Ryan Kirby Art

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.