A lover of the great outdoors, wildlife artist Ryan Kirby is not only a creator of iconic and rare moments but also a bow hunter. Raised in rural Hamilton, Illinois near the Mississippi River, Kirby was a farm-boy. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and plenty of wildlife, right out the backdoor of our house
it was the best way I can imagine for a kid to grow up, says Kirby. Now, home is in Cornelius, North Carolina where Kirby resides with his wife, Kim, and their black lab, Georgia.
Kirby was just a kid who enjoyed art class in elementary school when his art teacher, Mr. Mullins, first recognized his talent. When youre that young and the teacher asks the entire class to draw a picture of a duck, and after youre done, your duck looks way better than the rest of the ducks in the class, you start getting recognized for your ability, says Kirby. As a result, Kirbys grandma asked him to paint a picture of her black lab. I was 12. That first painting landed me some commissioned work painting hunting dogs at the local hunt club. I spent my summers bailing hay and painting English Pointers and Labs as a side job.
After high school, Kirby studied graphic design and multimedia at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, but it was the real world work experience that challenged him to grow the most. Kirby prides himself on reading a lot, pushing himself to try new techniques and approaches in the studio, in the woods, and in life in general.
Embracing an identity that is both wildlife artist and hunter suggests a contradiction in terms; however, to Kirby its a natural state. Hunting and the outdoors is what he loves and knows best. The two have been one of the purest, most enjoyable and consistent things in my life, he explains. My dad introduced my brother and me to the outdoors at a very young age. My heart always skips a beat when a buck steps to the edge of a field in the evening or a turkey responds to my hen call just over the crest of a ridge. Its an unbelievable thrill encountering wildlife on their turf. Its an adrenaline-filled, inspiring thing that naturally fuels my art.
When Kirby steps into the woods, hes on natures time, not his own. He considers it a privilege and the most pure moments of life. It grounds him. I can exhale, he says. On a November sunrise from a deer stand, I realize that the sun does not rise and fall on my schedule and that keeps me grounded
Hiking to the top of a mountain in the pre-dawn during spring, sharing an incredible turkey hunt, telling and re-telling the tale for years around a campfire, these are the great things in life that money cant buy.
Capturing his subjects is a process inspired by his experiences outdoors. His favorite animal to paint is the white-tailed deer because of it power, grace, and agility; however, Kirby paints other wildlife. Turkey feathers are tough, he says. Theyre very iridescent when light hits them and their color changes dramatically in different types and angles of light.
Once Kirby has a clear image in his mind, he starts sketching on paper and culling reference photos of the animal he wants to paint. Its important that my work be accurate and dead-on, says Kirby. My work builds on the canvas. The surface is prepared with a white acrylic gesso. Then I do a series of quick paper sketches to make sure Ive got the anatomy and posture right. Next, Ill move over to the canvas and do a more detailed sketch. Kirby covers the sketch with a light underpainting in a single color, normally Burnt Sienna, an earthy, red hue that warms the overall painting and sets the tone for the rest of the work. Then, its just a matter of executing the rest of the painting.
Kirbys first job was with the National Wild Turkey Federation in Edgefield, South Carolina as graphic artist and illustrator. My career was launched during this job, says Kirby, and it brought me south. The day I left to start my own business was filled with mixed emotion, especially after having been with them for seven years. They are my friends. I am honored that they selected my painting, Cupped and Committed, to be part of this years banquet art package.
As an avid hunter and wildlife artist, Kirby considers himself a conservationist. For some, this is hard to grasp. The truth is, he explains, hunters are the ultimate conservationists because they truly love the game species they pursue. Hunters dollars do more to fund wildlife conservation work in this country than anything else. Most people overlook that. But Kirby states it clearly. A great deal of money I raise goes to support wildlife conservation efforts. I work with and fully support all of themthey play a vital role in protecting our hunting heritage and conserving habitat so that wildlife can flourish.
Kirby considers himself incredibly blessed by the shared memories with friends, and the bonding that took place between his dad, and his brother. Hunting has enriched my life in incredible ways. I want my kids and grandkids to grow up with the same opportunities, and Ill do everything I can in my time on earth to conserve the game species that I pursue so that future generations can enjoy them. Im proud to know that even in my young career, my work has raised tens of thousands of dollars for wildlife conservations groups.
For further information and to view Ryan Kirbys iconic art, visit www.ryankirbyart.com.