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