on it goes. 

Which is why it's an honor to have my name on that list. Recently I worked with Outdoor Life to bring our fourth annual fine art cover to life, this time with a twist. The previous three featured white-tailed deer, the king of North American game. This year's cover features the king (or queen) of sporting dogs, the labrador retreiver.

The August issue is about man's best friend - the most loyal hunting companion many will will ever know. Inside this issue are tales of loyalty, heroism, grit and drive ... on the part of the dogs. So for the cover, the team at Outdoor Life and I worked hard to create an action-packed cover to honor the dogs that fill the interior pages.

One advantage of creating a scene on canvas is that we can literally stop time, manipulate the scene the way we want and tweak it if it's not quite right. After mocking up the idea with pencil sketches and getting the green light from the crew at OL, I turned to our friends Matt and Tracy Markland and their yellow lab, Deuce, for help with a reference photo. Matt spent a March evening tossing dummies in the air for Deuce to leap after while I snapped pics from the ground. Afterwards, I worked in the pheasant from another pic, manipulated them to get the composition right for the cover, and then set to work painting in my studio. 

I even painted the main cover blurb, "Hero Dogs," at the request of OL's creative team, to give it an extra hand-crafted touch. We hope you enjoy this year's August cover. It's created by hand, each and every step of the way, for you, the readers of Outdoor Life. It's truly #WildlyOriginal. 

Creativity and Conservation

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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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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 Kirby1 Comment

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.