The Nature of Painting

By Delaney, Elizabeth L. | Southwest Art, April 2018 | Go to article overview

The Nature of Painting


Delaney, Elizabeth L., Southwest Art


"EVEN IF I couldn't sell anything, I'd still be doing it." So declares Adam Smith about painting wildlife; his chosen career path is much more than a way to earn a living. This Montana artist's love of nature pervades every facet of his art-making, and his passion for capturing and interpreting animal life drives and sustains him daily. A mountain goat climbing over a snowy ridge, a herd of bison standing majestically on the plain, a grizzly bear navigating a river current-these are just a few of the rare and remarkable glimpses of an untamed world that Smith captures in astonishing detail and with the emotion of one truly invested in his subject matter.

Smith began drawing prolifically as a young child and was attracted to depicting animals from the start. Living in Montana from the time he was 9 years old, he was surrounded by domestic pets as well as wild animals like elk, deer, and bears. This proximity to nature in his everyday life allowed him to hone his love for animals and to develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world. "Nature was just a part of who we were as a family," he says.

The young man drew in pencil exclusively until the age of 16, when he decided to try his hand at painting. He entered the Montana Junior Duck Stamp Contest in 2001 while still in high school and earned a Best of Show award. His initial foray into painting ended there, however, and upon graduating, he enrolled in auto-technician school, temporarily putting art on the back burner. Before long, though, the hobby he had taken up as a creative outlet and joyous expression became a calling he couldn't ignore. After a brief stint as an automotive technician, during which he worked on cars by day and his canvases by night, Smith decided to devote his life to painting full time. That was 12 years ago, and since then, his passion for making art has only grown. "It was certainly a blessing," he says of his career change.

Smith came to his profession on his own, but he does carry on an artistic legacy. The son of renowned wildlife painter Daniel Smith, Adam grew up adjacent to, although not necessarily in the shadow of, his father's artwork. While he enjoyed drawing and painting throughout his formative years, young Adam never felt pressured by his father to pursue fine art. "He didn't teach me a whole lot," Smith says of his father, as he considers the role simple genetics must surely play in his innate artistic ability. Of course, the elder Smith offers guidance now and then, but over time, painting animals has emerged as more of a shared interest than a craft passed down from one generation to the next. The two artists routinely spend time together as father and son, friends, and colleagues. They often travel, visiting such wildlife-rich places as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and Moab, UT, near Daniel's home. Of course, professionally, they exchange painting critiques and tricks of the trade.

Smith lives today near Bozeman, MT, at the foot of a mountain, where deer, elk, and foxes roam freely through the nearby farmland. While he's able to find plenty of subject matter near his home, he also loves the thrill of exploring new and faraway places. His favorite stomping grounds include Yellow- stone, Glacier, Denali National Park in Alaska, and Jasper and Banff, Canada. He has traveled to Africa as well, where he painted the iconic species of the continent, including lions, zebras, giraffes, and elephants.

PERHAPS THE most vital part of Smith's creative process comes at the beginning, when he treks into the wild to find both animals and inspiration. Smith ventures out into nature yearround, often concentrating his efforts in the fall. He braves all manner of elements, including extreme temperatures (sometimes as cold as 26 degrees below zero), snow, and rain, all while toting several cameras, lenses, and other equipment. His wife, who enjoys photographing as well, often accompanies him. In these sometimes harsh environments, Smith sets up his tools and patiently waits to encounter the bears, bison, wolves, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats that populate his paintings. …

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