Kyle Sims, Art of the West, January-February 2017

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January/February 2017 Celebrating 30 Years

For All Fine Art Collectors


A Passion For Creativity By Myrna Zanetell


n the highly competitive world of fine art, where building a national reputation might take decades, it is remarkable to note that 36-year-old, Montana-based wildlife artist Kyle Sims already has amassed an impressive list of honors, many of which were attained before he turned 30. In 2004, the Society of Animal Artists honored him with its Distinguished Young Artist Award, and the following year his work was included in the Arts for the Parks touring exhibition. In 2009, Sims not only received a coveted invitation to show his work in the Prix de West Invitational at Oklahoma City’s Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, but also walked away with the Major General and Mrs. Don Pittman Award, the exhibition’s highest honor for a wildlife artist. Later that year, his work garnered him the Best of Show at the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale in Cody, Wyoming, and in 2016 Sims was a featured artist at the Southeast Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina. Born in 1980 and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sims’ journey from novice painter to successful professional has been an evolutionary process fueled by determination and hard work. Although his formal training includes earning a Bachelor of Art Degree from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, Sims is quick to note that he honed his natural talent by taking workshops from, and forming friendships with, highly regarded artists painting in the genre of wildlife. Even as a teen, Sims already was soaking up every bit of information he could find. While still in high school, with the


ART of the WEST • January/February 2017

Above “A Meeting of Heavyweights, oil, 54˝ by 80˝ “I’ve witnessed a situation such as this several times, with one meeting resulting in a fairly substantial fight. But, certainly, I was never this close. This is part of the fun of being an artist. If I want to have it just so, then that’s the way it goes. I want viewers to feel like they are there with these mammals and, hopefully, feel the same excitement, nervousness, and feelings of anticipation that I feel when I am outside with these ungulates.”

Opposite Page On Marmot Grounds, oil, 30˝ by 40˝ “This piece is based on an experience I had up in Glacier National Park. I was hiking along a fairly busy and popular trail, when a young, male grizzly came up the hill from below, onto the trail in front of me. He did happen to go the other way from where I was, and there were a decent number of people on the trail that day so I wasn’t too alarmed, but it was still a wild grizzly, and who knows what might happen. He continued on down the trail, eventually dropping off to the right and, within a few minutes, began to fervently tear up the ground. I suspect that he was after a yellow-bellied marmot, as they were out in full force that day.”

support of his parents, he enrolled in a workshop taught by masters Terry Isaac and Rod Frederick. That was followed by studies with Daniel Smith, who became both mentor and friend. “When I get interested in something, I get kind of obsessed, so I enrolled in as many workshops as possible,” he says. “These became crucial to improving my work. You learn so much in such a short period of time, and the enthusiasm you come home with is just immeasurable.” Sims’ friendship with painter Paco Young and his wife Toni also became a determining influence. “It was Paco who strongly suggested that I begin painting from life,” he says. “He and Toni were also the ones who nudged me into submitting slides of my paintings to a major gallery in Scottsdale.” Impressed by what they saw, the gallery owner immediately agreed to take on his work. “I guess I got a jump start on my

career, because I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be an artist, and I have continued to take that commitment very seriously for more than 20 years,” Sims says. “Studying with professionals was helpful but, in the long haul, improvement comes primarily through putting hours in at the studio. I continually ask myself what I look for in a really good painting and then try to achieve those qualities in my own work. The key element generally boils down to design, where the focal point stands out and there is nothing interfering with it. The next step is to perfect technique and paint application. When I first started as a kid, I did a lot of work in graphite and colored pencil. This gave me the ability to draw, which is so essential to creating a great painting. “ Moving from watercolor and gouache to acrylics, Sims now paints primarily in oils. Although his subject matter is defined as North

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American wildlife, from the beginning he has concentrated on portraying animals whose natural habitat lies primarily within the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and Montana. As a result, his compositions focus on a wide range of subjects that include bear, bison, mountain goats, big horn sheep, moose, elk, and deer, as well as cougars, bobcats, and foxes. “With my wildlife painting, the animal is generally the central focus, and then I build my landscape around it to portray its habitat,” Sims says. “Recently, however, I have begun to concentrate more on the landscape aspect. In fact, one of the major changes in my work over the past four years is that I am producing more pure landscapes. In ways, I feel like this genre may offer me more opportunities.” Sims explains that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find ways to say something new with his animal art. “With landscapes I feel like I can portray more of my personal reactions and emotions,” he says. “Also, there are a great many beautiful areas, for example those in southern 42

ART of the WEST • January/February 2017

Abov - The Weight of a Mountain, oil, 28˝ by 32˝ “I’ve always enjoyed a great landscape painting, and many of my favorite painters choose landscape as their subject matter. It gives an artist more freedom, when it comes to drawing, but I think it is far more challenging to pull off a successful composition when you don’t have a figure in your idea. With this idea, I was drawn to the huge mass created by Warbonnet Peak in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, my home state.” Opposite - Vertigo, oil, 70˝ by 48˝ “As one who experiences the feeling of vertigo on mountain peaks, I can absolutely say that I did not witness this exact scene firsthand. But I have been on top of mountains and have witnessed how easily mountain goats move around from one rocky ledge to another, ostensibly without giving much thought to the consequence of a slip. In this piece, I wanted to create that feeling of being at the super-high altitude and show just how amazing mountain goats are.”

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Master Tracker, oil, 30˝ by 14˝ “When I think of the canine, I think of a very busy individual, and they need to stay alive. But I enjoy portraying this side of them, because it can make for a more lively painting with rhythm and movement. The trick is to draw their legs at a certain stage of their gate to carry this movement forward.”

Colorado, that have not been painted that frequently. Rather than having a preconceived idea of what you want to paint, if you just open yourself up to a balance of shapes and their relationships, it’s amazing how many original ideas open up to you.” An example of that concept surfaced in one of Sims’ latest compositions, which featured an Engelmann spruce tree. “The shape of the tree literally exuded the feeling of dancing,” he says. “The location that inspired it is just five miles from our house. It was a cloudy day, so there was a lot of indirect light, which created the perfect atmosphere against which to juxtapose its captivating image.” When asked if finding success at such as young age was a positive or negative, Sims admits it was a bit of both. “Having good sales keeps the motivation going,” he says. “You are also able to pay the bills, which means you have a lot more time to paint. This is so important, because that is the only way you get better. I think the only negative is receiving so much attention; I really wasn’t ready for that. From an emotional standpoint, at first it made a big change in the way I looked at the future. I feel like life is full of ironies and balances itself out, so in the beginning I became a bit apprehensive, wondering if all this was too good to be true. Now, my best approach has been putting all that behind me, forgetting about the pressures and simply concentrating on my work.” In 2011 Sims traveled to Russia with friends, primarily to visit the museums and see the work of Russian painters, an experience that had a profound effect on him. “Not only did I get the chance to study different techniques and other things that applied to my work, but seeing all those exceptional paintings also put the art world into perspective,” he says. “It’s a lot smaller than I thought it was because, in my opinion, there is only so much truly great work out there.” Sims and his wife Joylene, a mental health therapist, take great pleasure in hiking the many trails leading into the breathtakingly beautiful Bridger Mountains, which are visible from the 44

ART of the WEST • January/February 2017

The Last Three Yards, oil, 30˝ by 48˝ “There is much to be said from the gaze of any animal’s eyes. But the large feline has to rank up there as one of the most captivating. Add to that the intensity of a chase, and you then have a genesis for a painting.”

front window of their home. During those outings, Sims does a bit of plein air work. “I sometimes do on-site sketches, just to educate myself as to how the real setting differs from the photograph,” he says. “However, as opposed to years ago, I am spending more time in the studio.” The increase in studio time is due, in part, to the fact that Sims creates large paintings, some of which measure up to 70” in height. “I enjoy working in a large format,” he says. “With the right idea, you can have such a strong impact on the viewer. However, there is less demand for such large canvases, so I’m having to dial it back a bit.” Despite his success, Sims is a hands-on man. This is attested to by the fact that he not only did much of the finish work, inside and out, on his studio, which was completed in 2008, but he also continues to build his own frames. Often enhanced with hand-laid gold leaf, each frame is designed to compliment a specific painting. He also finds making fur-

niture to be a welcome change of pace from painting, and during the past few years, he has added making craft beer to his repertoire. “I’ve gone so far as to convert a corner of our basement into a craftbeer brewery,” he says. “It has an electronic control panel, which makes it much easier now. I primarily concentrate on IPAs. You can change the blend by using different hops. Now I have even taken to growing hops on the property, which adds to the fun of experimenting with new versions. I guess I am just part of a generation that initiated the craft-beer movement. “As I was growing up, I tried to figure myself out, and the bottom line was I just enjoy being creative. I love making things—whether it is a painting, frames, furniture, or beer—as long as it’s hands-on. Creativity has been, and always will be, my passion.” Myrna Zanetell is a writer living in El Paso, Texas.

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