Ryan Kirby Art

whitetailed deer

WILD. Like a Buck.

The Wild Life, Wildlife Art Prints, Nomad ApparelRyan KirbyComment

He was just a big 6-point.

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


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

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.