Ryan Kirby Art

The Wild Life

WILD. Like a Buck.

The Wild Life, Wildlife Art Prints, Nomad ApparelRyan KirbyComment
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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

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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. 

 

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. 

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.

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

Sunrises with my Son

Inside Ryan's Studio, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment

I remember watching a lot of sunrises with my dad.

One cold November morning, on the opening day of shotgun season, I missed every deer I shot at. It was my first season carrying a gun and deer literally appeared from every direction as we sat next to the 4-wheeler in a fence row. I shot at least 6 times with my single shot 20 ga. and only managed to clip some belly hair on a big old doe. Dad was patient with me, even though I know in his head he was probably counting the dollars I was spending in yellow slugs.

Later that spring, I shot a jake with that same gun from a homemade ground blind. I was sitting on the left, dad on the right, and the bird slipped in quietly from the right before getting spooky and putting. Dad coached me through the shot as I leaned my gun barrel over his belly and killed the bird at 15 yards. I know it left his ears ringing, but it was worth it (for me at least...he would probably agree too). It was one of those absolutely perfect spring mornings and I'll never forget walking back to the truck with that bird as the sun rose above the treetops.

Earlier this week, Kim and I brought our first child, Rhett Daniel Kirby, home from the hospital. We already love the little dude more than I thought possible. All the cliches people say are true - once you hold him and lock eyes, you know deep down that your life has changed forever.

But it's challenging. He was a big baby, and after a full night of labor, Kim had a c-section at 5:04 am. With her still recovering from a major surgery, it requires more of me just to feed and change diapers, and we've had to really work together all hours of the day and night.

The first night home from the hospital was pure anarchy. Kim and I honestly didn't know how we'd make it through the night. Rhett finally fell asleep at 5 am, the house strewn with blankets, pacifiers, diaper bags and clothes. I watched the sunrise in silence, afraid to even turn on SportsCenter in fear it might wake him. And as the warm light of dawn hit the side of his face, a sense of relief came over me...."Thank God we made it."

Those are the sunrises Rhett and I share together now.

I've often heard that the true measure of success is what you do when nobody else is watching. I've seen it in sports, and I've seen it in my art career. I painted a lot of paintings that nobody has ever seen. Long before I had an Instagram account or a website with a logo. Long before I was asked to paint an Outdoor Life cover or invited to SEWE. Before anyone was paying any attention, I was working a full time job and painting late nights in a spare bedroom and reading books on color theory. I failed often, but learned from each failure and kept telling myself not to give up.

Just like anything in life that really matters, I'm learning that being a father takes time and commitment. It requires more of you than you think you have to give, and yet each time you find the strength to give it. A kid's first deer, first little league game and first bluegill caught off the dock make great Hallmark cards. And we'll get to all of those eventually. But I believe that most of being a great dad is what you do when nobody else is watching.

So on my first Father's Day, here's a shout out to the dads that have given and sacrificed in ways that we may never know about. The hard working dad that took on some overtime to slip a little extra into the college fund. The dad that passed up the dream job because it required his family to move across the country. The dads that held bottles, barbies and blankies when they'd rather be holding a beer.

Here's to you, dads. Here's to the sunrises we've shared together and the things you've done for us that we'll never know about. I hope your kids return the favor and buy you wildlife art for Father's day.

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Artists CAN Read…and Should

The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment
Photo by  Paul Sherar

Photo by Paul Sherar

If a successful career is like climbing Everest, I'm still at base camp.

By no means have I reached the summit of artistic achievement (and probably never will - that's the point). But I've improved dramatically over the past few years, and I credit most of that to an eagerness to learn, read, and accept criticism from people I respect. I get hit up all the time on social media from other artists asking where to start and what books to buy. So here's a list of books I highly recommend to improve at art, business and life in general.

ART

Alla Prima, by Richard Schmid. Richard is an incredibly talented artist, and this book covers the broad spectrum of what it takes to be a great artist - everything from mixing color to keeping a fresh perspective and mindset while you paint. It's a must read. I'd also recommend his DVDs as well to watch the man at work.

Carl Rungius: Artist and Sportsman, by Karen Wonders. Carl Rungius was the freaking man. An adventurous hunter, a rugged individualist and an adept wildlife artist, Rungius traveled to the most remote parts of North America and painted species that most people had yet to see even in photographs. His stories of hunting, travel and art are fascinating.

Wild Harvest: The Animal Art of Bob Kuhn, by Bob Kuhn. Probably one of the world's most respected wildlife artist, Bob Kuhn's use of action and his accuracy in depicting anatomy are unparalleled. My in-laws bought me a copy of this book, signed by Bob himself, for Christmas last year and I've read through it 4 times already. Just studying his work before I paint is inspirational.

Color Choices, by Stephen Quiller. Art is like sports. You have to master the technical fundamentals before you can really cut loose. Jordan mastered left handed dribbling and good shooting form before he could crossover and hit a fadeaway. Painting is similar - you have to learn how to mix color and apply paint before you can put what's in your head onto canvas.

BUSINESS

Linchpin, by Seth Godin. Be great at what you do. Period. Seth is a marketing genius and will challenge you to be indispensable. A linchpin. The one that goes above and beyond to make a customer happy and get a job done when nobody else will. He'll also encourage you to launch your work and fine tune it as you go - don't get cold feet from perfectionism.

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell. What makes a person successful? You'd be surprised. It's a combination of things, including talent, timing, resources and the courage to seize opportunities. It's never, ever just handed over to you. Nobody is an overnight success, but at the same time, it takes more than just hard work. This is a great read.

Ask Gary Vee, by Gary Vaynerchuck. Listen to his podcasts. Read his books. Ignore some of his language. Gary Vaynerchuck is an unbelievable success at business and marketing, especially in today's age of digital and social media. You'll learn lots of practical ways to grow your business, build a brand and market your services, with no shortcuts or gimmicks.

LIFE

The Bible. Especially Proverbs. I read a chapter every day before I read anything else. Proverbs covers craftsmanship, diligence, relationships, family, business, money, character - all of it. You'd be amazed at how little humanity has changed in thousands of years, and how truths of the Bible apply just as much today as when they were first written.

The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale. In Alla Prima (above) Richard Schmidt says that your mindset will affect how well you paint more than anything else. You've got to get right in the head if you expect to get right on canvas (or anything else in life). Norman Vincent Peale is an old-school preacher that published this book in 1953. He's got a very practical way of looking at challenges, faith, and life that I like. I typically read this at the end of the day or when I'm in a bind.

HUNTING STORIES

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman & The Wilderness Hunter, by Theodore Roosevelt. These guys were tough, rugged, adventurous and resolute. I love these old stories of guys that hunted simply because they loved chasing game and had a taste for wilderness. No sponsorships. No rangefinders. Just woodsmanship and sheer grit.

Father Water, Mother Woods; Essays on Fishing and Hunting in the North Woods, by Gary Paulsen. Nothing is more pure than a kid's unbridled love for hunting and fishing. This is a collection of stories from decades ago about boys who spent every spare minute lost in northern Minnesota's woods and waters. Their poverty forced them to be creative and resourceful in ways only country boys can be. It's a great read to remind us why we all hunt and fish in the first place.

 

An MBA from the Bush - What a Deer Stand Taught Me About Business

Hunting, Inside Ryan's Studio, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment

Recently I’ve been asked to speak at universities about art, business, and life in general. And doing so has made me take a hard look at what it means to be an artist and an entrepreneur. Here’s my take.

I’ve learned more about life from hunting and the Bible than any life coach could ever tell me.

Last week on a trip to my parent’s farm, I took a couple days to do some treestand prep work for next fall, as well as just get outside and clear my head. One stand set in particular caused me to think back on what I’ve learned in almost five years of working for myself.

It was a cedar tree. I’ve always loved treestands in cedars. They’re rock solid, there’s cover to hide in and it’s just fun to sit in something besides a hardwood. But I was really proud of this stand in particular. Not because of it’s location (which is easy to access and great for a NW wind) but because I managed to get the stand 25 feet in the air without using a single tree step or set of sticks. I just improvised and got the job done, and it worked out beautifully. So here are my top three takeaways for hanging a stand and building a career:

1. Run Lean and Mean

These days, everyone wants to take out a loan or raise capital, open a business with high overhead, and chase the American dream. But if you can’t take a good photo with a cheap camera, what makes you think a $5,000 setup will make you a great photographer? If you can’t paint well in a spare bedroom, what makes you think a $4,000 a month studio will make you an award-winning artist? Work with what you have, get really good with what you have, and upgrade your equipment later. By then, you’ll be great.

All I had was a $40 lock-on and an extra ratchet strap when I decided to hang this set. But who cares? As long as it’s reasonably comfortable and the platform is level, it’ll work. If I can’t kill a deer out of that stand, what makes me think a $250 stand will get the job done any better? Plus, being cheap (or “resourceful” as a life coach would say) is a badge of honor for a farm kid…

Wisdom is before him that has understanding; but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
— Proverbs 17:24

2. Take What’s in Front Of You

One step at a time. That’s how anyone who’s ever done anything great did it. There’s no such thing as an overnight success or a sure-fire way to the top. And if you think that your key to success lies in someone, something, or someplace far away, you’re an idiot. The key to your success is right in front of you – so open your eyes. Most people who end up in great careers didn’t follow a straight path. They seized opportunities as they came along, one at a time, and only after looking back 40 years later can they connect the dots.

How do you get 25 feet in the air with no tree steps? You take it one limb at a time, using what the tree gives you and improvising as you go.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Adjust

Running lean and mean allows you to do something very important – make mistakes. If your overhead is low, you can keep your options open and move quickly. And if something doesn’t work (which, if you’re really pushing yourself to try new things, a lot of them won’t) you won’t miss a mortgage payment or go out of business. I paint some paintings that don't sell. But I learn from them, adjust, and then paint a better one that does.

This treestand placement may suck. I may watch deer after deer walk by next fall out of bow range. So I’ll move it. And because it’s easy to take down, I can do so quickly and hang it in a better position in range of what the deer are doing. Heck, it’s only $40, so I may just leave it in the tree.

But then again, I’m my father's son, and letting a perfectly good $40 stand go to waste in a cedar tree would be a shame.

Babies, Bucks, and the Best Spot to Bowhunt

Hunting, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment
Ryan-Kirby-Buck-Colin-Kirby

A lot of things have me sentimental on deer hunting lately.

Every year I point my GMC northwest and head from the mountains of Boone, NC back to my home state of Illinois to bow hunt the rut. It's a purely magical time to a deer hunter. And for me, it's also time to see my family and friends. These days with life getting busier and work more demanding, it's often the only time I see them all year. 

This year's trip coincided with two special events. First, Outdoor Life recently ran a story on my grandpa's old hunting group, which you can read in the November issue, on newsstands now. It's a story about the good 'ole days of deer hunting in the Heartland, where hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers toted smoothbore shotguns on man drives with their buddies. They hunted the same way midwesterners do everything - the way that made sense to them. Listening to "Papa" retell the story and writing it was a trip back to my childhood and a tribute to those staunch, Carhartt clad men, some of whom have passed on. Lots of folks from my hometown bought the issue just for that story, thrilled to see their grandpa or dad mentioned in print with a photo. The response was moving in a way I didn't expect.

Second, my brother, Tyler, and sister-in-law, Ashley, from Kansas City just had their first baby. Colin Lucas Kirby is 4.5 months old and he's the man. He wants to stand up and see the world, never stops moving, and is trying really hard to tell us what he thinks. My mom is the ultimate first-time uber-grandma, and my dad has dropped his guard, losing the rough, gravely tone in his voice for baby talk (What the ??). We were all at the house together for a couple days, and it was awesome. We would hunt mornings and evenings, then spend the rest of the time eating, talking, and doting on the little dude together. Soon enough, Kim and I will add to the mix with our own little ones, Tyler and Ashley will have more, and the next generation of Kirbys will grow up.

In light of all this, here I sat in a tree on the first afternoon on my parent's farm. Fairly warm at 50 degrees and a stiff NW wind in my face, I had packed in a super lightweight Muddy Outfitter Lite hang-on stand and sticks. I picked a tree in the best corner of the field, shimmied up with the climbing sticks, hung my stand, and in less than 15 minutes I was ready with an arrow nocked. To my right was a cut corn field, and to my left was the main body of brush-choked timber. Below me and to my left was a weathered old permanent stand built 10 feet off the ground in a gnarly hedge tree.

As I sat waiting for the action to start, I couldn't help but think of all the hunting stories this old wooden stand could tell. I remember the time my uncle Scott shot a buck there that was crawling through multi-flora rose on his knees, trying to keep his rack low to the ground and slip back through a man drive. Or the time my dad shot a beautiful 8 point with great brow tines that was bedded underneath that stand with 7 does late in the year. I remember hearing my first fly-down cackle from a boss hen one spring as she pitched from her roost in an oak tree above that hedge. And as I reminisced, I thought:

"The more things change, the more they stay the same"

Here I am with all my fancy gear, packing in a stand that weighs less than my nephew, shooting a slick new compound and using a rangefinder to find that one perfect corn stalk that I know is at 40 yards. Yet when it comes time to choose a location, I pick the same spot that's delivered for decades. That same inside corner on the same brushy flat with the same trails that have always been there. My grandpa's generation didn't read this tactic in a magazine or learn stand placement from Bill Winke. They just put a stand there because, well, it made sense to them. 

I even posted about it on Instagram

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Forty-five minutes later I look up to see a mature buck enter the corn field, cruising downwind of a brushy draw, scent checking it for does. I grunt. He can't hear me in the wind. I reach for my rattling antlers and crack them together just enough to get his attention. He snaps his head my direction and freezes. I freeze too, and for 30 seconds he burns a hole in my location with his eyes. He loses interest and starts walking again. I crack the horns together once more. This time he turns on a dime, walking, then running, straight at me, quickly covering the 150 yards between us while I reach for my bow. At 50 yards though, he turns and heads into the timber, looping downwind of my tree, sticking tight to the brush and offering no shot. A couple grunts and a snort wheeze brings him closer, and at 43 yards he steps out of the thick stuff and into a 2 foot window between the limbs of the hedge tree. I bleat with my voice to get him to stop, settle the pin and send an arrow his way, and it's over. One more story for that old hedge tree to tell.

My brother was in a stand not 200 yards away and heard the commotion. We exchanged texts, he goes and pulls the truck around, and together we drag him out, the way we've always done. We celebrated, took a few pics, texted buddies and retold the story to dad when he got home from work. We even got Colin out the next morning for the classic redneck deer photo, the one on a bloody tailgate, the way we used to do it before "hero" shots became the cool thing to do. (Of course, we also took the hero shots...)

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. And one day Colin will kill a buck in this same corner of the field, and I'll tell him a long, exaggerated story about the heavy 9-point that I rattled in to that very tree. He'll probably laugh at the "old" stand I used and my "ancient" compound bow, but his dad and I will know the underlying meaning of the story:

The important things in life, like faith, family, and the best place to hang a deer stand, will never change. Welcome to the world of deer hunting, Colin Lucas.

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. From left, Tyler and son Colin, Ryan and Roger, our dad (and n0w grandpa).

Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. From left, Tyler and son Colin, Ryan and Roger, our dad (and n0w grandpa).

The First Bull Elk I Ever Shot in North Carolina

Hunting, The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan KirbyComment

It's a sound that changes you forever. 

From the earliest Native Americans, to frontiersman like Teddy Roosevelt, to the modern day bowhunter, screaming 6x6 bulls have been rattling hunter's cages for centuries. Their bugle sounds almost surreal, even prehistoric, and yet as foreign as it may seem to man, it also resonates deeply within us. It's wild. Untamed. Just hearing the sound of a bugle takes your heart and your mind to a place far away, to a western canyon rim at sunset or an early morning fog settling in a high mountain valley. 

As a wildlife artist born in the midwest, living in the southeast and painting from all over North America (someday the world), I create opportunities to spend time with the wild animals I paint. It's important to watch, photograph, sketch and study them on their turf. So I recently took a trip to the Appalachian Mountains to photograph a wild herd of about 140 elk. Yes, that's right, the Appalachians. Through passionate sportsmen, dedicated state agencies and the effort of groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, elk have been successfully reintroduced into the Appalachians and are thriving. 

Everyone, hunters and non-hunters alike, are enthralled by these animals up close. And as a bowhunter, it was a great experience to get within 50 yards and just enjoy them, watching and observing how they interact with each other and with their environment. Without an arrow knocked and bow in hand, no adrenaline flowing, no mind racing, and no calculating how to get a shot off, you can relax and enjoy elk in a way that's almost as thrilling as hunting them. Instead of hearing your own heartbeat in your ears, you hear the more subtle sounds of cows chewing, tines ticking off tree branches, and the soft grunts and bugles that bulls seem to let out subconsciously as they lose themselves in the heat of the rut.

It was a great experience. The kind that not only lights the creative fire for new painting ideas, but also reminds me that the pursuit of wildlife runs so much deeper than putting one on the wall. It's a passion and a lifestyle that is rooted deep within our soul. How do I know? Listen to that bugle echo through the Appalachian valley again, then check out a few photos from the trip below and see if you're thoughts don't wander to higher ground, to a rugged, remote place far away.

I'll be painting from these images soon and hope you'll follow the creative process on Facebook and Instagram. And if you're lucky enough to be chasing bugling bulls for yourself right now, be sure to share your adventures with the world by using the hashtag:

The Rhythm of the Wild

Hunting, The Wild Life, Inside Ryan's StudioRyan Kirby1 Comment
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There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. — Ecclesiastes 3:1

God created life to have a rhythm. I'm reminded of this every summer when I reminisce about life on our farm in Illinois. I remember quiet country nights in July, bass fishing in a cattle pond surrounded by corn fields basked in the golden light of evening. "Knee high by the fourth of July" is what my grandpa used to tell us grandkids, meaning that your corn needed to be that far along to make a yield. Life on a farm has rhythm. A slow, steady, predictable pattern that follows the changing seasons and repeats itself every year. I've always marveled at this simple, fundamental way of life. It grounds you. Reminds you of your place in the world. No matter how bad you want to, you can't press a button to expedite soybean growth. You can't micromanage rainfall. 

As I've worked to build a career, at times I've lost this sense of pace and perspective. Working solo, I've flat-out had to hustle. I've worked long and hard, and while I've seen and enjoyed the fruits of that labor, it's easy to fall into the trap of simply doing more and doing it faster. The cycle never ends, and it's ultimately a recipe for creating mediocre work. 

I think this is why wilderness is so attractive. Hunting has taught me that as soon as I hop the fence and enter the turkey woods, I no longer set the schedule. I'm on turkey time now, and he's got his own agenda that doesn't take my priorities into account. Wild animals don't have meetings and deadlines. Wild places don't run on an iPhone calendar. And the sooner you can accept that, the better hunter you'll be and the more alive you'll find yourself in the outdoors. The seasons will change, the elk will bugle, the turkeys will gobble and the salmon will run, all without us telling them when and how to do it.

So entering into the next half of the year, I'm committed to finding rhythm again in my life and work. To enjoy the steady, methodic act of putting a brush to canvas. To realize that going at an even pace is the best way to produce great art and a great life. I hope you'll join me.

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#LongLiveTheWildLife

Hunting, Original Oil Paintings, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment

Five years ago, I was caribou hunting in Alaska with my buddy, Ed, his dad and friend Tom. Our trip had taken us up the Dalton Highway (some people know it as the “haul road” from Ice Road Truckers) near Prudhoe Bay. Just getting there was an adventure, hauling a trailer with bowhunting and camping gear over 400 miles through some of the biggest and baddest terrain in “The Last Frontier.” We crossed the powerful Yukon River, stopped for chili in Coldfoot and then spent the first night sleeping on a gravel bar underneath the brilliant northern lights. The next morning we crossed the Brooks Range and descended from the mountains down into the vast, rolling tundra, which at that time of year is the color of burnt sienna and cadmium orange. Everywhere I looked I saw a scene worthy of painting.

But one experience stuck out to me in particular. On the third day of the hunt, Ed and I had managed to stalk up on a group of three decent bulls bedded on a slight rise in the tundra near a river. Ed and I split up halfway through our stalk - I’d gone low and come up from below them. Ed had stayed on their level, up on the plateau. We both managed to get within 70 yards of the bedded bulls without them knowing either of us were there. But I’d run out of cover, so I decided to wait them out to see if one would stand up and possibly move in my direction. 

I settled in and let my heart rate and breath return to normal. And that’s when I heard it….the sound of silence. Literally, the sound of pure silence. There was no wind. Nothing was moving. And we were miles from any form of civilization. My ears were actually ringing from it…the sound of pure, untouched wilderness. 

I’d never heard silence before. Even out in the “country” you’d hear a tractor, a dryer running in a distant grain bin, a plane high overhead. It was then that I realized that these days, we rarely encounter complete wilderness. Wild places. Wild things. But when we do, it changes us forever. 

I meet lots of fellow hunters at trade shows and art exhibits across the country. Soon we begin swapping stories and sharing experiences from the field. And without exception, the good stories, the ones that are forever burned into our memory, never happen in the suburbs. Or in the office. Or on the golf course. The good ones always happen in the wild. 

I feel today it’s especially important for us to have and to share these experiences. As an artist, I have the opportunity to immortalize them on canvas, bringing the Wild Life into homes, man caves, and offices everywhere. And so do you. By using the hashtag #LongLiveTheWildLife on Instagram and Facebook we can share in the moments afield that change us forever. So go after that bugling bull. Set out to hike the summit. Go around the next bend in the river and top the next ridge, just to see what’s over there. And when you find out, share it with us online. Because the wild moments in life are the ones you’ll never forget.  

The Dawn of The Wild Life

Hunting, Inside Ryan's Studio, The Wild LifeRyan KirbyComment
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For months now, I've dedicated my life's work to something new. A new direction. A new vision. And while new to me, it's fundamental to humanity and as old as time itself. Long has man hunted, and long as he drawn of his wild adventures....

Rewind four months to January. I've never been one to become complacent in my work. Always trying something new, always pushing further and never quite happy with the results. So earlier this year, I set out to find a new, more authentic path to follow. I prayed…I sketched…I painted…I googled…I prayed some more. I spent entire days in a library surrounded by dusty old books, pouring over Paleolithic and Native American cave art, studying their style, noting their symbolism and imagining their thought process. And the more I studied, the more I could relate to them.

I imagined them 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 tools to create the first wildlife art known to man. All fueled by their passion of the pursuit and their desire to share their story with the next generation of hunters.

And that's how this adventure in rebranding began. Hundreds of roughly sketched logo concepts. Countless phone conversations with Michael Turbyfill, a guy I believe is the best brand expert in the business, who crafted the message and brought the story to life. Early morning hours in my studio, hand-painting logo concepts and a custom font for the slogan. Late night hours of web design. Photo shoots at the tops of mountains and bottoms of river gorges. More conversations with Michael. All culminating in this — the most authentic, soul-level representation of what I feel God has gifted me to do in my life.

So I hope you join me. This blog won't be routine, scheduled, or obnoxiously loaded with keywords to increase my Google rankings. It's designed to share my painting process, experiences outdoors and thoughts on what it means to be an artist and an outdoorsman. God has given us all an opportunity to leave a mark on this Earth.

This will be mine.