Ryan Kirby Art

WILD. Like a Buck.

The Wild Life, Wildlife Art Prints, Nomad ApparelRyan KirbyComment

He was just a big 6-point.

 A preliminary sketch for the painting “Scrape Line”

A preliminary sketch for the painting “Scrape Line”

A 3.5 year old, but built like a schoolyard bully with an attitude to match. One of those 6-point racks with a big, wide split on the end of his main beam that makes you wonder why on earth that it doesn’t carry a G3.

He surprised me, rounding a knuckle of locust trees to my right that bulged out from the brush-choked ditch behind me. He strode briskly along the dry dam between my tree and the cut bean field I was overlooking. Less than 10 yards below and to my left was a bathtub-sized scrape on the edge of the field. The scrape was super hot, and I knew that’s where he was headed.

Knowing I wasn’t going to shoot him, I leaned back against the tree, hung my bow back up and just studied him. As a wildlife artist, studying animals on their turf is invaluable. Not only will they surprise and entertain you, they’ll teach you. Knowing how a whitetail buck moves, acts and reacts to his surroundings helps me to portray them more accurately on canvas. In art, just like hunting, it’s often the subtle details that make all the difference. I want to get those details right.

As he stepped up to the licking branch, I knew I was about to get a glimpse into his frenzied, rut-crazed inner world. The big 6 didn’t disappoint. He proceeded to work that scrape longer and with more powerful, agile movements than your average Crossfit workout. He would get up on his hind legs and work his rack into the overhanging branches of a leafy oak. He’d paw out the scrape, rub-urinate, work his preorbital gland in the licking branch, look around for an audience, then start over. At one point he struck that athletic pose that we know and love so much, the one where a buck drops his hind-quarters low, thrusts his back legs rearward, leans forward on his front legs and stretches that swollen neck as far as possible to the sky to reach a licking branch.

It was then that I knew I had to paint him.

 “Scrape Line” Original Oil Painting by Ryan Kirby

“Scrape Line” Original Oil Painting by Ryan Kirby

Returning back to my studio later in November, I started the process of re-creating the scene. I wanted to portray him from the ground-level viewpoint, so I worked with a variety of poses and photos before I found the right one from a great freelance photographer I’ve worked with in the past. I also wanted to make the buck larger, so I painted a heavy 10-point frame on him rather than the six he carried in real life (if only we could do that in the field, right?).

A week in my studio pushing paint on a 24”x36” canvas produced this, an original oil painting titled “Scrape Line.” It’s the ultimate man-cave piece: a symbol of pure, unbridled, untamed testosterone.

Deer are by far North America’s most popular big game species to hunt. And in the eyes of millions, nothing symbolizes our wild and great outdoors like a whitetail buck.

For those of us who hunt them, we know of a buck’s cunning and will to survive. He is perhaps the most reclusive creature in the woods, spending his days in seclusion and his nights in search of food and water. He knows no property line and moves about like the wind. Just when we think we have him figured out, he surprises us with a new trick or pattern.

Like a whitetail buck, there are those of us who aren’t afraid to live outside-the-box. We call them “free spirits” and most of us know one or two we admire for their carefree nature and unrelenting passion for life. They need no blessing from society to do it their way, for their way is the road less traveled and that’s ok when you’re wild...wild like a buck.

Nomad Character Series Apparel

I’m proud to announce a new partnership with Nomad apparel. We’ve designed a line of lifestyle apparel, available at select retailers now, that reflects values and the passion we all share: authentic hunting. One of the first pieces we’ve produced for Fall 2018 is the Wild Like a Buck tee that reflects the shared characteristics between hunters and the whitetails we pursue. If you share my awe and inspiration with these animals, I invite you to buy one and share these positive messages about our hunting lifestyle. Order yours now at these select retailers:

Sportsman’s Warehouse

Nica Shooting

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Blank Canvas

Ryan KirbyComment

My parents began with 56 acres.

Young, broke and just starting out, it was their blank canvas. The place they would raise row crops and kids on. The place they would grow a garden and fish on. The place they would watch thunderstorms roll in on during the summer. The place they would plow snow off of in the winter. It was home.

Eventually, they bought more land and the farm grew right along with the family. They raised two boys, my brother, Tyler, and myself just north of the small town of Hamilton, IL.

Life and work and family all just seem to happen, and before I knew it, I found myself 500 miles from home, starting my own career and family in the mountains of North Carolina. But come November, there’s no place like the farm country I grew up in.

Each fall, I head back to IL to hunt deer and to see friends and family. As life and my career have become more demanding, it’s a trip that I’ve come to relish, even to hold sacred. Every year, sitting in a tree watching the rut unfold, I dreamed of owning my own piece of dirt in the heartland.

This year, I made that dream a reality.

I bought 40 acres with the help of my buddy, Tyler Sellens of Whitetail Properties. It’s exactly what I was looking for. Forty acres of timber with a food plot, right in the heart of whitetail country. A place I can call my own. A place I can design to hunt the way I want. A place I see unlimited possibilities in. It’s my own blank canvas.

I sit in front of a lot of blank canvases, dreaming of what they could look like with the right paint in the right places. This canvas of Illinois dirt is no different. The food plots, the stands, the bedding thickets, the access - all are things I now have the opportunity to create. And while my ambition is to own more property one day, this is my first. Like my dad buying his first piece, the acreage may be small, but my dreams are big.

At the same time I’m launching out as a landowner, I’ve chosen to launch out with a new partnership with Nomad apparel. We’ve designed a new line of lifestyle apparel that reflects values and the passion we all share: authentic hunting. I strive to produce authentic wildlife art for the hunter, and they strive to produce authentic apparel for the hunter. Combined, we’ve created a line of lifestyle apparel that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. You can purchase your own here. Also, be sure to look for it at select retailers, available now.

I’ve been asked a lot “Does art run in your family?” I’ve always thought the answer was '“no.” I never could see how my dad being a farmer (from a long line of farmers) and my mom being a postmaster at our small town post office could be considered art. But looking back, I realize that they’ve taught me all along how to be an artist. I’m forever grateful that they taught me what you could do with hard work and a blank canvas.

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Ten Years of Tundra

Ryan KirbyComment

Ten years is a long time. Ten years is also a very short time. 

Ask any parent, and they'll agree. Day to day, it's a grind. The newborn phase will make you wonder if it will ever end. It's like a purgatory. Then one day after a little league game, a memory pops up on Facebook with a photo of your Louisville Slugger as a newborn and you realize it passed in the blink of an eye. 

When I was ten years old, I thought I had caught the world record bluegill out of our south farm pond. I was old enough to go fishing by myself, yet not old enough to know what to do with such a fish once I caught it. I remember reading in Outdoor Life about game wardens witnessing the weigh-in to document it. I didn't have his number, cell phones hadn't even evolved to bag phones yet, and I was a quarter mile from the house with a fish that, in my mind, was losing weight by the second. It was a dire circumstance.

Luckily we always went fishing with a white 5 gallon bucket, so I lowered the bucket into the pond, scooped out as much water as I could manage to lift back up the bank and onto the dam, and dropped the behemoth into his temporary home. His back and dorsal fin stuck out of the 5 inches of water in the bucket, and he began flopping around at a 45 degree angle to get his gills full of water. I knew it. He was a giant. 

I ran back up to our machine shed, found an old, greasy tape measure and ran back to the pond. I was determined to get length and girth measurements (again, something I read in OL) before he lost any more weight. 

At some point in my frantic documentation process, my youthful adrenaline wore off and I started to realize that this may not be the biggest bluegill caught in North America. I mean, I caught him on a Zebco 33 and all, which is serious fishing gear. That would put me in a tackle class right up there with elite bass fishermen and those guys that catch sturgeon. I knew I should have used lighter tackle....why did I have to get so fancy? Soon my dreams of World Record became "maybe he's top 5 in the state" which soon became "okay, well at least the biggest this year in the county" which then became "he's the biggest fish of my 10-year-old life." 

At ten years old, some things just aren't as incredible as you think they are.

Then again, at ten years old, sometimes they're better than you ever thought possible. The YETI Tundra revolutionized the way we think about coolers. I mean, be honest. Did you ever think in a million years we'd be as obsessed about coolers as we are now? The Tundra started an entire industry. And ten years later, the Tundra hasn't changed. It hasn't been modified, upgraded or improved. It's still just as durable and dependable as it was on day one. 

So when YETI asked me to paint the lid of one to help celebrate the Tundra's 10th Anniversary, I said absolutely. The event was held in New York City at Hometown BBQ as a kickoff to their Ten Years of Tundra Film Tour. The tour is set to travel all over the country, showing never before seen films about the ambassadors, the brand and the cooler that is the YETI Tundra. 

They asked three artists, Paul Puckett, Renan Ozturk and myself to paint three coolers and donate them to a non-profit that we selected with YETI. We donated mine to my alma mater, the National Wild Turkey Federation, where I got my start as a designer 13 years ago, and still one of the closest conservation groups to my heart. 

Traveling with oil paint is challenging, especially in a carry on. I got busted at airport security because four of my paint tubes were more than 8 oz. I buddied up the guard and, rather than throwing them all away entirely, he let me squeeze out the extra paint in the airport bathroom. Dumping $80 worth of oil paint in a trashcan isn't high on my bucket list, but it makes a good story and it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. My turkey foot mahl stick also got snapped in an overhead compartment, so once I touched down at Laguardia, I had to MacGuyver it and make due. 

Once the event got underway though, everything went smoothly and we all had a blast. Granted, Paul and I had our backs to most of the action for the first two hours, but the constant buzz of hunters, fishermen, ranchers, surfers, snowboarders and musicians united around an open bar, BBQ and all things YETI made for a lively atmosphere. Comments like "Dude, look at these guys painting on coolers. That's sick" heard over our shoulders let us know we were doing our jobs, which was to entertain the crowd as we practiced our craft on the lids of YETI Tundras.    

At 8 PM, the lights dimmed and the films began. Films about dedication, passion, the outdoors lifestyle and the YETI ambassadors that embody those themes. We ate, drank and watched, then heard from the film makers and stars of the films themselves. If you haven't heard of the Tour, check it out here, and be sure to get your tickets this fall as they come through a city near you. Even more important, if you plan on attending the 2019 NWTF National Convention in Nashville, check out this cooler in person and bid on it in support of one of the nation's greatest conservation success stories.

Congratulations, YETI on Ten Years of Tundra, and thanks for giving artists like myself the chance to do cool stuff with you. Pun intended. 

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 Our NC Regional Directory Ryan Stanley and I with the YETI before he took it to NWTF headquarters. (We didn't plan the shirt thing by the way.....)

Our NC Regional Directory Ryan Stanley and I with the YETI before he took it to NWTF headquarters. (We didn't plan the shirt thing by the way.....)

 The painting features three walking turkeys, similar to the NWTF logo.

The painting features three walking turkeys, similar to the NWTF logo.

 Winchester brass provides spacers for the glass sit over the paint and protect it.

Winchester brass provides spacers for the glass sit over the paint and protect it.

Wildly Original

Ryan KirbyComment

I like working with young talent. 

It's fun. It adds some variety to my life and work. And I'm often impressed with what they come up with. 

Nearly 9 months ago, I got an email from a college student, Josh Lawler (Check him out Instagram). He was a senior film student at Eastern Carolina University. A young, ambitious outdoorsman with a passion for video. His senior project was almost underway and he hadn't yet decided on what this project, the longest film of his college career, was going to feature. 

The day before he was supposed to turn in his plan, my Instagram account showed up on his suggested pages to follow. He reached out via email and asked if I would be willing to be the feature of a documentary style film he was creating during his final academic year at ECU.

For some reason, even from his first email, I liked him from the start. Maybe it was because I was just like Josh in college, sort of a fish out of water in my major (pun intended). Most times creative majors like design, painting, film and music don't have much room for conservative kids who grew up hunting and fishing. 

I remember in a painting class my junior year working on a composition of flying blue-winged teal and feeling the pressure to make up some vague, artsy, deeper "meaning" behind the piece, just to get a good critique from my professor and peers. In a building of young creatives focused on social disruption and countercultural "fine art," you're actually somewhat of an outsider if you like to paint, or film, deer and turkeys. 

For Josh to choose my work as his subject was a pretty bold move in and of itself. To spend two semesters dedicated to project that may or may not be well-received showed dedication and commitment on his part. He was staying true to himself, and I respected that. In addition, if my life and career were to be shown in an accurate light, I knew that it would take the trained eye of a dedicated outdoorsman to portray it that way.

I believe he did.

After concepting and planning the video, Josh and his dad came up during a weekend in October to begin filming. We shot interviews, b-roll and whatever else he needed to start piecing the story together. In February, they traveled to Charleston, SC for a weekend to include footage of The Southeastern Wildlife Expo in the film. Finally, Josh came up for a couple days in April to chase longbeards with me in the Appalachian Mountains around my studio in Boone, NC. 

Throughout the process, I was impressed with Josh's dedication to his craft and a willingness to do whatever it took to get a shot. One day we chased turkeys so hard he didn't even eat. He had left home early that day to drive to Boone, rolled in mid-morning, immediately changed into his camo and loaded up his gear for the hunt. By 4:30 that afternoon, after several moves and eventually crawling into our final setup with a longbeard only 75 yards away, we had one on the ground. He had the footage he needed and I had my largest turkey even in North Carolina. We took a few minutes to celebrate, headed into town for a sandwich, then back up the mountain to film b-roll until dark.

I'm proud of his final project, and I hope he is too. Josh took a concept from an idea to completion in a way that few kids his age could, or would be willing to. Seven minute videos are not easy. Neither are large paintings. They take commitment, time, vision and dedication: things that die-hard hunters can understand. 

I hope you enjoy this piece. It's a glimpse into my life and studio that I don't always show on social media. It's well-done. It's authentic. It's #WildlyOriginal.

  

Hunting is an Art {Fun}

Ryan KirbyComment
 Photo by Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

I've hunted my whole life. 

During this same length of time, I've also been an artist. I've learned a lot about hunting and art over the years, seen failure and success in both, and seem to grow in both arenas each season. 

As my passion for hunting and art has grown over the years, I can't escape the similarities between the two. In my career as a wildlife artist, it's become nearly impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Hunting influences my art, and art influences my hunting. Experiences afield fuel creative new ideas in my studio, and the demands of creating art have caused me to look at my time in the field differently.

Hunting, like art, is: Fun

Over the past three blog posts, I've written about how hunting and art are each an obsession, a craft and play a timeless role in human history. But most importantly, hunting and art are fun. 

As a young boy growing up in Illinois farm country, the thrill of hunting was simply tagging along. I loved hearing the stories of my dad and his hunting buddies, walking the woods with them, sharing a tailgate and taking a ribbing every now and then, like all rookies do. Eventually, a gun was passed into my hands, and with it came new responsibility and new challenges. For me, it then became fun to fill a tag and earn a sense of independence in the woods. . As I grew, putting my tag on the right deer or turkey became the fun part. I wanted to wait on an older deer, or a longbeard rather than a jake. Then came travel, and I enjoyed trying to fill tags in other locations and see new country. Recently, things have come full circle and I've come to appreciate the simple truths my family, friends and I started with.

I've learned to appreciate the tagging along again. 

Since I became a father, my time has become more compressed and, as a result, more valuable. I find myself looking to have fun again in the woods. Don't get me wrong, I'm a driven guy and very competitive, and at some level being successful is always a goal. But it's no longer the ultimate goal. You change enough diapers and talk through enough tantrums, and you'll learn to appreciate the simplicity and freedom that comes with the act of hunting. Driving around in camo with a buddy telling jokes and talking about man stuff becomes therapy. Listening to the woods wake up without hearing a baby monitor go off is heaven. I cherish the little things more, and it's more fun. 

On the other side of that coin, I see the outdoors through Rhett's eyes now. Walking through the woods with a stick is an adventure. Hearing a crow caw is the most incredible sound in the world. Seeing a deer bound away from our ruckus is an event so noteworthy he tells his mom the story (or tries to at least) when we get home. It makes me stop and think about how truly incredible this natural world that we live in really is. 

Hunting is fun. It should be fun. If my boy is going to learn to love it, he needs to see the fun side first, and never lose sight of that. The same goes for those anyone new to the sport. A beginner doesn't need to sit on stand for 4 hours in the cold, "sushed" every 5 seconds and hear endless debates over whether that deer is 2.5 or 3.5. Let 'em have some fun first. Let them soak in the small things, relax and appreciate the camaraderie that comes with camo.  

Art is no different. One of my favorite quotes about painting is this: "The point of painting is not to finish. The point of painting is to paint." It's easy to feel the pressure of hitting deadlines and making sales, and I certainly believe those are important to run a business and provide for my family. But at the end of the day, art is fun. I enjoy the creative process. I relish in the challenge of bringing an animal to life with a pencil or a brush. As I gain experience in the studio and the woods, I hope that I can do a good job of keeping art lighthearted and relatable to you, the people who read my blogs, watch my time lapses and follow along on social media. 

If we're going to pass along the traditions of hunting and art, we need to keep them accessible, keep them fun, and never lose sight of the richness they bring to our lives. This spring, remember that Hunting is an Art, and it's a heck of a lot of fun. Purchase your own "Hunting is an Art" Signature Series T-Shirt below and have a blast wearing it this spring. 

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Hunting is an Art {Timeless}

Ryan KirbyComment
 Photo by Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

I've hunted my whole life. 

During this same length of time, I've also been an artist. I've learned a lot about hunting and art over the years, seen failure and success in both, and seem to grow in both arenas each season. 

As my passion for hunting and art has grown over the years, I can't escape the similarities between the two. In my career as a wildlife artist, it's become nearly impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Hunting influences my art, and art influences my hunting. Experiences afield fuel creative new ideas in my studio, and the demands of creating art have caused me to look my time in the field differently.

Hunting, like art, is: Timeless

Since the dawn of time, hunting and art have been uniquely tied together. Hunting was a core part of the lives of our earliest ancestors. So was art. Thousands of years later, we still marvel at their creations, preserved on cave walls for the entire world to see.

I imagined these primitive hunters returning from a successful hunt after dark, eyes wide and adrenaline pumping, retelling an epic story over a campfire with hands spread wide, exaggerating the size and brute strength of the animal they felled. The next day, still amped from the thrill of the hunt, they took a break from skinning and preparing meat to tell their story in art. They found ways to mix pigments that stuck to cave walls and used crude, primitive tools to create the first wildlife art known to man. All this effort was fueled by a passion to pursue game and a desire to share the story of the hunt with the next generation of hunters.

Knowing what I know about hunting and art, I refuse to believe their efforts were purely educational. They weren't formally documenting their lives for archaeologists to find centuries later. They loved it. They were enthralled with hunting and the adventures and challenges that came with it; it occupied their minds and their free time. Their enthusiasm spilled over onto the walls of their dwellings, leaving us with the earliest forms of art known to man. 

Today, our tools and techniques are different. My brushes are synthetic, made of material that didn't even exist then. My paints come in metal tubes with free shipping, rather than being crudely mixed on a rock. (Which, I guess, also had free shipping.) Rather than sharpening a hefty stick to forge a primitive spear, I simply load up my 870 with Winchester Long Beard XR on the tailgate before a hunt. In lieu of an obsidian arrowhead, I screw a Wasp expandable broadhead to the end of a carbon arrow with a lighted nock. 

Our enthusiasm for wild animals and wild places still spills over onto our walls, wether they’re made of rock or sheet rock.

Yet despite these dramatic differences in technology, the core of hunting and art has remained fundamentally the same over thousands of years. It's amazing when you think about it. Hunters leave the comfort of home to pursue game on their turf, deep in the wilderness. We pass our experience and knowledge on to younger generations, initiating them in the ways of the wild. We share the experience with other members of our tribe, our inner circle. We tell epic stories. We feed the harvest to our families. We remain enthralled with big antlers and explosive action (Ever see a cave painting of a doe feeding passively in a field? Me neither). Most importantly, our enthusiasm for wild animals and wild places still spills over onto our walls, wether they're made of rock or sheet rock. The love of wildlife and the love of wildlife art are synonymous. 

This spring, remember that Hunting is an Art. When we hunt, we're actively engaging in a tradition that's as old as time itself. Art plays an important role in that tradition. Now you can not only can you decorate your wall with it, you can also wear it on your chest. Purchase your own "Hunting is an Art" Signature Series T-Shirt below and wear it with pride this spring. 

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Hunting is an Art {Craft}

Ryan KirbyComment
 Photo by Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

I've hunted my whole life. 

During this same length of time, I've also been an artist. I've learned a lot about hunting and art over the years, seen failure and success in both, and seem to grow in both arenas each season. 

As my passion for hunting and art has grown over the years, I can't escape the similarities between the two. In my career as a wildlife artist, it's become nearly impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Hunting influences my art, and art influences my hunting. Experiences afield fuel creative new ideas in my studio, and the demands of creating art have caused me to look my time in the field differently.

Hunting, like art, is: A Craft

Art is defined as "the expression of something beautiful." A perfectly placed series of brushstrokes. A solo sung with flawless pitch. A series of cutts and yelps from a Grand National Calling Champ. Jordan mid-air from the free-throw line in the '88 dunk contest: poetry in motion. Art not only inspires us, but also seems to make time stand still.

These expressions of art seem to occur with ease and grace, as if the artist was born for this moment. But if you take a closer look under the hood, you'll find a craftsman. Hard work. Calloused hands. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Wins. Losses. Learning. It's all part of perfecting the craft. And hunting, just like art, is a craft. 

A craft demands respect. Everyone who has ever set out to master their craft started with awe and reverence for it. The best athletes respect the game. The best artists work with a sense of dignity and appreciation for their art. The best hunters respect the game they pursue. They take pride in the manner in which they pursue it and know that the road to greatness is never a shortcut. 

A craft requires years to master. My iPhone screensaver is a Gary Vaynerchuck image that simply says "Hard Work & Patience." In addition, I have a sign above the trashcan in my studio that reads "10,000 hours." Malcom Gladwell popularized that number in his book Outliers, suggesting that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve greatness in a chosen field. Talent alone is never enough. Every time I throw a dirty paint rag away, I use that sign as a backboard to remind myself that a craft takes time. The best hunters know this as well, realizing that hours in a deer stand, experience on a blood trail and time in the turkey woods is the greatest teacher of all. 

A craft requires special tools. This is the fun part. It's also the most challenging. Bows, broadheads, box calls......and brushes. Learning the tools of the trade takes time, a willingness to learn and the courage to make mistakes. But man, is it rewarding to finally get a handle on them. The artistry and technique that I try to achieve with my brushwork is the same as trying to achieve the perfect tone and cadence on a diaphragm. Ironically, the true craftsman will never fully master these tools, the but pursuit is half the fun.

The true beauty of a craft is that once you respect it, pour enough time into it and master the tools it requires, you can fly. The subtle nuances that used to elude you become second nature. The cues that you used to miss are handled almost subconsciously. That's the moment when art and hunting become the expression of something beautiful. 

This spring, remember that Hunting is an Art, and embrace the craft. Purchase your own "Hunting is an Art" Signature Series T-Shirt below and wear it with pride this spring. 

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Hunting is an Art {Obsession}

Ryan KirbyComment
 Photo by Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

I've hunted my whole life. 

During this same length of time, I've also been an artist. I've learned a lot about hunting and art over the years, seen failure and success in both, and seem to grow in both arenas each season. 

As my passion for hunting and art has grown over the years, I can't escape the similarities between the two. In my career as a wildlife artist, it's become nearly impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Hunting influences my art, and art influences my hunting. Experiences afield fuel creative new ideas in my studio, and the demands of creating art have caused me to look my time in the field differently.

Hunting, like art, is: An Obsession

Mossy Oak says it best. "It's not a passion, it's an obsession." Truer words have never been spoken to describe both hunting and art. Obsession is defined as "an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind."

My boy Webster nailed it.

Are you the spouse of a die-hard turkey hunter? My wife Kim is, and she gets it. Chances are, if I go quiet and eyes glaze over when we're out to dinner during April, I'm either suffering from a month's worth lack of sleep (quite possible) or I'm thinking about where to set up the next morning. "Should I gamble and try to get to that white oak before first light? Or sit high in the pasture to and let him gobble before I make a move?" If I've got a bird roosted, just forget about conversation — my mind is focused on that bird. Kim might as well just talk to the napkin. 

Hunter's don't just enjoy hunting, we live and breathe it. We dream about it. We talk about it with buddies. We watch ridiculous TV shows about it. We anticipate opening day like 4 year olds do Christmas morning. It's an obsession, and we embrace it. 

Of all hunters, I've always felt that duck hunters went to the most extremes. Waking up at 2:30, driving to the boat ramp, putting in, loading dogs and gear, driving a half hour upstream in the dark, enduring awful weather and maybe, just maybe, shooting a few ducks before working just as hard to get back to civilization. It's insane. I've never seen anyone go to those lengths for anything. That is, until I became a professional artist. 

There's a reason artists get branded as weird, sketchy (no pun intended) and spacey. Our minds are often stuck in the studio no matter where we are physically. We're preoccupied with creating and obsessed with the creative process, the journey of taking an image from an idea as vague as a foggy spring morning to something as detailed and colorful as the breast feathers on a strutting longbeard. The possibilities we dream of drive us to pursue our craft at ridiculous hours and at often extreme sacrifices.

In the same way my mind wanders during turkey season, it goes AWOL after a long day in the studio. We can be at a restaurant and I'll see a color reflected on a wall and think to myself "I wonder if I could take Burnt Sienna, some Lemon Yellow and Warm White and mix that color.....wait, that's too warm......it'll take a touch of Ultramarine to cool it off. Yeah, yeah that's it. I could mix that color." Poor Kim. 

Obsessions, like any double-edged sword (or hunting knife if you will), can lead us to greatness if we're pursuing the right things. Obsession drives us to be better versions of ourselves. If I had to choose two things to be obsessed with, hunting an art are two of the best I can think of. Somehow, by the grace of God, I've managed to blend them into a life and a career, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  

This spring, remember that Hunting is an Art, and embrace the obsession. Purchase your own "Hunting is an Art" Signature Series T-Shirt below and wear it with pride this spring. 

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Remix

Ryan KirbyComment

Everybody uses a mulligan now and then.

Admittedly, I take a bunch of them on the golf course. But I'd never taken one in the studio...until last week.

"Double Date" is a turkey piece I initially painted late in the spring three years ago. I stumbled across the scene while hunting on the last day of North Carolina's turkey season, high on a ridge typically filled with hard gobbling longbeards. That day, however, it was quiet, and I found myself hiking in search of a bird willing to work.

 The background reference pic for "Double Date"

The background reference pic for "Double Date"

As I walked along a bench halfway up the mountain, I came across the scene at right and felt it was the perfect setting for a turkey piece. It had these gnarly, moss-covered logs, mature hardwoods and lush spring growth. It even had some ginseng (or "sang" for you mountain folk) growing in it. I took a break from running and gunning, exchanged my shotgun for my camera, and spent 20 minutes or so photographing the surroundings. I was so enamored with the scene, I immediately went to work on the piece in my studio the following day. I found reference for the turkeys, worked them into a composition and started pushin' paint. 

I've always been a sucker for unique structure in a painting. Funky logs, rocks, stumps, etc. I feel like they give a painting some character and add interest. It's also more fun to paint. A bare forest floor covered in dead leaves just isn't that exciting. But add an odd stump that casts a unique shadow at sunrise, or a large rock that breaks up the uniform profile of a ridge top, and now you've got something an artist can work with. 

That's one reason I loved the logs in the original scene. So, I chose to paint a hen hopped up on one of them, with another hen in between them, and two strutting toms in the back. I also painted the scene in more of a bright, early-morning sunrise so the tailfans would be backlit (it was actually mid-morning with overcast skies when I snapped the initial reference photo). "Double Date" ended up being one of my largest pieces at 42"x24" and took me a solid 2-3 weeks to paint. 

The piece worked out well enough, so I framed it up and took it to a couple shows, but it never sold. Personally I liked it, so Kim and I hung it in our living room. At around 50"x32 framed size, it was big, and I liked how much wall space it covered. 

 The original oil painting "Double Date"

The original oil painting "Double Date"

But like most other creatives, I'm my own worst critic. The painting sat across from the chair I drink my morning coffee in, create my daily sketches in, journal in and brainstorm in. It's kind of my thinking chair. The longer "Double Date" sat in front of me, the more I picked it apart. For two years, I mused over ways to change it, to make it better. Here's what I finally decided needed changing:

 My list of fixes for "Double Date"

My list of fixes for "Double Date"

1. It needed opening up in the foreground. The foreground log blocked the viewer's entry into the painting. Each piece needs some space to allow the viewer's eye to wander into the scene and give it some perspective. This foreground log, though accurate to the reference, sort of cut the viewer out of the scene, like a barrier to entry.

2. It needed new hens. I didn't really care for the hen in the top left. It was a unique pose, but probably not the best choice. I just didn't quite feel like I pulled it off. 

3. There was too much green. Again, it was fairly accurate to my reference photo, as it was late in the season when I took it, but there was just too much lime-green covering the canvas.

4. The composition needed work. There were too many similar angles with nothing to counterbalance them. All the logs leaned in a similar direction, as did the background hillside. I needed to balance this out in some way. 

5. It was oddly proportioned. 42"x24" is not a standard canvas size, which makes it harder to find a good frame, and I don't even know why I wanted it that long anyway. So I cropped the image down to a standard 36"x24" and found a better frame with a wider moulding.

I did like the strutters, so they stayed pretty much the same, with only a couple tweaks. I took the canvas off the old stretcher bars, re-stretched it to it's new size, laid down a darker base layer to block out some of the initial painting, then got to work on the new one. A solid three days in my studio yielded a much better result. It's a much more unified, dramatic piece that I feel conveys the magic of spring in the turkey woods. 

 The finished version of "Double Date"

The finished version of "Double Date"

I once heard another artist say "A painting is never done until it sells." I thought that pretty funny, and yet true. Often the process of creating art leads down numerous paths, with each painting unique in the trail that it follows to completion. Some are straight lines, some zig zag and some completely loop back on themselves, as was the case with "Double Date." It's challenging, exciting and adds to the unique story that comes with every piece of art. 

"Double Date" is currently available for purchase. If you'd like to hang it on your own wall and bring this story full circle, please email me at ryan@ryankirbyart.com.

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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

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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"Bound and Determined" Framed Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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"Mr. Photogenic" Artist's Proof Canvas Giclée
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The Legacy Cover Collection, Featured on Outdoor Life Magazine
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